Category: Inspiration (Page 1 of 2)

The Gift of Sickness: How EBV Changed My Life

Most people would not think of sickness as a gift.

When we’re sick, we tend to feel frustrated, overwhelmed, confused and irritable. Most people would hardly call those feelings “gifts,” but I’ve learned that some gifts come in unexpected packages. Sometimes we’re given gifts that we would have never asked for that end up being more valuable than the thing we thought we wanted.

Over the past eight months, I’ve been through a journey with sickness that I’ve shared little about with you. I’ve continued posting recipes and tips and tricks all while going through an incredibly challenging time with my body and my spirit.

It’s time to share what I’ve been going through and learning in the process of this time of transformation and growth. My wish is that you find hope for your own situation in the midst of mine. When we are honest and vulnerable about our own struggles, we invite other people to be honest about theirs.

Gift #1: Pain is the body’s way of bringing us back to the present; it grabs our attention.

It was Valentine’s Day 2017.

Instead of enjoying a romantic dinner with my husband, I’d been home sick all day and was at the doctor’s office feeling depleted, exhausted and in pain, so tired I felt like I was going to pass out.

It was the fourth time in four months that I’d been sick for a week at a time with symptoms of fatigue, pain in my throat, swollen lymph nodes, and listlessness. I just didn’t feel like myself. My voice was always one of the first things to go as a result of each bout of illness, which was problematic, considering how much of my time I spend speaking, presenting and consulting. I love to sing, too, and I hadn’t been able to do that joyfully and fully for months. I couldn’t seem to get to the root of why I kept getting sick.

I felt isolated, alone, defeated and scared. 

I sat next to my husband, Bill, and across from Dr. Bill Rollow, an M.D. trained in integrative medicine, who has become my parents’ doctor and mine in recent years. He understands how the body operates as an interconnected system rather than a set of disconnected symptoms. He approaches his patients with an abundance of gentleness, kindness and love and seeks to identify the root cause of why someone isn’t well.

As I was lamenting how awful I felt – sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, low energy, malaise, a cough, congestion – Dr. Rollow asked me:

“Would you say this is the result of pressures from the outside and work, or would you say that it’s more self-inflicted?”

Without hesitation and with a great deal of conviction, I knew the answer:

“Oh, it’s totally self-inflicted. 

I do this to myself.”

Tears began to well up in my eyes and roll down my cheeks, as I sat in a state of sheer desperation, realizing how much of what I was experiencing was brought on by my own demands. It was my relentless drive to achieve, succeed, and be perceived as worthy and valued throughout school and in my career that brought me to this point of exhaustion.

A lifetime of striving, proving, achieving, and performing.

My body and soul were tired.

We talked candidly about how I would have to decide that I wanted my life to look differently if I wanted to feel differently. I would have to change some things if I wanted to start feeling better and heal emotionally and physically. I had to be honest about how much I tend to set my personal needs and health aside for the sake of my career and my desire to get ahead.

At the end of our conversation, Dr. Rollow said he was going to test me for Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). I had never heard of it and had no idea what it was. I’ve come to learn that EBV is an acute form of mono that many people have in their bodies but that does not often manifest full blown. It tends to be brought on by prolonged stress and other hormonal changes. It’s more likely to occur in an immunocompromised person. I fit the bill perfectly.

I’ve learned that many doctors don’t think to test for EBV right away and often test patients for things like Lyme disease, lupus, and mono when they have symptoms like mine. Fortunately for me, Dr. Rollow knew better. When the lab results came back, it turned out his suspicions where confirmed; all of my EBV antibodies were elevated.

Each month when the virus reactivated, I would get more and more dejected and distressed. I felt like my body was betraying me again, as it had for much of my life with chronic ear infections, sinus infections, strep throat, bronchitis, acid reflux, and amenorrhea.

What was going on?

Will I ever feel better or like myself again?

Why was this happening to me?

I’m supposed to be the healthy one.

In the midst of my desperation, I was given the gift of hope.

Within a week or so of receiving the news about Epstein-Barr, I received an email from my nutritionist, Kasia Kines, who has helped my body heal from years of other dysfunctions and ailments. She is finishing her PhD in Functional Nutrition and sent this email to her email list serve on February 28th.

No way. 

I couldn’t believe it.

She’d picked Epstein-Barr Virus.

“Here’s your sign, Rachel.”

Suddenly, I had hope.

As I’ve shared before, Kasia has been instrumental in my healing journey and has given me hope before. I immediately reached out to her to let her know I had the virus she was studying and had no idea what to do about it. She was eager to help.

As I began working with her, I learned what a nasty virus EBV is and how it ravages your immune system and can wreak havoc on your neurological system as well, left unchecked. In my case, it camped out in my throat, which was a primary cause of losing my voice. I learned that stress and hormonal changes trigger reactivation of the virus, which meant I’d have to make some lifestyle changes and reprioritize sleep, friendships and aspects of my job. I added in even more nutrient-rich foods to my diet and started taking about a dozen different supplements to restore my immune system and fight the virus (I’ll share more about that later!).

Within a week of treatment, I felt like a switch had been flipped and started to feel energized again. It was amazing how quickly my body responded.

Sickness was my body’s way of saying, “Hey, listen up. Something’s not working here. Pay attention.”

Gift #2: We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.

The more I reflected on why I’d gotten to this point, the more I realized this virus was a symptom of a deep-seated issue. Growing up, I felt like I had very little social value and worth in my peer groups, so I sought my worth in other places and found it in achievement.

If they wouldn’t embrace me socially, surely they’d find value in what I could bring to the table by being smart. It was hard for me to see how I brought value if I wasn’t being useful to someone in some way. The idea that just being me and not doing anything to earn acceptance was foreign to me. I pushed myself academically and made sure I was always performing at the highest level.

I’d show them I was worthy of attention by achieving. 

As soon as school ended, I sought the same validation in my career. I pushed myself to be a leader in my field, to create and design new initiatives, to build my job from scratch, with little to no model for how to do that. And I did. I’ve won awards and received national accolades for my work. The satisfaction that followed was always temporary and just another opportunity for me to up the ante on myself.

C’mon, Rachel. What’s next?

Don’t settle. Don’t get complacent.

You might be outdone. You’ll be forgotten.

I put work ahead of everything else, partly because I love what I do, but also because I wanted to keep “winning” in my career. I wanted to keep showing everyone how worthy I was of attention, praise and love.

I pushed and achieved my way right into sickness.

But instead of resenting it, I’ve come to embrace what this time of healing is teaching me.

Getting sick in that way made me realize the way I was living wasn’t working. Something had to change.

I had a lot of time to reflect, think, read and write during the weeks I was home sick. That alone was a gift. But, more than anything, this journey is teaching me that I maintaining my former way of living is not sustainable and that I don’t have to do this on my own.

Instead of trying to conquer this challenge by myself, I’ve sought support and help, not only from my nutritionist but also from my workplace, the Baltimore health community, and my church. I’ve had people praying for my health and healing each week and checking in on my regularly. I talked to my boss and explained what was happening, and he supported me in setting healthier boundaries at work and getting support.

I’m spending more time talking and hanging out with my friends and am fostering new relationships. I have more community and a stronger support network around me now than I’ve ever had before. I’ve come to realize how lonely life would be with lots of professional success and no friends to share life with, but that’s the path I was on, blinded by my own ego.

Seeking growth and opportunities to challenge myself are hardwired into who I am, and I know I will continue to pursue excellence in my career, but not at the expense of my health and relationships. I’ve learned two lessons in the midst of this healing time:

Connection is more important than all of our success.

Gift #3: Transformation happens when I’m not in charge.

This has been an incredibly humbling time for me. My EBV journey has reminded me who is in charge of and in control of my life – God, not me. It’s like I was playing God, thinking I could run the show and fix any issues that arose by myself.

I don’t need help.

I’ll hold the world on my shoulders.

I can do it ALL.

But I can’t, and no one ever asked me to.

I remember back in November when I first started experiencing symptoms of fatigue and a recurrence of vocal strain. I was so frustrated. I was talking with my friend, Heather, and she said something so profound that I will never forget:

“Maybe there’s something you need to hear, but you need to be quiet enough to hear it.”

Oh.

In the midst of my constant striving and busyness, I didn’t leave any room for quiet.

Maybe losing my voice had a purpose other than frustrating me. Maybe being forced to sit on the couch and do absolutely nothing had a purpose. Maybe there was something I needed to hear; maybe someone was trying desperately to get my attention – God, friends, family, my body – but I was so busy being important that I missed it.

For years, I had ignored the voice beckoning to me to “SLOW DOWN” and “BE STILL.” Just yesterday, I heard the song, “Still” three times on Pandora Radio.

You’re parting waters
Making a way for me
You’re moving mountains that I don’t even see
You’ve answered my prayer before I even speak
All You need for me to be is still

Being quiet and sitting in the unknown is so challenging for me, but I know it’s one of the gifts EBV has given me, and for that I’m grateful. It has given me the time and space to be transformed, initially against my will, but now for what I know is my greater good.

I feel like I’m more supported and loved than ever before. I am not in this alone. All of the frustration, overwhelm and pain were not without a purpose. In fact, I’ve already met several people who have told me they or someone they know is struggling with Epstein-Barr, and they don’t know what to do about it.

At the very least, perhaps I can offer them some of the perspective I’ve gained and the hope I’ve experienced.

I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom passed on to me by my friend, Stef, about finding purpose in the midst of the pain:

Ditch Your New Year’s Resolutions {And Do This!}

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s Resolutions.

The idea that a simple date change could be a powerful motivator just never made much sense to me. It seemed to be an excuse to “let go” from October through December, only to return to taking care of ourselves in January. And it was clear that most people’s resolutions failed by February anyway, which served to demotivate them to make any further changes and then commit to trying it all over again the following year.

If we don’t make resolutions, what do we do instead?

Two years ago, I was in a bookstore in an eclectic neighborhood in Baltimore and was drawn to the cover on one of the books. I started reading the first few pages and was intrigued.

Instead of making an uninspired (and, often overwhelming) “to do” list at the turn of each new year, the author suggested we identify how we want to FEEL. Then, get curious about what we’d have to do to feel that way and do that more often.

The process of doing this is what Danielle LaPorte, author of The Desire Map, calls declaring our “core desired feelings.”

How do you want to FEEL?

It seemed simple enough and made sense to me, so I decided to give it a try. My husband joined me along the journey.

Over the past two years, I’ve wanted to feel RADIANT, WORTHY, CONNECTED, FLOWINGCLEAR, ABUNDANT, and FREE.

As a result, I started to think about what would make me feel that way. From the incredible communities I’ve joined, I’ve received connection, reminders of my worthiness, and permission to radiate.

I’ve met and aligned with dozens of incredible professionals in my field, and we are collectively bringing kindness, health and wellbeing to the workforce. I’ve been drawn to new friendships and communities of women that make me feel loved and safe. My husband and I found a new small group to join through our church and have made new friendships through that as well. I’ve become part of an incredible community of women and men committed to finding joy and freedom through movement at Movement Lab in Baltimore.

With some of the awesome people from Movement Lab. I am on a trampoline in the back left!

I’ve pursued and have been given countless opportunities to radiate, get in flow, and connect with people by speaking to organizations, human resources professionals, my church community, and the public through presentations, retreats, and cooking demonstrations. I received recognition from a national organization that identified me at the #1 Health Promotion Professional in the U.S. from a pool of over 200 of my peers and was invited to speak at a national conference last spring. I’ve become a recognized expert in my field and in my community and am grateful to be in a position of leadership.

I started to feel how I wanted to feel, and what I was hoping would happen did. I received infinitely more than I had imagined was possible. 

My husband, Bill, declared ENERGIZED, MOTIVATED and ACCOMPLISHED as his core desired feelings. He said he wanted to spend more intentional time with a group of guys from our church, who are honest, supportive, fun, and willing to be open. They meet on a monthly basis and get together in between to play and watch sports, grab a beer, or share a meal.

Bill said that training for and completing a triathlon would help him feel how he wanted to feel, too, so, he committed to doing that as well. In July of 2016, he became an Ironman after completing a grueling 140.6-mile course of swimming, biking and running in Lake Placid, New York.

Yesterday, he and I continued our New Year’s Day tradition of reflecting on the moments and memories of the previous year and identify our core desired feelings.

Throughout the year, we write these memories on little pieces of paper and put them in a glass jar that we empty out on New Year’s Day. We write all of them down in a journal and then add any others that we forgot to record. Finishing graduate school, paying off our student loans, Bill completing the Ironman, having my articles published in mindbodygreen, welcoming the births of our friends’ babies, renovating our kitchen, and reminiscing about the trips we took.

We take time to celebrate all that happened and reflect on the memorable moments that were sad as well. We think about what we are leaving behind in 2016 and not taking into 2017, what we are letting go and releasing.

And we identify how we want to feel in the coming year.

Bill wants to feel FREE, SECURE and COURAGEOUS. His desires are getting stronger and more specific. I’m excited to see what the year will bring him and to witness the growth he will experience as a result of shaping the year around generating those feelings.

My feelings have changed a bit this year, but some have remained the same.

I was seeing a therapist earlier this year, and one of the questions she asked me was to think about what I would want to tell my 10-year-old self, if I had the chance to go back and talk to her.

I paused. My lip quivered, as tears began rolling down my cheeks.

“Play,” I answered. “I would tell her to play more.”

For much of my life, I’ve taken things too seriously, been embarrassed by and uncomfortable with silliness, focused too much on striving and doing and not enough on just living and being. I haven’t made playfulness a priority.

But we are not called to take ourselves so seriously or treat ourselves so harshly. We are called to be childlike, to be humble, curious, and dependent on others and on God, a higher power than us. In today’s society, it’s easy to ignore that, to let pride rule, to think we know it all, and to convince ourselves that we can do everything on our own and be self-sufficient. But that is not how we were meant to live.

I feel PLAYFUL when I’m dancing, doing Nia and AntiGravity, playing games, spending time with little kids, being silly with Bill, getting surprise gifts for people, going on travel and food adventures to new places, blowing bubbles, jumping on a trampoline, skipping, walking on the beach, splashing in the water, hanging out with playful people, and laughing until it hurts.

I feel FREE and OPEN when I’m speaking my truth, as I’m doing here. I feel free and open when I dance, speak, present, teach, leave cushion in my schedule, spend time with friends who love and celebrate me, dream about the future, offer grace, forgive, overcome fears, go for a run on a beautiful day, spend time in nature, hike, give of our finances, and declutter my physical space.

I feel RADIANT when I present about a topic that I’m passionate about, write and speak from my soul, dance and twirl like a joyful little girl, wear a brightly colored outfit, serve others, and share my story and invite others to share theirs.

I feel DEEPLY CONNECTED when I spend undistracted (i.e., iPhoneless), quality time with people I love, have phone calls or meet-ups with close friends, go away on retreats and have time to reflect, go on getaways to new places with my husband, grab a meal with a friend, or have a soul-baring conversation with someone who trusts me and feels safe enough to share with me.

That’s how I want to feel this year. PLAYFUL, OPEN, FREE, RADIANT, and DEEPLY CONNECTED.

Now, it’s your turn. Ditch your New Year’s Resolutions, and do this instead.

  1. Ask yourself how you want to feel in 2017. If you need help with ideas, click here.
  2. Decide what you’ll do to generate those feelings. What do you do or can you do to make yourself feel that way? Refer to my lists above for some ideas.
  3. If you want to create one of the cool word picture images like the one you see above, download the free Word Swag app here. If you do, post it in my Facebook page and/or tag @RachelsNourishingKitchen on Instagram! I’d love to see what you create.

I wish you joy, peace, happiness, and love in 2017! Thank you for being a part of this community and for allowing me to be so open. I’m grateful for you!

Want a video summary of our New Year’s tradition? Check out my video below.

Letting Go of the Lies and Finding Freedom

For most of my life, I’ve resisted anything that made me feel free.

Riding a bike.
Swinging on a swing.
Singing in public.
Physical intimacy.
Roller coasters.
Skiing.
Dancing.

Being free meant not having control. It meant releasing and receiving rather than holding on and restraining. Freedom was unpredictable and unsafe. It couldn’t be trusted. It might hurt me, embarrass me, reject me.

I didn’t know how to be free.

I learned at a young age how important it was to be the good girl, to follow the rules, to do as I was told, and to not rock the boat. I grew up in a somewhat tense environment, as my parents were going through what ended up being a brief separation when I was in kindergarten. My brother responded to the tension by becoming the diffusing bomb, trying to distract my parents from their own dysfunction and turning their focus onto him. I found protection in controlling things, so I became The Golden Child. I was good at being good.

But in the process, I found myself being bound by lies about who I was and what I could and couldn’t do throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

It’s easier for us to hold onto the lies we’ve believed for so long rather than embracing the truth about who we are. But the lies are relentless, and they come from everywhere.

Family.
Friends.
Classmates.
Teachers.
Coworkers.
Bosses.
Society.
Ourselves.

Lies that we are not smart, talented, popular, artistic, creative, musical, athletic, sophisticated, funny, coordinated, attractive, or good enough.

Lies that we can’t do something, won’t amount to anything, or will end up a failure.

Lies that no one will love us or want us. Lies that we will be too much.

Lies. Lies. Lies.

These lies limit us, hold us back, keep us small.

“Who do you think you are?” they ask, mocking us and our attempts to do whatever great thing we are meant to do in this world.

For most of my life, I’ve believed these lies. I’ve let them define me, limit me, hold me back, and keep me small. It pains me to admit it, but I know we find healing in sharing our truths, so here are just a few of the lies that have followed me throughout my life. Perhaps you can relate.

“They don’t want to be your friend. That’s why you don’t get invited to parties everyone else gets invited to, Rachel. That’s why they didn’t ask you to go to the movies with them. That’s why they didn’t invite you to lunch on your birthday. They don’t really like you.”

“Be careful, Rachel. You’ll hurt yourself. Don’t you know you can’t trust your body? It’s betrayed you before. It’ll betray you again. It can’t be trusted.”

“What if your voice cracks or doesn’t sound good? Oh, that would be so embarrassing. Don’t even bother singing. It’s not worth the risk.”

“You like him? Forget it. He’s too cool for you. You’re not popular or fun enough. You’ll scare him off or intimidate him. He won’t be interested.”

“Seriously? Purple shoes? Peacock print yoga pants? Magenta, yellow and orange blazers? You can’t pull that off. Stick to your pastels and khakis. Play it safe.”

“Don’t be too successful, Rachel. If you are, people will resent you. They’ll envy you. They’ll be nice to your face but secretly judge you and talk about you behind your back. They’ll be waiting for you to fail.”

I’ve given these lies space in my mind and in my soul and have let them overwhelm and debilitate me under the guise of protection.

“I’m just looking out for you,” they say. “I know what’s best. I just don’t want you to get hurt or make a fool of yourself. Listen to me, and you’ll be safe.”

In keeping us “safe,” these lies also keep us from living fully, speaking our truth, and authentically showing up to be who we are called to be. Yet, we continue to give these lies power and authority over our lives when all we really want is to be free.

Over the past year, in particular, I’ve been challenging my fears, questioning the lies I’ve believed for so long.

What if they’re not true?

What if “they” do want to be my friend? What if they’ve been my friend for years, but I’ve missed it because I keep retelling myself lies from childhood, something that is no longer my reality?

What if I gave myself permission to trust my body and gave it the chance to experience judgment-free, joyful movement?

What if putting my voice out there moves someone and touches a deep part of their soul? What if it is worth the risk?

What if he is interested? What if he loves the very things I don’t love or accept about myself?

What if I can confidently rock the purple peacock pants and hot pink blazers?

What if people want to see me succeed and would be there to lift me up if I failed?

What if those are the truth?

When we challenge the lies, they lose power. But we have to decide to do that. We have two choices.

Letting go means being free and releasing that which is not serving us, even if it scares us to do that.

By “letting go” I don’t mean “giving up” or being reckless and not caring about our decisions. I’m talking about releasing everything you’re trying so desperately to control for fear that something awful will happen if you’re not controlling it.

It’s exhausting to hold on to so much all the time.

I don’t know if this is true for you, but I find that when God wants me to hear a message, anything and anyone can be used to convey that message to me. Throughout 2016, this message has been, “Let go. Release. Be free. Fly.”

About a week or so ago, I was at Marshall’s doing some last-minute Christmas shopping and came across this mug.

I knew I was meant to see it. I bought one for myself and my mom, so we have a constant reminder about the truth that we are meant to be free.

Since the spring, I’ve been bombarded by another symbol of freedom everywhere I go – butterflies.

I was having a rough week at work and found this mug on my desk, unwrapped, with the words in plain sight.

I asked a dozen coworkers if they’d given it to me, but no one owned up to it. I still have no idea who gave it to me. Maybe I never will.

A few months later, while I was walking on a beach in Oregon with my husband, I asked for a sign and waited for a response.

Minutes later, I saw this.

Earlier this year, I was preparing for a presentation about goal setting with my dad, and we were talking about transformation. He explained to me what happens when a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.

As the lowly caterpillar or larva goes through a process of metamorphosis, something remarkable happens. Most of the tissues and cells that make up the larva are broken down, and that material is rebuilt into the adult version – the butterfly.

As the butterfly approaches its moment of release and freedom, when it will finally be able to fly, its wings are pushing, pushing, pushing against the inside of the pupa. It’s that pushing motion that strengthens the butterfly’s wings, so that when it is ready to emerge, it is able to fly. If we were to take a pair of scissors or a knife and slit open that cocoon prematurely, before the butterfly was ready, it wouldn’t be strong enough to fly.

It is strengthened by its struggle, and then it is free to fly.

And so are we.

Butterflies invite us to be free. To open up. To spread our wings.

“Be free, Rachel,” they beckon. “Let go. Release what is not serving you, especially the lies. They are holding you back, limiting you, and keeping you from the fullness of what is intended for your life.”

Just three days ago, I came across this plaque at a gift shop in Rehoboth Beach and knew in an instant I was meant to see it.

Choosing to be free is an act of courage. 

This is particularly true when it comes to our bodies. One of the lingering lies I’ve been challenging and attempting to overcome is around what my body is capable of doing physically. I’ve never been a risk taker, unlike my husband, who did flips off couches as a four-year-old, has been skydiving, and recreated his own version of Jackass as a teenager. He struggled to find freedom expressing his thoughts and feelings, so he sought it in movement. He let go and found release physically.

The opposite has been true for me. But, over the past year, I’ve been finding more freedom in my body than ever before through Nia, and, most recently, AntiGravity fitness at Movement Lab in Baltimore. Nia calls us to find what feels good in our body and to move freely, playfully and without judgment.

AntiGravity invites us to trust our body and the hammock enough, so we can let go. I took a class in the springtime but had been too scared to take another since. Turning upside down and hanging from the ceiling felt too free to me, and I resisted anything that made me feel free. After talking to the instructor, Heather, who has become a friend, I decided I’d give it another try.

As we were warming up for class, Heather reminded us of the words of AntiGravity founder, Christopher Harrison:

When you open up space in the body, you open up space in the mind.

Open up. Be free

So many times during class today we had to physically let go – hang from the ceiling, fly into the air, flip ourselves out of a seated position.

My hands would get sweaty.
Fear would creep in.
Would I lose my grip?

The lies would rear their ugly little heads.

“See, I told you you can’t do it. It’s too scary, isn’t it? You’re not going to be able to get out of this inversion. You’re going to fall right out of the hammock and hurt yourself. You should’ve stayed home.”

But, in those moments, we can stop fear in its tracks by responding with truth. “NO. You’re a liar. You have no authority over me. I’ve done this before, and I can do it again. I trust.

And with that, I released.
Exhaled.
Let go.

Fear only has power if we give it power. And freedom is on the other side of our fears. We are not called to live our lives ruled by fear.

We are called to live in freedom, to experience joy and love and grace.

As we enter into a new year, I invite you on this journey with me, a journey of facing our fears, challenging them, and letting them go. A journey to seek the truth about who we are.

To remind ourselves that we are loved.
Enough.
Free.

If you want to go deeper in this experience with your own life, spend a few minutes thinking about and jotting down the answers to these reflection questions. Allow whatever comes up to come out. Be okay with not knowing the answers, but commit to being open to them when they do come to you.

  1. What lies have you believed about who you are or what you are or aren’t capable of doing?
  2. In what ways have these lies held you back in your life?
  3. How would your life be different if you didn’t believe these lies? What would it look like? What would you feel like? How would this impact the people around you?
  4. What are five to ten things that are TRUE about you? (Try finishing statements like, “I am…” “I can…”)
  5. What is one thing you could do physically to open yourself up emotionally in the next 30 days?

Thank you for giving me this space. A space to be vulnerable. A space to be real. A space to speak my truth. My hope is that it invites you to do the same for yourself and those around you.

Let’s make 2017 the year of finding freedom, letting go, and living fully.

This post is dedicated to my friend Tori, who has always believed in and loved me for who I really am. It was her comment to me several months ago, as I was doubting myself, that prompted me to write this post: “I hope one day you’ll see yourself as the beautiful, bold, courageous woman everyone else knows you to be.”

My Dad, My Hero: 6 Lessons that Have Shaped My Life

While I write mostly about food on this blog, I also recognize the importance of taking a more holistic approach to life. Nourishment isn’t just about food. One of the most important ways we nourish ourselves is by how and what we think.

Being raised by two entrepreneurs who have been married for almost 36 years has given me unique insights into what working, living and loving can look like. They’ve shaped how I think and have encouraged me to think differently, to dream of what is possible.

My dad, in particular, has influenced me and served as one of my greatest mentors. With Father’s Day approaching, I thought this would be a perfect time to celebrate who he is in my life and to share with you lessons I’ve learned from him.  dad-me-kid

He has taught me so much about pursuing work that I love, treating people with kindness, and dreaming big.

I spent some time reflecting on what I’ve learned from him, and I want to share those lessons with you – advice from my dad. Dad + advice = DAdvice 🙂

#1 Challenge Yourself

“Do something every year that scares the crap out of you.”

It’s one of the phrases I’ve heard my dad say more times than I can count. He practices what he preaches.

He celebrated his 66th birthday earlier this month by competing in the Raleigh Half Ironman triathlon. That’s a 1.2-mile swim in a lake (that was 81 degrees!) followed by a 56-mile bike ride and finished off with a 13.1-mile run. The very thought of those distances would be enough to discourage and intimidate most people, but my dad embraces races like these. dad-swim-run

As a 5-time Lake Placid Ironman finisher (2.4 miles, 112 miles, 26.2 miles), who is now training for his sixth race with my husband, who will be doing his first, my dad shows me and everyone around him that the greatest roadblock to what we can accomplish is our own limitations.

When he tells people he’s training for another Ironman, Half Ironman, or Olympic-distance triathlon, the first response is often a simple, “WHY??” followed by, “I get exhausted just THINKING about that!” 

He’s not out to prove anything to anyone but himself. He knows that continuing to challenge himself in this way physically and mentally keeps him feeling and looking younger than he is. He learns new lessons with each race.

DAdvice #1: What’s one thing you can do in the next 6 months that excites you (and scares the crap out of you)? Make it happen.

#2 Question What’s “Normal”

My dad and I dancing at my wedding!

My dad and I dancing at my wedding!

What is “normal” anyway? Most of us decide that it’s “normal” to feel old and achy as we age, to be in a less than fulfilling job, or to settle for an “okay” relationship instead of an awesome one.

Why do we do this?

Because we don’t question it. We accept it. We assume it’s how things have to be.

It is what it is.

My dad has taught me by how he lives that those things don’t have to be normal. We can, in fact, shape our lives and the lives of those around us not by accepting what is but by thinking about what could be.

I’ve seen by how he lives that we can age and be well and have energy. That we can do what we love, love what we do, and get paid for it. That we can feel even more in love as we grow older instead of drifting apart or putting up with the other person.

My dad notices that most people his age have accepted that losing energy, feeling rundown, and having aches and pains are “normal” just because they’re common. But he refuses to accept that.

My dad and I at the summit of a mountain in Upstate New York last summer

My dad and I at the summit of a mountain in Upstate New York last summer

Because of his age, people often ask him when he’s going to retire. “From what, to what? I’m already doing what I love” is his response. That mindset has had a significant impact on my life and how I look at and pursue work.

He knows that moving his body and fueling himself with real, whole food are two of the keys to being able to compete in triathlons, spend his leisure time biking, swimming or running, and being so successful with his business. His life is a testament to Satchel Paige’s wise words:

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DADvice #2: What’s one thing you’ve accepted as “normal” that might not be? What might the alternative be?

#3 Embrace What Makes You Different

If you’re someone who grew up feeling “different” from other people, you can likely relate to this one. File_000

My dad was always small for his age and maxed out at 5’6″, so he’s never been much of a physical presence. He was once asked whether his family was in the circus because of his size. He’s always told me that he liked being small because he could always make himself bigger. He felt badly for tall people because it was much harder for them to make themselves smaller.

He moved more than a dozen times when he was a kid due to his dad’s job, so he learned to be adaptable. He learned that humor is a great way to make friends, so he used it to his advantage throughout school (and to this day) as a way of disarming and connecting with people.

As a history teacher, he understands the importance of context, processes, and connections and uses what he has learned to help companies function more effectively, communicate better, and just “get along” as he says. I think he is brilliant at what he does, and he has helped thousands of people with his work.

He inspires me to do things differently in my work, just as he does with his. He’s totally comfortable doing things differently than everyone else. He embraces what makes him different and has taught me to do the same.

He and I recently co-presented a keynote session at the Frederick County SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) annual conference and infused the talk with our unique approach to work and life. It was SO MUCH FUN!

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DADvice #3: In what ways are you “different” from other people? What makes you unique? If you can’t think of it yourself, ask your friends or someone else who knows you well. 

#4 Pursue Lifelong Learning

If any of us buys my dad a DVD as a gift, we know to buy the “extended” edition that includes the director’s commentary because my dad will want to know the story behind the story…every time. He’s one of the most eager learners and voracious readers I’ve ever met. As a result, he stays relevant, offers new insights to his clients, and is always ready to share the latest and greatest teaching with anyone who will listen.

He describes his business as an “interest-driven” business and incorporates his new knowledge into how he consults with companies and individuals. One cool thing he’s helping companies do now is drive negativity out of the workplace using principles he and my mom have learned through marriage workshops they’ve attended.

Whether he’s reading the paper or a new book, talking to a sought after expert, or learning a new swimming or running technique, he constantly pursues new skills and knowledge, so he can continue to grow and feel alive.

DADvice #4: What’s something that interests you? What would you like to learn more about? This week, order a book, sign up for a class, tell a friend. Make forward progress.

#5 Be Humble and Grateful

In the spring of 2009, I almost lost my job. Health care reform legislation had been passed and the need for a full-time wellness person in a small firm was questioned. I remember when I was called into my boss and CFO’s office and was informed that I could stay on board and take on another position or hang around for a few months while I found another job.

I was stunned.

I remember calling my dad in anger and frustration, “Can you BELIEVE this?” I went off about my boss at the time and how I felt taken advantage of by her. I wasn’t feeling heard. I had even started copping a (noticeable) attitude with her when she asked certain things of me.  At times, I told her “it wasn’t my job” to do what was, in fact, her job. (That phrase is, quite possibly, the LEAST effective thing to say…ever. I’d advise against it unless you have a new job lined up). My negativity began permeating other aspects of my work.

I had become indignant. My pride had gotten the best of me.

With his years of wisdom and a strong knowledge of my heart and how I’m wired, my dad did what he does best and helped me see things differently. He was the only person who could have lovingly told me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear. “Honey, she’s your boss. If she asks you to get coffee every morning, you do it. You have a pretty good gig there. You get to do a lot that interests you, you have good benefits, good opportunities, and you work for a good person. Take all of that into consideration.”

He was right. I had gotten proud and felt entitled. What I needed was to be humble and grateful.

DADvice #5: How can you shift your mindset to focus on what is working and what you DO like instead of dwelling on what you don’t? What we focus on expands. One idea is to focus on 3 things you are grateful for each night before you go to bed.

#6 Go for It

Perhaps more than anything else, this advice from my dad has shaped my approach to what I do. Whether I’m pursuing an opportunity or a promotion or want to meet someone I admire, I hear my dad’s words over and over again and have shared them with others:

“The worst thing they’ll tell you is ‘no’.”

Most of us are afraid of rejection. It doesn’t feel good. It makes us feel inadequate, insecure, less than. But so does not trying. If we never try, we’ll never know what is possible.

So, why not ask?

Last year I was recognized as the #1 Health Promotion Professional in the U.S. by WELCOA and was in San Diego for their wellness conference and another conference. A renowned expert in the field whom I admired was to be one of the keynote speakers at the second conference. I had read his book and articles, watched him on videos, and was inspired and impressed by what he was doing.

So, I found his email address on his website and emailed him to tell him how much I admired him and how I would love to meet. Not only did he give me his cell phone number, but he spent nearly three hours at dinner with just me one night of the conference! I was incredibly honored. It was something I will never forget.

Simply because I took a risk…and asked.

Dr. David Katz and me after dinner in San Diego!

Dr. David Katz and me after dinner in San Diego!

DADvice #6: What is something you want that you’ve been too afraid to ask for? Who’s someone you want to meet or talk to that you think is too “big” for you? Ask. Reach out to them. The worst they’ll say is “no”.

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to learn so much from my dad and his example. I know that his influence has shaped my mindset around work, the body, my marriage and how I treat people. I hope the lessons he’s taught me speak to you today.

Remember to challenge yourself, question what’s “normal”, embrace what makes you different, pursue lifelong learning, be humble and grateful, and go for it!

A Dream Come True: When Your Calling Finds You

Last year when I was in San Diego soaking in the final moments of the WELCOA conference after being honored as their Top Health Promotion Professional, I pulled out my journal.

I had one page left and decided to use it to list a few of my intentions and goals for the coming year. At the top of the page, I felt compelled to write this:

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I closed the journal, returned home, and stowed it away in a drawer.

And then it happened.

I received a call from WELCOA in August of 2015 and was invited to speak at their 2016 summit in Orlando!

I hadn’t done anything intentional to “make it happen.” I hadn’t pushed for it. I wasn’t trying. I hadn’t even asked WELCOA if I could present or told them I was interested. I had simply put my intention on paper.

And my calling found me.

I was asked to speak about eating in a way that was refreshing, non-prescriptive, and welcoming. I couldn’t believe my dream was becoming a reality.

I knew I needed to keep the message simple yet compelling. I wanted to invite people to be curious about food and their bodies, not to judge them or “tell” them what to do. One of my goals and life missions is to reframe the conversation around food to move away from fear, shame, guilt and judgement and toward something that is inspiring, empowering, uplifting, positive, encouraging and supportive.

As I geared up for the presentation, my dad, who is one of my greatest mentors in business and life, sent me this image because he knows how significant the symbol of a butterfly has been to me lately.

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I had to let that one soak in.

What if he was right?

What if it was true?

What if I was ready?

As I transitioned from, “I think I can/ Can I really?/ Why me?/ Who am I to do this?” to “I’ve got this/ I can do it/ I was born for this!” in the days leading up to the presentation, a sense of peace came over me.

Reading this passage from my devotional two days before my presentation was all the assurance I needed to know I would be given what I needed to do what I was called to do. I couldn’t help but feel as though the words had been written just for me:

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I was humbled and encouraged by what I read.

“You have no reason to be afraid, Rachel.”

“I’ve got you.”

The morning of the presentation, I opened a gift and card from my husband, Bill, who knows my heart better than anyone. It was just the lift I needed to start the day. Another butterfly…and a pretty awesome card.

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It was as though everything and everyone around me was supporting me, lifting me up, and speaking truth to me.

In that moment, I knew I was ready.

As I approached the stage on Tuesday morning, my eagerness turned into an adrenaline rush that flooded my body with a powerful surge of energy I couldn’t explain. I could feel the power of the dozens of people who were praying for me and wishing me well back in Baltimore and in that room.

For the next hour, I delivered a message of hope, encouragement and life to a room of nearly 400 of my peers and colleagues. We had the opportunity to connect, savor, laugh and be transformed by the truth about food.

What a privilege it was, a moment I will never forget.

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I felt so alive

Free.

Flowing.

Radiant.

Present.

Connected.

and

Worthy.

I truly felt like the best, most authentic version of myself and was aligned in every way with the core desired feelings I declared at the beginning of 2016.

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When my time was up, I stepped down from the stage, realizing that what I had just done was a challenging but defining step along my journey.

I couldn’t have done it without the help and support of my family, friends, colleagues, coworkers, the folks at the Institute for Integrative Health, and my church community. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you did to prepare me for this moment.

I’m so grateful.

Thank you to everyone at the conference who was kind enough to offer words of affirmation to me throughout the week. That is my #1 love language, so I was honored and humbled by the number of kind and thoughtful things people said. “Authentic,” “captivating,” “inspiring,” and “real.” Your words spoke to my heart and are what I aspire to do and who I strive to be.

One of the questions that excited me most was whether or not I’ve ever considered giving a TED Talk. Yes! Yes, I have. It’s one of the items on my new goal list. I believe it will happen one day, so I will remain open.

I will continue to pursue what makes me feel most alive.

I will surround myself with people who lift me up and speak truth to me.

I will dream even bigger dreams and believe they are possible.

My calling will find me once again, just as yours will find you.

Trust that if you are called, you will be equipped.

All you have to do is be patient, be open and listen.

And be ready for your time to fly.

Connect.Savor.Nourish: A Refreshing Approach to Eating

Quick Note: If you’re having trouble with old links working due to the recent website transition, please use the search box on the right-hand side to find the post/recipe you’re looking for. Links will continue to be updated to minimize error messages 🙂 Thank you for your patience!

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Food has always been a special part of my life.

Going grocery shopping and to farmer’s markets with my mom as a little girl.

Waiting for the horse-drawn “strawberry man” cart to come to our neighborhood with fresh “strawbetties”, as I called them.

Picking wild raspberries along the side of the road in upstate New York on a warm summer day.

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Photo Credit: Laura Toraldo Photography

Listening intently as my elderly neighbor and Julia Child admirer, Miss Muriel, taught me the art of making cheesecake, pasta, bread, and sugar cookies from scratch. 

Spending my summers in high school guiding customers how to pick out ripe watermelons and the perfect peach.

I’ve always been drawn to food.

After conducting several nutrition-based research studies with a professor in college, pursuing a graduate degree in health science, completing my health coach training, and running my company’s wellness program for the past decade, I knew I had to do something more than just read or talk about food.

I had to write about it.

I was encouraged by friends and coworkers to start a blog over two years ago, and that’s how Rachel’s Nourishing Kitchen first came to be. Since starting the blog, I haven’t felt like it reflects my style or my brand, so I’ve been working to change that. Over a year ago, my designer created this beautiful logo for me, and I’ve wanted to showcase it on my site ever since then!

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It’s playful, fun, inviting and warm. I love the little pop of color and how I feel when I see it. I’ve gotten similar feedback from dozens of people when I hand them my business card.

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Photo Credit: Laura Toraldo Photography

Today I’m excited to celebrate the roll-out of my redesigned website, complete with branding, professional pictures, and a cleaner, less cluttered look. This is the first phase of the redesign process, so you can look forward to even more improvements in user experience and functionality in the future.

In the process of coming up with the new design for the site, I spent some time thinking about what makes me different and what makes this site different. What’s the unique message that I want to put out into the world in a way that is meaningful to me and my readers?

After years of writing, teaching workshops, and interacting with people one-on-one and in groups, I’ve come to realize that what makes Rachel’s Nourishing Kitchen different is the refreshing, inviting, judgment-free, hopeful, and empowering approach I take. I stand in my truth and am honest about my victories and my struggles. I invite you along that journey with me, giving you permission to explore your own health, life, body and food choices.

We’re inundated with confusing, often negative, fear-driven information around food in the media and in our conversations. Most of us are looking for something beyond a diet, something that will stick, something that makes us feel good and gives us hope.

What if instead of feeling overwhelmed, you felt empowered about eating?

What if instead of obsessing over calories, you could connect with why you eat in the first place and what foods make you feel best and most alive?

What if instead of judging yourself for what you ate, you decided to get curious about it?CuriousG

I’ve updated my tagline to reflect what I feel is my unique message around food – Connect.Savor.Nourish. I want to invite you to connect with and savor your food and nourish yourself in every sense of the word.

  • CONNECT with your food – why you eat, how it makes you feel, where it comes from, and the impact it has beyond your plate – and with a community of people that lifts you up and brings out the best in you.
  • SAVOR your food by slowing down and making eating an experience, so you can truly taste and enjoy your food instead of feeling guilty about it.
  • NOURISH your body with energizing, healing, life-giving foods, so you can look and feel like the best version of yourself and, in turn, be your best for others.rnk_logo200_new

People who don’t know me often ask me why I have the word “kitchen” in my blog, since I don’t operate a physical space called Rachel’s Nourishing Kitchen.

Here’s the reason.

The kitchen is a special place. I’m going to guess that you have positive memories at some point in your life that involve a kitchen.

I remember baking Christmas cookies and muffins with my mom, sharing family dinners at the table, and sitting down after a long day at school to a snack with my brother. We set out cookies for Santa, dyed Easter eggs, and blew out birthday candles at that table. It was a place to gather, a place to share stories, a place to make memories and connect.

Food is about so much more than nutrition.

It’s about life. It’s about connection, celebration, enjoyment, and nourishment. I love what nutritionist, Marc David, has to say about the connection between food and life.

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Whether it’s your first time here or you’ve been here since the very beginning, welcome.

Welcome to my nourishing kitchen – a place of connection, and community. A place to be yourself and try new things. A place to find delicious, nourishing recipes that nourish your body. A place where you are invited to explore why, how, and what you eat in a way that is energizing, inspiring, and makes you feel alive.

I’m grateful you’re here, and I hope you’ll come back soon to visit!

 

What’s Your “Weightless Why”?

One of the commitments I’ve made since Day 1 of writing this blog is to be transparent and authentic. One colleague recently affirmed this by saying to me, “You stand in your truth.”  I was humbled by her comment and took it to heart because I know how important it is for me to do that.

I aspire to be refreshing, energizing and inspiring in my words and in my tone. I’ve learned there is immense power in being honest about ourselves and our struggles and that it gives other people permission to be open and honest about theirs. I invite people to be curious rather than passing judgment. This makes them feel safe, and it builds trust.

As part of my journey, I’ve had a constantly changing relationship with my self-image, confidence, health and weight. As I shared in my most vulnerable blog post in late December, I’ve been on a healing journey with my body and have been working to restore my health and well-being.

I’ve gone from being clinically malnourished only two years ago to looking and feeling alive, vibrant, radiant and whole today.

RD Before After

Throughout that process, I struggled emotionally, fighting fears of weight gain and what the public perception would be of “the wellness person” gaining weight. But I did what I knew I had to do to get my life back and give my body what it needed to feel its best.

I stopped weighing myself and now focus on the process of being well. This is what has worked for me, so I simply offer my story as an invitation to get curious about your own life and open up to a different way of thinking. Today, I care more about how my body feels and functions and less about a three-digit number that doesn’t tell the whole story.

I eat nourishing, whole, colorful food and cook most meals at home with my husband.

I make time to savor what I’m eating, so that I can truly taste it and enjoy it, whether it’s a piece of dark chocolate or a roasted sweet potato. 

I move my body regularly in ways that I enjoy and in ways that challenge me.

I surround myself with a loving, supportive, and fun community.

I’m involved in my church and make it a priority to give back.

I continue to pursue purpose-driven work that makes me feel alive.

Instead of using weight as my motivation for eating the way I do, I align how I eat with my life’s greater purpose, which is to bring hope, inspiration and empowerment to people through food and stories, so they can feel better and be the best version of themselves.

When I feel my best, I can be my best for others.

I eat the way I do to have lasting energy, a stable and lifted mood, a strong immune system that keeps me healthy, boosted physical performance, glowing skin, and thick hair. Food has given me my life back and the life in food has gievn me life.

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So, how about you?

Do you ever get hung up on the number on the scale? Have you ever allowed it to dictate your day? How you feel? How you see yourself? Whether you wear certain clothes or show up at an event? How much power and control do you give that number?

When weight is our only metric of “success,” we might not notice improvements in our mood, sleep, energy, skin, and performance that come along the way.

When we focus too much on the outcome, we often miss out on what the process is teaching us.

Being aware of our weight is not bad or wrong in and of itself, but when we obsess about it and let it run our lives and dictate how we feel on a daily basis, it can do more harm than good. Even Weight Watchers, a company whose very focus is weight, recently launched a new program called “Beyond the Scale” because they realize their customers are seeking something more.

If they can invite people to do that, so can we.

The most enduring, highest quality form of motivation comes from within us, not from the outside. If we want our motivation to last and our habits to stick, it’s important that we tap into something deeper and identify compelling reasons why we’re living the way we’re living and eating the way we’re eating.

For that reason, I invite you to identify something that I call your “Weightless Why”. What are the reasons you are motivated or inspired to nourish your body in a way that fuels you to be the best version of yourself that has nothing to do with the number on the scale?

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Here are just a few reasons I’ve come up with over the years that motivate me:

  • Feeling energized
  • More stable and elevated mood
  • Better mental focus
  • Being medication-free!
  • No more seasonal allergies
  • No more acid reflux
  • Bronchitis and ear infections are a thing of the past
  • A strong immune system that keeps me well (even when everyone else is sick!)
  • Warm tone/color to my skin
  • Clear skin (best of my life!)
  • No more aches and pains
  • Enhanced athletic performance and recovery
  • Improved digestion
  • Better sleep
  • To support local, sustainable farming practices and farmers

Which of those reasons resonate with you? Are there any that I missed that you would add?

I’d love to hear from YOU about your “Weightless Why.”

Feel free to leave a comment below.

The Courage to Be Vulnerable: My Untold Story

The story I’m about to share is the most vulnerable thing I’ve ever done.

Fear tends to accompany vulnerability, especially when we’re putting our WHOLE selves out there into the world.

Fear of rejection.

Fear of judgment.

Fear of being “too much.”

But I have to share this.

Because what I’ve experienced over the past five years has been a gift.

It has happened for me, not to me.

It’s my responsibility to be open enough to find meaning in my journey and to use it for good.

So, with that, here’s the story I’ve never told until now.

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I swore it would never happen again.

That I would never gain back the weight. That I’d never wear “those” clothes again.

I remember five years ago when I started proudly packing up all of my old clothes that no longer fit. I’d lost so much weight that I had gradually amassed a brand new wardrobe.

I hadn’t thought it was possible to get back to the weight I was in high school, but I had. The last time my body was this size, I was playing competitive soccer. I couldn’t believe it. I thought my body was destined to be the size it had become, but I had proven myself wrong and surprised myself.

In addition to losing weight, I had uncovered the root causes of other nagging body issues like congestion, allergies, acid reflux, and other digestive discomfort and had adjusted my diet to get rid of the triggers.

My body was more adaptable than I’d ever thought possible.

I felt good – better than ever. I was happy and for the first time in years, I loved going shopping to try on clothes. Nothing was tight. I had dropped a size or two.

I was proud of what I’d accomplished.

And I was convinced it was where my body was meant to be.

For years, I didn’t even think about my weight. I naturally maintained my weight and even lost a few more pounds, without much effort. In one of my most read blog posts ever about how I lost 20 pounds and kept it off, I wrote about what I did to lose the weight.

I had never gotten attention for my body before.

I welcomed the praise.

The “You look great/so good/amazing!” and “Have you lost weight??” comments fed my ego and my sense of worthiness. I had been employed as a Corporate Wellness Specialist for years, but now I looked the part.

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I started to tell my story of how I had lost weight and gotten off of acid reflux medication after a decade of taking it every day.

My story became my identity – “Wellness Consultant Drops 20 Pounds and a Decade of Taking Medication.”

But, as the body tends to do, mine started to change.

During the winter and spring of 2013, I hit my lowest weight. I had completed coursework about the benefits of a plant-based diet, which I had adopted years earlier when the weight loss began. What I learned caused me to stop eating animal products. I had cut out dairy a few years prior, as I found out it was one of my trigger foods, but now I wasn’t eating meat, poultry or even eggs.

My body started whispering to me, sending subtle signals that something wasn’t quite right.

I had lost weight everywhere, including my chest.

I looked more like a 14-year-old girl than a 28-year-old woman.

My libido was MIA.

My menstrual cycle was irregular.

Then, in August 2013, my body ceased whispering and started shouting.

“That time of the month” stopped coming.

For 7 months.

Seven long months.

And, no, I wasn’t pregnant.

Bill and I knew we wanted to have kids one day, but if that system wasn’t working, I wasn’t sure how it would be possible.

I switched OB/Gyns. I met with a natural fertility specialist.

I started seeing Dr. Mary Jo Fishburn, an acupuncturist and integrative medicine doctor. She had me complete a series of tests called Genova NutrEval to help us arrive at some answers about what wasn’t working in my body.

The tests would give us key information about five core nutrient areas: antioxidants, B vitamins, digestive support, essential fatty acids, and minerals.

The results came back.

I was devastated.

They were coded stoplight-style – red, yellow, green – and I was “in the red” on over a dozen key nutrients.

My body wasn’t breaking down and absorbing proteins.

We started looking at the food sources of each of those nutrients.

“But I’m eating most of those,” I responded. I ate plenty of spinach, kale, almonds, quinoa, and other nutrient-rich foods.

I was so confused.

What was happening inside my body?

I had just about stopped eating animal products, a major source of B vitamins and amino acids for most people, and the decade of acid blockers had messed with my body’s ability to properly use vitamin B12.

Years of taking antibiotics and acid blockers and consuming foods that were compromising my immune system had interfered with my body’s ability to break down and absorb nutrients from my food.

I had become malnourished.

It sounded like such a harsh word, but my test results supported it.

“You might need to gain some weight,” she suggested.

I had never been told by anyone that I was underweight. I never thought of myself as being “too thin.”

But I was. I appeared to be doing everything right from the outside, but my body wasn’t okay on the inside.

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But what would happen if I gained weight?

What would people think??

I had lost weight, kept it off, and was telling my story everywhere I went.

It had become part of my identity.

If I gained weight, people would notice.

Would they question my credibility to speak and teach about what to eat?

Would I lose their trust in me and my position as an “expert”?

Then, the internal name-calling began:

Imposter.

Fraud.

The fears began to overwhelm me, but I knew I had to keep moving forward.

I couldn’t keep ignoring my body’s signals.

My doctor referred me to a nutritionist, Kasia Kines, who I started seeing in January 2014.

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She put me on therapeutic doses of high quality supplements to begin replenishing and rebuilding my body’s stores of nutrients.

I slowly began reintroducing animal products into my diet. I made sure they were high quality – grass-fed, organic, pastured, etc. It started as a once a week thing and then built up.

Because of what I’d done to my body, my stomach acid production was deficient – something that is common among people who have acid reflux – but is misdiagnosed as excess acid. I was put on a hydrochloric acid supplement to take with protein-containing meals.

My body began responding.

My appetite returned.

I didn’t realize it, but for years, I hadn’t felt true hunger. I had been taking some form of medicine for acid reflux since I was 19 and had essentially shut down my stomach acid production. With the acid reintroduced to my stomach, my body could properly break down proteins into building blocks for the first time in years.

The ultimate gift came a few short weeks after starting with Kasia.

In January 2014, after waking up early one morning to use the restroom, I ran into our bedroom and shouted to Bill, “I’m a WOMAN again!!”

I couldn’t believe it.

I had hope.

My body was starting to cooperate, but I was still very irregular.

I brought my concerns back to my nutritionist.

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to have kids,” I told her, as a tear rolled down my cheek.

What she said next hit the deepest part of my being. She told me to repeat this phrase to myself whenever I was feeling discouraged:

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Oh, how I needed to hear that. 

And, oh, how it broke me.

She had no idea how profound and inspiring those words would be for me for years to come.

As my body started absorbing nutrients and with the guidance of my doctor and nutritionist, I started to gain weight. I opened myself up to the possibility that doing so could help me reach my ultimate goal.

My cycle finally regulated itself in October 2014 and has been on track on a monthly basis ever since.

But with it has come weight, something I’ve emotionally struggled with over the past year. I now wrestle with the fear that losing too much weight will send me back to the female issues I’ve recently overcome.

I’ve been making a conscious effort to shift my mindset about what has happened and what it means. Insights from books by Brene Brown, Geneen Roth, Marc David, and Elizabeth Gilbert have helped and have inspired me to face my body fears.

Instead of judging myself and feeling self-conscious or crying in the mirror when I don’t fit into an outfit I wore a year ago (been there, done that), I’m trying to focus on recognizing and appreciating everything my body does for me.

It wakes up each morning, so I can take on a new day.

My heart beats and my lungs bring oxygen every second.

My hair and nails are strong.

My cycle is back on track.

My skin has improved.

My reflux is still gone.

I have energy all day long.

RD Tossing Kale Looking Up

Photo cred: Laura Toraldo Photography

I’ve had the best year ever in my career.

My nutrient levels are back in healthy ranges.

In the midst of pushing myself physically, mentally and emotionally, my immune system kicks on to fight the bad guys trying to slow me down.

I can’t remember the last time I was sick.

I’m more in tune with my body and what it’s trying to tell me than ever before.

I’m doing my best to love this one precious, beautiful body I’ve been given.

Even when it confuses me.

Even when it frustrates me.

Even when I catch a glimpse of a picture of my once malnourished body in a dress that no longer fits.

In those moments, I remind myself of my nutritionist’s words of wisdom:

“What a journey you have had!

We are human. We do have to honor our bodies.

They are not at fault.

Other things are.

Just be gentle and forgiving.

It is doing its best for you!

It always has.”

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The Power of Disconnecting: 7 Life Lessons from the Adirondacks

I know how important it is to nourish myself with more than food, but I’ve been running myself a bit ragged over the past few weeks and haven’t made that much of a priority.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day busyness and lose sight of what matters.

Amazing things happen when we physically get away and give ourselves space to just be.

My recent vacation to Upstate New York was exactly what I needed to reset, recharge and refocus my body and brain.

It nourished my soul.

Most people who live in Baltimore spend their summers at the beach, but my vacation has always involved an 8-hour drive to the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York. It’s where my mom spent her summers as a kid and where her parents lived for as long as I can remember.

I have so many great memories of spending summer vacations “Up North” as a kid, and I’ve grown to appreciate it even more as an adult.

My parents think of it as their heaven on earth, and it has become something similar for me in recent years. As much as I’m running around all the time at home, I can’t help but disconnect and refocus myself physically and mentally when I’m up there.

It’s such a special, centering, and grounding place.

Overlooking the Adirondack Mountains on a recent hike in Lake Placid, New York

One of my favorite things to do is hike the mountains. The air is crisp, clear and free of pollution, and the views are absolutely breathtaking.

As my husband, Bill, and I were hiking one of the 46 High Peaks with my parents (both in their 60s!), it started to hit me how much hiking and life have in common.

Whether we’re trying to reach a goal related to weight, movement, or what we’re eating, having a healthy perspective around the journey, destination and challenges along the way can help us stay on the path instead of being deterred or discouraged.

I’m always open to inspiration, no matter what I’m doing, and our hike up Phelps Mountain ended up being the perfect time to take in the lessons life had to teach me that day.

When we take time to nourish our entire being and realize that there’s more to life and being well than kale salads and green smoothies, we can learn tremendous lessons.

Lesson #1: Be prepared and have a plan

When you go for a hike, you don’t typically do it on a whim.

You pick a trail you can physically handle and usually a peak with good views. You check the forecast to make sure the weather is going to be nice. Clear days are the best days for views at the summit, so you plan for those as best you can. You pack food, water, a trail guide, first aid supplies, a camera, and whatever else you’ll need to stay hydrated, fueled, and safe.

Some of my favorite snacks to take on a hike!

The same goes with life. The more we set aside time to think through a plan and map out what we’ll need to be successful, the more likely we are to end up where we want to be.

I know quite a few people who plan each day the night before, so they can live intentionally and start each day focused on what they want to get out of it instead of just letting it pass by.

Planning time is not wasted time. It helps us be more productive, focused and intentional, so make time for it in the midst of the busyness.

Lesson #2: Enjoy the journey

The goal of hiking isn’t just to get to the summit and climb back down. Relative to the total hike, you spend a sliver of time at the top and most of the time getting there or back.

Getting through the hike makes you appreciate the summit that much more, so instead of anticipating the outcome at the expense of appreciating the journey, enjoy the entire hike, from the ascent to the summit to the descent.

Stop and pick the blueberries, look for beauty, take off your shoes and rest your tired feet in the ice cold spring water.

Stopping to pick blueberries on Blueberry Mountain

Someone else spelled this out on one of the lookouts. So cool!

Bill taking a break along the trail

We stopped at a stream to put our toes in the water on our way off the mountain

As the daughter of two entrepreneurs and someone with passion and desire to continually raise the bar, I often forget to do this. I’m so focused on “getting somewhere” that I don’t appreciate where I am in the moment and end up stressed as a result.

Enjoying the journey as much as the destination is about being fully present to where we are in the moment instead of wishing it away.

Lesson #3: It’s okay to get lost or go the “wrong” way

Hiking trails aren’t always clearly defined. Sometimes you make a wrong turn or get lost and have to figure out how to get back on track.

One time, Bill and I completely missed a sign and ended up hiking up a ski trail (talk about tiring!). It actually ended up being a bit of a shortcut but was a tougher climb than the actual trail would have been. We may not have gone the “right way” but we ended up where we needed to be.

The same thing happens in life. We can be so afraid of making mistakes or doing something “wrong” that we don’t even try.

Who says your way isn’t the right way just because other people do it differently?

Lesson #4: Trust your gut; it’s smarter than you

When we talk about having a “gut” feeling, that’s a real thing. We have neurotransmitters and nerve endings in our digestive system that are directly connected to our brain. When we were on our hike with my parents, we didn’t see trail markers for a solid half hour, and my mom started to worry if we were going the right way.

But we instinctively knew we were on the trail. Eventually, we saw trail markers, but we didn’t wait until we saw them to keep moving up.

In life, there aren’t always giant, in-your-face signs telling us what to do or where to go.

If we’re always waiting for a definite, clear-cut answer about what to do before moving forward, we might miss out on something or never get to where we’re meant to be.

Sometimes, we just have to trust our gut and listen to what our intuition is telling us.

Lesson #5: You’re going to have some “Holy S#@!” moments

The High Peaks are infamous for some pretty steep rock beds and scrambles as you approach the summit. When you’re hiking, you’re usually looking not more than a few feet in front of you, so you don’t always see them up ahead.

I remember on our hike that I looked up at a steep pitch at one point and just thought to myself, “Holy S#@!” as I tried to figure out how the heck I was going to get beyond it.

 

This happens in life a lot. We’re in the midst of our day or our journey, and roadblocks or barriers come out of nowhere and rattle us.

Sometimes, we have no idea how we’re going to get around them. But we assess the situation, consider a few possible options and go with what makes the most sense or “feels” right. We have to take action, or we won’t move forward.

Lesson #6: Get support from others along the way

Some people like to hike alone for the solitude, and I can totally understand why. But I find so many aspects of hiking are more fun when I’m with at least one other person.

It means we can share the load of whatever we have in our packs. We have another set of eyes and intuition to guide us along the trail. We have someone who can help us over physical obstacles like ladders or steep pitches. We have someone to talk to and take pictures with throughout the hike.

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The same goes with life. When we bring other people on our journey with us, they can support and guide us along the way and celebrate with us when we reach our goal.

Struggles and celebrations are easier when we go through them with other people.

Lesson #7: Soak in the summit

One of the most magical moments of a hike is when you reach the peak of a mountain. The views are stunning, especially on a clear day, that you can’t help but be silent and take in the beauty and peacefulness of your surroundings.

When we hike, we usually spend a solid hour at the summit. We take our shoes off, down some water, and enjoy our well-deserved lunch. We take pictures, lay on the rocks, bask in the sun, and take in the entire experience.

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I find this hard to do in my life. When I accomplish something, I’m quick to move on to whatever the next project or goal is and rarely appreciate what I’ve just done.

I don’t take time to celebrate victories.

But last week, the mountains reminded me that there’s something incredibly satisfying about pausing to treasure and honor something we’ve worked hard to accomplish, to fully soak in the awesomeness of that moment.

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Sometimes we have to step away from the crazy busy worlds most of us live in to reflect on our journey and what we’re trying to accomplish on a daily basis. I hope some of these reflections speak to and inspire you today to reset, refocus and take on a new perspective along your journey, no matter where you are on the path.

My WELCOA Moment: A Day I Will Never Forget

Each of us has days in our lives that we’ll remember forever. 

Tuesday, March 31st was one of those days for me.

In February, I found out that I had been named the Top Health Promotion Professional in the U.S. by the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA).

I was overjoyed and shocked when I got the news and am pretty sure I didn’t stop smiling for about a week!

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Doing the work that I do is rewarding in and of itself because I’m put in a position on an almost daily basis to impact people’s lives for the better and to give them hope that they can be well.

A super cool perk that was packaged with the award was a trip to San Diego to attend WELCOA’s annual summit, which brings together leaders in our field and serves as a source of inspiration, energy, and community each time I come.

On the second day of the summit, I had the privilege and opportunity of delivering an acceptance speech to nearly 400 of my peers, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

welcoa stage

I had spent several weeks working on what I wanted to say, crafting the words based on inspirations that came to me first thing in the morning, on a run, after conversations with my dad, and even in the midst of reflecting on what other speakers shared during the conference.

Our message was essentially the same: Tell your story. Stories are powerful.

As Ryan called me up on stage, I was so present to that moment and just took in everything I could. You know you’re doing what you’re meant to do when you feel so alive and excited you could burst with joy, and that is how I felt in this moment.

I was humbled by the kind words complete strangers, colleagues, and industry leaders shared with me afterwards. Several people commented that I should speak at a future WELCOA conference.

Wouldn’t that be the coolest?! 🙂

I felt so overwhelmed with gratitude for being given this honor and so humbled that what I had to say meant something to and touched so many people.

Some people wait their whole lives to feel how I felt on Tuesday

At the beginning of this year, I declared that I wanted to FEEL five things:

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The experience I had at the WELCOA Summit gave me the opportunity to feel all of them at once.

I felt so alive

I can hardly put into words how incredibly special and meaningful this experience has been for me.

It was a feeling, a moment, and a day that I will never forget, and for that, I am grateful.

Do you want to bring health and wellbeing to your workplace? If you want to learn more about how I can help, including leadership training and interactive health and nutrition workshops, contact me at rachel@silbs.com.

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