Category: My Story (Page 1 of 11)

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:

Vegan Carrot Cake Muffins {Gluten-Free}

Carrot cake is my JAM.

I love everything about it. From the moist texture of the cake with a hint of spice and a crunch of walnuts to the rich and creamy icing, carrot cake is in a league of its own. I always have a piece on my birthday! My go to place for gluten-free, dairy-free carrot cake is Great Sage, a vegan restaurant in the little town of Clarksville, Maryland. It’s one of our top places to eat, and the staff there are wonderful, too! You should definitely check it out, if you haven’t been already.

Speaking of plant-based food, I recently discovered an AMAZING blueberry muffin recipe from the Forks Over Knives Cookbook, which is one of my favorite cookbooks. Since it turned out so well, I figured I would use the same base and then tinker with the other ingredients to make a carrot cake muffin version.

And that’s exactly what happened! After three attempts at combining ingredients in just the right way, I came up with a winner.

This recipe is vegan and gluten-free and can be made nut-free if you use a different type of yogurt. I opted to use my favorite dairy-free yogurt made by Forager Project, which I reviewed earlier this year in this post. You can easily make your own oat flour by grinding up gluten-free rolled oats in your food processor until they reach a fine texture. I added some spices to enhance the flavor and jazz them up a bit.

I’m happy to report that they turned out tasting great! Bill gave them two thumbs up, and they were a hit at a brunch I brought them to this weekend. They are great for breakfast with a little smear of nut butter, or you can enjoy them with one of my favorite blogger’s creamy cashew icing. I HIGHLY recommend doing that!

 

OPTIONAL but recommended: Top these muffins with a smear of this delicious creamy cashew icing from the Detoxinista!

Print

Vegan Carrot Cake Muffins

These gluten-free, vegan muffins are moist, flavorful and perfect for breakfast, a snack or dessert!

Course Breakfast
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 12 muffins
Author Rachel Druckenmiller

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups oat flour process rolled oats in a food processor until fine
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup non-dairy plain yogurt I used Forager Project's unsweetened plain cashewgurt
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup crushed pineapple
  • 1/3 cup walnuts chopped

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together oat flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.

  2. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the milk, applesauce, yogurt, and vanilla and whisk them together before mixing everything in the bowl together, until just combined. Fold in the carrots, raisins, pineapple, and walnuts until just combined.

  3. In a silicone muffin pan or regular muffin pan lined with silicone liners, use an ice cream scoop to scoop muffin mix into each slot. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Don't over bake, or they will become dry.

What We Eat: A Peek at Our Weekly Menu

I’ve had people ask time and time again what a typical week of eating looks like for me and Bill. Every week is different, but I thought I’d give you a glimpse of what last week and the upcoming week consisted of for our meals.

I tend to make a combination of my own recipes from this blog and often look to the Nourishing Meals Cookbook, The Undiet CookbookForks Over Knives: The Cookbook or one of Rebecca Katz’s many healing cookbooks, with a recent focus on The Longevity Kitchen Cookbook

We pretty much follow Michael Pollan’s advice to “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Sometimes I’m a little off on the “not too much” part, if I’m being completely honest, but we prioritize eating real food made from ingredients we recognize and can pronounce. The vast majority of what we eat, especially for me, consists of plant-based foods like veggies, fruit, beans, grains, nuts and seeds, and we load up on herbs and spices for flavor. I do eat some animal proteins a couple of times a week, usually wild caught fish or pasture-raised chicken or eggs.

My husband Bill’s German heritage demands a higher animal protein ratio than what I eat. He just feels better eating a bit more of it than me! That’s why I’m such a huge advocate of listening to your body and paying attention to what gives you energy and what takes it away. I encourage you to experiment with different foods to see which ones make you feel best. For more on my philosophy around food and eating, check out this recent post.

Okay, now let’s get back to the food. Want to know what a week of breakfast, lunch and dinner looks like for us? Check out the list below!

Breakfast

Because I’m on a healing foods protocol through my nutritionist, as I’m restoring my body from Epstein-Barr Virus, I’m not eating certain things that Bill eats on a regular basis, like eggs. He loves making breakfast and puts in a lot of work each morning. A typical breakfast for him consists of roasted sweet potatoes, sautéed onions and tomatoes or peppers, and an egg, usually served on or with a Swapple, which is one of my favorite freezer staples as well. We also like Bilinski’s casing-free, real food chicken sausage, especially the kale balsamic version!

I usually have a smoothie because it’s the easiest way to pack a lot of goodness into one glass (or smoothie bowl!). I’ve been opting for blueberries as my main fruit because of how antioxidant-packed they are. I alternate which fats I use, including coconut butter, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds and avocado. I usually throw in a handful of baby spinach or baby kale and round out everything with a scoop of protein powder or an extra sprinkle of hemp seeds.

I’ll have to share the smoothie I’ve been making lately, so you have the recipe, but this Blueberry Blast Smoothie is pretty similar!

I absolutely LOVE the Oat Berry Yogurt Muffin recipe from the Forks Over Knives Cookbook and have been serving that with Trader Joe’s mixed nut butter. I also tried the Detoxinista’s Vegan Almond Flour Banana Bread. It’s RICH and pretty hearty, since it’s made with almonds as the base, but I really liked the flavors!

Lunch & Dinner

To be honest, lunch and dinner don’t look that different for us. I almost always have a big salad for lunch as my base and often serve up leftovers from dinner for lunch because it makes things easier and saves us time. I’m a big advocate of making grain or salad bowls, which basically consists of throwing together some cooked and raw veggies (focus on leafy greens!), some source of protein (usually beans), something crunchy like nuts or seeds, and a grain like quinoa or brown rice if I’m making a grain bowl. I top it all off with a dressing and toss everything together.

As much as I love to cook, sometimes I need something nourishing when I haven’t planned ahead and packed. When I’m on the go, some of my favorite places to hit up are Stall11 at RHouse, sweetgreen, Harmony Bakery, the Naked Lunch Cafe, and Whole Foods Market hot bar and salad bar. I link to all of those places and others in my healthy foodie dining guide to Baltimore.

Here’s what we’ve been cooking up lately!

That’s a look at some of what we’ve been cooking up in our kitchen lately. We stick with some of our favorite familiar staples and try a few new ones here and there.

How about you? What’s on your menu? Try anything new lately? Feel free to share in the comments below! I love trying new recipes 🙂

My Food Philosophy: What Matters Most

Are you paleo? Vegan? Gluten-free? What diet are you on?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked questions about what “diet” I follow. I get it. It can be tempting to categorize ourselves and to label the way we eat.

We have a desire to know “the way” and what the right answer is when it comes to what we “should” be eating. But I’m not a huge fan of labels. They can be limiting, restrictive, and isolating.

If I had to describe the type of food I eat, I would say it is colorful, mostly plant-based, with a focus on whole, real ingredients that I can pronounce. I eat to feel good, not just for the next five minutes, but for as long as possible. I’ve found that gluten and dairy-based foods don’t make my body feel good, so I don’t eat them. I prioritize the quality of my food and want to know where it comes from and whom my purchase impacts.

But I’m not “on a diet,” and I don’t eat this way to prove anything to anyone.

A few years ago, I interviewed a local naturopathic doctor, Dr. Kristapps Paddock, and I’ll never forget what he said.

Dogma is a belief or set of beliefs that’s accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.

Isn’t that true of most diets?

We don’t question them. We accept them as truth because some celebrity, health expert, or friend told us so.

Unfortunately, this has brought us to a place of not questioning things, not asking why, not getting curious. We don’t stop to notice if they are working for us. One of the most helpful and transformational things we can do when it comes to what we eat is to question everything. To get curious. To pay attention to our body’s signals.

We know more than we’ve ever known about food and nutrition, but there is still so much more to learn that it doesn’t make sense for us to be polarizing when it comes to eating. It drives a lot of people away from conversations about nutrition. While the same general principles are universal (i.e., eat food, not too much, lots of plants), the nuances may not be. Everybody is different, so what’s most important is that we get curious about what works for US (not our neighbor, co-worker, friend or family member).

So, instead of adopting a dogmatic attitude toward eating, I have a food philosophy. It captures my approach to eating, the mindset I have around food, and what I believe to be true. It communicates what I’m about and how I want to think and feel when it comes to food.

It’s not irrefutable. It’s not scientific. It’s not the only way.

It’s empowering. It’s clarifying. It reminds me of what is true for me and my body. It’s what I’ve come to learn works best for me.

As you read it, I invite you think about which parts resonate with you. If anything does, try to hold on to that idea and let it guide the eating choices you make this week. If you want to take it to another level, try coming up with your own version of a food philosophy!

My Food Philosophy

I believe food matters.
I believe my body matters.
I believe I matter.
I believe I’m more than a number.
More than a dress size, calorie count, or scale reading.
I believe in being curious about what I eat and noticing, without judging, how food affects me.
I believe in connecting with my food, how it makes me feel, where it comes from and the impact it has beyond my plate.
I believe food is a way to connect with my body, my community, and my purpose.
I believe in slowing down and savoring food, noticing its textures, aromas, and beauty; pausing to express gratitude for the beauty on my plate.
I believe in enjoying food without anxiety, guilt, shame or judgment.
I believe in elevating the quality of my food and eating the highest quality available.
I believe in upgrading my diet to crowd out whatever is not working for me.
I believe in eating food that tastes good AND makes me feel good.
I believe in being open to exploring and trying new foods.
I believe food is inherently amoral (neither “good” nor “bad”).
I believe I am responsible for my eating choices.
If I’m going to eat it, I own it (I’m not “cheating”).
I believe having energy, glowing skin, a strong immune system and a positive mood are signs that I’m giving my body what it needs.
I believe in fueling and nourishing my body with whole, vibrant, healing food, so I can feel alive and energized and fulfill my purpose here on earth.
But I believe food is only part of the puzzle when it comes to being our best selves.
Food matters, but there is more to living well than eating well.
Friendships, community, connection.
Peace, patience, kindness.
Faith, grace, joy.
Love.

14 Valentine’s Day Sweet Treat Recipes {Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free}

Bill and I love holidays and find ways to make them special. My family always did that growing up, so it’s a tradition I’ve carried into my marriage.

This past week, I thought it would be neat to buy a card and a treat for Bill for each day leading up to Valentine’s Day.

I put a card and a treat in a brown paper bag with “Happy <3 Week” written on it and put it in his backpack each day.

heartweek

It was fun for me to do and I know it will be at least one bright spot in the midst of his hectic days as an elementary school phys ed teacher. I’m not sure what he has planned for this weekend, but I’m looking forward to it!

When it comes to Valentine’s Day, one thing is for sure – BOTH of us love chocolate.

We are fans and followers of our favorite Baltimore-based chocolatier, Jinji, and know that Valentine’s Day is not complete unless we are eating some of her amazingly delicious chocolate creations. It’s seriously the purest, richest chocolate I’ve ever tasted.

truffles

Truffles galore! They’re always so creative and decadent.

If you can’t make it out to your favorite chocolate shop, or you just want to make a delicious sweet treat at home, try one of these 14 Valentine’s Day-worthy recipes below.

They are all dairy-free, gluten-free, and made without refined sugar. Many of them are paleo-friendly as well, so give at least one of them a try!Vday Collage.jpg

The first recipe holds a special place in my heart because dark chocolate caramels are pretty much the best thing ever.

Homemade Rolos by oh she glows

homemade-rolos-7159.jpg

Photo Credit: Angela Liddon. Used with permission.

Oatmeal Heart Cookies by Nourishing Meals

oat heart cookies71

Photo Credit: Nourishing Meals. Used with permission.

Sweet & Salty Super Food Chocolate Bark by RNK

Superfood Bark

Cherry Dark Chocolate Chip Almond Butter Cookies by RNK

cherry choco chip cookies

Two Layer Raw Chocolate Brownies by oh she glows

Brownies.JPG

Photo credit: Angela Liddon. Used with permission.

Cacao Mousse & Raspberry Parfaits by Begin Within Nutrition

mousse

Photo Credit: Begin Within Nutrition. Used with permission.

Cherry Chocolate Brownie Bites by RNK

cherry choco bites

Seductive Raw Chocolate Walnut Fudge by oh she glows

fudge2.jpg

Photo Credit: Angela Liddon. Used with permission.

Easy Strawberry Cheesecake by Kasia Kines (my nutritionist!)

Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles by RNK

Dark Chocolate Berry Cups by Yuri Elkaim

Healthy Valentines Berry Cups

Photo Credit: Yuri Elkaim. Used with permission.

Peanut Better Balls by oh she glows

PB Balls.JPG

Photo Credit: Angela Liddon. Used with permission.

Mint Chocolate Crunch Bliss Balls by RNK

Mint Chocolate Chip Bliss Balls

Peanut Butter Cup Pie by The Detoxinista

no bake

What are your favorite sweet treat recipes?

Feel free to leave a comment below and share!

 

6 Ways to Boost Your Immune System Naturally

It’s that time of year again…cold and flu season.

It’s funny how the flu is the only illness that gets a whole season named after it, isn’t it?

What changes this time of year that increases our susceptibility to getting sick? Are colds and the flu inevitable, or can they be prevented?

As someone who used to come down with bronchitis, sore throats, and sinus congestion multiple times a year, I know how inconvenient and uncomfortable being sick is. Over the past few years, the changes I’ve made to my lifestyle and diet boosted my immune system, so I rarely got sick and felt better than ever. Even my husband, an elementary school phys ed teacher, who is exposed to countless sick kids every day, stays well, too.

I can usually get through this time of year without getting sick, but this winter has been a tough one for me. I got sick – sore throat, feeling totally run down, and a bit feverish. Not the full-blown flu, but I felt pretty crappy. I am the worst patient and hate being sick! But my body was sending me a message that I wasn’t taking care of it, so I got run down as a result.

Looking back, I can attribute my weakened immune system to NOT doing all of the things I’ve outlined below on a consistent basis. When I’m following these steps, I don’t get sick. My immune system is strong and fights for me.

So, what are the secrets of those who stay well?  What if we could naturally boost our immune system, so we could thrive through instead of simply survive this time of year? Can we do more to protect ourselves than solely relying on the flu shot and a bottle of hand sanitizer? Most of the medications we take just suppress symptoms but don’t get to the root of why we’re sick. They also interfere with our body’s natural healing process. And we all know washing our hands is certainly important, but…

We can do better.

Here are six tried and true steps you can take to supercharge your immune system and stay well in the winter.

1) Catch Some Zs

Lack of sleep (usually staying up to late) is the #1 trigger for me to get sick.

Though not the most glamorous piece of guidance, getting adequate, quality sleep is one of the best things we can do to boost our immune system. Our body uses sleep as a time to rest, repair and restore itself, so when we shortchange ourselves, we compromise our body’s ability to fight back. Sleep disturbances not only reduce our immune response but have also been linked to increased susceptibly to the common cold. One of the best things we can do if we start to feel like we’re coming down with something is to prioritize sleep and get a few extra hours of shut-eye.

Since millions of people have trouble sleeping, try one of these tips to better sleep:

  1. Check out The Sleep Doctor, Dr. Michael Breus’s book, The Power of When, to understand how to optimize your daily activities and sleep based on what he calls your “chronotype.” Click this link to take a quick quiz to identify YOUR chronotype.
  2. Set your phone to Night Shift to reduce exposure to stimulating blue light. If you have an iPhone, go into Settings — Display & Brightness — Night Shift. I have mine set to turn on at sunset and turn off at sunrise.
  3. Take a warm bubble bath or lavender epsom salt bath. Taking a bath before bed raises our core body temperature. Stepping out of the bath drops our temperature, which stimulates the release of sleep-promoting compounds. The magnesium in the epsom salts have a calming, anti-anxiety effect, too.
  4. Set your room temperature to 65F. You know how hard it is to sleep in a room that is too warm. A cooler temperature promotes better sleep.
  5. Use the Calm app to find a soothing meditation or relaxing adult bedtime story to prepare you for rest.

2) Begin with the Gut

They might look like Cheetos, but these puffy tubes are actually bacteria. Did you know that bacteria cells outnumber human cells 10:1? That’s right. We’re mostly bacteria.

Because 70-80% of our immune cells are located in and around our digestive system, one of the first places we should focus on to boost our immunity is our “gut.” The bacteria in our gut play a crucial role in the development and maintenance of our immune system and our Western diet, rich in processed packaged foods, and the overutilization of antibiotics has been linked to gut dysfunction and imbalances in our gut bacteria

Increasing our consumption of prebiotics and probiotics is one way we can boost our digestive health and, therefore, our overall health. Prebiotics are fermentable fibers that feed probiotic bacteria. Sources of prebiotic foods include buckwheat, chicory, burdock root, onions, garlic, asparagus, green tea, and blueberries, to name a few. We also want to increase consumption of traditional probiotic-rich foods like miso, natto, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir to promote a healthy gut.

Another option is to take a probiotic supplement. If you do, make sure you go with one that is high quality and proven effective. This review of the top probiotic supplements should help you.

3) Supplement with Vitamin D3

Vitamin D is a powerful immune system regulator. Some experts even suggest that the collective reduction in sun strength and exposure (one of our primary sources of vitamin D) this time of year is what sets most of us up for reduced immunity. Deficiencies in vitamin D have been linked to increased susceptibility to infection, colds and the flu, and many Americans are deficient in this immune-boosting nutrient. 

 The best form to take is vitamin D3. Most supplements are D2, so make sure you check and get D3. Recommendations vary, although the Vitamin D Council suggests 1,000 IUs (international units) for children and 5,000 IUs for adults daily. Vitacost is a great resource for supplements, including D3.

See your doctor to have your vitamin D level checked. It should be at least 30 ng/ml and closer to 50 ng/ml or more for optimal health and cancer prevention. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so it should be consumed with some source of fat for optimal absorption. Check out the chart below from the Vitamin D council.

4) Eat Your G-BOMBS

Chronic stress depletes our body of nutrients, so upgrading our nutrition to support our body is especially critical during this time. All of us have heard about the importance of having a colorful diet, but this catchy acronym from Dr. Joel Fuhrman puts a new spin on that age-old advice.

G-BOMBS stands for Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, Berries and Seeds. I’ve written in more detail about them here. These nutrient-dense foods are packed with anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that work together to supercharge our immune system. Leafy greens like kale, spinach, Swiss chard and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower have antiviral and immune-boosting properties. 

Compounds from onions and other members of the allium vegetable family, like garlic, leeks, shallots and scallions thin mucus and have been found to have anti-asthmatic and antibiotic effects. Beans are rich in prebiotic fiber that helps feed the good bacteria in our digestive system. I eat beans almost every day. Believe it or not, mushrooms are also a significant immune booster and have strong antiviral and antibacterial properties. For more about the power of mushrooms, check out the TEDTalk below.

Whether you enjoy them in salads, smoothies, soups, stews, stocks, steamed or sautéed, eat your G-BOMBS to boost your immunity. Most recipes on this blog are packed full of G-BOMBS. Here are a few GBOMBS-rich soup recipes.

5) Chill Out

This time of year is characterized by heightened levels of stress from travel, holiday shopping, reduced exercise, increases in consumption of alcohol and sugar-laden foods, family get-togethers, time management, and, for many, holiday blues and depression. Do what you can to increase your resiliency to stressors because stress significantly suppresses our immune function.

If you want to thrive through the winter, make time for relaxation and fun, whether it takes the form of meditation, yoga, massage, a mani/pedi, dancing, taking a day off from work, a soothing epsom salt bath or calling a friend, going on a date, playing a game, or spending time in nature, even if it is chilly outside.

You can also just watch this video and search “laughing babies” on YouTube for instant stress relief!

6) Move Moderately

As the weather gets colder, we tend to spend more time indoors and less time moving. Moderate exercise may have a protective effect on the immune system, while excessive exercise and overtraining can depress our immune response.

I love this infographic from Precision Nutrition that gives all the details on exercising when you’re sick.

If you feel like you’re coming down with something, mild to moderate movement is the way to go. Try a dance class like tai chi, yoga, dancing, Nia,or go for a brisk walk, jog or indoor swim. My favorite place to take classes like this in Baltimore is Movement Lab.

So, there you have it! If you want to stay well this winter, thrive instead of survive, and feel the best you’ve ever felt, follow these tips to supercharge your immune system.

Is there anything I’m missing? Any tips you swear by that help you stay well? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Be Free: A Tribute to My Grandmother

Yesterday, we celebrated the life of my last biological grandparent, Anne Bryant, who passed away the day after Christmas at the age of 90.

She was a delicate, graceful Southern woman with a beautiful smile and a contagious laugh who touched the lives of more people than I will ever know.

She was the closest thing to a matriarch at her church in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she was fondly known as “Miss Anne.” She loved to sing, was a member of the choir for nearly a decade and served as an integral part of the children’s ministry. Her former pastor, my relatives, and her friends, neighbors, and fellow church members had such wonderful things to say about her life during her service, which she insisted be a joyful celebration of her life.

My grandmother is in the middle of the picture just above me.

She raised three children, including my dad, and was a schoolteacher. She loved children.

She loved to garden.

She loved to ride her bike.

She loved to sing.

She was incredibly creative and gifted with her hands. She made dresses for me and my dolls, Christmas ornaments and my Christmas stocking. Both of us collected Willow Tree figurines and loved to sing, read, write, and travel.

She had a strong faith that she carried with her until her last day. She wanted to “go home” and be with my grandfather in heaven and was at peace with that transition.

Of all of the grandparents I had, she’s the one who knew me the best. I remember phone calls with her and my grandfather when I was a kid. I was very studious and committed to doing well in the classroom. After winning spelling bees and other academic competitions at school or sharing a report card, they would send me letters, sometimes with a special memento inside like a Bible verse on a wallet card or a bookmark she made at church.

They always told me how excited they were for me and were so supportive of me throughout my life. I can still hear my grandmother saying these words:

“Oh, Rachel, granddaddy and I are so proud of you.”

In the final years of her life, there was some tension in my family that created a bit of distance in our relationship. Looking back, I regret not spending more time with her in her last years; it saddens me, and I feel a sense of loss. I have many happy memories about her, but I know I could have had more.

If you have a family member that you can’t seem to “get right” with, I encourage you to be open. Be open to grace and seek forgiveness. Love them. Be kind. Set aside your pride and try again. It might not look the way you expect, but at least you’ll know you tried the best you could and offered that person all you had.

Bill and I visited my grandmother and spent time with her on a trip to North Carolina last spring. I had a final phone call with her in the week before her passing to tell her how much I appreciate who she was to me and how much her support and love meant to me.

When I think back to the times we spent together, the conversations we had, and the letters we exchanged, I smile. I know she’s proud of me and who I’ve become as a woman, a wife, a daughter, a Christian, a sister, an aunt, and a friend.

As I was sifting through my bins of mementos (I’m a bit of a sentimental packrat), I stumbled upon a book called Grandmother Remembers that she filled out for me as a gift for my high school graduation.

I had given it to her as a gift when I was little, and she took the time to complete every single page with facts about our family, pictures of relatives, and memories and stories about herself, me, and the rest of our family.

It’s such a treasure and a special piece of history for our family.

What makes it even more symbolic for me right now is the image of the butterfly on the front cover. For those who have been reading this blog for some time, you’ve read about my connection to butterflies and how prevalent and symbolic they’ve been in my life.

One of the final pages of the Grandmother Remembers book is dedicated to her wish to the future for me. She wrote, “Since Gramdaddy’s death, I have experienced ‘being given wings’ and my prayer is that this will continue.”

And it has.

She has been given wings and is looking down on all of us now. She is happy, at peace, and flying free.

Once someone is gone, they don’t have an opportunity to say what is on their heart and mind to comfort those of us who are left behind. What I’m about to share is what I think grandmother would say to all of us here now. I wrote this poem and read it at my grandmother’s memorial service. I hope it gives you peace, comfort, and hope when you think of someone special that you’ve lost.

Be Free

As I look down on all of you, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.
Each of you holds a special place along my journey.
Thank you for being here to celebrate my life.

I know that you’re missing me.
Maybe you’re feeling sad, mourning, hurting, angry that I’m no longer with you.
I understand.
It’s hard to let go of people we love.

But I want you to know that I’m okay.
I’m finally free.

I prayed to the Lord and He freed me from all my fears.

Free from sadness.
Free from discomfort.
Free from pain.

Full of love.
Full of joy.
Full of light.

As you sit there remembering me, I want each of you to do something to honor me and my life.

Don’t wait for death to free you.

Choose to be free now.

Free from grudges.
Free from judgment.
Free from resentment.
Free from hostility.
Free from anger.

Open up.
Release.
Let go.

Be free. Live fully.

We are called to be free.
Free to dance.
Free to sing.
Free to laugh.
Free to play.
Free to love.

I give you my wings, so you can soar and fly freely, releasing anything that holds you down and embracing that which lifts you up.

Savor the sunny days, and spend time in your garden.
Appreciate the beauty all around you.
Notice the birds chirping, the flowers blooming, the smiles of children.
Pause and notice what a beautiful world we live in.

Be kind to and gentle with one another.
Give each other permission to make mistakes, especially those closest to you.
Be quick to offer forgiveness and grace when that happens.
Even when it’s hard.
Even if you’re angry.
Forgiveness frees you as much as it frees them.

Be free. Live fully.

Speak the truth in love.
Not just to prove a point, but with the intention of loving the other person.
Sometimes I wish I’d spoken up more instead of staying silent when I felt unheard.
Unmute your voice, and set yourself free from what you’ve kept locked up in your mind or in your heart.
The Lord calls us to love and serve one another, to be bold and courageous with our lives.
Use your voice for good and your words and actions to love.

Never stop learning, and remember to make time for play.
As a schoolteacher, I embraced a love of learning and dedicated my life to sharing that with my students and my family.
Approach the world with childlike curiosity.
Ask questions, look for the good in people, share, play, laugh, dance, sing, read, travel, be silly.
Spend more time playing and less time working.

I once gave my granddaughter a bookmark for her Bible that she has since passed along to another friend who needed the message on it more than she did.
It had this scripture on it from the book of Jeremiah:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

No matter what you’re dealing with right now, the Lord knows about it and can use it.
To grow you, to strengthen you, or to equip you to serve in some way.
Trust His timing.
Trust His plans.

Heaven is a beautiful place. We are having the best time up here!
Seeing all of my old friends and loved ones again has been such a joy for me.
I feel alive, renewed, whole, and free.
So, don’t be sad.
Celebrate my life and all that it was. Remember all of the happy times we had. Thank God for giving you another day on this beautiful earth, until we are reunited some day.

Until that day comes, be kind and gentle.
Savor the sunny days.
Spend time in your garden.
Find your voice.
Forgive each other.
Never stop learning.
Dance, play, travel and sing.
Live fully.

I’ve given you wings.
Be free.

The Easiest Kale Salad Ever

I’ve been making this salad recipe for OVER FIVE YEARS and can’t believe I’ve never shared this recipe with all of you before!

It’s the simplest recipe and the first way I ever tried eating kale.

If you’ve ever been turned off to eating kale because it tasted bitter or was difficult to chew, give this recipe a try. I bet it will change your mind!

Most of us don’t crave salads this time of year because the weather has gotten colder for many of us. As a result, we tend to be drawn to more warming, grounding foods like soups, stews and chilis. Because I tend to eat seasonally, I’m more apt to saute or steam green veggies or throw them into soups, stews, or frittatas instead of having cold salads everyday.

When I do want a salad, I opt for heartier greens like kale, Swiss chard, or peppery arugula in my salads instead of lighter, more watery greens like romaine or Bibb lettuce.

Another benefit to eating a salad like this in the winter is that it is packed with immune-boosting ingredients. Since 70% of our immune system is located in and around our digestive system, what we eat really does matter!

  • Kale is a cruciferous vegetable, which have antiviral and antibacterial effects. Their pungent, bitter flavors are health-promoting and detoxifying.
  • Lemons have antiviral and antimicrobial activity
  • Garlic may help the immune system function better during times of need such as in cancer
  • Chickpeas are packed with protein and fiber that keep us feeling full and our blood sugar balanced, which helps keep inflammation at bay

Not only is this salad loaded with ingredients to keep your immune system strong, but it will stay fresh in the fridge for at least two days! Check out the recipe below, and feel free to change it up by adding your favorite toppings.

Easiest Kale Salad Ever

Ingredients

1 bunch curly kale, stems removed and leaves torn into pieces
Juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
A few pinches of coarse sea salt
Fresh black pepper, to taste
1 clove garlic, minced

Optional add-ins
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup sunflower seeds

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, massage lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic into kale leaves with your hands until they start to turn dark green and shrink by about 1/3 in size. If you’re using nutritional yeast, toss it in with the greens. Store salad in fridge for about 30 minutes to allow lemon juice to break down bitterness in greens.
  2. Add chickpeas and sunflower seeds and enjoy!

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.”

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