November 15, 2016

My Health Journey in 2016

Greetings, my lovely internet family.

*Just a note, this is my last post for 2016. After quite a bit of pondering, I've decided to give myself a break for the rest of the year, and until the beginning of February. I love this blog, but I'd also love a holiday vacation. ;) So, I'm going to sign out here until February of 2017. Thanks for hanging around here this year, and I'll see y'all on the flip side. Cheers!

Now, back to what I originally intended to post today. Might as well go out with a bang. Why not?

This is certainly a post I never thought I would write... let alone publish to the world wide web. It's been sitting in my drafts folder since the beginning of this year (2016). I've mentally fought with myself for ages about whether I should put this "out there," since the topic of is one of those things I consider very, very personal - one that I never intended to share in great detail (if at all) but ultimately think I should.

Starting in the latter half of 2015, I noticed that a Facebook friend of mine began sharing her efforts (and let's be honest, tremendous successes) in fitness and weight loss. I didn't really start paying attention to her exploits until I began taking my own steps to lose the weight I needed to, and she became an inspiration. I looked forward to seeing her progress. If she could persevere and bring her strength and fitness to an extraordinarily different level, surely I could lose the extra thirty I was carrying around. Besides the grace of God and my wonderful boyfriend's encouragement, her story was one of the strongest things that helped keep me on track. Rock on, girlfriend.

I was moderately vocal about this on Instagram, but mostly for the purpose of forcing myself to follow through, thinking I'd be less likely to flunk this if people would see my failure. Thank goodness the fear of public humiliation outweighed my desire to give up.

I don't intend to preach or morph into some kind of health guru, and neither am I trying to tell anyone how they should look or weigh or eat or exercise. That much should be obvious to anyone. This is my story, and if sharing it can help just one other person as my friend's story helped me, well... I might as well go for it.

Okay. Deep breath.
Let me begin a handful of years ago before any of the "health stuff."

I've loved horses since I was a child and officially caught the bug after a pony camp my mom sent me to when I was five. Bless her. Fun fact: I was the first person allowed to attend pony camp at that farm so young - the age requirement was 8 or 10. Apparently, I was so well-behaved (hah) they let me join. From the age of 9 until I was 17, I worked on a horse farm, - mucking stalls, driving tractors, training and riding horses, the whole gamut. As a natural consequence of this, I was a healthy and very active person. I was going from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. And during the school year, there was football and basketball and frisbee during lunch break at homeschool co-op, with farm work in the evening. I was fit and strong, and I had a genuinely happy little family of "farm people" around me - my boss who was like a second mother, my two very closest girlfriends who were like my sisters - for years, and it was one of the highlights of my life.
As an added bonus, I could beat almost anyone in an arm wrestle.

My parents were proficient at making sure my brother and I ate a balanced diet and kept a good collection of healthy food around the house. Of course, we had Cheerios and ice cream, but we also had broccoli and salads (my mom makes a killer salad), among other things.

I lived this sort of lifestyle until I was 17, when unfortunate circumstances were brought on by some of the people at my beloved farm, creating incredible drama I wanted no part of. The only possible way I could find not to be involved was to pack up and leave altogether. I looked around for another farm, but there were none in the area I liked, so I gave up my search after a year or so.

This took both a huge emotional and physical toll on me and was a massive turning point in my life - a turn for the worse. Horses and that whole community had been such a huge part of my life for so many years, 6 days a week nearly 365 days a year, and now it was gone, not to mention some of my best friends... which is when I discovered just how comforting food can be. A few other areas of my life were stressful at the same time, and anytime I became down or depressed or angry or frustrated, I turned to food as my main source of comfort, bingeing on whatever I could find - the more sugary the better.

It was a vicious cycle. I'd be stressed about this or that, so I'd binge eat. Then I'd feel guilty about the binge eating, so I'd be angry at myself and eat more to try and calm myself down. Then I'd be so ashamed of what I did (even though no one knew), that I'd just keep right on stuffing my face. Every so often when I realized that I'd truly overdone it, I would purge, and try to convince myself that I'd undone the bingeing.

Without the exercise of the farm to work it off, all that food went directly to my thighs, my backside, and my abdomen. Which made me extremely self-conscious... but I just ate more to take my mind off it. Typing this out now, I realize my rationale was absolutely ridiculous, but in my mind, there was simply no other way to cope with my stress or my emotions.

It's appropriate to say that after those first two years post-horse farm, I was effectively addicted to sugar. I constantly pumped it into my body and panicked when I couldn't get my hands on a piece of chocolate. After an especially dreadful binge one day, I decided to Google "why can't I stop eating sugar?" I knew what was going on, but it was helpful to have some research organized into an article. I fit perfectly into all the warning signs of sugar addiction: I always, always ate sugary foods past the point I originally intended to. I craved bread and pasta and pastries and salty food. I ate sugar even when I really didn't want to - I'd tell myself I didn't need it, but then I'd think "just this one time." (It was never just that one time.) Each time I binged, I would consume more. And, even though I tried, I physically couldn't stop myself.

I ate my feelings for two years, and kept it hidden from almost everyone - the few who found out did so by accident. I saw and felt my body changing, but I justified it and told myself I didn't care or that it wasn't so bad. At times, I legitimately couldn't care, but that was because of other mental and emotional baggage I was trying to deal with at the same time.

I lied to myself: I'm not fat, I'm just a little chubby (which I knew was a lie, but I told myself anyway). Besides, what does it really matter? My true friends and family will love me whether or not I'm skinny (which is true), and any guy who really cares for me will love me whether or not I'm skinny (which is also true).

But I didn't love myself. I wasn't oblivious to the way I felt and looked. I hated myself. I hated the way I looked and felt and I hated that I hated myself. I couldn't fit into the clothes or styles I liked, I had to suck it in whenever I zipped up my jeans, and keep sucking it in to try and hide the muffin top that spilled over. Big sweaters and baggy shirts were my friends.

Technically speaking, I never was obese, and I thank God for that. But I'm a small person, and I was undeniably overweight for my size and bone structure. I was not a healthy person and didn't look it or feel it. In my mind, everyone else was beautiful and perfect and I was the scum of the earth. I felt compared to everyone else, even though none of my friends actually did anything to warrant that thought - I have been incredibly blessed never to experience the bullying we all hear so much about, apart from one very brief incident in a grocery store when I was admittedly wearing something too tight for me, and a few remarks about my weight said by another in the heat of anger.

I knew I was destroying myself from the inside out, mentally and physically, and I finally made up my mind to do something about it around Christmas 2015.

I'm wearing Spanx in both of those pictures.

I hate dieting with a fiery, fiery passion. I think that especially for people with a history of disordered eating, diets make it easier to fall back into old habits, or create new ones (the latter an idea I almost proved myself - more on that later). I love the idea of being a runner - I actually like running now - but I have a poor back to begin with, so I figured I might as well get the weight off before I start running, having never run before.

I spoke to a psychologist friend of mine around this time, who gave me some very helpful suggestions for dealing with my sugar addiction, one of which was separating myself physically and emotionally from sugar. She told me that instead of turning to food or sugar for comfort, I should turn to prayer, which is obvious and I'm ashamed to admit the thought hadn't even crossed my mind. She also told me repeatedly that I had to realize that overcoming this addiction was not going to happen overnight. It's a process. It wasn't going to happen overnight. And finally, she gave me a 3-step process to work with, much like a very abridged version of the 12-step process recovering alcoholics use: admit I had a problem and that I couldn't fix it alone, prayer,  make a new commitment every morning when I woke up that I would make it through the day without sugar, or cheating on the diet.

After almost a month of meal plan prep and freezing pre-measured food, I finally began on 24 January 2016, cutting out all sugar products, all starches including bread, pasta, tortillas, cookies, etc... I didn't drink any alcohol, consume any dairy (except fat-free cottage cheese), and didn't use any oil, either for cooking or cosmetic purposes.

My meals alternated between carefully measured portions of meat, vegetables, and fruit.
I did this for two sets of 40 days with a 3-week break in between, wherein I ate a balanced diet of anything except sweets.

Removing all sugar cold turkey while dealing with a full-blown sugar addiction was the most difficult thing I've done in my entire life. I had such an emotional attachment to it, and I probably made it harder on myself because other than telling my psychologist friend, I kept all of the mental chaos to myself. It was only in April of 2016 that I finally decided to reveal it to my boyfriend and one of my closest girlfriends. Bless them both. They were so extremely supportive and still are.

One thing I learned was that becoming a healthier person is just as much about changing my mindset and food lifestyle as it was about changing my weight. I broke down and cheated a few times, and regretted it every time. Partly because of the guilt, and partly because I literally felt like crap. Binging on sugar and carbs after not eating them for months was not a smart decision. But I learned to acknowledge my fault, forgive myself for it, and start over.

I began to look at food as fuel instead of comfort - that's what God made it for anyway. After a few weeks, I began to learn the difference between true hunger and habit/boredom hunger, and that I really didn't need to munch on something every time my brain told me I should be eating. Around 50 days into dieting, I began to realize that my cravings for sugar and bready things had drastically subsided - not completely, but remarkably. I may or may not have cry-laughed at this discovery.

Looking back, I can see the progress, and not just physically. Yes, I lost a good deal of weight, but I gained a lot of willpower and my trust in God was strengthened.

Christmas 2015 (160) vs. July 2016 (130).

As I mentioned earlier, I think diets are dangerous for people who struggle with disordered eating, and make it easier to fall back into negative habits or form new ones. Once I finished that diet, I found myself worrying about everything I put in my mouth. Is that good for me? Is it ok for me to eat that? Should I be on a paleo diet? What about gluten free? Oh, I can't have that, there're too many carbs. I felt incredibly guilty every time I ate something even slightly indulgent.

I nipped these feelings in the bud, though. I know a few people who struggle with orthorexia - an eating disorder which causes people to be preoccupied with and obsess over foods they think are healthier and avoid all others like the plague, to the detriment of their actual health. I didn't want to go down that road. I'd struggled with health and weight obsession for years, and I decided that this was it. I'm done.

So, where am I now? Thursday, 10 November 2016.

Food and cooking are still two of my greatest passions - always have been, although I have learned to listen to my body and give it what it needs. I am finally in a place where I am living a balanced lifestyle and eating a balanced diet, and I love it. I've learned to set limits for myself and keep myself on track. 

Of course, sometimes you just need a tub of ice cream or a slice of greasy American pizza, but that's okay. Fats and sugars and carbs are perfectly fine when they're consumed in appropriate portions. 

It's all about the moderation, folks.

Also, fitness:
Dude, I go running now.

My best girlfriend and I started running consistently in May, using the Couch to 5k smartphone app, which contains a running plan designed to teach and ease a person into running who has never done so before. I dreaded the first time I stepped foot on the treadmill to run, but honestly, it wasn't as difficult as I expected it to be. Of course, I was sore and could hardly walk for the following two days, but as I stuck with it, running came easier.

I stopped running with the app in August when my boyfriend and I decided to start running together in the evenings after work. God bless him - he is always so patient with my wheezing and gasping and acting like a baby. We have a little routine for the evenings now that I happen to like very much, and one I look forward to.

Finally, it's about accepting my own skin and learning to love it. I've learned a lot about that in the past 11 months, and I still am. Sure, there are days where I feel crap about myself, but over the past year, I've learned that is okay. It's okay for me to have a little pudge or a little acne. I've been making steps forward and have come a long way. I'm learning to love myself.

And now that I have nothing else to say, I leave you with this, a quote from an article on Aletia by D.L. Mayfield:

In the end, health does not look the same for every individual, and for the sake of our bodies and minds, this must be recognized in the wider world. Instead of focusing on excess pounds, for instance, we might want to move our energies towards combating inequality and poverty in America—a much bigger signifier of early death. We can make empowered choices to eat food that makes us feel good—that we enjoy and which makes our bodies flourish. We can pursue the mental and physical benefits of exercise and movement, in whichever form we prefer.
But truly, the most radical thing we can do in a culture of fear and judgment—one which at every turn strives to remind me and so many others that we’re fat, that our bodies are commodities, that we need to buy or do or be something different in order to have worth—is to start loving ourselves, exactly as we are.

So, that's my story. I'll leave it here, and hopefully, someone out there will find it edifying. As of now, this will probably be the last in-depth post about my weight loss and diet, although at some point I would like to broach the subject of fitness and how I go about it. I'm still a baby in that field.

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Copyright Iris Hanlin


  1. Wow Iris, that is a really, really amazing and healing journey you have been on the last few years. Isn't amazing how changing things like how we look at or use food can change so much else in life? Like you mentioned trusting God more, feeling better about yourself, and hello exercise! I kinda felt like that when I started running too like, "Geez, where have you been all my life? Where the heck was I in gym class?!?"
    Great job :)

  2. So crazy proud of you! This is so wonderful! You look so healthy, but more importantly, you look like you feel confident and happy :) xx


Your comment makes my day. I really love knowing you were here, so take the time to leave a note if you like! Thank you for taking the time! I read and appreciate every comment even if I cannot reply.