How to articles abound in the blogosphere so I typically resist writing them. But every once in a while someone (or multiple someones in this case) will ask me how I do or did something and I think “hmm, maybe I ought to write that…”
By now my journey from PCOS hell to PCOS remission is well known. What I’ve never really done is chronicle how I did it. I think my reservation in doing so stemmed largely from the fact that how I did it isn’t necessarily the way someone else should do it nor might it be the right way for them to do it. The steps I took were based on my research, my living in my own body, and 4 years of self-experimentation. That said, reading other women’s accounts of how THEY did it was something I found helpful because it gave me both hope and a reference point, especially because my doctor insisted that it wasn’t possible.
I’m his one success story.
Step 1: Clean up your diet
I may or may not have mentioned before that in the early part of 2014 I weighed 200lbs. I’d already completed an elimination diet and found that gluten and dairy were not my friends. I actually fought this for months, eliminating both for a few weeks then succumbing to the siren song of pasta or a burrito or a sandwich, only to pay for it pretty instantly. A burrito was actually the thing that did me in, the thing that made me FINALLY just accept that I could not eat wheat.
So I went gluten-free. And I ate all the gluten-free things, most of which were not worth it and tasted awful.
And I ballooned.
Weighing in at 200lbs was my come to Jesus moment. I knew it was coming and I was unsurprised. What struck me though was the intense anger I had towards myself, the instant acceptance of responsibility, knowing and understanding that I was the one shoveling all the foods into my mouth. There was no “poor me”, no depression, no tears, and no wallowing. Just instantaneous pulling myself up by my bootstraps, acceptance of what was, and an unwavering commitment to fix it.
To be clear, my anger wasn’t self-hatred. For the first time in my life, I was angry because I knew I deserved better. I was angry because I’d hated myself to that point and it was clear that was getting me nowhere. No, this anger was because I LOVED (and still do, obv) myself.
From there I jumped into Paleo and in the last year or so switched to a more ketogenic diet. I’m finding that as long as I stick within these boundaries, I continue to move my way to where I want to be. I’ve lost 25% body fat and 60 lbs over the last 4 years and I’m working on losing another 5% body fat and improving my carbohydrate tolerance which is still quite low. But I know that those are things that improve with time.
Step 2: Remove/reduce endocrine disrupters
Hormones are generated in the endocrine glands. PCOS is a hormone disorder. So when I really got serious with reversing this, one of the first things that jumped out at me was all the chatter about endocrine disrupters in our lives. Don’t know about them? Google “endocrine disrupters” and be prepared to utter “WTF”.
I started by replacing household cleaners and personal hygiene products with safer options as I ran out. As much as I just wanted to throw everything away and start with a clean slate, safer products cost more. They cost more because they have to be processed differently and, with personal hygiene products, they have a MUCH shorter shelf life.
I have seriously questioned this move more than once due to the cost and some performance issues but I always come back to this: if you want your hormones to come back into balance, don’t introduce something into your system that’s going to block you from doing that.
Step 3: Supplementation
I do a lot of research. I’m constantly listening to summits and podcasts and reading emerging research. Supplementation was the next thing I jumped into. I’ve tried many, many different supplements (see my Resources page to see what I recommend). There have been many I tried that I didn’t find any benefit to me and a handful that I’ve tried that, with time, have definitely had the desired effect.
The key to this experimentation has been this: time. You HAVE to give anything you try at least 6 months before you write it off. The other thing to note is that your hormone balance is different than mine, so you have to be willing to experiment knowing that not everything is going to work.
Step 4: Move
For me, insulin resistance was a major issue. As a matter of fact, PCOS is CAUSED by insulin resistance. I’ve probably been insulin resistant since I hit puberty to varying degrees. This is why my attempt at veganism actually made me sicker – I just substituted grains for the animal protein. While diet is powerful, certain types of exercise can help change your body composition.
Body composition is far more important than body weight when it comes to insulin resistance. I’ve always preferred some form of strength training, mostly because I find cardio BORING. I did really cool things with strength training when I was 17 and that’s stayed with me. Knowing what works for you and what you like is important.
Here’s the thing: straight cardio isn’t your friend when it comes to insulin resistance. And there’s plenty of research on this. Hypertrophy did some really cool things for me. But it’s important to remember that you cannot out exercise a bad diet. No amount of strength training is going to help you change your body composition if you continue to feed the insulin resistance. This is a do not pass Go, do not collect $200 issue.
Step 5: Natural Deodorant
Okay, shouldn’t this be in the endocrine disrupters? Well, yes but…
Deodorant is typically the last thing people change and for good reason. None of us want to stink! I finally switched in October 2017 and yes, there was an adjustment period.
For starters, they aren’t antiperspirants. I now sweat and I’ve had to get used to that. But since I eat quite clean, all the gross standard American diet smells don’t come out of my pores so I don’t STINK. I smell like me. Stress can be a little aromatic but that’s nothing a quick trip to the ladies room for a pat down and reapplication can’t fix.
Yes, I sometimes carry deodorant around with me. Call it an anti-stink insurance policy.
Did you see the underlying theme through all this?
I didn’t get sick overnight. I didn’t get well overnight. Neither did nor will you.
The asterisk to all these steps is that I came to this from love and compassion. No amount of self-hatred or self-abuse could have done this for me. That’s why I haven’t kicked back and said: “I’m well, I can coast now.”
I’m working on improving my carb tolerance (I still get food coma if I eat potatoes or any simple carbohydrates) and losing another 5% body fat because I’d prefer to be on the lower end of the healthy range than at the top.
But make no mistake: this isn’t a walk in the park. It’s hard work. It’s often isolating. Sometimes it involves legitimate suffering.
Being pharmaceutical free, menstruating on a NORMAL schedule (menstruating AT ALL), being comfortable in my body and acne free – those things make the work worth it.
Sometimes I read through old stuff and come across rough gems. I thought maybe I’d start to share some of that here. Posted below is something I wrote 2 years ago and it still has much merit. Let me know what you think:
Fear of failure is really just fear of success. It’s being comfortable with playing small, shrinking from exposure.
I don’t fear failing, per se. I’m afraid of the fall, of what comes after I realize I’m soaring and instead of realizing that belief is what got me there, I allow doubt to bring me crashing, hard, back to the earth.
I’ve broken so many times. I always come back together.
But what if I don’t.
This is worse than having my inner mean girl tear me to shreds. She knows EXACTLY what to say. And I know how to put her in her place.
This is my innate resiliency packing its bags and saying Adios!!
This is my 1st-grade teacher telling my parents that I cheat, that I can’t POSSIBLY be THAT intelligent. This is my 9th grade English teacher telling me my writing is awful. This is my well-meaning dad editing my papers to the point that they are no longer mine and are all his. And though reason does not fail me and I know full well it was DAD’S writing my 9th-grade teacher hated, it sticks with me.
That little girl understood from the time she was 6 that she wasn’t enough. The 14-year-old got the double whammy of parental AND educational rejection. More “you are not enough.”
Never mind that I won an award for a poem I wrote in 6th grade. About trash. TRASH. I wish I had that still. It disappeared, probably by my own hand since I have a history of destroying the beautiful things I create. They have to be flukes so chuck it.
Never mind that every single professor I had in college that I had to write for saw SOMETHING of note, something worth commenting positively on. A couple went so far as to call me into their offices, me certain that I was about to be torn a new one, only to ask me why I was hiding. I’m so obviously capable of better than what I’m turning in so please give them something worthy of my abilities.
Never mind that every single person who has had the opportunity to read what I write, poetry or otherwise, is constantly checking to make sure I’m still writing. My best friend sends me links to organizations looking for writers, my uncle wants to make sure I’m not wasting a gift, my mom just knows that my sanity and continued happiness is contingent on my continuing to write. Something, anything. Just write.
I never set out to be a writer. Until VERY recently, I didn’t consider myself one. I often wonder if I’m not taking more than I’m giving. I get so much out of writing, but I can’t think of anything I give it. I don’t write because I have something to say.
Okay, yes I do. I always have something to say.
But I don’t write because anyone CARES what I have to say. I just write. I write because I NEED it. Because it’s a compulsion sometimes. Other times, I’m in a drought and can’t come up with a single thing to write. I suspect that’s more a symptom of laziness though, a shrug of the shoulders and instead sitting down with beer, wine, something adult and Netflix to numb out.
There’s a line somewhere though, between keeping things to myself out of self-preservation and keeping things to myself because I have no need to share. Or maybe that’s bullshit too.
Several years ago I stopped watching food television. No more Julia Child and Jacques Pepin on PBS, no more Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives on Food Network. I also stopped reading food magazines. It helped that Gourmet had folded in 2009, so food magazines really weren’t all that good anyway.
I was trying, for the umpteenth time, to lose weight. Surrounding myself with all that virtual food just made me want to eat. So I gave it up.
Have you ever connected two completely disparate events, understanding that one had absolutely nothing to do with the other, but they happened in such short succession that you can’t think about one without the other?
I connect my brother leaving for his third tour in Iraq with the closing of Gourmet. He left and not two days later I found out about Gourmet on Twitter. I was fine until I read that tweet. And then I lost my marbles. I was positive (and am so grateful that I was wrong) that my brother wouldn’t be coming home and now something that had been part of my life for most of it was gone, something I’d shared for years with my grandmother. I opened up Ruth’s book and was there, in 2009, all over again, tears streaming down my face.
As I sat there reading, I was reminded of the fact that I used to love food: eating it, making it for people I love, and writing about it. But I long ago rejected the idea of being a food writer. I blogged food for a little bit, making other people’s recipes, but I didn’t love it. And let’s face it, we do not lack food bloggers. I wasn’t doing anything original and it bothered me that I was making these recipes and publishing them without permission from the authors.
Reading this book, I started thinking about how my relationship with food has changed. I no longer eat certain foods for health reasons, I no longer spend hours planning meals and cooking, I actually kind of don’t love being in the kitchen anymore. Food has become nutrition, not all of the other things that it can be: love, connection, fun, history, nostalgia.
I read the entire book in a few hours, marveling at Ruth’s writing style and drifting in and out of years worth of memories of cooking with my grandmother. As I closed the book upon finishing, I made a promise to myself that I will fall back in love with food.
Sometimes, something as simple as a book can give you back a part of yourself. Thank you, Ruth.
Sort of Souvlaki
Something that has happened in recent years is that I’ve stopped making recipes in the strictest sense. I do a little research, read a few recipes, then throw something together. Then my mother will ask for the recipe and I’ll tell her there isn’t one. It annoys her to no end. But, I AM my grandmother’s granddaughter, I do this stuff by feel.
I marinated cubed pork loin in lemon juice, fresh oregano, salt, fresh garlic cloves, and avocado oil for 24 hours. Don’t do that. 4 hours is better because the acid in the lemon chemically starts cooking the pork rendering it tough if you leave it too long. I then roasted it on a sheet pan at 425 degrees for 10 minutes.
Confession: I am sometimes still 200 lbs in my head.
I have a hard time seeing myself as I am when I look in the mirror and I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the camera for as long as I can remember. There are actually NO photos of me at 200 lbs because I just could not bear to see myself.
It’s been 3 years since I started making major changes which ultimately changed my life in a multitude of ways, including losing weight and eliminating my dependence on the pharmaceuticals managing my PCOS symptoms. It was just the beginning though.
Last year at about this time, Kourtney Thomas and Jen Sinkler released a strength training program designed to encourage hypertrophy for women. Hypertrophy is specifically intended to build muscle mass, something that many women have been taught to shun. We’ve spent our whole lives taught we must be smaller, why would we want to train our bodies to be bigger?! Why would we want to take up space?!
I liked the idea of it, adding muscle mass to my body. I wanted to LOOK like all the work I was putting in. But it also messed with me. Taking up space isn’t just a physical thing, it’s a mental thing. I’ve expended a great deal of energy making myself small throughout my life, and not just physically.
Because it scared me, I put off actually starting the program for MONTHS. I didn’t actually start it until the end of August. I hadn’t even joined a gym yet, something that is a requirement for the program (unless you have a well-equipped home gym, which I do not).
My only goal was to see what my body could do. There was no “I want to drop a certain percentage of body fat” though that was definitely on my mind, nor were there any strength goals. I wanted to fall back in love with the process. I wanted to see what my body would do with consistent training.
Even though there is talk of the positive psychological effects of this type of training written into the program (which is really well written, by the way), I didn’t expect what has ultimately happened.
Yes, my body has changed, pretty dramatically. Yes, I’m stronger physically. Yes, I’ve fallen back in love with training my body much the same way I did while I was in high school. Yes, I’m a little addicted to watching the numbers climb as I move heavier and heavier weights and the accompanying endorphin rush.
I didn’t expect this program would create an opening for me to find confidence in my voice. I didn’t expect that finding my confidence would open up a path for me to explore the things I’m passionate about. I didn’t expect that it would completely alter the way I walk, the way I speak, the way I see myself, and the way I occur to the people around me.
I didn’t expect that it would be a key contributor in teaching me to fly.
Underneath everything that I do and am, I am a writer. I probably have been my whole life even though I’ve spent most of it hiding it from people. It has only been very recently that “I’m a writer and I teach people how to heal themselves through the written word” came rolling off my tongue of its own accord, unbidden, free as a bird.
You see, in August, just as I was starting Bigness Project, I enrolled in a mentoring program and was matched up with an art therapist as my mentor. It was an instant heart connection. Within the first hour of meeting with her, she’d planted this little seed in my creative mind that I could teach. By October, right as I was completing Phase 1 and entering Phase 2, I actually started to believe that I could. By the time I finished the program, I had a name for the course I’ll be teaching at a local community center here and the encouragement of my teenaged son to create a teen version. I’m also working on creating a virtual version of the course.
Somewhere in the middle of the program “no more hiding” became my mantra. Even though you haven’t seen much of me here in this space, I’ve nearly completed my second book of poetry and begun a poetry podcast. I plan to do a wellness podcast as well. Interestingly, the first time I tried to record I lost the recording because I didn’t fully understand the software I was using. I thought it was great what I’d recorded, but in hindsight, I’m glad I lost it. It wasn’t my voice. It was my “please don’t see me voice”.
Since completing the program, I’ve had several interactions with people that allowed me to show my passion, all bright eyes, huge grin, hands and arms gesticulating and they weren’t scared off. Better, they were drawn in! It was a major aha moment for me to realize that the me that I’ve been hiding is so much more enthralling than the me I’ve been walking around as for 30 years. The me I’ve been hiding ISN’T overwhelming or too much, contrary to what I believed.
Make no mistake, being seen and heard is still scary for me. Correction: the IDEA of being seen and heard is still scary for me. Actually BEING seen and heard is a revelation, a thermal updraft in my wings. Every time I allow it, it gets easier. Every time I allow it, the space between allowances becomes smaller.
Ultimately, training my body to be bigger has shown me the path that leads back to the me I was before the world told me I had to be smaller, quieter, to cross my legs, that men were dangerous, that it’s too scary out there for a woman. The genie cannot be stuffed back in the bottle. And even if it could, living out loud is too much fun for me to allow it.
Without further ado, the particulars:
I’ll admit that I didn’t do a very good job with the numbers. I didn’t take the measurements called for before I started, so I’ll give you the overall changes for 2017, most of which occurred during the program:
Love it or hate it, the holidays are upon us. Add holiday stress to what has become known as “cold and flu season” and the odds of coming down with something are pretty good.
Unless you’re me. I’ve got a pretty healthy immune system. I didn’t always though.
I used to hate winter because, for me, it was ear infection season. Now I just don’t like it because I don’t like being cold. But I digress.
So how’s a person to avoid catching everything that’s going around at the moment?
1. Minimize sugar and alcohol consumption.
I know this is a sacrilege. No cookies?! No festive drinks?! Before you have my head, go back and re-read that. I didn’t say NO sugar or alcohol, I said MINIMIZE. And no, I’m not trying to be a Grinch.
Our immune systems live in our digestive systems. Sugar and alcohol throw off the balance of good bacteria to bad by directly feeding the bad bacteria. This, in turn, opens up the door to viruses that want to get in and wreak havoc on the rest of the body.
Besides keeping consumption down, you can help yourself by getting probiotic-rich foods into your diet on a daily basis. It doesn’t have to be a lot (actually, it shouldn’t be a lot – there is such thing as too much of a good thing with this), a couple swigs of kombucha (I recommend GT’s Organic or homemade because there isn’t sugar added to it) or a fork-full of raw fermented sauerkraut with a meal is all you really need.
2. Prioritize sleep.
What’s this sleep I speak of? This might also land me with a Grinch label but not going to every single party you’re invited to helps twofold: it minimizes your exposure to viruses in the first place and it means you’re able to get a good night’s sleep more often than not.
Why is sleep important? Because it’s when the body heals. There is also mounting evidence to show that lack of sleep directly correlates with increased cortisol production (our primary stress hormone) which also directly affects our immune system. So lack of sleep + excess sugar and alcohol = virus breeding ground.
Set yourself up for good sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene: keep the temp down while you sleep, turn off your electronics at least an hour before bed, develop a routine that encourages rest. Ideally, you’d not have ANY electronics in your bedroom but even I can’t do that as I use my phone as an alarm clock. Just do the best you can.
3. Get outside.
Our grandmothers knew what they were talking about when they said fresh air does wonders for the mind and body. But it’s more than just fresh air; getting into direct sunlight for a Vitamin D boost is great for our immune systems. Going for a walk does a wealth of good for the mind and body but even if all you have is ten minutes to stand outside (with a cup of tea or coffee maybe), do it. Your immune system will thank you. You’ll appreciate the psychological boost as well.
Look, I’m not trying to be a killjoy, I promise. But you have a choice here, sort of a choose your adventure kind of choice. You can either continue business as usual and come down with a cold or 3 and be miserable, or say no more than yes, realize you’re not actually missing out on anything (it’s about discernment here – is the possible outcome worth the indulgence) and sail through the season, if not completely healthy, catching fewer of the creepy cruds and healing faster. Because there’s nothing worse than being sick on Christmas.
I wasn’t sure what it meant when that statement popped into my head. Not “I am.” I AM. All in caps, even in my head. Bold, maybe, too.
Thinking about all of the “I am” statements that come out of our mouths on a daily basis, I wonder how many of us are truly aware of these declarations. I nearly started this paragraph with “I am”. It’s not just about labels though, as I originally thought it was. It’s deeper than that.
Think about it: when I say “I am…” I’m declaring, affirming, labeling, calling into being, and accepting whatever it is that I follow it up with.
I am an introvert.
I am in a transition period.
I am a single mother.
All of these declarations carry meaning and depth to them beyond the original statement. And while all of those declarations may be true, as may be the labels, I can choose something else. YOU can choose something else. We don’t have to be caged by these declarations.
We also get to, if we so choose, to accept or reject the declarations given to us from others in the oh so common “you are” statements we so love to dole out unconsciously.
You are more fun when you’re drunk.
You are too intense.
You are brilliant.
I’ve been on the receiving end of all of the above statements. The two negative statements I accepted without question. The positive one I only accepted because I trusted the source, though it was still shocking to me. Isn’t interesting to notice how quickly we accept negative statements?
One of the best things about being a writer is that I get to think. I like to think. It’s fun for me. Except when it’s not. Except when declarations go unchecked and I’m blindly accepting everything my mind generates.
The mind loves a good story and it’ll create one when there’s an absence of information.
I AM. It’s a complete sentence. I don’t have to quantify it. I don’t have to create a story. I just AM.