Are carbs bad for you? and other things: a story of prioritizing personal well-being

Are carbs bad for you? and other things: a story of prioritizing personal well-being
By Heather Nelson

Note: this article is part of a series. Heather shares her journey into a healthy lifestyle — body and mind — and invites you to take part in your own. 

If you’re thinking about or have thoughts of suicide or are concerned about someone you know or just need someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with their counselors here. If you think that you or a loved one may be suffering through an eating disorder please check out the resources here or call the National Eating Disorder Hotline 1-800-931-2237. (All resources are FREE.)

I remember the sun. It was hot. Bright. A promise of another day. A fresh start.

The people, too, were like that Florida summer sun. Bright, glowing, never-changing, full of hope…. And me? I felt dark. Like the black sheep. An anomaly.

Didn’t I trust God?

1,600 miles from the comfort of home, the uncertainty started to wear on me. I never felt so desperate before. I looked for any answer, a solution. I never needed a sleep-aid. Now, I took a handful of night-time pain relievers to fall asleep. I felt numb. The weight of a life-changing decision hung on my shoulders. “I’m too busy to worry about this,” I thought. I tried my hardest not to worry — I “trusted” in God.

For five weeks, I stayed busy: collecting phone numbers, sifting through passages of scripture, kneeling for hours in the chapel, note-taking, and, occasionally, lounging on the beach. I thought long walks in the chokingly-humid air or staring at the sunset would clear my mind. Or maybe ignoring the problem would suffice? How about speaking with a few trusted friends? A priest? Nothing seemed to fix what I was feeling, and I convinced myself that it was normal and that I should move on.

I convinced myself that becoming a missionary was something that I needed to do. I’ve always wanted to help people, and becoming a missionary seemed like the perfect fit. I’d devoted the latter half of my college career to bible studies, spending time in prayer, and hoping to transform lives through God’s word. I started to think that I made the wrong decision. My declining mental health and the uncertainty fueled the increased worry. Why couldn’t I just be happy like everyone else? Why couldn’t I stop worrying? Why couldn’t I turn my brain off?

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Vanderbilt Beach in Florida, just one of the beaches where the missionaries of FOCUS spent weekends. 

***

Three days until the end of training. Three days until I’d return home. Three days until I could no longer hide.

“I’m thinking…I think I might want to die, like, I want to kill myself,” I whispered to a friend. Moments passed.

My friend looked at me, sadness in her eyes, paused, and asked, “Why are you feeling this way?” I sat for a moment, tears welling up, a choking feeling in my throat.

“I’m not sure,” I replied. “It’s, like, I think about death a lot, and how much easier it’d be if I just didn’t wake up one morning.” I told my friend about the sleepless nights, about the weariness…. Later, I spoke to a priest and explained the same thing. And then, confided in another friend about the extreme sadness I felt.

The consensus following my consultations: Trust in God. You can do this.

One month later, I’d finally become tired from lying to my boss about the amount of work I’d completed (and how lousy I felt). I wasn’t ready to support myself on campus: financially or emotionally. One night I answered his call ready to talk about everything. I told him about the suicidal thoughts, the lack of motivation, my inability to merely move from bed. And still, I was convinced that a drive to Springfield, Mo. would change my mind. It didn’t.

Several conversations (and days) later, I’d:

  • quit my job
  • spilled the whole story to my mom
  • called a therapist

The weight of not knowing slowly slipped away. I decided to take care of myself first. I finally trusted myself to make my own decisions. I slowly learned to care for myself (mentally, physically, emotionally) again. With the help of my therapist, I understood the inner workings of my anxious brain and how to care for myself. And I began to live a happier life again.

To be continued…

The change didn’t happen overnight. I’d felt these feelings of despair before, but I thought it was “normal” to contemplate death often. I didn’t know that I was anxious or depressed. I figured I’d always feel rundown or unable to function.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

Through the years, I’ve discovered what sets me off, or sends me into a frenzy. I fear not knowing what the future holds. I stress when I’m unorganized. I lose sleep when there’s “too much” to do.

I’ve learned the different tools and forms of self-care that I need to calmly move on or to prepare for when crisis strikes.

Whether you suffer from a mental illness or occasionally feel rundown, here are some forms of self-care I’ve found the most beneficial:

  • a hot bath, with a calming Spotify playlist
  • lounging on a couch (or lawn chair) with a book
  • physical exercise (for me: running or weight lifting, yoga)
  • meditation (via headspace)
  • baking / trying a new recipe
  • meal planning/prepping
  • spending time with a friend
  • making a to do list of small tasks — checking them off is satisfying!!
  • booking a massage

You may share my forms of self-care, and you will certainly have your own.

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My forms of self-care include reading, trips to Trader Joe’s, and heading to the gym.

Below is this week’s call to action! 

You may’ve heard the word “self-care.” Maybe you’ve heard it described as treating yourself to a shopping spree or something of that nature. Self-care is much more than that. It’s an activity meant to take care of our well-being, our mental, physical, and emotional well-being. A good self-care routine means improved mood and less anxiety. It’s a way to “refuel” ourselves.

If you don’t have a self-care routine, create one. It’s important to take a few minutes for yourself each day — yes, even if you’re busy. You must actively plan for self-care — it’s not meant to be random. When you plan things out, you’re able to respond to situations instead of react. It’s also beneficial to have a mapped out routine before you’re in a time of crisis.

    1. Ask, “Am I taking care of myself? Do I take the time to care for my own needs before anyone else’s?”
    2. Consider the areas of your health: physical, mental, emotional. Start listing out a few things you can do to care for yourself in each category. An activity may even overlap between the three categories. (Example: exercising is my form of self-care for my physical and mental wellbeing.)
    3. If you already have a routine, take time to assess. What’s something small you’re doing for yourself each day? How could improve or add to your current routine.
    4. Reach out to a trusted friend. Find an accountability buddy. Check in with them (and have them check in with you) as often as you need. Change takes time, but it feels a little easier with structured plan to guide you.

 

Are carbs bad for you? and other things: learning to live an authentic, healthy life

Are carbs bad for you? and other things: learning to live an authentic, healthy life
By Heather Nelson

Note: this article is part of a series. Heather shares her journey into a healthy lifestyle — body and mind — and invites you to take part in your own. 

If you’re thinking about or have thoughts of suicide or are concerned about someone you know or just need someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with their counselors here. If you think that you or a loved one may be suffering through an eating disorder please check out the resources here or call the National Eating Disorder Hotline 1-800-931-2237. (All resources are FREE.)

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Running has become a passion of mine. It’s the perfect me-time.

Pizza, beer, tacos, margaritas. Rinse. Repeat.

The diet of any 22-year-old trying to finish her college degree, balance a social life, and cope with leaving the best college town ever…right?

Ask most college students if they consume a healthy diet and they’ll probably admit that they opt for convenience over real nutrients. (Insert: cream cheese pizzas from Pizza Shuttle or a couple scoops at Sylas and Maddy’s.)

It’s no secret that college — the late adolescent years — provide the time for students to develop their own opinions and prioritize new things in life. During this time, many students are learning to become independent and are, simultaneously, challenged to make important decisions. Food is overlooked. I mean, your mom isn’t cooking for you anymore, and you actually might have to make a grocery list. Enter a series of problems, that, in turn, lead to weight gain: excessive alcohol consumption, decreased activity, less sleep, and stress.

So, when I started to fall subject to the unhealthy eating habits, I didn’t think twice. Most people I talked to about college warned, “beware the ‘freshman 15.’ You’ll miss your mom’s home cooking.” Indeed. The dimly lit lunch hall was my heaven! I could eat pizza *and* have an ice cream sundae every day if I wanted. I also had no one at the grocery store to say, “No, put that back. We don’t need it.” Similarly, no one warned me about the “senior 30.”

While this event probably isn’t common — and I may not have accumulated all the weight in one year, though I’m almost certain I did — it happened to me. I gained nearly 30 pounds during my senior year. The weight gain, an accumulation of stress (and other factors), turned into a cycle of bingeing on food and feeling complete disdain for myself. I quickly noticed that my clothes fit tighter and that I felt lethargic. I made no significant changes, but I added a few extra cardio days to my schedule. Then, those gym/cardio days became less frequent. My wardrobe thinned to a mere few pairs of sweatpants and oversized sorority t-shirts.

I was hiding.

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I remember looking at this picture — this was the “a-ha” moment. The moment I thought, “it’s time to change.”

 

In November 2015, I finally had enough. Nothing fit right. My sense of self-worth dramatically diminished. It was time to change. I began to follow at-home workouts on YouTube, while some I found on Pinterest. Many enticed me because I’d be able to burn that “stubborn” belly fat and “target” my flabby arms. I ventured to the Student Rec Center a few times a week and “punished” myself on the treadmill. “Run for as long as you can, as hard as you can,” I convinced myself.

When the weight wasn’t falling off, I decided to join Weight Watchers. I added vegetables to my diet, restricted carbs a bit, and tried to cut back on sugary foods. But, the restricting led to me sitting alone in my room eating a box of Oreos. The cycle continued on. Regardless of how I cheated the system, I began to see the scale move. In small increments. It was enough reward to continue. I stuck with Weight Watchers until I left for job training in Florida, where my situation only got worse.

Not only did I realize that I was experiencing depression — suicidal ideations, loss of interest, insomnia — I began to realize my relationship with food only continued to worsen.

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Yes, I’m smiling, but that doesn’t discount the exhausting mental storm that brewed inside.

I returned from Florida with extra weight — the 15 pounds I’d lost and the gravity of my deteriorating mental health.

To be continued…

****

My journey into a healthy lifestyle didn’t happen rapidly unlike the damage I’d done. In fact, the change moved at turtle-like pace. The progress I needed to make was daunting, exhausting and frustrating. It was anything but linear. And it was eye-opening.

I took many different routes to find where I’m at today. And so far, I’ve learned there’s no formula or map or cookie-cutter shape that works for everyone. The process varies and so do the results. (I found this disappointing because I was hoping to look like an airbrushed model at the end of this.) The diet/fitness industry will convince you that their way is the only way. Breaking news: there is no “right” way.

This is a reminder to stay true to yourself, listen to your gut, and find what works best for you. That’s what I hope for you. Throughout this series, in which I’ll walk you through my own fitness/health findings, I hope to inspire you to make small changes in your life. Maybe you’ve been waiting for the perfect moment or something to guide you along.

I hope to share the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way and the struggles I’ve had, too. My “journey” is far from over, it’s just beginning. I hope yours is, too.

Below is this week’s call to action! 

If you are struggling to make healthy changes in your life, here’s a few ways to get started.

  1. Open a journal (or grab a piece of paper/your smartphone). Take five minutes to write down where you see yourself in a year. If everything went according to your plan, where would you be, how would you look, how would you feel?
  2. Revert back to question one. Is the lifestyle you’re leading today propelling you in the direction of your goals? Could it improve? If not, why and how can you change that?
  3. Set a goal for yourself. Goals are SMART. For example, if you’re wanting to go from couch potato to marathon runner, your goal might be to walk or run-walk for 30 minutes twice a week.
    • Reassess your goals after a week. How did you do? If you didn’t follow through, how can you change to make yourself successful?
  4. Post a motivational quote or picture somewhere that you’ll see it every day. (Maybe set a motivational phone lockscreen.) Use this as a reminder to reach for your goals.