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…

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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.

The Road to 26.2: Why I Run

The Road to 26.2: Why I Run

By Heather Nelson

Here’s some of the responses I’ve got since committing to running a marathon: “You’re crazy!” “I get bored after running a mile!” “Well…good luck!” “A marathon?! Really?!”

The words of encouragement and well wishes make the 26.2 miles seem more real, daunting. I’ve started to feel more pressure, and I thought to myself, “Why am I running a marathon?”

It’s not entirely about the 26.2 miles. Sure, I want to complete a marathon in my lifetime, but it’s about how I feel when I run. This is something that most of my friends haven’t considered when I’ve opened up about running. I always feel crazy for liking something that a lot of people seem to despise. And, in all honesty, I don’t love every run. But running is just one form of exercise I’ve really learned to appreciate. It makes me feel good…

So, here are the reasons why I run (even if running sounds despicable to you):

  1. It boosts my self-esteem. There’s nothing quite like exceeding all expectations one set for herself. Two years ago, I never imagined being able to run more than four or five miles. I never would’ve run outside or signed up for races. Finishing a run leaves me feeling high — and that positive energy lasts for hours afterward. Runner’s high is real! 

    The greater the endorphin surge in these brain areas, the more euphoric the runners reported feeling.  — from ‘How to Achieve a Runner’s High’

    2. It combats depression/reduces stress. Depression takes away my desire to move. Gearing up for a run is normally the last thing I want to do when I’m not feeling my best, but I lace up my Brooks anyway. Running helps manage my depression. Acting opposite to my emotion is just one way I attempt to end the negative cycle. Distance runs help me to combat problems nagging at me — sometimes I simply acknowledge the thoughts and other times I actively search for a solution. Short, speed runs are perfect for clearing up aggression and tension.

3. I sleep better. The nights that I get the best sleep? Nights after I’ve exhausted myself with a run. I’m actually able to turn off my brain and just sleep.

4. It builds confidence. As mentioned before, I’ve achieved more than I ever thought possible with running. I solely compete with myself in an attempt to continually improve. Running allows me to grow stronger, more empowered with each step.  It’s as simple as that.

5. Running has taught me to be mentally tough. There’s nothing worse than running against the wind (except maybe humidity). A runner’s mind is forced to adapt and focus on overcoming obstacles. It’s easy to concentrate on the negative. Training the mind to dispel doubts is a runner’s biggest strength.

Running isn’t just great for physical health, it’s a great exercise for mental health, too. This is why I run.

25 things I’ve learned in 25 years

25 things I’ve learned in 25 years

The clock struck midnight — February 1. My 25 birthday; halfway to 50; a quarter of a century, if I’m lucky enough to live 100 years. I half-expected a Cinderella-esque transformation at that very stroke of midnight. Instead, I slept. My 25 birthday? Like any other day. I should’ve dropped birthday expectations long ago, but there’s something about birthdays that excite me. You’re another year older, another year wiser?

I don’t consider myself an expert on anything, especially life advice, but I thought I’d share a few things I learned in my 25 years of life.

  1. You can’t plan the future (and, yes, sometimes that’s scary). 

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a “planner.” It eases my anxiety a great deal to know (and prepare) for my next moves. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to schedule out every second of life. It’s something that I’m still figuring out and accepting.

 

2. It’s hard to keep in touch with all of your friends/acquaintances…

but make sure to keep the good ones around. The ones that stick with you through the hardships in your life and are there to celebrate life’s joys with you, too.

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Some of my best friends (not all of them are pictured) live far from me. I miss them every day, but am thankful for Facetime, texting and social media.

 

3. Assess your values and establish them as priority.

It’s important to identify your values and prioritize them. You’ll refer to these values when developing friendships, relationships, starting new jobs, etc.

 

4. It’s OK to ask for help.

Seriously. Anytime, anywhere, any situation. Ask for help, if you need it.

 

5. Single life isn’t all that bad.

It’s during the times that I’ve been single that I’ve learned the most about myself. I’ve focused on self-love, my health (all aspects) and finding time for my passions. Embrace your single-ness, it’s not the worst thing ever (even if it feels like it sometimes).

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The joke is … I’m the single one in this picture.

6. Take time to discover yourself and your values/beliefs. 

This doesn’t happen overnight. And this might be something that you take time for regularly.

 

7. There’s not ONE right way to pursue wellness. 

Some prefer yoga, others prefer lifting. I’ve found that running helps relieve stress. After I picked running up a year ago — I took a long hiatus post-high school — and since then I’ve signed up for a number of runs to keep myself motivated. Find what works for you. Research. Talk to your doctor. There’s a plethora of ways to eat and exercise, you’re bound to find something that works.

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This is me at my first half marathon, which I ran in October 2017.

 

8. Pursue what makes you happy, not necessarily what will make you the most money. 

I will never forget this piece of advice my dad gifted me.

 

9. Find time to travel/explore.

Go beyond your comfort zone. Learn something new. Be a tourist.

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Saberseminar & Fenway & amazing friends.

 

10. Support a cause. 

Do some research and donate your time or money (or both) to something greater than you.

 

11. You don’t have to be religious to be moral/a good person.

 

12. Vote. 

Please.

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Me posting voting in the 2016 election. 😦

 

13. Regularly take “me time”. 

See above. It’s important to just relax and spend time treating yourself.

 

14. Learn to let things go.

It’s not worth hanging on to hatred towards someone or something (unless it’s the Yankees). Once I started to move on from past grievances, I felt better about myself. Also see: Kesha’s song.

 

15. Perfection isn’t real.

Still accepting this one. More on that later.

 

16. You never stop learning (if you keep an open-mind). 

My favorite thing, in the last year or so, is to check out non-fiction books from the library. Reading non-fiction allows me to expand my knowledge on a topic I already appreciate or want to know more about. Keeping up on current events is quick way to learn information about the world around you.

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I took time on my trip to Boston to visit several historical spots in the city. This included learning more about one of my favorite historical figures, John F. Kennedy.

 

17. Coffee is the lifeblood that fuels champions.

It’s never let me down.

 

18. Mental health is REAL.

Mental health is real. Mental health is real. Mental health days are real. Mental health should be treated like physical health. Mental well-being is important.

 

19. Conflict is a part of life. 

How does that saying go? “Life isn’t always easy.” …or something like that.

 

20. Take risks, even if you fail. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed when trying something new, but I suppose that’s a part of life. It’s like in basketball when you’re trying to shoot a three-point basket, but you actually airball.

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KU doesn’t know anything about missing a shot or two….

 

21. Don’t compare yourself to anyone.

Social media is super deceptive. It’s not hard to see someone’s life and make assumptions based off what is shared. Remember that every person is unique. There’s no “timeline” to life.

 

22. Don’t harbor regret.

It’s like the saying, “live and learn.” There’s a reason for everything — even if that reason was solely to teach a lesson.

 

23. Let ’em talk. 

Like the Kesha song.

 

24. Trust your gut.

Because it’s probably right.

 

25. You can do whatever you set your mind to.

Bring your ideas to life and act. Waiting for the “perfect” moment will get you nowhere.

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The University of Kansas was my dream school. Yes, my dream school. I let no one AND no thing stop me from attending. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.