Why I’m Not Bipolar – and Neither Is Anyone Else

22 years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (or manic depressive illness, as they called it back then) based on a set of symptoms, according to the DSM and failure to respond well to SSRI medication. My identity is not in my diagnosis, and neither is yours.

Imagine if we also said, “I am depression,” “I am anxiety,” “I am Hashimoto’s,” or “I am diabetes.” The phrasing doesn’t work for any other diagnosis. I’d also suggest that anytime we turn our diagnosis into an “I am” statement, we are attaching our unique identity to a set of symptoms, and putting our worth in our limitations.

22 years ago, I was suffering from the symptoms of bipolar disorder. I experienced bouts of glorious manic/hypomanic highs, where the world looked brighter and more alive, when I could stay up all night even with an illness like mono, when I felt charming and unstoppable and like the most brilliant person in the room. I also experienced waves of crushing depression, where I was unable to leave my bed, my body frozen, exhausted, and the world was a dark hole I couldn’t climb out of. It confused me because I was taking an anti-depressant at the time. So we upped the medication amount, and the highs got higher. I didn’t have any other tools for support (except my psychiatrist did mention there was emerging research on omega 3 supplements and brain health – too bad I hated burping up fish).

But here is the point I really want to get across:

Just because you were diagnosed with a mental illness by one person, based on a set of symptoms during one period of your life, doesn’t mean you will struggle with those symptoms for the rest of your life. That’s an archaic school of thought, and it doesn’t line up with newer research on brain health.

Often when we ONLY treat symptoms, instead of looking to the interconnecting root causes in each individual body, we don’t heal, and we limit the opportunity to find healing.

There are so many evidence-based tools to support mental WEALTH. Does rapid relief through medication possibly play a role? Sure! But remember, for some people, like me, it may exacerbate symptoms or make things worse, leading to new diagnoses and treatment cycle.

What are the puzzle pieces in my story that potentially led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder? Some would say I have a genetic predisposition and leave it at that. But based on what we know of epigenetics, we know that our genes are only as influential in the way they express, and they express according to our environment.

Continue reading “Why I’m Not Bipolar – and Neither Is Anyone Else”

75 Hard? That’s a Hard Pass… And Here’s Why

To all my hard-working, go-getting, goal-digging female friends:

Oh, how I wish I could sit you down and tell you how amazing you are and how hard your body works for you to keep you alive. How I wish you could truly see yourself the way I do. I would tell you to take a big deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. I would remind you that your body is safe. Your body is on your side.

Instead, I see the pressure. The pressure to punish the female body. To do extra hard things (as if your body isn’t working hard enough already). The latest and greatest in this masochistic movement masquerading as “discipline” is the 75 Hard program.

In case you’re unfamiliar, let me break it down for you.

In a program designed by a man (we’ll get back to that in a minute), it aims to promote mental toughness by engaging in the following activities DAILY for 75 days. Apparently, if you mess up, you start over.

  1. Follow any food plan designed for your goals, but zero alcohol and no cheat meals.
  2. Complete two 45-minute workouts every day – one of them outside.
  3. Every day, drink a gallon of water.
  4. Every day, read 10 pages of an educational or self-improvement book.
  5. Every day, take a picture of your progress.

Okay, at first glance it really seems like a great combination of holistic health – we’ve got the food piece, the movement, hydration, internal processing…. but hold up. A picture? Every day?

That’s the first thing that stands out to me that is troubling. I’ve posted many times about my personal issues with before and after pictures, so I can’t imagine the obsession a daily picture would create in me. I can just picture myself zooming in on every single roll, bulge, speck, spot, zit, crease, and stance. Making sure my pose is the exact same every day, or sucking in, not sucking in, sticking the hip out here, booty out there. Man, by the time picture time is over I could’ve been reading my 10 pages from a book! This seems to be quite triggering for anyone who struggles with body image issues – which is probably the exact type of person targeted for a program like this. Big nope for me.

Now, let’s get back to the whole “program started by a man” thing. I’m sure Andy Frisella is a very motivating person. He’s a CEO of a large company, and he gets things done. He’s created a movement. But Andy’s body is driven by a different kind of rhythm in order to get work done – the circadian rhythm. And while we females have a circadian rhythm as well, we also have something called an infradian rhythm. And where we are in that infradian rhythm – meaning, which phase of our menstrual cycle we fall into – makes a huge difference in how our bodies are going to be functioning optimally.

Continue reading “75 Hard? That’s a Hard Pass… And Here’s Why”

How to Stop Dieting in 2022

2021 was a year of emotional upheaval for me, and I know I’m not alone. Aside from the division and tension caused by a certain virus and all the politics (unfortunately) intertwined with it, our family went through a major transition. My husband made a career change and we moved cities to follow our dreams. We left family and close friends. I grieved the loss of what we left behind, along with broken relationships that didn’t get mended.

This took a toll on my hormones and digestion. While food consumption and movement didn’t change, my emotional environment did. And my body decided to protect me by storing weight. While I can wear my clothes still, I’m a little fluffier in them. They don’t fit the same. I don’t have the ease of movement in certain yoga poses that I used to.

Because I know I’m not the only one feeling this way, I also know this is where many of us are tempted to go on an extreme diet to lose the weight.

Here’s the thing I want to remind you – your body cannot let go of excess weight until it is in a place of safety and healing.

Trying to drastically cut calories and restrict food consumption in order to lose weight quickly may work at the beginning… at the expense of putting your body into a greater state of survival and fight or flight. This is why 95% of diets fail.

There has to be another way to restore the body to a place of healing.

For me, the key has been creating a healthy relationship with food and exercise. Here’s what that means:

  • Food isn’t something to earn.
  • Exercise isn’t punishment for poor eating.
  • Overconsuming food that has been chemically altered and designed to be overconsumed isn’t a moral failure. It doesn’t mean you lack willpower or discipline.
  • While calories are units of energy, calories in carbohydrates alone provide different types of energy than calories in protein and calories in fat, not to mention calories from a piece of cake and calories from a sweet potato. This looks different for every individual.
  • My response to certain foods changes throughout the month as my hormones shift. What is filling and fueling one day, may not be filling and fueling on another.
  • The state of stress I’m in while I’m eating may matter more than the content of what I’m eating.

Instead of placing an emphasis on food restriction and punishment, I must emphasize nourishment. What can I do for my body that is healing? What can I do that gives it a break from the stress? I think for many of us, it looks like changing the mindset first.

Until our perspective on food and health changes, we can’t make progress. We will always be battling a negative attitude toward our body and food, which perpetuates a state of survival in our already stressed out bodies.

Continue reading “How to Stop Dieting in 2022”

When the December Blahs Hit

December is my mental slump month. I recently posted about the top triggers for holiday anxiety, but to be honest, holiday anxiety is not something I struggle with throughout the month. But my “December Blahs?” They’re definitely a struggle and always have been.

Though I’ve never been formally diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, my mood definitely shifts after Thanksgiving. The husband often catches it before I do. This year, I started feeling it earlier than usual. For me, it shows up as complete lack of motivation and willingness to engage. That’s the first symptom. I know from past history that if I let it linger there, I’ll take a deeper dive into true depression.

Last week, I made a trip to the library to load up on some fun holiday reading. As I gathered my stack of no less than seven books, I had this sudden despairing thought that it seemed like such a task to start a new book. Listen – new books bring me so much joy, so that thought was definitely an alert for me. When things that I consider fun stop feeling fun, that’s a sign that my mood is starting to tank.

At that moment, I realized I needed to take a step back and slow it down. I made no plans to fight the lack of motivation with excess activity, to beat my brain and body into submission like I used to. Instead, I came to the realization that for the rest of December, I’m committing myself to erasing to-do items off my lists. I’m not going to fight the blah. Instead, I’m going to recognize it for what it is, and re-adjust my expectations of myself.

This is a difficult mindset shift for me. I like to fill my schedule, I thrive with activity and overscheduling, and I love to have a thousand different plates spinning at one time.

Not for the rest of December.

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Your Weight Is The Least Interesting Thing About You

I had to step on a scale for life insurance this week and it triggered crazy anxiety and numerous unpleasant emotions.

I haven’t looked at the scale in years. According to the BMI (which is a mathematical calculation never intended to be used for health purposes but that’s a whole other post), I have been overweight since I was 16 years old. Because I’ve suffered from chronic health issues my entire life, I know when I’m in a healthy place and I know when I’m in an unhealthy place. The scale has never been a reflection of that. But it can tell me when my body is on high alert or fighting to restore balance. 

Yes, I am a health coach, but I don’t use the scale as a measure of health.

I dig deeper.

Because my endless hours of training are in integrative nutrition and functional medicine, I care more about what rapid weight gain or weight loss tells me about underlying imbalances.

Often times, weight is a protective mechanism. Body fat tissue is biologically active, producing hormones and immune-system proteins that act on other cells. There is a REASON for the inflammation. It’s how our body stores toxins and manages internal or external imbalances, not to mention physical and emotional stress.

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Five Things Triggering Anxiety over the Holidays

They say this is the most wonderful time of the year, but for those of us who struggle with seasonal mood fluctuations, it often isn’t. I always try to make an effort to enter this season on the offense, instead of playing defense.

Here are five things that could be triggering anxiety and mood instability over the holiday season. The beauty of these things is that each one of them impact the other, because so many of these important processes are connected.

Poor sleep – Sleep deprivation leads to heightened activity in the amygdala (your fear brain) and decreases the function of the prefrontal cortex. With lack of restful sleep we become reactionary and it makes it difficult to make good decisions. Listen to your circadian rhythm this season, and choose to go to bed an hour earlier. That can make all the difference in the world for your brain. Cut the electronics an hour before bed or at least wear blue light blocking glasses, because blue light blocks melatonin, which we need for restful sleep.

Continue reading “Five Things Triggering Anxiety over the Holidays”

Are Your Thoughts Making You Gain Weight?

Confession: I took a page out of the media handbook and hit you with a headline to get your attention. Weight gain is not as simple as “thinking it into existence.”

But I CAN tell you this: what you think about your food changes your ability to absorb and utilize nutrients.

Have you heard of the cephalic phase of digestion?

This phase is crucial to how our food is utilized. How and what you THINK about your food impacts the way your body absorbs and utilizes nutrients. In fact, researchers have shown that 30-40% of our digestive response is due to the cephalic phase, which is our awareness of what we are consuming.

This is what your brain needs to know:

  • Does it smell good?
  • Is it colorful?
  • Does it look appealing?
  • Are you grateful for it?
  • Does it appear to be a threat to your survival?
  • Will you feel nourished and safe with this meal?

The crazy thing is, you’re not even thinking these things on a conscious level. But your body picks up on it. In fact, there is an interesting component to this phase, called the “cephalic phase insulin response.” Simply thinking about carbs, or even fantasizing about a piece of cake or candy you are restricting, can cause your body to produce excess insulin. This is just another reason I like to focus on the principle of ADDITION over RESTRICTION… and another reason I hate dieting. Stress is stress to your body, whether it’s a perceived stressor or a real stressor.

So, this holiday season, be intentional about pleasure. Get excited to sit down and eat a nourishing meal with those you care about. I always say, “a body in stress will not digest,” and this reminder is needed even more so during the holidays.

When you sit to eat, slow down, breathe in between bites, and chew your food. Remember – the only part of digestion you can control is the amount of times you chew to assist in the breakdown. Be sure to allow your senses to take over; that’s when the magic happens. Food heals. It brings peace.

Food is crucial for survival. We must create a relationship with food that makes us feel safe.

If not, we make what is intended to be a restful and healing experience a stressful and inflammatory experience.

Your body will let you know which is which. 

If you need help with any of the above, reach out! Optimizing digestion is a big part of what I like to work on with my one-on-one clients. We also dive into this a bit in my Feast 2 Fast program, which re-launches early in January. It looks like another weight loss program, but I assure you, it’s all about incorporating real food into our real lives – and allowing room for the fun food we get pleasure from.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with good food, good people, and lots of good JOY!

Make Like a Tree and Let Go

There are less than 50 days left in the year. This inspires a lot of go-getters, influencers, self-help authors, and leadership coaches to call for some kind of goal-setting push to finish the year strong.

But I want to consider something else.

Instead of doing a hard push, forcing yourself to live up to some imaginary expectation for yourself only YOU are freaking out about, let’s acknowledge what you’ve been through and the coping mechanisms you’ve developed in effort to support you.

No judgment. No shaming.

I’ll go first.

When I’m stressed, I like to numb out with a bag of flavored chips that will make me feel like crap afterwards.

Do I want to do it? No. Is it “healthy” from a physical, mental, or spiritual standpoint? Probably not. But it’s familiar to me. It’s comfort. This coping skill worked when I was younger. It brought me temporary relief and comfort when I was depressed and couldn’t find relief or a way out of the dark hole I had fallen into.

By beating myself up for continuing to fall victim to my coping behavior, I make it worse, and cause more stress… making me more likely to repeat the behavior, perpetuating the cycle of unpleasant feeling, coping, shame, unpleasant feeling, shame, and coping.

So the worst thing I can do, in order to cope with my stress, is to add on more rigidity, more standards to live by, forcing an already stressed out and emotionally dysregulated brain into more dysregulation.

It’s going to backfire. My brain wants to keep me alive, and when things get hard, my brain will find the familiar way out. Every time. It’s what brains do.

Continue reading “Make Like a Tree and Let Go”

The Power of Breathwork for Mental Health

Learning to breathe has been one of the most impactful tools for my healing.

When you experience trauma, on any level, the last thing you want to do is intentionally unite your body and mind. Stillness is scary; being present is scary. It is easier to run away, literally and figuratively, which sometimes can only lead to further dysregulation and disconnection between body and mind.

The connection is in the breath. Bringing balance to your breath impacts just about every single function of your body. For some reason, though, this tool goes underutilized by most people. Maybe it’s not “hard enough.” Maybe we don’t want to slow down long enough to try it. The excuses vary, but the takeaway must be – learn to breathe!

Top benefits of breathwork:

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Stress and Your Immune System

I’m going to keep this short and sweet, but it needs to be said.

When you’re stressed, your body isn’t prioritizing immune health.

When you’re stressed – and this includes physical stress as well as emotional – your body’s main job is prioritizing survival of the stressor. All other functions get altered in order to survive.

Healing can only occur in a parasympathetic state. Learning to manage stress and actively rest, limiting stressful external physical triggers as well as negative self-talk, gives your body a chance to heal…which optimizes immune function.

Some of us are living as if every day we are running from a saber tooth tiger. Your body doesn’t know you’re just stressed from kids’ schedules, relationship conflicts, pandemic fear, work, sleep issues, your dietary restrictions or nutrient deficiencies, and your stressful exercise routine (yeah, that’s a stressor).

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