How To: Elimination Diet

Three months now since the start of the most dramatic experience of my own nutrition journey, I can honestly say I would do it again!

So you’re wondering if participating in an Elimination Diet is the right decision for you? Three months now since the start of the most dramatic experience of my own nutrition journey, I can honestly say I would happily do it again! A few quick and dirty details from what I’ve learned: I no longer drink as much caffeine, I no longer eat as much sugar, I find my meals are wayyy more balanced (without even trying), I rarely feel the need to snack between meals (because of this balance), and my alcohol consumption has decreased majorly! Additionally, I am much more in touch with how different things I consume affect my mood, energy, and overall health, and I am more sincerely interested in understanding how to listen to and communicate effectively with my body. But more on each of these topics to follow…

I had a lot of people ask me about the diet as I was going through it, questions regarding what I was eating, how I was feeling, and what exactly was the objective of the experience. I always enjoyed these conversations because talking about the experience as it was happening had a way of reinforcing my motivation to stay focused, and always brought me back to the original intent I had in starting the diet in the first place.

Since it’s obvious now to most people with whom I interact on any kind of regular basis that I no longer follow any kind of strict or specific dietary restrictions, the questions have taken a little bit of a shift. I’ve had a lot of friends and family ask me recently about that original intent, as well as what exactly I took away from the experience that allows me to speak so highly of it. Most impactful, I’ve found, has been the fact that while my dieting habits truly have changed since completing the experience, I have not felt the need to completely restrict myself from enjoying any of life’s greatest offerings in terms of food and drink. Some friends have even asked me to help them to begin the design process for starting their own elimination diet. This makes me the most excited, as I mentioned, I’d love to do it again myself and so I strongly encourage everyone participate in an elimination experience at least once in their lives – regardless if you consider yourself extremely healthy and aware of your body’s reaction to what you consume, or are just looking for a starting point in figuring this all out.

In order to create this “sort-of” guide through my experience, I thought I’d start by breaking down the “why.” Why did I decide to do this, and why do I think it was a good and important decision?

Why the heck did you do this?
I’ve never been a big fan of taking medicine, because I have always truly believed there should be, and probably is a natural remedy for most things that ail us as humans. (Truthfully, this was sparked after a bad experience with an antibiotic I was allergic to as a kid, but I digress…). After all, we are just animals, so why shouldn’t we fuel our bodies similarly? While I am thankful for the cures to diseases and illnesses that exist, I have always felt strongly that I could be doing more to prevent my body from feeling the need to take chemically engineered drugs in the first place.

When I first graduated college, I was under an extreme amount of stress (as most recent college grads are), and I found myself visiting doctors who would test me for a slew of crazy-scary things including crohn’s disease, and celiacs. Thankfully my tests always came back negative, however these experiences led me to really start to question why I was visiting these doctors in the first place. If I was so “healthy,” why was I having issues with my digestive system which were causing doctors to even consider I might have some kind of more serious issue?

Fast forward a couple of years and my body likely adjusted to the stress of being in the real world, so I felt as if the digestive issues began to subside, when really it was more likely that my system was beginning to learn how to cope with them. And even still, what remained were a random assortment of other “discomforts” that were difficult to link to one another, let alone one specific cause. When I really think about it, the answer to the question of why I ultimately took the plunge of the elimination experience can be summarized with one word: headaches. As of November of 2016, I felt as if for as long as I could remember I’d had at least a headache a day. It might sound as if this has to be some kind of a hyperbole, but the truth is, despite considering myself pretty healthy, including drinking a ton of water throughout each day, I somehow was still chasing off these mysterious painful murmurs in my head whether it be with essential oils, meditation, or often with Motrin and ibuprofen.

If I really was drinking enough water and eating the way my body needed and wanted me to on a regular basis, why did I seem to always have a headache?

As mentioned in my original post on beginning the diet, I was sparked onto the idea by a blogger I followed along with via Instagram. She was influential to me because of how passionate she was about the results she was seeing, but also because I was able to relate to her in other areas of health and wellness, including a rare hormonal syndrome I have had since birth. So I just decided to. I decided this could be something really great for my overall well-being, and I was immediately really excited for the possibility of kind of discovering myself and my body for the first time. I thought, “I’ve never even asked my body what it wants and needs. Who am I to assume I just know?” For someone who has spent the last several years getting in touch with my body physically and spiritually through exercise, yoga, and meditation, it felt it only made sense to connect with myself nutritionally, as well.

How did you know where to start?
The simple answer to this question, and the truth: I didn’t. I had no idea, and it was incredibly overwhelming to try to figure out because the internet is never-ending! I committed to the idea around November of 2016. At this point I was a little over 3 years removed from college, yet still carried a lot of the same habits as my 21-year old self: I drank nearly every night, even if only one glass of wine, and I was no stranger to several desserts in any given day – I don’t mean to suggest that these things are completely wrong, but I knew they weren’t necessarily ideal habits, and I hadn’t even given my body a chance to really communicate with me clearly as to whether or not they were good for me.

So I started to research. I am used to always having something to read for pleasure, so I set aside my typical novel-on-the-train routine, and instead would dedicate any free moment of time I had to reading as much as I could about different elimination experiences. I would even print off articles at my office so that I was guaranteed to have materials for my commute in case the internet from my phone was unavailable. I was 100% dedicated to the idea of completing the diet, but I was admittedly terrified of doing it incorrectly, or worse, putting myself through some kind of hell to not get out of it what I really wanted: clarity and understanding of what I should be consuming for my body’s health and wellness optimization.

While I was learning a lot, the research was still very overwhelming. The biggest takeaway I found overall: there is no right or wrong way to complete an elimination diet. But some of the more useful tips I carried with me throughout my experience included the following:

  1. Plan, Plan, Plan – I was nervous about a few different things specifically. Firstly, I was afraid I would have no idea what to eat. Secondly, I was afraid by not knowing what to eat, I’d end up not consuming enough food, and my body would miss out on important nutrients. Thirdly, I was afraid I didn’t understand enough about the different varieties of foods out there that I would not really know if what I was eating was appropriately aligned to my restrictions, or not. All of these fears were resolved through planning ahead. I planned everything. EV-RE-THANG! I planned my shopping trips by the day of the week I would make them happen, what meals would be prepared through that trip, and what all ingredients (down to the spices) would be acquired through that trip. I planned what I would eat every single day, of course, but I also planned what snacks would be on deck, just in case I was hungry between meals. I also saved myself from begin stressed over the responsibility of planning, by scheduling out time to plan/research. For example, I started the diet on a Wednesday, but really only had the first three days accounted for at the time that I started, because I knew I’d have free time Friday night to get my weekend in order, and then free time on Sunday to plan for the following week. My advice when it comes to planning: Do what works best for you and your schedule; be realistic, and don’t feel the need to plan lightyears in advance as long as you know you have a few hours in your schedule, and especially if there’s a nearby grocery store. 🙂
  2. Chill Out – As I mentioned, there is no right or wrong way to do an elimination diet, and so while I was strict to the parameters I set for myself, I was also pretty lenient on the way in which I monitored and altered my progress. I allowed for change throughout my experience, and I wasn’t too hard on myself if I realized I needed to make such a change. I knew it would be a stressful journey if I took it too seriously, so I approached everything as a learning experience. I also knew it would be more expensive than what I was probably used to spending on food, so if I bought something new but ended up not liking it – I didn’t get too torn up about it. I ended up donating quite a few things at the end of the experience, and while I could’ve looked at this as a waste of money, I decided instead to view it as part of the process. I was way happier knowing the food I didn’t want would go to someone else who would eat it, rather than I would have been forcing myself to stomach something I didn’t enjoy, or just throwing it in the trash. Plus, I found out a lot about my tastes, and new ways to prepare foods so that I actually do like them. On a separate note: my taste buds changed A LOT (but more on that later).
  3. Focus On The Positive – I won’t sugar coat it, it was tough. But much like running a marathon, getting started is always the hardest part. I found the first two or three days were incredibly rough for me because I somewhat threw my body and mind into a total phase of shock, and both had to learn on the go how to adjust to my new lifestyle (one of the hardest things I gave up was caffeine). Thinking back on it now, I know it would have been soooooo easy to give in within that first week (and trust me, I really wanted to), but I realized very quickly not only was I developing a special connection with my body and different internal systems, but I was also developing a special connection with my mind. I was uncovering a will power I didn’t really know I had within me. When I learned to take this as a positive focal point, I felt empowered more than I did anxious, or stressed. By the end of the first week, I was sailing. It was easy. And truthfully, the only other time I struggled was the last couple days before beginning the re-introduction, but I think this was mostly because I was so excited and anxious to see my hard work become fruitful. (As another side note, I wholeheartedly believe it was in part the will power that was developed through this experience that allowed me to finish a kick-ass half marathon, my first ever, only a month later).
  4. Hold Yourself Accountable – I have always been somewhat of a writer so this was second nature for me, but I found to journal about my experience was something I ended up looking forward to a lot. I knew I would need to write about what I ate each day, and how it made me feel, so I was cognizant about these things enough to reflect on them and be mindful of the experience. I also had the blessing of Brenen participating with me throughout the experience, so it was really motivating to know if I was hitting a wall, I could talk to him about it, or we could brainstorm recipe ideas together or discuss how we were feeling on a regular basis. However you need to do it – holding yourself accountable through any experience is probably one of the most important tasks you can do. The process of reflection was especially special to me because it really added value to the results I took away from the diet – I was able to clearly compare before, during, and after.

So with these ideas in mind, it was around late December that I decided I was pretty much ready…but that I also needed more time. I could have totally started after only a few short weeks of research and planning, but that would have run me into the holidays, and like I said, I was not exactly confident that I would even be able to do the damn thing, so I wanted to set myself up for as much success as possible by avoiding as many temptations as I could. I dedicated myself to another few weeks of learning (went to Shake Shack on Fat Tuesday), and my diet officially started on Wednesday, March 1. I sat up in bed and beamed as bright as I did on Christmas morning declaring, “Today’s the day! Today my diet starts, and my life will forever be changed, I just know it!” And it was precisely this attitude that carried me through the next five to six weeks.

So how did it actually work?
The “not one size fits all” theme is mostly referring to the way in which individuals eliminate foods throughout the experience. The science behind the diet is that it takes about 20-23 days of detox before your body should be considered completely clear of a substance. This of course varies from human to human depending on consumption, body fat, exercise routine, water ingestion, etc. So the strategy is: remove different potential trigger foods from your diet for 20-23 days, and then reintroduce this trigger food slowly, in a controlled amount, monitoring the affects it has on your body, including your mental and emotional state.

A trigger food should/could be anything that could be considered less than natural for a human to digest. Think the Paleo diet, which largely consists of one only eating what would have been consumed during the age in which humans had to literally hunt for their food. If a caveman couldn’t eat it, neither can someone following the Paleo diet…and essentially neither could I during my Elimination Diet. Since there is a large spectrum of what could be considered a trigger food, I found that many online blogs and forums identified the “easy” way to go about the diet would be to break it up into 3-4 rounds of processing. This would be “easier” to some because they wouldn’t have to worry about eliminating so much at once. For example, they might eliminate dairy, eggs, and soy for 3 weeks, re-introduce each for the following 2-3 weeks, then begin again with another round. I never really even considered doing it this way because patience (believe it or not) is not my strongest suit. I decided if I was going to do it, I might as well just go all-in.

So all-in I went, and MY elimination diet removed 11 items from my diet all at once, beginning on Day 1. The list of potential triggers I removed included:

  • Gluten
  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Corn
  • Tree Nuts (except coconut)
  • Peanuts
  • Caffeine
  • Artificial Sugar
  • Artificial Color
  • Alcohol

*As a note, I also did everything I could to avoid preservatives, but I didn’t think it fair to assume I completely avoided it since I did eat at restaurants quite a bit. S/o to the NYC health-food scene!

As I alluded to with my Paleo comparison, essentially my diet wound up consisting of about 70% fruits and vegetables, and 30% lean meat.A typical day for me began with overnight gluten-free oatmeal for breakfast, a hearty salad for lunch, and some kind of meat with vegetables for dinner. To see more day by day breakdowns of what I ate, check out some of my posts that carried me through the process back in March.

I practiced this (for the most-part consistent) diet for 21 days, and on day 22, re-introduced the first contender. The order in which we re-introduced each food group was largely impacted by our desires, and less so by much of what research had recommended. But again, no right or wrong. 🙂 First up for me was caffeine (Brenen didn’t give this up), then gluten, then dairy, soy, eggs, and alcohol, and then the artificials, tree nuts, corn, and finally peanuts. Actually, most of what I read recommended doing an order somewhat completely opposite of this. The reason being: you are more likely to have a reaction to some of the more obvious triggers such as gluten and dairy, so it makes more sense to leave them for last, getting the less likely trigger foods out of the way first. All the same, believe me, we got our results. You can also learn more about our takeaways by checking out my after the diet post, which I added back in April.

Life after Eliminating
As I mentioned at the start of this post – my diet really has changed. A lot. I never feel as if I can’t eat certain things, but I know exactly how I could potentially feel if I choose to. I know how my body will respond to almost anything that I give it, solely based on whatever it is that item might be composed of.

So why all the fuss, and why are we still talking about it now? Like I said, for me the goal was to learn. I talk a lot about this stuff – health, wellness, best practices, mindfulness…but I wanted to actually walk the walk. The goal for me was never to change much about my lifestyle, but rather to discover more about what made the most sense for me as a human, to learn more about my body, which is my temple, and to learn more about health in general through the research that went along with my process. To say I achieved these goals would be an understatement. The takeaways from this experience far outweighed the difficulty that came with completing it. If you’re interested, I’ll name a few:

  1. The headaches? GONE. While it doesn’t feel as if my diet has changed drastically since finishing the elimination experience, it kind of has. No, I didn’t immediately start to completely avoid any one thing, but I am much more mindful about what I consume, when, and how much. Before March, drinking 3-4 cups of coffee a day was normal. Did I need it? Probably not. Do I still need to drink coffee now? No. And because I gave it up for so long, it’s easy to still enjoy a cup every once in a while, however getting away with 4-5 a week was one of most dramatic changes I took away from the diet. Similarly, I eat way less sugar than I ever thought possible. I am just not attracted to it the same way I used to be. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my donuts 🙂 but to be completely honest, their appearance in my diet has diminished a lot. It’s somewhat sad to think about, but at the same time, I know it’s because I truly don’t like eating them anymore as much as I used to. I developed a whole new sense of intuition when it comes to my body, my diet, and my overall feelings, and I know that while a few bites of a donut would be magical, I’d likely end up wasting the second half because nine times out of ten, I simply wouldn’t be interested in finishing it. (Okay, I actually did have 3 donuts this weekend, but they were the first donuts I had in probably the past several weeks. That’s saying a lot from a gal who used to eat at least 2-4 every week!). The same goes with other treats I used to love like peanut MnMs and sour patch kids. I used to always have a bag of one of these treats in my desk drawer or purse, but they’ve now been replaced with fresh fruit, or dark chocolate that would’ve been nearly acceptable during the diet. As I mentioned before, my taste buds underwent a major development. What might have seemed less appetizing than the aforementioned, or even “gross” because of it’s health-factor, has now actually become the types of snacks and foods I am most attracted to for those exact reasons.
  2. I’ve never slept better! Many people who I’ve spoken with directly about the experience know that the most prominent takeaway for both me and Brenen was the power it had on our sleep. Remember, he didn’t give up caffeine, either. Yet, within just 2-3 days of the detox, we both agreed we’d never experienced such a wonderful, completely full and re-energizing night of sleep. It was truly incredible, and I feel I’ll never really be able to describe it fully with just words. I wouldn’t have even necessarily considered myself a troubled-sleeper before, but even now, I am envious of the sleeps I got during those few weeks of being completely clean.
  3. The mood of a champion, and the energy of a thousand suns seems realistic enough of a metaphor to summarize my overall aura throughout the process, and even most days now.  I think most would agree I am a positive person by nature, but I was on a whole new level during the experience. I already spoke to my confidence increasing, and how the diet contributed to me continuing to work hard toward achieving additional goals, but truly the source was in the process itself. I was cleaning my system of all the crap it didn’t need/want, and as a result, I was functioning all around better! Perhaps, living my best life?

So…all this is great, but how do you know if it’ll be as great for you?

YOUR Elimination Experience?
From one of the many sources I took a page toward preparing for my diet, I think FeedMePhoebe said it best:

“The immune system is a funny beast. When we are consistently eating foods that cause an inflammatory response, it leaves our immune system in a constant state of hyperactivity. The fog of ongoing war makes it harder to pinpoint an acute response to something you’re allergic to; the symptoms aren’t as severe because your baseline “normal” may already include said symptoms.

When you remove these irritants, however, your immune system has a chance to calm and recede. And like any overworked army, once your antibodies have had that rest period, they are that much more capable of attacking invaders with all their might.”

As I have already mentioned (probably too many times), I strongly feel that this experience can be and should be for everyone. If you’ve spoken to me in person about it, you’ve likely experienced my passion for the process firsthand. This is because to me, it’s simple: this is your body we are talking about. At the end of everything, what else can you count on? All of the systems inside a machine depend on the fuel which it uses to operate. That’s why we don’t put milk in the gas tanks of our cars – they weren’t designed to run on milk, so while they might be able to, it probably wouldn’t be the most efficient source of energy for them. The same can be said for me and you. There is a world of deliciousness out there, and it’s often fun to indulge in new and fun foods. I don’t plan to ever stop trying new things. I love eating and drinking and donuts and coffee. But I also love having a deep awareness about how everything I consume contributes to how I sleep at night, how effective of a workout I’m likely the have the next day, where my newest pimple probably came from, and why my hair might not be growing at the rate I want it to. To me, I enjoy being in control of my diet and what comes from the way I eat, rather than feeling as if what I eat is in control of how I feel. Not to mention, I decided if my body truly doesn’t like something enough to make me feel super icky and run-down, I really probably shouldn’t overdo it on that particular thing. And I’m okay with that. Some people I’ve spoken to about the experience will say, “well, I’ll never stop eating whatever I want, whenever I want.” I think that’s great! You shouldn’t, and you don’t have to. The Elimination Diet isn’t necessarily a gateway to alter your intake of certain foods, for me at least, it was simply an opportunity to learn more about the most important thing in my life – the thing that gives me that life in the first place.

Maybe you have some issues in mind already that you’re considering might mean this experience is perfect for you. Maybe you’re not sure of what ails you, but you feel something may be off.  Maybe you just want to be brave, and try something new with guaranteed positive results 🙂 Whatever it may be, below is a list of common symptoms which could mean the Elimination Diet is a good challenge to consider. And after all, the best part is there is not a negative outcome. To me, those are the best kind of risks to take.

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain/inflammation
  • Skin breakouts/rashes
  • Headaches
  • Bowel changes/pain
  • Bloating
  • Confusion/lack of focus
  • Sinus/respiratory issues
  • Digestive issues
  • Mood swings
  • Weak Immune System

One final note: have fun! If you’re not having fun, why are you doing it (whatever it is)? And if you are having fun, you’ve already won (A mantra no stranger to my middle school days)! Brenen and I were able to enjoy the diet because we tried so many new things! Granted, we had the privilege of exploring some restaurants because NYC luckily has a variety of places that fit the bill, but more often than not, we prepared our own meals.

To be honest, I’ve felt I’ve been on this journey of self-discovery for some time now, but this experience lit a whole new fire I never knew existed. I am already excited for the next adventure of my body and mind…and I SO look forward to those who decide to take a leap of faith and step up to the challenge. Please!!! Ask me questions, pick my brain, and tell me how it goes!!! I love sharing in other’s discoveries and excitement. It’s incredible what you can learn when you listen to your body.

Why I Hate Tuesdays

Anger and sadness are not the same feeling, of this I am sure…but at some point I decided it’s okay to handle all negative emotions such as these in the exact same way: to breathe through them.

As cliché as it sounds, I’ve found moving my body without much focus on anything other than just “being” to be the most therapeutic experience of my life (so far).

So naturally when today’s Monday felt like a Tuesday, I sighed a heavy sigh at the fact that I lost my metro card, took two wrong trains, and ended up missing my evening yoga class – and instead of giving up, I decided to just give in.

I had to walk…so I walked. Then finally back home, I sank my hips to my heels, shut everything off, and just breathed.

I have always loved Mondays. I could go on and on about all the reasons why – but more interestingly enough, Tuesdays have always been my least favorite day of the week. Today was especially discouraging because of how much I love Mondays! Whyyyy Monday, why would you ruin this for me?! If it were Tuesday, I wouldn’t have even blinked an eye. Tuesday’s are notoriously the worst. In college I worked two jobs, held a student governing position, and was way more involved in the social scene than I probably should have been. However it happened, a typical Tuesday for me consisted of 4 classes, 2 split shifts at my on-campus job, and then closing the bar I tended off-campus for “Tini-Tuesdays.” Needless to say, it was a long, usually rough day…two on a scale of one to ten, if you will, (i.e. Twosday).

The “idea” of Tuesday being a pain kind of just stuck because of course if we try hard enough to find it, a crack can be found in almost everything. And now as I sit here and think about shrugging off what a terrible day I had today, I am overwhelmed with all the positive that happened, too. Actually, a fair amount of positive that I otherwise just let be overlooked. Is this how I normally behave on Tuesdays just because I expect them to be bad? Today, I made it to the gym and had a great workout this morning, made my favorite breakfast, and was on time to work. I spoke to friends, and family, and I was even prepared with my umbrella, which almost never happens for me on a rainy day!

There’s a lot to be said about having a positive attitude, and I don’t think it’s much of a secret anymore that most happy people create their own happiness. I am a really freaking happy person, but clearly everyone can have a bad day – the bad days can stretch for weeks, months, or maybe even years if you’re really in a pickle…I’ve been there, believe me. But when I think about those bad days and bad moods and bad ways in which I attempted to “cope,” I don’t think it’s ever going to be all the bad that defines a person – in my opinion, it’s what you do after the bad that matters more.

Anyway, enough about good vs. bad and enough about me. If anyone else out there ever has a lil’ case of theMondays (any day of the week) check out some of my favorite stress-release poses below:

#1. Child’s Pose

 

Who doesn’t love child’s pose? I personally prefer putting my arms back along my legs in child’s pose when I am really looking to relax, because it takes away from the “activity” of the pose. The resting posture helps to quiet the mind, especially when it is almost always associated with relaxing, or taking a break in a traditional yoga practice.

#2. Eagle Pose

Eagle pose is a little bit more empowered, as it does take some focus and presentation. Concentrating on your balance, however, is good for reducing stress because it improves this focus, and can help to clear your mind from other things. Plus, the asana releases tension from your shoulders, legs, and back – all catalysts for carrying negative energy.

#3. Extended Triangle Pose

 Triangle pose is one of my favorites because as simple as it appears, it’s a full body stretch! the subtle hinging it involves may lessen anxiety.

#4. Cat pose

 

Again, the back is a large space which manages a lot having to do with our bodies, including our emotions. Cat (and cow pose) are a great sequence to work into your practice to help ease the back into a neutral, more relaxed position, reliving any stress stored in this area.

#5. Dolphin Pose

Something about this super funky cousin to the downward dog helps to quiet my mind every time I enter it. Again, a stress and anxiety reliving pose, Dolphin aids to the shoulders, neck, and spine where negative energy may be hiding out.

#6. Hurdle Bend

Finally, the hurdle bend helps to relax your whole body, similar to that of a forward fold, or any kind of full body fold. Exhaling as you drag your heart toward your sacrum helps to calm the brain, which is beneficial for tons of potential ailment such as feelings of depression, anxiety, fatigues, and even menstrual discomfort and insomnia.

 Of course there are plenty more options when it comes to movement that can be beneficial for stress relief. Heck, isn’t any movement better than none? Whatever you decide to do, just don’t let Monday (or Tuesday) get you down. Today I took back my Monday…tomorrow, maybe I’ll do the same for the good ol’ Twos. 

BACK at it.

This blog is OLD. NEWS. Honestly – this baby has been sitting in a metaphorical corner gathering dust for several years. And while I am definitely one to exaggerate, that is no hyperbole. I have been writing as long as I can remember, and I’ve been clacking on this keyboard into this window specifically since it was originally a Tumblr page (and people actually followed it hah!). But the Tumblr app hasn’t graced my phone in many moons, and followers are much harder to come by these days…so somewhere along the road, I stopped. Why? I don’t really know, to be honest. Maybe because I never really had anything exciting to write about after college, maybe because after my stint as a teacher I went through a little cloud of depression struggling to figure out my place in this world, maybe because I still am not sure what that place is supposed to be?

For whatever reason, I lost my will and drive to do the one thing that has otherwise always kept me motivated, energized, excited, and truly has given me LIFE: writing. I LOVE WRITING. I might not be able to fully explain why, but I figure my close friends and family would probably say it’s because I love talking, too. I just love an idea and a thought and a word as much as I love breathing, and donuts, and a good summer rain. They’re natural, everyone knows about them, but they deserve more attention than is typically afforded to them, in my opinion.

So where do I start? Well, I guess I mean, where do I go from here? This cute lil’ site is full of my personal “ramblings,” as I mentioned, but I decided it’s high time we drive this baby in one specific direction. If I’m gonna talktalktalk, I want it to be about something I love as much as writing. For now (and the undefined future), I’ve decided that is going to be health, wellness, fitness, and just being. And as an ode to my re-return, what better topic to kick off such a thrill than that of the BACK.

What?

Yes, the back.

Super weird, I know. Why would I want to talk about backs? What even am I actually referring to when I say ‘back’? I’m talking about the rear surface of the human body, running from your shoulders to your hip-line: your freakin’ back. Does your back hurt? I actually would be more surprised if you answered ‘no,’ because believe it or not, we use our backs as much as we do our arms, legs, and hands. It’s involved in almost every movement we make (and don’t make), in any given day. Your back is under pressure when you’re sitting, when you’re standing, when you’re running, and even when you’re lying down. Because of this, it’s also probably one of the strongest parts of your body. Hell yeah, go back!

So why do I want to say a few words on the back here and now? Well, other than just receiving my new foam roller in the mail that I legit can’t wait to get home and use on my back, when I first started really reflecting on my personal fitness journey, I came to the conclusion that it all started with my back. To fully do the tale justice, let me take you BACK a few years…ok, I’ll stop…

During the beginning of my second year of teaching, times were seriously rough. It took getting through the first year of my inner-city program to realize I had no life, whatsoever. I worked a minimum of 60 hour weeks, slept on average 3-4 hours a night, and when I did have free time, I was using it to research how to make my work-life easier (i.e. lesson planning!). Right out of college, I also had very little insight yet as to how completely bad this was for my overall personal health. I once had a phone meeting with my mentor and she asked what was one thing I planned to do for myself the approaching weekend, and I said I was excited to go to the local supply store to get new monthly supplies for my classroom. And I remember that I was truly, really excited! Her response? “Um, Tenika, you realize that is not for yourself, right?” I didn’t. I loved being a teacher, and I loved my students, but my body was taking a beating, and so was my mental and physical health.

So before I let the thick of that second fall semester get the best of me as it had the year before, I decided to commit to something – anything, to try to beat the busy-blues. A coworker was super into yoga and said she looked forward to the practice as a means of release at the end of the school week. She went religiously every Thursday evening, so I decided to join her onc week for my first ever class. Holy buckets was my world changed in a quick 45 minutes. I became obsessed with the idea of letting go of my stress, and clearing my mind for an hour – so much so that I yearned for it more and more. I joined a studio near my house and started going on my own accord. My commitment? I left my classroom everyday within one hour of the dismissal bell either to attend a yoga class, or at least to work from home where I could feel a little less stressed. Obviously yoga was my primary choice on most days, and by spring, I was attending classes five times a week! To my friends, I became the go-to yogi, and often would drag them along to experience some of me favorite instructors, or break-out practice opportunities around the city. The best part was that it was actually working – I was not only developing a better, more healthy work-life balance, but I was happy, energized, and felt like I had a personal life again.

Everything was going smoothly until one April evening, out to drinks with a few friends, as I was walking from one end of the bar to the other, I collapsed unexpectedly due to an indescribable pain in my back. Within 20-30 minutes it escalated from something sharp and quick, to something dense and throbbing. My friends had to help me to my own car, where I laid flat in the backseat demanding they drive me straight home rather than to a hospital. My beloved roommates helped me to put some biofreeze on the area, and I was able to move around and stretch a bit before bed, leaving me to think everything would be fine by morning – boy was I wrong. I woke up the next day with thankfully just enough mobility in my left arm to text my roommate in the next room and tell her I couldn’t move from my bed. I legitimately thought I was paralyzed, and it was terrifying. She brought me a painkiller, and called my school for me to let them know I wouldn’t be able to make it in.

Fast forward a few hours and it turns out I had severely disrupted a joint in my back called the Latissimus Dorsi: one of our largest muscles, which explains why it was affecting nearly my whole body. I had to undergo a couple months of physical therapy, remained seated constantly at work over the next several weeks (which as a teacher is torturous), and ultimately, realized I had been overdoing it with my yoga classes. It wasn’t that I was doing yoga too often (#yogaeverydamnday, amiright?), but I wasn’t doing it as properly as I should have been. I wasn’t warming up appropriately every time, and outside of class, I was known to #stopdropyoga into random poses without warning! I guess I grew to love my new hobby so much that I was overly excited to partake whenever I could, as often as possible, and in turn, I learned the hard way that there is a right and a wrong way to do fitness.

But I didn’t learn my lesson right away…no, that’d be too easy.

Fast forward a few months later and I found myself back home, sleeping on my sister’s couch. This wasn’t a big deal because I intentionally signed myself up for some detoxifying time off post the second school year, and truthfully, it was a great opportunity to really grow in my love of fitness and exercise. It was during these short months that I first discovered #TeamKayla, the #BBG workouts, and quickly became known among my circle as the friend who was always up for a trip to the gym. Since I had a flexible bar-tending schedule, it was typical for me to hit the gym in the morning for a weight-lifting circuit, and then again in the evening, or during my lunch break to get a run in. (Side note: I HATED running long distances – growing up I was a sprinter. Since I had been running every other day a few miles here and there, I thought I’d try my luck at a 10k in October 2016…it was awful and I could barely finish. I kept training anyway, and last month I finished my first half marathon (April 2017) with an 8:27 split).

It could have been that during this time at home, I was bored, and didn’t have a lot going on career-wise or socially. Whatever the cause though, I found I thrived in the gym. My friends from college used to joke that I was “most comfortable” listening to chill music in bars, probably completely by myself. I now realize that comfortability has evolved, and my place of choice involves sweating, grunting, and a good up-beat Beyoncé song.

When I moved to New York, I lost a lot of time on my fitness journey because it took me several months to really figure out my groove in the city. During a ski trip in January of this year, I got knocked down pretty hard, and it was back to the back doc. I discovered alongside a moderate concussion, I also had pretty bad strains to both of my rotator-cuffs. Granted this was a completely separate injury than the first time I found myself with pain in my back, and with a completely separate (mostly out of my control) cause, the experience lit a fire in me that I hadn’t felt before. Up to this point I had spent so many hours at the gym, so many mornings traveling there early, free hours from the work day, and even often times late in the evening – anything to get in my lifts, my miles, and my yoga practices. Yet, with one foul swoop of a wreckless snowboarder, I was on my ass and back in physical therapy. How could this be? I decided it was time for a change. To an outsider, I may have always appeared to live a super healthy, active lifestyle, and to be in “good” shape. To me I felt tired, heavy, and like I was spinning wheels and wheels of energy all to still feel weak.

So in the months that followed this recovery, I no longer committed to just working out, just running the miles, or just attending the yoga classes. I flipped my own health & wellness world on it’s head and cleaned out every corner of my life until it became better aligned with my goals – see: my elimination experience, for example. I wanted to not only walk the walk, but also talk the talk. When I am not at the gym, I’m researching ways to be better at the gym. When I’m not measuring my macros, I’m learning more ways to get the most out of my physical routine by aligning my nutrition, sleep, and mental health. And my favorite part so far? It actually feels like it’s working. My commitment has become my passion, and my passion is slowly becoming my lifestyle.

I guess it’s a little bit of a stretch to think the injury in 2015 lead me here, but maybe it’s not. Maybe everything happens for a reason, and maybe even that snowboarder a few months ago was a part of the puzzle. Jeez, I’m all emotional now…that happens a lot when you’re doing something you love, I guess. It has taken a lot of courage and dedication to get to this point, especially when nowadays (especially in New York), you can’t blink an eye without someone offering you their unwarranted opinion on the movement. And when I look back at the person I was five or even three years ago, it’s mind-boggling to see the difference. I know a lot of people promote their physical/fitness journeys from a place of physical transformation, and I think that’s great. For me, my transformation physically is important, especially because I do aim to get stronger everyday. But most importantly, I know a world has passed through my mind over the course of this journey, and to me, that’s what mindfulness means.

In short, I’m thankful for the injury(ies) that prompted the mental and physical strength I’ve developed, and the feeling to finally have something to write about again. If you’re reading this now, I hope you’ll stay tuned for what’s to come…This journey is what gets me out of bed in the morning (that, and the strength I’ve continued to build in my back!). 😉

Finally, I’ve included some of my favorite back stretches below. These were a few favorites to get me through the separate rounds of recovery, and thankfully, I’ve always been a fan of #1. Keep moving, keep breathing, and keep trusting the process. Enjoy!

#1 Wall Supported Handstand

 

Yes! I’ll do anything to flip upside down – anywhere, and anytime. My yoga instructor in Indianapolis recommended that I focus on my handstand practice in lieu of pretty much everything else during my rehab in 2015 (see featured photo on my front porch in downtown Indianapolis). It takes a lot of practice and core muscle to be able to stick one of these babies out in the open, but kicking up into an easy handstand supported by the wall, and tightening your back and butt, is a good way to strengthen your body’s most valuable muscles.

#2 Legs Up The Wall

 

Maybe my second favorite pose/stretch – legs up the wall is an easy go-to for adding strength specifically to your lower back. It’s easy to kick up your legs when you’re just lying around the house, wathing tv, or reading a book, and this can undo hours of sitting at a desk all day!

#3 Bridge

Bridge is a tough one to do if you have an injury, but is a great pose to incorporate into your practice to prevent the injuries from happening. It’s good for targeting your thorax, and neck – just don’t look side to side, and instead stay focused on the ceiling.

#4 Crunch

 

Not just good for abs, most crunch-type exercises actually target the back, too! This standard crunch pose is a good one for adding strength to the lower back muscles, as well as the full core, by simply balancing for 10-20 seconds per rep.

#5 Front Bridge/Plank

 

Similarly, an exercise usually looked at for ab work, the forearm plank, or front bridge pose can be good for strengthening the back, too. To make this more focused on the back, rather than your abdominal muscles, simply lower your shins to the ground, and focus on arching through your mid-section.

Poses/exercises to avoid when you have a back injury:

When nursing a back injury, I’ve found it’s best to avoid all strenuous exercise, as it likely involves stress to your back in some regard. The worst thing you can do is not give your body time to heal and rest. Just as well, if you start to feel better, and then push yourself before your muscles are ready, you can end up worsening the injury, putting you out of your typical routine for longer, or worst case scenario – end up with permanent damage.

But if you want to still take it easy, from my experiences, the most important exercises to avoid when you have any kind of back injury include any of those which include twists, backbends, forward folds, and running.

If you do have back pain and are unsure what to do, definitely consult a chiropractor, or physical doctor for the best advice! And don’t be afraid to befriend a foam roller! 🙂