The Autoimmune Protocol: Reintroductions

The Autoimmune Protocol: Reintroductions

It’s day 65 on the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), and this week, I reintroduced black pepper.

It’s been a long road to these reintroductions.

I was nervous. I tried to reintroduce black pepper about a month ago, and had a rough flare that week. Looking back, I wouldn’t say it was the pepper’s fault – I had just returned from my first weekend of travel on AIP, was ramping up my running after a 50K, and was juggling some major life decisions. The environment was not conducive to food reintroductions; however, I was antsy.

First meal with black pepper! Featuring my cacti.

After recovering from that flare, making some additional lifestyle changes, and getting through two weeks of cross country travel, I’m feeling ready for these reintros. There are fewer variables, fewer symptoms, and I’ve been strictly following AIP for two months. I’ve seen incredible improvement in my symptoms. I’m ready. It’s time.

Last weekend, I dug my pepper mill out of my off-limits AIP cabinet, cranked it out for two days, and then waited. It was a major success. Welcome back, black pepper. I’ve missed you.

The world is my oyster with this additional spice. Rotisserie chickens are no longer off the table on a busy weeknight. Every brand of jerky is mine for the taking. Half of my freezer is no longer off limits (the pre-AIP days included pepper with every meal). This… this is glorious.

Reintroductions on AIP are an exciting time.

Today, I’m reintroducing paprika to my diet (largely because, with black pepper and paprika, I can go to CAVA, a Mediterranean Chipotle-style restaurant I have missed dearly).

There is a science to reintroductions; however, I am not directly abiding by that science. I’m using it as a template. In fact, I think the entire Autoimmune Protocol should be considered a template. Throughout this process, I am learning a lot about my body. I’m discovering just how fragile my digestive system is and intimately exploring my relationship with food, the act of eating, and my appearance. The last 65 days have not been easy, by any stretch of the imagination. There have been tears, tantrums, utter defeat, and behaviors resembling that of a four year-old while handling raw liver.

AIP is a template. It is just one season of my healing journey.

It’s important to note that this protocol is just that: a protocol. It is not a diet. It includes an elimination phase and a reintroduction phase. The goal is not to live in the elimination phase forever. The goal is to make the time and space for your body to heal by removing certain foods, and then slowly, methodically and with an open mind, reintroduce those foods and expand your diet. I am seeking health and healing, not a set weight or clothing size. And I firmly believe that a wide variety of foods is necessary both for our physical and mental health. We cannot live in the elimination phase forever. Nor should we.

With that, let’s talk reintroductions.

Sarah Ballantine, the medical biophysicist who created the Autoimmune Protocol, outlines the reintroduction phase well in her book The Paleo Approach. I’ll be combining her methodology with the suggestions and protocol provided by my physician and dietician-nutritionist.

When reintroducing foods, it’s important to maintain a journal of symptoms, especially as some food reactions may seem completely unrelated to the food consumed.

Reactions may include:
  • Symptoms of your disease returning or worsening
  • GI symptoms: bloating, gas, stomachache, changes in bowel movements, etc.
  • Reduced energy or fatigue
  • Food cravings for sugar or fat
  • Pica (cravings for minerals from nonfood items, such as clay, chalk, or sand)
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Increased mucus production (runny nose, postnasal drip, etc.)
  • Coughing or increased need to clear your throat
  • Itchy eyes or mouth
  • Sneezing
  • Aches and pains
  • Changes in skin (rashes, acne, dry skin, dry hair or nails)
  • Mood changes (mood swings, feeling depressed, anxious, less able to handle stress)

Even just one of these symptoms may indicate a food sensitivity (yes, even mood swings!). Symptoms may occur an hour after the food was consumed all the way up to a couple of days after the fact. You want to limit the variables when reintroducing foods, so do your best to keep your lifestyle the same. If you’re sick, facing a looming deadline at work, or suddenly decide to train for a half-marathon, it isn’t time to reintroduce foods. Remember that any number of factors can cause the above reactions, so do your best to limit the lifestyle factors that may complicate your reintroduction process.

When you’re ready to reintroduce foods (huzzah!), Dr. Ballantine suggests the following protocol:
  1. Select one food to challenge, be prepared to eat it two to three times in one day, and then avoid it for a few days.
  2. First, eat a tiny nibble of the food (a half teaspoon or less). Wait fifteen minutes. Then, eat a tiny bite of the food (one teaspoon). Wait fifteen minutes.
  3. If you have any symptoms, stop! It’s not time for this food quite yet. If you don’t have symptoms, eat a slightly bigger bite (1.5 teaspoons). Carry on with your day.
  4. After two to three hours, monitor yourself for symptoms.
  5. Now, eat a normal-size portion of the food – either by itself or as part of a meal.
  6. Don’t eat the food again for 3-7 days, depending on your sensitivity. Don’t reintroduce any other foods during this time. Monitor yourself for symptoms.
  7. If you have no symptoms over three to seven days, you’re in the clear! Nom away.

For me, I’m going to follow a slightly looser reintroduction methodology, especially as I work my way through the spices.

My reintroduction protocol is more like this:
  1. Select one food to challenge, be prepared to eat it over the course of one to two days, and then avoid it for three to four days.
  2. Eat a meal’s worth of that food/spice – ideally, cook with the spice for a meal and enjoy it.
  3. Monitor yourself for symptoms in the hours following that meal.
  4. If no symptoms occur, eat another meal with that food (in this case spice) either the same day or the following day.
  5. Don’t eat the food again for three to four days. Don’t reintroduce any other foods during this time. Monitor yourself for symptoms.
  6. If no symptoms occur, you may reincorporate that spice/food into your regular diet (boomshakalaka).

When reintroducing foods, it can be hard to decide what to reintroduce first. Some say to reintroduce what you miss the most first. Others, what would add more ease and convenience to your life. Ballantine suggests a set order of reintroductions based on what is most likely to cause a reaction. For me, I’m combining these tactics and creating my own system based on my symptoms and triggers.

Here is Ballantine’s suggested order of reintroductions, as outlined in The Paleo Approach:

Stage 1:

  • Egg yolks
  • Legumes with edible pods (green beans, sugar snap peas, peas, etc.)
  • Fruit- and berry-based spices
  • Seed-based spices
  • Seed and nut oils (sesame seed oil, walnut oil, etc.)
  • Ghee from grass-fed dairy

Stage 2:

  • Seeds (including whole, ground, and butters, like tahini)
  • Nuts (including whole, ground, and butters like almond butter), except cashews and pistachios
  • Cocoa or chocolate
  • Egg whites
  • Grass-fed butter
  • Alcohol in small quantities

Stage 3:

  • Cashews and pistachios
  • Eggplant
  • Sweet peppers
  • Paprika
  • Coffee
  • Grass-fed raw cream
  • Fermented grass-fed dairy (yogurt, kefir)

Stage 4:

  • Other dairy products (grass-fed whole milk and cheese)
  • Chili peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Other nightshades and nightshade spices
  • Alcohol in larger quantities
  • White rice
  • Traditionally prepared legumes (soaked and fermented)
  • Traditionally prepared gluten-free grains (ideally, soaked and fermented)
  • Foods you have a history of a severe reaction to
  • Foods you are allergic to
Since I started this protocol, one thing has become very clear: my lifestyle is my main trigger.

Despite spending 60 days on the protocol, I have caused flares, GI distress, and surges in symptoms solely through my physical activity, stress management techniques, and (lack of) sleep. For me, managing my illness is more so about managing my stress and shifting my mindset and lifestyle than it is about what I eat. I am not downgrading the importance of AIP and eating a nutrient-dense diet – these have been huge in my healing process – however, I know, for me, my lifestyle is the biggest factor in my healing journey. Not my diet. With that said, my process for reintroductions will differ from someone suffering from a different autoimmune disease with different symptoms and triggers.

My Reintroductions Plan

Gang’s all here.

I am going to reintroduce all spices (including the seed-and fruit-based spices and nightshades), followed by eggs and tomatoes and sweet peppers. Nightshades are typically associated with pain, which I have never experienced as a symptom, so we (me and my treatment team) are going to approach these foods first. I am going to avoid all nuts, dairy, and legumes a while longer, as these have caused major GI issues for me in the past.

Rather than create a comprehensive four-stage reintroduction phase, I am taking it one food at a time, and continuing to work to improve my stress management techniques and lifestyle choices.

Want to learn more about the Autoimmune Protocol? Check out my introduction posts and explore the leaders of the AIP community: Sarah Ballantine at thepaleomom.com and Autoimmune Wellness, which provides a wealth of information curated by the powerful duo Angie Alt and Mickey Trescott.

Are you on the Autoimmune Protocol? How are you approaching your reintroductions?

I have a chronic illness, and I am grieving.

I have a chronic illness, and I am grieving.

A friend recently shared her journey through grief in accepting her autoimmune diagnosis and chronic illness. She inspired me to do the same, because I am grieving. In gaining this diagnosis, I lost my health. I lost the life I am accustomed to living. I lost who I am, but then again, maybe I didn’t. 

More mountains, less fatigue, please.

In my last update, I shared my latest adventure: a 50K on the autoimmune protocol. I felt good, invincible even. The week after the race, remnants of my old, energetic self broke through the fog and fatigue. Vacuuming my apartment didn’t exhaust me. I was able to stay focused on a task for more than 30 minutes. My mood stabilized. I felt good.

And then I didn’t.

Symptoms returned.

Getting out of bed became a chore. Food prepping was more exhausting than a long run. Running felt forced and sluggish. My mood resembled an EKG, jolting from joyous to irritable to sullen. My thoughts were scattered and my mind encased in a dense mesh. I had plans. I had ideas. I wanted to get to work. And yet, simply preparing myself dinner felt insurmountable. I slurred my speech (one of my stranger autoimmune symptoms) and lost any sense of balance. My anxiety returned, accompanied by a sense of isolation and deprivation. The life I used to live – an energetic, predictable, fast-paced life – once again slipped through my fingers.

I was in the midst of a flare.

Many things could have contributed to this flare: Returning to my regular training load, racing a 50K, traveling for a conference, reintroducing black pepper, starting thyroid hormone supplementation.  A lot was happening, and I expected my body to keep up. I thought I’d been doing everything right. I took time off post race! I’d been on the autoimmune protocol for 30 days! I was doing acupuncture! And meditation! Surely, I should be healed by now.

Unfortunately, chronic illness does not operate on my timetable.

I cringe at those words, chronic illness. It feels like an overreaction. A plea for attention. Something only a hypochondriac would say. It oozes with high-maintenance and inflexibility. Cool girls don’t have chronic illness. Ultramarathoners don’t have chronic illness. Twenty-something women who eat organic vegetables and use paraben-free shampoo don’t have chronic illness.

And yet, I do. I have a chronic illness. I have an autoimmune disease. My body is destroying itself, forcing me to recalibrate my lifestyle, goals, and choices. My life will never be the same, and I am grieving.

When the weather matches your mental haze.
First, I was in denial.

I received this diagnosis last fall, but it took months for me to acknowledge its severity. I lived in denial, blaming everything but my health for its own decline. After years of being denied this diagnosis, of being told I simply run too much, eat too little, have a “sluggish but normal” thyroid, am too perfectionistic, have too high of expectations, burn the candle at one too many ends, I grew to believe these assumptions. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I was running too much. Maybe this is my fault. Maybe it is all my head. Maybe it is normal to feel this way.

And then I grew angry.

Because it isn’t normal to feel this way. It isn’t normal for a young, active woman to struggle to get out of bed. It isn’t normal to end up in the ER in anaphylactic shock from something you’ve eaten all your life. It isn’t normal to take days if not weeks to recover from a single workout.  

And to feel normal? Hours of doctor’s appointments, countless vials of bloods, an intense dietary protocol bringing me nose to nose with my eating disorder. Weeks of new seemingly unrelated symptoms, things I kept to myself for fear of seeming over-reactive or melodramatic. Sadness. Isolation. Hopelessness. There is no cure for autoimmune disease. There are no easy treatments or ways to address its root cause. Once you develop one, it becomes much, much easier to develop another. You are left, flailing, dozens of supplements in one hand, fingers crossed in the other, waiting for the next unexpected symptom or autoimmune disease to hit.

I’m angry with the many doctors and specialists who provided a misdiagnosis, handed me prescription medications without digging deeper, shrugged off my complaints, or declared every ailment an outcome of “running too much.” I’m angry with society for encouraging me to compare myself with others, to run bigger miles, weigh fewer pounds, collect more accolades, sleep less and do more. I’m angry with the #fitspo movement and feeling inundated with alluring diets, fads, and “self-care” movements that resemble religion.

And, I’m angry with myself. Angry for falling into these traps. For allowing stress and anxiety and perfectionism to consume me until I am left ragged and bare. Vacant and overwhelmed. Always wanting more.

Initially, my denial and anger were intertwined.

While I know I didn’t do this to myself, I do believe my past behaviors and lifestyle contributed to triggering my autoimmune genetics. You can’t develop an autoimmune disease unless you have the genetic predisposition for it; environmental triggers (combined with intestinal permeability) can turn that genetic expression on. I believe my environment turned it on. There are studies linking my particular illness, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, with food restriction and eating disorders, likely because restriction can wreak havoc on your gut health, adrenals, and hormones. After receiving my diagnosis, I sought control. I sought answers. I wanted someone to blame. So I blamed myself. I have a history of disordered eating and addiction to exercise. I restricted calories for years. I exercised obsessively. I didn’t take care of myself. I caused my Hashimoto’s.

While identifying the root cause of my autoimmune disease isn’t this simple, I found solace in having just one direction to point my finger, especially when that direction was toward myself. I channeled my frustrations, anger, and grief inward, prompting a vicious cycle of self-loathing, criticism, and doubt. It was exhausting.

I am still tired.

I am tired of being tired. Tired of the exhaustion and fatigue. The apathy and instability. The isolation and depression. The sense of deprivation and anxiety. I am tired of feeling unsettled, uprooted, and unsure of myself. But within these flares, within these question, I am finding one answer – my health is sacred. This body is mine, and it is up to me to take care of it. I have an autoimmune disease, and while I can’t control that fact, I can control what I do about it. 

I am learning. I am grieving. And, finally, I am accepting.

I have an autoimmune disease.

I eat organic vegetables, use paraben-free shampoo, run ultramarathons, and have a chronic illness. I’m recalibrating. Each day is an opportunity to shift my expectations, tune in to my body, and practice patience. During this initial phase of healing, my priorities are evolving. My goals aren’t finish lines, heavy training weeks, or big writing projects. They’re smaller: going for a walk, prepping meals for the week, practicing patience and self-forgiveness. I’m moving slower, both physically and mentally. I’m saying no and honoring my limitations. I’m creating space – space to heal, space to grow, and space for this new aspect of my world.

This is my new reality. It is no longer just me. It is me and my autoimmune disease: me and my Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Life is changing – it always does – and I’m changing with it.

Doing what I do best: keep moving forward (albeit at a slightly slower pace).

I Ran an Ultramarathon on the Autoimmune Protocol

I Ran an Ultramarathon on the Autoimmune Protocol

Two weeks into my elimination phase of the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), I ran an ultramarathon.

I didn’t plan this, entirely. The race had been on my calendar for months, and training was going pretty well considering my symptoms and fatigue. While it wasn’t my first ultra-distance race, it was my first ultra on the Autoimmune Protocol, which made things slightly more interesting.

Typically, at these races I depend on two things: aid stations and packaged, processed fuel. I wouldn’t call this food, per say, but sports nutrition. Little shots, blocks, and gels of sugar, carbs, and miscellaneous nutrients and vitamins promising to get me through the day. Things that are very off limits on AIP.

The race, run by my local trail running club, is known for its well-stocked aid stations and hilly two-loop course. It was a foggy morning with heavy, ominous clouds warning of the coming rain. The course featured ankle-deep mud, stream crossings, and constant rolling hills. 

If the autoimmune protocol has taught me anything, it’s how to be self-reliant. Gone are the days of grabbing a quick bite or dinner on my way home from work or the trailhead. I have to be prepared for hunger to strike – both to avoid having nothing to eat and to keep my blood sugar in check. Going into an ultramarathon on AIP, I had to get crafty.

The Plan

All of my long runs leading up to race day were before I started AIP, when I could rely on sports nutrition products. They say never try something new on race day, but what’s an adventure without a little novelty?

The day before the race, I roasted some purple and white sweet potatoes in coconut oil and doused them in salt. Orange yams tend to bother my stomach, but the white and purple varieties settle well. I separated them into two ziploc bags – one per half of the race – and put the rest in a container for pre and post race.

I bought some Barnana (dehydrated banana) and unsweetened dried blueberries (a longtime favorite trail snack of mine) and divvied them up into three additional ziploc bags – one per hour.

Finally, I nestled some packets of maple syrup – my favorite adventure fuel – into my pack. I wanted to save these for the final miles of the race.

A lunch box fit for an ultramarathon.

My plan went something like this:

1:30 pre-race: Eat whatever sounds good. This ended up being a combination of sweet potatoes and banana, a theme for the day.

0:00 – Mile 0. Race Start: Force myself to get going. Sip water out of my pack whenever convenient.

1:15 – Mile 6. Start eating, and never really stop: This worked well, as I was just beginning to get hungry. I pulled out my dried fruit and took a couple of bites while hiking up a decent climb. I was still nervous about the untested sweet potatoes and avoided them a bit longer.

1:35 – Mile 9. Aid Station 1: I used the aid stations as an excuse to stop, pull out some food, and chat with volunteers. This race is known for its aid stations, and they did not disappoint. Volunteers in colorful rain jackets and boots poured steaming broth and chilled Gatorade into dixie cups. They flipped hot Perogis on a camp stove and filled bowls with peanut M&Ms and pretzels. They yelled and hollered as we crashed through the puddles toward them.

“Want a peirogi?” One volunteer offered.

“How about some Gatorade? Or peanut butter and jelly?”

“What do you need? We have peanut M&Ms!”

I wanted those M&Ms. I wanted them bad.

“No, I’m okay. I have a lot of allergies.” I lied, not wanting to spend the time or energy explaining why I could but couldn’t eat anything they kindly tried to hand to me. I shoved another sweet potato into my mouth, eyed the candy bowl longingly, and went on my way.

This aid station was at the bottom of a climb, so I used the hiking time to eat for a few minutes. I’ll be the first to say, purple sweet potatoes aren’t M&Ms, but they are delicious.

2:00-4:45 – Miles 10-23. Aid Stations 2, 3 and 4: My plan was to eat every 45 minutes or so, but this didn’t happen. Instead – shockingly to me – I ignored my watch and listened to my body carefully and attentively. Every time a trickle of hunger hit my stomach, I ate. Every time my head started to feel achy or empty, I ate. Every time I was hiking up a long climb and had an opportunity to chew, I ate.

I realized old, disordered rules and formulas seeped their way into my raceday habits. Unnecessary rules about when and how and what to eat dictated my fueling, rather than what body craved and when it craved it. This was the first race I disobeyed these rules. This was also the first race I felt strong, capable, and fast in the last 15 miles. I’m thinking there’s a correlation here.

5:00 – Mile 25.5. Aid Station 5. I blazed past the aid station, raring to (finally) run hard. I’d been holding my legs back for fear of running myself into too deep of a hole, but with less than an hour left in the race, I knew it was time to take chances. No time to chew, I took a shot of maple syrup and was well on my way.

5:44 – Mile 31(ish). The Finish. I had nothing left to give, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I pushed myself, running harder and faster than I knew I could until the finish line. And then, one foot across the line, I could barely hobble another step. I am in awe of the physical strength and mental fortitude this sport requires – how it forces us to summon the strength and will to push into the depths of the unknown, only to realize just how far we’ve gone after the fact. After the feat is complete and the pain subsides, and we stand there. Mouth agape, legs burning, feet swollen, heavy, and unable to take another step, in awe of what our body and mind just accomplished.

After cheering on some other runners at the finish and scraping off the mud painted to my legs, I beelined for my lunch box.

Post-Race

While other runners were eating bowls of chili and snagging cubes of cheese and cookies from communal bowls scattered across the tables, I was double fisting to-go containers of bone broth (I know, so paleo). I snuck off to the bathroom to drain a can of salmon and mixed its contents into my container of sweet potatoes (I wasn’t sick of them yet!). I added an avocado and any leftover sweet potatoes from my pack (mud and all) and mashed it up with my fork. I wasn’t even jealous of the other runners’ chili. 

That night, I pushed my barstool up to my stove and threw some chicken and every vegetable in my fridge into a skillet for stir fry. I think I’m getting the hang of this AIP thing

Nutrient Density On the Trail

This race was a turning point. It’s the first race I felt strong and capable after mile 20. The first race were I got to really run, rather than settle into a 30-mile shuffle and hope for the best. I nailed my race day nutrition and had zero stomach problems the entire day. While the day’s successes are likely due to a combination of factors – a fantastic coach, solid training, and renewed energy since starting the Protocol – I can’t help but wonder if the AIP compliant fueling contributed to its success.

Regardless, I’ll be stocking up on purple sweet potatoes and maple syrup from now on.

The Autoimmune Protocol

The Autoimmune Protocol

Let’s talk food. Specifically, let’s talk Autoimmune Protocol food.

 

An Autoimmune Disease Diagnosis

I recently shared my Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis diagnosis, and what I’m doing about it. My first line of defense was supplements to combat my body’s inflammation. Next, while I determine my route for thyroid hormone supplementation, I’m working to heal my gut and immune system through an elimination diet called the Autoimmune Protocol.

The Autoimmune Protocol

The Autoimmune Protocol, or AIP, is a refined version of the Paleo diet that focuses on nutrient density and places stricter requirements on what foods you should and should not eat, at least temporarily. Medical biophysicist Sarah Ballantyne created this protocol and dedicates her career to understanding autoimmune disease and promoting healing through diet and lifestyle changes.

Under AIP, foods can be broken down into two groups: those that promote health and those that undermine it. Some foods are pretty self-explanatory: most vegetables, seafood, and grass-fed organ meats are health-promoting, while gluten-containing grains, peanuts, and soy products are health-undermining. Other foods are a little tougher to categorize, such as nightshades, eggs, nuts, and seeds.

The theory behind the Autoimmune Protocol is twofold: by removing all foods that may contribute to inflammation and gut irritation, you promote healing and immune system regulation through nourishing, nutrient-dense foods. Autoimmune diseases are typically linked to four main contributors: nutrient deficiencies and imbalances, poor gut health, hormone imbalances, and an immune system gone rogue. The Autoimmune Protocol removes all foods that may contribute to these triggers and gives your body a reprieve of sorts. Once your symptoms subside, whatever that looks like for you, you can reintroduce foods one at a time and see what, if any, trigger your symptoms.

What to Eat – and What Not to Eat

The Autoimmune Protocol uses the general Paleo diet as a template and builds upon it, excluding all foods that may activate the immune system or irritate the gut. These foods include:

  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Dairy
  • Refined and processed sugars and oils
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Seeds, including cocoa, coffee, and seed-based spices (Boohiss)
  • Nightshades: white potatoes (but not sweet potatoes!), tomatoes, eggplant, sweet and hot peppers, cayenne, red pepper, tomatillos, goji berries, and spices derived from peppers, such as paprika
  • Alcohol
  • NSAIDS (sorry, Advil)
  • Non-nutritive sweeteners (i.e. stevia)
  • Emulsifiers, thickeners, and other food additives, such as carrageenan in some almond milks and guar gum in some coconut milk products

So what can you eat?

  • All the vegetables! (minus the nightshades): it’s recommended to eat 8-14 cups of veggies per day
  • Fruit, but only 1-3 servings a day to limit fructose intake (unless you’re running an ultramarathon, then you eat all the dried blueberries)
  • Quality meats: grass-fed, pasture-raised, and wild meat as much as possible
  • Organ meat and offal (I’m still a little afraid of this one)
  • Herbs and spices
  • Good, yummy fats: avocado, grass-fed animal fats, fatty fish, olive, avocado, coconut, and palm oils
  • Probiotic/fermented foods
  • Glycine-rich foods: such as collagen peptides, bone broth, and that pesky organ meat
  • Natural sugars, such as maple syrup (thank goodness), honey, and blackstrap molasses (but in limited quantities)

Autoimmune Protocol and Eating Disorder Recovery

This is a little daunting, especially for someone who has a history of disordered behaviors around food. I learned about AIP months ago, when I was first diagnosed with Hashi’s, but I pushed it aside. It sounded too hard and too restrictive, and I was finally to a place where I could go out to eat without dragging guilt, shame, and fear with me. I’ve been gluten-free for seven years (years of GI distress led to a gluten-intolerance diagnosis long ago), but removing everything else (or so I thought) was too much. My eating disorder recovery process was too raw and vulnerable.

But the Autoimmune Protocol planted itself in the back of my mind. In the last month, AIP kept me awake at night, tossing and turning with indecision. I wanted to try it, to give it a fair shot and address some GI issues I’d been having (particularly around tomatoes, bell peppers, chickpeas, and lentils – see a trend?), but I was scared. Terrified. What if this triggered more restriction? What if this awakened a part of me – the disordered, restrictive, controlling part – that I try to keep at bay on a daily basis?

But, what if it didn’t? What if, like the 1,200 scientific studies denote, the Autoimmune Protocol does promote healing and alleviate my symptoms? What if I can address the root cause of my autoimmune disease and put it into remission? What if eating disorder recovery and autoimmune disease healing are not mutually exclusive?

So, I started the protocol. I hid all of my gluten-free flours and pastas, my lentils and grains, even the chocolate and hard ciders in the hardest-to-reach pantry in my kitchen. My many jars of nut butters and seeds are in a bag in the corner of my fridge. I brought all of my random candies and jars of peanut butter to community food table at work. I donated my tomatoes and peppers to friends. I started the Autoimmune Protocol.

Autoimmune Protocol: A Process 

It took three days to not accidentally eat something I wasn’t supposed to (sorry pea milk and Vega protein powder). On day 3, I threw a fit over a plate of uneaten kimchi (it had chili in it). On day 4, I almost cried over (a lack of) pancakes. On day 5 I realized it’d been four days since I had crippling fatigue or extreme mood swings. On day 6 I craved meat and avocado for breakfast and broke through a weeks-long plateau at the climbing gym. It wasn’t until day 7 that I thought I could maybe have a shot at doing this – and then on day 8 I nearly gave up, again.

It has been work. I rarely cooked meat before this (save for eggs), and making sure I have enough food to fuel my adventures and training is no easy feat, with or without the Autoimmune Protocol. While I am learning how to not overcook every animal product I touch, I’ve also had some major culinary successes, including a Valentine’s Day dinner of mint lamb burgers and sweet potato fries, and crowd-pleasing guacamole and plantain chips at my first AIP-era social outing.

I’m figuring out how to meal plan while allowing myself to continue honing my ability to decipher what my body craves and eat intuitively, an important skill to practice in my eating disorder recovery. I’m turning to podcasts and websites and books on healing and the Autoimmune Protocol, including my current favorite Mickey Trescott’s book The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook and Trescott and Angie Alt’s book The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook.

Tracking the Elimination Phase

I’m committing to at least 30 days in the elimination phase of the Autoimmune Protocol and am keeping a journal of daily symptoms and notes on things such as training, energy levels, my menstrual cycle, and anxiety. I am also setting daily and weekly goals as I embark on my healing. AIP isn’t just about what you eat, it’s also about lifestyle, including adequate rest, addressing adrenal fatigue, and stress management.

In just a few days on the protocol, I am already discovering what foods leave me feeling good (avocado, squash, all sautéed greens) and those that leave me feeling not so great (more than one serving of broccoli, yams, and dates). I’m learning.

I’m also unpacking my emotional ties and relationship with food and eating – and how I can heal and mend this as well as my gut and immune system. Food has so much emotional weight and power – and I’ve found that in this process of resetting my diet, even temporarily, I am also resetting my relationship with food, mealtimes, and the act of eating. Under the Autoimmune Protocol, food is nourishment. It is not a source of guilt or shame, nor is it even a source of a tummy ache (usually). It is an opportunity to provide my body with what it needs, and only that. That is pretty powerful.

This week is my second full week on the Protocol, and my first with an actual plan. This is also the week I race a 50K, on an AIP compliant diet. We’ll see how this goes.

This week’s goals in healing and nourishing:

  1. Prepare more than enough food for my race Saturday, including dried blueberries, maple syrup, roasted sweet potatoes (not the orange kind!), and some post-race bone broth.
  2. Set a bedtime alarm of 9 pm and only hit snooze once (even if Lindsey Vonn is skiing).
  3. Pack real lunches for work each day. And accept that no, I cannot make this up on the fly like I used to.
  4. Find out of the box sources of grass-fed, pasture-raised meat within my budget.

Let’s raise our mugs of bone broth to healing.

When the immune system goes rogue: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

When the immune system goes rogue: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Autoimmune Disease

I was covered in mud. Splatters of grime, red clay, and wet dirt speckled well past my running skirt. My shoes, once a deep purple, were a dark brown and squished over the singletrack. My breath was somewhere between labored and controlled, muffled by the steady rain and wind. Arms pumping, legs flying over the rolling terrain, I felt swift. Efficient. Determined. I was alone, running new trails and moving with a power I’d forgotten I have.

In the early miles of this run, I nervously avoided the puddles, toeing my way around the edges of the trail. Now, I barreled through, no longer avoiding the mess, no longer skimping on the opportunity to play.

Puddles, deep mud, and the occasional fallen tree were no match for my stride. My emotions and thoughts fueled every step, creating a cohesive thread of emotional response, mental calculation, and physical movement. This thread pulled me through phases of confusion and grief, anger and frustration, and finally, as I stomped through ankle deep mud, acceptance.

I was recently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the thyroid. The diagnosis wasn’t necessarily a shock, however, the emotional weight of an autoimmune disease was. This diagnosis is the ankle deep mud. It is the puddle I tiptoed around, in fear of getting my shoes wet. It is unavoidable, unpredictable, and now splattered well past my knees. But I’m done avoiding the mud – I’m done pretending I don’t have an autoimmune disease. I want to heal, I want to play, I want to jump in some puddles.

So, let’s start talking about it. About autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s, and my path toward healing.

Hashi-whato’s?

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the thyroid, leading to chronic inflammation and impairing the thyroid’s ability to do its (very important) job. Hashi’s is the leading cause of hypothyroidism in the US – a condition where the thyroid doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones to meet your body’s needs. Researchers aren’t entirely sure why some individuals develop autoimmune disorders such as Hashi’s and others do not. The likely cause is a combination of genetics, environmental triggers and toxins, and intestinal permeability (aka, “leaky gut”).[i] There are also studies linking this particular autoimmune disease with eating disorders.

Over 50 million Americans suffer from autoimmune disease, and of that 50 million, 75 percent are women. Once you develop one autoimmune disease, it becomes much, much easier to develop another. There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases, and many have very broad, all-encompassing symptoms, making diagnosis difficult.

In the case of Hashi’s, getting a definitive diagnosis can take years. In my case, it did.

What about this thyroid?

The thyroid is important. This little butterfly shaped organ nestled in the lower front of your neck controls the body’s most basic functions. Its main job is hormone production – thyroid hormones are multifaceted worker bees with too many accolades for a single page resume. They control the way your body uses energy and regulate breathing, heart rate, the central and peripheral nervous systems, body weight, metabolic rate, muscle strength, menstrual cycle, body temperature, and cholesterol levels, among other things. Every cell in your body is impacted by your thyroid hormones.[ii] When you have too much or too little of these hormones, your entire body is out of balance, and you can experience a slew of symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue and sluggishness
  • Trouble tolerating cold
  • Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Constipation
  • Pale, dry skin
  • Dry, thinning hair
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Trouble getting (and staying) pregnant
  • Excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia)
  • Brittle nails
  • Hair loss
  • Acne
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Memory lapses and brain fog
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Vertigo
  • Irritability, mood swings, and mood disorders
  • Nervousness
  • And, apathy, feeling emotionally numb

I am no stranger to these symptoms. I’ve been told to “keep an eye” on my thyroid hormone levels since high school – while also enduring an eating disorder, amenorrhea, and running many, many miles in an attempt to find solace in it all. After years of visiting physicians, nutritionists, gynecologists, acupuncturists, naturopaths, and my fair share of therapists, I finally have an answer (and I finally found a medical provider willing to dig a little deeper). I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (with a side of sub-clinical hypothyroidism). I have an autoimmune disease. I thought I was healthy – and yet, I am not.

What comes with a diagnosis?

I am still settling into the diagnosis. Still working my way through nearly weekly diagnostic tests and doctor’s appointments. Still reading study after study on treatment options. Still learning. Still discovering. Still wondering, how did this happen? Why me?

While I could list the symptoms and share the years of daily struggles and anxieties I can now attribute to this disease, I want to talk about how I am feeling right now, and what I am doing about it.

I am relieved, scared, ashamed, and angry.

I am frustrated, tired, humbled, and overwhelmed.

When I first received this diagnosis, I pretended it didn’t exist. I shoved it under the rug with the fears and anxieties it prompted and assumed everything would be fine. My symptoms worsened, but every time I thought about the diagnosis, I felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t want to deal with it. I didn’t want to face my reality. So I didn’t.

And then things started piecing themselves together.

Symptoms worsened. Energy levels plummeted. I developed a sudden allergy and wound up in the hospital in anaphylactic shock. I shook with full-body chills throughout the winter. My situational anxiety and depression became not so situational. I developed severe cystic acne for the first time. The more I learn about the thyroid and Hashi’s, the more I realize just how much this disease controls my daily life.

Facing reality (and treatment)

Treatment began with a slew of supplements to combat the inflammation. I worked to incorporate more protein into my diet, ate more gut-healing foods, and got over my fear of kimchi. I researched treatment options, committed to routine blood work, and memorized the carpet’s pattern in my physician’s waiting room.

Despite these holistic attempts to combat inflammation, my thyroid hormone levels are still too low, and my thyroid antibodies (the sign of inflammation) are still too high. My symptoms remain, spontaneously shutting my entire system down with fatigue and unexplainable exhaustion. I’m now to the point of needing to supplement my body’s thyroid hormones – and am navigating my options on this front.

I’m committed to holistic medicine and addressing the root cause of this autoimmune disease, rather than solely placing a Band-Aid to mitigate my symptoms. That being said, at this point alleviating my symptoms is one of my top priorities. I am desperate for healing.

Phase One: Diagnosis

So, we’re at phase one: Diagnosis. And in this phase, I’ve struggled. I’ve grieved over the loss of the health I thought I had. Over my lost energy and fire. Over the years of tireless work and struggle to recover emotionally, mentally, and physically from an eating disorder, only to immediately have another struggle placed before me. I yelled, screamed, and kicked at the universe, demanding to know why. And then, I accepted my reality. I ran through the mud.

I am choosing to navigate my healing on my terms, to use this opportunity to learn more about my body and hear its subtle signs and signals. I’m excited to discover what nourishes me, and how I can provide my body the rest, fuel, and (potentially) hormone supplementation it needs.

My first stop? Food. Specifically, the autoimmune protocol. More on that to come.

 


[i] The Hashimoto’s Protocol, by Izabella Wentz 

[ii] The Hashimoto’s Protocol, by Izabella Wentz

Mt. Baldy – an Adventure Recap

Mt. Baldy – an Adventure Recap

There’s a fine line between badassery and stupidity, and in trail running you often straddle it. 

Wait. We're going up there?

“We’re not going there are we?”

We stood at the Mt. Baldy trailhead, necks craned to see the snow-covered ridge. I fiddled with my handheld as I watched the hikers around me affix ice axes to their packs and adjust their softshell pants. I looked down at my shorts and Stance socks. Maybe we’re not ready for this. It was chilly at 6,000 feet – about 31 degrees – but we’d be running up a mountain soon, and surely we’ll warm up. We made a pact to turn back as soon as one of us became uncomfortable and commenced our standard mountain climbing shuffle.

Summiting Mt. Baldy

The plan was a day in the mountains – a ten-mile adventure up and over the summit of Mt. Baldy. It is January, but it is also California (With the sun! And the warmth!), and we were ready in shorts, windbreakers, and a pair of Hoka One One Speed Instincts. We turned the corner onto the Baldy Bowl Trail and continued climbing, chatting, and sporadically hollering in excitement. We moved swiftly compared to our peers carrying full packs of mountaineering gear and reached the Mt. San Antonio Ski Hut with ease. The weather held up, the trail wasn’t too treacherous, and only my fingers were a little chilly. While others put on their crampons to prepare for the final ascent, we snapped some photos and carried on.

There’s a fine line between badassery and stupidity, and in the world of mountain/ultra running, you often straddle it. As we pushed our way toward the summit, smiling gleefully between gasping breaths, we refined this line. It is in these spaces of humility, natural beauty, and human potential that I discover my depths of badassery – And the potential for stupidity. An inflated ego, solitary focus on the outcome, or simple lack of awareness and preparation can easily push you across this line. Running up a 10,000-foot mountain in January in shorts? One could argue we crossed this line, but I believe we didn’t. The mountains are a humbling place. They demand forethought and respect. A weakened ego and strengthened awareness. On this adventure, we operated as a team – cohesive, in synch, and respectful of each other and the mountain. We were not climbing this mountain for its summit. We did not begin the day with an isolated mission in mind. Each step was an adventure. Each switchback an opportunity to push ourselves, learn more about each other, and relish this day of free time, thin air, and straining quads.

Mountain ready.

I am still new to this high-altitude world. This is only my third mountain summit. Only the third time I’ve asked my body to push itself up and over 3,800-plus feet in a matter of miles. The wind’s howl and distant fog reminds me of the setting’s strength and prowess. It challenges me – physically, but more so mentally. The higher we climb, the greater I sense a low rumble within my being. A reminder of my lack of control. My anxiety teeters toward fear and panic, matching my sense of awe and solitude. I remain calm. Aware. Acknowledging these sensations, the potential for mental and emotional limitations. I remove judgment from my fears and instead recognize them, accept them, and carry on. I remain alert and cognizant of my surroundings. I trust my training, trust my preparation, and trust my adventure partner. We carry on, each step bringing us closer to the top of our small corner of the world.

We reached the mountain’s ridge, covered in snow but also bathed in warm sunlight. Each step was arduous but not insurmountable. Nearing the summit, the task at hand required less physical strength and more mental stamina. Each step a reminder that I can do hard things. Hands on my quads, avoiding postholing, I allow myself the luxury of a silent pause. A brief moment as my world stands still. I am a small speck within a vast, looming landscape. I am at ease. I am tranquil. I am home.

Breathing is easier at 10,000 feet. My thoughts slow and the fire hose of incoming information and pending decisions becomes a steady, manageable flow. My task is simple yet profound: Climb this mountain. Feel my body move across the earth. Acknowledge, accept, and allow myself to occupy this space, to feel my legs burn, lungs sear, and heart quadruple in size as I navigate the challenging and trying terrain. I am a guest here. This is not my domain. The mountains are not domesticated. They are wild, unapologetic, and free. Just as I aspire to be.

We relish the summit, quickly, and make our descent. Snow turns to ice which turns to dry, smooth trail. Strides open up, and a joyous hoot and holler echoes in the canyon as we barrel our way down, arms flailing and smiles wide. Our faces reveal a childlike giddiness, a joy that etches itself into your skin like dry salt after a hot summer run. Hearts full and stomachs empty, the day’s events slowly sink into our tired legs. Mt. Baldy was an adventure.

 

 

Let’s adventure, I’m coaching!

Let’s adventure, I’m coaching!

I’m coaching!

I’m officially opening up coaching services for road runners, trail runners, weekend warriors, triathletes, and adventurers of all abilities and goals. I offer personalized one-on-one coaching, tailored training plans, and distance-specific training plans to help you accomplish your goal, whether that be consistency in your daily training or your first Ironman.

How does coaching work?

All it requires is your willingness to do hard things – and to learn about yourself in the process. I work with athletes of all abilities and backgrounds, and my training philosophy is one of balance and joy. We will work to bring joy into your daily training and life, balancing your goals with your passions, life, and the spontaneous opportunity for adventure.

As a coach, my athletes prioritize three key pillars in their training:

  1. Listening to your body – As athletes, it’s easy to ignore our body’s messages in favor of getting in that final interval or pushing through for a PR. In some cases this is an important skill to have; in others, it is imperative to learn to listen and respect our bodies’ needs and cravings. We will work together to break through your body’s code and speak its language – and use it to your advantage.
  2. Balance – Stress is stress is stress. Our bodies compute a stressful day in the office in the same way it computes a taxing tempo run. Rather than battle through life’s unpredictability, we will use this to our advantage. We will prioritize balance above all else, getting you to each adventure healthy, fit, and ready.
  3. Adventure – Every finish line is a learning opportunity – and while we will train and work hard, we will also view each day as an opportunity to prepare for more than a single race or daunting goal. Life is full of hard things – and our goal will be to help you prepare for every challenge, whether that is consistency in training or a 100-mile trail race.

Why do I need a coach?

Perhaps you have a specific goal in mind or maybe you want some guidance to your training. Maybe you’re coming off an injury or you’ve hit a plateau in your endeavors. Or maybe you just want a teammate – someone to guide your efforts for your next adventure. Hiring a coach provides the discipline some may lack in their training – whether that is to get out the door for a workout or the discipline to adequately rest. Whether you want one-on-one personalized coaching or a training plan for your next race, we can work together to help you achieve your next goal.

Can I work with you?

The short answer – yes! Shoot me an email and we can talk details about your life, your goals, and what hard things you dream about completing. I have expertise in various endurance endeavors, including road and trail running, triathlon, cycling, and swimrunning. Whether you have a goal in mind or want some help brainstorming, we can work together to get your adventure started.

I am particularly passionate about helping those recovering from eating disorders, bone injuries, and the female athlete triad and seeking to mindfully incorporate more activity and physical challenges into their recovery. This also includes disordered eating, compulsive exercise, bone injuries, hormonal imbalances, and amenorrhea. Interested in learning more about my work in this area? Check out the non-profit I co-founded, the Lane 9 Project!

How much does it cost?

I offer one-on-one coaching, personalized training plans, and race-specific training plans for purchase. Send me an email and we can determine what works best for you to achieve your goals. Here’s what you can expect from me:

  • One on one coaching, with daily check-ins and unlimited contact.
  • A personalized plan tailored to your background and what you’re running (or swimming or biking) toward.
  • Flexibility for your life.

Interested? Let’s chat!

Why coaching?

It all started around 2 a.m. somewhere in the Sawatch Range near Leadville, Colo. We weren’t running, per say, more so stumbling along a rugged fire road, making our way down the day’s final mountain. Words of encouragement were met with whispered grunts and the occasional profanity. We reached a rhythm: shuffle-step-shuffle-“sh*t!”-step-hobble-trip-“look out…”-grunt. We kept this rhythm, following the trail of flickering headlamps, lost in our own abyss of pain, suffering, and unsheathed persistence.

Two hours prior, I was huddled among strangers, sharing warmth and tales of adventure around a roaring fire. It was a summer night, but at 10,000 feet “summer” required three layers of wool and a stranger’s down jacket. I was nervous. A friend asked me to pace his final 25-ish miles of the Leadville 100: His first 100-mile race, my first pacing experience. Together we were a ball of nerves, exhaustion, and human emotion. Around 1 a.m. I heard his number called, peeled off my layers, donned my pack, and found him – confident, running, asking coherently for caffeine. This didn’t last long.

As we left the aid station, we were rolling. Hollering, laughing, and jogging our way through the night, I was confident – He was cruising! This pacing thing would be easy! – This quickly changed.

We were two of hundreds of headlamps flickering along the edge of this mountain, stumbling our way toward the unknown. I called out every root, rock, and snag in the trail. He responded with a whispered four-letter word and the occasional grunt. Conversation was out of the question. Simple questions were our limit.

Have you eaten?

Yes.

Did you drink that bottle yet?

No.

Drink it.

No.

That wasn’t a question.

I watched my friend become a shell of a human. He sank deeper and deeper into this personalized abyss, a dark cavern of uncertainty, persistence, and pain. I was not there to encourage him. I was not there to be kind. I was there to push him deeper into the darkness – to force him into places he’d never been before – and to remind him that he is strong enough to make it to the other side. I was there to remind him that the determination, will, and resolve required to do this incredibly hard thing lay within him, waiting to be awakened.

Eight hours later, as we walked through the warm sunlight, celebrating each tenth of a mile covered, I saw this strength. I saw this will. I saw the human condition in its rawest form – and with it our capacity to do incredibly hard things.

I watched my friend break into a run toward the finish line. He shuffled, hobbled, and limped, and each step was a beautiful testament to human achievement. I peeled off and snuck into the crowded sidelines, overwhelmed with joy and awe as I watched him cross the line, exuberant, victorious, exhausted.

Where it began - pacing the Leadville 100

I’ve experienced the exhilaration of meeting a daunting goal, but no accomplishment can match the joy, awe, and satisfaction I experienced helping my friend cross his finish line. And now, I want to help you cross yours.

As a coach, I am here to help you do hard things. I am here to help you find the determination, will, and resolve lying dormant within you, waiting to be awakened. And I want to have some fun while we do it.

<< 2017 Leadville 100 finish. All smiles, with hardware in hand.

Coming Home

Coming Home

Nine months ago, my psychologist recommended I go on antidepressants.

I was numb. Detached. Passively watching the world fade in and out of focus. I lived in the spaces between panic attacks, and my disordered behaviors around food and training intensified. I was claustrophobic, trapped inside a version of myself I no longer recognized.

Since that appointment, I’ve made some major life changes. I quit my job and co-founded a nonprofit. I admitted to myself, and the world, that I have an eating disorder. I prioritized my health and wellbeing above my professional endeavors. I stopped asking for permission. I allowed myself to dream again.

I also booked a month-long trip to Colorado.

Impulsive? Maybe. Unnecessary? Perhaps. But nine months ago, I wanted to run away. I wanted an escape. Now, sitting at 10,000 feet with the Sawatch Range lining the horizon, I know that even surrounded by mountains, I can’t escape myself. And I no longer want to.

IMG_0887

Over the last few years, I lost my sense of self. I grew a layer of skin that was not my own. It scratched and chafed, leaving me raw and insecure. It was a mask, affixed to my being in an attempt to please others’ expectations – and my own. I tried desperately to shed this skin, to reveal the raw flesh – my flesh – lying underneath, waiting to breathe the cool, fresh air. But my fear and anxiety forced me to cling to this tattered skin, to the sense of safety and familiarity, to what I felt was expected of me. To the woman I no longer recognize.

Over the course of this trip, I’ve shed that layer of skin. I am uncomfortable and anxious. Challenged and in awe. I am vulnerable and dependent on others’ kindness and generosity. I am asking for help and grappling with my ego. I depend on others’ advice and know-how. I am trusting others, and, in that process, learning to trust myself. I am struggling, growing, and achieving. And yet, I am finally sitting still, at peace with my current self.

Prior to this trip, I was anxious. Taking this time felt selfish and unnecessary. Unproductive and lackluster. I should be climbing a corporate ladder, or at least working on my grad school applications. Instead, I’m climbing mountains. And I’m okay with that.

After weeks of running trails, reading and writing, and eating Puffins Cereal in trailhead parking lots, I feel an unfamiliar sense of ease. A strange sense of calm and acceptance. I’ve stopped tugging at my shirt, attempting to hide parts of my appearance. I’ve lost my mascara and worn the same dirty running skirt three times. I am not mentally cluttered or emotionally burdened. I am tired, yet rested. Humbled, yet empowered. I am here – within the mountains, but also within myself.

IMG_0881

This trip reframed my perspective. It exposed my limitations and strengths. It led me to a mountain ridge, gasping for air. It allowed me to camp miles from civilization, free from obligations and expectations. It created new relationships and strengthened old ones. It forced me to trust and depend on others – and to trust and depend on myself. It taught me that home is not a location, it is the people you chose to surround yourself with, including yourself.

The mountains have a time and place, and I am grateful that time is now and place is here. And while I am ready and excited to return home from this adventure, the mountains’ rugged and unassuming beauty will always compel me. The mountains will always bring me home.

I am an active woman. At any weight.

I am an active woman. At any weight.

I am an active woman. At any weight.

HGTV hummed in the background and a stack of gossip magazines were lazily stacked on the table next to me. My hands rested on my lap, tightly woven together. Thumbs anxiously pressed against each other, I hummed to myself. A combination of Beyoncé and Sylvan Esso circulated through my head – my pump up music driving to the office. I was nervous.

The room had that typical waiting room sense of calm and fatigue – a damp heaviness reminiscent of a summer evening in DC. I wrung my fingers and trapped them under my thighs, hoping to ease my nervous energy. Thirty seconds later they were back on my lap, twisted into an anxious knot.

I was at the doctor’s office, waiting for a routine check-up and exam. Typically a mundane way to spend the afternoon, but this was different. The nurse called my name and pointed me toward the first room on the right – I saw the scale in the corner. She took my blood pressure and attempted light conversation. Her voice was in a tunnel, and I just laughed and nodded when the time seemed right. She gestured to the scale, and, not wanting to make a scene, I stepped on. The burden of years of anxiety, restriction, and inadequacy weighed heavily on my shoulders. With that same dry tone she used to say hello, she announced the number and scribbled it on her clipboard.

In college, I weighed myself regularly. Every visit to the campus rec center involved stepping on the scale two, maybe three times a day. Miles and reps were added to workouts if the number was deemed too high; meals skipped even if it remained the same. The scale had a hypnotic power over me. An allure I could not deny. For years, the scale determined my attitude, appetite, and confidence. It honed my ability to control my cravings and cut off all communication with my body, physically and emotionally. My sense of worth and empowerment was transient, and the scale provided a clean and easy means of measuring my value to the world. The ritual was sacred.

A series of injuries and a shift from collegiate triathlon to amateur cycling forced me away from the gym. Away from the scale. The ritual became more infrequent and, eventually, nonexistent. Pathways opened, and I began the process of healing – of learning to listen to my body and isolate my worth from metrics.

But the familiar comfort, the sacred nature of the scale, continues to taunt me.

When I stepped on that scale two weeks ago, I was terrified. It wasn’t the number that scared me so much as myself. Diminished self-worth seemed imminent, and stepping on that scale felt as though I was opening the door for my eating disorder, welcoming it into my home, and inviting it to stay a while. It brought me eye-to-eye with my past struggles and pains. And yet, in that split moment, as I registered the number on the screen, I felt nothing. No remorse. No pain. No rejection. I felt the exact same as I did before I knew the number. I opened the door, and no one was there.

I finished up the appointment and walked into that stagnant waiting room elated. I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride for my body, for its health and resilience. Its strength and curves. Being a woman no longer seems like a burden, and being an active woman no longer seems so well-defined. I am an active woman. At any weight.

I have a newfound sense of ownership and gratitude. This is mine. Every pound. Every curve. Every muscle. It’s me. It’s unapologetically me. An athlete, a friend, an advocate, a woman.

—-

This was originally published for the Lane 9 Project here.

Lighting the Flame

Lighting the Flame

My first-ever run was on a hot summer afternoon at sixth grade cross-country practice. I hated it. Every afternoon I purposely ran on roots, sticks, and uneven ground hoping I would trip, fall, break an ankle, and never have to run again. I quit the team within two weeks.

Three months later, I was watching a video my science teacher had created about his mini-marathon training program. His classroom was adorned with race bibs and finisher medals, and he had an infectious endorphin-fueled outlook on life. In the dimly lit halls of my middle school, this teacher was a ray of light. Every year he coordinated a program for students to train and race the Indianapolis Mini Marathon together. It was a daunting challenge, especially considering I had declared my hatred for the sport, but with encouragement from my teacher and pressure from my peers, I signed up. My parents doubted me, and for good reason, I couldn’t finish a three-kilometer race — but I was determined.

Training began in February. We ran laps inside the middle school, and by “ran,” I mean we sprinted down hallways, giggled at boys, and walked until we had to run and hide from our pre-pubescent emotions again. It was fun.

As we shifted our training to the outdoors in the spring, my dad decided to join me. Twice a week we ran, together. Slowly, deliberately, gleefully. While it wasn’t quite as “cool” to be running with my dad, I cherished these miles. My father taught me the mantra, “slow and steady wins the race,” which became the soundtrack of my journey as a runner. Miles ticked by as I vented to him about the tribulations of being a twelve-year-old girl. He listened as I lamented about cliques, classes, and life’s lack of fairness. He provided insight and wisdom, laughter and inspiration. He taught me confidence, self-belief, and humility. He believed in me when I didn’t know how. He could see a soft flame flickering within me, waiting to be ignited.

Middle school Samantha racing the Indianapolis Mini Marathon

We ran my first half-marathon together, stride for stride, without walking a single step. It took three hours, and most of my peers beat me. But I finished my first race, with my best friend and greatest training partner, and it was exhilarating.

I kept running.

Over the next three years I ran multiple half marathons, each faster than the last. There was no more chasing boys, just miles. My dad continued to be my trusted training partner, and I started to run with my mom as well. She became my sounding board for life’s conflicts, failures, frustrations, and victories. We shared laughter, tears, wisdom, and love on the pavement. My parents were so much more than training partners; they became trusted confidants and mentors. They taught me to run, and eventually, like a child riding without training wheels for the first time, they let me run without them.

It was in this solitude that I found myself.

Every footfall, mile, and race was an opportunity to discover another layer within myself, to dig deep into my adolescent mind and find so much more than a mess of hormones. I unraveled every layer, finding my relentless drive, deep anxiety, and enduring tenacity; I found my need for acceptance, longing for validation, and hunger for a challenge. I continue to peel away these layers today. The solitude of a quiet run pulls back each layer revealing my vulnerable, raw, and unearthed remains, building this intricate account of myself I aspire to know.

Running is my sanctuary. It is where the push and pull of my muscles brings stillness and calm to my mind. It is where the comforting rhythm of my breathing reminds me that I’m alive. It is where I find myself — broken, grateful, whole, and yet never complete. One footfall after another, running is where my story begins.


This story was originally published with the Lane 9 Project here.