It Took Emergency Surgery For Me To Admit That I Was A Binge Eater

My husband Tuan says he hardly recognized the woman he drove to the emergency room in 2016: me. I was doubled over and moaning, after being woken up at 5 a.m. by intense abdominal pain.

In the E.R., I found myself on a gurney on the hospital’s surgical floor. The orderly had left me off to the side of the bustling corridor, where they lined up patients scheduled for surgery like taxiing planes awaiting takeoff.

Prior to that, an E.R. doctor had diagnosed me with cholecystitis, an inflammation of the gallbladder, and said I needed surgery to remove it. I’d had hereditary gall bladder issues, which had caused me to develop gallstones (hardened deposits of digestive fluid that can form in your gallbladder). But it was one particular gallstone, which had become lodged in my cystic duct, that became the source of my excruciating pain.

Waiting to be operated on was harrowing. I was nearly naked and the air felt cold—or maybe it was my fear making me feel that way. I shivered a little as I imagined my body in the drawer of a morgue, should something happen to me. A doctor approached me and introduced himself as my anesthesiologist.

The surgery was a wake-up call. I’d been keeping a secret for far too long—that I had been binge-eating since childhood.

“Can you read this before you give me the anesthesia?” I asked him. He nodded as I handed him a slip of paper. “I will come through this surgery well, and heal quickly,” it read. “I am loved.” The affirmation I wrote made me feel a little more in control.

Maybe my affirmation worked, because my surgery was successful. Afterward, though, I wore a drainage bag attached to the lower laparoscopic incision in my right side. It tugged uncomfortably at my skin, especially during bumps in the road as we drove home from the hospital.

After recovering for several months, I realized that the surgery was a wake-up call. I’d been keeping a secret for far too long—that I had been binge-eating since childhood—and surely that behavior had not kept me in optimal health.

My eating disorder had its roots in the chaotic household in which I grew up. I lived in fear of my mentally ill father and my parents didn’t emotionally care for me, so I often ended up turning to food for comfort. Many times after family dinners—long after I was full, long after my family members had left the dinner table—I stood alone over the stove in the kitchen of our suburban home, eating leftovers from the pots. A typical after-dinner binge left my belly feeling hard and round, yet I never felt sated.

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I got married in 2009 and continued secretly binging (or so I thought). My husband worked hard to ignore my binges, but empty Combos bags, clanking Pringles cans, and Cadbury bars still clinging to their foil—which I’d toss over the side of the bed after eating—were hard to overlook. I’d eat to treat myself after an annoying or long day, but these treats were ruining my health. Occasionally, my husband caught me bingeing and teased me for my “secret eating,” but neither one of us named the problem or took steps to address it.

For decades I had been able to binge without consequence. But now, in my late forties, my binge-eating had finally caught up with me. After the hospital, I had to try to make sustainable lifestyle changes for the sake of my health. More than that, my seven-year-old daughter deserved a mother who modeled good health practices.

I found a new doctor who worked at a hospital nearby. “I need help losing weight,” I told her. Young and eager to assist me, she saw how miserable I felt. The doctor promised emotional support—an essential element of sticking with good health habits.

It has been almost three months since that initial meeting and I’ve lost nearly 20 pounds (off of 200lbs), four BMI points, and several inches from my waist, hips, and butt, and my blood pressure has dropped. I’ve reduced my portion sizes and sugar intake, but I still allow myself to eat the foods I enjoy—in moderation. My husband now buys mini ice cream cones at Trader Joe’s (60 calories each), for example.

I had to try to make sustainable lifestyle changes for the sake of my health. More than that, my seven-year-old daughter deserved a mother who modeled good health practices.

Instead of forcing myself to go running, which I seriously dislike, I signed up for unlimited Pure Barre classes for a full-body group workout. I swim at the community pool and aim to walk 10,000 steps every day. I keep a food (and mood) journal to stay on top of triggers and remain honest with myself about what I eat.

In September, I rode my daughter to school on our cargo bike (another lifestyle tweak) for her first day of second grade. I felt good about knowing I had finally faced my behavior honestly, and I loved my improved mood, the way my pants fit, and how my more-sculpted shoulders looked in a sleeveless shirt.

I also love that my daughter watched me change my own health habits. I hope, inspired by my example, she’ll find ways to stay healthy far beyond the second grade.

Don’t Judge My Eating Choices And I Won’t Judge Yours

People always ask me what I could possibly eat when they learn I don’t eat meat. Usually, they wonder if I “just eat salad.” The answer: I couldn’t live on salads alone, I’d die—not to mention, the idea that not eating meat amounts to eating just salads shows how little society knows about eating a plant-based diet. Have some imagination!

I haven’t eaten meat for more than half of my life. I became a vegetarian early on in high school, but I’d pretty much avoided meat long before that. It wasn’t just the flavor or the texture that turned my stomach (it quite literally made me gag), it was the thought that I was eating another creature’s body.

Related: 5 Plant-Based Protein Bars That’ll Make You A Believer

My parents, already privy to my rebellious ways, weren’t too shocked to learn that I would no longer take part in meat eating. I had, at a very young age, favored carrot sticks to chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes to meat. And while I’ve flipped between what you can call vegetarian and vegan several times over (I’m not ashamed—I’m human!), the key is that I tend to avoid labels. If anything, I call myself a veggie because while I’m mostly vegan, I won’t say no to the delicious arepas made by my Colombian mother-in-law.

Some people might say that I’m a coward, that I’m not ‘doing it’ correctly, or that I’m not strong enough to stand on my convictions and pick a side. I’d say: That’s absolutely wrong.

Humans are stuck on labels (hello, carnivores, herbivores, pescatarians, Paleo, Keto, vegan—and everything in between), so much so that there’s a need to identify (and justify!) ourselves by the foods we eat. And we’re stuck on judging how others choose to eat, too.

I tend to avoid labels. If anything, I call myself a veggie because while I’m mostly vegan, I won’t say no to the delicious arepas made by my Colombian mother-in-law.

I’ve definitely been judged for eating the way I do. Throughout my life, when people would find out how I eat, they tended to rapidly defend their own eating habits and lifestyle—and I get it. It’s like my rejection of meat makes them somehow feel uneasy. They lift a suspicious eyebrow and label me a dissident. And then they come at me hard, as if they instantly morphed into food experts; suddenly, they begin citing studies they’d read about the benefits of meat: “You’re going to get sick, you don’t have enough protein in your body, you’re going to be weak, your body can’t sustain itself on fruits and vegetables alone.” The list goes on.

To which I say I must actually be a figment of their imaginations, because I’m alive, standing right before them. Then I point to my thick thighs and my heavy backside, which say I definitely do exist. On the other hand, some people judge my body size, saying, “You sure don’t look like a vegetarian/vegan.” Their implication? That veggies should be smaller, or that somehow all vegans or vegetarians look the exact same.

Then, if someone wants to go all-out mean, they’ll say something like, “Oh, you’re one of those liberal hippie types, right?” And everyone giggles but me. Sometimes the room gets quiet—like, really, really quiet.

I don’t say anything at all about their food choices. More often than not, it seems like they’re surprised I haven’t forced my own ideas down their throats or delivered a good veggie sermon.

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Why don’t I stand behind the pulpit? Well, it’s not for me to stand behind. Others might want to, but I’d rather not—I’d rather be ready and willing to talk to people about my lifestyle, and to have a conversation. I don’t look at vegetarianism or veganism as something to promote. I don’t see it as some sort of dogma to distribute.

And while I choose not to eat meat for various reasons (including my own taste, ethics, health goals, and environmental sustainability), trying to convince people to join my tribe, if you will, would only mean that, in some sense, I think I am better than they are or that my choices are wiser. I don’t, just like they shouldn’t. I prefer to tackle conversations with mindfulness and compassion.

Each one of us has our own journey, and this is mine.


The Perks Of Having A Long-Distance Exercise Buddy

Throughout college, when time was plentiful, I’d treat myself to hour-long yoga classes, loving how each session made me feel: My mind was alert, my mood was elevated, and sometimes I was even euphoric. Feeling hopeful and energized by the classes, all the stress of the week would just melt away. A total reboot.

And yet despite the incredible feelings of well-being, bliss, and mental focus, I had a hard time sticking with it or creating a set regimen—especially as I got older. Confession: I’m one of those annoying people who is always telling other people that they should do yoga and then I forget to do it.

I knew it was good for me. I knew I needed it. I knew I couldn’t afford to not do it—for both my physical and mental health. Yet I would skip it. Self-neglect is a habit that is easy to start and hard to break, especially when you have mental health issues, as I do.

During those college years I was also smoking a pack a day to deal with stress, I wasn’t really exercising, and yeah, I was partying. I was surrounded by bad choice enablers and the party lifestyle was my norm. But in my 20s—like a lot of people—my poor lifestyle choices didn’t really manifest themselves on my body. I could drink like a fish and eat pasta every night and still sit at about 120 pounds.

I realized that if I was going to be a happy and productive human being, I was going to have to center myself mentally and physically.

That all changed when I hit 30, however. Thirty is the moment of reckoning. Your midsection grows, the bags under your eyes became more pronounced, and the aches in your muscles begin to hurt more and more. Exhaustion hits you harder and lingers longer. Your body doesn’t bounce back the way it used to.

And my problems were not merely physical. In my early 30s, I began to suffer more from stress-related anxiety and I had trouble focusing on work. Getting out of bed was an arduous task and facing the day filled me with anxious energy.

I realized that if I was going to be a happy and productive human being, I was going to have to center myself mentally and physically. So, at 32, I quit smoking, I quit drinking, and I began to do yoga again.

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I decided to challenge myself to do yoga for at least half an hour, once a day. I wrote a post online saying that I was doing a month-long yoga challenge and a friend from college reached out to me saying she wanted to do it too. The thing is, I live nowhere near anyone else, out in the country, surrounded by woods. To get my yoga fix, I couldn’t just drive to the nearest yoga studio and meet my friend at a local strip mall. So my friend and I started to do yoga together through Skype.

My Skype yoga buddy and I both have high-stress and time-consuming jobs. So we kept it simple: We picked videos to watch and followed along together. Since we had both previously done yoga, it was easy to slip back into it.

At first my mind was restless. It resisted. It wandered as I moved through the poses, not totally present. The first week was definitely a challenge, and I would be winded by the end.

Related: 7 Unique Yoga Offshoots For Adventure Seekers

By the end of week two, though, I really started looking forward to the sessions. Chatting with my friend and getting that energy boost made me feel happy and excited. I was sinking deeper into the stretches, I was picking up the pace, and my joint stiffness and muscle tension was decreasing. By week three I was doing yoga outside of session time! My flexibility was increasing and I started to be centered in my body again. And I’d preempt it, stretching when something was tight, instead of waiting for the knots to build like I had done before.

I was sinking deeper into the stretches, I was picking up the pace, and my joint stiffness and muscle tension was decreasing. By week three I was doing yoga outside of session time!

By the final week of the month challenge, my energy level in daily life increased significantly. It was easier for me to focus and get work done more quickly and more efficiently. My thoughts became more positive. Each time I worked through a physical blockage, a mental knot loosened up. Most importantly, I found myself coping better with the stress that led me back to yoga. Combined with not drinking and not smoking, this was making me feel so good.

I’ve been able to stick with it, thankfully. Having an accountability buddy keeps me motivated and it’s a fun way to catch up. This in itself is a morale boost, but once I feel the deep hug of yoga, I begin to remember that I am there, to not forget myself, to love myself. Having our daily online yoga sessions allows us both the freedom to meet when we can, and hit that psychic refresh button before diving back into our busy lives.

Yoga gives me the workout that I need because it brings my mind and body together simply by working my way through the various poses. Getting to spend time with a friend while getting a burst of endorphins and peace of mind is the daily ritual that keeps me going. I get a good workout, I feel refreshed, and I get to squeeze in some friend-time. I just wish I started Skype yoga sooner.

Related: Shop cozy yoga pants to get your stretch on. 

How Fitness Became My Drug Of Choice

What you see on the outside doesn’t always reflect what’s going on inside, and that’s often been the case with me. I have years of experience in the health and wellness industry (I’m the Manager of Scientific Affairs here at The Vitamin Shoppe), and I’ve always been proactive in my own health. I train hard, eat well, and use fitness as a way to manage stress. In fact, people I know are pretty impressed that I’ve maintained such a high level of fitness at my age (49!). I’m seen as a strong, tough individual—but like many others, I have my demons.

Those demons stem from my childhood, and I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been a long, tough battle working through it. As a young boy I had some idea that my mom—God rest her soul—wasn’t like (or didn’t seem like) the other moms in the neighborhood: My mom struggled with severe depression and anxiety for most of her life.

I can recall like it was yesterday seeing my mom ‘act out’. She had a very difficult time controlling her emotions—even in front of us, her kids. From watching her irrational behavior, and feeling such a lack of control over her mental health issues, I developed anxiety and depression as a young child, too.

The one thing that helped center me during this time was sports and fitness. Using my body—especially in an aggressive way—made me feel calm, less angry, and less frustrated with what was going on at home.

I have years of experience in the health and wellness industry, and I’m seen as a strong, tough individual—but like many others, I have my demons.

I was a quiet, shy kid, but when it came to sports (especially football) I was hyper-aggressive, getting great satisfaction from knocking someone over and watching them struggle to get up. To filter through some of that aggression, I also studied martial arts at a dojo. It was a way for me to be aggressive without really hurting people or getting into trouble.

Related: I Became A Fitness Instructor At 44

The dojo became a place for me to release my demons. I was an emotional roller coaster, a volcano waiting to erupt. And I had no idea that I’d need to deal with these sorts of feelings my whole life.

One cold December day when I was 15, I was playing football in the snow with my brother and his friends. I kicked the ball and my brother caught it. My brother was an all-around great athlete. He was fast as hell, even in the snow. As he came charging towards me, I drove straight toward his legs, rolled over, and collided with him. His knee smashed my back with incredible force, knocking the wind out of me and leaving me lying in the snow, unable to move.

I truly thought my back was broken. I couldn’t walk, so they carried me to my house (which was luckily around the corner) and called 911 right as my mom and dad pulled up in the car. As it turned out, I had no broken bones, but in the 1980s they typically didn’t do an MRI or check for orthopedic injuries that might end up affecting you in the long-term. And it wasn’t until four years later, when my back pain got worse and I had an MRI, that I found out that I had a badly herniated disc.

At 19, I had surgery. My orthopedic surgeon said he could repair it and I’d be just fine, but the eight days I spent in the hospital and two months of physical therapy that followed elevated my levels of anxiety and depression. I jumped back into football, hockey, martial arts, and lifting weights way too soon in an effort to feel better mentally. My pain began to feel worse than it did pre-surgery, which only exacerbated my cycle of anxiety and depression.

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Later on, I had epidurals (a spinal cord stimulator implanted to block pain), and I started seeing a chiropractor again—which offered some temporary pain relief caused by the muscle spasms, but did nothing for the shooting, burning pain down my legs caused by a compressed nerve.

As a last resort, I started trying different types of medication: anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers, and—last but not least—opiates. The medication was effective at reducing the pain, and it also suppressed my anxiety.

I initially thought this was a good thing, but came to realize later on that it really wasn’t—at least for me. The medication was turning me into a different person, numbing me and making me feel very little emotion. So, I took my wife’s advice and quit. My goal was to turn to fitness and health again to deal with my trauma and pain.

Quitting cold turkey was hard; I couldn’t sleep for three months and my pain, anxiety, and depression came back with a vengeance. But I was comforted by my understanding of how the body works: As a scientist, I knew that I could help promote my body’s own production of natural painkillers and mood enhancers (endorphins) through vigorous exercise.

Strengthen that lower back with #deadlifts.@rogueamericanapparel

A post shared by Brian K. Tanzer (@bktanzer) on

And that’s exactly what I did. I practiced yoga for my back and hit the weights pretty hard to release the anxiety I was feeling. To this day, I train five-six days a week, incorporating all the big lifts (like deadlifts, squats, and bench presses) along with exercises such as sprints, rowing, pullups and burpees. Although I still deal with chronic pain and mood issues like anxiety, it has become much more manageable.

Looking back, I’ve learned so much over the years. I used to let those feelings control me, and now I control them. I even turned to my fitness-focused skillset when my parents got sick and needed care, and then passed away, one after the other within a month. I see every challenge as an opportunity and I never let my anxiety get the best of me. I believe that training every day and making myself uncomfortable (or even miserable at times) pays dividends when facing emotional and physical challenges in life.

To this day, I train five-six days a week. And although I still deal with chronic pain and mood issues like anxiety, it has become much more manageable.

I now look back at all that I went through as a child, teenager, and adult, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come, despite all the challenges. And despite my mother’s illness and the ways it affected me, I don’t blame her. I love her.

Mental health is often overlooked because it isn’t something that can be measured with a blood test or x-ray. In the end, her mental health challenges inspired me to deal with my health in productive ways. I try to live in the moment—not in the past—and enjoy each day as much as possible.

Although I have had these revelations, I still wake up every day with anxiety and pain—and I do worry about aging and its effects on my body. But for now, I have a morning routine to keep me motivated: I throw cold water on my face and start banging out the burpees, squats, and pushups, which helps stabilize my body and my mood. I guess you could say that my go-to drug is exercise—and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Related: Shop protein products and amp up your fitness routine. 

How Meditation Helped Me Overcome My OCD

When I used to hear the term “OCD,” the first thoughts that popped into my head were always of super-organized sock drawers and Monica Gellar-level cleanliness (thanks, pop culture depictions of mental illness).

But that, of course, was before I was diagnosed.

I have a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder called Pure O (or Pure Obsessional OCD), which means that all of my obsessions and compulsions take place inside my head.

Here’s how OCD works: In an effort to control the severe anxiety caused by their obsessions, people with OCD perform compulsions (also known as “rituals”) to calm themselves down. Most people with OCD perform outward (or physical) compulsions, so things like hand washing, flipping a light switch on and off, or other repetitive behaviors.

But with Pure O, it’s a bit different. I deal with the same obsessive thought patterns, but my compulsions fly under the radar because my entire obsessive-compulsive cycle takes place internally. So, instead of performing an outwardly observable compulsion, like hand-washing, I perform a mental compulsion, like scanning my memories to look for evidence that my intrusive thought isn’t true. You might not be able to see it, but at times it’s like I’m at war with my own mind.

All of this information is fairly new to me. Before I was diagnosed, I had no idea what was going on inside my brain. I’ve always been a fairly anxious person, and I have a tendency to attach myself to disturbing-yet-completely-illogical thoughts. Like at work: If any two people walked into an office and closed the door, I would be 100 percent convinced that this was because I was about to get fired. I would spend hours sitting at my desk, terrified that I was going to be let go, racking my brain to figure out what I might have done that would cause me to get the ax.

You might not be able to see it, but at times it’s like I’m at war with my own mind.

I knew there was no logic behind my thought (I’ve never even come close to being fired), but it was like I couldn’t help myself. A thought came, I attached to it, and down the rabbit hole I went.

These thought patterns manifested themselves in all sorts of ways: fears about my weight, about my relationships, about my future. But for the most part, I just rolled with it. Did I hate the times I felt worried, anxious, and afraid for no reason? Of course. But, for the most part, they were temporary and didn’t interfere with my life in any significant way.

Until one day they did.

About a year ago, I had an intrusive thought that completely took over my life. I became obsessed with the idea that I had committed a crime and somehow forgotten about it. It sounds silly, but once it entered my psyche, I couldn’t let it go.

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Logically, I knew it wasn’t true. But I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about it. I would spend hours reviewing my memories, searching for evidence of a crime. I read an encyclopedia’s worth of articles on the standard profile of violent criminals to see if I fit the bill. It consumed my every waking moment, and the more I tried to reassure myself that I wasn’t some sort of amnesiac criminal mastermind, the stronger the thought became. And the stronger the thought, the more I was convinced it had to be true.

It was a vicious cycle, and by the end, I was hanging on by a thread, convinced I was losing my mind.

That was, by far, the scariest time of my life, but it was also the catalyst I needed to get some help. I started working with an amazing therapist who immediately recognized what was going on and started working with me to help me manage my obsessions, intrusive thoughts, and anxiety.
There were a lot of techniques we explored to get my anxiety under control, but there was only one that ended up changing my life: meditation.

When my therapist suggested meditation as a way to help deal with my Pure O symptoms, I wasn’t exactly enthused. I had tried meditation in the past, and while I thought it was great in theory, I’d never had any success with it. I believed my mind was too stormy to be tamed.

Still, at that point, I was willing to try anything to get my life back. So I decided to give it a shot.

When thoughts pop into my consciousness or I find my mind starting to wander, I acknowledge the thought with gentleness and compassion, let it go, and refocus my attention on the breath.

I started a Buddhist-style practice of meditation called Vipassana. It’s the simple practice of sitting in silence and focusing on the breath. When thoughts pop into my consciousness or I find my mind starting to wander, I acknowledge the thought with gentleness and compassion, let it go, and refocus my attention on the breath.

At first, meditation was painfully hard. I would find myself overwhelmed with intrusive thoughts every single time I closed my eyes. But I stuck to the practice. I acknowledged each thought, and with as much self-love and compassion as I could muster, I let them go and brought my attention back to the breath.

The more I practiced, the easier it became to detach from my thoughts and refocus my attention on the breath. And the easier it became to detach from my thoughts, the less scary and significant they seemed. That practice began to bleed into the rest of my life, and slowly but surely, I regained control over my mind.

That was a year ago, and today, as a direct result of my daily meditation practice, my life—and my mind—couldn’t be any more different.

I’m no longer wracked with anxiety around the clock. I don’t spend hours of my day trapped in obsessive thought cycles. I sleep easier. I laugh more. My relationships—with myself and with the people I love—are better than ever. I feel more in tune with myself, my thoughts, and the world around me. In a nutshell, I’m happy.

And all thanks to a little bit of breathing.

Do I still have intrusive thoughts? Yes. And I probably always will. But since I started meditating, they haven’t had any real power over my life. If I find myself caught in a thought cycle, I’m able to acknowledge it, let it go, and refocus my attention, just like I do when I’m in meditation. I’m able to see my intrusive thoughts for what they are—just random, insignificant brain synapses—and I no longer feel the need to attach to them.

I can’t say that I’ll never battle with Pure O again. But I can say, thanks to my meditation practice, I’m getting better—one breath at a time.

Related: Shop aromatherapy to level up your meditation experience. 

I Got An F In Vitamin D

There’s “mom tired”—you know, tired from chauffeuring teenagers around or staying up until midnight waiting for them to come home—and then there are other kinds of tired. I know mom tired well. We cope with it by consuming large amounts of caffeine and sleeping in traffic. But I had no idea what was going on when, a year and a half ago, I felt beyond your run-of-the-mill mom tired. I was just plain exhausted—all the time.

The culprit: a deficiency of vitamin D. But it sure wasn’t easy figuring that out.

First I went to my primary doctor for a Complete Blood Count (CBC) panel. A typical CBC panel doesn’t include a blood test for vitamin levels; instead, it focuses on blood cell counts, hemoglobin, blood sugar, and hematocrit. We learned that I wasn’t anemic, my blood sugar level was fine, and all the other results came back in the normal range, too. The doctor sent me on my way with some quick advice: “Get some rest.”

I discovered that Vitamin D deficiencies can cause nerve damage (that can mimic hot or cold sensations in your veins), along with pain throughout your body.

But I knew in my super-tired bones it wasn’t just your garden variety tiredness, so I went to a homeopathic doctor who intuitively knew to run additional panels. When the results came back, they weren’t pretty: My vitamin D was at a level five. (For reference, a vit D level of five is considered deficient in the land of vitamin levels—insufficient levels fall under 30, while deficiency occurs when levels fall below 20.  A level of 60+ is ideal.)

In adults, vitamin D deficiency can not only lead to fatigue, but weak bones, muscle weakness, and bone pain. Armed with this information, I set out to raise my vitamin D level.

I had a few options for how to go about increasing it, but at 5, it was so abysmal that it would be hard to do. First up: I had to get out in the actual sun to absorb vitamin D (keep in mind that any SPF I wore would create a barrier here). This was the simplest step.

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Next, I was told to consume foods high in vitamin D—but very, very few foods include it. And guess what? I hate the ones that do—like liver, mushrooms, and salmon. Instead, I went down the supplemental route and started on a massive dose—for three months—of vitamin D3, which offers the highest absorption rate.

This raised my energy and my D level into the 20s. But because I started feeling better after a few months, I started letting the supplements slip. You see where this is going…

My body was not thrilled with my lack of self-care and I began to feel exhausted again—just six months after taking my supplements. In fact, I began experiencing a new sensation that felt like icy water in my veins. Naturally, I consulted Dr. Google (not recommended, it’s all doom and gloom; go see a real doctor) to determine if I was near death, and I discovered that vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency can cause nerve damage (that can mimic hot or cold sensations in your veins), along with pain throughout your body. (It’s hard to remember to take your vitamins, so let this be a warning!)

Back to the doctor I went, and she ran another panel. This time, my vitamin D level had dropped to a 12. On top of that, my folate and B12 levels were extremely low—all accounting for the feelings I was experiencing.

After a stern—but empathetic—lecture from my doctor, I started taking my supplements again and I’ve been eating foods that contain these vitamins, as well.

The key, I think, is having open communication, asking for what you need, and consulting other professionals for a second opinion.

I felt way better—as quickly as two weeks later—after taking the folate, B12, and D3 supplements. Now I can sit down in a chair and not nod off while watching TV. I have also sharply reduced my caffeine intake, and even doing that hasn’t diminished my energy.

It’s interesting that vitamin deficiencies go largely ignored. Because my original blood test didn’t come back resulting in anemia or with other positive markers for disease, my primary doctor missed crucial vitamin deficiencies. This simple oversight could have caused me to continue experiencing my symptoms, or even worse ones.

Related: Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Your Doctor About Vitamin D

Having a doctor look at you blankly and ask if you are “getting enough rest” is downright frustrating. But if we don’t come to our doctors with even the simplest details around our health issues, we could miss something. When I tell my doctor that I’m exhausted, this should trigger him to check for all sorts of things, including vitamin deficiencies.

The key, I think, is having open communication, asking for what you need, and consulting other professionals for a second opinion.

You also have to stay accountable. It can be easy to overlook, but taking your daily supplements can make all the difference. I learned the hard way so you don’t have to.

Who’s Good: A Q&A With Fitness Star @KaisaFit

These days, all you need is a basic knowledge of superfoods and an iPhone upgrade to be deemed a social media influencer. So how do you distinguish between the people on Instagram who can provide solid info, inspiring ideas, and encouragement along your own health and wellness journey and the many one-trick ponies filling feeds with butt selfies? We can help you cut through all the noise (and smoothie bowls).

Welcome to Who’s Good, a regular interview series from the editors of What’s Good that catches up with the best, brightest, and boldest social media has to offer.

Up this week: We talked to Kaisa Keranen—a.k.a. KaisaFit. You (and her half-million other followers—or, as she calls them, “team members”) may have taken inspiration from her supercharged, any-time-any-where KaisaFit workouts. Or maybe you heard of the national #LetsMove campaign—on which she partnered with the Obama administration. (NBD, right?) If not, you’ll want to check her out—and get moving.

Kaisa, you’re a powerhouse personal trainer and fitness instructor (with an M.S. in exercise science!)—with half a million Instagram followers! Can you tell us a little about your journey to the life you have now?

Thank you so much! My story in a nutshell: I grew up playing pretty much any sport I could get my hands on and by the time high school came around I had narrowed it down to soccer and track and field. I ended up doing track at the University of Washington and after I graduated, found myself in the field of training. I had been pretty injured in college so when I graduated I had this desire to learn about my body and to have the education to take better care of it. Long story short, I fell in love with this industry and have been in it ever since.

Can you describe the KaisaFit method? How did you create and refine this method—and who is it best for?

The KaisaFit method is about simply moving. I think it’s less of a method and more of a mindset that hopefully, over time, cultivates a way of life. My mission is really just to encourage people to add more movement to their day, in whatever form that may be. It’s about helping people understand that they don’t need to hit the gym to get a good workout in, they have their body and their living room and sometimes (actually, most of the time) that’s all you need!

You were asked by Michelle Obama (!!!) to be part of her Let’s Move campaign. What was that like?

That was an INSANE moment in my life and I’m not sure if/how or when that could ever be topped. Mrs. Obama asked my friend and I to be the head trainers for her “Let’s Move” digital campaign and it truly was a dream come true. She is an incredible woman whom I admire so much, so to have her recognize us was absolutely surreal.

You created the #JustMove hashtag. How do you think people’s sedentary lifestyles are affecting them? Apart from the gym, what are some interesting, effective ways to get out and get moving? I see you on the beach, on the rocks, on park benches…

Really simply put, our sedentary lives are killing us. I know it sounds harsh but it’s the truth and it’s important that people start wrapping their heads around how awful our sedentary lives truly are for us.

This is the main reason why I started #JustMove. I wanted people to understand that at any moment throughout the day, and any location they might find themselves in, there is a way to #JustMove. It doesn’t always mean that you are lifting weights or even breaking a serious sweat, but it means that you are up and moving your body, making the world around you your gym in that moment.

How has your life changed since cultivating a social media following? How has it impacted your approach to fitness?

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My life has changed quite a bit since the moment I decided to share my workouts on social media—and in the best way possible! I get to connect and communicate with so many incredible people on a daily basis, and that is truly a gift. I am constantly motivated and inspired by my team (a.k.a. my followers, but I don’t like using that term). I just feel like we are one big family, and that we’re in this together, trying to support each other to be our best, happiest, and healthiest selves on a daily basis. For that I am constantly thankful!

Do you have a favorite go-to power-up and post-workout snack or recipe? Are there are any vits, herbs, or supplements you take to feel your best—and why?

💥G I V E A W A Y 💥 . In honor of @vitalproteins launching their AMAZING creamer we are doing a little giveaway. . First, it is super important for me to state that my rule about social media is simple. If I wouldn't tell my friends and family about it, I wouldn't tell my team here on Instagram about it. . With that being said, I am a huge fan of @vitalproteins and have been using them for over a year now so I can comfortably tell you about how incredible their product is and how much of a difference it has made in the way I feel. . So in honor of their creamer launching today we are giving a few away! Just comment below and let us know what your morning rituals are. What are some of the absolute necessities you need to start your day off right? Mine include 2 pieces of toast, a huge cup of coffee w/ Vital's creamer and some slow jams playing in the background 🎶😁 . We will randomly pick some winners tomorrow morning and DM you directly 💙

A post shared by Kaisa Keranen (@kaisafit) on

I am a HUGE Vital Proteins fan! My pre-workout is coffee + Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides and two pieces of gluten-free toast with almond butter and honey. I train pretty early in the morning and it’s all that my stomach can handle before I go beast-mode.

During my workout I am sipping on Vital Proteins Beauty Water and post-workout I have my first big meal of the day: anything from an omelette to last night’s dinner. I’m not a picky eater but it needs to be good quality food and I need a lot of it.

What was the single most empowering or inspirational moment you’ve had as a trainer?

Oh maaaaan! That question is nearly impossible to answer. I have been a trainer for over eight years now so there is no way I can narrow it down to a single inspirational or empowering moment. Honestly, working with people day in and down out is inspiring in and of itself. I get to witness first-hand the changes that people make. The things they go through and come out of. The struggles and the triumphs. Everything. I’ve been there through it all and they’ve been there with me. It’s incredible to have a career that truly centers around community and connection, and I am thankful for it every single day!

So, what sort of amazing stuff are you working on these days?

Putting in wooork! 👊💪 #tbt

A post shared by Kaisa Keranen (@kaisafit) on

I am super excited to announce that I am in the process of creating my first monthly movement plan. I have been wanting to venture out on my own for quite some time and create and share content the exact way that I would want to use it if I was on the receiving end. The monthly plans will have varying degrees of difficulty, which means they are suitable for all fitness levels. They plans are basically designed to be everything that I ever wanted in an at home program and I am SO pumped to share them with you all in early 2018. If you want to stay up to date with release information, click here!

6 Healthy Habits You’ll Thank Yourself For Starting 20 Years From Now

For many of us, living a healthy lifestyle in our 20s and 30s is all about the here and now. Eating the right foods to feel and look good today. Or using that trendy sheet mask to get glowing skin for tonight. Rarely do we consider what our bodies will need and want down the road. After all, “future us” seems so far away.

But adopting certain healthy habits at a younger age (read: right this minute) can not only provide benefits for you in the present, but reap major rewards down the road.

Consider this: A study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings revealed that exercise capacity is “strongly associated with cognitive function.” Researchers learned that participants who actively worked out a few times per week lowered their risk of cognitive decline issues, such as Alzheimer’s disease. So when you’re hitting the treadmill, you’re keeping yourself looking good today, sure—while doing all you can to safeguard the future.

But this isn’t only about putting in time at the gym. There are plenty of good-for-you habits to incorporate into your everyday that are excellent investments in your future health. And some of them won’t even require you to break a sweat.

1. Turn Off Your Tech

“Try doing a digital “detox”,” says Samir Becic, fitness trainer and author of ReSYNC Your Life. It may sound harsh, but remove the TV from your bedroom in order to have better REM sleep (rapid eye movement, or deep sleep), he explains. “People don’t realize the enormous negative impact technology has on our health if it is used excessively,” he says. “Not only on our joints, but on our eyes, back, cognitive thinking, and mood.”

A 2013 study published in Current Biology determined that modern light exposure contributes to later sleep schedules, which only serves to disrupt our natural sleep and circadian clocks. By removing the presence of the dreaded “blue light” emitted from our phones, TVs, and computers in our bedrooms, we’re giving our bodies a better chance at a more restful, productive sleep.

Related: Is Lutein All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

2. Start flossing.

While daily flossing may seem like a no-brainer, a 2015 Harris Poll conducted on behalf of the American Academy of Periodontology revealed that 27 percent of U.S. adults lie to their dentist about how often they really partake in the activity (we won’t tell if you start flossing today!). For the sake of your mouth, dentists would like to see this number turned around.

“Flossing may seem like a nuisance when you’re young, but later down the line, you’ll be glad you started early as flossing can help avoid periodontal disease,” says Dr. Katia Friedman of Friedman Dental Group in South Florida. “At a later stage in people’s lives, periodontal disease is responsible for bone loss, mobility of teeth and ultimately tooth loss.”

Related: Shop oral health products to give your chompers their best chance. 

Pro-tip: According to Oral Health & Prevention, you want to floss and then brush—not the other way around—to get the most out of the habit. When you floss and then brush, you’re able to get all that gross plaque out of your mouth, instead of lingering there after it was extracted.

3. Wear Sunscreen

This advice probably sounds like a broken record, but consistent sunscreen application is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health and well-being.

“UV damage from the sun is a significant factor in skin aging,” says David Lortscher, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Curology.”

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The hard part is, there’s a delay between when sun exposure occurred and when its effects manifest. For example, it may take decades—yes, you read that correctly—of cumulative sun exposure or indoor tanning to cause skin cancer. It’s reasonable to expect that sun exposure 10 or 15 years ago may result in wrinkles appearing now. So, be sure to use sunscreens with SPF 30 or higher that protect against UVA and UVC rays.

According to The American Academy of Dermatology, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more should be used year-round, not just when the sun is high and hot. The lotion should be reapplied every two hours for continuous coverage, or more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating.

Related: Shop UVA- and UVB-blocking sunscreen to protect your skin. 

4. Add Retinol to Your Routine

Take good care of your skin now to reduce the effects of aging later, says Lortscher. “An over-the-counter cream with retinol offers anti-aging benefits, but prescription-strength tretinoin (the generic name for retinol) offers a potent punch that just can’t be beat.”

What’s tretinoin? It’s considered to be the gold standard in reducing fine lines and wrinkles, as well as boosting collagen growth. And, says Lortscher, “It’s the main anti-aging strategy (after sunscreen) of many dermatologists for their own skin.”

But what is retinol? According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s a vitamin A compound and an antioxidant. It neutralizes free radicals, those pesky unstable oxygen molecules responsible for disrupting skin cells and, inevitably, causing wrinkles.

You can start by adding this Ann Webb Super Retinol Slow Release night crème to your bedtime ritual.

5. Eat Mindfully

How often have you heard a friend or co-worker complain that they were so busy during the day that they “forgot” to eat? In our hectic lives we’ve become conditioned to either eating on the go or while we’re zoning out in front of the TV. But by choosing to eat mindfully we have the opportunity to not only appreciate the food on our plates, but make better choices as well.

“Try not to eat while doing other things like driving, watching TV, working, or another activity,” says Samantha Scruggs, a registered dietitian and blogger at Nutrition to Fruition. “When you actually pay attention to your eating and your food, you feel more full and are more aware of your portion sizes.” Notice how it tastes and smells when you’re eating.

According to a 2016 study published in Health Psychology, mindful eating was proven to reduce impulsive food choices in both adolescents and adults, decreasing the risk of obesity.

6. Eat Good Fats

Omega-3 has been a buzzword in the world of healthy nutrition for some time now, and with good reason. These fatty acids are work horses in your body, and to build a better one for long-term health experts want you to get your omega-3s straight from the source whenever possible.

“One of the healthiest habits to adopt now for major benefits down the road is eating two servings of fatty fish per week,” says Lainey Younkin, MS, RD, LDN, dietitian and founder of Lainey Younkin Nutrition in Boston, MA. Fatty fish, like salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, and sardines, are chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids, “which lower inflammation in the body, leading to a healthier brain and heart, as well as glowing skin. One serving is just three ounces, or the size of a deck of cards, so top your salad with some salmon or swap the chicken in your taco for tuna,” says Younkin.

7. Meditate

Considering the difficulties we face finding the time to eat a meal in peace, you may be wondering when, pray tell, you’re supposed to have the time to sit and meditate. But carving out even just a few minutes for the practice can harvest benefits far beyond clearing your mind.

According to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, mindful meditation can actually boost immune function, with researchers finding increases in antibody titers (the way doctors learn if your body is fighting a virus) to the flu vaccine among those who were in the meditation control group.

And don’t worry about being a meditation pro, says positive psychology and coach Dr. Barbara Cox, PhD, who encourages her patients to find a method that works for them.

What works best? “It can be something as simple as focusing on calming music or saying a positive affirmation,” she says. “Meditation is a very helpful tool for stress because by doing it regularly it can prevent stress. And if stress builds, it can help release stress, too.”

Plus, according to Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, meditation may actually improve the cellular aging process and reduce oxidative stress, which can age us and make us sick.

Related: It’s Time To Stop Being So Scared of Meditation

Making One Small Change At A Time Helped Me Lose 30 Pounds

When I got pregnant—a surprise to me—at 33, I was at a weight I had never known before: 260 pounds! It didn’t go away after I had the baby, and I ended up wearing my maternity clothes more than a year after giving birth. I had to buy yoga pants in a size 18, the largest I had ever worn. On top of that, my blood pressure problem (I had been on and off medication for about a year or so before getting pregnant) was back with a vengeance.

I was overweight, exhausted from being overweight, and even more exhausted from the newborn night feedings. My world was also dominated by a case of postpartum depression that seemed to have a choke-hold on me until about nine months after giving birth.

At a doctor’s appointment about a year after giving birth, I was a mess—and in need of serious help. I was overwhelmed by how much weight I needed to lose, the pressure of actually doing something to lose it, and the adjustment to a having new baby. I felt like I was failing at being a mother. Something had to change.

Related: Shop weight-management products for your health goal needs.

My doctor’s sage advice: “When you need to make such a big change in your lifestyle, sometimes the easiest way to do it is to make several small changes at a time.” So we talked about goals and listed them out. We decided that once I mastered one of them, I would only then add the next action to the mix.

My goals included:

  • Get more than 30 minutes of general activity each day, with three days of exercise per week.
  • Cut out soda and drink more water.
  • Cut down on carbs. My doctor gave me a list of foods to shoot for that was designed by the American Heart Association: fruits, veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy, nuts, and healthy oils.

The ultimate goal? Making these lifestyle adjustments actually sustainable so that I’d continue eating healthy and working out forever, not just to reduce my blood pressure or weight temporarily. I didn’t want to feel depressed and I didn’t want to wallow—which only made me eat and not move.

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First things first: exercise. I got off the couch and to get some fresh air every single day. It was early summer, so I started off with short walks (with my baby) around the neighborhood every evening—I even went for a walk the moment I got back from the doctor’s appointment. (I didn’t give myself time to sit back on my comfy couch, where I KNEW I’d not get up from.) This was the best decision I could have made, because it symbolized my desire to quit being sedentary.

After a week or so, I got on a bike and put the baby in the bike trailer next to me—I did this until the weather got too cold for us to ride. But getting on the bike with the baby was more than just exercise—it was a bonding experience. He loved sitting strapped into the little carriage, watching the world go by. My older kids would get on their bikes and ride beside him to keep watch, too. I ended each ride feeling accomplished and refreshed, and the rush from my rides actually energized me and encouraged me to jump back on again.

After about two weeks, I felt comfortable enough to add another change to my list. This time, I would replace my daily soda intake—which was about 12 cans every single day. A whole pack. As a replacement, I would go with water, coffee, and green tea. I started the day with coffee, sipped on tea with meals, and drank water in between to stave off thirst. It took two weeks to whittle my soda intake down to one can per day.

By the end of summer, about a month later, I ended up going several days without soda, and I’d increased my water intake to 16 glasses a day. All the while, I maintained my evening biking routine at least three-five times per week.

My next change came about six weeks later. I was a certified carb junkie who never knew a cake she didn’t like. Chips, bread, pancakes for breakfast, cookies—you name it. It was my vice. To make my change, I would start my day with a good carb—oatmeal with nuts and dates—and I’d replace my snacks (like cookies) with nuts like almonds and pistachios. And tons of water.

I used whole grain breads when I went for a sandwich, and I even made whole grain pancakes. I started watching cooking videos on The Food Network for ideas, as well.

On my next grocery trip and every one thereafter, I just wouldn’t buy anything that would tempt me. This made things easier when my resistance was down at home and cravings kicked in. There was no soda, cake, chips, candy, or anything else at home. I had to fill my cravings with what I had on hand—only items that were good for me, and nothing more.

Eventually, I felt lighter. I could breathe easier when I moved, and when I moved, it no longer felt like I was dragging a thousand pounds of sand everywhere I went. When the physical weight was gone, the mental “weight” left, too. I felt good about myself. Like I was stepping out of a dark alley into the sunlight.

In about 12 weeks’ time, I went from couch to active mom with a few gradual, small changes. Each time I became used to something, it was easier to change something else. I began biking even further, and manipulating portions sizes so that my plates were a lot smaller than the hubcap-sizes I ate from before. The content of those plates also became more well-balanced, with a focus on a healthy protein, a good carb, and a sizeable vegetable ratio. By fall, I had lost 30 pounds.

Related: Big Girl On A Bike: How I Rode My Way To Weight Loss And Confidence

It’s not easy to simply begin a whole new diet and exercise routine. I believe that starting with one small adjustment—and sticking to it for a while—is key. Get yourself acquainted to and make sure you are comfortable with it. Then, add another. Soon, you could be active and healthy—and it will all feel natural.

Who’s Good: A Q&A With Clean Foodie Sisters @RawAndRoasted

These days, all you need is a basic knowledge of superfoods and an iPhone upgrade to be deemed a social media influencer. So how do you distinguish between the people on Instagram who can provide solid info, inspiring ideas, and encouragement along your own health and wellness journey and the many one-trick ponies filling feeds with butt selfies? We can help you cut through all the noise (and smoothie bowls).

Welcome to Who’s Good, a regular interview series from the editors of What’s Good that catches up with the best, brightest, and boldest social media has to offer.

Up this week: Swiss-American sisters and foodies Isa and Lou a.k.a. @RawAndRoasted. The girls’ colorful posts feature clean, wholesome dishes arranged in delightfully artful ways. But their interests go way beyond #FoodPorn: Between the two of them, they’ve got MUCH knowledge about health, fitness, and nutrition.

Isabella just finished a two-year stint as the Brand Director at Deliciously Ella, a site dedicated to honest, healthy food, and is now heading back to school to study Clinical Nutrition in London.

Louisa volunteers with food organizations like Edible Schoolyard, City Harvest, and Wellness in Schools. She is a certified yoga instructor and was recently working as Anna Wintour’s assistant. (We bet she’s got some stories…)

Get to know them!

I love the idea that two sisters joined up to share their knowledge about nutrition. How’d you get started—and what are your individual passions and focuses?

Growing up on Eastern Long Island, we were fortunate enough to experience farm-to-table culture in our everyday lives. Our father raised his own chickens and bees and had an abundant vegetable and fruit garden. Our Swiss mother instilled in us eating values that celebrated fresh, local, sustainable food, and an enjoyment of the beauty behind a meal—the tastes, smells, and how it makes you feel, whether alone or with family or friends.

Going to school in Boston and later living in various cities (including New York, Zurich, and London) expanded our tastes buds. We were always on the hunt for the best ingredients, new kinds of food, and interesting restaurants. And our friends encouraged us to start sharing!

Being Swiss-American, is there anything you notice about how Americans eat versus the Swiss?

Definitely! The Swiss don’t restrict themselves to certain diets or fads. Instead, the focus is on local, sustainable, in-season foods. Dairy comes from Swiss cows and meat is grass-fed and generally comes from continental Europe. Fruits and vegetables are eaten in-season. The amazing Swiss bakeries use freshly ground flour and natural ingredients, and the bread is eaten fresh and never has preservatives. Desserts, chocolate, and ice cream are enjoyed and savored and always made and sold in the most natural state—these treats don’t last years, but rather days or month because they’re so natural!

The Swiss don’t obsess over what they are or aren’t eating at the moment. Rather, they eat what they love, what’s made fresh, and what makes them feel great.

Related: This New Study Has A Lot To Say About Fat, Carbs, And Our Health

Americans tend to focus on what they are not eating—whether it’s fat, carbs, gluten, dairy, or sugar. America’s food problems don’t come from the underlining food groups themselves (unless you’re actually allergic or have another serious medical condition) but from the additives and preservatives that are put into nearly everything.

As a country, the U.S. is waking up to the problems in our food systems, but one thing we tell all our friends is to never feel guilty, enjoy your food, and to enjoy it with friends. If you eat something that disagrees with you, move on! Life is too short to be only preoccupied with your diet. Also, learn to read food labels and do your research!

Environmental advocacy is important to the both of you, which definitely plays into how we eat and where we get our food from. How can people support the environment, eat healthy, and not over-splurge all at once?

Go to your local farmers markets! Buy your food in bulk—it’s cheaper and uses less packaging. When you buy vegetables in the supermarket, don’t use the little plastic bags (you wash the vegetables at home anyway, so bring your own canvas tote with you!).

Use a refillable metal or glass water bottle. Wash your Ziploc bags after using them and re-use them. Instead of using paper towels for spills, use a sponge and rinse it out! And bring a refillable mug with you to the coffee shop and ask for a discount if you don’t use their cup.

You both work out and do yoga, so let’s talk about sustainably fueling up our bodies. What’s the best pre-workout food you can recommend?

We focus on three full meals a day, so we’re not a big fan of pre-workout food. You should feel satisfied from your last meal, but if we need a snack, we always honor that need. If it’s first thing in the morning and you need something to eat, fruit is great because it digests quickly and gives you a burst of energy. In the afternoon, we will grab a rice cake, a spoonful of nut butter, or carrots and hummus—something that doesn’t leave us too full to work out!

Do you have a powerhouse, energizing smoothie recipe you’d like to share?

Yes, we have so many! Check out our Instagram @rawandroasted for inspirations. One of our favorites is made with spinach, banana, almond butter, and hemp seeds (for protein). You can also put cacao nibs on top for some crunch and an energy boost. It’s so simple, satisfying, and energizing. Another favorite is green apple, romaine, chard, cucumber, lemon, and ice.

Being cross-continental, how do you stay healthy when traveling?

We almost never eat on planes, unless it’s our own food. We always try to get in a smoothie with lots of vegetables or a salad and a liter of water before leaving for the airport. Our favorite trick is bringing whole avocados on the plane (don’t forget plastic utensils!).

Some other travel favorites include rice cakes, apples, nut butter packets, carrots, unsalted mixed nuts, dried dates or figs, or dark chocolate.

Related: Healthy snacks, coming right up!

Bring your own tea bags and you can ask for a cup of hot water anywhere—most places are happy to give it away. Having a mix of snacks like the ones above ensure that you can satisfy any hunger craving—sweet, crunchy, or savory. More is always better, and you can use whatever you don’t eat at your destination.

You often share gorgeous pics of the clean food you’re eating. How can people get started eating clean if they’ve never done so before?

We love to focus on fresh, natural foods full of taste. Eating well is a process, so give yourself time and space to let your taste buds develop. Seasonal produce always has the most flavor, so try eating more apples in fall, tomatoes in the summer, and root vegetables in the winter. A variety of foods (and their nutrients) will serve you best, but don’t force yourself to eat something you don’t like. Try to focus on what you do like and what tastes good to you!

Who’s Good: A Q&A With Yoga Goddess @FitQueenIrene

These days, all you need is a basic knowledge of superfoods and an iPhone upgrade to be deemed a “social media influencer.” So how do you distinguish between Instagrammers who can provide solid info, inspiring ideas, and encouragement along your own health and wellness journey and the many one-trick ponies filling feeds with butt selfies? We can help you cut through all the noise (and smoothie bowls).

Welcome to Who’s Good, a regular interview series from the editors of What’s Good that catches up with the best, brightest, and boldest that social media has to offer.

We’re kicking off the series with a Q&A with Irene Pappas a.k.a.@FitQueenIrene, a yoga guru with 550k IG followers who leads workshops and retreats and offers digital classes.

Hi Irene! Tell us a little bit about who you are, why you do what you do, and what led you down this path.
My name is Irene Pappas and I am from Washington, DC. When I was younger I hated team sports, and was never really into health or fitness. I also struggled with depression and low self-esteem. I seemed to be stuck in negative cycles. I reached a point where I decided that maybe if I could work out enough to have the perfect body, then I would be happy. So, I worked out twice a day, every day, and counted all of my calories, until one day I looked at my body and realized that even though I was “happy” with how my body looked, I still wasn’t happy.

That’s when I found yoga. Fast forward six years and here I am, spreading the same message to my yoga students and the world. Using the discipline of yoga to train my body and my mind, I have become a happier and healthier person.

Now I focus on traveling to teach workshops, as well as retreats, but the most fulfilling part is definitely leading yoga teacher trainings. In these trainings we (myself and the other teachers) are able to provide an environment that allows for tremendous growth that goes beyond yoga as we see it in the western world.

Jungle vibes + practice. @bodhiyogaacademy

A post shared by Irene Pappas (@fitqueenirene) on

As a yoga instructor, you’ve grown a tremendous following (553,000 followers!)—what do you think it is about your page that is resonating so much with people?
I think that people are inspired by my photos, but I truly hope that they take a moment to read my words. I believe in being the love you wish to see in the world, holding space for people to grow, and sharing my own growth in a reflective way.

I want people to know that they are not alone, but that only they have the power to change their lives. This takes time and dedication, and is a never-ending journey that we have to wake up and recommit to daily.

You’ve been vocal about having surgery and being told you’d never use your wrist again. It’s a scary thought, especially for someone whose life (and even spirituality) is entwined with their physical movement. How did you physically overcome that—and how can people who might have similar injuries or arthritis modify yoga poses and the practice as a whole so that they can take part?
My wrist injury was definitely one of the scariest things I have been through in my adult life, mostly because I felt like so much was unknown. I had no idea if I would be able to continue my career as a yoga teacher, and I felt like a stranger in my body.

But the real challenge was mental—not giving up on myself even though I had no guarantee that my wrist would heal. I still have days where my wrist pain is so bad that I can barely put weight on my hands, but on most days I can handstand. And for that I am beyond grateful.

This continues to be one of my greatest lessons and gifts as a yoga teacher, because of the patience and commitment that rehabbing required. People with similar injuries (or arthritis) might explore slower moving styles of yoga, working their way up to the vinyasa style, depending on their specific needs. For stretching and calming the mind, yoga is amazing. But if it is stability that they need, finding someone who specializes in rehabbing injuries is best—second to Pilates and weight training.

What sort of lifestyle habits do you maintain that also support your yoga practice? Are there supplements or foods you eat and swear by to power up and stay healthy?
My lifestyle habits tend to fluctuate depending on the seasons and where I am in the world, but there are a few things that I swear by: In the winter and while recovering from surgery, I would drink homemade grass-fed beef bone broth.

In the summer I use collagen peptides in my smoothies. I maintain a mostly vegetarian diet, but I think these are important sources of amino acids and proteins.

You’ve talked about pushing yourself too hard and it not actually being good for the body, and I find that really interesting—how do we achieve balance as we strive to grow?
That is the question, isn’t it? I think that the key is learning to stay present, in order to know what my body needs in each moment. Some days I feel strong and I am able to push pretty hard, and other days I just need to relax. I can’t assume that every day I will be strong, or every day I will be weak- so I have to listen to my body so that I can practice accordingly. The same is true in life I suppose.

What is some advice for people who have no idea how to get started in yoga? And for people who love cardio and the go-go-go of fitness, how can yoga fit into their exercise regimens?
I usually say that the best way to learn about yoga is to try local classes. Especially in the beginning, because it’s important to learn from a teacher who can see your body and make sure that you are doing the movements correctly.

I know this is hard, because many people are self-conscious when starting something new (especially something like yoga), but finding a beginner’s class is a great place to start. Also, don’t be afraid to shop around.

Not every style or teacher is right for every person. For the people who love the intense aspect of working out, the most enjoyable class would likely be a power flow vinyasa, for example. But I would encourage them to also seek out more relaxing styles of yoga, as this will bring more balance into their lives—even if the slow pace is hard at first.

Travel is such an eye-opening adventure at times—because we’re out of our comfort zones and learning so many new things. What are some the things you’ve learned about yoga (and the self) while traveling and teaching?
I’ve learned so much from both! Traveling has taught me how to create elements of consistency for myself and my sanity, how to appreciate other cultures and differences, and how to be grateful for everything in my life. To me, all of this is yoga. It is the ultimate practice for dealing with different people and environments, and allowing  myself to move fluidly through it all, without getting stressed or losing myself. I’m still working on it. Teaching has taught me just how much there is left to learn, and that we are all students and teachers in different ways.

What is the most resonant piece of health advice you’ve gotten over the years?
I don’t know who said it first but it goes like this: “Yoga is strong medicine, but a slow medicine.” And I think this is true in many areas of life. It is in our nature to seek quick fixes, but most things take time to change.

This quote reaffirms one piece of health advice that will never get old: Be consistent and loving to yourself over a long period of time, as this is how all things are changed for good.

Why I Never Hide My Plus-Size Body At The Gym

Sweaty and exhausted, my spent body traces the steps back to the gym locker room, where my locker houses all of my post-workout belongings: shampoo, slippers, and a moisturizer. I need a good hot shower after spending 60 minutes running on the treadmill (while watching two episodes of Veep).

I peel Spandex, mesh, socks, and underwear away from my body to free my skin from the compression, and then I stand there, fully naked. I stay naked as I traipse to the shower, back to my locker, and while I apply my makeup and blow-dry my hair. I don’t put my clothes back on until I’m ready to leave.

I do this on purpose.

Leaving my clothes as the absolute last step in my get-ready process is a choice I’ve made because I’m a plus-size woman—and plus-size women often do not get the visibility or representation we deserve.

In order to be represented in a way that allows me to be seen as a three-dimensional person (and not the so-called sexless, unattractive, lazy, fat friend), I have to make myself available and vulnerable in the spaces where my body is often not seen. So, I am taking it upon myself to be a walking statement that says my body is perfectly normal.  

Plus-size women often do not get the visibility or representation we deserve.

Body positivity has made its way across social media in the past few years, but we still need to expand our scope of #BodyGoals to include all different kinds of bodies—and their bellies, hips, chests, legs, arms, and thighs. Championing all kinds of bodies allows our brains to recognize and get used to the fact that there is actually more than once acceptable look out there—which you can see when you see me stripping down alongside everyone else in a locker room. It’s like exposure therapy for the masses.

Related: My Size 18 Body Doesn’t Mean I’m Unhealthy

Have you ever encountered a trend that you weren’t really fond of (hello, everything from the ’90s), but over time grew to accept (or even love) because you saw it so often? That is the basic tenant of exposure therapy—expose yourself to something that makes you wildly uncomfortable and eventually that thing becomes normal to you.

Once, I forced myself to wear nothing but sleeveless tops for an entire month just so I could stop hiding my arms behind cardigans during warmer weather. This was one of the best self-care moves I’ve ever done for myself. Basically, expose yourself to all bodies and eventually you’ll start to see their beauty. It’s all about representation.

My body makes people uncomfortable. It jiggles when I run. It has winding curves and a protruding chest and backside. My body can’t just walk into any store and find a perfect fitting pant—because they don’t sell my size. When I sit down my belly sticks out. When I bend over, a soft ripple extends across my sides. When I walk, my chest sways slightly to the rhythm of each step.

I am taking it upon myself to be a walking statement that says my body is perfectly normal.  

But there I am, walking around the gym locker room with the confidence of a woman that’s been told her body has value.

Sometimes I get stares. I wish I was doing something interesting to garner those glances, like jumping up and down or singing at the top of my lunges. Most of the time, I’m just looking for my makeup bag or tying back my hair.

I used to run straight to the bathroom to change the very moment I turned off the shower. I would try to stretch the far-too small gym towel across my body as though I wasn’t allowed to be seen. A belly roll here, a thigh muscle there—constantly behaving like anyone above size 14 had a secret they had to keep under the towel. Everyone else got to gracefully take their time in the nude while checking their phones at their lockers while I found a bathroom to get ready in.

The moment I stopped hiding was the moment I saw another woman in the locker room with a similar body type to mine doing the same thing I was doing: She was gathering all of her belongings and heading to an open stall to change. It was like a silent, common understanding that we should be hiding.

too good not to share 👀 #bodysuit via @forever21plus

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But after seeing that woman hide, I couldn’t abide any longer. Despite what people have been told, my body is a gym body—and it’s important for it to be seen as such so that we continue to recognize all bodies across all spaces.

The lack of plus-size bodies represented in general (movies, ads, fashion, fitness) gives me the extra push I need to make sure my body is seen in locker rooms or running in public spaces or simply being confident.

Am I changing the world? No. We as a society have much larger issues to tackle—no matter how naked I get. But am I making it a better place so that other people feel comfortable and good about their bodies? Yeah, I am.

And if you are the kind of person who silently judges the bodies of others in a seemingly-safe space, I say to you this: Take a good, long look, because this is my body goal.

How Pregnancy Triggered The Return Of My Old Disordered Eating Habits

In my late teens to early twenties, I suffered from anorexia nervosa. At some point in my mid-twenties, I’d had enough of battling myself and my desire to control my food intake, and forced myself to recover on my own. Success was not linear, and it took a long time to get to the point where I felt okay with my body.

Some years later, I got married. And just this past year, at 30-years-old, I became pregnant with my first child.

At first, the pregnancy felt freeing. I was excited to gain weight for the first time in my life. But during the first trimester I was racked with nausea every morning and ate whatever I could muster to make myself feel better—and those foods were mostly carbs.

Around 28 weeks, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes—in which the body doesn’t make enough insulin in the presence of insulin resistance during pregnancy. It’s standard for every pregnant woman to have a gestational diabetes screening around this time, and I had failed the test.

I hadn’t actually tracked my food intake since my early eating disorder days. I worried that it could trigger some of my old issues, but mostly I felt that I had a handle on it.

With gestational diabetes, you have to tightly control your carbohydrate intake, or it could create complications in pregnancy, such as pre-eclampsia, a potentially dangerous pregnancy complication marked by high blood pressure. So, I began the process of cutting my carbohydrate intake and carefully tracking any starchy foods that I ate in order to keep my blood glucose levels in an optimal range. (Foods that contain carbs usually cause blood glucose levels to rise.)

On top of using a glucometer, which determines the approximate concentration of glucose in the blood, I thought tracking my food on MyFitnessPal might help me keep my diet on track and my carbohydrate intake balanced. I hadn’t actually tracked my food intake since my early eating disorder days, and while I worried that it could trigger some of my old issues, mostly I felt that I had a handle on it and it would be alright.

At first, it was hard. It seemed that anything starchy caused my blood glucose levels to skyrocket, even when I ate these foods with slow-burning proteins (which were supposed to help prevent that from happening). But even foods like beans and sweet potatoes were problematic for me.

Back in my eating disorder days, I used to classify food as “safe” or “unsafe,” and this list usually included sugary foods (“unsafe”) and low-sugar foods (“safe”). So as I tracked my intake, I started feeling the safe-unsafe binary pop up again and I even began to feel guilty if I had so much as a piece of fruit that wasn’t considered low in sugar. I longed for mangos, pineapples, and bananas, but I was stuck eating cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots.

Over a few weeks, I became nervous about literally everything I ate. I eliminated almost anything that had a carbohydrate count higher than 10 grams, and this bled into worrying about weight gain, which I knew was absolutely necessary during pregnancy. However, it became a double-edged sword— if I gained too much, would I then also be hurting my unborn child?

Teeth-grinding, moodiness, and fatigue gripped me—I knew these were all related to how I was eating, and not just from the surge of pregnancy hormones. I obsessed over which foods to eat and when, rather than following the natural hunger cues of my body. And I lost sleep at night planning out what to eat the next day. I become so tired that I didn’t want to go to the gym, which I knew also helped to regulate blood sugar levels in pregnancy.

Related: How To Get Off The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster

If I became hungry outside of regular mealtime, I’d roll over snack options in my head for at least an hour before considering something that felt both low sugar and low calorie enough to consume.

Additionally, I was spending so much time calculating my food intake on the app during dinner time with my spouse—and this only took away from the time we had to spend together. My spouse remarked on how much I was on my phone, and that’s when I finally realized I was becoming obsessive over my food.

I had initially thought that tracking my carbohydrates in My Fitness Pal—along with using the glucometer to measure my blood sugar levels after meals—would help me stay organized and help me to figure out which foods would be best in order to stay healthy during my pregnancy, but what I was really doing was turning to old bad habits, like counting calories.

This was confirmed when I looked my eating history on the app: I saw that my calorie consumption was slowly dropping. And although I did need to track my starches (a.k.a. complex carbs, like pastas and breads and even fruits), I didn’t have to be so strict about it. As long as my blood sugar levels were in an optimal range based on the glucometer, tracking these foods to the gram or calorie was not necessary. I needed to eat more in general.

Affirmations like “This food is nourishing my baby” and “Your pregnant body looks fascinating and beautiful” really helped.

Following my natural hunger cues was a process I had to learn the first time I recovered from my eating disorder, and it was necessary more than ever during my pregnancy. Instead of attempting to suppress my desire to eat sweet foods, I allowed myself to indulge in decadent high fat, low-carb foods like cheese, nut butters, avocados, and rich cuts of meat.

I let myself eat until I was full, and spent a lot of time mentally reaffirming that this was for my child. I had to put my own feelings aside, stop counting calories, and think about the future. My doctor recommended combining starchier foods with proteins to allow for those starchier carbohydrates to burn off more slowly, and that helped, as well.

Related: Shop prenatal vitamins for you and baby’s health. 

In the end, I had to stop tracking my food, for the sake of my sanity—and for the sake of my unborn child. I deleted the app from my phone and worked on positive self-talk about food and my weight.

Affirmations like “This food is nourishing my baby” and “Your pregnant body looks fascinating and beautiful” really helped. My husband also gave me a lot of reassuring comments about how much he loved my pregnant body. After a few days, I felt like I could breathe again.

I marveled at the roundness of my belly, imagined what my daughter looked like inside there, and began to enjoy my body for what it could do.

6 Life-Changing Things I Learned When I Started Working Out Regularly

Confession: Before I started working out, I was confused by people who willingly woke up early and went straight to the gym. My god, I thought, that sounds terrible.

I truly thought most gym-goers were shallow and superficial. Scrolling through my Instagram feed only cemented my ideas: People lauding body “transformations” hinged on nearly-disorded eating. They bought into the idea of “bikini bodies” sold by the Dalai Lamas of fitstagram. And they paid a premium for cultish studio classes where competition mattered more than health. I wanted no part of it.

You get the point. I was all vitriol—as judgmental as the people I deemed judgmental. My mind was filled with tropes and stereotypes. Now, the reality is that while there are some damaging ideas proliferated by the wellness industry, there’s also a LOT of awesomeness out there. Take it from me, because I’m now one of those people who wakes up at 7 a.m. to work out.

Three months ago I had high cholesterol and blood pressure, I was overweight, and I was uncomfortable. I have arthritis and the extra weight was putting a lot of pressure on my joints. I needed to get fit.

I am by no means a fitness expert after a few months, but here’s what I learned when I started working out regularly (four-five times per week, every week).

1. Don’t let aesthetics guide your workout.

Obviously there is an aesthetic component to any fitness regimen, but obsessing on the inches and numbers will only drive you crazy. (A watched pot never boils, and all that.) We all want to look our best, but letting looks lead you entirely probably won’t get you anywhere but stuck in an obsessive rut. You’ll definitely want to hop on the scale every day, clinging to some iota of physical progress—I get it. But don’t.

If you work out with discipline and regularity—without checking the scale every day—you will eventually start to feel and see the changes. The number one most important thing I realized is that change happens when you’re not looking for it, so enjoy the process. Work out because it does good things for your mind and body, and know that you’re buying yourself years of better health. Your midsection will follow suit (and if it doesn’t, it’s OK; the way we feel is key).

2. Exercise changes your psyche.

Flat abs and the ability to wear cute yoga pants are fine goals, okay? They’re totally FINE. But the real benefit to working out is found in its transformative effects to your psyche—your relationship to yourself, your mood, and the way you move through the world. Going from feeling tired, lazy, overwhelmed, and out of touch with my body to feeling confident, strong, energized, and self-loving was a major emotional process for me. It may sound woo-woo (I totally recognize my soap box here, but I’m on it because I want others to be happy), but this transformative process is so much more intense than I ever imagined.

I’m talking life-changing. These days, I’ve got toned legs, strong arms, and killer endurance, but I’ve also got a sense of self-sufficiency and pride. This colors the way I approach the world. I feel capable, in-touch, and totally alive. I give thanks to all those wonderful little endorphins that flood my system when I work out.

Related: Shop protein to amp up your workouts.

You can have the good feels, too. According to the British Journal of Pharmacology, exercise creates its own kind of euphoria—it elevates endorphins (happiness chemicals), stabilizes your mood, favorably influences cognitive functions, facilitates recovery from depression, and mitigates psychological stress. I can vouch for each and every one of these benefits (and remember—I was the exercise-hating curmudgeon).

3. You might not lose weight.

When I started working out, I dropped 10 pounds within a month. I thought, success! (My doctor had recommended I lose about 15 pounds to be in a healthier range.) But guess what? I checked my weight a week or so later—without having changed my eating or workout routine—and it had gone up a bit.

Newsflash: Unless you’re working with a medical professional, nutritionist, or fitness coach on a major body transformation (where, say, your goal is to lose a great deal of weight), your weight fluctuations may elude you. Water, sodium, and whether or not you’ve gone to the bathroom—all of these might change your weight from day to day or hour to hour.

Related: Why You’re Losing Inches But Gaining Weight

I went from wearing a size 12 to wearing an 8, but my weight hasn’t changed all that much. What gives? I lost some body fat but mostly I increased lean muscle tissue. It’s not that muscle weighs less or more than fat (it doesn’t, a pound is a pound)—it’s that muscle takes up less space. Muscle is more compact and tight, and (bonus!) it’s more metabolically active (which means having more muscle helps you burn more calories and feel more energized). In short, don’t let your weight guide you.

That’s also why BMI isn’t everything. According to the World Health Organization, a normal or ‘healthy’ BMI would fall between 18.5-24.99, an overweight BMI would be between 25-29.99, and an obese BMI would be anything 30 and above. But your BMI doesn’t count muscle, bbone mass or other metabolic factors.

In short, numbers around weight and fat aren’t everything. When you’re exercising and eating healthy, checking your blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin resistance levels is probably more effective a marker for your success. Your progress is so much more than a number.

4. Fitness can be super-expensive—or super-cheap. Whatever gets you going is what matters.

I used to think it was ridiculous for people to spend hundreds of dollars at fancy boutique studios. It felt excessive, especially when running is free. Why go for pricey gyms when low-cost alternatives like Blink exist? Well, it’s personal (and obviously contingent upon your finances). I decided that I didn’t love the grunt-y, smelly, dude-bro-filled gym, and that I loathed everything about running. To top it off, I wasn’t disciplined enough to do HIIT routines on my own in my house. (And when you hate a workout, it’s really hard to motivate yourself to do it.)

However, I did fall in love with swimming and aqua cycling—both of which were expensive to a stupid degree. But I decided, since the water got me moving, that I’d budget for it. And I’m glad I did.

All day mermaiding 🌊water is transformative from the inside out.

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On the flipside, I do the occasional Blogilates routine at home, for free. Basically, whatever gets you moving is key—and free YouTube videos absolutely have the ability to get you in shape. You have to find the workout that works for you; sometimes that requires challenging sacrifices—and a little money management. But again, the Internet offers a treasure trove of free workouts.

I think of it this way: It’s definitely a privilege worth recognizing, but spending a little more now may help me save money later on when I might be knee-deep in medical bills due to health negligence.

5. Promoting body positivity is SO important.

Fitness is an incredibly loaded topic, and the people around you in the gym or in the pool are each on their own journey. When I felt down on myself, weak, and overwhelmed, I surrounded myself with people and instructors who made me feel good.

It’s a challenge, but don’t talk badly about yourself or others—at the gym or outside it. I’ve overheard people say things like, “I hate my body” or ” she’s fat.” These comments (and they happen a lot) only serve to greenlight self-hate and judgement. Fitness and healthfulness is a process—at times an emotional one—and treating yourself and others with respect is key.

Make space for all bodies and fitness levels and never beat yourself up. If you hear people making fun of someone at the gym, or if you think an instructor is guilty of inappropriate behavior, don’t stay quiet. Finding gratitude is key, too. Some people with disabilities don’t have the option to work out, while others may find the gym intolerable due to chronic illnesses.

6. One day you will magically become more powerful than you think.

I remember my first week at Aqua Studio, a studio that lets you cycle in water AKA oh-my-god-this-burns. It’s intense—the water provides tons of resistance and really ups the ante. On the bike, there are two standing positions—with my butt hovering just over the seat I felt like I would actually just explode. I couldn’t do it, I thought. Lactic Acid became my mortal enemy, and I was convinced that I wasn’t strong enough! So I sat down. And then I’d stand up for a few seconds before sitting down again. I gripped the bike like I was falling down into the depths of hell, and my breathing sounded like a medical emergency.

Then one day I did it. I didn’t sit down. I stayed up. My posture was tight and strong. And I killed it. But this happens—it takes time and work—without you even noticing. Enjoy the process, whether that means you need to take several breaks or not. There’s no speed you need to meet, no one you need to compete with, and nothing more important than your happiness.

I Got Naked In -250 Degrees—All In The Name Of Health

Plenty of people suffer from inflammation, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that whole-body cryotherapy—submersion of one’s entire body (except for the head) in freezing liquid nitrogen mist—is gaining traction for athletes and non-athletes alike.

I’ve got arthritis and capsulitis (extreme swelling of the joint capsules) in both of my feet. I’ve been icing multiple times a day for months, which means I submerge my feet in ice water and then pull them out to encourage a rush of oxygenated blood to the areas that need to heal. When a friend mentioned how much cryotherapy has helped her painful knees, I decided to give it a go. After all, my feet were used to the icy cold.

Related: I Tried Oil Pulling For Two Weeks—Here’s What It’s Like

My appointment took place on a hot and humid day in late June. Sweat dripped down my temples as I got in the car. I kept telling myself the cold would be welcome on a summer day. Little did I know just how cold it would actually get.

The concept of harnessing the healing powers of the cold dates back to ancient Egypt. Starting from the 1700s, doctors used hydrotherapy and cryotherapy for all sorts of treatments, from migraines to surgery.

After I checked in, the cryo-operator had me pick out neoprene mittens and booties, similar to those I wore while scuba diving in Iceland (also super-cold). Then he showed me into a small changing room where I would step into a robe.

“Be sure to dry off completely,” the operator warned. “You don’t want any moisture on you.” I suddenly worried about whether my armpits were damp or if sweat still clung to the hair at the nape of my neck. I dabbed at these parts with my towel. Moisture freezes, so you want to avoid that.

“Do you have any piercings?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Ears, nose, and belly button.”

“Ears and nose are fine,” he said, “but you’ll want to cover up the belly button piercing with this.” He handed me a roll of masking tape. I found myself wondering just how cold the metal in my belly could possibly get and how helpful the tape would even be.

I stripped down to my underwear and put on the robe, booties, and mittens. Then I approached the chamber and a massive nitrogen tank. The chamber looked like how you’d imagine a shower stall on an airplane—neck-high and barely big enough to move inside.

Related: Shop joint health products to stay feeling your best.

After he shut me in the chamber (my head stuck out the top, which is good for people who are claustrophobic), I handed the man my robe. He stood outside of the chamber to control the settings. At first it felt strange to have him in the room—I was naked except for my underwear and the neoprene, after all. But it was helpful to talk to him during the process. He told me he uses cryotherapy every day and loves it.

I told him I was ready—and then he opened the valve of the tank. Liquid nitrogen mist whooshed in and filled the chamber. For a few seconds an instinctive fear-like reaction kicked in, like being in a room suddenly filling with smoke. But with my head over the edge of the stall I could breathe just fine. It actually all looked pretty cool, like I was standing in the middle of dry ice.

It works like this: Cryotherapy cools down the patient’s skin by exposing it to -160 to -250F liquid nitrogen mist for two-five minutes, typically. When the skin comes into contact with such cold, it sends messages to the brain to initiate survival mode, pulling blood from the extremities to the body’s center, where it gets oxygen and other nutrients. (FYI: Frostbite affects the hands and feet first, so this is why patients wear mittens and booties in the chamber.)

When patients step out of the chamber, the newly-fortified blood rushes through the body, which is good for the organs, cells, and skin. Oh, and the process also sends the body’s metabolism into overdrive; each treatment reportedly burns around 500 calories.

Cryotherapy cools down the patient’s skin by exposing it to -160 to -250F liquid nitrogen mist for two-five minutes, typically. When the skin comes into contact with such cold, it sends messages to the brain to initiate survival mode.

But it’s hard to think about calories or the benefits when you’re in the chamber. The cold is shocking, and I had goosebumps immediately. The man had me turn in slow circles and said I could cross my hands over my chest if I needed extra warmth. I managed to keep my hands at my sides for the entire three minutes, and couldn’t talk for the last minute or so because my teeth were chattering. And then I was done. The man closed the valve, opened the door, and just like that, the mist evaporated and I stepped out. I was back on the road inside of 15 minutes.

The concept of harnessing the healing powers of the cold dates back to ancient Egypt. Starting from the 1700s, doctors used hydrotherapy and cryotherapy for all sorts of treatments, from migraines to surgery. Treatments using cold progressed from water and ice to solidified carbon dioxide to liquid oxygen and finally to liquid nitrogen in the 1950s, which was used to kill cancer cells on contact. Cryotherapy is also used to freeze off warts!

In the late 1970s, a doctor in Japan developed whole-body cryotherapy to mitigate the pain and inflammation of rheumatic diseases. Today, it’s widely used for post-game recovery by athletes. Even day spas are offering the treatment to boost skin regeneration and metabolism. As cryotherapy becomes more accessible, people are using it for everything from anxiety to weight loss to decreasing the pain associated with Crohn’s disease.

It’s hard to determine whether cryotherapy will decrease my inflammation or help me manage my pain—I should go more regularly for a few weeks to assess that. The issue? Cryotherapy is a bit pricey (lots of places charge about $75 a pop per session) and not terribly convenient, since the nearest cryo-center is about 40 minutes away.

People with certain health conditions, like deep vein thrombosis or cancer, can’t use cryotherapy. There’s a list of them here.

My results? My feet didn’t actively hurt that day, and I felt a major rush of endorphins. The exhilaration I felt afterward left me whistling while driving home in my car. Oh, and it didn’t hurt that my cheeks were rosy red all day long, either.

How I Finally Forced Out The Negative Thoughts And Got Happy & Healthy

I used to be best friends with the negative voice inside my head—a voice so normal to me that I never questioned it.

It would say things like:

Are you really wearing that outfit?
You’re. Not. Good. Enough.
Please. He’ll never talk to you.
I bet you can’t do that.
Of course she ran a marathon. You won’t.

Harping on what made me feel sad or discouraged became a vicious cycle. I was hyper-aware of what I was not and what I did not have. I could articulate these things, but I didn’t do much to change my life beyond that.

poet in vacation mode. 🌷

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The spiral of negativity never let me do anything. It held me back. It helped me not apply for jobs I was more than qualified for. It helped me linger in an abusive relationship. It helped me not take care of myself. You see where I’m going here?

Related: Shop vits and supps for mood support. 

Basically, this attitude saturated my life. Everything was washed in a grey stain. My friends had negative sides—and we’d link up and look at everything with a dark tinge. Instead of being happy for other people, I just focused on my own loss or lack of achievements. I was often jealous of others. Essentially, I was on the fast track to nowhere.

Then one day, I started to daydream. I imagined myself happier, more successful, at peace. I found myself wondering: If I spent less time feeling bitter, then could I do other things? Like, say, get a book published? Take up running? Approach a potential new friend after a Pilates class? Feel more confident?

They all seemed like lofty ideas. Yeah right, Stephanie, that’ll never happen. Just stay here, where it’s comfortable.

Then, I snapped. I finally realized I wasn’t accomplishing much (or anything) with this kind of thinking. In fact, most experiences and interactions seemed smudged with negativity and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like looking at the world, my life, or other people that way.

This is not to say that I didn’t have happy or feel-good moments. I did, but they weren’t plentiful–because I was hell-bent on manifesting a life full of no’s.

Related: Mindfulness Tips From A Former Stress Junkie

I needed a change stat. I took stock of the things that I was experiencing: poor body image, inconsistent sleep, low energy, irritability. Honestly, who wants to feel like that all the time?

I wanted to see the light in situations and my life as a whole.

It started by making a pledge to myself to stop seeing myself as weak. If I wanted feel better, I had to be better. And letting go of negativity helped me start a life journey full of health and wellness.

High heels off, I'm feeling alive 🦄

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Not all of this change happened over night. It took a few years. And I sometimes still struggle with it. But, looking back, I’ve accomplished so much more: I went from being inactive to being a HIIT workout warrior, a runner who completed my first timed 5k (!), a meditation enthusiast, and positive force in my own life and in the lives of my nearest and dearest friends and loved ones.

How did I get here? Here’s my tool-kit for wellness, fitness, and contentment. You can modify my ideas to fit your needs and take from this list what you want and need. You’re worth it and so am I.

1. Recognize your feelings and then let them go.

Being human is awesome because that means we have a myriad of experiences, emotions, and deep connections. Yeah, it can also be tough, bleak, and crushing. You are allowed to feel angry, jealous, jaded, mad, and upset. These are all valid feelings. Talk about it with a friend, a coach, a trusted mentor, or journal them out.

Then, release them. You said your piece. Now move on. Whatever your situation may be, there might be one, two, or three things you can do to change it or cope with it better. Start moving.

2. Let go again and again.

Yeah, you’re going to still feel negativity. You are human, after all!  Practice the art of letting go again and again. How can you cope? Distract yourself. Call a friend. Go for a run. Try a workout video in the comfort and privacy of your own home (I’m partial to Yoga with Adriene–she’s super zen and fun!). Meditate. Journal. Watch a movie. Develop a self-care plan. There’s so much more that you can do.

3. Get physical.

In my case, my negativity fueled my desire to avoid taking risks. Working out was too risky because I was convinced I would for sure, 100 percent, fail at it. And I did fail for a long, long time. This is because I already not-so-secretly decided that I wasn’t a “fitness person” (whatever that means). So essentially, I made a prophecy and I fulfilled it tenfold because I consciously and subconsciously told myself that I just could not do it.

Well, change it up! I dove deep into HIIT, Crossfit, and running. I didn’t do them all at the same time, but I did explore each of them at my own pace. And my life certainly changed for the better with these mega awesome fitness journeys. I convinced myself that I could never be a runner. Now, in 2017, I ran my first timed 5k.

Related: How HIIT Classes Rebuilt My Self-Confidence

I was so happy when I crossed the finish line that I burst into streams of tears. I accomplished a three-mile run in just 32 minutes. The joy I felt after finishing my first run was priceless. And now, I want to recreate that joy again and again. I try to do so by accessing a support network of other people who care about these things and will maybe take a fitness class or go for a run with me.

4. Be present.

My go-to trick? Meditation. It helps relax me and feel at peace. And, it’s a great way to zone out when my brain is constantly barking about something negative or self-deprecating. I like to re-center myself and keep my mind healthy (because our minds and feelings are some of the most precious things in this world).

There are dozens of amazing meditation apps like Calm, Breathe, and Happify. I suggest starting with a low-key and relaxing bedtime routine and test the waters with a two-minute meditation before bed. Start easy, go at your own pace, and go from there.

Related: It’s Time To Stop Being So Scared of Meditation

5. Begin each day with a quick gratitude session

I write down three things I’m happy or grateful for. (For starters, I have an amazing little pup named Pepperoni Pizza, so it’s hard not to start my day with a sweet smile or laugh.) Beyond that, I smile at strangers. I approach people I want to know. I make sure to laugh a lot and often.

It took a huge battle to shake off negative feelings of feeling weak and lazy. Once I was over the hump, the world opened up for me: I left an abusive partner, I published a second book, I succeeded at a new job at a tech company. I slept better.

It felt like magic, or that the universe was conspiring in my favor. In fact, it was just me.

I Became A Fitness Instructor At 44

I’m in the front of the studio, surrounded by full-length mirrors, racks of weights, and stacks of steps. Loud dance music plays through my iPad, a microphone is strapped to my head, and there are 15 people waiting for me to tell them what to do.

“Please grab a step, a few medium and light weights, and a mat,” I say into the mic.

A year ago, standing in front of this crowd, saying these words, would have been my worst nightmare. But now, it’s just an ordinary Sunday morning and I’m about to teach my weekly HIIT (high intensity interval training) class.

Related: How Bodybuilding Transformed My Life At Age 42

Sure, I’d attended fitness classes for nearly 25 years, but I never, ever, thought I would teach one. That was for someone else, someone peppy—a dancer or a gymnast who could touch their first toes easily and with grace. I was not that person. I was shy and tall and inflexible. I could barely speak up in a client meeting, and I avoided all forms of public speaking in grad school. Blasting instructions to a room of people staring back at me? No, thanks.

So how’d I become an instructor? I knew that I loved the energy of group fitness. And my gym had such a strong sense of community that I felt like I wanted more. My instructors were friendly and approachable, and after a few months of going to Bootcamp and HIIT, I decided that I wanted to lead a class, and not just participate in one. Really, I wanted to be the one to inspire people to move faster, lift harder, and do one more rep. I wanted to share the joy I felt after a good workout, when I’m sweaty and accomplished and happy.

I had so much holding me back, though: In addition to utterly despising speaking in public, I was in my early 40s with a full-time job and a young daughter.  There was a lot on my plate—but I chose to take a leap of faith and dive in, head first.

I made a last-minute decision to register for my fitness instructor certification, and walked into class after studying for just three days (others had prepared for months). I took copious notes, paid close attention to choreography tips, and walked out with a 93 percent passing grade.

So, at that point I was certified—but was I actually qualified? There’s definitely a difference.

I wanted to be the one to inspire people to move faster, lift harder, and do one more rep. I wanted to share the joy I felt after a good workout, when I’m sweaty and accomplished and happy.

I continued to attend classes and I got to know a couple of the other instructors more personally. When I told one of them I had passed my certification, she encouraged me to interview at the gym. It took me 18 months to build up to it, but I did.

Related: I Biked Under Water For 30 Days—And Here’s What Happened

When I showed up to interview (more like audition), panic set in:I can’t do this. I’m too old to teach. I’m too quiet to teach. I’m not flexible enough to teach.

Seven minutes into my audition, they cut me short and told me they’d be in touch. My panic turned to heartbreak.

I was too old, too quiet, too everything. However, six months later I got an email from the place I interviewed: “We have a HIIT/CORE opening on Sunday mornings, would you like to teach it?”

Cue the panic, yet again.

What had I just done? The worries flooded through me: I’m too busy to teach, too scared to teach, too inexperienced to teach.

I needed to quell these worries so I began co-teaching with another instructor as practice. I was a total wreck. I let her do the talking, while I quietly worked out next to her. She said I did fine, that I’d be fine.

I wasn’t convinced.

Regardless, I was going to be teaching the class and I needed a class plan. I wrote one up and went down to my basement each evening to rehearse. I played music on my iPad and had a timer on my phone. I practiced the movements again and again until I felt I could get it right in front of the class.

Teaching classes has changed me. I’m more confident at work. I approach my boss with concerns or issues. I request more client meetings. And I put myself out there for other opportunities, both at work and in life.

The Saturday night before my first class I fell asleep going over the routine in my mind. That Sunday morning, I went to the basement to rehearse one more time. I had my plan and my devices were charged. I paced around my house, nervous and unsettled, until it was time to leave for the gym. I arrived well before class started and snuck into the studio the moment the preceding Zumba class was over.

With the music on and the microphone working, I set up my mat and weights. Then it began; the door opened and the class members trickled in. One woman approached me and told me it was her first time doing HIIT. I laughed nervously and said, “That’s okay. It’s my first time teaching HIIT!”

She still took my class, and I still taught it. I didn’t fall and I didn’t fail. And every single person left sweaty and happy.

Teaching classes has changed me. I’m more confident at work. I ask what needs to be asked. I approach my boss with concerns or issues. I request more client meetings. And I put myself out there for other opportunities, both at work and in life. I even volunteer more often at my daughter’s school and within the community.

Because I’m not too old, or too quiet, or too boring.

I still get nervous on Sunday mornings and I still plan the class days in advance. I worry that the music or microphone won’t work. But the moment the class starts I find that I just become… myself.

Related: Shop protein powders, bars, and supplements to fuel your next workout. 

How HIIT Classes Rebuilt My Self-Confidence

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with fitness. As a teenager, I pretty much went out of my way to do anything but exercise.

Throughout college and grad school, I continued the tumultuous relationship with working out. I fasted, I yo-yo dieted, I ran for two miles every day for a week—only to drop off for months at a time. I consistently felt like a failure, and I was discouraged. I didn’t like the person I saw in the mirror. And, I didn’t like the person inside—sluggish, racked with low-self-esteem, and disappointment.

Related: I Biked Under Water For 30 Days—And Here’s What Happened

I failed every workout and healthy eating routine every single time. Why? Because I had subconsciously decided that I couldn’t do it. That I wasn’t good enough. I wouldn’t be able to finish the workout. I self-sabotaged and succeeded in failure each and every time. I was caught in a cycle of never being strong enough, pretty enough, good enough, smart enough.

Then, I hit a wall. I was tired of feeling tired. I was tired of telling myself that I just didn’t have the knack for this kind of lifestyle or a new sport. It was time to reset my life’s settings for my physical health and mental well-being.

I didn’t need to remind myself of the major advantages to working out: cardio health, better sleep, less stress, better cognitive function, and stronger memory. I knew these were all things I should want from working out—on top of a better physique.

I failed every workout or healthy eating routine every single time. Why? Because I had subconsciously decided that I couldn’t do it.

But I needed a workout that was exciting, a little challenging, and something new. So when an exercise buddy told me about HIIT—high intensity interval training—I was intrigued. HIIT is a series of cardio and strength moves which alternate between high-intensity and low-intensity. For example, you might have 30 seconds of burpees (killer!) and then 60 seconds of kettle bells.

High intensity interval training. It’s short phrase that packs a big, daunting punch. Could I do it? Did I want to? Yes, I could and I did! I gulped and pulled the trigger with my debit card: I signed up for a ten pack of HIIT classes.

I didn’t know it then, but my self-confidence would be the biggest gift I’d give myself.

My First Class

The HIIT studio (I went to Athleta’s studio in NYC) was minimal and clean: all you need is a yoga mat, some small weights (I chose 5 lbs), and water—um, lots of water. You will get super thirsty as you zip and zag from one rep to the next. Take advantage of the floor-to-ceiling mirrors in your local spots: You’ll want to focus on your form with each movement. Usually, I avoid watching myself in the mirrors (low self-esteem, yay!) but this time I just focused on what my body was doing and it was doing a whole lot.

My first HIIT class was on a Saturday morning (yep, I signed up for a 9 a.m. torture sesh), and I was prepared to hate it. But I knew the drill: running around, panting, red skin, a chest burning with fire. I’ll be honest: the first class (even the first three!) weren’t the easiest. I didn’t fly through all of the moves with ease and grace. I had to take my time and study my form in the mirror. I definitely did not cycle through 25 burpees in under a minute.

Related: Shop protein bars to fuel your next workout session.

And then, something unexpected happened right in the middle. I fell in love with my HIIT class. I loved the high energy, the racing music, and the constantly-shifting exercises. I wasn’t bored by repetitive movement (because there’s none of that!) and I was using all the different parts of my body.

Time whizzed by. I did have some low points in the class: feeling winded because of asthma and not being able to do all of the moves. It was actually a life-changing experience. I tried to take on as much as my body could handle without feeling light-headed or completely out of breath.

Instead, I felt strong as I moved through crunches, squats, stretches, starfish jumps, and kettle bell lifts. I felt a sense of pride when my instructor said my squat form was “ah-mazing.” That was me, I did it. And just me alone. Oh, and did I mention that workouts like this HIIT class can burn up to 700 calories? It’s no joke.

I fell in love with my HIIT class. I loved the high energy, the racing music, and the constantly-shifting exercises.

I left the class a smiling, sweaty mess. I did it—I beat my own odds and I felt completely fabulous. I was so convinced that I’d drop out of the class early or stop frequently to take breaks and I didn’t do any of that. I stayed true to the workout course and saw it through. Then, my body showed me what it’s really capable of.

I can do all of that and more. I’m a workout warrior now.

Beyond My First Class

I’ve been working out with HIIT for over 60 days now (!). I certainly feel a little trimmer and my overall stress is reduced. Oh, and I fall asleep in a mere minute at night. But my self-confidence regarding my own body and my self of personal strength and power is what really motivates me —and what changed my life. I now look at my body with a sense of pride. I don’t look dramatically different, but I’m stronger and faster. I love myself and what I can do.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

Instead of looking at my life and my body as a series of cant’s, I look at myself as a vessel for opportunity. I can be a badass. I can change my life with just a simple workout. I’m ready to keep on my HIIT journey like a real champion.

Who knows—maybe I’ll break into weight-lifting, too! I’ll see you at the next gym class, fellow warriors. I did it, and you can too.

I Lost My Belly Fat By Addressing The Core Issue: Stress

Stress, for me, has always triggered overeating. And when my metabolism took a drastic dip in my twenties, all of my weight gain went straight to my belly. I knew that if I kept up this lifestyle of living on stress and cheeseburgers, I was going to be in terrible health by 40.

Stress and belly fat are a potent pair: It has long been believed that cortisol, a hormone which our body releases in response to stress, plays a role in fat accumulation around our midsections. According to one 1994 study by the Department of Psychology at Yale University, people with a high waist to hip ratio had higher cortisol levels when exposed to stress. These people also reported having no coping mechanism in place to deal with the stress.

I’m in my thirties now, and I recently got engaged, so I’m embracing adulthood and the future it will bring. I want to be healthy and not burnt out in my later years. I want to enjoy them. Sure, I miraculously still have my hair, but the belly fat is there too. Well, it was, up until recently.

Related: The Truth About Belly Fat

People gain weight for different reasons (their macros are off, they don’t sleep enough, they don’t work out properly, etc.), so I can’t say what will work for everyone. But what worked for me—on top of dieting (I love the keto diet) and exercise—was making sure I did daily activities that centered me.

I think of my body as a computer. Stress is the pop-up ad or the malware on the hard drive. What I need to do is find ways to boot myself up so stress doesn’t crash my system.

What worked for me—on top of dieting and exercise—was making sure I did daily activities that centered me.

I was one of those people. Throughout my life, I’d gotten used to feeling stress when I’d first wake up. I’d be groggy and anxious and I’d carry it throughout the day. Food cravings—and all that cortisol—would be coursing through my body before noon. That would, of course, make me want to eat.

Then I figured out that I needed to boot up correctly—I’d need to get centered and calm during that first hour after waking. I came up with daily routine to help curb the cortisol and create a mindset of mindfulness and calmness.

Right when I roll out of bed I start free writing (or journaling). I get all those panicked, worried, and weird thoughts out of my head and onto the page. It’s an effective morning meditation. I do up to three pages (or more if I am feeling particularly stressed!).

I think of my body as a computer. What I need to do is find ways to boot myself up so stress doesn’t crash my system.

Then, I make my bed and do some actual meditation. I just sit and focus on my breath. Then I eat a healthy, fat-filled breakfast (fat keeps us sated for longer), and lastly I exercise (for the endorphins and the energy boost).

I try not to look at my phone or email while I focus on getting centered for the day. No, I haven’t magically transformed into a morning person, but I have become a morning routine person.

Related: Mindfulness Tips From A Former Stress Junkie

Work issues and personal stressors will never go away, but I can harness a mindful attitude, practice acceptance, and look for solutions instead of stress eating. I remind myself that mistakes will happen and they are not the end of the world. I remind myself that I need to only learn from the mistake. I don’t judge the negative thoughts; I just observe them and let them pass. Let it be and move forward is a mantra that helps me.

I also make sure to do something physical each day that is fun and relaxing. I take a hobby break in the afternoon. I garden and walk nature trails. Getting out in nature always helps me have perspective; being in greenery is like nature’s sedative.

On rainy or cold winter days I’ll play some music and hit a ping-pong ball against the basement wall. What all of these hobbies have in common: me being physical and me being present.

By being aware of your impulses—and choosing constructive outlets—you will begin to walk the path towards a higher quality of life and a lowered stress level.

So what happens when I start stressing late night before bed—when the munchies hit? Some people can do healthy midnight snacks (or easily avoid snacking altogether), but for me it’s not so easy.

Related: Shop natural products for stress and anxiety. 

Just like I practice mindfulness when I wake up, I do the same at night. I use that time to power down properly. I read for pleasure, I watch something for entertainment, and I make an effort to be mindful and not let stressful thoughts rule me. I focus on my breath and just breathe. I let go of the worries and focus on the present, and I prioritize sleeping over worrying.

Sure, keto and exercise have helped me, but so has practicing mindfulness, keeping up my healthy daily habits, and accepting that I will never be free of stress.

I’ve learned that wellness is a mindset. By being aware of your impulses—and choosing constructive outlets—you will begin to walk the path towards a higher quality of life and a lowered stress level. And, bonus points: You will see results in all areas of your life, not just in your stomach.

Big Girl On A Bike: How I Rode My Way To Weight Loss And Confidence

At my annual check-up in 2010, the doctor pointedly told me, “You have high blood pressure and it hasn’t gone down since your last visit.” The last visit was a month earlier, when I’d promised to change my diet and start an exercise routine. I was 32-years-old and running out of excuses.

I came to the follow-up appointment knowing that I had polished off a quart of butter pecan ice cream the night before and begun the day with a big syrupy pile of pancakes. Truthfully, I was surprised he didn’t tell me that I was diabetic. Still, this was worrying.

The doctor told me he’d have to put me on meds—and that I’d need to exercise and eat well this time around.

I’d promised to change my diet and start an exercise routine. I was 32-years-old and running out of excuses.

At that point, my weight had ballooned to 225 pounds (which was much higher than it was during my last pregnancy in 2003, seven years earlier). I was feeling every pound, too—breathing heavily and needing a half-hour of recovery time after carrying laundry up and down the stairs. My knees and ankles ached, and my back was on fire. Everywhere I went, it felt like my heart was going to beat right out of my chest.

I left that appointment frightened, thinking of all those serious blood pressure medicine side effects (like death!) you hear about in commercials. I also ruminated on all the rumors and myths (which I knew weren’t entirely true) I’d heard about blood pressure meds from people I knew:

You get on those pills and never get off. They’re addictive.

My cousin’s uncle’s wife got on blood pressure pills and had to have a liver transplant a month later.

They make you feel like crap.

I knew I was too young for blood pressure medication. I needed to do something about this situation—so, after a tortuous mile-long walk through my neighborhood, where my kids rode along beside me and heckled me for being “soooo sloooow,” I got my big ass on a bike.

I had bought it a few seasons back at a yard sale, and had promptly shoved it to the back of the shed. It was an adult mountain bike with a few gears, and it totally worked once I cleaned off the cobwebs. I got on and pedaled around the yard to try it out.

The seat was a challenge. It was a tad too small for my big hind quarters, so I bought a wider seat and set off for my first ride.

I knew I was too young for blood pressure medication. I needed to do something about this situation.

After one block, my knees ached. I stopped to flex them and started again. Soon, my calves were wailing and tightening and begging me to quit. I rode on, knowing that turning back would mean the bike would go back to the shed and my exercise attempts would end. I didn’t like walking and I knew that nothing else would get me up and out of the house. I also thought about those blood pressure meds and kept pedaling.

Related: Shop protein to fuel your next workout. 

By the time I reached the park about a mile from my house, I was cruising in the wind, feeling pretty good, and barely noticing my aches and pains. Before I knew it, I was farther from the house than I had ever been without a car. I got a little worried about tiring out on the way home, so I turned back. The sun was setting and the air was cooler, but I made it.

Over the next three months, I carved out time to ride every single day that I could, taking my kids along with me. We would drive to the park by the beach with our truck loaded up with bikes and gear. We’d ride the trails that ran throughout the park until the sun had all but set on the horizon. I even rode to the Saturday morning farmer’s market whenever I could, weaving through the crowds of tourists downtown to bring home fresh produce—which, incidentally, helped me improve my eating habits. I became addicted to that late afternoon ride for the rest of the summer.

Before I knew it, I was farther from the house than I had ever been without a car.

And because I was biking all the time, I drank loads of water to stay hydrated. I was drinking so much water that my soda intake had gone down drastically. I also brought portable snacks (like almonds, berries, protein bars, and fruits) to take with me on the bike. These little snacks helped reduce my appetite for junk food, and since eating huge, heavy dinners made riding tedious, I naturally sought out lighter meals.

One day, at the end of the summer, I went shopping. I tried on my usual size 16 pants and found that I was actually a loose-fitting size 14 (almost a 12!). I went home happily with my new duds.

At that point, I had lost 25 pounds. Plus, my blood pressure had come down to a much better range.

Now, seven years later, I’m still a big girl on a bike, but I’m way healthier.