Adapt

In the first weeks of third grade, I taught a science lesson about Living Things. The objective was for students to understand that all living things do many of the same things: grow, reproduce, and adapt to the world around them. We always did a fun activity at the end of the lesson, categorizing Living and Non Living Things from pictures in magazines.

Just a few months ago, I recalled the Living and Non Living Things lesson after a series of camping trips with my family. Sleep doesn’t come easy for me even in the comforts of my own bed, so I hadn’t anticipated sleeping much when we made reservations for our tent camping trips last summer.

The first trip was a single overnight near our home and was as brutal as I expected it to be. The noises of other campers, howling winds, and fears of bears sniffing out my beef jerky midnight snack kept me from finding sleep. I believe I finally fell asleep in the wee hours of the morning and woke up for the day just a few hours later. It was during our second family bonding experience in the tent that I found myself surprisingly adapting to our new sleeping environment. I could hear a calming voice in my head telling me that last time everybody was safe and fine. Everything would be okay if I went to sleep this time, too. And with the help of some sleep aides and my beef jerky snack, I found more and more sleep each time we set up camp throughout the summer.

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What I loved about our camping trips this summer was that we all had to adapt. We had to learn and change the way we live everyday. Without the comforts of home and our modern conveniences, we cooked, played, slept, and ate differently. For us, it was a fun challenge and it reminded me of the science lesson I used to teach. I sadly considered that in all of the years I taught that lesson, I never fully connected to it.  I never took the time to consider myself as a Living Thing, and I pretty much took for granted all of the growing and adapting my human body had done in the 30 something years I’d been on this planet.

It’s only now that my body has adapted to real food and a healthier lifestyle that I can see the power and resilience that human beings have. We were made to live outdoors and do hard work. Our bodies and minds are strong and capable, and we need to be nourished with real food. I can see now how my body broke under poor food choices, excessive stress, and inefficient exercise. All of the concepts of the ancestral health movement that are driving us back to how we should live are forcing us to continue to grow and adapt in new ways.

Many of the health issues that we all seem to face come from adaptations our bodies have made to keep us functioning and alive, but not necessarily thriving and growing. I realize now that my insomnia is a fight or flight response to keep me alive in a state perceived as stressful. Despite my best attempts, I can’t seem to make my life any less stressful, but I can begin to understand how to help my body adapts to the stress.

Just like on the camping trip, I have learned to listen to that inner voice that tells me that everything is going to be okay. It’s a very important voice. It’s often right. It’s my wisdom and intuition that has come from surviving stress and coming out on the other side. I’ve learned that it’s the key to adapting and growing. In the midst of our struggles and brokenness, there’s a system in our bodies and minds that is learning and growing and taking notes on how to do it better next time.

I’ll admit that fear holds me back from this struggle. I won’t workout because I don’t want to be sore. Even though I know that sore muscles make me stronger. I resist turning off the TV and going to bed early to be more rested. Sometimes I even eat foods I know I shouldn’t because I don’t want to be judged because my choices are different. But I’m getting better at embracing the fear and owning the struggle, knowing that these are the choices that force me to adapt toward or away from better health.

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Just last week, I watched Charlotte get an award at school for Self Control. Her teacher told me at her Back-to-School Night that she sees nothing different about Charlotte compared to any other child. Charlotte has completely adapted to living the life of a healthy 5 year old.

She has struggled. And she has learned. We have watched her struggle and learned how to make her better. It’s a been a commitment to learning and growing, knowing that it will never be “fixed” or even “right”. But through it all, her amazing body and mind has changed and grown and developed into a strong and capable child.

It’s empowering to know that we’re all human and we’re all in this together. We are all striving to be strong and capable, and nobody has this all figured out. Our kids are watching us try and fail and then try some more. Charlotte will struggle again. We know that, but what’s different now is that we’re better prepared. I firmly believe that what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger….but only if we are paying attention.

A Labor of Love

Three years ago our older daughter Dana was in her first week of Kindergarten. She was more than prepared and easily adapted to the independence and challenge that a full day of school offered. I vividly remember having no feelings of loss or sadness during that first week, no tears at the drop off for either one of us. Simultaneously wearing my mommy and teacher hats, I celebrated the light feeling of pride and happiness at the child that Dana had become, and tried to ignore some other lingering feelings.

Charlotte was 2 years old at the time. It was about 2 months after she had been diagnosed with sensory dysregulation. We were about 4 months into reducing gluten and grains, yet not fully Paleo. I had already been through a lot since her birth and naively thought we were through the worst of it. She had made huge gains in social interaction but had yet to receive her Autism diagnosis and the spiraling denial for services that would lead to more stress and frustration then I ever imagined.

The light and sunny feelings of Dana’s successful transition to Kinder were clouded by doubt and uncertainty about Charlotte’s school future. I couldn’t safely imagine that Charlotte would be standing in this same spotlight in just three years time. I could easily imagine Dana as a mature and accomplished third grader, but the thought of Charlotte’s anti-social sensory seeking and defiant behavior in a Kindergarten classroom left my chest tight with anxiety. Like a dentist’s child getting a cavity, I couldn’t bear the thought of sending Charlotte into any classroom without doing all I could to help her succeed.

And so it began. I promised myself I would do everything in my power to get her ready for a successful school experience. And if you’ve been reading any part of this blog, you know it’s been a labor of love. At a recent intake interview for ABA (behavioral) services, I gave her history and explained what interventions we’ve done to help Charlotte. It took several minutes to explain all we do to support Charlotte’s growth–the Paleo diet, her school environment, the constant and on-going communication with all adults whom she worked with, her exercise and therapy regime, her supplements, her outside time for sensory input, our plans for her upcoming Summer and final preparations for the start of school. I also explained how we build on what’s working and try to be flexible to change what’s not, how we’ve learned to seek help for problems that are bigger than us, and how we use Charlotte’s health as our compass for direction and assessment. I also briefly mentioned that I’ve had my own stress-related health issues to manage while trying to do all I could for her. And after taking notes, the evaluator sat back and shook her head. She paused and finally said, “You’ve attacked this from all angles. You have left no stone unturned.”

Even now, in the retelling of this story, I am flooded with feelings of relief. Her words lifted the burden from my shoulders that I had placed there three years earlier. I had done everything I set out to do. I wasn’t alone anymore with the pressure to make her all she could be. I was able to remove my blinders and see Charlotte for the amazing child she had become. It was after that interview that I felt a confidence that carried me through the rest of the Summer. When the big day came, Dana, Charlotte, Chad and I proudly walked onto campus knowing she was ready. Our confidence and togetherness defeated any lingering anxiety.

And on this first day of Kindergarten, I cried real tears of joy.

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Live and Learn

The early part of June has traditionally been a happy time for me. In my years as a student and as a teacher, this part of the year has officially launched the end of the laborious school year with an all out sprint into the freedoms of summer.  I often enter this time of year with high hopes for endless lazy summer days–picturing my self relaxed and with a drink in hand, lounging, swimming, and grilling. These images soon fade when I remember that the light feelings around summer are visions of my childhood and that my adult summer actually looks quite different–managing two over-achieving, active kids who need structure and stimulation to feel normal. I learned the valuable lesson of under-scheduling last summer when I naively thought no school and fewer activities meant fun and frolic. Last summer was filled with sleep issues for Charlotte and I, regressions in behavior, and a general boredom and restlessness that created an unsettled household. At the end of last August I wrote T.G.I.Fall.

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This year I vowed to be more prepared. I have said my proper good-byes to what I want summer to be and have embraced the challenge that it currently is–less time for myself, more time keeping the kids busy, the same amount of running around, and warmer weather. The only problem is that I don’t do anything half-ass. I take on more than I can handle, and I don’t feel like I’m prepared unless I’m over prepared. I drive myself a bit crazy trying not to re-live past mistakes. All self-deprecation aside, experiencing regression with a special needs child is painful and traumatic. Progress is what fuels the work we do and often a lack of progress is frustration enough. Regression, particularly in sleep and behavior, is a sharp stick in the eye for reflection on what not to do. It puts me in a constant state of simultaneously planning and reflecting.

I often say that I feel neurotic as I spend one season preparing for the next season. I spent the spring getting the kids ready for summer–camps, therapy schedules, math workbooks, swimming lessons, and family vacations all weaved together in a delicate structure. I’ll spend the summer making sure they have everything they need for the school year, and in the Fall, I’ll be thinking of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays in the New Year. I can safely say that I’m searching for a feeling of security. I want to know that we’re prepared for any surprise or challenge. I’m a planner by nature and this coping skill helps me find a sense of order, but not necessarily a sense of health or peace.

In April of this year, I couldn’t help myself. I began a list of all of things that I thought I could do, not only to avoid Charlotte’s dysregulation during the summer transition, but further support her for the much-anticipated start of Kindergarten in the Fall. It was a daunting and ambitious list of appointments to schedule, supplements to try, and conversations to have. When I went to the recesses of my thoughts and expelled everything I thought would help her, I had to pull back and refocus. There was too much to do and not enough time. And when our plans for the final push of Operation: Kindergarten Readiness were in place, we received word that our medical provider was planning to stop covering Charlotte’s Occupational Therapy due to the tremendous progress she has made. I didn’t process this news well, as dealing with loss at a time of need certainly provokes a fight or flight mentality for me. With tremendous patience and mental effort, I pushed my anxiety aside and advocated for Charlotte at her OT evaluation, carefully explaining that OT was the only service that we had ever received and it was only with a supportive therapist and strong communication that we had been able to move Charlotte this far. I reminded her that we were effectively using OT as a catch-all for many of Charlotte’s issues–sensory issues, low tone, fatigue, and their accompanying behaviors. The reality of moving into a mainstream kindergarten with an Autism diagnosis and no services was not something I would accept.

With much discussion over whether or not the Autism diagnosis was still valid, we were able to reach a compromise to continue her services for 6 more months through the start of Kindergarten. I took a deep breath, gave myself a pat on the back, and continued checking items off of my to-do list. Then life took us a different direction. My purse was stolen out of my car, and Charlotte got a random case of pneumonia in the same week. I also got knocked down with a virus while dealing with auto insurance and the DMV. Thankfully, Charlotte bounced back quickly as I was humbly reminded that good medical care sometimes looks like a chest x-ray and an antibiotic if it makes your child smile again.

After surviving that week and getting back on track to finish the school year, I found myself at a loss. My to-do list overwhelmed me and all of the work I had done to prepare Charlotte was only spiraling into more negative thoughts. I searched for a sense of peace that I had been working so hard to find. When the Kindergarten principal looked me in the eye and said that her school would do whatever it needed to help Charlotte next year, all I could feel was distrust and anxiety–a sandwich of pinching of fears from the past and a bright, blinding light of the unknown toward the future.

And then I had a few days away. No children and two days of nothing-ness that looked like drinks at the swimming pool and a feeling of lightness and ease that I had not felt in some time. It felt like summer used to be. And should be. I wanted to bottle the feeling of light and ease and put it in my carry-on bag. I feared that I would lose it again when I got home, but when I sat in church on Sunday and couldn’t think of anything to pray for, I realized I had made it. I’m not sure how I got there, but I grabbed the elusive feeling of peace that I have been searching for. And then I prayed that it would last. I prayed for a break in the storm and many more light and easy days with my girls.

There are still several things left to do on my list. The summer is upon us as I’m just hours away from retrieving Charlotte from her last days of the safety and routine of preschool. The peace I feel in my heart is knowing that I’ve done all I can. But mostly importantly, it comes from knowing that we’ve learned how to live and learn.

The Great Outdoors

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Back in January, I read The Primal Connection by Mark Sisson and made a commitment to myself to follow the principles for health outlined in the book.  I was most interested in using experiences in nature as a means for improving mental health, particularly mine and Charlotte’s. I was intrigued with the idea that time outdoors could provide the sensory input her body was seeking. It seemed to be the perfect extension of Paleo principles–if eating and moving like our ancestors improved our physical health, then using nature as a tool would appropriately engage our senses, restore a sense of well-being and contentment, and improve our neurological health.

I decided to give it a try based on my past and recent experiences in nature that have confirmed the theory that it is, in fact, calming and anxiety-reducing to “get away from it all”. Each year after our annual hiking and fishing trips to Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra, I return with a renewed spirit and deep sense of gratitude and connection.

When the school year started last Fall, my friend Rachel and I committed to taking long walks or hikes together once per week. Come rain or shine, we have hiked and talked and bonded over the challenges and triumphs of raising a Paleo family. The time outdoors has become uniquely ours and resulted in a deeper level of connection in our friendship.

My most cherished memories as a child come from time outdoors. We spent many family vacations at the beach, and when I now visit as an adult, I fondly remember the taste of sea water in my mouth and the feel of kelp at my ankles and the exhilaration of riding swells into the shore on my boogie board.

As I read Mark’s book, I found myself asking, if experiences in nature seem to nurture positive feelings of gratitude and connection, along with providing strong sensory feedback, why are we not spending more time outdoors?

Over the past few months, I have made more of an effort to get myself and the kids outside, and I’ve learned several things about making this element of our health a true priority.

It works

A few weeks ago, I picked Charlotte up from school on a Wednesday afternoon. Her teachers reported that she was calm and focused all day. I did a quick mental checklist of how much sleep she’d gotten, what she’d eaten, and what we’d done the day before so I make sure to replicate this formula for success many times over. Of course, I wasn’t surprised, remembering our quiet Tuesday afternoon at the beach together. She had happily played in the sand and mild sunshine, slept well that night, and performed well at school the next day. I now pay very close attention to how her outside time relates to better behavior and when questionable behavior may need an intervention in the form of a simple walk around the block or hopscotch in the front yard.

The Primal Connection mentioned that time outdoors spurs creative energy and encourages more independent play, and I didn’t believe it until I saw it. Charlotte has reduced her TV watching and ipad playing to just a few hours a week–completely voluntarily. When returning home from school or therapy, instead of zoning out in front of the screen, she happily gets to work making a craft or coloring a picture, consuming herself in creative thought for long periods of time.

Keep it Simple

I have learned that just like adopting the Paleo diet, this, too is a shift in thinking and takes patience and learning with yourself to find a groove. There have definitely been times over the last few months when I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Some Saturday mornings, I’ll wake up ready to have a fun family day outdoors, only to find that I’m ripe with exhaustion. A quick recap of the week tells the story–cooking, hiking, CrossFit, grocery shopping, beach trips, kids’ activities, and homework leave no energy for new adventures requiring any extra effort. I’ve learned to scale back the expectations of myself and adopt this new aspect of our lifestyle more carefully. I often need to remind myself that our simple outdoor experiences are usually the most successful.

I have learned to consider that it all takes energy to make it work, and it won’t always go smoothly. Over Easter weekend, we visited my in-laws and took a walk on a nature trail that included Charlotte falling off of her bike and melting down, a grumpy old golfer accusing us of trespassing, and a near dog mauling with our dog and another dog off-leash. Needless to say, I wasn’t any more relaxed from our outdoor experience when we returned home. But rather than give up or blame myself on some level, we laughed it off and decided it certainly was a walk to remember.

Letting Go

I’ve found that Charlotte struggles the most with sensory dysregulation when she is not in control of her environment. As she has gotten older, she has learned communication and other coping tools to deal with simple things like sharing with her sister or waiting her turn. However, even in her progress, I can still see her sensory issues come alive in places where she cannot touch or feel or move like she needs to.

Yesterday I took her to a duck pond in our local community and learned an important lesson about environment. I couldn’t bring myself to buy bread to feed to the ducks, so when we arrived empty-handed, I anticipated a brief, twenty-minute excursion with nothing much to do except watch the ducks from afar and walk around the bank. When we arrived, I sensed that Charlotte wanted to be in control. I let go and while I let her guide me around the pond, I observed how her mind and body relaxed in the natural environment. I snapped photos of her as she used her muscles and maneuvered the tree roots and twigs on the banks, how she balanced using the tree’s trunk, and how she calmed when her feet entered the cool pond water. She was relaxed and at peace in a natural setting that had an ebb and flow all its own.

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When she slipped off her shoes to feel the earth on her feet, I kept on eye on the ground just ahead of her watching for broken glass or sharp twigs, but trusting that her senses were appropriately doing the work for her. We watched the turtles swim, listened to the crane’s call, and noted the bright orange color of the duck’s webbed feet. It felt natural and right and so simple.

As we walked to the car, Charlotte was already planning our next trip to the duck pond–this time with Dana, Daddy and his fishing pole, since there were fish in the water. I felt the weightlessness of her tiny hand in mine as we crossed the parking lot–using my senses to grab the moment and become fully aware of the precious time we had just shared.

Mirror, Mirror

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Last month we celebrated Charlotte’s 5th birthday. She hit a milestone number in a whirlwind week. Between traveling with both kids over the winter break and planning her small birthday party over the weekend, I did manage to find some time to reflect on everything that we have been through since her birth. What I concluded is that I am a changed person. I honestly remember very little about my life from before she was born. I can’t even recall what things I thought about, what I did with my time, or even what I ate.

I would have loved to do a full post on how much I’ve grown and learned since she was born. How the challenges of managing her health issues and my health issues simultaneously are often more than I feel like I can handle. How I now understand the depths of unconditional love in a way that I could have never before. How I see the world through a new lens of acceptance and respect. How walking on this path full of the big and little challenges and changes that raising her brings has taught me more about myself than any other experience I am certain I will ever have in my lifetime. I have found a new level of confidence with a self respect and acceptance that I never thought I would find.

But true to form, Charlotte didn’t give me much time to slow down and reflect. She kept me on my toes all week–her enthusiasm and excitement over her birthday bubbling over into overstimulation, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and repetitive behaviors. It certainly posed a challenge to get in a positive and reflective place while she became dysregulated and exhausted in anticipation of the big day.

The hardest part of managing Charlotte’s anxiety is that it is so much like my own. It knows no boundaries. It starts with happy and anticipatory thoughts of an exciting event. Without enough control to predict or prepare for every possible scenario–who is coming, what will my presents be, why can’t my birthday be here already–a spiraling and magnetic energy forms and begins grabbing at any fear or thought that she cannot control. Long buried fears of bumble bees and flies once again resurface and can’t be put to rest with mommy’s explanation that the flies and bees are more scared of you than you are of them. Her thoughts remain unsettled and the questions are unanswered. And so they are asked again and again and again.

Her repetition is a breeding ground for my own buried fears and concerns–for her future, for her relationships and for the challenges that she will continue to face. It’s at this point that my own tornado of self-defeating thoughts and emotions begin to gain momentum.

And at the same time, even the briefest moments of reflection and positive thinking actually pay big dividends. The challenges over the last five years have made me somewhat of an expert in managing my own anxiety. I have learned to painfully dig past the influences and experiences that have created the unhealthy patterns of negative self talk and found a well of acceptance and self worth that only I know how to nurture and protect. Using my own resources as tools for light and hope when the darkest thoughts want to have their way. And while it’s difficult and somewhat painful to have a mirror image of my most annoying patterns of behavior parroting in front of me, it’s comforting to know how to handle it.

It is as simple as telling myself what works for me will work for her and vice versa.

Self Talk

At about 2 years old, when Charlotte was first talking in meaningful sentences, she often repeated the phrases that calmed her. If she saw something that frightened her or if she was feeling upset or dysregualted, she would begin her mantra. “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.” It was an early coping mechanism that served a valuable purpose. Her self talk calmed the anxiety storm that was brewing internally. I’ve used it often myself when I feeling myself getting worked up. A couple of deep breaths and Charlotte’s mantra are a quick fix when either one of us are on the verge of a meltdown.

Back to Basics

In the last post, I mentioned a book called The Primal Connection by Mark Sisson. This book can really be best described as a Primal/Paleo Blueprint for a healthy mind. Mark discusses all of the ways modern society has lead us down a path of anxious and negative thoughts. After reading this book, I began to understand my issues with anxiety not as the shameful character flaw that I always thought them to be, but more of a result of human cognitive abilities gone a bit haywire. Mark discusses how “technology–and the noise, sound, light, and thought pollution it produces-the fight or flight response, our bread and butter throughout evolution, is now one of the most abused mechanisms in the human body.”

All of the seemingly innocent thoughts and fears that Charlotte and I should otherwise dismiss are noisy alarms in our anxious and unsettled minds–sending off signals for fight-or-flight and the accompanying stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, keeping us both awake in the nighttime hours.

Mark beautifully outlines in his book all of the way we can counteract these broken biological messages. Simple pleasures like a walk outside, slowing down the pace of a busy day, or taking a bath are all ways to reset the body and mind naturally. And on a day where the stress hormones are free flowing around these parts, we’ll grab a sweatshirt and head outside. A quick walk or bike ride around the block, some creative time with sidewalk chalk or just digging in the dirt for worms really brings Charlotte back to a place where she can better control the anxious thoughts and behaviors.

Ride it Out

There were obviously days during Charlotte’s birthday week that I wanted to scream in frustration. When several sleepless nights and dysregulated days were taking their toll on my mental state, I stayed above the darkness knowing that This Too Shall Pass. Knowing how you got into an anxious situation is often your quickest ticket out of it. As much as I tried to control all of the behaviors to prevent a spiral for both us, I also knew that it would all be back to normal when the birthday excitement died down.

Sure enough, several weeks have passed and I have found the space to reflect and post on how experiences like these continue to lead us down a path of acceptance. The more we anticipate and understand Charlotte’s needs, then more we are in a place to guide her toward a healthier mind.

And as I think further back, before she was born, maybe there are still some parts of me that have remained unchanged. I was a teacher, and I will always be a teacher. But these days, instead of teaching multiplication and reading comprehension skills, I’m modeling lessons in self care and ultimately the most powerful weapon against anxiety: confidence and self acceptance.

Sleep Is My Sugar

Last week my friend Siiri and I were chatting on the phone while she commuted home at the end of her work day and I drove Dana to her evening ballet class. We chatted about our typical stuff–a lighthearted retelling of the day’s triumphs and frustrations. Nothing was unusual about the conversation until she started talking about how her day took a downturn when she indulged in office snacks coated in sugar and carbs. I sighed an empathetic sigh, knowing too well the effect food has on our bodies and minds. And while I don’t struggle with sugar cravings like Siiri does, I felt a connection to her situation like I hadn’t before.

I listened further, her words matching my own unspoken feelings of frustration and longing. There was a familiarity in how hard it was for her to fight against the messages her body was sending her. I had been waking several times a night over the past few weeks, confused and angrily reaching for sleep aids I didn’t want to take, restlessly moving from the bed to the couch–searching for just the right quiet environment to settle myself into sleep. Nagging questions and fear about why this was happening to me again only intensified the tossing and turning. I would wake up exhausted and defeated–having no plan to make it better, only hope for a better night to come. The sense of peace and gratitude that I work so hard to maintain had slipped through my fingers. And then it struck me. I was so inspired by my revelation that I rudely interrupted her thoughtful monologue and announced, “Sleep is my sugar!”

I covered her confused silence with the explanation that a good night’s sleep for me is currently as desired as the chocolate in her bottom desk drawer. The question I asked her is, “Why is it so hard to do the things we know our bodies need?” She immediately understood my struggle, and not having an answer, we laughed at finding the unexpected common ground of our unique situations–wanting so desperately the things we can’t have.

It got me thinking about all of the support in the Paleo community for those addicted to sugar. Programs like the 21 Day Sugar Detox and the Whole 30 provide a structured format to teach us to listen to the right messages in our bodies. Using a group dynamic as support to walk away from sugary temptations in the office, the pantry, and every street corner, they are powerful programs that change the way people think. While I haven’t personally completed one of these programs yet, the idea seems to be to get people to connect with what their individual body needs, not just what it wants.

In all honesty, I feel a twinge of loneliness and isolation in my struggles with sleep. While these sugar addiction programs seem to be a dime a dozen, those of us with insomnia related adrenal issues must learn to decode the messages of our own bodies with only our own thoughts in the middle of the night.

Until the recent conversation with Siiri served as an epiphany of sorts.The more I thought about it, the more I realized that stress in the form of cortisol is equally as addictive as sugar. Just as Siiri blames her sugar addictions on too many early years of junk food and packaged sweets, so is the bulk of stress and anxiety I’ve been carrying my entire life. I was an anxious child that grew into a tightly wound Type A personality. I can’t undo that.

Since my adrenal collapse in 2008, I’ve learned that the body does have limits and will break.  I need to continue to work hard and reading and understanding the messages that formed unhealthy habits and behaviors.  My body could have responded to the stress of the last five years with a different set of symptoms, but my genetics have unfolded to reveal insomnia as an indicator that the body needs a change. I cringe thinking of the familiar struggles my mom had with sleep and stress while raising my sister and I.

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So how do I change the course of my genetics?  How do I minimize my struggle with stress?  Mark Sisson talks about all of this in his recent book, The Primal Connection. He stresses that we must understand what we need to thrive as human beings. Things like face to face interaction, laughter, sunlight, relaxation, and outdoor sensory experiences are essential to human existence. We live in a world that works against our basic human needs. It makes sense that the nights I take a hot bath, relax with a book instead of TV, and generally slow down in the night hours are nights when sleep comes easier.

It’s so clear now that just like Siiri can expect to feel poorly after eating an office treat, I can expect to sleep poorly if I jump in bed at the end of a stressful day and expect a restful sleep.

Chad and I began a Whole 30 this month to remove treats like corn chips, tortillas, cheese and wine from our diets. I know that this will help both of us in a different ways. He’ll clean up his diet and feel better and sleep better as a result. And while we will be eating many of the same cleaner foods, my experience will look and feel very different. Instead of looking at thoughts and behaviors that lead to poor food choices, I will look at what thoughts and behaviors lead to poor sleep.

I’ll focus on managing my internal cortisol roller coaster–smoothing out the ups and prioritizing the downs. Mark’s book has a wealth of information that I’ve already put to use. We’ve cut back on media for the kids, pushed more outside activity and gotten back to simple things like reading books and listening to music as entertainment. (Stay tuned for another post on how this has helped Charlotte).

It’s as simple as understanding the needs of our bodies and using the appropriate tools to help ourselves succeed. I’m writing this post to encourage myself to fill my days with positive thoughts and behaviors that will lead to good sleep–exercise, nature, light, and gratitude for experiences and friendships that always lead me back to the right path.

 

 

Navigating the Grocery Store

One day last summer I was making myself Sarah Fragoso’s salmon cakes for myself for lunch. Charlotte was paying careful attention, noticing the pink colored salmon flesh (her favorite color) and liking the word “cake” in the name of a lunch item. I was shocked when she asked for a bite and then another bite, and I was overjoyed when she requested them for lunch the next day. It was great timing. I had just about how great omega 3 fatty acids, like the ones found in salmon, are for the brains of individuals with ASDs in the amazing book The Autism Revolution.

Her love of salmon in cake form has not faltered. I pack them chilled in her school lunch a few times per week, drizzled with olive oil and lemon. Her teachers often remark how much she loves them. I shake my head in bewilderment, explaining that it’s like winning a Paleo lottery to have a child that loves such a nutrient dense food.

In an effort to keep her coming back for more and increasing the nutrient density of the food item, I decided to look at using fresh ginger instead of powdered ginger as one of the spices. When I saw this item in the grocery store, I recognized a local brand and tossed it in my cart.

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It was a few weeks later when the jar was nearly half empty and spun sideways in my refrigerator door, that I saw this:

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It may be hard to read, but the ingredients for the “ginger” are as follows: ginger, high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, olive oil, lactic acid, and potassium sorbate (a preservative). I had mindlessly believed that the only ingredient in ginger would be–ginger. When I really thought about it, I can see the need to add oils for the texture and preservatives to keep it from spoiling, but the high fructose corn syrup as the second ingredient gave way to a massive palm to the forehead on my part. Instead of beating myself up about screwing up such a perfect food with a processed sweetener, I used it as learning experience to be better about reading labels.

I was recently asked about shopping for Paleo foods in the grocery store, and after my ginger debacle, I can certainly relate to feeling stressed and overwhelmed at the thought of buying food for your family. I thought it would helpful to share how I try to avoid the traps of deceptive marketing and overbuying.

Have a list. I’ve written before about the importance of meal planning and preparation when living a Paleo lifestyle. Other shoppers in the store often do a double take at my legal sized pad full of lists sitting in my cart when I’m shopping. While I squirm with embarrassment and try to get a tough skin for being different, I just have found no other way to do it. Planning meals ahead of time and shopping just for those items saves time and money. I recently came across this site that may be helpful for building meals around proteins and other ingredients you may need to cook in your fridge or freezer. Also, watching the grocery store print ads and knowing which meats are on sale is helpful for meal planning on a budget.

Shop alone. As much as I would love to spend my “free time” doing something other than grocery shopping every Friday morning, I know that this is the best time for me. Bringing the kids and husband is a recipe for disaster–more time spent in the store plus more impulsive purchases equals more money spent. Taking the time to read ingredients and using will power to avoid foods you don’t need takes focus, energy, and space. I know many friends who grocery shop at night after the kids go to bed.

Avoid the aisles. Almost every ingredient that it takes to make a healthy Paleo meal can be found around the edge of the grocery store–meat, fish, butter, eggs, and sometimes produce are placed in the back of most stores. They’re there for a reason. Store owners are hoping you throw items like soda, goldfish crackers, peanut butter, and cereal in your cart on your way to get to the reason you came to the store in the first place–milk, eggs, or fresh fruit.

Most of the items in the aisles of the grocery store are modern Neolithic foods that we’ve become addicted to. Most have gluten, modified food starches, artificial colors or flavors, stabilizers, and added sugars. Our bodies don’t recognize these items as food and disease in some form or another seems to be a result of consuming too much of them.

If you’re spending the bulk of your time at the grocery store in the produce section, you’re doing it right. Other than the sneaky ginger item, everything in that section is safe to eat. Try not to be intimidated by nutrient-rich veggies like kale, chard, and beets. A quick Google search with the veggie you’ve purchased and the word Paleo is sure to bring up a delicious recipe.

Also, look for creative options in the value-added sections of produce. If you know you’re pressed for time when cooking on a particular night, choose pre-cut fruits and veggies for versatility and convenience. One of my weekly staples is the carrot chips (under $2)–easily boiled for a dinner side dish or dipped in guacamole instead of a corn chip.

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Keeping focused on the fresh items at the edges of the store is a strategy I still use when I shop. In my experience, the set up of the store is the same for most retail grocers–Costco, Trader Joe’s, or our local supermercado. Nevertheless, I often find myself browsing the aisles looking for a new magical or mysterious packaged item that will make my life easier, and I have yet to find it. (If you’ve found a gem in the aisles of the store, share it in the comments below). For the most part, Paleo is about shopping for basic ingredients and using them to put together deliciously homemade meals. If you haven’t been told yet, you’ll need to learn how to shop differently and cook real foods to find success with this lifestyle.

That being said, Paleo moms and dads are armed with awesome resources to produce these meals for their families. Use the Paleo community tab to find a Paleo recipe blog or cookbook that fits your style. What you’ll notice is that the ingredients are simple and pretty easy to prepare. It takes some practice but after a while when you slip into a grocery store aisle to grab canned coconut milk or almond flour, you’ll slip out just as quickly knowing that there’s nothing in the packaged foods that is of any benefit to you or your kids.

It takes a smart and savvy consumer to beat the big food business. Being prepared and staying focused on your family’s health is sure to help on your next grocery store adventure.