I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to climb a mountain… and how it is a perfect metaphor for so many of life’s journeys and challenges. For me, one of my steepest mountains has been my relationship with my body and food.
For 24 years I ignored my body completely. I refused to look closely, to feel when it was too full or too tired. I refused to listen. My body was nothing more than an place to store food, a vehicle that brought me from point A to point B and was generally good at sports. My body was fat and always would be – it felt like a fact of life.. My mother, aunts, grandmother all live(d) their entire adult lives in obesity – unable to walk for too long or climb the stairs without support. How could I break the chain? Defy science or gravity somehow? It seemed impossible.
From an early age, I remember hating all nutritious foods. I refused to eat vegetables (or anything green), and I would not touch fish or whole grains. My diet exclusively consisted of fried foods, plain hamburgers, pizza without tomato sauce and so.much. soda.. I was 17 when my friend Erin introduced salad into my life. Granted, it was iceberg lettuce with fried chicken, bacon, eggs, and lots of dressing to drown out the taste of the lettuce, of course. Then when I was 22 years old and working as a consultant at IBM, a colleague (who I now consider to be a mentor and role model) gently informed me that I probably needed vegetables to survive. So I tried some pickles because everyone and their mother loves pickles — and liked them. Little by little I added more vegetables to my list of “edible substances,” but I still primarily ate huge portions of fast food, chimichangas, Cheez Itz, and candy . It’s honestly a miracle that my body didn’t turn into a McDonald’s big mac or spontaneously combust. I will spend the rest of my life repairing my relationship with food.
When I was 24, I got the opportunity to move to the Bay area for a new job at Tesla [my dream job at the time], and jumped in head first. I had always been drawn to the west coast because of the generally more relaxed energy I always felt while visiting. Although SF is tech-topia, I still find that people on this side of the US are more free-spirited, care-less about what people think, are more transient and adventurous. It all can probably (actually without a doubt) be attributed to the constant sunshine and 70 degree weather (I live in Oakland, mind you). So, it was a chance I could not pass on. When I moved to Oakland, I also stopped traveling for work – which allowed me to build a routine for myself.
At the same time, I read Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, and this book was the kick in the but I needed to begin my climb. The tools he provides can be paralleled to gear needed to trek up a mountain — shoes, a map, flash light, backpack — as examples. In the book, Elrod explains that a morning routine, even if it is 5-10 minutes when you wake up, will dramatically enhance your day – which snowballs into your week, which snowballs into your month / year / life. This concept stuck with me and was extremely actionable. I began following his prescribed life S.A.V.E.R.S. (Silence / meditation; Affirmations; Visualization; Exercise; Read; Scribe) – each morning, waking up a little bit earlier everyday until I found the sweet spot of “I don’t feel too tired and still have enough time for the S.A.V.E.R.S.”
Another foundational tool that helped me start the journey was the Morning Journal. I was introduced to it at the same time as I was reading Miracle Morning – and the two went hand-in-hand. In the morning journal you document goals for the day: when you want to go to sleep and wake up or to document a brain dump. It also gives you a daily activity or inspirational story. With these tools, I began running each morning, but more importantly, I was building a holistically healthy lifestyle.
Since then, Daily meditation has led to a love of yoga and other mindful activities; reading more often has led to a wealth of knowledge on healthy habits, building confidence, and how to treat your body better. I attribute 90% of this shiftto the reading materials and podcasts and friends that have taught me that—ultimately– there is always another way. You are never stuck. No matter how far in a hole you feel you are, no matter how much work ahead there seems to be. You have the power and strength required. Now it is only up to you to shine a light on those parts of you. Only you can take the first step — no one else can climb this mountain for you. It’s all yours, and it’s waiting patiently for you.
That August, 3 months after moving to the Bay, I visited the east coast to see family – and also scheduled a doctor’s appointment. I was concerned that, because I wasn’t losing weight after starting to exercise daily, there must be something wrong with my body. I thought: It must be broken because it should be getting smaller.
In advance of the appointment, my doctor asked me to write down everything I ate for the next 3 days and bring the list to him. I did it – thinking everything on the list was perfectly acceptable, as I had consciously tried to not over do it. When I got in the room, he began reading down the list, and it felt awful. “Bananas, bread… Nope don’t eat that, skip the cereal, chocolate covered almonds!” At first I wanted to completely dismiss him just because I thought he was being rude. Then he said, “Kayla – I believe that if you were to reduce the amount of carbs in your diet, you would lose 20 lbs in 1 month. Your primary food group right now is carbs and our bodies sometimes need a break from them. Have you heard of Keto [a fad-diet that essentially eliminates carbs and focuses on fats and protein]? You do not need to follow it exactly… but just the principles of it will really help you. My advice is: eggs in the morning, a big salad (without fried foods on top) for lunch, and another meat plus avocados or nuts.” This hit me. I liked all of the foods he said I could eat on keto – so it seems feasible. Something in my mind locked in on that advice, and I began to eliminate carbs from my meals.
Eliminating carbs was extremely difficult. The only snack Tesla offers is cereal, and before my doctor’s visit, I would eat 2 huge bowls of cheerios or coco krispy’s every day. After returning to the Bay, I avoided the cereal, packed my own pre-made salads and brought salami and cheese snacks – which kept me full enough to not cheat with cereal in the office. At home I got rid of all pastas and chips and breads. If my roommate bought them, I would ask her to keep them on her shelf, out of sight (which was still tempting). After one week of this painful carb detox – I lost 7 lbs, and this was all the motivation I needed to go all in on keto. I did plenty of research, started preparing meals and cooking, and I stopped drinking and going out with friends – it was hard core.
I want to be transparent though that during this month I had major slip-ups. I would have days where if I ate a single scoop of ice cream, I would uncontrollably binge on all of the foods I was craving because I thought today is already ruined, so there’s no harm in eating all of the things. I would get so upset and disappointed with myself when I did that, and the only way I got through those days was by reading books and following coaches that reminded me of the greatest lesson in fat loss: the ONLY thing that matters is that the next meal, the next day, you come back to your routine of healthy habits. One binge will not destroy your progress; rather it’s when you quit because you think there is no hope for you.
My advice is this: show yourself the sort of compassion a friend would show you. A friend might say, “it’s okay girl, you are doing so well by even trying. You are amazing. Eat that donut and then for the next meal shift back to more nutritious foods.” Be that voice of reason for yourself because you are amazing for even trying. Always focus on how far you have come, and always remember that you are a miracle in action by getting up every day and facing your biggest fear – facing your deepest demons. You may lose sight of the mountain top, veer off trail for a moment, but do. not. quit. I have learned that this is true for every area of life. There are moments when this journey seems too difficult, the goal seems too far away — when it just seems easier to throw your hands up and fall to the ground. To that I say, darling, no one said it was going to be easy. Any goal worth achieving will come with some really hard times. In those painful moments, pause and say: huh, this is the feeling I get / the frustration I feel right before the good thing happens — and keep going.
In the first month of keto I lost 20 lbs and in the second month, I lost 15 more lbs. The weight fell off because my body was in shock. It was saying “where is that thing (carbs) you’ve been exclusively feeding me with for the past 25 years?! Without it I guess we’ll go for this stored fat in here…” I had also signed-up for a boxing gym down the street and began taking classes 4-6x per week. This was a paradigm shift – exercising everyday was never a thing I enjoyed, or did (except when I participated in HS softball). Motivating myself to get up each morning, or go after work each day – took so much mental energy. I packed my work-out bag the night before, including shower stuff, and took it with me every day. It was another painful experience that my mind was resisting, but one my body needed. The combination of this spike in physical activity and virtually no carbs drastically and quickly changed my body. I had gone from 220 to 185 in 2 months, and I was absolutely shocked.
The end of the year and holiday season came quickly. I continued following keto, while also enjoying stuffing and sweet potato casserole on Thanksgiving. For the next 3 months, my weight was stagnant and I was getting a bit frustrated that I wasn’t losing more weight. That’s when I found Carter Good – a nutrition coach on Instagram. What I learned from him is that calories are key. The only reason fad diets work (for some time) is because they put you in a calorie deficit (more calories out than in). No deficit, no weight loss. This blew my mind and changed everything. I realized that if I want to get to my goal fitness level – I have to be more conscious of my calorie in-take. It sounds daunting, but the way I’ve enjoyed tracking calories is by using My Fitness Pal, and by getting mostly pre-made, nutritious meals. (I understand this isn’t financially feasible for everyone, although there is so much free content on how to meal-prep healthy meals on a budget!)
Over the last four months, I really feel as if I have built a solid foundation of knowledge and confidence in that I know what my body needs, I can (and should) eat carbs in moderation, and all that matters is portion size. This is what has always been so hard for me because I never ever paid attention to “how much” – so changing that perspective to “that’s enough, I feel satisfied with 2 slices of pizza instead of 6” – that’s the real work. That’s why, for me, having pre-made meals / pre-set portions has been the most effective method to follow. And now, I can apply the portion sizing when I’m out to dinners or at events. It’s still hard and I still slip up and over-eat – but I’m learning and improving every day. The more you climb, the stronger your legs get. You are able to breathe a bit easier and as some point you’ll notice yourself saying, “damn… look at what my mind and body are doing. They are climbing this freaking mountain.” That is the magic.
I still and probably always will have a delicate relationship with food. It requires attention and discipline – but mostly, it requires a loving kindness for yourself when it’s hard and you make a mistake. A relationship with food is honestly just like a relationship with someone you love… it’s something that requires gentle attention and nourishment to grow and keep growing.
As we rang in 2019, and as we all set our goals for the year, I made it a goal to run my first 5K, and a stretch goal to also run a 10K by December 2020. Running had never been “my thing” – I thought that my body wasn’t built for it; my lungs weren’t the same lungs as runners… I assumed they had super lungs that allowed them to breathe and run forever. I truly convinced myself that I wasn’t a runner. Then, I ran my first 5K in April and that experience shifted my entire mentality towards running. I realized that anyone can run, but it is all about PACE. My entire life, when I tried running, I would go too fast as first, get out of breath immediately, and then quit. Now, I know for sure that if you find the right pace (at the moment it’s an 11 minute mile for me) – your body will run so much further than you can imagine. It’s that pace where your breathing is not too heavy and your joints aren’t feeling the pain… it’s a SUSTAINABLE pace.
This, then, is my primary lesson and what I most want to share – the way I was living previously was not sustainable for my mind, body or soul. I was bursting at the seams, not willing to move my body regularly, and over-consuming. The thing that makes us realize this truth (whether that’s a person, book, podcast, article, movie, song) is magic because it is the start of the paradigm shift in your life – whether that’s a big or small shift. When we know better, we do better. When we are sustaining our bodies and minds in a healthy way – that impacts how we interact with others; and how we treat the planet. We cannot have a sustainable earth without sustainable humans or bodies. We are directly responsible for both – but the only one of those 2 things that we can immediately turn-into and look at is our selves. I deeply believe that when you focus on yourself and give you the love, attention, focus needed – it is the foundation required to be able to do that for others and the planet. When others see you climbing your mountain, maybe their mountain looks a little more achievable.
Exactly 1 year after beginning this journey, I will be completing my first Olympic triathlon (1.5K swim; 40K bike; 10K run). I am nervous and excited to see what this body can do. It already surprises me everyday. I am so incredibly grateful for the strength to continue on and enjoy every minute of climb. I believe we have a voice and privilege to tell our stories – of our greatest struggles, biggest challenges… our tallest mountains. We do this to share the small specs of knowledge and wisdom we pick-up on our way up, in hopes that this knowledge will resonate with someone else and help them on their climb up their mountain. Your mountain is waiting. Ready?