Thursday, May 31, 2012

Finding my WHY #2: Whole foods

My WHYs for debt were somewhat easy. We'd been moving toward debt freedom and debt free living for most of our 9 years of marriage. But the next ones I've been working on haven't been so easy. I never want to be a hypocrite, so I want to make sure that what I am able to walk the walk after I talk the talk. I knew that even though sometimes I want to, I wasn't going to go out and get a car loan. That exercise in expressing WHY we want to stay out of debt was an affirmation of several years of decisions. The next WHY is a newer road. And I'm hesitant to share it, not because I'm not convinced that it's the right path, but because I don't want to proclaim my intentions only to fall off the wagon a week from now. But because I'm making a challenge for myself starting tomorrow, I thought it would add a little accountability if I shared.

For the month of June, our family is going to (try to) eat only (or mostly) whole foods. Definition for us: foods that are either in their natural state or contain 5 or fewer ingredients.** If you research plans for whole food eating there are several variations. Some are called clean eating. Others will not only eat whole foods but also limit certain foods (like grains, dairy, or sugar). Other variations would include a vegetarian or vegan or even raw vegan diet. I've spent some time researching many different "rules" or plans, and decided for now to leave it at foods in their natural state or with 5 or fewer ingredients. For me, this won't be so hard...except for my diet soda and coffee creamer and bagel thins and...okay, it isn't going to be easy.

1. I FEEL BETTER WHEN EATING WHOLE FOODS: I ate mostly whole foods while losing weight. Only recently I started eating more processed foods, and it wasn't helping me. I wasn't grabbing oreos, but I was snacking a bit too much on the kids' goldfish, pretzels or my own weight watchers ice cream sandwiches. And they were all making me feel blah!

2. IT IS EASIER TO MAINTAIN MY WEIGHT LOSS WHEN STICKING WITH WHOLE FOODS: I've pretty much stayed in the same 3-4 pound range since hitting my weight loss goal back in March. But what I've realized is that it is the processed junk (even if it is considered "healthy") that causes me to overeat and/or crave other foods that aren't so good.

3. I FEEL SATISFIED ON WHOLE FOODS: That feeling of satisfaction doesn't seem to happen when I have more processed foods in my diet. I can consume pretty much equal calories of a processed meal and a whole foods meal, but the whole food meal generally leaves me feeling energetic and content. Processed foods leave me wanting more.

4. WE WERE CREATED FOR MORE: We were created for more than cheetos and spongy white bread. I've been teaching Exercise Physiology for a few years now and every semester I'm blown away by a different aspect of our body that can adapt and keep us alive no matter what fuel we place in it. But we also function better (or at least I do) when the foods are closer to their own created state versus a manufactured state.

5. I DON'T WANT MY KIDS TO DEAL WITH THE SAME FOOD/WEIGHT ISSUES I DID: I don't want either of my kids to fear food, but I also don't want them to find their comfort in a frozen burrito the way I did. My hope and prayer is that if whole foods are their main source of nutrition, and I take time to teach them about nutrition and food preparation, they'll be less likely to develop weight issues...whether it be an eating disorder or obesity. I want them to appreciate that food is nourishment and yes, even enjoyment, but not our source of hope and joy.

I mentioned my kids. Yes, I'm going to do my best to have the whole family eating mainly non-processed foods. There may be some crying and pouting at the beginning, and that's just Andrew. I promised I'd still buy his Mountain Dew, but PopTarts were going to be exiled. Because I do most of the food preparation and shopping, what mama says, goes. But I also recognize that there will be times that the family will eat processed foods, and I promise not to freak out. If offered s'mores, what will we do? I'll probably pass (and look away), the family will eat them.

I'll keep you updated on the journey through June. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I'll also share a few more WHYs I'm working on: why I exercise (and why I won't buy P90X) and why I want to maintain my weight loss.

**This is not to be confused with a hole foods diet which would include doughnuts, bagels, doughnut holes, and swiss cheese. That kind of eating left me obese for most of my life.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Finding my WHY #1: debt

We've officially been out of debt for four months now. And even know I have to remind myself WHY we want to stay out of debt. Most forms of debt no longer tempt me. But two temptations always seem to be lurking just beneath the surface of my tough "no debt" exterior: a newer car and a nicer house.

We drive two aging beauties...10 year old cars with just over 100,000 miles each. Low mileage for the age of the cars. And they (knock on wood) haven't given us much trouble except that we seem to be pretty hard on the brakes. They serve us well for the one true purpose they serve: transportation. Safe. Reliable. But I'd be lying if I said I never felt the siren call of a nicer, newer, shinier form of transportation. I can't even really let myself look at car lots because I'm prone to new car fever. So I have to remind myself WHY we are going to save for a car rather than borrow for one.

Same-ish situation with our house. It is the perfect perfect for us. We actually do carry a mortgage, but it is well below what we "should" be paying in relation to our income. Yet one of my favorite weekend pasttimes is to drive past houses that are for sale and dream about moving up in house. A more aesthetic neighborhood. A second bathroom. A sunroom. Well, the list is long. But it is all just stuff. Not needs. Wants. And to move up in want, we'd be taking on a bigger mortgage, which would decrease the amount of money we have to help stay out of other debt.

So I have to remind myself WHY. WHY I'm going to keep driving my van until we can afford a newer one with cash. WHY we're going to stay in this house until God moves us.

And I thought I'd share the reasons. You may have similar reasons for wanting to become (or stay) debt free. But you also should have your own.

1. We truly believe Proverbs 22:7: "The borrower is slave to the lender." We don't want to be in bondage any longer.

2. Living debt-free helps us focus on being content. It helps us to see that material possessions are fleeting. We aren't consumed with trying to accumulate when we are trying to stay within a budge and pay cash. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:21

3. Living debt free has made our marriage stronger. We disagree about a lot of things: politics, Santa Claus, how clean the bathroom should be, etc. But the one thing we always agree on is our goal of living debt free. It guides our budget. It guides each purchase even when the other spouse isn't there. It has saved us a lot of fighting, and I truly feel it has made us closer. Not perfect. Definitely not perfect.

4. It allows us to give more freely. Even when we were in debt we felt strongly that we were to continue to be givers to help keep our treasure in the right place. Now without debt it frees us up even more to be able to give as there is opportunity.

5. It allows us to save for the future. We have no idea what the future holds. We can guess and plan and may still face a situation we haven't saved for...or saved enough. But the more we can anticipate and plan, the more we are able to have money for car repairs, medical bills, and kid expenses. (Hint: start saving now for the back to school expenses. You know they're coming, don't wait until August and then wonder how you are going to pay for it. Save now. Same with Christmas. And my birthday. It falls in August as well).

6. It allows us to spend some money to make memories. That's one of our favorite guiding principles on the spending side of our budget. We really don't want to accumulate "stuff" so much as we want to have the opportunity to make memories through special trips. Some are very inexpensive like a camping weekend at the grandparents' land. Others in the future may cost more, but we never want the memory to become a nightmare of debt.

Ah, that helps me. My list. My WHY list for why I want to stay out of debt. WHY I need to turn my head the other way when I see a schnazzy silver, rust free mini van that probably has rear air and a DVD player. Or a house with a sun room.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Knowing your why

Most people fail at their attempts to lose weight or keep it off. Statistics vary by source, but something like 75-95% of people that attempt to lose weight either don't lose it or fail to maintain the loss. I've never seen approximations of how many people fail at their financial goals, but I would guess it to be quite high as well.


I think most of us don't really define our WHY. Why do you want to lose weight? Why do you want to keep it off? Why do you want to get out of debt? Why do you want your family to eat healthier? Why do you want your family to be more active?

I know I've often given myself a mom's answer: "Because I said so." Or "Because I should."

I said so's and shoulds don't get you through the tough days. A should is not more powerful than a brownie. I said so does not generally get people out of bed to exercise.

A strong "why" does. When you know why, really know WHY, you really want to do something, it makes the how of getting there much more bearable.

Think of weight loss. Most of us can come up with some good "whys" for losing. But we really have to define and believe those whys. If you say you want to lose weight for your health, you really have to believe down in your gut that losing weight will have positive health benefits. If it's just a vague idea, you probably won't stay very motivated. If you've had a health scare, the why is looking you right in the face. If you know that excess weight can increase your risk for breast cancer and have a close family member that was just diagnosed with breast cancer, you'd have strong motivation to make changes in your won life.

So let's say you lose the weight (or pay off the debt or eliminate processed foods from your diet). You have to readdress the "why." I think that's an important step that's often neglected. I'm at that step in a few different areas of my life. And I need to ask myself, down in my gut, WHY I want to maintain my weight loss and WHY it is important for us to stay out of debt. I'm also wanting to improve the eating habits of our household...but I need to know WHY before I define a plan. If I don't have a good WHY, the extra time and effort of changing our eating habits won't feel worth it after about 2 days.

I'm thinking of making some more changes to our dinner table. I plan on giving myself a challenge in June, but first I need to define my why. Then define the challenge. Then share it with you to hold myself accountable.

Friday, May 18, 2012

My next challenge

I claim to be an expert in nothing, and I'm sticking with that claim. But if I come close to being an expert on anything I guess it would be childhood obesity. Reason 1: I've been there, done that, have the pictures to prove it (I just found a picture from before the homecoming game my senior year of high school. Oh. My. Goodness.). Reason 2: my academic studies are in the field of health and sociology. Reason 3: my personal interest in the topic have caused me to do a lot of reading and researching...and not just reading some Joe Shmoe's blog or opinion (well, I do that, too), but also looking at the science that is out there. So I guess if I'm going to claim I have some kind of knowledge somewhere, obesity would probably be it.

So when one of my readers asked me to address issues of family health I was a little hesitant, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt up to the challenge.

And here's the big challenge: how do we encourage healthy living in our homes while not placing too much emphasis on body image?

Move to a remote self-sustaining farm where you raise your own chickens and cows for eggs and milk and meat. You grow your own huge garden and become an expert in canning, freezing, and drying. You'd also have to eliminate all contact with the media and outside world in general. Then you can grow your own healthy foods and not have the influence of anyone else telling your family what beauty is. Trust me, I've thought about the above plan. But I'm afraid of chickens.

So aside from that, I don't know how to complete the challenge. Not fully.

Why? Because there is not a one size fits all plan or step by step process that is going to fit every family. Every family is going to have a different definition of healthy living based on their circumstances, religious practices, and medical issues. All of us are influenced in some way by others telling us how we should look, and we all feel like we fail. And we don't want that for our kids.

But I do know there are some ways I can help make my family live a healthier life. I know there are ways I can promote positive body image in my kids. And so I'm going to start to share them. The same way I shared about our finances and my own weight losses, I'm going to share what we've been doing and changes we continue to make. I'm not going to tell you what you should do, I'm going to share our own journey. If it helps spark some ideas and actions for how your household can make healthier choices, I will count that as success.

So stay tuned. I have lots of ideas brewing in my head. And none of them involve me raising my own chickens.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How to marry a guy in 6 weeks

Andrew and I knew each other for about 6 weeks when he asked me to marry him. We had fallen into something like love (in retrospect, it was more like infatuation). In our reasoning, we'd both lived single long enough to know what kind of mate we wanted. Yes, at the old age of 23 we thought we had all kinds of wisdom. It is so, so, so laughable now. We even talk about how if either of our kids ever fall into a whirlwind romance we will definitely have words with them. We honestly didn't really know each other. And it could have ended poorly.

We had plenty of people question if we really knew what we were doing (we thought we did, but we didn't). We thankfully spent many of our Saturday mornings in premarital counseling. Do you know what our pastor said on the last day of our counseling? "I think you two will [long, long pause] be [another pause] okay." Not a big vote of confidence.

And we've been okay. I'd venture to say that on most days we exceed okay. Life isn't all rainbows and gummy bears, but I certainly don't feel like I deserve someone who has been so accepting of me as Andrew. He puts up with me, warts and all. I quote my ultimate heroine Maria VonTrapp "But here you are, standing there loving me. Whether or not you should. So somewhere in my youth, or childhood, I must have done something good."

And my husband's love for me carries over to our kids. I was snuggling with 3 year old Aaron the other morning and he pointed to our wedding photo and said "Mommy, you looked beautiful when you got married." (He frequently tells me "mommy, you're so pretty"...again, something I don't deserve).

We have a pretty "traditional" family. Husband, wife, two kids, two cars, two coffee pots, one big pile of laundry. But I don't think all marriages or families need to look like ours. I've been so blessed to have in our world many marriages and families that look nothing like what is considered traditional or normal. I kind of revolt when someone tells me what we "should" do to have a successful marriage or family, and I try my darnedest not to do that to others.

Sometimes if people think we're going to be [pause] okay, we're probably going to be better than okay. On most days anyhow.

Rewording an Indigo Girls song..."The less I force my family into perfection, the closer I am to fine."

(Their version is much better-my apologies)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

You are enough

It's been a few days since the controversial TIME magazine cover asked us "Are you MOM ENOUGH?" (emphasis theirs). And without getting into the debate about the cover or the article on attachment parenting, I wanted to say "YOU are enough." All of us carry enough guilt and worry without having someone else ask us if we are enough. If you're like me, you constantly feel like you are never enough...and that you don't fit into the "mold" of how the media or society portrays mothers.

And obviously the TIME article was run purposely to coincide with Mother's Day. Oh, Mother's Day. Like Valentine's Day, I have a fair amount of cynicism to accompany this day. First, we are guilted into card buying and gift giving...and not guilt because we don't love our moms...but all my mom ever really wanted was for us to get along and not fight (please say I'm not the only one that got this request...and mom, we get along now. Wish granted.) But guilt that we don't give good enough gifts or get our card in the mail at the right time (guilty...again.) Second, on the mom side of things, because of marketing we are often EXPECTING a great day, when often it ends up being just a plain old day (which is just fine with me), but leaves some disappointed due to the expectations (see the correlation with Valentine's Day??) Third, for many people Mother's Day can be a painful reminder of the loss of a loved one, a poor relationship, or the reminder that you want so badly to be a Mom but for whatever reason the crib is still empty.

So as a completely inadequate's letting you know YOU are enough.

If your world has been turned completely upside down by the addition of a new life and you are severely lacking are enough

If you were excited for the plans you had for raising your child, only to have life step in and totally change your plans due to illness, disability, or life are enough

If you worry about the food you feed your child, the activities they are in, the school they attend, the friends they keep, or 10,000,000 other are enough

If you want to take the place of a child that is experiencing hurt in their own life from illness or consequences of poor choices but know all you can do is walk beside that are enough

If your nest has long been empty, but you always worry about your child and the decisions they are enough

If you never carried your child in your womb, but you carry that child in your heart and your home and you are just as much mom as someone who gave birth...and you are enough

If you had to say good-bye to your child here on earth, leaving empty arms way before you were are enough

If the most loving thing you did for your child was to give life and allow someone else the blessing of being part of that child's life through are enough

If God has not blessed you with a child of your own, but you still have that ache to nurture another are enough

If you realize that raising a child is a complex, imperfect, beautiful are enough

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The other side

I almost didn't share my weight loss story.

Not because I was afraid to admit I ever had a weight problem. Not because people will be watching to see if I gain it back. Not because it meant I really should share how much I have weighed through the years. Not because I think there are 100 other character qualities more important than what a scale says.

Those were all reasons, but they weren't the #1 reason.

My #1 reason for reluctance was that even though 66ish% of our population is overweight or obese, there is a much smaller population that deals with the other side of the unhealthy eating coin.

Those that no matter how small they get, they will always see themselves as fat.

Those that no matter what the number on the scale, they will always feel that they need to go smaller.

Those that no matter how few calories they consumed in a day, they will always feel it was too many.

Those that no matter how many miles they run in a day, it will never feel like enough.

Those that are more scared of body weight than they are of death itself.

And for those people, I almost didn't share my story. I knew that even though my high weight was unhealthy, and I took healthy steps to get to a healthy weight, that discussion of weight loss may trigger others into a downward spiral of unhealthy habits. Start reciting a script in their head that they aren't good enough. That they need to try harder. Restrict more. Exercise longer. I know, because I've heard their stories of how they may have started with healthy changes until it became an obsession. A jail.

And now, at moments, I can feel the same pull. I can look in the mirror and see so much imperfection, probably moreso now than I did 35 pounds ago. I have conversations in my head that I would rather not repeat (since they aren't true), but that leave me feeling exhausted, unworthy. I get sucked in when I see ads for the newest exercise or food that promises to leave me sculpted. Perfect.

But I refuse to give in to those thoughts. I call them out. I recognize them for what they are. Lies. I have reached healthy, I don't need to see a lower number. I don't need to see a six pack, my imperfect stomach will help keep me modest. I point an accusing finger at weight loss ads that never would have caught my eye before but now promise me paradise. Promise me never ending happiness.

But thinness doesn't fill the soul anymore than a a huge bowl of ice cream.

We were created for more.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fitting in

I've never felt comfortable in clothing stores. When I first hit my goal weight a few months ago I was walking through the mall, heading from one department store to the next. I walked by "Express" and thought about going in because I thought that, at this weight, they would have something in my size. And then I seriously broke out into a cold sweat and thought "I don't fit in there" and walked on. A mini panic attack...about a store.What in the world? I had to ask myself "why?" and "when did that start?"

My "why" is because I have always felt that I never have had the body size or money to shop anywhere besides the department store sale racks, usually in the "women's" section. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But why did the thought of going into a GAP or Express or LOFT or any other "clothing" store make me freak out? Then I remembered specifically when it started.

In middle school I was shopping with a friend and her mom at "Vanity." As I checked the tags I realize a) they had nothing in my size (which was probably about a 14 at that point) and b) the price tags were higher than my babysitting money funds allowed-at least after I spent my money on CD's and books. It was a moment when I mentally lowered my head and realized...I didn't fit in. I was too big and too cheap.

So from that point on I stuck to "safer" places. I actually didn't think you could get women's clothing in my size unless it was a mumu, so I often bought men's clothing. I have to shake my head when I go back and look at pictures of the manly cargo pants, t-shirts, and plaid shirts. (In my defense, I was in high school about the time when Nirvana and similar grunge bands were popular...I think we all had a case of the frumpies). I didn't even realize the mental script I was reading over and over're too big, too cheap, you don't fit in.

But it also never really bothered me. I don't know if it was self-confidence or ignorance, but it didn't really bother me that I wore a pair of tapered jeans a size too small with a 3XL men's plaid shirt to my first day of school my senior year...and probably about every other day that year. Similar fashion faux pas and fear of clothing stores stuck with me for a long time.

I'm growing up a bit. Realizing that no matter what size I am, I can dress in a flattering way. I'm slowly accepting that size tags and price tags are just pieces of paper.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Do you remember your prom date?

How can I keep my kids from harm, heartache, abduction, broken bones, acne, eating disorders, or becoming an Illini fan? These are the worries that keep me up at night. A lot of my mommy-ing energy is spent worrying about such things and reflecting on sad stories of tragedy in the lives of teens. I look at my beautiful children and wonder "what heartache will you endure?" And the news has no shortage of such stories...add in some of my favorite detective type shows and books and the fears can be overwhelming.

But my energies would be better spent focusing on learning from parents and teachers on how to help my children develop into people of character...caring, independent, other-centered, creative, confident, secure, and Hawkeye fans.

Enter the story out of (the best) high school: Kingsley-Pierson. Senior Rachel Bird took a cutout Tim Tebow to prom. The most complete account I've seen is from the Sioux City journal (link below), but the story has also been picked up by ESPN, People, CBS, and lots of other places. I'll let the journalistic professionals report on the story through the links below.,,20592519,00.html#news

To me the great part of the story is not that she took Tim Tebow or even thought of asking him (ever since Marsha Brady asked Davy Jones back in the day, many celebrities get prom invites every year.) The great part of the story is some of the things the story reveals about Rachel's character, which makes me wonder "how can I plant some of the same seeds in my daughter?" Specifically:

Rachel's creativity. When I lacked a date my junior year I never thought of taking a cutout. And my date my senior year was much like a cardboard cutout: silent, non-moving, one dimensional.

Rachel's confidence. Even if many of us were creative enough to make a cardboard cutout, many of us wouldn't follow through with it for fear of looking "silly."

Rachel's value of a dollar. From the Sioux City Journal article, we learn that it would have been $80 to get the cutout made, and Rachel realized that was too much. Considering prom expenses seem to require a second mortgage on the home these days, I admire that she had a sense of what was "too much", and that she took full advantage of a sale:)

Rachel's choice of higher education. Not only is this wonderful young woman soon to be an alum of my own high school, but this fall she's going to be a freshman at Northwestern College in Iowa.

I don't want to put Rachel on a pedestal. I know there are quite a few teens out there that even though they haven't grabbed the national spotlight, they have strong character qualities that I would like see in my own kids. And I need to spend more of my time focusing on those things rather than worrying about tragedy. I need to learn from parents and teachers on how to raise my children with to have such qualities. Not to be a cardboard cutout of Rachel, but to be people of character. I welcome any advice...and I need to focus on the successes and not the tragedies.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things". -Philippians 4:8