I wrote this post and, in doing so, had to reflect back on my old routines, my mind, and my eating and movement habits. Sometimes I forget how different I used to feel, but I’ve realized how far I’ve come after reflecting on all of this. The cliche is true; there is always more room to evolve. I just happened to do some serious evolving at an accelerated rate.
I’m going to talk about the changes I’ve made and how they relate to chronic pain, but what I’m realizing is that eliminating my chronic pain was only the beginning. Along the way, I’ve been able to evolve in ways that I wasn’t expecting. I have a better marriage, I show up better in my friendships, I have a dream career. I’m excited every day. I’m inspired. I feel energized and not constantly depleted.
I hope this *softer* blog post will give you hope if you’re suffering from chronic pain or feeling depleted.
I want to speak about the changes I’ve made that have worked wonders in my life. Although these can be some ideas for you, please remember that I am not an expert in nutrition or mental health. I’d highly recommend going to a functional medicine doctor if you can afford it. My doctor, Dr. Harriet Hansell has a program called the Well Body Reset (click here to learn more) that is a fraction of the price that can get you started with some of the nutrition changes that I mention.
I am confident that the movement changes that I’ve implemented are broad enough to help most people, but again, remember that your body is unique. See a PT or health professional if you are struggling with serious chronic pain.
The triad: Stress management, nutrition, movement
Implementing a combination of nutrition changes, stress management, and movement changes was what eliminated my chronic pain. I’ve never felt so good in my body, so stable mentally, and so constantly excited, inspired, and energetic. I couldn’t have sacrificed one of these elements. I needed the whole picture to change and see these results. I still work at all of these things, but I’ve made some key changes that have made a huge difference.
This was the first piece that I started dedicating my attention to about two years ago before changing my movement or my nutrition. I work on this every day, and it’s almost become fun for me to see how tuned and controlled I can make my brain. Again, I am nowhere near perfect, but let’s just say that I would never trade my old mind for the mind I have now.
I used to be a victim. I mean, I made myself the victim. In every single circumstance, it was someone else’s fault that I felt bad about myself, or guilty, or unorganized, or uninspired, or angry, or unhappy. I had absolutely zero ownership over my thoughts and feelings. I just let thoughts run wild in my brain and dictate my feelings and actions without any responsibility for them. I was constantly angry at someone in my life and had no sense of peace. The conversations I would have with my friends weren’t inspiring and interesting like they are now; they were just gossip in an attempt to feel better temporarily by putting someone else down.
About two years ago, a friend introduced me to a podcast called “Unf*ck Your Brain” that uses a simple model to rewire your brain. She teaches you how to “manage your mind,” which is something I clearly needed. I decided to go full-force and dedicate time and energy to changing my mind to take back power over my brain.
The work that I’ve done with this model has given me so much more control over my mind, and I feel like I have power over how I want to feel. People don’t affect me as much as they used to. I’m not nearly as fragile. I have more interesting conversations with my husband and friends because I’m not desperately searching for validation. I can just enjoy my husband without relying on him to make me “feel” loved or validated. I don’t rely on anyone to make me feel a certain way because I’ve taken my power back to cultivate whatever feeling I want. I still have a long way to go, but as I said, I would never trade the mind I have now for the mind I had then.
Some changes I’ve noticed from this process of managing my mind:
- I don’t gossip as much as I used to
- I don’t overeat as much as I used to (a buffer I used to make myself feel better)
- I don’t shop as much as I used to (again, a way to buffer)
- I don’t nap as much as I used to (partly because I have more energy, partly because I used napping as another buffer)
- I am MUCH more productive
- I produce more value and run my own successful business
- I don’t feel stressed very often
- I fall asleep immediately (my mind rarely endlessly spins)
- I get so many more ideas (less spinning about drama and more room in my brain for creating)
This model is simple:
Your thoughts create your feelings
Your feelings drive your actions
Your actions create your results
An accumulation of results are ultimately what makes up your life
According to this model, if you don’t have the life you want, you can change it by changing your thoughts. It sounds simple, but it takes SO much practice. I actually joined a coaching school called Self Coaching Scholars (click here to check it out. Expensive, but worth EVERY penny) that dives deeper into this and has allowed me to manage my mind so much more effectively. If you’re interested in learning more about this work, check out these podcasts:
Unf*ck Your Brain
The Life Coach School Podcast
One of the reasons for my chronic pain was because I wasn’t sleeping well. Sleep is vital for recovery, and if you aren’t sleeping but working out intensely, your muscles won’t have the ability to heal. Inadequate recovery can spiral inflammation in your body.
I was waking up with night terrors every night, panicked (often screaming), and heart racing. It was happening every single night, and I never felt rested. I was exhausted at all times, which means my body didn’t have time to recover from the hard workouts I was doing daily.
I am not claiming my nutrition is magically perfect now, and I don’t think it ever will be (I love pizza and ice cream too much). But the biggest changes I’ve made are eating less frequently, much less sugar and fruit, adding a ton more fish, and eating bigger meals.
Here’s what a typical day of eating would look like for me before I worked with Dr. Hansell:
- Wake up and have coffee with almond milk
- Eat breakfast (ALWAYS) – usually a big bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter and honey and flax seed
- I was STARVING around 10 am, so I’d have a snack before lunch – usually a power ball or a handful of nuts or trail mix
- Lunch was a huge smoothie: banana, fruit, nuts, protein powder, almond milk, spinach
- Chew gum after lunch
- Spark in the afternoon to keep me awake
- Nap after work (this was a non-negotiable)
- Dinner was all over the place – sometimes chili, rice cakes with avocado, a bowl with chickpeas, or out to eat
- I almost always had a treat after dinner, whether it was wine or chocolate or ice cream or peanut butter with dark chocolate chips
I thought I was eating pretty healthy.
Dr. Hansell pointed out how much sugar I was eating with all the fruit, protein powder, honey, power bars, and dessert. She told me that your body releases insulin each time you eat or drink something (even the almond milk in my coffee). I was constantly releasing insulin throughout the day because I was eating so often (and highly glycemic foods, she pointed out). She taught me that even gum could release insulin because it contains sugar. This was seriously messing with my sleep and wasn’t allowing me to rest and recover fully.
Now let me tell you, I was thin at this point, even though I was eating very often. Looking back, I don’t think I looked healthy because I wasn’t muscular, my skin was aging and looked terrible, and I was in a constant state of brain fog and depletion.
Here’s what a typical day looks like for me now:
- Wake up and drink water and black coffee
- Amino acid complex in my water after a workout
- Eat lunch around 12-1: usually, sardine salad or leftovers over a bowl of greens
- Dinner, which is usually a protein like fish, chicken, or steak and roasted vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, with a carb like sweet potatoes or quinoa, and usually sprinkled with pumpkin seeds. (We go out to eat a lot, so dinner looks like this about 4x/week)
- Usually a treat after dinner like dark chocolate, but not always
You can see how I’m eating much less frequently, I incorporate much more fish into my diet, and I eat much less sugar. Two of the things I rarely eat anymore (which used to be staples) are oatmeal with PB and honey and smoothies (which I loaded with fruit and sugary protein powder). I still have these things occasionally, but much less frequently.
My nutrition is nowhere near perfect, but implementing these changes has made a huge difference. I haven’t had a night terror in months (only when I’m really stressed). I’ve noticed my skin looks more refreshed and almost more youthful. I have so much more energy than I used to. I rarely nap because I have sustained energy, whereas it used to be an everyday occurrence. I don’t need caffeine in the afternoon.
Remember, I am not recommending this or any diet for you. Check out Dr. Hansell’s program for more education on this. (Click here to learn more)
This is not a paid endorsement for Dr. Hansell or her program. I just believe in it!
Exercise was the final piece that finally freed me from feeling lethargic and in pain. I know this piece was necessary because I changed my stress and nutrition before I made changes to my movement, and I still suffered from pain and dysfunction.
My body feels (and I think looks) much stronger now than it used to, even though my workouts are not as frequent or as intense. Here are some changes I’ve made:
- I workout 4-5x/week for 30-45 minutes, whereas I used to workout 6 days/week for 60 minutes, sometimes more.
- I don’t stretch passively anymore.
- I incorporate long, mobility warm-ups.
- I usually do fewer repetitions of an exercise with heavier weight.
- I alternate the muscle groups I’m working on (I never work the same muscle group two days in a row to allow for full recovery).
- I work all muscle groups (including the ones that aren’t “sexy” like calves and upper traps)
- I use biomechanics to reduce stress through my joints and maximize muscle contraction (see my post here about “safe” exercise)
- I do fewer compound movements and target muscles more specifically.
- I do less cardio and more strength training.
Here’s what my current routine looks like:
(This is the Levo live class schedule. I don’t do any additional exercise besides walking/hiking. Teaching is my workout):
Build & Breathe – 50 minutes – Heavy weights, slow yoga, and lots of mobility and meditation
Burn – 30 minutes – my spin on Pilates, but with less C-curve spine and pelvic tucking.
Trunk/core-focused. Lower weight, time-under-tension based.
Build & Sweat – 30 minutes – The most intense class of the week. Alternate between heavy weight exercises and explosive movements.
30-minute pop-up class which is a variety – sometimes mobility only, sometimes light cardio, sometimes barre, etc
Build – 30 minutes – Heavy lifting
Saturday and Sunday
Walk or hike (or neither, only if I want to)
I will continue to grow and evolve, but a common philosophy is all these changes have been intentional. I try to research the choices I make and seek to understand WHY I’m doing them. With food, with stress management, and especially with exercise, these inputs must be intentional. If you don’t see the results you want in your life, I recommend challenging one (or all) of these pieces to find something that works for YOU.
Make sure to get registered for the 7-day Strength School (click here to register) so you can start implementing these movement changes. They make all the difference. If you want even more attention, my membership has a 5-day free trial (click here to get started), and I build you a customized plan. Better results, less pain, BOOM.