Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Don't Quit Just Before the Miracle

I was always vaguely aware that they way you ate could affect your health and your mood, but I never truly appreciated the nuanced impact that nutrition could have until recently.

The first time I really acknowledged it was the summer of 2011.  I had been on my weight loss journey for a year at that point and I was at a plateau.  My sister had been soda-free for almost 6 months then, and she began to tell me about the effects of aspartame (the artificial sweetener used in diet soda).  She said that aspartame actually caused you to crave more sweet things (besides all the other things it does to your body).  The thought intrigued me.  You could actually change how your body reacted by eliminating this one thing from your diet.

At first it was an experiment to see if it actually worked (it did), then it became an accomplishment to say I had been so many days soda-free.  Eventually, the thought of consuming a soda grossed me out completely. 
At the time that I quit, I had already scaled it back to "just" 3-4 cans a day.  My husband was not a big fan of "pop" and my kids had never had a drop of it in their lives.  I was the only soda addict in the house, and I don't remember getting rid of it as being any big deal. 


If you read my previous post, you know that my son had some serious problems at school, even from the very start of kindergarten.  It was probably more serious than I really let on in telling his story. 
Cody had serious impulse and self control issues.  In school, he would hit.  He hit anyone and for any reason.  Sometimes he would say inappropriate things or "swear words", but he usually got in trouble for hitting.  Teachers tossed around "ADHD", though he was never officially diagnosed.  Outside of school, he would occasionally have, what I referred to, as "fits".  He would get worked up about something and go into almost a compulsive tantrum where he would say the same thing over and over and yell and scream.  Then he would calm down, cry and be remorseful. 

It didn't take me long to realize that his behavior was affected by his eating habits.  It was always a fight to get him to eat breakfast because I knew if he didn't eat breakfast that he would get in trouble that day.  If he got in trouble at afternoon recess, he would tell me that he hadn't eaten all of his lunch that day.

Still, I just kept fighting the battle.  I didn't know what else to do since no one took me seriously and, in reality, I didn't take my own food theory seriously either.  I was still convinced that he was just a willful, defiant child and I was a bad mom who couldn't teach him appropriate behavior.

In January of this year, when they were still at the old school, Cody had to go to the principal's office twice in one week.  I had stopped by my sister's work one day to tell her what happened and that I was afraid that I was going to be asked to medicate him.
She said something to me that I had always really known, but this time it finally clicked.  She said that if I got all the artificial and processed crap out of his diet, that within two weeks I would have a whole different boy.

I will have my sister tell her story in a future post, but at that moment I knew that with all her knowledge and conviction, that she was completely right.

That weekend I went to Whole Foods for the first time and I took Cody with me.  My goal was to have it be as positive an experience as possible, so we made it into a big deal.  Cody would get to pick out his own food and he would have his own shelf in the pantry and in the refrigerator. 

For that first week, I just tried to pick out things that were similar to what he was used to eating but in a non-artificial or organic form.  Many things I bought at first weren't the best choices nutritionally, but none of them had any of the artificial colors or highly processed ingredients that he had always had before. 

The one thing that shocked me, was that he willingly tried "spinach juice" a blend of green vegetables, fruits and plant extracts.  It is dark green in color, so I thought that I would have to hide it in something.  Not only did he not need any coaxing to try it, he loved it and asked for it all the time. 

There were no real major changes the first week.  In fact, my sister told me that it could get worse before it got better as his little body detoxified itself.

The second week was when something amazing happened.

We were driving home from school when I told the kids that I had to stop at the store for something.  Cody asked if this particular store had spinach.  I was puzzled but told him that I was sure it did.

Then, "Mom?  Can we buy some spinach?"

I was cautious. "You know that spinach is like, green leaves, right?"

"Yeah, it's the stuff you put on your sandwiches at Subway.  Can I try it?"

Once inside the store, we headed for the produce section.  He found it right away and read the label to me, Organic Baby Spinach.

With a sweet and sincere, yet confused look on his little face, he said, "But Mom, where's the grownup spinach?"

Needless to say, he tried and liked the spinach.  We had to call everyone and tell them.  I cried.  It was a big moment when my super picky eater came up with the idea to try a healthy food all on his own.

It kind of snowballed from there.  He was more and more willing to try new things.  He started learning what to look for on nutrition labels and his new favorite word was organic.  He became an expert at shopping at Whole Foods and knowing what is okay and what to avoid at Natural Grocers and Trader Joe's.

For the Blue and Gold Banquet for scouts, he made an organic cake from scratch with all organic decorations (with a little help from mom of course).

So what is the miracle?
That I cured my son with food.

It has been almost three months since we began eating as clean as possible, and I truly do have a whole new boy.  He is now attentive and focused in school.  At home he is helpful and creative.

Are we perfect at it?  Of course not.  We are always learning new things, finding out new ways to prepare things. 

Now that I know the power that real food can have, I feel like I must tell as many people as possible.  That is what Grownup Spinach is for.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Why Did I Start Grownup Spinach?

The simple answer is because of my kids.

The more complicated answer is what I will try to explain here.  It is the background story of my children, and eventually I will tell how it all relates to starting this blog.

Get comfy, it's a long story.

I gave birth to twins in the summer of 2005.  I had spent the last 4 months of my pregnancy on bedrest due to complications.  I had nearly lost my babies at 21 weeks, just 2 weeks after finding out the devastating news that, although my son looked healthy, my unborn daughter had a severe birth defect.

We knew that after the scheduled c-section delivery, we would get to see Cody right away.  We also knew that Emma would be hurried away to the NICU to prepare to have brain surgery the next day.

Emma was born with an occipital encephalocele.  During development, the back of her skull did not close all the way.  This resulted in a large, spinal-fluid filled sac that was twice the size of her little head.  There was also brain matter protruding out into this sac and that was the scary part.  We did not know if she would even survive the surgery to remove and repair it.  If she did survive, how would the damage to her brain impact the rest of her life?

The surgery went well but 12 days later, she developed hydrocephalus and had to have a shunt placed.  That surgery also went well and two days later she got to come home with the rest of us.

Their first picture together in the NICU

Besides caring for the incision sites and some minor feeding issues, it was no different than when Cody got to come home 10 days earlier.  Now it was just about adjusting to life with twin infants who really wanted to be on opposite schedules.

As they grew, it became apparent that Emma had some developmental delays, but nothing insurmountable.  She began physical therapy when she was 6 months old which helped with her very minor physical limitations. 
She had to have a shunt revision when she was 1, and she had to have yearly CAT scans to make sure everything was still okay.  Other than that, the condition she was born with never really crossed our minds that much.

I was one of those extremely lucky moms who got to stay home with her children.  I worked part time in the evenings, opposite of my husband's full time day job so one of us was always with them.

When they were 4, I started working at a child care center and they were able to attend preschool there while I worked.

When it was time to register for kindergarten, I convinced my husband that they should go to the same private school that my sister and I attended growing up. It was on the complete opposite side of the city from where we lived, but we really felt that the drive would be worth it.

In August of 2011, they started kindergarten.  It was a big adjustment for all of us.  I was used to, at least, being in the same building with them, and they went from a 4 hour school day to an 8 hour day.

Unfortunately, Cody really had a problem adjusting.  By the end of September, he had already been to principal's office on a couple of occasions. We figured that he was just testing the limits and that things would get better soon, and they did for a while.

In February of 2012, Emma's teacher asked if I could come to a meeting to discuss some of the concerns that they had about her.  Earlier in the year, I had given permission for the public school district to evaluate Emma.  If she qualified, she would receive public school assistance while at the private school.
The whole multi-disciplinary team was there for this meeting, and Emma would qualify for a physical therapist and an occupational therapist to come to the school to work with her every few weeks.

Things were looking up until the spring came.  Cody started to get in trouble again and had more visits to the principal's office.  By end of the year he was getting in trouble so often that they had asked that we have him see a child psychologist over the summer.

We did see the psychologist several times, but since Cody was not in a school setting during the summer, it was hard to gauge if there was any progress.  We were hopeful that the behavior issues were behind us as we started first grade.

First grade started off well.  Cody joined cub scouts and I became a den leader.  At school, I volunteered to correct papers on Monday afternoons, so I was in constant communication with the first grade teachers.
Cody continued to get in trouble off and on for the first few months.  At parent-teacher conferences in October, the principal attended the conference I had with Cody's teacher and I agreed to get him counseling.

November began and I became more and more stressed about what was happening with my kids at school.  We started seeing a counselor for Cody, but her availability was limited initially.  The school asked that Emma be academically tested by the public school district because she seemed to have some memory problems and was not doing well with her spelling.

As the holidays approached, things began to spiral downward.
The night before Thanksgiving, my cub scout co-leader committed suicide.  That affected me much more deeply than I thought it would.  It is what would begin my crazy, emotional roller coaster that would last for the next 2 months.

The first week of December, Cody got into serious trouble and received an in-school suspension.  He had been to the principal's office 7 times since the beginning of the school year.  I now lived in constant fear that he would get kicked out of school or that I would be asked to medicate him.

On Monday, December 17th, I went to the school to correct papers as usual.  The resource teacher asked me if I could come to the office to have a meeting about Emma.  They would occasionally do this when they wanted to update me on her progress, so I didn't think it strange at all.  When I got to the office, the principal, the assistant principal, Emma's homeroom teacher, her reading teacher, and the resource specialist were all there.

They began to tell me how bad her grades were.  They told me that she was struggling in every subject and that it was causing her to become frustrated and aggressive.  Then the resource teacher said that there was "really nothing more we can do for her" and that she would be better off somewhere where they could give her more help.  Christmas break was in 4 days and they said "it would be the perfect time for a transition".

I was completely blindsided.  I couldn't stop crying and when I wouldn't respond to any of them, they left the conference room saying that they would give me some time to absorb all of it.
I went back to the classroom and picked up the kids.  Then we went home and I told my husband what happened.  I was devastated.

By the next day, I had regrouped and was ready to get to the bottom of this.  I would not let them do this to my daughter just because she had a learning disability.  I knew that as a private school, they could do whatever they wanted, but I didn't care.  They never officially asked us to leave, so our decision was to stay. 

The next day I sent an email to all the staff members involved.  I basically said thanks, but no thanks.  We would not do the transition in the middle of the school year, she would finish out the year with her friends and we would make alternate arrangements for next year.  I reminded them that the public school was not even done with their assessments yet, so we didn't know if she would qualify for more services or not.  I told them that we would put in extra work over the break to help her catch up. 

On Wednesday, the 19th, the principal called me and told me that they didn't think it was in Emma's best interest to wait.  When I began to argue my case with her, she told me that I was setting my daughter up for failure.  It was at that moment that I realized that I was being bullied.  

Friday the 21st was the last day of school before the break.  I once again sent out an email to all staff members involved.  I told them that since I was not given enough time to make other arrangements, that both children would be back in class when school resumed on January 7th and that we could discuss things further at that time.

After dropping them off for the first day back, I was nervous that I would get a phone call asking me to come get her.  I did not get a phone call, in fact, I got no response from the school at all.
After only a week back, it became clear that they were not happy that I wouldn't comply with their wishes.  The teachers would write me snide notes on Emma's papers.  They would send me photocopies of some of her papers and would write on them what her score was compared to the average class score.  They began to take it out on Cody by completely disregarding the documented discipline plan that we had laid out and making up all new consequences.

When I realized that the administration's bullying had turned from me to my children, I was done. 
I made arrangements to meet privately with the public school district to get copies of the test results for Emma.  I gave the results to the new school so that they would know best where to place her.

We broke the news to Cody and Emma on Sunday the 20th and on MLK day, I was able to take them to see the new school.  They took it very well and claimed that they couldn't wait to make new friends.
Wednesday, January 23rd was their last day at the private school. It was heartbreaking to watch them say goodbye to their friends, but I was confident and excited to help them begin this new chapter in our lives.


Now you know our stories.

I apologize that this post is so long with very little payoff.  I really felt like I needed to tell some of these details so that you would grasp the significance of some of the things I plan to talk about in future posts.

I underestimated how difficult it would be write all this, but it has been cathartic as well.  I feel like this was the final step to help me get past all that has happened in the last half year and move forward. 

Now that the nuts and bolts are out of the way, we can get down to business.

Thanks for sticking with me :)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Very Good Place (and time) To Start

I had been throwing around the idea of starting a blog for a while now.  A couple weeks ago, while shopping with my sister, something happened that made me realize it was time.  It wasn't anything crazy or earth-shattering, it was just something that made me realize that perhaps sharing my story or my struggles could help in some small way. 
More on that later, first I want to fill you in on my story.

My journey to better health began almost three years ago.  Prior to that, I was overweight, obese, or morbidly obese for most of my life. 

In my younger years (ie. my early twenties), I don't remember thinking about my weight all that much.  It was just who I was.  I came from a "big" family and I had just accepted that I would always remain "a big girl".  Was it easy being big?  Of course not, I just didn't fight against it because it was all I had ever known.

I do recall that for most of my 20's, I maintained the same weight.  At every yearly checkup, I was consistently around 295 pounds.

I gave birth to my twins in 2005 and that was when my real health issues began.  I thought I was just worn out from caring for my babies and not taking care of myself, but my symptoms got worse.  In January of 2006, I was diagnosed with Grave's Disease which is an autoimmune disorder that leads to hyperthyroidism. 
For the next 4 years I struggled to get my thyroid under control and all the while my weight kept climbing.  I am embarrassed to say that it got to the point where I couldn't even go grocery shopping without the use of an electric cart.

In the summer of 2010, I weighed in at 343 pounds.  I was starting to get sick of myself.  I could barely keep up with my kids and my depression was getting worse.  When I heard that The Biggest Loser was holding auditions in Omaha, I thought that it was the perfect opportunity to make a change.  I talked my co-worker into coming with me for support. 

Halfway through the line at the auditions, there was a man handing out cards in front of a life size "before" picture of himself.  Everyone was saying that he was a former Biggest Loser contestant, but I had only been watching the show for 2 years and didn't know who he was.  I called my sister and she told me that it was probably Marty Wolff.  She said that he was on season 3 of The Biggest Loser and now he was a personal trainer.

The card he handed me invited me to an information session for a "beginner bootcamp" for people with 50-100 pounds to lose.  Of course, I didn't get a call back from the show, but I was intrigued.  Fat people doing bootcamp?  I had to find out more.

My cousin came with me to the information session and we both signed up for the one month program.  The workouts were held on a soccer field at the Y.  I don't remember being nervous or intimidated even though I had never truly worked out before.  I was with a group of about 30 other people who were also big like me and there was an almost instant camaraderie.

After each workout, we would sit and talk.  We would talk about nutrition, our struggles and just what it was like to be overweight.  One of the girls started a private Facebook page for our group and we would talk there as well.  We became friends and that is what made all the workouts something to look forward to instead of a chore.

One night, in one of our post-workout discussions, Marty said to us, "Who do you want to be?  What kind of life do you want to live?"
That struck a chord with me.  Never before had it occurred to me the way it did at that moment, that I really could control my own destiny.  That is when my real life began.

I joined up with Marty's regular ongoing bootcamp and I spent the next year doing races just to prove that I could.  My "bootcamp family" and I did Trek Up The Tower (a race up 40 flights of stairs), Warrior Dash (an extreme 5K obstacle course) and various other 5K races.  My sister had joined us in January of 2011 and my mom joined not long after that.  

In the fall of 2011, we found out that Marty would be opening his own health club.  No more renting out other gyms, we would have a place of our own.  

In January of 2012, Square One, The Health Club For People of Size was born.

Being able to help Marty build Square One has been a blessing and a privilege. He allows me to use my story and my experiences to help our members on their journey and I could never ask for anything more than to be able to do that.

On August 23, 2012 I had just finished my regular workout with my friend Kevin and Marty was going to weigh us in.  I stepped on the scale knowing that it was a possibility, and I was not disappointed.  
I weighed 242.8 pounds.  I had lost 100 pounds!

Of course, my journey is not done yet.  I still have a little more to lose.  In December I signed up to run the Lincoln Half Marathon which takes place in May.  My goal is to lose another 25 pounds as I train, although at this point, the number on the scale doesn't mean as much as it used to.  One my favorite t-shirts says it best...HEALTHY is the new SKINNY!

Well this brings us up to the present.  I would love to tell you what's been going on the last two months and what led to the start of Grownup Spinach, but I think I will have to save it for my next post.  How's that for a cliffhanger.