Onederland (Free)

This week I hit a huge milestone that I never imagined I’d see when I started keto in October 2020.  I am officially in onederland.  That’s right, a few days ago I stepped on the scale and was out of the 200s – and solidly there at that.  I finished a big work project a few days ago and had a huge whoosh when my body let go of all the stress.  I’m a lipedema woman so, generally, weight doesn’t mean a lot to me, but this felt like a big deal.

The last time I remember a scale reading less than 200 pounds was before I left for Liberia in 2011 (more about that here).  That’s 11 years.  For a long time, my body has felt like an enemy, something uncooperative, unpredictable, and unattractive.  Now that I understand what she is struggling with, I know how to support my body and I appreciate how damn hard she works every day.  Even at my lowest weight in 2010, I look back and can see the puffiness in my face and legs.  The one I was fighting the most ended up being the one who needed the most help and compassion. I was sick and had no idea.

What’s gotten me here?  I give most of the credit to keto and fasting.  I do less than 20g total carbs each day and I periodically alternate day fast (read more about that in my Fasting February series).  No cheating ever.  Not one day.  Not one bite.  Nothing.  The longer I have been keto the easier it has gotten – I can even watch The Great British Baking Show without crying.  Yes, I gave up a lot of foods, but I have gained so much.  Finally free from the endless up and down cycle of carbs and hunger, I no longer feel cravings or an emotional connection to food.  So what if I have lipedema?  I am free.

That’s the inspiration for today’s Music Monday pick, Free by Rudimental.  Yes, lipedema turned my life upside down, but lipedema also gave me back an even better life.  In one word it gave me my freedom.  The sky is the limit.  I’m flying.

Whoa, c’est la vie
maybe something’s wrong with me
But, whoa, at least I’m free

Rudimental “Free”

Sturdy Reader, what’s holding you down?  What do you worry is ‘wrong’ with you?  Could you dare to put it down?  Take a bold step with me today and, like the guy in the video, jump off the cliff and fly.

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Higher | Music Monday

We’re two months into 2022, Sturdy Readers.  Are you making progress toward your goals?  Are you making time and space for your beautiful self to unfold?  I hope your answers were, Yes! but even if they weren’t, today I have a song that is sure to get you moving forward.  I found it last summer while I was going through a rough patch, and it felt like a gift from the universe.  Bishop Briggs will have you tapping your feet, moving your lymph around, and dreaming bigger than ever before.  In my case, it had me running up and down stairs.  Literally.  I played this song on repeat while I ran around the amphitheater in the park.  Two years and 100 pounds ago, before I knew the word lipedema, I struggled to do one flight at any speed.

In just over three minutes, the video for Higher sums up my lipedema journey.  It grabs me early on at, “I will go screaming out my pain into the night” and that’s when we realize Bishop is at the bottom of a hill.  The beat picks up as she starts running up it and, like me on the stairs, she puts her head down and pumps her arms harder as she digs deeper. Bring it on, lipedema I say to myself in those moments.

Higher, your love has set me free
Now nothing’s out of reach
Higher, I’m stronger now I’m free
I’m who I want to be
This ain’t no give or take
I’ve learned from my mistakes
I’m so much stronger now

Bishop Briggs, “Higher”

Proving she’s a true boss, Bishop is neither out of breath nor sweaty when she finally gets to the top.  She’s confident and in touch with her power – and you can be too, Sturdy Reader. 

Your power is you.  The love that will set you free is your love.  The strength that will carry you up the hill that is a diagnosis is in those lipedema legs.  Think of it like the beautiful scene in Kung Fu Panda when Po realizes the secret ingredient is… nothing.  You are your own secret self-care and self-love weapon.  Vibration plates, pumps, and bio-hacks will help your symptoms but only if you do them.  Your body can only be free, strong, and beautiful when you love it.

Press play on Higher and make a decision here and now to set yourself free to climb higher.  Free from body shame.  Free from blame or judgement.  Free to feel beautiful. Only you can climb this hill, Sturdy Readers, but you already have everything you need, especially with Higher playing in the background.

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Building Habits and Navigating Social Situations | Fasting February

Tomorrow I will complete my month-long alternate day fasting (ADF) challenge.  I intend to continue at least a few more weeks because I feel so good, but a month is worth pausing to celebrate.  I fasted for 12 days this month!  This week also marks a second month of being dairy free since non-dairy January rolled right into February.  Fasting and going dairy-free both seemed like formidable challenges at the beginning, but it turned out that starting was the hardest part.  This has me reflecting on what it takes to build successful habits and what it is about a one-month timeframe that works so well for me.

It turns out it isn’t necessarily about the timeframe.  The internet is full of people stating that 21 days is the ideal window to form a habit, but the research is mixed, with habit formation taking longer than that for manyIt’s individual.  Interestingly, Harvard Business Review emphasizes the importance of building routines to support habits and I suspect that is why my challenges are so successful. 

I didn’t plan it this way, but both my challenges had a foundation in routine.  Fasting is literally a routine.  I do it on specific days of the week and I’ve developed separate – enjoyable – routines that cue me those days are different.  I may feel reluctant and grouchy when I first wake up, but once I have my black coffee and saltshaker out, I remember what’s going on and easily fall in line.  When I went dairy free, I unintentionally (but luckily) planned it not to disrupt my routine.  I got all the dairy out of the house and literally put alternatives exactly in their place.  The almond milk went right where the heavy cream had been, so even on autopilot I was set up for success.  A good routine creates the guardrails necessary to support a behavior becoming a habit and a month is a nice chunk of time to settle into a new or revised routine.

A month also gives you enough time to stumble into some sticky situations, which will test your commitment to your new routine and goal.  Fasting is a sure-fire way to raise eyebrows and I tend to follow the Fight Club model…  The first rule of Fasting Club is, don’t talk about fasting.  The second rule of Fasting club is, don’t talk about fasting.  I can count on one hand the people in my inner circle who know I fast and all of them also know about my challenges with lipedema and lymphedema. 

A few weeks ago, I got together with my co-coworkers for an in-person farewell party on one of my designated fasting days.  During planning, talk quickly and inevitably turned to food.  As soon as I could interject into the conversation I simply said, “Food is actually really complicated for me, but I’d be happy to help plan a game or something else fun for us to do.”  That’s all it took and, in my experience, once I say I have food restrictions people get a little uncomfortable and don’t pry too much further.  If they do, remember you never owe anyone an explanation for why you aren’t eating something.  For the farewell party I ended up buying a box of donuts (some people wanted those) and a jug of black coffee.  No one said anything about me only drinking coffee and we had fun playing the game.  Social situations often involve food, but don’t have to revolve around food.  Ask for and plan for what you need in such situations to minimize surprises and set yourself up for success.

What helps you build routines and habits, Sturdy Readers?  Do you plan to take on any new challenges in March?  Drop me a note in the comments and be sure to sign up for updates to see what new challenge I take on next.

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Stepping on the Scale Didn’t Help Diagnose My Fat Disorder | Don’t Weigh Me

Over the past few days a Washington Post article about patients requesting not to be weighed at the doctor’s office is making the rounds on social media.  It’s done a wonderful job rallying the anti-fat trolls.  Seriously, don’t they ever sleep?

I’ll summarize the article for those who don’t have access or time to read it.  A few years ago, Ginny Jones, an eating disorder coach who is herself in recovery, developed business cards that read “Please don’t weigh me unless it’s (really) medically necessary: if you really need my weight, please tell me why so that I can give you my informed consent.”  You can buy them on her website here.  The article goes on to present perspectives from patients as well as doctors and does its best to be balanced.  The internet hive mind, on the other hand, is vociferously against these cards, at least in my feeds, which I thought were pretty body positive.

I unfollowed most of the people I’ve seen post about this article – including some in the keto community – because they reinforced the idea that weight equals health and without knowing your weight your doctor can’t know if you are healthy.  “Give me a break!” scream some of the trolls.  “Denial!” shout others. 

I don’t know how I can say this more clearly…  For nearly 30 years I lived with an undiagnosed fat disorder.  Every doctor I saw weighed me.  Every doctor I saw mentioned my growing weight.  None of them diagnosed my lymphatic and fat disorder.  The doctor who finally recognized my lipedema, and who has treated me with great success the past two years, never once weighed me.

So how can my doctor possibly know how I’m doing?!  We talk about my symptoms, self-care regimen, and concerns.  She listens, examines my body, and gives me her advice.  I drive 15 miles out of my way, past many other doctors, to see her because she trusts me as a partner in my own health and as a reliable source of data on the state of my body.  How revolutionary is that? 

The people who are truly in denial here are not the patients – many of us have long suspected something was off about the simple calories-in-calories-out weight arithmetic peddled in diet books – it’s the greater medical community that needs to wake up.  Too many of our doctors are in denial about how woefully little they understand weight and what makes people fat.   (Hint: not always too much food and too little exercise!)  That’s the real fantasy that needs to be shattered.  That’s the denial we need to confront. 

In the meantime, no, you don’t need to weigh me.

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Why I Love Alternate Day Fasting (Part #2) | Fasting February

Week two of my month-long alternate day fasting (ADF) challenge was more difficult than the first.  I struggled with some hunger and low energy toward the end of the week, but I increased my salt and got some extra rest.  I also planned a lot of decadent meals for the weekend because I over shopped and needed to eat everything before it spoiled.  Last week I wrote about ADF saving me time, but one of the other major reasons I love it is that it saves me money.  A lot of money.

When I do ADF I only eat four days a week, effectively reducing my grocery needs by just over 40%.  That translates into so much money!  Of course, you must realize you don’t need as much food and stop buying it, but you’ll learn that quick when you find yourself emptying half your refrigerator into the trash can.

On my eating days I make sure to have two solid keto meals and eat to satiety and with ADF I can afford to make those high-quality meals.  One of my favorite “feast” day meals is a big ribeye steak.  I have a decent job, but I can’t afford to eat one seven days a week.  When I’m doing ADF, however, I will sometimes have one on each of my eating days.  In fact, the high-quality fuel makes it easier to get through the next fast.

This week I had super low energy and a lot of hunger on my last fasting day.  It was the first time I’d felt like that since starting this challenge, so I paused to reflect on what was different.  I’d been busy the night before so, rather than cooking up a bunch of meat, I’d thrown some sausage and asparagus in a skillet with bacon grease and called it dinner.  That was a lot less protein than I usually get and probably explains why I felt so low on fuel the next day.  Because I was.  Don’t skimp when you’re doing ADF or another fasting protocol.  Chances are that you’ll be able to eat well while also putting money in the bank.

Even though I had one rough day this week, I have settled into a comfortable pattern with my ADF and expect I’ll likely continue it beyond the one-month challenge.  I’m continuing to lose weight, my legs feel lighter, and I’m saving both time and money.   What is there not to love about that?

Be sure to join me next week to hear how I manage attending an in-person work event on a designated fasting day.  Sign up below to make sure you don’t miss that or any other Sturdy updates.

Remember, I am not a medical professional and it’s essential that you involve your care team before and during any changes you might choose to make to your eating plan or routine. Each of us is individual and our bodies may respond differently!

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Why I Love Alternate Day Fasting (Part #1) | Fasting February

I love fasting, but it didn’t come to me naturally or easily.  Before I knew I had lipedema, I spent years counting calories, restricting, and over exercising in an attempt to shrink my body.  Of course, having an undiagnosed fat disorder made that a Sisyphean task.  Endless.  Impossible.  Or so I thought.

Doctors and researchers disagree about the best way of eating for lipedema, but I have found strict keto (less than 20g total carbs) works wonders for me and so have many other women I know through Lipedema Simplified.  When people talk about keto, however, they often also mention fasting.  Those two are the keto version of peanut butter and jelly – perfect together.  Fasting felt restrictive, however, and triggered thoughts of my dark days hopelessly counting and restricting.  I was sure it wasn’t for me, but when I mentioned that during a keto class Gail, one of the coaches from Lipedema Simplified, reached out and said she thought it could benefit me and she could support me. 

I waited three months before I finally called her, first reading up on the science behind fasting, particularly as used by Dr. Jason FungIt made sense, not as a restrictive way to punish the body but as a way to support its healing.

During our initial calls I explained my goals to Gail and walked her through my daily schedule and what I considered non-negotiable.  The big non-negotiable was an eating window.  I hated the idea of watching the clock and telling myself I had to wait.  That felt restrictive and triggering.  “I’d rather not eat at all,” I told her in frustration.  Enter alternate day fasting.

There are different ways to do it, but the rhythm Gail helped me land on is fasting the entire day on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Those days I drink only water and black coffee (a transition I never thought I could make) and make sure I get enough salt.  And by enough, I mean a lot.  I literally sit with my saltshaker next to my keyboard and nibble on crystals all day.  Sounds weird until you try it.  The other four days of the week I eat normal keto meals, something Gail emphasized as essential.  Not eating enough on those days, she said, could make things worse rather than better.  She even made me text her pictures of my meals to make sure I was eating them.  We started with one fasting day a week and once I had worked up to the full three days a week, she challenged me to alternate day fast for a full month.   “Challenge” is not a word I walk away from easily, so it was game on.

I very quickly felt amazing, even more so than I do on keto, but I also had to develop a few strategies to adapt to my new routine.  First, on fasting days I have a lot more time.  This is a blessing but also a challenge for someone who tends to eat out of boredom.  I quickly realized I needed to stay busy on fasting days.  It might sound paradoxical, but I started grocery shopping those nights.  Without anything to rush home and cook, I could circle the store leisurely and plan gorgeous keto meals for my eating days.  I really found once I “flipped the fasting switch” for a day the cravings and temptation were gone, and this wasn’t as strange or stressful as it sounds.  On days I didn’t need to grocery shop I instead went to the park to exercise rather than walk around my neighborhood.  This was something I truly enjoyed and that felt like a treat on a weeknight because normally I wouldn’t have time.  Fasting days also become opportunities for “spa nights” with candlelit Epsom salt baths, relaxing music, and fancy soaps.  Basically, learning to fast meant learning to nourish my body and soul with things other than food and I came to look forward to what felt like long, leisurely evenings.

At the end of my month-long challenge, I had lost something like 15 pounds and dramatically reshaped my relationship with food and my body.  I no longer felt tempted to eat just because it was “time to eat.”  And if I did, I could recognize it as habit rather than hunger.  I had also developed a solid set of habits and practices that lowered stress and brought me joy but had nothing to do with eating.  That’s huge for someone who has struggled with weight, emotional eating, and anxiety most of her life.

While I love alternate day fasting, I don’t do it all the time.  I often do it for about a month – until my body tells me it wants a break – then go back to my regular daily keto meals until I feel ready to start again.  I don’t know how to explain how I know when it’s time, other than to say I can feel when it’s time to “tighten the screws,” which fasting does for me. 

With this post I wrap up my first week of fasting for Fasting February.  I’m down about 5 pounds (if you remember I lost nothing in January, so I was overdue) and my legs feel light and amazing.  My ketones are also through the roof, which means my mind is clear and sharp.    

Be sure to join me next week to learn the other major reason I love alternate day fasting and sign up below to make sure you don’t miss that or any other Sturdy updates.

Remember, I am not a medical professional and it’s essential that you involve your care team before and during any changes you might choose to make to your eating plan or routine. Each of us is individual and our bodies may respond differently!

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What Happened When I Didn’t Eat Dairy for a Month | Non-Dairy January

This weekend I should be counting down and stocking up on heavy cream to celebrate the end of my month-long dairy elimination challenge.  Instead, I’m tightening the screws just a little more and buckling in for at least a few more weeks.  You see, Sturdy Readers, some interesting things have happened over the past few weeks that underscore why non-scale victories are so much more useful for tracking progress on keto (and with lipedema) than the scale.

Last weekend my friend Kristin called to see how my challenge was going.  You might remember she’s the coach from Lipedema Simplified who encouraged me to do this whole thing.  I told her nothing had happened and that I planned to go right back to dairy on February 1.  “Hmmmm,” she said pausing thoughtfully.  “Tell me more about what you’ve been doing.”  I showed her my Milkademia and explained how I had, for the first time, been eating a lot of nuts.  During the first few days of the challenge, I experienced cravings and finding a long-forgotten bag of macadamia nuts at the back of the cupboard felt like stumbling upon a case of cold La Croix in the desert.  Salvation.  I checked the carbs and serving size and did a pretty good job pacing myself, but I enjoyed them so much that when that bag was gone, I bought more and I also bought a big canister of pecans, which sat dangerously on the corner of my desk.

 “You swapped one problem for another,” Kristin deduced.  “Keep going a few more weeks but get rid of the nuts and clean up your nut milk.”  It turns out Milkademia contains a few different gums and emulsifiers that may or may not cause inflammation.  Kristin’s advice was to steer clear and see if that made a difference.  Thankfully, a few days earlier, I picked up a jug of Malk.  It’s super clean (three simple ingredients) and foams like a dream, so move over Milkademia.  Malk is expensive, but comparable in price to the super clean, organic, and local heavy cream I bought before.

So, for the past week I have been off my nuts and on my Malk.  Here’s what happened.

First, my energy went through the roof.  And I mean through the roof.  I literally feel like I have a jet pack on my back on my daily walks. My speed has increased that noticeably.  I’ve even started running the last few blocks to my apartment just because I feel so good. 

Second, I went down a size in my jeans, which is a big deal when you have lipedema all over your hips and thighs.  No, I don’t think all that shrinking happened this week, but it certainly happened this month.  A few weeks ago, I needed to buy a belt.  Then I needed to start tightening it a few more notches.  Finally, this week I decided to try a smaller pair of jeans and… bam!  They fit. Same brand and same style that I was wearing before.

What didn’t happen this month?  Any weight loss.  Not a single pound.  In fact, at one point I was up more than five pounds, but I didn’t let it phase me.  As the user of this body, I know when it’s doing great and it’s doing great.  That’s why non-scale victories are so important to track and rely on rather than the scale.  I didn’t weigh myself the first six months I did keto.  Heck, I didn’t even own a scale.  Instead, I took pictures and made notes about how I felt and what I was doing, and I did something similar for non-dairy January. 

You don’t need a fancy tracker or a spreadsheet for non-scale victories.  In fact, I keep mine as a list on my phone.  Since it’s always with me I can easily add to it when I notice something and before I forget.  The important thing is to give yourself as many data points as possible in addition to (or even instead of) the scale.  Just think!  If I wasn’t paying attention to my clothes and only watching that digital display, I would think nothing had happened this month when, in actuality, I lost two dress sizes in my hips and thighs! That’s a sturdy woman win. I also want to stress bio-individuality and how different each of our bodies are. Working with a coach can be a game changer and really help you figure things out quick. Kristin and the other Lipedema Simplified coaches all offer free consultations so you literally have nothing to lose.

So, that’s it. I’ll give my body a few more weeks on my new cleaner regimen then sometime in February I’ll have a big cup of cream and see what happens.  Stay tuned.  In February I’m also planning to restart my fasting protocol.  Be sure to sign up for sturdy updates to learn why I love alternate day fasting and how it has taken my ketogenic lifestyle and my health to new levels.

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Non-Dairy January

I love cows. They are a key piece of the keto, borderline carnivore, way of life that I use to manage swelling and inflammation. My day usually starts with heavy cream in my coffee, continues with parmesan crisps and guacamole in the afternoon, and ends with a ribeye steak and some full fat greek yogurt in the afternoon. Thank you, cows, for making that possible. Like many people, I increased my dairy consumption when I went keto over a year ago and it has been a wonderful source of both fat and flavor in my diet. Until now.

There is a lot of talk about bio-individuality and food sensitivities in my lipedema circles yet I have long pushed away even the possibility that I could have a dairy intolerance. That would be a disaster! But as I deepened my levels of ketosis and incorporated fasting to accelerate my healing, strange things started happening to my stomach. Without warning eggs, which I’ve eaten all my life, started sending me on sprints to the bathroom and I started to wonder about some of my other food staples too. My conservative treatments (compression, pneumatic pumping, whole body vibration, etc.) were doing a lot, but some days I could still see swelling and feel inflammation. Something was still going on.

Google “food sensitivities” and you’ll see that eggs and dairy are some of the most problematic foods for human stomachs. Could dairy, I wondered, be behind the occasional inflammation and swelling I experienced even after eliminating eggs? Please no. Curiosity finally won out about a month ago when, on a whim, I picked up an EverlyWell at-home food sensitivity test during a Black Friday sale. Please no, I again prayed as I pricked my finger and promptly bled all over my kitchen, but it was too late. Pandora’s food sensitivity box was already open.

The results came by email a few days later and… Ugh! The only food it showed “high reactivity” for was cow milk. “Moderate reactivity” included egg whites (no surprise) and yogurt. Double ugh! I immediately went back into denial and rejection. It turns out the EverlyWell test is a little controversial and there is plenty of criticism of its science (or lack of it) to be found other places on the internet. For a second opinion I called my friend Kristin Arntz who is one of the great nutrition coaches at Lipedema Simplified. While she also shared doubts about the test itself, she nonetheless encouraged me to try an elimination diet. “But I don’t have symptoms!” I protested. I could feel her shaking her head even over the phone. “You don’t know if you have symptoms,” she corrected. “Eliminate all dairy for a month then see how you feel.” The one month part is important. Kristin noted that anything shorter than that wouldn’t give my gut enough time to heal.

So, on January 1, 2022, here I go. One month without dairy seems impossible, but I keep reminding myself that life without flour and sugar also seemed impossible at the beginning of my keto journey… but here I am 15 months later. We can get used to anything if we give it enough time. Wish me luck! Check back for updates on how I tweak my diet and if I notice any improvements in my health.

Are you doing any experiments of your own for 2022? Have you noticed any new food sensitivities after adopting a ketogenic way of eating? Drop me a note below in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

Join me this weekend!

What are you up to this weekend, sturdy women? Why don’t you join me at the Innovative Solutions for Lipedema and Lymphedema Symposium! Even if you have fun plans already, register now and you’ll have full access to the replays and all the resources.

One year ago I attended this conference and couldn’t have believed the transformations keto and other conservative interventions could have on my quality of life. Years of fighting to be something different pushed me toward an eating disorder, but learning to trust my body and myself unlocked a deep love and appreciation for my lippy curves. Friday evening at 4:30 EDT I’ll be presenting about my struggles with body image and how I’ve used music – among other things – to rewrite my mental self talk, finally accepting and loving my one precious body, however she looks.

After the patient panel I’ll answer questions live. I’d love to see you there!