Best Exercises for Lipedema: Benefits and 5 Ways to Get Moving

Can lipedema go away with exercise? What are the best exercises for lipedema? This week I discuss the benefits of exercise for lipedema patients and what role it played in my 140 pound weight loss. More on that here and here. Read on or watch below.

Remember I am not a doctor and this isn’t medical advice. Work with your care team before starting any new exercise routine or making changes to your self-care routine.

Mentioned in this Video: Benefits of exercise for lipedema patients and 5 great ways to get your lymph moving.

Can exercise help lipedema?

Absolutely! Exercise has tremendous benefits for everyone, including Sturdy Women dealing with the cornucopia of lipedema, lymphedema, and/or venous insufficiency. Anything that engages your calf muscles is going to help push fluid, including lymph, up and out of your legs. One of my major takeaways from the FDRS conference in April was that fat loves a fluid-rich environment. So get it out of there! Exercise is also a great way to relieve stress. Stress contributes to inflammation and inflammation makes lipedema worse.

Can you exercise lipedema away?

Again, I’m not a doctor, but all signs point to no. The truth is that exercise isn’t particularly effective in helping anyone lose weight, regardless of whether they have lipedema. This is one of the myths that Aubrey Gordon busts in her new book You Just Need to Lose Weight and 19 Other Myths About Fat People. I highly recommend reading it to better understand that science and for strategies to confront fat bias and size discrimination in your daily life. She gives lipedema a shout out in chapter 1!

I’ve lost 140 pounds since my diagnosis in 2020, but exercise played a minor role. Keto and understanding my food sensitivities has been magic. The core of my lipedema workout is walking and, as my energy improved, I added some light jogging and strength training. Earlier in my life I managed to lose weight through Biggest-Loser-Style calorie restriction and extreme exercise, but it didn’t change my legs and it consumed my entire life. I was punishing myself and I was miserable. It’s challenging, but try to “flip the switch” to seeing exercise as an avenue to support your health rather than penance for perceived flaws. Finding something you can enjoy doing every day will make a big difference.

What exercise is good for lipedema?

  1. Walking is my absolute to-go exercise for lipedema. I try to do it twice a day and my doctor and physical therapist both emphasized frequency was as important as duration. Several short walks throughout the day can be more beneficial than one long walk at the end. Find a good pair of wide walking shoes (those are my favorite!) and something relaxing to listen to. Check out my Love Your Lipedema Life Playlist for musical inspiration or try out a podcast or audiobook. I’m a huge fan of Audible for both and it’s a great way to learn, laugh, or catch up on current events while doing your lipedema walking.
  2. Swimming is a good low-impact exercise for lipedema that comes with the extra benefit of compression from the water. Fellow lipedema lady Susan O’Hara recently published the book Aqua Therapy for Lipedema and Lymphedema. It includes more information about the benefits of swimming for us Sturdy Women and how-to photos of different movements to do in the water. Worried about what to wear to the pool? Designers are making so many great, conservative options that can help you feel covered and confident. I discuss lipedema bathing suits and lipedema swimwear in my recent post How to Dress with Lipedema.
  3. Cycling, whether indoor or outdoor, will help move lymph and other fluid out of your legs. I’m a former spin instructor (yes, pre-diagnosis at 300 pounds!) but you don’t need to do anything that intense. A recumbent bike that puts your legs in more of a horizontal position will make it even easier to move fluid – take that gravity! They even make small models you can use under a desk or while sitting on the couch. Check out the DeskCycle.
  4. Vibration plates deserve their own post (coming soon!) but I couldn’t leave them off this list. Research suggests that combining whole body vibration with MLD is more beneficial than MLD alone. Whole body vibration increases circulation and stimulates lymph flow. It can be used standing, sitting, or even laying on the floor. I like to use mine for 15 minutes before using my pneumatic pump, but I know other Sturdy Women who like to keep one under their desk to energize their legs throughout the day. Look for a model that oscillates (wobbles up and down rather than just side-to-side) like the Shake It Off vibration plate in the Sturdy Woman shop (we offer interest free payment plans!) or the similar LifePro Waver available on Amazon. You want to use it without your compression garments for full jiggly effect.
  5. Rebounding might be the most fun and playful way to move your lymph. Sadly, I live in an upstairs apartment and I don’t think the people downstairs would appreciate me jumping on a mini trampoline! The up and down motion combined with the contraction of the calf muscle is great to pump fluid out of your legs. Look for a heavy-duty one with a handle so you can feel really stable while using it. This rebounder has a 450 pound weight capacity and a bar. No, you don’t need to do tricks or practice for the circus! Gentle bouncing is all it takes. There is also a miniature version called the Trampolette that’s perfect for bouncing under your desk or taking along when traveling. That’s the one I need in my apartment! It was designed explicitly for lipedema and lymphedema to help combat swelling.

This isn’t an exhaustive list but hopefully it gives you some ideas to get started and get moving. The most important thing is to do something and you are much more likely to stick with your lipedema exercise program if you find something you enjoy. Taking care of yourself shouldn’t feel like punishment ❤

I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through an Amazon link on the channel, but that’s never why I recommend something.

Lipedema Before and After: Measuring Progress on Your Journey

Have you started a new lipedema treatment or lipedema diet and you are wondering if it’s working? This week I share my complicated relationship with the scale and recommend things other than weighing that Sturdy Women can do to track non-scale victories on their journey. As usual you can read or watch, but this week I recommend watching because at the end of the video I do something I never thought I’d do. I share my lipedema before and after pictures.

Has the scale ever given made you feel good about something, Sturdy Woman? Or are you like me, and scales have most reliably made you feel like a failure even when you’re trying really hard? I hadn’t weight myself for nearly six to nine months before starting keto and I didn’t weigh myself at all until three or four months into my journey. I didn’t even own a scale! Like many of you, I believed it was impossible to lose weight with lipedema and I didn’t want to feel like a failure if it “didn’t work”. I knew there were non-scale benefits to keto and I didn’t want a lack of weight loss to discourage me from pursuing those.

What did I do instead? I took pictures about once a month and also used a measuring tape to track changes, particularly in my lipedema legs. Get yourself a cute little notebook and take notes. How do you feel? What does your skin look like? Is your energy level or sleep changing? These things matter! If you don’t have anyone you trust to help you take photos, there are many low-cost options on Amazon. Here’s a tripod and BlueTooth remote option similar to what I use. It might be emotional a first, but looking at your body (and being kind to it while you do that) will go a long way toward learning to befriend her.

If you are on keto, I highly recommend tracking your blood sugar and ketone levels. Make sure you’re in ketosis before you say it isn’t working! Remember that your body is going to want to do some healing before it starts letting go of weight. Don’t rush it. In addition to letting you know if you’re in ketosis, a meter is going to help you learn how different foods affect you and what different blood sugar or ketone levels feel like. For example, when my blood sugar is elevated I feel hungry, cranky, and tired. A quick walk usually snaps me out of it. My favorite meter is the Keto Mojo GK+ which can measure levels of both, syncs to your phone, and only costs about $50 USD. I’ve been using mine regularly for more than two years.

One final thought on weight and BMI… before you get lost chasing a number, you should know that BMI was originally developed with data from white men and was designed to be used for populations not individuals. You can read more about that here and here and by searching on Google Scholar.

If you just have to weigh yourself, no problem. You do you. Give yourself a gift, though, and before you start any new conservative treatment for lipedema, collect multiple data points so you can also track the fantastic non-scale victories you are going to achieve.

If you purchase through an Amazon link in this post I may earn a small commission, but that’s never why I recommend something.

Lipedema Compression Leggings: Washing and Care

Does compression help lipedema? Yes. Fat thrives in a fluid rich environment so anything you can do to keep boost your circulation and lymph flow is going to slow progression and provide relief. Remember, the circulatory system has the heart to pump it but the lymphatic system depends on you literally moving. Wearing your compression while you move is going to give lipedema a great one-two punch where it hurts.

What is the best compression for lipedema? The one you will wear. No, really. It doesn’t matter how much you spend on your compression or how specially customized it is to your shape if you never wear it. Any compression is better than no compression. That said, I do have a favorite compression legging and I posted about it a few months ago in my popular video The Best Compression Leggings for Lipedema. They might also be the best for you – and they might not. Keep looking until you find one you love and will wear. If you want to try out my favorites for yourself, I wear CZ Salus flat knit compression leggings in level K2. I started in an XXL short and after my 140 pound non-surgical weight loss am in a medium. Note, I no longer wear short! The length/height chart changes as the sizes go up and down so pay attention to that. Some people have reported difficulties finding the size chart for CZ Salus so I’ll link it here for leggings and here for shirts and boleros. Custom sizes can also be ordered directly on their website!

Now that you know compression helps, and you’ve hopefully found something you love, how do you take care of your investment? Read on or watch below.

How many sets of compression do I need? Once you find something you love and you know you will wear it, buy a minimum of two sets. I say sets because you may need to mix and match and, for example, wear one size on your hips and thighs and a different size on your calves. I’m not a medical professional, so work with your team to figure out what is best for your body. Regardless of what you wear, it’s critical that you wash your lipedema compression tights after each wear. If you don’t, you’ll notice that they are a little easier to put on each day. That also means they are providing less compression! Washing your compression garment helps keep its fibers at peak performance and prevents any yuck from building up with it being next to your skin all day every day. Note, I said a minimum of two. I find that three sets works best for me so that if I am traveling or busy and forget to wash my compression leggings one day I still have a back-up pair to wear.

Can I wash my compression garment? Now that you’ve found lipedema compression that you love, how do you take care of your investment? I’m about to tell you what I do, but you should absolutely follow the recommendation of your garment’s manufacturer. At the recent FDRS conference one of the presenters stressed the importance of this and noted that you can void any guarantee or warranty on your garment if you don’t follow their washing guidance. That said, here’s what I do for my CZ Salus. I wash it in my washing machine with cold water on the delicate setting with nothing else in the machine. The last thing you want is a zipper or clasp catching it somewhere and ripping it. What kind of soap do I use to wash my compression? None. That’s right. I don’t use soap at all. I just let the water do its thing. This is actually what CZ Salus told me to do! I approached them at a conference and they looked at me a little funny when I asked about soap. “Why do you need it?” It seemed crazy, but I tried it and have been washing without soap for about two years now. I’ve never had a smelly or dirty feeling garment that whole time. Once my lipedema compression has been rinsed in the washing machine, I hang it up to air dry and move on with my day. Yep, in my experience compression garments are machine washable.

But really, can I wash compression socks with soap? Yes, of course, you can buy special soaps. Like your garment, however, they are expensive and you want to use the one from your manufacturer if they have one. Again, this is so you don’t void your warranty. CZ Salus doesn’t have a special soap – remember, they recommended no soap – but occasionally I want just a little something. In the summer I love to get out in the sun to exercise and often get really sweaty. On those days I’ll wash my lipedema compression with Medi Care Medical Compression Garment Detergent. It seems to work well and even has a nice, light smell.

I’m fun and vibrant and want my compression to reflect that. Where can I buy colorful compression leggings? CZ Salus offers lipedema compression leggings in a variety of colors, but on Amazon you’ll only find black and medical beige. If you purchase through their Italian website you’ll have to pay in Euros, but you’ll be able to get blue, purple, burgundy and now pink and gray. Fuchsia and graphite were added earlier this month and if you watch the video version of this post you’ll see what they look like. The shipping is very fast too. I ordered mine of a Saturday and it was at my house in the US on Wednesday via DHL. Some credit cards like Capital One don’t charge fees for purchasing in foreign currency, so check with your company before you assume Amazon is your only option.

What’s your favorite compression garment for lipedema? What have you found most practical in terms or care and washing? Drop me and line below and let’s all learn from each other.

I have no relationship with CZ Salus other than being a loyal customer. I am an Amazon affiliate, however, and will earn a small commission if you purchase through one of the links in this post. But that never influences my recommendations!

What makes lipedema worse? The role of inflammation

Are you wondering what makes lipedema worse? Does lipedema cause swelling and does lipedema cause inflammation? What’s the deal with keto and inflammation? It’s complicated, intertwined, and all part of the puzzle researchers are still putting together. Inflammation and the role it plays in lipedema was one of my major takeaways from the recent 2023 Fat Disorders Research Society (FDRS) conference. Read on (or watch below) to understand the connection between food sensitives, stress, and inflammation for lipedema patients. I’ll also share one key reason keto reduces inflammation.

But please remember, I’m not a doctor and this isn’t medical advice. Work with your care team to figure out what’s right for you.

A discussion of the role of inflammation in lipedema and strategies for reducing it in our bodies.

The connection between inflammation, swelling, a fat was a major a-ha moment for me during FDRS. Dr. Herbst emphasized multiple times that fat loves a fluid-rich environment and that helps it grow and expand. Well, guess what? Inflammation can cause swelling which contributes to the development of that fluid-rich environment. I heard over and again that it is important for lipedema patients to reduce inflammation. Honestly, it’s important for everyone but our sluggish lymphatic systems means that our bodies are more easily overwhelmed.

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How can you reduce inflammation related to lipedema?

  1. Identify and eliminate – or at least reduce – food sensitivities. Every day you may be unknowingly eating foods you are sensitive to. That was me with dairy and eggs. I had eaten them my whole life so I assumed they were fine for me… until I saw what happened when I stopped! (See my dairy-free series for more on that.) Keto automatically wipes out a lot of problem foods but you will likely need to dig a little deeper to figure out everything that is causing you problems, especially if you tried keto and it “just didn’t work.” You may be reacting to spices or other things you take for granted as good for you. A few years ago I did an over-the-counter Everlywell food sensitivity test and that helped me identify foods to explore through an elimination diet. I bought the basic test that looks at 96 foods, but they also have a comprehensive food sensitivity test that looks at 204 different possible triggers. Both of these tests are done by pricking your finger at home and mailing in a small sample. For more reliable and detailed results, see an allergist and/or a nutritionist.
  2. Control blood sugar. Did you know that high blood sugar can contribute to inflammation? One of the benefits of a keto or low-carb lifestyle is that it brings down your blood sugar quite dramatically. This explains why eliminating, or at least reducing carbohydrates can have such a big influence. Not only are many of us sensitive to eating them, but they also send our bodies on a blood sugar roller coaster that fuels inflammation. And remember, inflammation creates swelling, and fat loves stagnant fluid.
  3. Manage stress. Chronic stress is bad. We all know that but it doesn’t make it any easier to change! So many women have reached out to share they are worried, scared, and stressed about having lipedema. The difficult thing about that is that being stressed about lipedema actually makes it worse. Stress is known to contribute to inflammation and if you’ve read this far, you understand that inflammation makes lipedema worse. Check out my post on mental health challenges and strategies for lipedema patients for some tips on navigating that minefield. Remember, it took you years to get this sick and it’s going to take time to heal your body. Take it one day at a time and, rather than focus on being perfect and changing your whole life right now, try to do better than last week. One step at a time will take you places you never dreamed possible.

Have you noticed inflammation from food or stress impacts your lipedema? What strategies have you found helpful for managing it? I’d love to hear from you!

I may receive a small commission if you purchase through an Amazon link in this post, but that’s never why I recommend something.

Mental Health and Lipedema, Challenges and Strategies

Are you struggling with lipedema and depression? Are your lipedema legs or lipedema arms hurting your body image and self-confidence? You are not alone! Many women with lipedema and lymphedema struggle with these issues both before and after a diagnosis. After years of wondering “why are my legs so big” and “why can’t I lose weight” we suddenly have a diagnosis, but that validation often comes with the sting of being told there is little you can do. Be strong, Sturdy Woman.

I’ve heard from many women recently, asking for strategies to help overcome the negative thoughts and hopelessness they feel related to lipedema. This week I want to share some of the struggles I faced, both before and after my diagnosis, and describe some of the strategies I used over the past three years to start reshaping my relationship with myself and my body.

Links included below the video.

Rebekah discusses mental health challenges related to lipedema and suggests strategies that have helped her improve her relationship with her body, mind, and spirit.
  1. Find a Therapist You Trust Really. Do this. I’ve been with mine for more than four years. That’s right, I started working on my body image issues and internalized fat bias an entire year before I learned about lipedema. That was huge in helping me embrace lifestyle changes as medicine rather than punishment. Early in life, I had been the queen of using insults and shame to motivate myself to restrict and over-exercise. Doing some rewiring ahead of my diagnosis set me up to accept that my body is me. She’s a friend who needs love and support, not an enemy to be conquered. The silver lining of COVID is that it is much easier to connect with therapists virtually, so you can more easily squeeze it into a busy schedule and even sit on your own couch!
  2. Movement For me this is walking, but this could be anything that helps you process stress and literally move it out of your body. Go to the pool, dance, or use your vibration plate. These are my favorite wide shoes for walking. Amazon says I’ve bought them 8 times in the past year and a half!
  3. Music While you are moving, put on some upbeat music to put some pep in your step. I literally have a Love Your Lipedema Life playlist. After my diagnosis, I started filling it with anything that made me feel good, whether that was body-positive lyrics or just a great beat. I posted a portion of it on the Sturdy Woman YouTube channel if you want to borrow it. I also did a weekly series on my favorite songs a few years back. Whatever gives you good vibes, collect as much as you can and blast it into your ears as much as possible. This will go a long way toward chasing away the negative voices.
  4. Quotes and Affirmations When collecting happy things, don’t stop with music! Fill your space with positive messages and quotes. Tape them on your wall, your bathroom mirror, or anywhere else you might need a boost. I keep a book of affirmations called You’re Doing A Freaking Great Job on my desk and, yes, I sometimes flip through it during stressful work meetings. Managing a chronic illness can seem like a full-time job but, Sturdy Woman, you are doing a freaking great job! Find a way to remind yourself of that everywhere you look.
  5. Meditation Yes, I already hear some of you groaning, but I was that person too! I thought I just “wasn’t a meditation person” but my therapist was pretty persistent and I trusted her so I finally gave in. To motivate myself I bought a year-long subscription to an app. There are a lot of good free meditation apps, but I knew spending money would trick me into doing it – I wouldn’t want to have wasted money! So I bought Headspace and started trying to meditate for even five minutes a night while pumping. Wow, it was hard at first! No, really. I’m not being dramatic. I wanted to crawl out of my skin, but after a few weeks, I started to see the benefits. My favorite sessions are in the self-compassion course so check those out if you decide to try it.

That’s my list, but what’s on yours? What mental health challenges have you faced related to your lipedema? What has helped you repair your relationship with your body? I’d love to hear from you below in the comments so we can learn from each other.

If you purchase through an Amazon link in this post I may get a small commission, but that’s never why I recommend something!

The Best Supplements for Lipedema and Lymphedema

What are the best supplements for lipedema? What about lymphedema supplements? There is no shortage of advice from people online cued up to sell us a miracle cure. How do you know which ones are worth the investment, especially when insurance covers practically none of it for lipedema?

This month I am three years out from my diagnosis with lipedema and lymphedema. Below I want to share the handful of things I’ve found helpful to hopefully save you some heartache and money. We are all bioindividual, however, and you might have different needs. For a complete list of supplements for lipedema and dercums disease, check out this list curated by Dr. Karen Herbst. I’ve said it before, but please consult your own care team before making any changes to your routine.

Here are the supplements I’ve made the foundation of my lipedema treatment:

  1. Perfect Keto Collagen Powder Lipedema is a connective tissue disorder and collagen is the basis of strong connective tissue. If you start losing weight you’ll also want to give your skin a little extra TLC and collagen is great for that. I love the chocolate powder from Perfect Keto and use it in my coffee every day. Check out my recipe for mint chocolate keto coffee and treat yourself to keto decadence. It takes about three months for skin cells to turn over, so plan on investing in it for at least that long to start seeing results. Bonus, my skin and nails have never looked better!
  2. Coromega Max Fish Oil Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. I am not a big fish eater and avoided fish oil for a long time because of the “fish burps” that can happen with pills. Thankfully I found Coromega. Their squeeze packets have no fish taste and taste great. My favorite in the orange – yum!
  3. LMNT Electrolyte Powder Salt is the most misunderstood part of the American diet. If you are keto, carnivore, low-carb, or an intermittent faster then salt is essential for you. You need to be getting at least 2 teaspoons a day. That’s a lot! Measure it out and see for yourself what that looks like. One easy one to get it in is by supplementing with an electrolyte powder. I love LMNT and always carry a few packets in my backpack. Anytime I feel sluggish or down I mix one up and it’s usually all I need to get back on my feet. The chocolate is great to mix into protein shakes! Salted chocolate? Yes, please. Unlike most electrolyte powders, it is designed for a low-carb lifestyle and has none of the usual sugars or sweeteners.
  4. Hesperidin and Diosmin You’ll see this on Dr. Herbst’s list and it was also recommended by my vein doctor when I couldn’t afford the prescription Vasculera they suggested (my insurance wouldn’t cover it and it was nearly $500/month!). Diosmin supports healthy veins, helps with inflammation, and also supports lymph flow.

Have you used other supplements that have been helpful on your journey with lipedema or lymphedema? Leave me a note below in the comments! I created this post based on a request from one of my Sturdy Woman YouTube followers. Curious about something else? Let me know 🙂

If you make a purchase through one of the links in this post I may receive a small commission (but that’s not why I recommended them!).

Brighter Days | Music Monday

Turbulence continues to rock the world and 2022 isn’t the fresh start many of us hoped for.  Added stress from persistent and escalating world events is the last thing those of us with chronic illness need to add to our lives.  Stress increases my inflammation and swelling so – as much as I care – I’ve unplugged from the news for the past month.  Work is tough, my personal life is tough, and the last thing I want to think about is global doom. 

To keep stress at bay, I stick to my self-care routine as much as possible.  In addition to standard lipedema protocols such as compression, exercise, and keto, I also meditate every day.  I use Headspace and I’ve been repeating the 10-day self-compassion series nonstop for the past six months.  It walks through offering love and compassion to yourself, to someone you love, and someone you are having difficulties with.  There is no doubt that it shifts something in my energy – within a few weeks my usually standoffish cat started curling up under my arm as soon as I started.  I never thought I’d be the kind of person who meditates, but I started two years ago around the same time I got my FlexiTouch pump. Pumping and meditation were a great pair.  Meditation made me want to crawl out of my skin and my pump kept me from being able to escape!

The other way I combat stress is with music and I usually find myself scrolling through songs either before or after I meditate.  That’s how I found today’s pick, Brighter Days by Emeli Sandé.  It’s the perfect, uplifting song for stressful days and is sure to set the mood for a good week.

We’ve seen it all
The tears have fallen
And every step is on the edge
And we’re so confused
We don’t understand
It feels like this night won’t end
But there’s gonna be brighter days
Brighter Days
I’ll keep you lifted when you’re losing faith
There’s gonna be brighter days
Brighter days
Though it seems distant, know the world will change

Emelie Sandé “Better Days”

How does stress impact your health and well being, Sturdy readers?  How do you keep it under control and stay present for your one beautiful life?  Drop me a note in the comments and let me know what works for you. I’ll try it out!

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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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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.  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 waited three months before I finally found a coach, 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 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 she 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 she 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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