I have hacked my way to wellness for much of my life.
Without sharing all the gory details, the reality was that I had made a huge, horrific decision, and for many years I was stuck in the harsh reality of living it out. I lived with regret which over time turned into depression.
My Breakthrough To Wellness
I have hacked my way to wellness for much of my life. At 32 years old, I weighed 240 pounds and wore a size 22 dress. I could barely walk a flight of stairs without gasping for breath. If that wasn't enough, at the same time a conversation with my doctor confirmed that my blood pressure was at a dangerous level. I cringed as she mentioned the idea of medication. My mind couldn’t fathom that at age 32 I would need blood pressure medication. After all, I erroneously reasoned, everybody knows blood pressure meds are for old people. But there I was, hitting rock bottom. As we completed our talk, the doctor said she would not prescribe the medication just yet, but she would wait until my next visit and see if there was any change. Her statement was like a new lease on life. I still had a chance to avoid the medication. I left the doctor’s office vowing to return a changed, happier and healthier woman. Looking back, one of the things I began to realize is that when I hit rock bottom it wasn’t just about what and how I was eating (that was a symptom). It was also very much about what was eating me (that was the cause). Without sharing all the gory details, the reality was that I had made a huge, horrific decision, and for many years I was stuck in the harsh reality of living it out. I lived with regret which over time turned into depression. While I thought I was managing my depression, I was really just stuffing it, both into my mouth and into my psyche. I was trying to cover the emotional pain that was beating against my insides crying for attention. The more I shooed it away the more depressed I became. The more depressed I became, the more I ate. The more I ate the more....well, you get the picture. It was a vicious cycle. And then, right in the midst of it all, the big one happened. My mother, who was also my best friend, passed away. I was devastated, and it changed my whole life. Suddenly, I felt desperately alone and everything around me seemed to float in a haze of murky, dark gray. And with fierce intensity, like a lion going for it's prey, more pounds leaped onto my body. I sat in my darkness. I sat in the depths of my distress. And I sat in the relentless despair. Then came the awakening. I said, "God." Just that one word, and I let it linger in the airspace between He and I until the next words got past the lump in my throat. And then I eked out these words, "I don't want to die an early death, please help me...please God!" It was in this spiritual encounter that I was led to the book of Daniel in the Bible. My answer came almost immediately, in the very first chapter of Daniel and particularly in verses 8-16. In this scenario Daniel and his friends were captives to the King of Babylon (but they were from a royal family, and would serve in positions that were within the palace). Daniel requested that they not be required to eat the lavish food offered by the palace, however the official in charge feared that Daniel and his friends would look malnourished and weak, and he would be reprimanded for not doing his job properly. But wait until you hear what happens next! In the paragraph below is the secret to my success, it changed my whole Black life. v. 11-16 "Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 'Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.' So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead." For the first time in a long time, I jumped to my feet and did a happy dance. God had given me my answer. He took me to the particular verses that corresponded to abstaining from the choice (the best) foods and instead eating simple, life-giving foods that bring health and vitality. I so desperately needed health and vitality. For the next several hours I sat contemplating the ways I would have to change in order to engage a lifestyle of eating to live rather than living to eat. Could I really live without pizza and McDonald's? How could I truly make life-giving foods my new reality? I came up with a few life hacks which I put in place to help me get out of the horrendous cycle of depression and gluttony. I am sharing this so that they can help you too. Set a food goal that is obtainable, yet will stretch you. When I first started, my food goal was pretty much, "McDonald's is dead to me." That may sound funny but at the time McDonald's was my biggest food enemy. I had to squash that opponent quick. Later I progressed to cutting out all beef and pork. That was almost twenty years ago and I haven't gone back. Get curious. Make your decision a journey. Go all in, and be all about it. Google things about healthy eating. Do whatever is necessary to get deeply connected to this new universe. I started looking up a vegetable or a fruit each day and learning the health benefits it offered my body. This made it more exciting to know the health value of what I was eating. Create a workout goal. It's great to lose weight by changing your diet, but if you don't add some level of exercise to your routine your skin will sag and bag. And who wants that? The easiest thing for me to do when I was starting on this journey was to walk. There was a walking path called Valley Green not too far from where I lived. I made it my ritual to get up early and walk a few miles each day. Later in my journey, I added strenth training to build muscle mass and protein to prevent loss of lean muscle mass. Enlist a buddy. Sometimes it's good to invite a person along on the journey. You don't have to have the same exact goals but if you're both interested in shedding the weight and living a healthier life, that's a good buddy connection. My sister was my walking buddy. We met at 6:00 am every morning to walk the trail at Valley Green and talk about our other goals in life. It made for great encouragement and it kept us motivated. Drink water and plenty of it. I used to drink loads of carbonated drinks and other sugary drinks, and that was a major part of my weight gain. I actually cried the first time I sat down to a meal with a glass of water instead of a glass of soda. I didn't think I was going to survive without my sugar fix, but each time became easier and easier. Besides, when you take away the sugar and see the pounds melt away you will jump for joy at your progress. So drink water and lots of it! You'll be glad to know that when I returned to the doctor my blood pressure had gone down significantly and I had dropped quite a few pounds. The doctor didn't have to prescribe medication because I had become serious about caring for my health and wellness. The other great outcome was that all of the trail walking and eating life-giving foods had helped clear a good amount of my formerly stress-filled head-space. I was getting my clarity back. I was no longer afraid to admit that I had made a terrible decision in the past, and that level of authenticity opened the path of freedom for me. I was able to embrace the idea that my life was not over because of one mistake. And I was also able to see that I could create a new path and believe that the best for me was yet to come - especially since I was awakened to a new self-care regimen. As my best friend Oprah says, "This is what I know for sure." When you are in tough situations like or similar to the ones I speak of here, don't be a lone ranger. Isolation or covering up your trauma only makes it worse. It's imperative in those times to place yourself around the right people. Build your personal team of knowledgeable allies who can help you get back on your feet again. My team consisted of my doctor who was committed to my health, my sister who was committed to walking with me each morning, and a great therapist who was committed to giving me tools for emotional growth and wellness. Without them I wouldn't have been able to lose 50 pounds and keep it off for twenty years. Words of wisdom: Mistakes are learning and growing opportunities, don't let a mistake worry you into an early grave. And don't try to eat yourself happy, it never works. Yes, you will get a false sense of fullness and satisfaction but it will fade fast and then your emotional emptiness will eat you alive. I will leave you with this.....self-care is your friend. However, in the Black community there has been a stigma attached to certain types of self-care like counseling or therapy and even going to the doctor for check ups. But while we try to act like we don't need it, Black people are dying and dying early at an astronomically higher rate than the rest of the population. It's time to change our paradigm. We can't just type Black Lives Matter on a Facebook post, we have to really believe it, and act on it in our daily lives. Your Black life matters, your uncle's Black life matters, your neighbor's Black life matters. If you're going to be a rebel, be a rebel for a cause and stand up for your physical and mental wellness everyday. The ones who stand up and say I need help are the ones who become the heroes of their own story. Joy Linn Mackey is a wellness guru and founder of Motherland Ventures, LLC - a Wellness, Justice and Joy ecosystem, dedicated to promoting racial healing in the USA.