We sat across from each other in a cozy eatery, enjoying a mid-summer breakfast as my girlfriend shared her heart.
“I just don’t feel good in my body these days,” she said.
I nodded, familiar with that space. She was struggling with direction about food and exercise, knowing there was so much more to living well, yet feeling stuck and discouraged.
In August, I found myself on the backyard patio with thoughts swirling and journal in hand. I was nearly three years past a cancer diagnosis and could sense that I was coming around a new bend as a deep clarity settled within: Extravagant grace and care for my body was the beautiful next right thing for me. I knew then exactly what that would look like and began to write some of the pieces down in my journal.
I knew with clarity that all of the progress, strength, weight loss and wellness would come from first being grounded in a very solid and unapologetic love, extended to myself.
The change I could see unfolding in my body would not come out of self-condemnation or harsh pressure but from a place of restful, clear resolve founded on love.
This beautiful body of mine had carried and birthed babies and healed from cancer and countless treatments and surgeries. I felt, at that moment, nothing but pure love and gratitude: this body, this life, such a gift. The choice to nourish myself well, each day, began to flow out of that peace.
Nourishing well comes first from listening well. In the three years since a breast cancer diagnosis, I have become really good at listening to my body. Which foods fuel me, deplete me and create inflammation and digestive distress? What rhythms of rest make good sense for me? How can I move my body, not to beat myself into shape, but with a posture of creating strength from head-to-toe (and maybe even enjoy my exercise experience)?
I have had the deep blessing of curating many tools and practices over the past three years, and these foundational practices have led me into a season of feeling really good in my body.
I have had a passion for real, whole food for years – brewing my own kombucha, cooking from scratch, and really aiming to feed my family well. Within that context, I also began to notice foods that didn’t fuel me well. For the most part, I opted to continue eating what I enjoyed and often ate large portions and especially over-ate sweets and sugar.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, I became desperate in my passion and urgency to learn all that I could about food and cancer. I immediately made radical dietary and eating changes in order to best support my body in eliminating cancer and healing from the treatments. I knew then, and believe now more than ever, that food truly is healing. God has provided such extraordinary and abundant nutrients in good quality foods. Such a gift!
After the diagnosis, I made radical initial changes that I maintained for many months. Then I gradually began to allow myself to indulge in some “off limits” food again after I felt I could finally relax from the terror of the diagnosis and wanted to move into more of a sense of normalcy. I gradually gained back some weight and began to not feel as well as I knew I could.
When I sat over breakfast with my girlfriend this summer, her words about not feeling really good in her body resonated within me. Although most of my diet was fairly good, I sensed an invitation to a permanent shift was coming.
The invitation did come, in the form of a good friend sharing that she was starting a Whole30 in September. As she said it, I knew it was definitely the right next move for me. And so, with little hype or obsessive preparation, no big announcements or radical changes in my family’s eating, I simply adjusted what I ate. I kept it very simple, not trying fancy new recipes but truly sticking with the very basics.
It’s empowering to know and to choose well and to feel really good. I’m not mourning the loss of certain foods. On special occasions, I may have some (apple pie on Thanksgiving, yes please!) but mostly I feel food freedom and a deep down sense of steadiness and wellness in my body.
Nothing tastes as good as that feels.
Sleeping & Fasting
Many past years of sleepless back-to-back babies and stressful life circumstances made it hard to truly allow my body the rest that it needed, even though I knew research proves the importance of our body’s rhythms of rest and sleep.
Cancer provided an urgent invitation to deeply examine the whole of my life. I gained a new appreciation for the way my body is uniquely designed. Rather than resisting the cues and strong signals my body would send (pushing through deep fatigue at night, for instance, because I “should” stay awake later) I’ve shifted to a gentle embrace of these parts of me. By 9 pm, I’m beginning to feel really sleepy, and by 10 pm I’m ready to go to sleep. Today, I know and accept this.
One of the non-negotiables in my life is that I do not eat overnight. Not a bite, not ever. I remember many a night of being awake in the wee dark hours of night with a baby, and I would grab a graham cracker or some kind of snack. Not anymore. Once I recognized how well my body responded to an extended nighttime fast and an early bedtime, I’ve embraced this as a practice, and mornings have become a true treat. I rise by early and usually feel really good, ready for a glass of lemon water.
I’ve always loved being active, and had many years of weight-lifting and cardio routines at the gym, training and running 5Ks, and doing cardio videos at home. In order for a workout to “count,” I was sure that it had to include copious amounts of sweat and some degree of pain.
What an incredible gift to discover yoga during my healing throughout breast cancer treatment. I started with a yoga book that showed me simple postures. I was able to practice in the privacy of my bedroom and found a sense of refreshment right away.
Yoga continues to surprise me in the ways it strengthens and challenges my body while simultaneously energizing and refreshing my mind and heart. I just completed a yoga challenge—30 days, no excuses… just clear resolve, and it felt incredible.
I have come to crave the time that I move my body, either on the yoga mat, on the rebounder, or getting outdoors and breathing deep while moving my body. It is not a punishment or stress-pressed activity, and it truly FEELS good.
What I continue to learn, and experience in my daily life is that we have an amazing capacity to step – with great love and grace – In the direction of truly nourishing practices. Without strife, angst or self-punishment, I‘ve lost weight since last August, gained strength and felt an unbelievable sense of steadiness, ease, and hope. It is a sweet relief to realize that I haven’t “arrived” —that, as with all of life, nourishing my body and growing in wellness is a continual unfolding. Upon diagnosis of breast cancer years ago, I made some incredible changes, and now I have entered a season of listening well and a deep sense of feeling really good in my body. I look forward to continuing to listen well and grow, stepping in the direction of deeply nourishing practices.
Transformation can happen, in our minds and bodies, one gentle step at a time.
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Featured image courtesy of Hill Smiley Photography
Emily Green lives in Southern Oregon with her beloved hubby and three kids. Her days and heart are filled with homeschooling, good coffee, life-giving friendships, and plenty of time outdoors. As a breast cancer survivor, Emily is passionate about healing and hope and living intentionally and with gratitude for the gift of each day and God’s grace. Connect with Emily at her blog, Facebook, and Instagram.