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The road to my 14-day vegan challenge

September 7, 2017

Oy … you guys, I could say, “Things have been crazy,” but that would need to be followed by “for the last 8 years,” right? You have a drawer full of big girl pants, too, so you get it. Let’s talk about this vegan challenge.

Oh, wait, two quick things since we haven’t chatted in a bit. No. 1, am I the only parent out there getting d-o-w-n to some Descendants 2 songs? Mel is basically Missy Elliott at this point in my life. It’s sad, but I’m leaning into it. So many ways to be wicked. And No. 2, Sloppy Joan pooped down her leg so bad the other day, it filled her rain boot. Like, to the brim. I have a picture, but I think just typing it is about all anyone can handle today.

Good, we’re all caught up.

So, sometimes I wonder if I’m some sort of masochist, ya know? When someone invited me – me! A woman who has spent hours googling phrases like, “Why do yoga arms evade me?” and “Can a person overdose on sugar?” and “painful upper leg jiggle” – to voluntarily lay down on a table and have an iDXA scan, where a machine runs down your person to reveal your actual body composition, I said, “Why yes! Yes, I would love to.”

Why would I do that? Let me just tell you this, now typing from the other side of the experience, there is no go-get-em TEDTalk, no healthy perspective podcast, or frightening food documentary, or humble blog post or Brene Brown-eque book to prepare you for seeing how much of your body is bone, how much is muscle and how much is straight up butcher shop lard.

None. Nothing. Nope.

So, first of all, they have you lay down on your back for the iDXA scan. You know what happens when you lay down on your back? Everything spreads and settles. Like a batch of thick pancake batter hittin’ the griddle, baby. Then, you can’t move for 7 minutes. Because I had to fast for the test, I hadn’t had a lick of caffeine. So, when they said, “Hold still, please,” I heard, “Now, go ahead and take a 7-minute power nap with your eyes open.” And I said, “OK then.”

After your scan is complete, they hand you four papers and send you down for a consult. This is the portion of the visit where you discuss what the colors and numbers you’re seeing around your silhouette – which resembles Baymax from Big Hero 6 – actually mean. They try to be positive, but it’s basically like being broken up with by a cute boy in high school. “You’re bone density is great, but …” “It’s not your lack of muscle mass, it’s your …”

I won’t drag this saga out, or keep you in suspense; my results showed that I am just slightly into the overweight category. This information, sobering as it was, was no Sixth Sense plot twist. It wasn’t like Rachel choosing Bryan after crying off an eyelash over Peter. Or any of the Game of Thrones murders all you dorks are always freaking out over. The news was just confirmation that the slight insecurity I’ve been silently wrestling is now a full blown enemy, and we must go to war. It’s not about vanity (OK, it’s a little about vanity), but it’s about my health and my mobility and my children.

I’m not morbidly obese, but I’m not in a good place, either, and that’s enough to get me motivated for change. I think we’re often an all-or-nothing culture. People are too thin or too fat. They’re too toned or too frail. They’re too obsessed with their body or entirely negligent. But there’s a whole bunch of people globbed together there in the middle. And that’s where I find myself at the moment.

The problem? I’ve kind of exhausted the familiar weapons in my arsenal. The Whole30s and the half marathon training and the calorie tracking. It’s not cutting the mustard, obviously. So, I’ve decided to try something drastic and new, because, you know what, you don’t know until you try, right?

Several months back, while doing an interview with a cardiologist, I asked him about his diet. He smirked shyly and looked down, as if replaying and reliving months of judgement from his peers. “Well, I’m actually vegan,” he said. “Really?” I inquired. “Yeah,” he said. “Of all the personal and professional research I’ve done, it’s the only thing that really makes sense. I cut things out in stages and now I’m almost entirely vegan. I feel great, I maintain a healthy weight and my cholesterol looks fantastic.”

That was the first time I considered the benefits of a vegan lifestyle.

Then, about a month ago, I got a weird bug. I felt a ton of pressure in my head and completely nauseous with stomach pains and just generally shitty. While hugging my internal organs and sweating profusely, I decided to watch, “What the Health” the trending new food documentary. (A little secret about me: I am obsessed with food documentaries.) As I listened to the testimonials and the research (some of which I’m not entirely sold on), I started to fear that there was some truth to the reports that my sizzling love affair with bacon might not be in my best interests.

That was the second time I considered the benefits of a vegan lifestyle.

And then I flipped through my planner and came across the images from my iDXA scan, tucked shamefully in the back behind a baby shower invitation. Holding them in my hands, I walked into my closet and looked up at the 8 neat stacks of pre-baby clothes taunting me just below the ceiling. I turned to the mirror and I thought about all of the excuses and do-overs and self-loathing I’d racked up over the past eight, likely more, years. And I started to get really angry.

That was last week. That was also the time I decided to try this vegan thing out. Now, before you get all Judy Judgey on me, realize that I’m not buying the Porsche. I’m just taking it out for a test drive for a few weeks.

There are claims out there that a vegan diet can:
Lower risk of cardiovascular disease
Lower risk of cancer
Improve kidney function
Help lose excess weight
Reduce inflammation
Improve bone health
Reduce your carbon footprint significantly

Gosh, if even one of those works out, I’d be pretty pumped. Of course I realize these benefits would take much longer than 14 days. I also realize there’s a good chance my affinity for the Hog Trough platter at my favorite local BBQ place might just crap all over the whole thing. It’s going to be real and it’s going to be tough, and it’s going to be really tough. But, if I can come out meatless even a few days a week after this little adventure, I’d throw a tally up in the win column.

I will start my animal-free experiment on September 16, and end the trial period on September 29. I might keep going. I might make some alterations. I might just take a nap and decide not to decide anything. In the meantime, I’m pinning my panties off and checking out every vegan cookbook the local library has to offer.

Do I think it’s a magic pill? Nah, I’m a little too old to buy into that fairy tale. But do I think it’s going to hurt anything to try it and see how I feel? Nope. Because it’s about the journey. It’s about trying different things and finding the personally tailored prescription that fits. I am certain I haven’t found that yet, so I’m going back to the drug store.

I’ve had this quote from an article I read for more than a year now. I came across it again last week. It’s from Christopher Sommer, a former men’s gymnastics national team coach, who said:

“Dealing with the temporary frustration of not making progress is an integral part of the path towards excellence. In fact, it is essential and something that every single elite athlete has had to learn to deal with. If the pursuit of excellence was easy, everyone would do it. In fact, this impatience in dealing with frustration is the primary reason that most people fail to achieve their goals. Unreasonable expectations time-wise, resulting in unnecessary frustration, due to a perceived feeling of failure. Achieving the extraordinary is not a linear process.

The secret is to show up, do the work, and go home.

A blue collar work ethic married to indomitable will. It is literally that simple. Nothing interferes. Nothing can sway you from your purpose. Once the decision is made, simply refuse to budge.

Refuse to compromise.

And accept that quality long-term results require quality long-term focus. No emotion. No drama. No beating yourself up over small bumps in the road. Learn to enjoy and appreciate the process. This is especially important because you are going to spend far more time on the actual journey than with those all too brief moments of triumph at the end.

Certainly celebrate the moments of triumph when they occur. More importantly, learn from defeats when they happen. In fact, if you are not encountering defeat on a fairly regular basis, you are not trying hard enough. And absolutely refuse to accept less than your best.

Throw out a timeline. It will take what it takes.

If the commitment is to a long-term goal and not to a series of smaller intermediate goals, then only one decision needs to be made and adhered to. Clear, simple, straightforward. Much easier to maintain than having to make small decision after small decision to stay the course when dealing with each step along the way. This provides far too many opportunities to inadvertently drift from your chosen goal. The single decision is one of the most powerful tools in the toolbox.”

The goal is to document every day of the 14 days, including recipes, noticeable changes and my feelings along the way. I’m sharing this now, in case any of you brave souls would like to follow along and try it as well. I promise I will not feel differently about you if you choose to sit back and take bets on my potential failure from afar. You gotta do you.


I’ll take anxiety for $500, Captain Obvious

February 25, 2016

“Let me ask you a question,” the granola-looking ER doc said. “Do you have a lot of stress in your life?”
I let half of my mouth turn up into a smile as my brain began running through possible replies. “Is the Pope Catholic?” “Does Donald Trump love himself?” “Is tonight’s the most dramatic rose ceremony yet?” “Can Adele carry a tune?” Was this guy serious? I mean, I have dusty fan blades and clothes I’ve fluffed in the dryer 4 times and a smell in my car whose source I can’t identify and goal pants, sir. But instead, I landed on, “Sure, I mean, I have a job and three young kids, so … yeah, there’s some stress there.”


But let me back up. Saturday night, I hosted a handful of gals I used to work with for our monthly get together, a social appointment we refer to as Pretty & Plastered. It’s basically an excuse to do what we do best: eat, gossip and laugh like morons. (Sidenote: I’ve discovered a secret species of great friend – the ex-coworker. You know enough to engage in a convo about work and hate all the same people, but you don’t have the yuckiness over late TPS reports and botched presentations.) Around 1:30 a.m. the last of the girls headed out and I considered finishing the dishes, vetoed that option, ate a caprese kabob and tucked myself in upstairs next to an already-snoozing Hank. Now, you’re reading writing from a woman who’s no stranger to the spins. After a few glasses of wine … you’re feeling a little twirly … you’re having a hard time focusing … you’re toying with the idea of maybe throwing up a little … I’ve been there. I know those negotiations. This was different. My heart was racing, and it seemed to quicken the deeper I fell toward sleep. The rapid pace would jolt me back awake and I was panicked, but eventually I dozed off.

Sunday was a Big Breakfast Sunday and Hank was hunting, so I packed up the chicks and headed to my folks’. I felt a little off but thought the coffee was just strong. There was a frantic fire drill when my brother’s lab ran away, but the canine crisis was averted thanks to a facebook page dedicated to lost and found pups. (Can I get an amen over how amazing it is when technology comes in for the assist and allows people to help other people? Hallelujah!)

By noon my heart was back to the races. I was constantly aware of how uncomfortable it was. I looked down at my fitness tracker; normal pulse. So, I’m crazy. Thus began a control freak’s worst nightmare. It was a frightening personal paradox; the more I tried to gain control, the more control alluded me. I realized that day that control is a truly illusive little shit.

When you recognize that you kinda-sorta might be completely insane, you immediately want to make contact with someone who would understand such a dilemma. So I called my mom. “You’re having a panic attack,” she said. “I have them all the time and mine started at about your age. Breathe into a paper bag, take a hot bath and just try to relax.” I’VE BEEN TRYING TO RELAX, WOMAN! But I followed her prescription like it was the crazy person’s gospel. No change.

Time to call in the big dogs. I sent a text to my friend Jackie, the nurse.

Me: Jac, medical question … my heart is racing, only it’s really not. Can’t catch my breath. Mind is frantic. Anxiety, right? Not heart attack?
Jac: That’s what it sounds like to me. What is your pulse?
Me: Like 64
Jac: Try laying down or do some yoga breathing.
Me: But no need to go in, right? They can last a while?
Jac: It sounds like an anxiety attack. You probably feel dizzy from hyperventilating. With no chest pains and normal vitals. Try to rest. You are not dying. Text me in 15-30 minutes and let me know how you feel. Love you.

[45 minutes later]

Me: My heart feels like it’s racing.
Jac: Do you feel any better?
Me: No. So sorry to text so late.
Jac: Damn, you might want to go in just to put your mind at ease. Maybe they can give you something to relax. I am so sorry Court.

And, as is usually the case, she ended up being right. After 2 hours of fearing that if I fell asleep I would never wake up again, Hank finally called it and we decided to head into the ER. My brother came to sleep on the couch just like he did the night we had Sloppy Joan. It was like deja vu, only I knew I wasn’t coming home with anything cute and snuggly.

And that’s how I came to engage in a conversation about stress in the ER in the wee hours of Monday morning, strapped up to a bunch of circle things wearing nothing but my favorite boyfriend sweatpants, running shoes and a gown. My EKG in the triage room looked fine, so there wasn’t a lot of bustling about like on Grey’s (total letdown). They eventually moved us to a room and, i gotta tell you, it was so romantic. Right across the way was a woman, whose face I never saw, who loudly vomited for the entirety of our visit. She only paused long enough to shout, belligerently, “You’re laughing at me! Quit laughing at me!” Judging by the sounds coming from behind her curtain, I’m quite certain that no one was laughing.

My doc was a kind gentleman who looked like a bit of a hiker. He wore field pants and comfortable boots and spoke wisely and calmly. He ran through all of the possibilities and my health history – never proposing what I was beginning to accept as my diagnosis; I was a touch of the crazy. After a chest X-ray, urine sample, blood tests and EKG, it was decided that I was fit to be set free and my ticker was tocking just fine. It was the most expensive checkup I’ll probably ever get. But I’m forgetting the best part … the prize I did get to take home …

As we pinpointed anxiety as the culprit for my spastic heart (that wasn’t really spastic at all in the land of the normal people), the outdoorsy ER doctor made an offering. “Would you like something to help calm you at this point?” “Yes.” I said without consideration. I was going on 26 hours of feeling like I was seconds away from delivering the opening monologue at the Oscars. It was either take the pill or start pulling my hair out. My mistress had a name, and it was Ativan. She came on slowly but once her effects set in it was goodnight, Gracie. We left the hospital in the early morning hours.

I woke up at 3:30 Monday afternoon feeling like Snow White. I hadn’t slept that hard since I occupied the bedroom with no windows in our college house. Were the kids at school? I didn’t know. Did I tell my boss about my absence? Hadn’t the foggiest. But my heart was beating regularly and the sun was shining.


It seems odd, perhaps, to write about experiencing something so wacky, but the truth is, I’ve discovered that once you put your crazy out there, everyone starts to share that they have a little bit in them, too. Turns out that losing control completely is a somewhat popular pastime and I’m not the only working mother of three who feels 2 burritos short of a combo plate sometimes. Will it come back? I freaking hope not, but I’d guess yes. Can I stop it? The doctor said that eating well, avoiding excessive caffeine, exercising and meditating can help, so those should probably bubble up to the top of the ole’ agenda, but largely I think it’s just something that’s bound to pop up with the full moon.

The next day I had an email from my dad saying he liked the blog post about him and Mom from earlier in the week. And then:

Subj: Blog
From: Dad

On your panic attack, your mother and I have both been through that.  We both still fight it.  She does more than I do.  A counselor once told me that “Reality is what you perceive things to be”.  The panic attack is a screwed up sense of reality.  It is like in Divergent when they subject her to facing her fears.  She is in a total panic and then she realizes that it is not real.  Deep breaths and meditation can help.  You’ll figure it out.

Love you!


To which I responded:

Re: Subj: Blog
From: Courtney

Thanks, Dad. I love you! And thanks for the great genes there, bud.