I began my now-annual tradition of keeping a “Joy Jar” in January of 2014 during a very dark period of grief and depression in my own life. I felt lost, exhausted, and just so gravely sad almost every day, even though my coaching practice was growing and I was in the best physical shape of my adult life. Grief is a monster, with long tentacles that invade all aspects of life. I saw a little post on Facebook about “Joy Jars” and thought, “what the hell? It can’t hurt to look for some joy, so I’ll give it a try.” You can read about my first year of this process here.
Cut to NOW – January 2017. Life has moved forward, and mine has seen a lot of improvement and positive growth as I’ve deepened my practice of documenting my own joy, as often as I possibly think to do so. As I began emptying out my jar, right after two back-to-back holiday driving tours, I noticed immediately that 2016’s jar had a LOT more joy stuffed into it! Thinking back over the roller coaster of global atrocities, polarizing politics, and the loss of so many cultural icons, I was quite pleased to see that I had kept my attention honed around seeking joy in spite of the news and the general state of affairs in the world. I felt a little giddy as I pulled the bits of folded paper out onto the kitchen table.
As I began unfolding each piece and reading my own scrawl, I noticed that I wrote more detail and more feeling words than I had in previous years. I wrote lots of tiny stories about whole days or weekends, or a particularly juicy conversation or experience, sometimes cross-referencing dates in my journal so that I could read even more, and I also noted how I felt.
I saw lots of good feeling words like excited, grateful, loved, ecstatic, surprised, relieved, woo hoo!, feeling acceptance, unconditional love, yay!, and hopeful. I saw that my joy was very active, too, with all kinds of verbs like hiking, swimming, rowing, paddling, laughing, eating, noticing, cheering, savoring, traveling, loving, and more swimming. I could see myself on location when I read my narratives that included relaxation, deep conversations, sharing experiences, boating with friends in Florida, hanging with my family during their summer vacation trip to my mountain, long walk and talks in the woods with my best friend, playing outside, sharing favorite swimming holes with my favorite kids, seeing fireworks over the lake on 4th of July, driving… Basically, the Joy Jar of 2016 was EPIC. As I read all my bits of joy, I got to soak them up and experience them all over again. I could really transport myself to those moments scattered throughout the year and connect to the warm fuzzy inside that led me to write them down for the jar.
As it turns out, joy is an infinitely renewable resource!
And now I see a whole new value in the practice of stuffing your smallest moments of triumph and most intense moments of pure joy and excitement into a jar to review at the end of a very long 365 days: doing so helps you be discerning in your future goals and plans. You can see EXACTLY what makes you happy and then you can PLAN to do more of those things. When your life becomes your own in this way, you feel a deep sense of freedom, purpose, and peace. Energy flows where attention goes, so make sure energy is flowing towards filling your life with as much joy as possible.
Having already done a good bit of my strategic planning and goal setting over the next 12-18 months, I’m now using the patterns I’ve extrapolated from my joy jars to tweak those plans and goals. When you plant seeds of joy, you reap more joy. This is such easy gardening, and you don’t even get your hands dirty. If you’ve never tried this simple practice to help you be more mindful of what makes you happy, get started right now! Your January 2018 self will be forever grateful that you took these simple steps.
- Step 1: Find an empty jar. Or a box. Or a notebook even.
- Step 2: Fill it with little notes to yourself about moments of joy throughout the year.
- Step 3: Empty it out at the end of the year/beginning of next year and have the pleasure of re-experiencing your own joys as you read through all your notes and stories.
- Step 4: Repeat.
May your 2017 bring you JOY in many forms, and may you be paying attention so that you notice when you feel it! Namaste.
Not feeling the joy? Feeling stuck and not sure how to get out of your rut? Call today for a FREE phone or Skype coaching consultation ! (864) 918-2914 or email email@example.com
Vicy is a Board Certified Transformational Life Coach, founder of Complete Life Coaching, and holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Philosophy from Oglethorpe University (Atlanta, GA) and Durham University (England), respectively, with specialization in neuroscience, chemistry, and Eastern-Western philosophy of mind comparative studies, and a Certified Indoor Rowing Instructor. When she’s not coaching or rowing, Vicy is also a yogini, wild water swimming enthusiast, Reiki master (Levels I & II), hula hooper, writer, speaker, and organic gardener. Vicy’s life purpose is helping others discover the best in themselves while learning to pursue their dreams and goals with proven strategies that’ll help them move mountains.
By Vicy Wilkinson, MA, BCC
I grew up in a family that’s both gigantic and was always pretty close, often even to extended cousins and relatives to whom I’ve never really understood how we’re related. Close though we were, it was clear my family also holds grudges. Apparently, forever.
There were entire branches of the family that “we don’t talk to” because of some argument that occurred at a country church some time in the 1960s, some 15-20 years before I was even born. I was shuttled to church every week and taught a weird lesson about forgiveness: we hold grudges, the lord forgives.
I now understand the error of this thinking and this way of moving through the world. Holding on to past slights, anger, pain, arguments, blame, etc. doesn’t do anything helpful for anyone. Instead, it causes wounds to fester and ooze out into all other aspects of life and of self. It became clear to me that even if one believes forgiveness is the lord’s work, forgiveness does not occur without some active participation on our parts. Forgiveness has become incredibly human work, in my life and in my coaching practice.
In fact, practicing forgiveness is an integral part of becoming whole and healing intergenerational trauma, along with simply being able to let go of pain and disappointment that arises from sharing a world full of highly fallible humans. There are billions of us, so it makes sense to have some go-to help with the process.
That’s why I wrote a pragmatic little book that walks readers through 13 different ways to practice forgiveness in every day life and it’s now available for Kindle on Amazon. In it you will find ways to tackle forgiving others, and also ways of forgiving your SELF, which I believe is critical to long term health and happiness.
Here’s an excerpt from one of the practices that you can start today, and it’s a practice that takes a lot of courage. Forgiveness takes courage, which means it begins in the heart like the root of the word courage itself.
Confront Your Fears Head On: Move Past Them by Taking Action.
We all feel fear. Some schools of thought believe we really only feel two basic emotions: fear and whatever we think fear’s opposite is, most often described as love. All other emotions fall on a sort of spectrum of emotions that exist as tension between these poles. Fear serves a purpose, and is deeply rooted in our survival as a species. Fear protects and helps keep us safe. However, when fear begins to “protect” us in ways that withhold love, consideration, openness, communicative understanding, and kindness towards those we choose to depend on as trustworthy companions in our lives, its methods of protection are outdated and need to be updated based on knowledge and a deeper understanding of both ourselves and our companions in this lifetime. [By companions here, I’m using a broad stroke term to mean every person in your life who you choose to trust and care for. I mean your family of origin, your family you may have created through marriage and children or through friendship, friends, etc. Whoever it is that you choose to share this life with consciously.]
Fear becomes problematic when you let it stop your progress or isolate you from the people you love and trust, and who love and trust you. In terms of interpersonal relationships, fear commonly shows up as avoidance or flight or both. When we are making big decisions or feeling big feelings or wanting to ask for something to meet our needs or needing to share something we’re ashamed of or guilty over, it’s so easy to cave to the fear monster that tells us to run away or put up some smoke and mirrors or stick our fingers in our ears and hum lalalalalala really fast until maybe, just maybe, our inaction will work out in everyone’s favor. Pro tip: it doesn’t.
When we do not confront our fears, and instead either run away or do nothing but avoid the confrontation, we suffer. We suffer continuously, and that suffering overwhelms the banks of our river of self and will eventually flood us and those around us. Sometimes it drowns us all, and some or all of us cannot recover completely.
“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.” ~ Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart
So, what sorts of actions do you take to boldly confront your own fears? Your own shame? Your own flaws, mistakes, and misdeeds? The stuff that really makes you feel like a piece of shit, you know?
I am not sure I’ve come up with a step by step procedure exactly, but here are a few specific steps you can practice that will at least get you moving towards conquering your fears and learning to lean into the right people for support to get you through it all, and expect them to lean right back.
Get to know what they are, especially what the overarching one(s) is or are. What do you fear most? What makes you feel most small and helpless? Some examples are abandonment, not being loveable, dying suddenly and prematurely, that if the person you love knew the truth about you they would disappear in a heartbeat, not being ______ enough, being alone, being ashamed of _____, not being loved, not having your basic needs met… the list of fears we humans experience is infinite.
Use practices like tonglen meditation to give those fears space to be felt, heard, and acknowledged, and then transformed and released. Practice. Repeat.
Discern who in your life is truly worth trusting (and therefore loving) enough to share the true feelings around what’s real and alive in you, so that you may also fully share in the other end of the spectrum with that person/those people you choose. We must disclose our pain to fully experience our joy and love without the burden of fear. This means that not everyone in your life will know you at this level, clearly. You must take your time and be careful about who you become truly emotionally and mentally intimate with so that you can rest in the sharing. Sharing your fears makes you incredibly vulnerable. So you must be able to lean into your own faith that those you share fully with will hold your trust tenderly and with loving care. Choose wisely and choose from a place of love.
Find your voice. Know that it may shake and stutter in ways you’re not used to at all and it will feel excruciatingly uncomfortable at first. Practice. Repeat. Silence and hiding the fears from those closest to you creates a toxic mess inside yourself and inside your relationships.
Be gentle with yourself and with your loved ones. Be kind. Stay calm. If emotions get too intense, just back off and rest and find peace again. Remember that it’s all practice and treat your own fear confrontation with the kind of compassion you would show a child learning a new skill. For most of us, it is a new skill. And you’ll find as you practice that it’s usually a new skill for your loved ones, too.
May each of our hearts and minds become open to actively practicing forgiveness, for the sake of our individual selves and the collective good.
This book is meant to be a pragmatic guide for anyone who is interested in personal growth and healing through practicing forgiveness. It addresses the deeply human experiences of shame, blame, guilt, anger, and grief, and how our internalization of our own dark sides can keep us from fully experiencing light, joy, and love in our lives. It was written to help people feel more prepared to confront themselves with kindness and appreciation for the human-ness of the need for forgiveness in our lives. The practices can be used both for self-forgiveness and for learning to forgive others so that we can stop holding back love and joy.
About the author:
Vicy is a board certified transformational life coach, and holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Philosophy from Oglethorpe University (Atlanta, GA) and Durham University (England), respectively, with specialization in neuroscience, chemistry, and Eastern-Western philosophy of mind comparative studies. Vicy is also a Concept2/UCanRow2 Certified Indoor Rowing Instructor. In addition to rowing (indoor and sculling, mainly doubles), she’s also a yogini, wild water swimming enthusiast, hiker, Reiki master, hula hooper (making, hooping, teaching), writer, speaker, teacher, and organic gardener (medicinals and edibles). Her clients, students, and colleagues call her “the wizard.
Join us for this kick off of our new #dosomething campaign. We’ve noticed a lot of us spend time thinking, hoping, planning, dreaming… and even complaining. But sometimes we just spin our wheels and don’t actually DO SOMETHING. We want to change this trend. What is it you’ve been putting off or making excuses about? What could you do for someone else in your life? What changes do YOU want to see in YOUR world? Let’s get together and GET STARTED!
This is a FREE event in Greenville, SC. Here are the details and how to RSVP to reserve your spot!
WHEN: Thursday, March 24, 2016 @ 6pm-7:30pm
WHERE: Building 3 Conference Room at Greengate Office Plaza, 25 Woods Lake Rd., Greenville, SC 29607
WHO: Anybody who is tired of doing NOTHING
RSVP on Meetup.com
Complete Life Coaching got a call from a man who told of a friend who was really having a tough time. He felt like he should do something, but he didn’t know what to do. We made some suggestions: get a massage gift certificate for her, take her to lunch, set up a coaching session for her, send her some flowers and a note… Feeling a little overwhelmed with choice all of a sudden, his first response was, “I don’t know, maybe I’ll do nothing.” CLC just took a breath and said, “Don’t do nothing. Nothing is what it feels like everybody does. You called me to ask for help and advice, and I gave it to you. So trust me, just do something. You can’t go wrong. It’s hard out there, so whenever somebody actually DOES SOMETHING to help and offer support, for anybody, it really does HELP. So, just DO SOMETHING.” He took our reply to heart, and he did something. We know his concern and action helped.
It’s so inspiring to see someone choose to do something good for a friend who’s struggling. To help another person, especially when we aren’t doing so to help ourselves, makes us all better. Do something good for the sake of goodness. Every choice we make in that direction helps to grow the best the world has to offer: kindness, compassion, love, respect, and gratitude.
This blog series by Vicy L. Wilkinson, MA, CTLC, BCC is called “Little Changes, Big Results” and introduces common problems and simple starting points for people, including those of you who are new to transformational life coaching. Welcome to Complete Life Coaching, where we connect, collaborate, and create.
Part 1: Mental Chatter & Anxiety
I wake up in the morning and it starts immediately… My own voice, yelling at me. “What the hell am I doing with my life? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just get up, feel good, and GO? What possessed me to say THAT to him? Of course no one can love me for long, I make it too hard. Just stop trying. Or, good gawd, just stop EATING. Look at yourself – UGH. Get off your fat ass and go to the gym. How did I get SO FAR BEHIND?”
Maybe some of that sounds familiar to you. I know with certainty I have said all of it and, honestly, way worse to myself, inside my own head over the years, especially the “bad ones,” before I knew I could change that self-talk. I also know I would NEVER say such unkind, unhelpful, and let’s face it, just plain MEAN stuff to another human being.
So why do we say stuff inside our own heads to ourselves, about ourselves, that we wouldn’t dream of saying to a friend or family member? The short answer is that our minds, left to run wild, are full of fear, anxiety, loathing, and shame. And we are the constant recipient of our own projections of perceived faults and failures.
In my professional coaching practice, I am often the first person to hear someone’s “monkey mind” unleashed for an outside observer to see, and I view my position with humility and respect. I am honored to be able to just listen to my clients, many of whom feel they’ve never been heard or understood. When a person decides to pour out what’s really going on inside her mind, it’s an act of BRAVERY and takes vast COURAGE. (Aside on courage: from the Latin, then Old French, and finally handed down to us through Middle English, the word courage means heart. The heart as the seat of feeling, thought, etc.; spirit, mind, disposition, nature. As far back in English speaking history as 1300s, courage, when applied to a person, means “a quality of mind which shows itself in facing danger without fear or shrinking; braveness, boldness, valor” and it’s also “spirit, vital force or energy.” Speaking our minds, giving voice to the feelings and thoughts from our hearts, clearly takes a lot of this courage, this quality of mind.) I appreciate that magnitude of pure heart it takes to pour out the sludge and really take a clear look at it. It is terrifying to trust enough to be so completely vulnerable, so it certainly takes courage to tell our dark sides and share our stories of shame and pain. [Trust in the ability of the other person both to listen without judgment AND keep our confidence is key… Here’ s a great video about discerning when it’s okay to be vulnerable.]
Speaking the negative self-talk, the monkey chatter of a fearful, shameful, antagonistic voice of our own dark self to another and trusting them to be open to receive – to listen intently – to remain solidly in non-judgment and compassion bolstered with empathy – takes heart. To speak out the chatter requires a connection deep down, literally, in the nervous system to the heart and the gut, making the speaker vulnerable. As one chooses to speak the darkness, the self opens from the core & exposes the chatter, shining light into the darkness. And when we turn on this “heart light,” of courage to be open and vulnerable with a trusted other, we taste freedom. It is then that we start to observe ourselves more keenly and make choices about how much freedom we will allow ourselves.
When we choose to make this one little change: to trust SOMEONE and to say out loud all the darkest chatter of the monkey mind, giving true voice vis a vis acknowledgment to the shame and rumination and spinning out of control narrative and allow another person to hear us, to understand us, we get BIG RESULTS for ourselves.
So, how can one begin to make this one change?
Step one: Begin by becoming more conscious and aware of that inner dialogue. Just notice. Just observe your mental chatter. If it feel and sounds more negative and painful than positive and motivational, begin to simply watch your own thoughts whenever you notice. Back off yourself, and just watch. This might be in a minute of silence after an argument with a parent, partner, child, co-worker. It might be in bed at night, trying to fall asleep after a long day. It might be as the alarm goes off in the morning. Just start with a minute. Just watch, like your head is a spectator sport. For a just a minute, don’t play, don’t engage, just observe. As you practice, this minute could turn into 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes… It becomes a silent, observing meditation practice. You realize there’s more to “you” than all that self-talk.
Step two: Decide you will make one change on your own behalf to begin the process of shifting your mind and asserting control over it. “In short, the mind is an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information.” – Dr. Dan Siegel (from this article on his website) After you’ve made this decision, you can continuously reinforce your choice to change each time your mind wanders down its usual path of negative talk. The great news, is that your mind is expert in that wandering! So it gives a LOT of opportunities to notice, to pause, to consciously shift. First watch, then you decide. Repeat. Constantly. It’s a process, it’s ongoing, and the timeline is your lifetime. Start slowly, but start consistently. Notice each time that you notice. Your ability to stop and observe without judgment will expand over time.
Step three: Choose someone to talk to and be willing to trust and share openly, with the spoken expectation (and AGREEMENT FROM THE OTHER PERSON) of receiving empathy and non-judgment, just listening. This person might be a professional like a trained life coach, or counselor, but she could be your best friend or brother or someone else that you truly trust and can feel safe with as you reveal some parts of yourself that you may have actively hidden.
Let’s think about empathy for a minute. Empathy is not sympathy, and the difference between them is very important. Empathy creates direct connection because empathy is “the power of projecting one’s personality [personal experience] into (and so fully comprehending) the object of contemplation.” Early uses of the word in the English language talk of such things as “my mind’s muscles” and “feelings of… motor empathy.” Now we know that empathy is built into our brains and nervous systems with specialized neurons called “mirror neurons” and that we truly can feel connected to other human beings vis a vis our own experiences of feelings and emotions. Researchers and practitioners such as Brene Brown & Marshall Rosenberg cite empathy as critical to healing self and others, though their research and practices are ostensibly very different. “We’re wired to tell our stories, not keep our secrets,” says Dr. Brene Brown. It’s true. And it’s what creates connection in that “embodied and relational” mind of ours.
These three simple steps result over time in huge changes in your mind, your body, and your relationships. More empathic connection means more time feeling truly connected to other human beings, and therefore encouraged and “plugged in” to community. We are hard wired to connect deeply to others, and openness and trust feed those connections. With time and practice, the chatterbox that opened this article becomes adept and skillful at refuting, dismissing, or reframing the negative blah blah blah into something much kinder, warmer, and more realistic such as….
“I’m alive. That’s good. I’ll feel better once I’m up and moving and showered and fed some good food. Last night’s conversation was a doozie, huh? It’s okay. Today, I will try hard to stay focused and remember I love me. That’ll help solve the problem that started the argument to begin with. I’m learning not to engage when I’m exhausted. I’m okay. Everyone has bad days and makes mistakes. Just take a breather and keep going. Just do your best. Going to the gym could help, even if it’s just 20 minutes it’s good for me. I’m doing just fine where I am, just remember to breathe.”
This kind of radical shift takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight. However, this 3-step practice, done consistently and repeatedly, over the course of 6-months to a year, yields massive results that can help calm anxiety; decrease mental, emotional, and physical stress; strengthen relationships, both with self and others; and mend the mind so that thinking and performance improve in all areas of life experiences. You’re worth it. May you experience this empathic magic beginning immediately. Namaste.
 Etymology & information on “courage” abstracted from The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), second edition, Volume V. Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK. ©1933, 1989.
 OED, Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK.
 OED, Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK.
Shamanic Sound Healing Journey with Guided Meditation + Potluck & Fireside Dancing
Please join us for a afternoon and evening of healing, sharing, and learning at our Magical Mountain Retreat Center with special guest Sonic Yogi, professional musician and sound healer.
We’ll be experiencing the deep healing offered through time in nature while Sonic Yogi shares the sounds of Tibetan singing bowls, Native American flutes, and other sacred instruments. We’ll have time for discussion and sharing, as well as guided meditation practice for increasing loving-kindness and compassion for ourselves and our world through the ancient Tibetan practice of tonglen (giving and receiving).
After the sun goes down, we will celebrate our journeys fireside with dancing and hula hooping…or just sitting and enjoying, if that is your preference.
This event is free, but donations will be accepted to cover costs and to thank Sonic Yogi for traveling from Lawrenceville, GA, to share and be with us! $10-20 per person is suggested.
We will provide garden fresh greens for salads and plenty of iced tea and deep well water. Please bring a favorite dish to share for the pot luck dinner. We will be outside most of the time, so please be prepared with yoga mats, cushions, insect spray, and sunscreen. Restroom facilities are available.
In this podcast, CLC discusses the importance of mindfulness, movement, and creating positive new experiences. These practices can be used to relieve the effects of anxiety, depression, anger issues, and trauma & PTSD. Learning to incorporate easy practices into your daily routine is one way to get started in a more grounded and solid-feeling life.
We discuss easy mindfulness practices that get your 5 senses involved and make it easier for your nervous system to calm down and focus on the present moment. We share stories about how movement helps with shifting moods and attitudes.
For more information on getting help, contact us for one on one help, resources, or join us for a retreat or workshop. You are also invited to join our online communities and get involved! Let us help you THRIVE.
Listen here now. (Available to stream or download.)
In this podcast, certified transformational life coaches from Complete Life Coaching discuss an increasingly important topic in the realm of coaching, Life Purpose and Meaning. Many people begin the coaching process to resolve an acutely painful problem (grief from the loss of a loved one or because of a divorce or unexpected job change) or because they “feel stuck and have tried everything – including counseling”, or because they’ve lost the ability to trust in themselves and their own judgment… Whatever the beginning of the process, we’ve found that our sessions usually lead into a deeper exploration into the distinctly human questions: WHY am I here? And WHAT is the purpose in my life? Let us help you feel better, and start to answer life’s BIG questions for YOURSELF.
We are here to help! Have questions? Want a free trial coaching session? Call us at (864) 918-2914 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for being here!
My friend Sandi completed her first Whole30 in January 2013. It took me a year to get my mind ready to take on the challenge myself in January 2014. Today, I am two Whole30’s and one Whole60 into converting my SAD (Standard American Diet) into a much more plant-based, nutritionally dense, locally sourced diet and it’s awesome. It’s amazing how dietary changes, whether you take them on all at once or incrementally over time, can change not only your waistline, but how you look, feel, think, and behave every single day. Following is an interview I did with Sandi about her transition into a Paleo lifestyle, and how it’s helped her. Both of us highly recommend you take stock of your diet, and see if some of these principles could help YOU feel better and be your best self!
Vicy: I’m excited to introduce Sandi Smith, founder of the local food blog “Paleo Greenville.” She has a Facebook community page by the same name, and she’s also a very good friend of mine who I originally met through rowing. (We both LOVE rowing!) So today, Sandi, I thought we could just talk a little bit about what “paleo” is (and is NOT) and what your interests are and how you got started.
Sandi of Paleo Greenville: OK! Well I got started kind of on a dare… It was a good thing that I didn’t know as much about it as I know now probably when I was first beginning because honestly all the information out there is overwhelming! (laughs) So I was talking to some rowing friends that are in a different city and they were all going to do this “Whole 30” thing – that was in January 2013. And so I said I could do a Whole 30, if I knew what that was! So they sent me the website and I kind of read it and I thought, “oh well, you know, it’s only thirty days… like, I could do anything for thirty days.” And the key to me, and I know that we have talked about this before, was that I didn’t feel bad [at the time I took the dare]. At that point, I had already lost probably thirty pounds [by] calorie counting, being really rigorous with my exercise, really incorporating rowing into my life… I was feeling good at the time and did not know how much better that I could feel when I started cutting out some of these inflammatory foods and being really intentional about my eating. So I did [this Whole30 thing] for thirty days and about halfway through it with absolutely amazed at the results that I was getting. Things like I could really breathe in a way that I had never really noticed breathing before. It was like the air was cooling my brain! [laughs from Sandi and Vicy]
I was also sleeping so much better. And it’s not that I felt like I had a problem sleeping, but just soundly like a rock from the minute my head hit the pillow and then waking up five minutes before the alarm every day. So those were some of the changes of my first 15 days. Then acne cleared up tremendously, which was really incredible because that was something I had struggled with for a long time. So I was kind of noticing some of these changes. You’re not supposed to weigh yourself or measure yourself AT ALL during the program. But when it was over, I did see that I had lost thirteen pounds, which was, you know, pretty incredible in thirty days without starving myself or counting calories at all and eating to satiety every single meal. So that was really impressive to me! So that’s how my “paleo” lifestyle started.
Vicy: Awesome! Okay, so can we back up a little bit and you – because I could do this but I would rather have you do it – Can you kind of explain what paleo is (and isn’t)? And since you mentioned this whole30, which I did as well this year as you know and our listeners have heard a little bit about that, but can you just tell people what the Paleo diet is and what that means and then maybe go over the rules of Whole30?
Sandi: Absolutely! So, the term Paleo diet or just Paleo comes from the term Paleolithic. And the idea would be that we would eat a more traditional diet similar to what our ancestors ate and what humans had evolved to eat over the course of us being people. You know it’s only really in the past hundred years that we’ve introduced packaged foods and processed foods. And really since the advent of agriculture, you know, not more than a couple thousand years ago – max – that we started eating crops like grains and growing corn and things like that so this is taking us back to a pre-agricultural human diet is the gist of it. And there’s you know a lot of opportunity to make fun of that! Did a caveman eat a cookie? No. Because, you know, they don’t grow on a tree. Did a caveman have an oven to bake these paleo brownies in? Clearly, the answer is No and I think we’re all aware of that and I would never call it the case. And for those types of reasons, it’s a weird name. But I do think that thinking about what the Paleolithic people ate is useful because the concept is really about seeking a varied diet based on local food that was close to them that was easily obtainable in their environment. [So these are] the types of foundational things that we’re looking for [in the context of “paleo lifestyle” in our modern times.]
As to the Whole30, I’ll kind of go over the rules then quickly and you can take a deeper dive on each of these topics… Some of them are a little bit debatable but the first one would be to remove all grains. We’ve heard a lot about gluten but that really is just part of the reason to let go all grains – even like grains of corn rights etc. Reason being, grains contain elements that are inherently designed to do things like protect their seeds from predators like birds, but they can also wreak havoc on our digestive systems. So rule 1: remove grains from your diet.
Next is to remove dairy. Some people take that to be all dairy or that’s what it takes for them, and some people can tolerate a little bit of cultured dairy like yogurt and cheese and stuff. That’s one of the key distinctions between Paleo and primal which are sometimes lumped together in discussions.
But dairy also has highly inflammatory properties and it’s really for baby cows… You know it’s not something that humans are supposed to eat. You know milk: [it’s supposed to be] human milk for human babies and cow milk for cow babies. Milk is highly charged with all sorts of you know messages from the mother to the baby about how they are developing, what is supposed to form, and what type of antibodies there are… So when you’re drinking cow antibodies, for example, this is very foreign to our system and many people have an inflammatory reaction. Therefore, we would recommend that you take out dairy.
Similarly with grains, there’s also removing legumes [for Whole30], so you know that would be beans.
Vicy: So even soybeans [tofu and what not included], peanuts, which of course include peanut butter?
Sandi: Yes, that includes peanut butter but almond butter…
Vicy: There was a time I really didn’t think I could live without peanut butter! [laughs]
Sandi: I know! It’s funny, but almond butter becomes a perfect substitute.
Vicy: And it’s really reasonably priced, particularly when you make it at home.
Sandi: That is true. And remember that peanuts also develop a mold, which has more to do with processing and stuff, and they’re one of the most highly pesticide laden plants because they have a very thin shell that doesn’t protect them from pesticides in the peanut itself. It’s not something you can wash off. So there are there are lots of reasons that peanuts in particular are not a great food choice. And then other legumes like soy and grain like corn are the number one and number two G.M.O. crops! So you want to stay away from soy primarily because the G.M.O. And when you start looking at private labels it’s just absolutely insidious [pesticides and GMO’s].
Vicy: So, avoid soy in all forms.
Sandi: Yes. And there’s a LOT of it in processed foods. Soy oils, soy powders, and soy proteins are really mixed into most processed foods now. So it’s something to be aware of and pay attention to.
Vicy: The rules so far are no grains, no dairy, no legumes… and only good fats!
Sandi: Yes! Only good fats. So you want to be focused on fats that are easily digestible to your body. Some of the seed oils – like canola oil, vegetable oil, what is marketed as vegetable oil – is just soy oil anymore so there are lots of hydrogenated fats. Obviously then we need to consider replacing those oils with things like pure olive oil (if you know and have a good source for it), certified organic or grass fed butter (that’s been clarified so you can remove the dairy particles and make a product called Ghee, which is the Indian name for clarified butter.)
Vicy: I love ghee! And it’s very easy to make it very easy to make at home inexpensively.
Sandi: Yes and you should opt for grass fed starter, if that’s an option. Kerry Gold is a brand that’s grass fed, and there are some other brands out there too. [Another component of Whole30] is opting for animals and protein sources that are as close to their natural diet so that they fit into your natural diet… Those are sort of the major tenets of the Whole 30….
Vicy: And then that really big next rule becomes the really painful one for most people. Sugar.
Sandi: Yeah, sugar. NO sugar for a Whole30. Sugar has been shown to be more addictive than cocaine. It acts on your brain in ways that you [Vicy] probably know much more about than I do, but it will keep you coming back for more. And part of the processed food industry knows that and they create what, in the book called It Starts With Food, is called food with no brakes. [Great book by Melissa and Dallas Hartwick, which is what the Whole 30 program is kind of based on, but they take a much deeper dive in the book & they tell us all about food with no brakes.] For example, you can start eating a bag of chips and just keep eating until it’s gone and they’re designed to be that way. They talk about crunch-ability, for example, and there’s all these scientists in white lab coats trying to come up with the next you know hot food item that people won’t be able to put down and so when you get into these food with no brakes and you end up eating a bag of Oreos you know you might even feel bad about yourself. But they [processed foods] were designed to make you have that trigger response!
So those foods work really well! Just the way there were designed in a lab to work! Therefore, the Whole 30 does require you to cut out ALL added sugars and sugar substitutes, if you will. But you’re welcome to eat fruit, even if it’s a date or a high sugar fruit. You know we don’t mince words there. Nobody ever killed themselves by eating two apples a day. That kind of REAL sugar is not what we’re talking about but anything with any sweetener – and I’ve got a list that’s got seventy different names for hidden sugar like maltose and dextrose and you know there’s cane sugar beet sugar and even artificial sweeteners can still have some of the brain effects. That includes stevia, which I know is a popular right now. Agave syrup, even though it’s quote “low glycemic index.” Any of those sugars need to be removed from your diet and what that does is not only reset your brain connections, but it helps reset your palate!
And so I can remember being about fifteen days into the Whole 30 and eating a strawberry. This was in January. I was eating a strawberry and I told my husband, “this is the most succulent and delicious strawberry I’ve ever had,” and he looked at me as like this [funny face] and said, “those strawberries really aren’t even very good. It’s January!”
So I think when you do you dial your sugar receptors back and you take your palate back to a much less hyper stimulated state, you pick up the nuances of food. I mean food really does become a whole different experience!
Vicy: It really, really does! I can definitely vouch for that. OK So the basic rules are to spend thirty days with NO sugar or sugar substitutes, removing all the possibly inflammatory foods we’ve already talked about, and the purpose of this is to give you an opportunity to ultimately reset everything: reset your metabolism and reset your palate. And as Sandi said, it kind of resets your whole relationship with food.
And then after that 30 days, then you can kind of play with adding things back one category at a time. You can look back and begin to see how your body responds and have a better sense as to how food is actually making you feel, which has been really eye opening for both Sandi and myself and really everybody that either of us have talked to that have actually done this 30-day process. It does take a certain level of commitment to do it.
So at this point you are pretty strictly paleo and your husband has in turn become paleo as well and you have three children who are off to a good paleo start, too, yes?
Sandi: Yeah! There seems to be two kinds of ways to start “being Paleo.” It’s funny because my husband does say, and it’s true, I’m a Band-Aid ripper… I just want to get things over with! So the thirty day very strict program was perfect for me. It helped me wrap my head around this thing. It gave me insights that I probably wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. The second way is, you know, in a slow progression type of way. But since we’ve been on this paleo journey and started PaleoGreenville.com and really started talking to more paleo people, I think there are kind of two camps. You know there’s a Band-Aid rippers that do it all in one and then there are the people that slowly phase things out over time. Like, you know, all the crackers in the house are gone, so I’m not going to buy any more crackers, etc. And so we really did kind of a combo approach in my household even though I went very fast and strict. When there had been some great results I was having and he [my husband] so those, he was on board within a couple months and then and I just feed him what I eat, so he has less choice in the matter! He’s pretty strict too in that regard. And then the kids: we have kind of transitioned a little bit more slowly, and so on some levels and I’m ashamed to say that I let them eat up all the crackers, and then all the chips you know whatever was left in the house and then I just haven’t been replacing them. And so I’ve kind of gotten to a point, as the primary food shopper, that I’ve decided, “if I’m not eating it I’m not buying it,” and they’re young enough – eight, seven, and four – that that they don’t have a lot of consumer power. [Laughs from Sandi and Vicy]
So it might seem wacky at first, but they eat pretty much you know eat what we eat. They still eat some dairy and you know it’s debatable there are certainly other great sources, primarily vegetable sources, of calcium in things but you know they’re still growing so they eat the whole milk yogurt and cheese and some cultured dairy I should say. A couple of them were almost vegetarians, so they eat beans.
The beans and black beans have persisted in their diet but they seem to be tolerating them very well. So that’s something that we’re looking for in terms of you know just stomach upset or indigestion or problems that they don’t seem to be having problems with it… They’ve been eating certain things since they were babies and it’s something that their bodies are used to eating.
Vicy: Yeah so maybe can you tell about what you CAN eat on Paleo and maybe, on an average day for you, what’s on your plate?
Sandi: Well that’s a really good question because I get a lot of responses when I talk to people like, “I could never do a Whole 30 because I couldn’t give up X, Y, or Z.” You know, for example, say, “I can’t give up my morning oatmeal,” or “you know I do yogurt every day at work at lunch,” and so it is always kind of funny to me now because I think “that’s so silly,” but you know people are very set in their ways and then you know there’s the other response which is like, “oh my God! What do you eat or what can I eat? You’ve taken everything away from me!” And I would argue, and many paleo cookbook authors and all the paleo blogs in the entire Internet would say, that that is simply not true. There’s still a lot to eat! So I have not been hungry at all.
So I started eating that way and I think you can focus on the things that you can eat and we even encourage the kids by saying you can have all fruit and any vegetable and all protein sources lean or fatty we don’t care. You’re going to have good fats and that really opens a world of possibilities. You know sometimes you end up with a whole lot of ingredients and not, you know, maybe, what used to be considered food at your house. So there is some prep and some cooking involved. You can look at Michael Pollan and some of the other pundits out there. I think you know cooking at home and cooking for yourself is part of the next revolution.
So for my typical day: I would start with breakfast and we do eat a ton of eggs so you know I definitely have eggs and I need more vegetables. So at every meal if I can get those veggies, and practice cramming more vegetables in my day, so I would add spinach or mushrooms and whatever vegetables were left over from last night – cook up kind of like an egg scramble. Sometimes I’ll have like a bacon and sausage with it and then I always try to have some fruit with breakfast, too, because I enjoy that. And then for lunch, you know I’m on the go a lot and so I pack my lunch and I either make like a whole roast and have some throughout the week from there, or I like to make homemade mayonnaise so I know what all the ingredients are and even if you’re out and about you know you can always do a chicken with you know salad or something equally easy. And then dinners: we grill a lot and do maybe a sweet potato, a meat, and a vegetable.
I try to make vegetables kind of the main course so I might do three veggies, and apportion it to me and my husband, and the kids. So that’s really, I think, the key is filling your plate with fibrous vegetables. They give you all the good fiber and vitamins and minerals that you need and then you just kind of fill in with protein.
Vicy: I know you and I’ve talked about the fact that some people need more protein than other people. For example, I suspect that I eat a good bit more protein than you do, but I tend to have longer workouts.
Sandi: Sure. Everyone needs to think about their own needs.
Vicy: One thing is that, though you can’t see us, I’m 5’ 8” tall with broad shoulders, athletic build, and Sandi is only 5’ 1” and a very petite build, so we don’t have the same needs.
Sandi: Exactly. You have to think about these things! For example, with my petite build and so that was something even with my husband and me at first. When we first started this, I’d kind of split the food up evenly between two plates until I realized that he’s, you know, a lot bigger than me! So now I’m trying to do the two thirds one third because I don’t need to be eating as much food as he does and he needs to be eating a little more! So that that’s kind of how we do our portions. Over time, you just kind of learn what you need.
Vicy: YES! You know, one of the fascinating things to me just in general was learning better what my body’s actual hunger signals are and how I had responded to that versus how I’m responding now: it’s drastically different. So this is a topic that I’m very passionate about and as you can hear in her voice so is Sandi, so we will be revisiting this. But I just wanted to give everyone sort of an introduction to Paleo and the Whole30 program, and if you’re interested, you can learn a lot about this topic via Sandi’s blog http://www.paleogreenville.com/ You can also find her on Facebook and she has lots of beautiful pictures of the food that she makes and having gotten to try a lot of it, I can tell you it is delicious and she does a lot of linking to other people that have recipes and what not and then if you’re interested in any more than that you can contact her or you can contact me!
We appreciate your being here so much! Thank you for joining us Sandi.
Sandi: Thank you!
Note: All photos are from Sandi’s lovely Paleo Greenville Facebook page! Thank you Sandi! 🙂