When it’s OK to quit

As I continue on this journey towards creating my strongest and healthiest self, I’m spending a lot of time rethinking food choices and what nutrition really means as far as fueling my body and my goals. After a year of and a half of following a low carb, no sugar, ketogenic way of life, I have a better understanding of what makes me feel good from the inside out, and have gotten into a great rhythm of tried and true recipes, go-to weeknight meals, and staying on my plan while on the road for work. 

This journey hasn’t been perfect, though. Yes I have lost 80lbs, and yes feel SO much better than I have in years, but truth be told, I’ve been struggling with my workouts for quite some time now. And not just the physical aspects of moving my body, but the mental and emotional challenges as well. And I haven’t really talked about them, until now. 

For years I have been a member of a group personal training gym that focuses on workouts based on high intensity interval training that I absolutely love. 

I love the coaches. I love the members. I love love love the workout, the energy, the challenge, the atmosphere- all of it. 

For years this place has made me feel stronger, faster, and was the first place to support me in becoming the person I am today. They have helped me follow my dream to be able to run, and push my body to do more and be more. And I’ve been grateful for those experiences. 

But lately I haven’t been feeling this way. 

Over the past year this workout routine has started to feel really hard on my body, and I’ve endured some injuries along the way. And it’s all on me. 

As I continued to reduce my weight and get healthier, I wanted to do more. I wanted to go faster and go longer distances on treadmill. I wanted to use heavier weights. I wanted to do more and be more. But the more I pushed, the more I injured myself. My mind and its desire to do more was competing with my body- and my body couldn’t keep up. Feeling this way brought on a lot of pressure, and injuries pulled me away from workouts for long spurts of time while I healed. Sure I could have slowed things down in my workouts to be able to avoid injury, or to stay the path to continue working out while healing, but it wasn’t enough for me. I constantly felt internal pressure to do more and more, and working out became a burden. I no longer looked to it as a source of strength. It was a source of setback and disappointment instead.  

I knew it was time. 

I didn’t want to use that word that has so much guilt and stigma attached to it, but I knew it was coming. 

I needed to quit and find something else. 

I thought about this for weeks and weeks. 

I procrastinated.

I didn’t want to give up. I didn’t want to leave the gym that had given me so much life. 

I didn’t want to quit. 

And as I mulled over the bit Q word, I immediately felt like a failure. I couldn’t give up. Giving up would mean I was giving up on my dreams.  

But the more I pushed myself toward these goals (of being a runner, for example), the more setbacks I faced. And eventually I asked myself “Why are you holding onto this goal? Why is it important to you?” and the answers I came up with were legitimate ones. I enjoyed the feeling, the whoosh and the high, the accomplishment, the excitement, the power and strength. 

As I listed those things, I knew that there were now consequences attached to them all. Injury, setbacks, struggle. And those weren’t feelings that I wanted to continue to experience. They weren’t healthy. They weren’t safe. And most of all, they weren’t sustainable, especially moving into my 40th trip around the sun. 

At that moment I asked myself an important question. “Were running and high-intensity workouts the only way to achieve those feelings and emotions? Could there be other things I could do without jeopardizing my wellness? Could I find something else to help me meet my fitness and health goals? What exactly was I holding onto and why? Was it the length of time I’ve talked about these goal that made it necessary for me to not give them up? Did I fear societal pressure? Internal pressure? Fear of failure? Fear of quitting? To be honest, I could answer “yes” to quite a few of those questions. And even one “yes” is an unhealthy reason to hold onto something- even if it’s attached to a goal. 

I’m turning 40 in June, and I want my body to continue to get stronger, healthier, and leaner, and to be able to move fluidly, strongly, and flexibly as I enter this new stage of life. I knew I needed to find something new. Something safer for me. Something sustainable. I needed to be a learner again. All of these years of working out and running had me thinking I knew what was right for my body. But injury after injury proved me wrong. I needed to understand how to move and think in a way that supported my goals, instead of competing with expectations of what I thought I should be doing in order to feel strong. I needed to find something low impact, but still challenging, with a strong focus on stretching and flexibility to loosen up the muscles and tendons that I had been overusing repeatedly, leading me to injury. I needed something less intense, both physically and mentally. It was important for me to not only be able to prioritize my body’s needs, but my emotional needs as well. 

A few friends of mine had been telling me about barre classes for a long, long time, and it had been in and out of my mind for a few weeks as I searched for something new. After about a month of thinking about it, I decided to try a class. 

As expected, the typical thoughts of a plus-sized exerciser ran through my mind- would I fit in? would I be accepted? would I be laughed at for being “large”? would I be clumsy and awkward? would it really support my goals? would l it be enough of a workout to get my heart-rate up? what do I even wear to a barre class? etc.

Those thoughts went through my find for a while until I finally told myself “you’re still thinking about it, so just TRY IT.” So, I acknowledged those emotions as they surfaced, worked through each of them with a rational answer (which was usually a “we’re going to find out!”), and walked into my first class with a brave face and a smile. 

And here I am, sitting here sharing this story with you, with FIVE barre classes under my leggings!!

And it’s freakin’ amazing. 

From the moment I walked into the studio (wearing Old Navy running leggings, a form fitting dri-fit t-shirt, and grippy socks, by the way- which was all totally fine!) I have felt overwhelmingly welcomed. Everyone, from the instructors, to the desk staff, to the other members, has been SO supportive, encouraging, and, most of all, inclusive. Although I still have much to learn, nobody is shy about helping me out when I feel lost, need support in setting up equipment, or need a correction in my form. 

I love, love, love  barre class because it gives me a space that is calmer, more streamlined, focused, stiller, and with a greater attention to flexibility, all while still providing me with incredibly challenging and heart pumping movements that will continue to change my body for the better. Not only do I leave classes feeing looser and more limber, but I also leave feeling confident and strong. In class I don’t feel like I stick out or don’t belong. There are people there of all shapes, sizes, and abilities, and we are all there with the same goal in mind- to be kind to our bodies. 

I will always love my previous gym family, and will continue to send people their way because I truly believe in the program. But for me, my time there has ended, and that’s ok. I quit because I knew it wasn’t right for me anymore. Quitting is never an easy thing to do, but we have to remove the fear, judgement, and guilt attached to it so that if there is something we know we need to quit (a workout, a relationship, or anything else not serving our goals and well-being), we can take those steps to move forward and do what we know is best for our body, mind, and soul. 

I officially joined my barre studio, and said goodbye to my previous gym family. And while it was bittersweet, I’m excited to begin this new journey, and cannot wait to continue sharing my story with you all. 


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You are, and will always be, OK

A few years after losing my mom I made a big career change. 

After 13 years, I left the safety and security of the four walls of my classroom, and took a leap into a position working for a educational non-profit where I would be able to make a greater impact on students and teachers on a national level. And because I would be working with educational systems all across the country, this new role would bring a new adventure into my life- a schedule comprised of traveling and working from home. It was also around the same time my husband and I tied the knot, which made it an even more exciting transitional time in my life. 

At first the thought of this career change excited me (it still does… stay with me). But when the glitter and the “new-ness” of it all settled, grief started to re-surface. This new reality unexpectedly became a trigger for my grief. 

Of course I wanted to share all of these new adventures with my mother, and the thought of not being able to was difficult, but that’s not the only emotion these changes bubbled up. Brian, my husband, lost his father just before I lost my mother. Our losses helped to connect us in such a beautiful way. We are more than just husband and wife. We are best friends, confidants, and true partners in this life. Everyday we reflect on how lucky we are to have found one another, and how amazing the timing was for us to meet. Our paths crossed at just the right time for the both of us, and we don’t take that timing for granted. 

You see, experiencing multiple losses by the age of 31- a prior divorce and the losses of my mother, three grandparents, and cousins who I was close to- shook me to the core. Although all of the losses were significant, my mother’s death had the most impact on me. It took me almost a year to come to grips with what had happened, and how to figure out my path towards healing.

When I sat down and started to internalize the reality of what my new schedule would look like, specifically in regards to the traveling aspect of my role, I initially felt an overwhelming rush of dread around leaving my family and my friends-especially my husband- even if it would be for just short periods of time. 

I can clearly recall thinking to myself- “What if something bad happens to me?”

In that moment so many thoughts flashed through my mind like a rolodex-What if I get sick or seriously injured far from home? What if I’m involved in a plane crash and die? What if I get in a car accident on some rural road in another state and I’m left for dead? My husband would be a widow. Would he be ok? What will he do without me? Would he be able to take care of the house? Our pets? Our responsibilities? Would he be burdened with all of that? Would he resent me? What about my family and friends? What would happen to them? Would they be ok? Would they remember me? Would they be angry that I took this job? 

GRIEF. Big time.

Just when I thought I was on the road to deep healing, one trigger in the form of a big life change flooded all of those trauma-driven thoughts back into my mind. 

I knew it was grief resurfacing because I remember having very similar thoughts shortly after losing my mom. I would often cry myself to sleep thinking things like “What if I get cancer too? Maybe I already have it. Maybe it’s already stage IV like my mother’s was. I don’t want to die. I didn’t want her to die. I don’t want to leave everyone behind like she did. What will I do without my mother? What will my family and friends do without me?”

These thoughts and fears are real. It’s totally normal and to be expected. When we experience a trauma or a loss of any kind, the world no longer feels like a safe, predictable, and reliable place like it once was. And that’s an uneasy and scary feeling to try and sort through. Attempting to figure out how to rationalize and move from these thoughts and fears uses up a lot of our energy, which is why grief is so exhausting. When these “what if something bad happens to me” thoughts are consuming our minds, it takes so much energy and effort to sort through and move past them, that we find that we have little desire to think about or do anything else-including healing.

With all of our energy being drained inside those cyclones of “what if something bad happens to me” type of thoughts, and limited energy left to devote to healing, suddenly those trauma-related thoughts become our “safe, predictable, and reliable place”. They’re safe because we know what to expect when they pop into our heads. They’re predictable because we know exactly how we are going to feel. They’re reliable because we know exactly what the physical response will be. And because of that, we somewhat feel “in control” because we know what to expect, and it becomes a familiar and “comfortable” pattern for our brains to settle into. And in the moment, spiraling into these thoughts of “what if” feels SO much easier than the alternative- putting in the work to rationalize our thoughts and fears so that we can begin this journey towards healing. 

I couldn’t believe I had come back to this place. I couldn’t believe that a new job was triggering old grief. I couldn’t believe that I was dreading life because of paralyzing “what if something bad happens to me” thoughts. I couldn’t believe fear had returned, ready to consume all of my energy again. I felt like all of the work I had devoted to healing over these years was for naught. For the first time in a long time I felt like the weakest person in the world. 

I knew I couldn’t live like this.

I knew I was about to embark on an amazing opportunity for growth in my career. 

I knew deep down that I was strong enough to do it.

I knew that I could not allow my energy to be used up on “what if” thoughts because I had a life that I deserved to honor.

I knew I needed to dig deep and lean into the path I had taken before. 

I started by reflecting on my journey after the passing of my mother and thinking about all of the strategies that I had learned and used, especially in that first year, that have helped me be the person that I am today. 

I thought about the ways I have chosen to honor my own life. I thought about the connections I have made through this blog, my grief healing group, my friendships, and my relationships. I thought about how I am able to see the bigger picture and how I recognize and respect griefā€™s purpose in my life. I thought about the ways that I have cultivated self-compassion, self-forgiveness, grace, joy, strength, and understanding. I thought about what my inner voice has evolved into over the past few years. I thought about the conversations and friendships I have with others who are grieving, and how we support each other’s grief journeys. I thought about the spiritual relationship I have formed with my mother and how special that is to me. I thought about moments when I showed courage, hope, and resilience-like going through that first mammogram after my mother’s passing. I thought about the steps that I have taken to live in the present, to be mindful, intentional, and deliberately choose joy every single day no matter whatI thought about how I live and breath all of these actions every single day out loud for all the world to see. 

And that’s when it hit me. 

My grief journey these past few years has been 100% public. I have shared my truth authentically, transparently, and passionately to everyone and anyone who wanted to hear. I have given my grief journey heavy boots to stomp with, without fear or embarrassment. My grief has become a badge of love and strength, not shame. It has become a part of who I am, in a positive way. I have been able to talk about it every single day since April 11, 2012. I have talked about both the most difficult sides of grief and the sweetest sides as well. And because I have grieved out loud, I think I have been able to show others that there is life after loss; that there is healing after loss. That there is, in fact, joy after loss. 

I am ok. In fact, I am more than ok. Of course there will still be days that are hard. There will still be triggers that I have to navigate through. Grief is certainly not a perfect process. And I will always, always miss my mother, but overall my life is good, and full, and happy because I have decided that is what I want my story to be. I want people to remember me as someone who lost their mother at a very young age, but continued on believing in and uncovering the good in each day. Because I have grieved out loud for all the world to see, I have been able to rest in the idea that everyone else will be ok too because they’ve seen people like me. People who are truly OK even after all that we have been through. When my mind starts to wander through thoughts of “what if something bad happens to me” I say to myself- “It’s ok if something happens to me, because I know I would leave behind a strong, capable, resilient, and loving circle of family and friends who have seen what healing looks like. Who have felt what joy after loss feels like. Who have listening to and read about how beautiful and full life can be after loss. Who will be more than ok because deep in my soul I believe they will.”

When grief rears it’s face, and tries to drag me down into “what if something bad happens to me” thoughts, I don’t picture my husband as a devastated widow. I don’t picture my family and friends with sadness or anger in their hearts. I don’t picture their lives ending. I don’t picture hopelessness, helplessness, or weakness. In those moments I choose to envision strength and resilience. I envision happiness. I envision them laughing over memories and funny stories of years passed. I envision them living full and peaceful lives. I envision them speaking my name the same way I speak of my mother’s- with joy and courage. I envision them finding the good in each day. Because I choose to envision love, I am able to move forward, without fear, because I believe that everything, and everyone will always, always be OK. 

If you are on a journey towards healing and you find yourself struggling to take that next step towards overcoming fear, scary “what if” scenarios, or other paralyzing thoughts that are getting in the way of living a full life after loss, stop responding to the question “What if something bad happens to me?” and start answering the questions “What good things are happening to me/us right now? What do I believe I/we are capable of? How do I/we show strength, resilience, and courage? How do I/we spread joy, hope, love, and compassion?”

Focus on the good of right now so that you can build upon it. Focus on the strengths that you have cultivated within your inner circle of loved ones. Together, you will all make it- no matter what happens.

Believe that you are strong. Believe that you are capable. Believe that you are resilient. Believe that you are loved.

Believe that you are, and will always be, OK.

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My Health Journey

In the spring of 2005 I weighed 388lbs. 

It was one of those numbers that you never thought you’d actually see on a scale that YOU are standing on. That number was reserved for really obese people-like the ones you see on tv that have difficulty leaving their house because of their situation. I wasn’t that big. At least I didn’t think I was that big. But there I was. That number was my reality. 

I didn’t understand what that number meant, how I got there, or why there was so much shame attached to it. I just knew it was a LOT, and I would never, ever admit it to anyone. Ever. The scale became my enemy, and that number became the only identity I fixated on. And, the only identity I attempted to fix.

Truth be told it’s been the Stephanie vs. the scale show for as long as I can remember. 

I was an average-sized (whatever that means!) baby and toddler, but by kindergarten, I was already labeled as “the chubby girl”, and still hold onto vivid memories of being aware of my size compared to my classmates. 

I don’t recall a single grade where I wasn’t one of the biggest (and often THE biggest) student in my class- including college. 

Being overweight was who I was, and to be honest, aside from my career, it was all that I was. Being overweight got in the way of everything because it’s all that I ever thought about. It was difficult for me to form friendships, be in relationships, and, most important, understand how to love myself. Life revolved around my weight. It made me angry, sad, and embarrassed. It made me feel as though I wasn’t good enough. It made me settle for things. I couldn’t look any deeper into who I was as a person and how to get better at being ME because my mind was obsessed with the idea that fat=broken.

From 2005-2011 I decided to try something, anything, to lose the weight once and for all. I dieted, exercised, started running (I even completed a few triathlons!), went to weight loss meetings, downed weight-loss shakes, and although I never tried anything drastic or dangerous, I tried many, many things. 

In that time I discovered a love of running. Although I was slow, when I ran, I didn’t feel fat. I felt strong. 

I felt strong enough to complete multiple 5ks, a 10k, a 15k, and even two sprint distance triathlons! 

I also began learning how to cook and experimenting with creating and cooking healthy, clean, and nutritious recipes and sharing them on my first blog, Faked Goods (a play on the words Baked Goods). Running, cooking, and sharing my story with the few blog followers I had gained were game changers. In fact, they were my life changers. 

Through these newfound passions I was able to begin to gain strength and confidence that I never thought I had, AND I was able to lose around 80lbs. For the first time in a long time I was feeling good, and beginning to figure out that I was capable of so much more than I had ever imagined. I began to realize that I wasn’t limited by a number on a scale, and that the only person putting these limits on me was ME. I began to realize that I wasn’t just the chubby girl. And even if I was, it didn’t matter. Registering for races, committing to training, crossing finish lines, sharing recipes, and connecting with like-minded people was something so much bigger than the value, energy, and time I gave to the number 388. 

In the spring of 2011 my life did a complete 180. 

I went through a divorce, and my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 of an aggressive form of metastatic breast cancer. In 2012, she passed away, and my mindset took a hit. That first year of my grief journey was the most difficult year of my life. Nothing had prepared me for what it would be like to lose a parent at the young age of 32. Anything that had happened in the past- my divorce, weight loss struggles- it all paled in comparison to the emotional tornado I had just been unwillingly thrown into. I lost my motivation, I ate whatever I wanted, and crept back up to 340lbs. 

Fortunately, I had some bright spots to support this unexpected life chapter. While my mom was facing cancer treatment, I met Brian, my now husband, and shortly after her passing, I decided to join Orangetheory Fitness

Watching my mother suffer through cancer, and witnessing her taking her literal last breath was more debilitating and traumatic than I could have ever imagined. And although I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, being there for my mother’s last year of life helped me see that I needed to prioritize myself, my health, and my happiness.

It took a year for me to even begin to think about how to go about doing this. Fortunately, falling in love and gaining a strong push and support system through my new coach friends at Orangetheory (plus grief therapy, and lots of vent sessions with the best girlfriends I could ask for), I was able to begin to heal, rediscover my motivation, and get back into the groove I had lost. 

I began to sign up for races again.

I began blogging again (specifically about my grief journey).

I began living again.

For the next 4 years I pretty much tossed around the same 50lbs. I continued to run, cook healthy meals, and attend classes at OTF, but something was always getting in the way of truly controlling my health and my weight. Now I know that weight is just a number, and should not define overall health, but those extra pounds I was carrying on my body day in and day out were getting in the way- literally and figuratively. Even though I was in a much better place in my head than the girl that fixated on and placed way too much value in “388”, I knew I needed to take control of my future. The excess weight was preventing me from feeling good- not only mentally, but physically. I wanted to run faster. I wanted to feel confident in my skin. I wanted to feel comfortable in clothes. I no longer wanted to fear the numbers I’d see on my annual bloodwork paperwork (or fear going to the doctor for that matter!). I didn’t want to be *this close* to being pre-diabetic anymore. And most of all, I didn’t want to go down the same tragic road as my mother. 

When you lose a loved one to cancer, especially someone in your immediate family, you think about your own mortality and fate. Everyday is a battle to not take my mind down dark thoughts of “what if it happens to me too.” While I know that I cannot control every situation, I know that I CAN control my thoughts, my choices, and how I take care of my body in hopes to possibly play a significant part avoiding disease.

Two years ago Kristen, a dear friend of mine, started following a way of eating that I had heard a little bit about, but didn’t really understand what it really was. She would talk about the ketogenic, or “keto” way of life, being in ketosis, and foods and recipes that were “keto friendly”, but all that I ever got out of our conversations was how she was eating as much butter as she wanted, while still managing to lose weight.

I sat back and watched her lose 100+lbs in a year, and keep it off. I watched her get rid of aches and pains (she fought Plantar’s Fasciitis for years, like I did), and use this low carb, no sugar, moderate protein, high healthy fat way of eating to help manage her MS, which she was diagnosed with two years ago. Because the ketogenic way of eating is super anti-inflammatory, she was also able to  heal her plantar’s fasciitis, and improve all of her bloodwork numbers immensely which has been one of the most significant benefits of this lifestyle. She continued to encourage me to try it- that if I already cook, and eat pretty clean, this wouldn’t be such a difficult transition. And how it’s not about eating mass amounts of bacon, and zipping through the drive thru for bunless double cheeseburgers on the regular. That it’s about eating clean, whole, nutrient dense foods- a moderate amount of good quality proteins, a higher amount of healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil, and real butter, low glycemic vegetables and fruits like spinach, asparagus, squash, and berries, natural sweeteners like stevia, low carb nuts like macadamias, and real dairy products, including cheese (my favorite). It sounded completely doable, and not far from what I was already doing, but for some reason I just wouldn’t take the leap and try it. 

In 2016 I started a new career which completely changed the 8am-3:30pm teacher’s routine I had become accustomed to over the past 13 years. This new position had a steep learning curve and significant travel away from home. Along with that life change, Brian had also proposed! That same year of learning a new career also brought a fun (and stressful!) year of wedding planning. We had a beautiful, amazing, and wonderful wedding in the spring of 2017, and I was on cloud 9. But by the summer of that same year, I knew that I was on the path back to square 1. Between travel, and wedding planning, I was cooking less and running through drive-thrus more. I was stress eating, and using travel and wedding planning as an excuse to do so. 

In August of 2017, a wellness coach I know was starting a group for clean eating and exercise accountability. She invited me to join and so I did. At the same time I decided to finally take Kristen’s advice and expand on the clean eating goals by giving the ketogenic way of eating a try too. For two weeks I’d go all in to see how I felt. If by the end of two weeks I wasn’t feeling good, or if this was too difficult to keep up with, I’d quit and add the carbs back in. But I promised myself two weeks. Two weeks to give it a chance and see what it was all about.

I didn’t decide to take this leap for anyone else but myself. I wasn’t doing it to gain approval from people that don’t know the real me. I wasn’t doing it to be skinny, or to look beautiful (because I already felt beautiful and still do). I wasn’t doing it because I thought I needed to change my body to be happy (because I was already deliriously happy and still am). I decided to make this commitment as an effort to regain control of my health, of my body, and my future. I watched others do it, and I felt hopeful that this might be something that I could do too.

I quickly realized two things- there is SO much to learn about fueling my body this way, AND there is a ton of support, and information in the form of blogs, social media groups, and of course, Kristen out there. There was definitely a learning curve (like knowing that I needed to up my salt intake because as my body began to flush out excess fat, it will also flush out necessary salts, AND that fat=fuel), and, of course, there was some carb/sugar withdrawal the first couple of days (showing itself as a headache mostly). But by the first few days into my two week experiment, the headache had subsided and I was feeling GREAT. Like really, really great. I felt GOOD. I felt energized. I was sleeping better, thinking better, and was less bloated. In two weeks, the scale had even moved, and my clothes were fitting better. 

I decided to do two more strict weeks. Which turned into 2 strict months, then 4 months, then 6 months. Aside from days where I might have eaten too many carbs in the form of vegetables (I love a good salad!), I only went off plan once- with jalapeno jelly while on vacation in the mountains. I ate Lily’s chocolate bars while passing out Halloween candy. I whipped up low carb blackberry crisp and creamed spinach for Thanksgiving. I gifted ketogenic Christmas cookies to family and friends. And even enjoyed biscuits and gravy on Christmas morning. I was feeling TOO good to do anything else than what I was doing. So I continued. And it was awesome. 

And now, here I am celebrating 1.5 years of following a low carb, no sugar, ketogenic way of life with no intent on going back! 

I have lost a total of 80lbs since starting a year and a half ago, have gone from a size 24/26w jeans to a standard size 16, have lowered my average blood pressure readings significantly (they used to average 132/85, and now they average 110/70. I have also reduced my A1C from 5.8 to 3.2 (no more pre-pre diabetic!), have increased my good cholesterol by 40+ points, have lowered my triglycerides by 60+ points, and have lowered my total cholesterol by 80 points! 

In addition to all of those things I have significantly cleared up my skin, gained confidence, energy, mental clarity, and so much more. Making the commitment to give the ketogenic way of life a try was the best decision I have ever made for myself! While I wish I hadn’t waited so long to jump in, I’m so glad I did!

And it’s not over yet! I’m excited to see what year 2 brings. I want to continue to drop the excess weight, and most of all, I want to continue to regain control of my fate. 

If you are feeling stuck in a health or fitness rut, facing weight loss struggles, feeling like you don’t have the energy or ability to do all that you want to do, or if you just want to be a stronger, healthier version of yourself and excess weight is getting in the way of that, I want you to know that you are not alone and you CAN make changes that will benefit your life in the present and change your course for the future. 

If you have heard about keto and have been on the fence about trying it out, or if reading this blog post has inspired you to take a chance and try it out for two weeks like I did, I encourage you to begin some research and think about how this way of eating might fit into your life. One place you might begin is by checking out Diane Sanfilippo’s new book Keto Quick Start: A Beginner’s Guide to a Whole-Foods Ketogenic Diet with More Than 100 RecipesI picked up a copy for myself at Target this week and it’s SUCH a great guide!

As always, I am not a medical professional, and am nowhere near qualified to give nutritional advice, but I urge you to do some research and think about what two weeks of changing the way you fuel your body might do for you and your situation. YOU CAN DO THIS. If you want to know more about this way of life, follow @Orangespoken on Instagram.  




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Cinnamon apple waffles #EnvyApples

Disclosure: I received free product and compensation because of a partnership with Envy Apples, Publix, and the Tampa Bay Bloggers. All delicious thoughts and words are my own. 

Actually, I wanted the title to be “Fluffy and buttery almond flour waffles topped with sweet carmelized sliced Envy apples, toasted pecans, and a drizzle of warm apple cinnamon tea glaze” but that was a little wordy. šŸ˜‰ Continue reading

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Low Carb Escalloped Cabbage and 17(ish) truths!

Here are a few truths about me:
1. When I graduated from high school, I chose teaching children as a profession because I thought it was the only thing I would be good at. 

2. I LOVE teaching children. And teenagers. And adults. And friends. And you guys. And everybody! 

3. Pizza is, and will always be, my favorite food of all time. Period. Cliche, who cares. Pizza is FANTASTIC.

4. I’m loyal, and sentimental, love to feed a crowd and bring people together. I honor the idea of building people up, checking in, speaking my truth, helping others, and passionately protecting my joy. I believe in self-improvement, self-worth, self-love, positivity, growing, learning, evolving, and never, ever pretending to be someone I am not- especially for approval. And I have a mutual expectation of these qualities from family and friends. If I ever drift apart from you (yes, even if we are tied by genetics), it’s because I no longer feel that those qualities are mutually shared, and I will walk away in order to honor my own peace and my own healing. Being negative and toxic is not good for your health. Instead, give others, and yourself, authentic strength and love. Try it. It’s never too late. 

5. I love soapboxes. 

6. Did I already mention my love for pizza? 

7. We took a lot of road trips when I was a kid, and I still prefer them over flying anywhere to this day. 

8. I don’t like sports. Well, only baseball. 

9. My husband is a sports enthusiast.

10. We’ve got that whole “have separate interests” thing down pat. 

11. We do share a love of police shows. 

12. And Dave Matthews Band concerts. 

13. And pizza. 

14. And chickens. 

15. I am still on a grief journey, but there are days when I forget I even HAVE a grief journey. Life is so rich, and full of zest and love that there is no more room for daily grieving. I think of my mom everyday- the memories, the fun times, the traditions- but I don’t grieve for her anymore. Thinking about her is much different than grieving for her, because I feel as though grieving means I’m longing for what once was. Now, I understand that things are different, and that it’s OK to be different than it was. It’s OK to not feel a longing or a huge gap in my life. It’s OK to just LIVE, and to walk onward, and to be lifted by her spirit and by her memory. It’s OK to be reinvented after loss. It’s OK to create your new normal. It’s. All. OK. I promise. 

16. Still here? Yippee! I’ve got a recipe for you. Are you ready?

17. Bonus truth- I love, love, LOVE The Pioneer Woman. I loved her blog before she started her Food Network show. I want to visit The Merc and #buyallthethings. I love her family, her outfits, her recipes, her dish ware, pans, and knives! I want to cook with her, and chat with her, and be her 2nd best friend (I think Hyacinth will let me in). I just adore Ree! 

18. I wonder if Ree will ever read my blog?

19. Maybe.

20. I was watching her the other day and she made a delicious looking recipe from her aunt Edna Mae’s archives that I couldn’t wait to whip up: Escalloped Cabbage! 

21. Then I remembered: I hate cooked cabbage. 

22. Crap.

23. I’m going to make it anyway. It has cheese and jalapeƱos on it.

24. I love cheese and jalapeƱos. 

25. And I could easily make this low-carb and keto friendly! Done. Making it. 

26. Flash forward to today: It was SO good. Not as good as pizza, but GOOD. You should try it. All you can taste is the cheesy goodness and the cabbage just melts in your mouth! I served it alongside this recipe for chipotle slow cooked pork loin (minus the honey the recipe calls for- you won’t miss it!). 

27. Here’s the recipe!

28. Happy Wednesday! 

Low carb, keto friendly Escalloped Cabbage
Serves 8
A low-carb take on Ree's delicious escalloped cabbage from her aunt Edna Mae's original recipe!
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
25 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
25 min
  1. 1 whole head of green cabbage sectioned into 8 wedges, leaving the core on
  2. 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
  3. 2oz. full fat cream cheese
  4. 1 cups of heavy cream
  5. 1 cup of freshly grated Monterey jack cheese
  6. 1/4 cup jalapeno pub cheese (I buy mine at Trader Joe's)
  7. 1/4 tsp. salt
  8. 1/4 tsp. pepper
  9. 1/2 whole jalapeno pepper, sliced into rounds, seeds removed
  10. paprika for sprinkling
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9in x 9in baking dish.
  2. Bring a medium pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Parboil the wedges of cabbage for about 3 minutes. Drain very well, slice off the cores, then arrange in the buttered dish. (You could also steam them in a steamer basket for 4-5 minutes).
  3. In a non-stick skillet over medium heat, melt and stir the butter, cream cheese, and pub cheese until melted.
  4. Whisk in the heavy cream and cook for a minute or two. Turn off the heat.
  5. Stir in the shredded cheese, salt and pepper, and let it melt until smooth.
  6. Pour over the cabbage. Dot with the jalapeno slices, and sprinkle on some paprika.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
  1. 4.5g total carbs per serving (2.3g net carbs per serving deducting the fiber)
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman


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1 year

We said “I do” exactly 1 year ago today!

What a beautiful year it has been. 365 days of adventure, travel, giving back, quiet moments at home, markets, projects, growth, friendship, fun times, challenges to overcome together, and so much love- more love than we could have ever imagined. 

People say marriage is hard work. But after waiting so long to find one another, after loss (we have both lost a parent), after previous heartaches, there is just no time for anything less than joy. 

Everybody should feel like that. Everybody should feel deep, authentic, joy in their hearts from a partnership. Everybody deserves to love that fully. 
I thank my lucky stars every day that we found each other. And I’m even more thankful for the experiences we had to go through before getting here. Without them, our paths might have never crossed. 

When you share more than just a marriage certificate- when you share a friendship, when you deeply honor and respect one another, when your love is true and unconditional, when you lift one another to achieve great things, when you release anger and baggage from the past, when there is kindness and forgiveness, you’ll find that problems are short-lived, troubles come and go like waves in the ocean, and good times are abundant and overflowing. 

And to us, that is what marriage is all about. 

It was so fun looking back at pictures taken during our first year as husband and wife. We have made the best memories not only in and around our home here in Tampa, but also in the places we have visited this year- Chicago, New York City, Boston, the beach, and the mountains of north Georgia!

And we cannot wait to discover what’s next. 

Cheers to a lifetime of more sweet moments of love and joy! 

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Low carb, keto friendly blackberry lemon muffins

It’s berry season here in Florida!

From December-March it’s strawberry season.

And from about March-May is blueberry and blackberry season (with blackberry season starting a little later than blueberry season)! 

All throughout those months you can find the BEST berries around Tampa by venturing out just few miles to surrounding cities like Odessa and Plant City for both berry buying and berry picking!

I love berries, let me tell you.

They’re sweet, juicy, flavorful, versatile, AND low carb/low sugar!

You can enjoy them as is, toss them into you favorite mixed green salads, puree them with stevia and freeze them for sorbet, serve them with a bit of whipped heavy cream, or make (my favorite) muffins! I love berries and picked up some blackberries and raspberries this weekend from my local farmer’s market (pictured above). Aren’t they just gorgeous?! 

Before I started the clean ketogenic way of eating 7 months (and 50lbs) ago, I made muffins all of the time. With a few modifications, I’ve created an awesome crumbly, moist, and delicious blackberry muffin that will make even the non-low carbers in your life smile! 

This recipe makes 8 moist, tender, crumbly, and delicious cupcake sized muffins, or 24(ish) mini muffins. And if you don’t like blackberries, no worries! You can use blueberries or raspberries! I’ve used this recipe with all three berries and they were a hit each time. The lemon zest, however, is a MUST. It just takes these muffins to new heights and is certainly missed if it’s not there! So zest away!

At just 4g total carbs (2g net carbs) per muffin, you can enjoy one of these with butter for breakfast, a snack, or dessert! I was able to reduce the carbs in these little guys by using oat fiber to replace some of the flours in the recipe. Oat fiber has no effective carbs and works really well in keto baking! It’s not a 1:1 substitute, however, so be careful when experimenting with it. If you don’t have oat fiber, you can still make these! There are a few tips and modifications in the recipe to guide you.

If you’d like to purchase oat fiber for your low carb, keto life, you can snag a 1lb bag of the keto-friendly brand “Lifesource” for  $3.99 at Netrition.com!

Here is the recipe!

Low carb, keto friendly blackberry lemon muffins!
A quick and easy from-scratch recipe for low carb, ketogenic diet friendly blackberry muffins!
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  1. 1/8 cup coconut flour
  2. 1/4 cup blanched almond flour
  3. 1/2 cup oat FIBER (not oat flour)
  4. 1 tsp. gluten free baking powder
  5. 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  6. 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  7. 1 tsp. fresh lemon zest
  8. 2 tbsp. melted coconut oil or butter
  9. 3 large eggs
  10. 1/4 cup cold water
  11. 2 tbsp. zero calorie, keto approved sweetener (I used Swerve)
  12. 1/4 tsp. liquid vanilla stevia (if you don't have it, it's ok to omit- they will just be a little less sweet)
  13. 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  14. 1/2 cup fresh blackberries (if they are super big, cut them into halves)
  1. Preheat your oven to 350F. Line a cupcake tin with cupcake paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together coconut flour, almond flour, oat fiber, baking powder, sea salt and ginger until just combined.
  3. Add eggs, melted coconut oil or butter, water, sweeteners, vanilla extract, and lemon zest into the bowl. Use a spatula or spoon to stir until well combined.
  4. Gently stir in blackberries.
  5. Use an ice cream scoop to spoon the muffin batter equally into 8 the cupcake pan. Smooth the top of each muffins with the back of a spoon or an offset spatula so that there are no "peaks". Bake for 20-23 minutes or until a toothpick placed inside a muffin comes out clean.
  6. Let cool and enjoy!
  1. At just 4g total carbs (2g net carbs) per muffin, you can enjoy one of these with butter for breakfast, a snack, or dessert! **If you don't have oat fiber, use 1/4 cup coconut flour and 1/2 cup blanched almond flour. The carb count for these will increase since oat fiber, as oat fiber has no effective carbs. You can purchase a 1lb bag of Lifesource oat fiber for $3.99 at Netrition.com!

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Til’ we dance away…

In the fall of 2012 I was at the eye doctor’s office getting an annual exam. 

I love my ophthalmologist, Dr. C. If you’re like me, going to ANY doctor is an uncomfortable situation, but Dr. C always calms my fears (of my eyes being poked out) with his gentle touch. 

But what I love most about Dr. C is his demeanor. As a physician, he is very careful and calm in his actions, which to me is especially important when it comes to an eye exam. And what I appreciate most about him, is his straightforward and honest, yet kind and sincere approach to discussing eye health with his patients. He has truly mastered the art of balancing being thorough, direct, and positive. 

At that appointment a few years ago I decided to bring up something that had been bothering me for quite some time. 

Sometime during my late 20’s I developed what looked like a burst blood vessel along the circumference of the iris of my eye. It hugged the edge of the circle and branched out and away from it, almost like a solar flare. It didn’t hurt, and it didn’t impede my vision, but it never cleared up. So at my next annual eye exam I asked about it to make sure it wasn’t something more serious. Back then I wasn’t seeing Dr. C yet, and the only thing that the eye doctor I was seeing said to me was “don’t worry about it, it’s not harmful, it’s totally normal, you will be fine.”

Other appointments through the years have brought much of the same message- “don’t worry about it, it’s not harmful, it’s totally normal, and you will be fine” or they’ve said nothing at all (unless I’ve asked). Some years I figured “no news is good news” and just let it be without bringing it up.

At that appointment a few years ago, however, I had decided that I wanted more than just a “don’t worry about it” response to what this was and I wanted to find out if there was anything I could do to get rid of it. What prompted this yearning to know more approach was that I had developed a self-consciousness about this “thing”.

I became hyper-aware of it’s presence. I would notice it in pictures. I would see it in the mirror. I even started noticing behaviors I had picked up along the way to conceal it-like slightly squinting the affected eye when getting my picture taken or when speaking face-to-face with someone. I realized that I had even gone so far as positioning my bangs over the effected eye to create a shadow that would help to hide the flaw.

Well, I was more than disappointed when my favorite eye doctor in the whole wide world responded the same way as all of the other eye doctors had regarding my issue: “don’t worry about it, it’s not harmful, it’s totally normal, and you will be fine.”

I remember thinking to myself “was this some kind of standard response doctors learn to say in medical school? Was I in the middle of some hidden camera show? Is he seriously saying the same thing other doctors had told me? Am I the victim of an eye doctor conspiracy?” I was more than dumbfounded. This was my kind, gentle, thorough, and straightforward eye doctor! This was someone I knew would have a better and more detailed answer than just “don’t worry about it, it’s not harmful, it’s totally normal, and you will be fine!” I wanted an explanation! I wanted options! 

Since he was literally looking at me straight in the eyes, he must have seen my pupils go bananas, or some type of eye-twitch to signal him that his answer must have struck an (optic) nerve. 

He moved the exam machines aside, rolled his chair in front of me, and told me exactly what this was. Apparently, people with dark eyes sometimes develop pigment “spots” outside of the iris. There is no cause for concern as long as there are no significant changes to the eye or my eyesight. He assured me that because I make an eye exam appointment every year, that I would be fine, and that he would be the first to notice and respond to an issue if there was one. 

I thanked him for explaining all of this to me and then asked him if there was anything I could do to remove it and he told me there wasn’t with this particular type of spot. 

“So I guess I just have to live with it?” I replied. 

“Well, yes, I don’t see any other option that you have than to live with it” he stated, in true Dr. C matter-of-fact form. “Don’t worry about it, it’s not harmful, it’s totally normal, and you will be fine, so go live!”

His words were so simple and basic, yet so profound to me. 

You see, this conversation happened in the fall of 2012. I lost my mom in the spring of 2012.

At the time of the appointment, I was deep within my grief journey, on the cusp of the holiday season, trying to figure out this “new normal” I had been shoved into without my permission. When Dr. C said that he didn’t see any other option other than I’d have to live with it, that message meant so much more to me than just the living with the imperfection in my eye. 

I realized that my grief was also an imperfection.
Losing a parent was an imperfection.
My life was literally an imperfection. 
Grief is nothing to worry about, it’s not harmful, it’s totally normal, and I AM fine. 
And I had no choice other than to live with it. And so I did. 

I didn’t tell Dr. C that I was grieving that day. But somehow I think he knew. I think in some way, shape, or form he delivered that message to me differently than I had ever heard it before. He said it to me with purpose and hope. And as I reflect on those words today, 6 years after losing my mom, I can truly say that I have embraced his message. 

I have lived fully and authentically in spite of this imperfection. My mom’s death has become a significant part of my life. A part of my DNA. A part of my being. A part of my soul. I am who I am right now because I have embraced and lived beyond any expectations I had about grief and losing a parent 6 years ago when it happened. Because of my grief, my imperfection, I live. 

And although I miss my mom every second of every day, I see the bigger picture. I see my part in her story, and her part in mine. I recognize and respect grief’s purpose in my life. I recognize my responsibility in helping others in their grief journeys. And above all else, I understand why it happened. 

And I’m forever grateful. 

Until we meet again, Mom.




Other posts about my grief journey and my mother, Judy:

Be Merry

5 Years


Grief to Joy

Happy Birthday Mom

Be Better, Not Bitter

Holiday Lessons

Be Brave

Mother’s Day

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Over the river and through the woods with the Mitsubishi Outlander GT 3.0 AWC!

This adventure was made possible through a partnership with Mitsubishi, who provided me with a vehicle to test drive in December. You can follow the conversation on social media with the hashtag #DriveMitsubishi and #MitsubishiOutlanderGT!

Hello there beautiful!

Meet the gorgeous Mitsubishi Outlander GT 3.0 AWC!  Continue reading

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