When you hear someone say, “I’m taking a step back,” what comes to mind?
I don’t know about you, but hearing those words gives me a negative vibe. I think of someone sheepishly trying to get out of a relationship – “I’m taking a step back because I think we should just be friends.” Or someone surrendering in a battle – “I’m taking a step back because I know I can’t win.” Or someone selfishly abandoning a commitment – “I’m taking a step back because I just need more ME time.”
Very rarely do I think of stepping back as a good thing, and maybe that’s because we live in a world that praises pushing harder, doing better, never giving up. Stepping back, to most of us, seems like weakness. Loss. Defeat. Failure.
But today, I’m sharing how stepping back can be positive. That sometimes, stepping back can actually help us all move forward – in health, in work, and in life.
Join me as I step back from recipes, food, and photography and share what’s been going on behind the scenes at Fed and Fulfilled.
STEPPING BACK TO MOVE FORWARD: FOR MY HEALTH
I’ve vaguely eluded to my health issues in prior posts, but it’s time I went into more detail, since my health has taken a nosedive this past week, and it’s the main reason why I’m writing this post.
My health journey began about 6 years ago, when I noticed that I was having severe mood swings, fatigue, anxiety, and depression tied to my monthly cycle. You’re thinking, PMS, right? Well, it wasn’t just for a few days. I’m talking a good 2 weeks. It wasn’t normal and it was really frustrating. Especially since I had just met Mark and we were trying to progress in our relationship. My symptoms were definitely getting in the way.
I sought out help from a holistic doctor who ran tests that uncovered a number of problems: hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), which is common in women, as well as anemia, and several vitamin deficiencies. I assumed these were the reasons for the abnormal moods, depression, and anxiety and I started on thyroid medication and various supplements to correct the issues. Unfortunately, my symptoms continued.
More tests ensued, including a food allergy test to check for celiac disease. Waste of time, I thought, since I hadn’t really noticed many digestive issues. (And besides, I LOVED bread and couldn’t have imagined living without it!)
Needless to say, I was totally shocked when I tested positive for celiac and had to say goodbye to my carb-loving self. It took at least a month to learn how to shop for the right products and gluten-free brands, as well as start over with new kitchen equipment that hadn’t been tainted by gluten.
Although there were challenges to going gluten-free, I figured we had FINALLY solved my health issues. Wrong again. While my monthly mood swings and depression lightened a bit, I still struggled with them regularly, and living gluten-free didn’t seem to be the final solution I was hoping for. I did lose weight and had MUCH more energy, which I was thankful for.
To continue my health investigation, I spent a year in health coaching courses through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which was extremely helpful in learning alternative medicine and healing through different foods, herbs, supplements, and diets. It was then that I really started to experiment with eating cleaner and discovered the Paleo diet.
After a year on Paleo, my health stabilized and my vitamin levels were finally in normal range! The severe PMS even seemed to improve somewhat, and I was on what I thought was a good array of supplements. Had I finally found the answers I’d been looking for?
I sure thought so, and we tried to start a family. I got pregnant last summer and tried my hardest to take all the right vitamins, eat the right foods, and take care of my body. However, I didn’t realize that there were more underlying issues that weren’t uncovered until it was too late.
We lost our baby at 11 weeks, which was the hardest experience of my life. (You can read more about that journey in a previous post.) As hard as it was, God was merciful in carrying us through it. By His grace, I recovered physically and emotionally, and part of my healing came through a creative outlet – my blog. The other part of my healing came through discovering more about my health and a potential cause for our loss: MTHFR.
MTHFR stands for methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase – a mouthful! If you haven’t heard of it, you’re definitely not alone! I hadn’t heard much about it until I got pregnant, and then I dismissed it, assuming that I would know if I had it. Unfortunately, many of us have an MTHFR genetic mutation and aren’t aware of it.
So, what exactly is MTHFR?
It’s complicated to explain, so for a more detailed account, read this article from Wellness Mama, which is where I first read about it. In short – it affects how your body processes folate and B vitamins, which in turn can affect a number of systems in your body and play a role in a several health problems, including neural tube defects and miscarriages in pregnant women. Folic acid, a synthetic form of folate, is a no-no for anyone with the mutation.
What I realized was that many processed foods were fortified with folic acid – like breads and cereals – and folic acid is common in multivitamins. One of which I had been taking throughout my pregnancy. Since my body can’t process folic acid, it builds up to create a toxic environment. My combination of mutations also means I have a much higher likelihood of blood clots, which can be dangerous in pregnancy.
How do you know if you have an MTHFR mutation?
You can have a blood test done to reveal a baseline mutation on the genes C677T and A1298C. One copy of a mutation is common and might not affect your body much at all. Unfortunately, I found out I had 3 mutations, which meant my body was running at about 30% capacity or less to process folate and different nutrients.
After discovering the MTHFR mutations in January, my doctor put me on methylfolate and methyl B vitamins to start the healing process. What I didn’t know then was that treating MTHFR mutations is not quite so simple, since there are other genetic factors that can influence the type and dosage level of supplements.
In order to find the best treatment plan for MTHFR, I ordered a 23andme genetic test to show a complete picture of the gene mutations to understand how to better help my case. I recommend the 23andme test to anyone who discovers they have an MTHFR mutation. Once you have the results, you can upload them to various sites like Genetic Genie and Livewello to get reports on all of the genetic mutations. Then, you need a doctor who can help interpret the results. (I’m still in the process of finding one!)
This brings me to what I’m dealing with right now that has caused me to take a step back for my health. As I write this, I’m slowly recovering from a week of fatigue, muscle weakness, anxiety, heart palpitations, decreased appetite, chest pain, neck pain and swelling. This is the third month in a row that I’ve had these symptoms come, last for about a week, and then dissipate. They always seem to occur a few days after my cycle ends.
When these symptoms first appeared in April, I attributed it to my thyroid, since I thought I might be on too much thyroid medication. Hyperthyroid symptoms are very similar, so I wrote it off as a thyroid issue, decreased my meds, and moved on with life. The symptoms gradually went away and I thought I was in the clear.
Then, a month later, the symptoms reappeared. I knew it couldn’t be thyroid-related, since I had been on a much lower dose. So, I assumed it was related to MTHFR and the supplements I was taking. Symptoms of overmethylation (getting too much methylfolate) were also very similar. I stopped taking my high doses of folate and B vitamins and it seemed like my symptoms slowly went away in a few days. Problem solved, right?
Wrong. Last week, around the same time of the month, I started feeling anxious, tired, and felt like my heart was going to explode. I knew the symptoms were back and I was at a complete loss as to why. It didn’t seem like the thyroid medication or the supplements were the root problem. What else could it be?
I’m still not totally sure what’s wrong with my body, but a strong possibility is adrenal fatigue. I never thought I had enough stress in my life to put my adrenals in jeopardy, but after reflecting on the past year, I guess I’m a good candidate for it. The miscarriage, the ups and downs with my health, and the transition into starting a full-time blog proved that I DID have a lot on my plate that was taxing me emotionally and physically. Plus, MTHFR mutations make stress response worse. Yuck. So, I’m currently awaiting adrenal stress test results and hoping for some answers.
For a control-freak like me, not knowing what’s going on with my health has been really scary and discouraging. I feel like my body is a big puzzle and I can’t quite put the pieces together. But, what I CAN do is take action in other ways to help my body and not work against it.
Here are 4 ways I’m stepping back to move forward for my health:
- Workout Smarter, Not Harder – I’ve always pushed myself with workouts, regardless of how tired my body was. I love cardio and high-intensity interval training and I usually do hard workouts 5-6 times per week. This may have been putting too much stress on my body if I’m dealing with adrenal fatigue. I plan to step back from high intensity cardio and heavy weight-lifting and instead try yoga, pilates, barre, and low-impact walks.
- Relax, Don’t Rush – Lately, my getting-ready routine has been a 5 minute shower, if I’m lucky! Since I started the blog, my schedule has been packed and I don’t take time to enjoy my mornings. This week of crazy health issues has caused me to majorly slow down, so I’ve been making the most of my mornings by reading, playing music, taking bubble baths, and focusing on what I’m thankful for.
- Simplify, Detoxify – When I’m sick, I’m not as tempted by junk foods or processed things. Since this is my 3rd round of serious health issues, I’ve really grown in appreciation for basic things like bone broth, whole fruits and veggies, simple proteins, and lemon water. I’m also eliminating potential toxic chemicals like cleaning products, fragrances, and scented candles, and replacing them with safe versions made with natural ingredients and essential oils.
- Let Go, Let God – When something is wrong with my health, I immediately rush to search my symptoms and try to self-diagnose so that I can come up with a fix FAST. Not only can this lead to a misdiagnosis, but it also leaves me more anxious and stressed out. This week, I had to abandon my control-freak tendencies and let go, remembering that God knows and understands. I made the necessary phone calls to doctors and then stepped back and surrendered my health to God, who I know can heal and restore.
STEPPING BACK TO MOVE FORWARD: WITH MY WORK
This past week has not only caused me to make changes for my health, but also with my work and the way that I have been handling the blog.
Prior to the creation of Fed and Fulfilled, I had an administrative job part-time. While it was a low-stress environment, the work just wasn’t something I knew I could do long-term. I started Fed and Fulfilled as a hobby while I was working, but I knew that the blog was where I really wanted to spend all of my time.
Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE doing the blog! However, this week of crazy health issues has made me realize that I tend to pour too much of my time and myself into it. Once I launched the blog, I put so much pressure on myself to post, post, post. I set a very high standard that anything less than 2 posts per week was unacceptable. That meant 2 new recipes per week, which meant that I had to create each one and make it at least twice, or sometimes more. Then came the photo shoots, which meant several hours of picture-taking. Oh, and the clean-up… don’t even get me started!
While all of this was doable, it was ALL I was doing. It became more than a full-time job. I let the blog control me and my schedule, rather than the other way around. I quickly became a workaholic, spending very little time for self-care. Since my food photo shoots usually turned into dinner each night, that meant we weren’t eating until 8pm, by the time I finished cleaning up. I know I was not only increasing my stress level, but creating tension in my home and with my family.
So, why was I putting all this unnecessary stress on myself?
A few reasons… The first being that I felt the need to push myself after leaving a paying job. I wanted to get my blog up, running, and making money ASAP. I set goals that were probably a bit too ambitious, considering I was new at every aspect of food blogging. I’m not a naturally gifted writer, so writing the posts took a lot of time and doing the back-end technical blog stuff took even longer!
I’m also a perfectionist, so everything I was doing had to be a certain way or I felt like I couldn’t use it, photograph it, or write about it. It spent so many hours on each post before I could hit “Publish,” and even then, I would feel sick inside that I might have made a mistake.
This led to another reason for pressuring myself – fear of failure. I felt so afraid that I would let someone down, whether it was myself, my family, or my readers. This fear caused me to overwork to the point where the blog went from something fun that I enjoyed to something that controlled my whole life.
The problem was that I didn’t recognize any of this while it was happening. I thought I was living the “normal” blogging life. It was only when my health went south for the 3rd month in a row that I started realizing that my stress levels might be out of the ordinary.
With my health on the line, it’s now time for me to step back in my work in order to move forward with long-term goals. I still plan to create new recipes, produce interesting posts, and manage my blog, but I need it to work for me.
I thought of 3 ways I could step back in my work in order to move forward with long-term goals:
- Quality Over Quantity – I’d rather produce one amazing post per week that I can take my time creating instead of scrambling last-minute to post multiple times per week. Sometimes less is more in order to produce better quality content.
- Know When to Quit – Working for yourself definitely has its perks and I love it! However, it can be so hard to STOP working since your office is also your home. There were days when Mark practically had to drag me away from my blog. And I couldn’t relax until certain things were finished. Now, I know I need to set a schedule in order to step back from overworking.
- Imperfect is Okay – I never want the blog to misrepresent my life. I try so hard to do everything perfectly with my posts and recipes, but I’m human and mistakes are okay. I need to step back from perfectionism and remember that the food I’m blogging about is messy and imperfect, yet still amazing. Much like our lives. So, I can stop obsessing over taking the “perfect photo” or writing the “perfect post.” Because in this world, perfect doesn’t exist!
STEPPING BACK TO MOVE FORWARD: IN MY LIFE
A good friend of mine recently shared a quote that stuck with me as I was writing this post. It said, “Don’t doubt in the darkness what God has proven to be true in the light.”
This past year has definitely felt dark since my miscarriage and health crises and I’ve struggled with doubt. It’s seemed like bad things happened, then more bad things happened. There have been a lot of tears. I’ve fought emotional battles as I’ve watched many people around me progress in their lives and grow their families. Meanwhile, I’ve seen my health decline and felt like my life was going the wrong direction, to the point where I feel farther away from starting a family than I’ve ever felt before.
My doubts also are rooted in insecurities about my identity and purpose. I tend to tie my identity with what I’m doing, rather than who I am. In the past, I’ve been a college student, an intern, an artist, an administrative assistant, a baker. This year, I was set on being a mom. When that didn’t happen, I found a new identity as a food blogger. This week, my health issues took even my blogging identity away and I really didn’t feel like I had a purpose at all.
Thankfully, our feelings don’t equal truth. Even though I FELT purposeless, deep down I know that isn’t true. Anyone who has a relationship with Jesus Christ has a purpose far greater than any job on this earth. So when I step back and refocus my thoughts on Him, I’m reminded that my identity is in HIM alone.
There have been several times this week that I feared my heart might stop. It caused me to reflect on how fleeting our lives are and how precious each day is. Do I want to waste the time I’ve been given in self-pity and sadness? Or make the most of each day and live joyfully in the present?
The quote above about not doubting God in the darkness makes me rethink my situation. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I can be thankful for what God has already done. No one in this life is exempt from problems and we all go through dark times. Yet, God is always working, He’s always faithful, and always with us. And I can have hope in knowing that He’s not finished with my story yet- that He’ll bring me out of this dark place into His glorious light.
To conquer my doubts and move forward in faith, I found 3 ways to step back in order to live a happier, healthier life:
- Practice Patience – I like to plan and control my life in order to get what I want as quickly as possible. When that doesn’t happen, it’s devastating. I know I need to step back and wait on what God wants for me instead of jumping ahead and forcing my own plans. By practicing patience, I can be more aware of God’s faithfulness and His perfect plan.
- Be Aware, Don’t Compare – Comparing my life to another almost always leads me to feeling jealous, discouraged, or negative. In order to change this, I want to step back from comparing, yet stay aware and involved with my friends and families’ lives. To avoid the comparison trap, I want to spend LESS time on social media and MORE time on phone calls, in-person visits, and letter-writing.
- Remember Who You Are– I need to step away from toxic thoughts that my identity is wrapped up in what I do or don’t do each day, when really, it’s all about who I am in Christ. This is incredibly freeing, since it allows me to live with purpose, no matter what job I hold in this world. Ultimately, I’m His child and there is no greater identity than that.
So, friends, I hope you’ve seen how stepping back can not only be positive, but also essential for healthy living. Even though this week has been incredibly challenging physically and emotionally, I know that stepping back will ultimately lead me forward in my journey to better health, more enjoyable work, and a very fulfilling life.
Here’s to stepping back and moving forward! 😉 Thanks for reading, for your support, and for your prayers!