It's 3AM, I can't be the only one awake.

I did it.  I really did it.  For 30 days I stuck to my plan.  It was hard.  I thought about cheating.  A lot.  But I didn’t.  Except once accidentally.  But that’s OK.  I feel better than ever.  I’m talking about the #exmochallenge.  A 30 day challenge to feel better created by Lindsay of Expressing Motherhood.  The only rule (although we didn’t call it that) was to stick to your plan, whatever that may be.  Maybe you cut out sugar.  Maybe you committed to running a mile every day.  Maybe you stopped eating your kid’s leftover, parmesan covered pasta.  Whatever it was, you did it for 30 days.

I based my #exmochallenge on the dietary program the Whole30: “A short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, calm systemic inflammation and put an end to unhealthy cravings, habits, and relationships with food.”   We hashtagged our way through Twitter and Instagram – creating a community of support.  Here are 30 thoughts from my 2013 #exmochallenge.  Starting with my #1 reason for wanting to find the absolute best dietary choices for me.

(1) I’ve had cancer. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates nailed it. I love that guy.  Things change when you are faced with the very real thought that you could die – young.  My ‘food as medicine’ journey began in 2006 when I was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma – on my face!  For two years my husband (then fiancé) and I watched my face change as it underwent 11 surgeries to remove the cancer and reconstruct my face.  It was scary, I wrote about that here.  More about that to come but for now I want you to know that at the time of my diagnosis, my face was my money maker.  I was making commercials, just starting to book more gigs, and doing a lot of improv and stand up – and then BAM.  I got hit – in the face.  Life changed.  My direction changed.  My DIET CHANGED!  I became a vegetarian.  Ate lots of blueberries.  Took supplements.  Bought organic vegetables.  Got very serious about what I put into my body in an effort to be as healthy as possible.  We were surrounded by friends and family that loved on us, fed us, gifted us and generally saved our lives with their friendship and care.  I vowed back then that I would do my best to stay healthy and strong, happy and loving so that I could one day give back in the way that I was given.  I am still committed to this and every day I am thankful to those friends, my now husband, our family and for my life.  My diet is still evolving as I find what feels best for me.  I have a lot of laughing and loving to do – and the energy that this year’s #exmochallenge has given me is just what I need.  And now, 7 years later, I have four more reasons for wanting the maximum amount of energy possible. “Let food be thy medicine.”

My raison d'être.

My raison d’être.

(2) Sticker charts work.  I know not everyone is a fan of this type of reward system, but I will tell you right now that a sticker chart worked for this girl!  I couldn’t wait to add another sticker to my chart.  I loved seeing my progress, the countdown, the sense of accomplishment.  It made me proud of myself every day.  It made succeeding colorful and fun.  I like color and I like fun.

Mommy's Sticker Chart.

Mommy’s Sticker Chart.

(3) Preparation is key.  Chopping vegetables and roasting them in bulk on Sunday nights made the work week easier.  I  had some help from my youngest.  He’s a curious little guy and likes to wander around the house, after bedtime.  So one late, very late, Sunday night, I taught him and Optimus Prime how to chop vegetables.

Adult supervision recommended.

Adult supervision recommended.

(4) I like bourbon.  I am from KY.  It’s in my DNA.  I will not lie.  I missed my bourbon.

We go way back.

We go way back.

BUT…I cut all alcohol from my diet for 30 days, so this included bourbon, no matter how I tried to justify it.  And it wasn’t that hard.  I even went out with friends, to a bar, to hear country music.  And I drank water.  Still, I had a blast.  It can be done.  Also, I discovered that this little concoction was an OK substitute.

Ice. 100 % Pineapple Juice. Sparkling Water.

Ice. 100 % Pineapple Juice. Sparkling Water.

(5) Simple is good.  It’s not always necessary to be fancy.  I cooked spinach, eggs and sausage almost every morning.  Quick, easy, and very little thinking involved.  Too many other things to think about between 6 and 8:30am.

Simple, easy breakfast for the whole family.

Simple, easy breakfast for the whole family.

(5) Routine is great.   Those roasted veggies came in so handy all through the week.  Lunch at work and dinner at home.  Pre-made, ready to go (see #2).  More time to play with kiddos this way.  Mommy likes that.

Veggies

Chop veggies of your choice. Toss in coconut oil, crushed garlic, salt and pepper. Roast at 400 for 40 minutes or until tender. (stir mid way)

(6) Accountability is critical.  When someone else is checking in on your progress – that good ole “I don’t want to disappoint” quality rises to the surface.  Maybe it’s fodder for therapy in other areas but in this area – I needed to be accountable.  I needed the companionship, the support, the constant Instagram pings from the other #exmochallenge contenders. Here are 2 of them.

Amy of PairofGenes.com. #exmochallenge superstar

Amy of Pair of Genes. #exmochallenge superstar

Lindsay – co-creator of Expressing Motherhood. #exmochallege Superstar!

(7) Sugar is like crack.  Just like crack, sugar “stimulates key pleasure centers within the brain and causes extremely heightened euphoria.” (DrugFreeWorld)  I can’t just have one bite people.  If I have even a taste of sugar I’m doomed.  Might as well open wide and shovel the kid’s confiscated Halloween candy directly into my mouth.  And then go to the store for more.  I am sure one day, unlike crack, I will be able to enjoy sugar in moderation.  But for now, I still consider myself an addict and this 30 days was just the beginning of me shedding this sweet habit. (*I’ve never done crack – qualifying in case anyone I babysit for is reading this)

Writing it out helps.

Writing it out helps.

(8) My year of Paleo made this easier.  A year ago I began eating a (mostly) Paleo diet.  This was a big change for me.  I had been a vegetarian for 6 years, so choosing to eat meat again was not something I took lightly.  Oh and by “mostly” I mean I still ate cheese, the occasional non-fat milk in my coffee, and not so dark chocolate chips.  Doh.   I’m a baker, so I had to learn an entirely new way to bake when I went Paleo.  Thanks to some awesome cookbooks, mainly this one: Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfillipo and the incredibly fun blog/recipe treasure chest www.paleomg.com I was able to not only survive but thrive.  I have a new love of coconut oil and almond flour.  But my point is this – for a year I had already released flour, all grains, most processed foods and white sugars (mostly) from my tight dietary grip.  So for this 30 days I simply (not the appropriate word but…) had to cut out all sugars (including maple syrup, agave, etc…) and all dairy (including my cheese! and cream in my coffee)

This is my favorite Paleo cookbook.

This is my favorite Paleo cookbook.

(9) My marriage is better…when I’m not a raving, sugar fried, exhausted, mid lifed WIFE.  Sugar makes me happy and then it makes me mad.  The crash from a sugar rush is horrible.  Just come over to my house and watch my kids after a birthday party.  You might also choose to rid yourself of sugar.  I’m telling you, it is a drug.  So without it I was a happier wife.  I won’t go into the details but I think you know what I mean.

Date Night with hubby.  Important!

Date Night with hubby. Important!

(10) I’m a better player…when I’m not a raving, sugar fried, exhausted, mid lifed MOM.   I love my boys so much it makes me hurt.  I never thought I’d be the one to say “it goes by so fast” but I’m saying it now.  It goes by so fast.  On top of that my working mom schedule makes my time with my favorite boys very limited.  This was one of the main reasons behind my #exmochallenge: to have more energy for these four boys (includes my husband and our sheepdog).  It worked.  I was present.  Awake. Happy.  Patient.  Able to handle (mostly), and even enjoy (mostly), the many, many stresses and struggles that go along with having two four wild, spirited, active, limited testing, challenging, wonderful boys.

These 2 are not going to slow down.  I like being able to keep up.

These 2 are not going to slow down. I like being able to keep up. Also lucky to have this furry helper.

(11) I like to sleep.  If you are a mom you know that sleep is a precious commodity.  When I do get to sleep for extended (4-5 consecutive hours) periods of time I want it to be a deep sleep.  During these 30 days my sleep was very deep.  I may not have gotten a lot of it but when I was all tucked in – I was out.  No sugary dips and spikes in my dreams.  I think my boys slept better too!

Snug as bugs.

Snug as bugs.

(12) Priceless Productivity.  All I really want to say here is that I had such a tremendous amount of energy that on top of my full time job and motherly (and wifely) joys and duties, I accomplished everything on my to do list during these 30 days.  Even had time for crafts.

I might have been dreaming during this crafting session.

I might have been dreaming during this crafting session.

(13) Trader Joes is wonderful and evil during a challenge like this.  Inexpensive produce, almond meal, and coconut oil. Convenient locations and friendly staff.  But do not, I repeat, do not, look above the frozen foods.  You will be tempted.  And if you can, close your eyes while checking out.

Danger Danger #exmochallenge

Danger Danger #exmochallenge

(14) No time for depression.  I’m a happy person by nature.  I like to have fun.  Don’t get me wrong.  When I get sad I let myself be sad.  BUT…I prefer happy.  I enjoy people and talking and laughing and living.  And with this diet – I am a much happier, kinder, healthier citizen of the world.

Happy Happy Happy with Amy.

Happy Happy Happy with Amy.

(15) It wasn’t easy.  I don’t want to make this sound like it was super easy for me.  It was not.  I fought it tooth and nail.  The first day almost killed me.  Mostly, I hated my coffee black.  Tea wasn’t doing it.  I almost lost my mind.  Day 2 wasn’t any easier.  Day 3 – terrible.  I think I cried.  By day 4 I was better.  I started drinking green tea with almond milk or coconut milk and started having fun experimenting with new combinations.  Eventually I even enjoyed my coffee black.  Better with ice though.

Whole Foods Splurge.

Whole Foods Splurge.

(16) Treats are fun.  Even mommies like special treats.  Mid way through my #exmochallenge I bought myself an inexpensive treat.  Who knew a brand new purple cup would make me drink more water?  But it did I tell you, it did.

Isn’t it cute?

(17) IKEA. Even though it isn’t grass fed. You can still enjoy a meal at IKEA, for like a penny, when on the #exmochallenge.

Swedish Breakfast. Sort of.

Swedish Breakfast. Sort of.

(18) Standing Desk.  Week 2 of the challenge I decided to turn my desk into a standing desk.  I love it.  I definitely have more energy throughout the day.  I walk to co-workers more often than e-mailing them.  I go to the bathroom more often.  I drink more water.  I do sit down occasionally but mostly I stand.  Mine is makeshift and cost me NOTHING.

DIY Standing Desk

DIY Standing Desk

(19) The scale.  Losing weight was not my #1 goal for this challenge.  I vowed to not step on a scale until day 31.  I could not believe how obsessed I became with wanting to know how much weight I had lost.  I had to hide the scale.  I am happy to say that I did lose weight.  By day 31 I had lost about 10 lbs.  BUT…I thought for sure I had lost more.  So it was slightly disappointing.  Proof that it is best NOT TO WEIGH during the 30 days.  Like it or not we are kind of obsessed with numbers.

Put this away.

Put this away.

(20) Replace a bad habit with a good one. This is key.  When I was craving something sweet I drank water.  When I craved something else sweet, I drank more water.  And then added ice.  I drank a lot of water these 30 days.

Water in a Maker's Mark bottle.  With Stacie.  Don't git much better than that.

Water in a Maker’s Mark bottle. With Stacie. Don’t git much better than that.

(21) The break room.  Stay away from it.  If you work in an office, avoid the break room during a challenge like this.  Someone is always bringing in something yummy that you will want.  Stay away.  Walk around the block instead.

Just Say No.

Just Say No.

(22) Cheating. If you do slip and cheat don’t be too hard on yourself.  Just pick up where you left off and keep going.  I might have cheated once, in the beginning, before I learned to be prepared.  What was I to do?  It was late.  I was starving.  The kids wanted to run around.  It was hot.  We don’t have AC.  This place does.

Damn Golden Arches.

Damn Golden Arches.

(23) You can still enjoy your life. It seemed like there was never a good time to start the #exmochallenge.  I had a camping trip planned, date nights, work events and a trip home to KY.  I was nervous that I would never succeed.  But I did.  And you can too.  In KY I went to the most southern, deep fried, Sunday after church restaurant you can imagine.  I special ordered and skipped the pie.  It can be done.

Less eating, more time to enjoy view.

Less eating, more time to enjoy the view.

(24) Walk. I did not do a lot of exercising during these 30 days.  But I did try to walk when I could.  I brought my tennis shoes to work and when possible I put them on and took a 30 minute walk.  Mostly I walked to Whole Foods and back but still.

These are not clown shoes.

These are not clown shoes.

(25) Sugar is sneaky.  Sugar is in everything.  And so are a few other sneaky ingredients.  Things aren’t always as they seem. Read the labels.

And a few other things.

No it’s not!

(26) Snacks.  Although the Whole30 does not recommend snacking in between meals.  I found snacks to be helpful, especially the first 2 weeks.  Nuts were my favorite.

Individual packages are great.

It’s easy to over eat when it comes to nuts.  I found these individual packages very helpful.

(27) Others may follow. Even those you least expect may follow your lead.

3 years old.  Usually only eats carb.

3 years old. Usually only eats carbs.

(28) Have fun.  Get out and play.  Enjoy the outdoors.  Take your kids to new playgrounds.  Enjoy your neighborhood from a new, sugar free perspective.

This one discovered climbing trees for the first time.  Oh boy!

This one discovered climbing trees for the first time. Oh boy!

This is much easer to do when I feel great.

This is much easer to do when I feel great.

(29) GIVE THANKS. With your head clear it’s easier to be thankful for all of the wonderful things in your life.

give it.

Give it.

I encourage everyone to give themselves the gift of a 30 day challenge.  Break bad habits.  Create new healthy ones.  Thank you Lindsay for creating the #exmochallenge.  You’ve inspired, motivated, and supported me.  Let’s do it again.