Live to Eat Well, Exercise, Be Well in Mind and Body

Reconstruction: Month 2, Day 11

I’m having a difficult time justifying this reconstruction project. Since inauguration day, I haven’t had the heart or the interest in writing about my eating and exercise habits. I’m a nervous wreck some days. Some days I am so angry. Other days I just drift off into escapism. Some days I take life by the balls and eat Rocky Mountain oysters for breakfast. Speaking of which, I am eating better. I am exercising more. But what does it matter?

Do I really need to be writing inane journals about food and exercise? The world is falling apart and millions of people are suffering and I’m worried about 15 pounds? So worried that I write about it every day? While I know that nutrition and fitness is an important part of the conversation we should be having about public health in this country, the truth is I am already healthy and fit. My blood work is fabulous, I eat my fruits and vegetables, I don’t do drugs or smoke, I drink in moderation, I floss and brush, I exercise regularly, and I have great health insurance. I am winning at health.

In truth, my reconstruction project is all about being skinny. Skinny. Thin. Lithe. I’ve never been good at being skinny but it seems like I’ll never stop trying. They say practice makes perfect. Sigh. Perfect. Skinny. Perfect. Skinny. Are these two words synonymous? Who taught me that? Can I unlearn it? If so, how? But I still want to be skinny. Why? Because I want to be loved. Someone, somewhere told me over and over and over and over and over and over and over again that you have to be skinny to be beautiful and that you have to be beautiful to be loved. Sure, there are exceptions to that rule, but I am not one of them.

How do I tune out their voices? The voice of my grandmother who, with disgust in her voice and on her face, told my eleven year old self, “My God Amber, your friends are toothpicks and you look like you weight 100 pounds.” The boys in junior high and high school who dehumanized me by mooing at me like a cow and barking at me like a dog. The family friend who congratulated me on my weight-loss, declaring me now suitable for marriage, as most men didn’t care for fat women. The boyfriend who told my fit, size six self that he preferred flat abs and firm thighs, disappointed that I had gained weight after our vacation.

Life is scary and hard sometimes and I am very aware, daily, that I am navigating that scary and hard world by myself and that when I fall again (when not if), I fall alone. Again. I don’t want to be alone any more. So, I guess it’s back to the hamster wheel. Back to the gym. Pass the brussels sprouts please…..

Am I ruled by fear? Sure. Aren’t we all? Wasn’t fear the driving force behind our most recent presidential election. In the face of fear, what does courage look like for me personally? I’m not sure. I need to meditate on that, pray about it, beg for enlightenment. For now, I am off to drink wine.

Reconstruction: Month 2, Day 1

I just taught my first group exercise class, Barre Strong, in almost two years tonight. It went great. I love teaching group exercise and Barre Strong is my favorite class to teach. I can’t wait to build a life as a part-time group exercise instructor again.

As far as my waistline is concerned, January was a wash. Actually, I think I gained three pounds while visiting Austin. Fail. What a bizarre month – a strange mixture of terrible and wonderful. Hurt my foot on January 2nd and benched myself from heavy exercise for a few weeks. Had an amazing visit with family and friends in Austin. Ate lots of delicious food while I was there and attended the Women’s March in Austin. It was AMAZING. I felt so inspired. And then Sunday rolled around. Then the next day. And the next. And so on and so forth. This could be a really loooong four years. Most of what I feel is angry. Day after day after day. Exercise probably would have been good for me; but all I wanted was wine, food, and friends. Weird month.

I did figure a few things out for future success, however. One. I hate Weight Watchers and will never use it again. That was my conclusion after only one day. No, make that after only one meal. Granted, I still want to treat food like currency, but I’d rather use the Livestrong tracking system for food and exercise again. Also, I’ve spearheaded a wellness program at my work, and so far so great. I’d like to keep that up forever. I will blog about that more in the future.

Goodnight world. As Anne Shirley would say, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet.”

6 Ways to Improve Your Health and Finances at the Same Time

Having too little money and too many extra pounds – few things in life are rife with so much shame and fear. While it is typical to feel alone in your shame, the truth is that few people escape money and/or weight problems. Three quarters of Americans say they have money worries, and about that many Americans, children included, are overweight or obese.

According to the Financial Health Institute, 3 out of every 4 Americans report finances are the main contributor to their stress. That stress often results in negative coping behaviors like excessive drinking, overeating, smoking, escapism (television and movies). Those stress-induced coping mechanisms then manifest themselves in nasty ways – depression, weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, and more. Medical bills then stack up, creating ongoing stress, and the cycle continues. A strong argument can be made that financial and physical health and fitness cannot be tackled separately, but must be a package deal.

Instant Gratification

Inherent in the discussion of health and finances, is that greatest of American traditions – instant gratification. Sure, eating half a box of Oreos or buying that new pair of shoes feels good in the moment, but the dark side of instant gratification is the loss of impulse control, leaving us slaves to consumption, debt, extra weight, stress, and ill health. Culturally, we are not taught to pause and weigh the costs before we eat and shop. Just do it. Just eat it. Just buy it. Charge it now; pay later. That is the American way of life.

This is why financial and physical fitness have to be addressed simultaneously. If we would intentionally sit down and calculate how much money we are consuming by satiating our physical appetite for food, caffeine, and alcohol, we would be shocked. When the desire to lose weight and gain health and vitality is coupled with the desire to lose debt and gain financial freedom, it can be a one-two punch that reinforces our commitment to tackling negative consumption habits.

But no one can be shamed into being a wealthier, healthier human being. Hate and shame don’t serve as motivators; they only serve to create an oppressive weight of judgement that few people can crawl out from under. If losing weight or losing debt were easy, everyone would do it. It requires sacrifice and hard work; it is difficult and overwhelming, and there is no quick and easy solution. And it’s hard to know where to start.

So start here. Here are 6 tips and tricks to improve your health and your finances at the same time.

1. Weigh the Cost

Eating out, coffee to-go, field trips to the bakery, drinks after work, hobby-induced grocery shopping – it all costs more than you think. By signing up for Mint, a free and online financial manager that links into bank account, you can take a hard and honest look at how much money you are physically consuming and literally flushing down the toilet.

2. Create a Budget

No doubt that last foray into expense tracking has you crying into your beer. Now dry your tears, put on your big girl or big boy pants, and create a budget using Mint, that magical financial manger. After your bills are paid, your first priority is to build an emergency savings account, followed by an aggressive elimination of credit card or student loan debt. Take a look at your leftovers, and assign yourself a modest allowance for restaurants, coffee shops, and booze. Download Mint on your smartphone to stay on track.

3. Use Food As a Currency

A helpful psychological tactic in rationing daily and weekly servings and splurges is to think of food as currency, a weekly allowance, or a per deim expense account. A weight loss program like Weight Watchers utilizes points instead of calories as a helpful and playful way to monitor and budget food intake. Dave Ramsey, author of Financial Peace University, actually used the Weight Watchers model as the basis for his debt elimination program.

4. Get Cookin’

Making food in your own kitchen is only a fraction of the cost compared to eating out. And you are in complete control of the ingredients and serving sizes. Have some fun and experiment with different grains, legumes, vegetables, and spices to kick up the nutritional value. Make a big batch, and you’ll have leftovers to enjoy for lunch at work. This is good news for both your wallet and your waistline. Visit websites like Eating Well for free nutritious and delicious recipes.

5. Find Your Muse

There is a reason creative types are often referred to as “starving artists”. Looking at your forlorn budget for food and entertainment, you could get depressed, or you could get creative. This is your chance to write that book you’ve been talking about for ten years, pick up the guitar gathering dust in the corner, learn to knit, break open the sketch book, grow a small garden, and make your own natural body products. By switching from a consumption mentality to a creative mentality, you open yourself up to a world of wonder and possibilities.

6. Make Exercise a Hobby

Unless you’re enrolled at a seriously expensive boutique gym, exercise is an affordable activity. A modest gym membership runs from $10-$50 a month – many of which offer classes in kickboxing, barre, bootcamp, yoga, and more. Instead of meeting your friends at the pub or at the greasy spoon, make some new friends at the gym and get moving. And when the weather is nice, enjoy a long walk, hike, or run outside. Those exercise-induced endorphins and Vitamin D from the sun will provide you plenty of feel-good motivators to keep you on track, both financially and physically.

To conclude, it bears repeating that neither your wallet or your waistline can afford to gorge itself on whatever it wants, whenever it wants. But take heart. Remember that we’re all in this together. Few people escape the worry of money and/or weight. So, let us lose the contempt – for both ourselves and others – and encourage and build one another up instead. Follow the aforementioned tips and tricks and chances are high that you will drop the weight and gain financial freedom at the same time.




Reconstruction: Day 22

Soooo, I traveled to Austin, Texas for both work and play over the last ten days. I prioritized time with my family and friends in the evenings instead of updating my blog. Sorry not sorry. I spent quality time with my beloved family, saw a lot of friends, attended a great conference on sexual assault response and prevention on college campuses, ate lots of great food, and attended the Women’s March on ATX. A successful, delightful trip. I’m writing this post from the Salt Lake City airport during a very looooong layover.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I strained my foot in early January, and took time off of high-impact exercise to let it rest and recover. Good news. Pain is 98% gone, which means I can hit the ground running (literally) tomorrow again.

Also, to make my daily/every other daily journals more useful to my fitness and weight-loss goals, I’m beginning to think I might also include a food journal. We shall see.

I’ll be happy to be home tonight in my own bed and take on my health and fitness goals starting again tomorrow. As Austin original Matthew McConaughey would say, “Alright, Alright, Alright….”

Reconstruction: Days 10 & 11

Been a weird, sickly few days. I know that I’m a hypochondriac, so my rational reactions to injury or illness are far more emotional than they should be. (So I’ve been eating a lot of chocolates and candies.) That and it’s that time of the month again. (So I’ve been eating a lot of chocolates and candies.) And I think I’m fending off a sinus infection, as I am more congested than usual.

Sadly, I strained the tendons in my foot/ankle right out of the gate last week during a terrible yoga flow. (All of my biggest sports injuries come from the sport of yoga. Another article for another time.) The good news is that the foot doctor told me it’s just a slight strain and after a couple weeks I should be perfectly fine.

That’s the bad news too. A couple weeks of limited, light exercise. Well, that’s killing my New Years buzz, resulting in a sad mood over the last few days. And it definitely sets my timeline back a few weeks or a month for my weight loss goals. Gotta shake it off, show myself some grace, and adjust my impossible expectations. Then I pick myself up, shake off the blues, and try again after I’m all healed up.

The timing is good I guess. I leave for Austin on Friday for ten days for both work and play. Catching up with family and friends while there should cheer me up and cheer me on for my return to beast-mode. Beast-mode. I want it.

Reconstruction: Days 8 & 9

A week plus into 2017 and I am feeling the weight of self-expectation on one hand and the gift of self-compassion on the other. Meaning, I am not Super Woman, but making progress towards making exercise a habit and a hobby again. I have strategically rented a locker at the gym and stashed it with clothes, toiletries, and gadgets. I walk straight from work to the gym, no visits home. It works.

As for food, it’s going okay. I have been drinking green juice and eating fruit for breakfast until noon – my not so stringent version of intermittent fasting. But I need to get better at monitoring and budgeting my calorie intake. Call me crazy, but I think I’m going to join Oprah and download the Weight Watchers app on my phone to track my food.

I have no desire to submit to a soul-killing diet regime, but I think it’s helpful to treat food like money at times, especially when there is a deficit of fat bulging from the sides of my gym shorts. (I don’t love my love handles.) And the Weight Watchers “points” system functions somewhat like currency. I’m going to give it a go, sans meetings and public weigh ins.

Rebuilding My Relationships After Assault and Trauma


Health and wellness hinges on relationships. In recent mortality studies, researchers have discovered that loneliness is twice as dangerous as obesity and has comparable health outcomes to those of a pack-a-day smoker. In greater numbers than ever before, people are literally dying of a broken heart.

The loss of connection with my family and friends, or the complete annihilation of once thriving relationships, has been the most heartbreaking fallout from my heartache and trauma. I’m far more sad about the loss of my relationships than about my fifteen pound weight gain. As part of my reconstruction, I am relearning to be in relationship and community with other people, because I know that my health and well-being is largely dependent on the healthy relationships I build and maintain with other human beings. I am relearning to do simple things like respond to emails and texts – which I got really good at avoiding for a long time. I’m finding it easy and pleasant to build new friendships in Montana, but redeeming fractured relationships is more emotional and more difficult, especially from far away.


Sadly, there are relationships that can never be fixed. Just yesterday, I discovered that one of my favorite humans in the world, a kindred spirit if I ever had one at work, passed away in September. And I didn’t even know. I kept telling myself that when I was better, when I had something good to say, when I had a good job, when I was happy, then I would call, I would email, I would visit. Before we lost touch, he confessed his sadness and depression to me at being sick and being lonely. And I did nothing; felt like I had nothing to offer. Now he is gone and I will never get the chance to tell him how much he meant to me and how much I loved him. I can only bottle my tears and cast them into the ever-churning sea of life and death, hoping my message will reach him somehow. I would tell him, first, that I am sorry.

I am sorry. I want to say this to so many people. Foremost, I want to say this to my uncle, one of my favorite humans in the world, who has been increasingly sick for over three years now. A second father to me, he has loved me so wonderfully, without condition. And consumed with my own grief, I abandoned him to his sickness and sadness. Same story. I kept telling myself that when I was better, when I had something good to say, when I had a good job, when I was happy, then I would call, I would email, I would visit. Until then, I had nothing to offer. Then I woke up to find that years had passed while I chanted that mantra; wasted years. Fortunately, I will see him next week, and this time, I will get to tell him everything that he means to me and how much I love him. I will tell him, first, that I am sorry. No excuses.

For me, I think “I am sorry” is easier than “I forgive you”. Because more often than not, I find myself trying to say “I forgive you” to people who never asked for forgiveness and probably never will. Or I am faced with the task to having to say “I forgive you” to people who apologized, but…long is the laundry list of excuses, which makes it hard to identify the apology in the midst of the bullshit. On the night of my assault, alone in a third world country, I sent an email to a handful of friends – a cry for help. Some of them never responded. Some of them responded once, but rarely spoke to me ever again, so great was their need for normalcy. Others, given their own difficult life circumstances, just had no capacity to carry my sorrow. Trauma, be it your own or someone else’s, rocks the boat. And people don’t like to have their boats rocked.

I felt so alone. “Traumatized people feel utterly abandoned, utterly alone, cast out of the human and divine systems of care and protection that sustain life. Thereafter, a sense of alienation, or disconnection, pervades every relationship, from the most intimate familiar bonds to the most abstract affiliations of community and religion.” (Trauma and Recovery, Pg. 52) And so it began, the slow and gradual death of connection. Regardless of how easy it is or not, forgiveness (both the giving and receiving) is essential to my reconstruction, and must be a conscious practice that I engage in daily.


But my story is not without its heroes – those handful of people who, in one way or another, donned their invisible capes and went above and beyond the call of duty to love me and help me, even when I was a miserable wretch. I don’t think I’ve been able to fully acknowledge them and thank them yet. Today would be a good day to start.

Amber Cruz, my best friend since age 13, who tirelessly sat with me in my ashes as I wept for almost three years, and rescued me from homelessness on a handful of occasions. My cousin Nicole Shaw, who also sat with me in my ashes and took me into her home and supported me for three months post breakup and assault while I found work. Those handful of friends, mostly new ones from DC, and one old one from Colorado, who had the nearness and strength of heart to sit with me in my ashes, let me weep, showed me great love and compassion, and invited me to join them in the land of the living through fitness, dance, food, sledding, yoga, mountaineering, and more: Paul Boehman, Candice Brinkman, Nina Elliot, Michelle Pascucci, Rachel Trego, and Tyler Miller. Jed Johnson, my big redneck brother, whose physical girth is only surpassed by his breadth of compassion and generosity. He bought me my car and cared for my parents when I couldn’t. My former boss, Annette Burrhus-Clay, Executive Director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, who answered my late night phone call from a little bedroom in Roatan, Honduras and told me it was not my fault. She would later refer and recommend me to my current job, welcoming me back into the work and movement to end violence again women, now more near and dear to my heart than ever before. To each of you I say, “Thank you.”


While I intend to devote a considerable amount of time to my fitness endeavors in this new year, it must be padded with the spaciousness to build and rebuild relationships with the people I love. Love, let it always be my priority. To each of my friends and family members reading this, I send you my love.

Reconstruction: Day 6

I have friends. More than just rogue, individual friends, I have a posse. Complete with dogs. And a devil cat. What?!?!

After the lonliest and most friendless year of life in Denver, that is better news than any badass workout or clean eating victory. Doesn’t hurt that they all are active and athletic. Sure, they’re all a solid six-eight years younger than me, but I don’t mind. They are young, healthy, active, and childless. It’s all part of my plan to disguise myself as 28 forever and to seduce a severely younger man. Yes, I am a Puma in training.

We’re eating mac and cheese with hot dogs for dinner. I’m going to tell myself it’s delicious and enjoy every spoonful.

Reconstruction: Days 4 & 5

I was too tired to journal last night. Happens. Well, the good news is that pile of clean clothes has now been put away. But now other chores are mounting. I’m unsure how to work full-time, exercise consistently, cook healthy food from scratch, create and maintain relationships, accomplish goals, write daily and weekly posts, run errands, fit in some occasional entertainment, sleep eight hours a night, and keep a clean house.

The struggle is real. I might have to sacrifice an hour of sleep occasionally. Or it may be that my house just stays perpetually messy for the next five months. Or forever. *Insert Grumpy Cat Face.* (I freakin’ love Grumpy Cat!)

Progress, not perfection. My new mantra. After-all, aren’t we all a beautiful mess in one way or another? Striving for perfection has brought me little joy in life. Instead, I am happy to do as well as I can with the time that I have been given, without stress or guilt, and surrender the leftovers to a gracious Creator so that he can recycle them for use on another day.

Given that progress, and not perfection, is my new MO, I am happy with my handful of successes thus far in 2017. “Cause I’m still working on my masterpiece.” Enjoy one of my favorite jams from one of my favorite divas.

Reconstruction: Day 3

I love to walk. I don’t care if it’s freezing (as long as I’m bundled up) or if it’s humid or if it’s hot. I love a nice walk outside with the fresh air and sunshine. Walking is my first love in fitness; it was my gateway drug. As they say, you have to walk before you run. And as I told my friend Karina in October, the healthiest people in the world are walkers. (And moderate drinkers.)

I walked to work. I took a fifteen minute break to walk outside and stretch my legs while at work. I walked to the gym after work. I walked home from the gym. I love to walk. Granted, the roads in Helena resemble somewhat of an ice rink right now, so my walking has been particularly dainty as of late. But that’s all about to change, because I just bought some ICEtrekkers! They are like braces for the bottom of your shoes, helping you dig into ice and snow like a boss and stay upright. (I slipped and fell in the middle of the road during rush hour last month. I thought it was funny.)

It was a great day. I did good by myself, I ate well, and I killed it at the gym. And that pile of clean clothes laying on my floor? It’s still there and it’s going to stay there, because I’m tired and hitting the pillow. Good night world wide web, good night Instagram, good night Facebook, good night snap chat, good night Pinterest, good night YouTube. Zzzzzzzzz

Thankfulness: Today I am thankful for my two strong legs and excellent balance that fuels so many of my adventures. Use ’em or lose ’em.