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

Reconstruction: Day 2

Today’s lesson (a repeat actually): there is never enough time in a day. I went on a brunch date and drive, I rented a locker at the gym and stashed it with workout clothes and gear, I purchased juicing ingredients, I finished organizing all my paperwork, I tore down and packed up my Christmas tree and decorations, I loosely filled out my monthly calendar, I had a movie date, and I juiced those ingredients. Yet why do I feel like I could have been more productive? Because I am conditioned to believe I should be able to do it all and still have a clean house. Hell, and I don’t even have kids. Or a pet. This is where I breathe deep, exhale all those unrealistic expectations, and leave that pile of clean clothes in the same place it has been for the last four days.

Thankfulness: Today, I am thankful for my beautiful apartment. This is the first time I’ve lived alone in over ten years. And I decorated it from top to bottom! It’s a cozy, beautiful one-bedroom apartment in a historic mansion – a sanctuary where I get to relearn to live and function without never-ending stress, sadness, and fear. Huzzah!

P.S. I forgot to include kale in my juice. Only a tragedy a fellow kale lover will fully understand…

Reconstruction: Day 1

For the first day of 2017, it’s been productive. I set all my intention on organizing for the new year and setting goals.
After a hearty New Years breakfast and a small mimosa, I bundled up and walked to the Dancing Lotus for a yoga seminar called, “New Year, New Intention”. After a physical practice focusing on heart and hit openers, we moved into a written exercise where we scripted our 2017 Sankalpas. “Sankalpa means conception or idea or notion formed in the heart or mind, solemn vow or determination to perform, desire, definite intention, volition or will.”
My 2017 Sankapla reads, “I am joyful and content in my station of life and filled with hope and energy as I embrace today and look to the future with great expectation.” We then entered into a time of guided meditation. I fell asleep and woke myself up with a short burst of snoring. Must have been that mimosa. Also a great reminder of why I sleep on my side. I’m not sure I got much out of that section apart from a sweet nap. We capped off the seminar with a cupful of delicious black-eyed peas (for good luck in the new year).
I spent the rest of the afternoon organizing my apartment. I organized my bureau, desk, closet, and bookshelf. And I created a wall filled with white boards and a calendar in my bedroom as a means to conquer my goals. Tomorrow, I put finishing touches on my master plan. Mwahahahahaha.
To conclude the evening, my friend Amy came over for dinner and we worked through our goals together, with plans to reevaluate them in early summer. It was incredibly encouraging to have a partner in crime during this goal-setting session.
Tomorrow looks to be a full day; one finale full day to get my ducks in a row before I return to work.

Starting Over After Assault and Trauma

How I am reclaiming my life, my health, and my fitness

In November 2012, I ran into the top three percent of female finishers in my first half marathon. The next month I was certified and working as a personal trainer. Shortly thereafter, I was scoring in the 98 and 100 percentiles for muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and cardiovascular endurance. I was fast, strong, powerful, lithe, confident, and ready to take on the world of fitness and nutrition like a pro.

By the following November, I had little heart or energy left to put on my tennis shoes. In six more months, I summoned all the strength and courage I had to escape a toxic, religious relationship with the man I thought I was going to marry. I left that relationship with no job, no home, no car, failing health, and sabotaged fitness. A week later, after being attacked by a jelly fish while night snorkeling, I was sexually assaulted by the very man who offered to bandage my wound – an older married man I sat behind in church; a father figure I trusted and to who I had confided my heartbreak and entrusted my injury.

At age 31, the identity I had spent a lifetime building came crashing down around me. Everything I knew about myself, about God, and about the world as I knew it was gone. The joy, power, self-confidence, and meaning I had found in fitness was also gone.

Beauty for Ashes

Waking up post-trauma is like waking up in a house that has been burned to the ground. Home, career, religion, friendships, family connections, hopes and dreams, laughter, health and fitness – much was gone or severely damaged. Sitting in the ashes of my former life and self, terrible, vast, and all-consuming is the grief and depression.

As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t just get over it. My season of mourning ended up lasting far longer than I wanted – years of my life I can never get back. This was compounded by the fact that I had neither a full-time, permanent job or a permanent home and support system. (I recognize and am eternally grateful to the few people who went out of their way to assist me and assuage my pain.) I did almost whatever I could to keep a roof over my head, bouncing from place to place, all the while I filled out hundreds of applications and went on dozens of interviews, at the same time attempting to start my own health and fitness business and failing. I nannied, I babysat, I cooked, I folded towels and filled shampoo bottles at a gym, I taught group exercise and took a couple PT clients, I drove tourists around on a golf cart in DC, I rolled burritos and rang groceries at Whole Foods part-time, I sold freelance articles, I sold blood platelets. At one point, I inquired with the local homeless shelter, offering to exchange work for a bed. They never got back to me. Every day was a struggle to live and to want to live.

But there is good news. In the great story of redemption, we can trade our ashes for beauty.

Something I have learned during my adventures in national forests and parks is how important wildfires are to the future health of the very forests we are trying to protect. Wisdom now inspires the Forest Service to control those burns when possible, not to always extinguish them. Burned up within that ecosystem of beautiful trees is also the disease and decay that made that very fire so necessary. And what grows from the ashes is a lush, green forest.

Now that the ashes have settled, I have taken complete responsibility for my own reconstruction. I’ve made the conscious choice to grow something beautiful from the black, rich soil of my suffering.

Fast Forward

Today is December 31, 2016. After a very long and painful journey, I am happy to report that I am safe, secure, and settled into a wonderful and meaningful career, a lovely home nestled in a quiet mountain town, and an ever-growing community of family, friends, and colleagues. Physically and emotionally, I am robust and healthy again.

To paraphrase Judith Herman’s work in Trauma and Recovery, “Having come to terms with the traumatic past, I face the task of creating a future. I have mourned the old self that the trauma destroyed; now I must develop a new self. My relationships have been tested and forever changed by the trauma; now I must develop new relationships. The old beliefs that gave meaning to my life have been challenged; now I must find anew a sustaining faith.”

Over a lifetime, I am convinced that most people will go through many versions of the self. The person I was ten years ago is not the person I am today. And chances are high that the person I am today will not be the person I am ten years from now– for better or worse or both. Looking back over my lifetime, the old self that I love and miss and mourned for the most is the powerful, lithe athlete I carved out of my former chubby bookworm self. I am completely aware that I cannot recreate the past; nor do I want to. But I’d like to think I can pattern my new self after the old self who brought me so much joy.

2017 – A Fresh Start

I love the New Year and the days leading up to it when I get to reflect on the past and plan for the future. It’s an opportunity to start fresh, and I’m ready to reclaim every good piece of my body and soul that was stole from me. I’m ready to reclaim my fit self.

To be honest, I can still kill it in the gym. While my cardiovascular endurance has taken a really big hit, I exercise my muscles frequently enough that they haven’t atrophied. My exercise habits are no longer consistent, but neither are they non-existent. Compared to the average American, I’m still a mover and a shaker.

No lie, though, I’ve fluffed up. I know plenty of people who drop weight due to grief and trauma. Alas, I have the opposite problem. There were days when the only redeeming part of existence was a large, soft sugar cookie with almond buttercream frosting. Or a big glass of wine. Usually both. Daily. Hey, if that’s what it took for me to get out of bed, then thank heavens for wine and cookies. I have no shame.

And I am not fat, whatever Victoria’s Secret would have me believe. Let me say that again, louder, so I can believe myself, “I AM NOT FAT.” And even if I was, what does it matter? I weighed in at 145 pounds today. A far cry from the 125 pounds I used to be. Also a far cry from the 165 pounds that I used to be. So really, I’m not starting from scratch. I have a wealth of skills, knowledge, experience, muscle mass, and muscle memory that I didn’t have five years ago.

And I’m showing myself compassion. Post-trauma, my priorities changed. I didn’t have the emotional and physical energy to go on a casual nine-mile jog and throw weights around. My priorities were keeping a roof over my head, allowing myself to grieve, securing work, making peace with God, reestablishing relationships and building new ones. During that season of life, bonding over wine or fried chicken with a new friend was far more important and valuable to my recovery than attending a sports conditioning class.

But that phase of recovery is gladly drawing to a close and I look to the future with enthusiasm. I have athletic hopes and dreams and goals and ambitions again, as well as the spaciousness to pursue and achieve them now.

Join Me

Be you a friend or passer-by, you are invited to join me on my journey in this next phase of recovery as I joyfully construct a new self, new relationships, a new faith, and new fitness goals and achievements. Follow along on my blog, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

To the best of my ability, I will attempt to journal [almost] daily for the next five months while I pursue my fitness and weight-loss goals. And the plan is to also publish an extended article once a week.

And, please, feel free to share your own stories and struggles with me; nor hesitate to reach out to me in your own grief for some comfort or comradery. You are not alone.

Kale Watermelon Salad

kalewatermelonsaladMy friends Nina and Christian Elliot at TRUE Health and Wholeness in Arlington, Virginia fed me this salad multiple times at their home. It was love at first bite. Who would have thunk it? Watermelon, olives, feta cheese, kale – surely those ingredients don’t go well together. Yes, yes they do. Now that it’s summer and watermelon is everywhere, I frequently make this salad for myself and friends. Give it a try; summer salad will never be the same. And if you’re pressed for time and live in the DC Metropolitan Area, stop by TRUE Health and Wholeness in Arlington to pick up some delicious, grab-n-go food that is sure to nourish both your soul and body.

Kale Watermelon Salad
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 1 Salad
  • 2 Cups Massaged Kale
  • ⅛ cup Reduced Fat Feta Cheese
  • 8 Kalamata Olives
  • ½ Cup + Watermelon
  • 3-4 oz Grilled Chicken Breast (Optional)
  • Drizzle of Olive Oil
  • Squeeze of Fresh Lemon Juice
  1. Rinse, dry, and massage your kale.
  2. Grill your chicken breast(s). If you don't have an actual outdoor grill, a counter-friendly George Foreman grill is a great alternative.
  3. Chop your watermelon into bite-size chunks.
  4. Assemble your salad with kale, cheese, olives, watermelon, and chicken (optional). Drizzle a small amount of olive oil over the top and squeeze a quarter to half a lemon on top of salad to dress.
  5. Buen Provecho!


Become a Yes Person


They say psychologists say it takes 28 days to break or build a habit. Others say 21 days or 30 days. “Is this true Amber, or just mere folklore?” Not totally sure, but word is that the origin of said legend comes from a 1960 psychology book by Maxwell Maltz called Psycho-Cybernetics.

Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness

Whether or not such common knowledge is actually legitimate, I don’t know. But I do know this. If you say no to something once, it gets easier to say no to something again. Once you say no to something twice, saying no a third times gets a little easier. And so on and so forth. Call it resistance training for the mind and will. Once exercised frequently and consistently, you get stronger. But one can only lead a life of denial for so long before cracking under the pressure. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Nature abhors a vacuum. So you eliminate a bad habit for thirty days, now what?

Yes and Amen

Become a yes person. Say yes to positive, wonderful things every day until they become good habits. Same resistance training metaphor applies. If you say yes to something once, it gets easier to say yes to something again. Once you say yes to something twice, saying yes a third time gets a little easier. And so on and so forth. So, here’s my advice. For every bad and negative habit you exercise out of your life, replace it with one or two life-giving habits – be they spiritual, relational, physical, recreational, or otherwise. Think about it! What if we flooded our bodies and minds and spirits with so many positive things, with so much light, that dark and negative habits could not root, grow, and manifest? That is what I call a “Yes and Amen” kind of idea.

This is why I’m going to purpose to say yes to my daily vitamins and nightly flossing for the next 28 days. (I was shocked to discover, painfully, why flossing is such a fundamental health practice – especially after the age of thirty. #HumbledIntoSubmission……)

What about you? Well, if you need a little inspiration, I would highly recommend this short and lighthearted TED Talk by Matt Cutts called “Try something new for 30 days.” Enjoy!

Cranberry Kale Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

Cranberry Kale Salad

The Truth About Kale

There is so much to say about kale. So much so that I’m going to let someone else do it. This is the part of the post where I refer you to WebMD – the online source to visit for helpful facts about food as well as an excellent stop for hypochondriacs to receive scary self-diagnoses. Read through their very informative page about kale and learn why you should eat more of it. For the “how” to eat more of it, that’s where I come in. Expect to see kale in many future recipes.

Cranberry Kale Salad with Orange Vinaigrette
  • 1 lg bunch of kale
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 lime
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • ⅛ - ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar (depends on how much vinegar you prefer)
  • 3 drops of liquid stevia
  • dash of salt
  1. De-rib a large bunch of kale and chop into salad size pieces.
  2. Toss cranberries and almonds in with the kale
  3. Orange Vinaigrette: Juice oranges and lime and mix together with olive oil, vinegar, liquid stevia, and dash of salt. Pour over the kale and coat thoroughly.

 They Go Together Like Burt and Ernie

For the perfect food pairing, serve this salad with my recipe for Turkey Apricot Salad on Ezekiel Bread. Buen Provecho!

Turkey Apricot Salad with Cranberry Kale SaladPhotos By Erick Nelson