Fat Fridays: Week 11 The Semi-Reluctant Vegan

Last week I said that if I could find a diet that would help with depression I would go on it. Well, two days after I wrote that, I received an email from a health network I subscribe to whose subject line was “Depressed or Anxious?” Inside the email was a link to a guy who has done extensive study on depression, anxiety, and dementia. I went and checked it out. A couple hours later I received another email from the other health network I subscribe to. The subject line of the email was, “Natural Remedies for Depression and Anxiety.” I opened that email. It had a link to the exact same doctor. I went and checked out the link.


They are having free online video sessions this next week, but they also offered links to two free ebooks that explained the premise of their study. The final conclusion was to adopt a plant-based diet. The challenge they gave was to try and just eat Fruits, Vegetables, and Nuts and then later reintroduce some healthy whole grains.


I am not unfamiliar with plant-based diets. Years ago my inlaws read Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat to Live and adopted his diet plan. They had amazing results. They shared their journey with all their kids and I got the book and read it and even tried it for a while. But I was not sold enough to maintain it for very long. Then about a year ago my own father was struggling with Type 2 diabetes. I had read a study by a Dr. Neal Barnard that talked about reversing Type 2 diabetes by eating a low-fat, plant-based diet. My parents got his book, tried the diet and had amazing results, lowering my dad’s A1C from 6.4 to 5.7 in two months. I again half-heartedly tried the diet since I myself am prediabetic, but I wasn’t very dedicated and didn’t stick to it for very long.

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to be vegan. I want to eat meat. I want to enjoy cheese. Vanity, wanting to lose weight, was not a good enough incentive for me to totally change my lifestyle. But, if you are telling me that perhaps I can come out from under this persistent depression, well, that seems like a good enough incentive. If I lower my A1C and lose weight, that would be great too.

I am actually feeling hopeful. I feel like I’ve been being nudged towards this diet for several years now and I’ve just been dragging my feet. So, I’m going to try it. I’m thinking I’m going to probably need to give it a couple months before I can give an honest assessment as to how it’s going. I’ll keep you all updated.

Here’s the game plan. I’m going to make myself a giant pot of vegetable soup so I have something easy on hand.  I put in a good supply of fruit and vegetables today. The only thing I forgot to buy was nuts. I’ll have to pick those up later. Wish me luck!


Anxiety and the Gospel

Have you ever noticed how quickly your mood and attitude toward life can change? One minute you’re walking around and everyone you meet reminds you of Mr. Rogers (of Neighborhood fame), there are rainbows on the horizon, and you feel like you could do and be anything you want. And then one of your kids makes a bad choice and you suddenly feel like the worst parent ever: I’ve failed my child! Something happens at your kids school that makes you mad: I’m going to withdraw my kids from school and we’re all going to live in a commune in the wilderness and home school! Someone is rude to you at the store: I hate this town, why can’t we move! You have a sick day and get behind in your chores: I can’t do this, there is no way I can survive unless we hire a maid! And everything just feels like it’s unraveling right before your eyes.

So, I’ve had a week like that, or rather, that has been this past week. I found myself feeling anxious and unsettled this morning and I started doing some self-talk. It’s going to be ok. You’re going to be ok. You are ok. And suddenly that phrase that our pastors are always preaching at my church came back to me, “Preach the gospel to yourself.” And my self talk changed. I am ok because I have been saved. Everything is ok because Jesus already paid for all my sins. Everything is going to be alright because Jesus cares about me and he is in control and I don’t have to worry. He cares for me. He also cares about my kids, even more than I do. He’s got this. He’s going to help me figure out each one of these situations. I am not alone.

The anxiety rolled off my shoulders. Some of the tension eased. I put on some worship music later as I trudged through the chores. Took a nap because my worry has been keeping me from resting well. Felt better about life.

This is not the first time I’ve “preached the gospel to myself”. When I was 19 yrs old I started having panic attacks. Looking back I can see that I was very over-extended, sleep deprived, pursuing a career that really didn’t suit my personality. All of these were prime ingredients for inducing anxiety. I found panic attacks to be the most terrifying experience I had ever had. Mostly because I felt like I was going crazy and I didn’t know what to do with my racing thoughts. My very brain itself seemed out of order. During this time I dropped out of college and went overseas, spending 4 months in Haiti and then 5 months in Chile. While I was in Chile I attended a Spirit-filled Baptist Church where I had a lot of people pray for me, minister to me, teach me things about church life that I hadn’t learned yet. It was a time of spiritual awakening for me. I can’t remember if anyone specifically told me what to do or if God just helped me figure it out, but I remember I started having a panic attack one night and instead of completely melting down, I started preaching the Gospel to myself. I recited my entire creed of faith out loud. I believe in God. I believe he created the heavens and the earth. I believe in his son Jesus who came to earth. I believe that he died on the cross for my sins. I believe that he rose and died again. I believe that he forgave my sins. I believe that when I die I will be with him. I believe he has has sent his Holy Spirit, I believe his Holy Spirit lives in me.

By the time I was finished, the panic attack had eased off. I was still feeling shaky, but I had something to cling to and I clung hard. I was able to fall asleep and when I woke up, the anxiety had passed. Over the years I have struggled off and on with anxiety. For me, it has usually been a symptom of something deeper going on. Extreme stress, extreme fatigue, a need for some serious changes in my life. I have found that if I want the anxiety to really go away, I have to deal with these deeper issues. Make changes. But through it all, preaching the gospel to myself has kept me sane.

I in no way am going to claim that this is how you heal panic attacks. I have family members who have struggled with anxiety for years and they have had to come up with their own ways of coping, but having an anchor to hold on to while you figure it out is invaluable. Having a certainty that you are not alone and that someone a lot bigger than you is holding you even while you go through the storm, that is something I long for everyone to have. Preach the Gospel to yourself. Every day. It is life.

Keep It Simple Stupid

My life motto has been, for quite some time now, KISS or Keep It Simple Stupid. In a world that is full of mixed up complicated advice, I am looking for that one simple instruction that is doable, attainable, simple. I don’t do well with complicated. When I make decisions, you can bet money that one of the top priorities for me is which solution is going to be simple. As I have recently been struggling with a problem and needing some simple advice, I found myself remembering the birth of my last child.

The part about the birth that I remember the most was the very end. Everything had gone in a rush. I had shown up at the labor and delivery floor at 7:30, contractions coming every 2 minutes. The baby was 3 weeks early and so I hadn’t even had time to preregister. I made my way to the nurse’s station and started talking quickly, trying to say as much as I could in between contractions. Hi, I’m Esther Heneise, this is my 10th pregnancy, all natural births, Contractions started at 5 pm……pant breathe pant breathe………..Ok, I have gestational diabetes, I’m taking insulin, the baby is really big……pant breathe pant breathe……..umm. Last ultrasound said the baby was 13 pounds, doctors wanted to induce early, they’re worried about shoulder dystocia……pant breathe pant breathe…………………The doctors suggested a C-section but we want to try natural first……….pant breathe pant breathe…………………..My labors are really fast so you don’t have much time……….

The nurse jumped into action, asking a bunch of questions that I could barely answer. Some important, when did you last take insulin? Others not so important, do you have a working refrigerator and stove at your house? (huh?) There was a flurry of getting into a gown, getting blood work drawn, and in the meantime they were still trying to get an idea of how big the baby was and how important was it for me to get a C-section? They did an ultrasound while I sat on the bed almost delirious with pain. I asked if I could get an epidural and they said, sure, as soon as the blood work comes back. I was doomed. I knew there was no way I would still be in labor by the time the blood work came back. I was already at the end of this process. No one else seemed to understand. They checked me and told me I was dilated to 7. I told them that the baby was going to be born within the next half hour. They all nodded and smiled and patted me reassuringly, don’t worry, as soon as that blood work comes back we’ll get you your epidural. By this time I was in transition and basically retreated from the world, just trying to focus on not dying from the pain.  At one point in time they came up to me and asked if I just wanted to go ahead and get a C-section. All I could think was, If I get a C-section will they knock me out so I don’t feel this any more? At least one logical part of my brain spoke up and said, I’m in so much pain I can’t make any decisions, ask my husband. Andy looked up, startled, but fortunately we had talked about this beforehand and so he gave our agreed upon answer which was that we were going to try natural first. I groaned. I had really hoped that I could just get knocked out. Suddenly, I knew, it was time to push. I started pushing. The nurse looked startled and asked if I was pushing. Yes. Stop pushing! You can’t push till the doctor checks you, it might not be time! I looked at her, felt the urge to push, and pushed again. She shook her head, announced to the room at large that I was no longer listening to her and I had started pushing. Total chaos broke out. The room was suddenly filled with people, the bed was being taken apart and 2 nurses came up and pushed me flat on my back, grabbing my legs. I was in a fog and was not tracking with anything but the pain. Suddenly a man’s voice broke through all the commotion. Ok, breathe! Breathe it out, contraction is coming, get ready,, Ok Push! I turned my focus on him, a big tall guy in scrubs and a mask. I have no idea who he was. He might have been a doctor, a nurse, an aide, or some random observer off the street. All I knew was that finally someone was actually helping me. He became my focal point as he coached me through a couple more pushes and then, without any complications, the baby was there. No problems, only weighing 9 pounds 12 ounces instead of the predicted 13. (pretty much 30 mins after they told me I was dilated to 7!) Everyone was healthy and well.People started leaving the room till I was left with just a couple nurses. I survived my last birth.

Looking back, I don’t know if I can emphasize enough how important the man in the scrubs was in the whole process. I was so caught up in my pain and the confusion that I could no longer help myself. I desperately needed one person to break through and just give me some simple instructions. Something I could handle and latch on to. He was a life saver.

I had this happen another time. When I was pregnant with my fourth child, that summer I had a real struggle with panic attacks and anxiety. I didn’t want to leave my house and I felt like I was barely holding my sanity together. Life was so overwhelming and I hadn’t learned yet some of the basics of self-care. I was pouring everything in to my 3 children, expecting another child, and felt like I wasn’t succeeding at anything.  My husband finally asked if I’d be willing to go and speak to our pastor. I made an appointment and we met and talked. I can’t really remember much of what we said but I do remember that he wrote down on a piece of paper 3 things to do. They were very simple. One was to establish a quiet time every day where all my kids were in their beds either napping or looking at books and I could have an hour to myself. The next one was to make it a priority to have a time to just talk to my husband every day with no interruptions, adult conversation. I can’t remember what the third was, but I do know it was equally as simple. It was a voice speaking through the fog of my anxiety, just giving me a couple basic instructions to help me establish some good practices of self-care. Even though it was simple, it really helped.

Sometimes I’ve had an actual person who shows up to speak some life into my situations. Other times, it’s the Holy Spirit just speaking a simple idea into my mind. I have been dithering around for a couple days now. I want/need to start eating healthier. I’m ready to do it. But how to go about it? I’ve read so many books and heard about so many different methods that now I’m completely stalled out and I don’t know what to do. This plan says no animal products, this other says, mostly only animal products. This plan says no fat, this other plans says all the fat you want, just don’t eat it at the same time as Carbs. This plan says one cup of grain a day, this other plan says all the grain you want as long as you don’t eat fat. ACCKK!!! What do I do? I finally made it a matter of prayer, Ok Lord, I need some guidance here. And an idea came to me. No sugar. Every single plan agrees on that one, no sugar. Just keep it simple. Tackle one bad habit at a time.  A still, small voice breaking through the confusion, giving me some simple advice. It’s exactly what I needed. Just keeping it simple….stupid.