Letting Go of Ego

Woke up today and decided to kill my ego. It ain't never done me no good no how.

-Sturgill Simpson

I just finished a two week "cleanse" that eliminated pretty much all of the foods that people most associate with me, or at least the online caricature of me, from my diet. For two weeks, I had no cheese dip, no coffee, no whiskey, no rosé, no chocolate. The diet was no alcohol, no sugar, no caffeine, no red meat and minimal wheat and dairy.

Photo by robynmac/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by robynmac/iStock / Getty Images

Granted, those things were never a major part of my diet, but let's face it, no one wants to see an Instagram photo of my green smoothies, and "nachos and wine for dinner" is a hell of a better Facebook status than "sad but healthy and completely normal dinner of quinoa salad with mixed vegetables and a side of tap water."

My relationship with these things--both the foods and the approval of others--has long been dysfunctional. But I kept clinging to them the way you cling to any unhealthy relationship. You know it's bad for you, but you keep going back for more. 

I had no idea that when I let go of these foods--and the cravings and emotions and social activities that went along with them--I would be letting go of so much of the other shit that's been dragging me down.

This past year has been the hardest year of my adult life, save the year I got divorced. One by one, the things I thought defined me have been stripped away.

Think you just want your house to be quiet and go back to normal after having houseguests for two months? Well, ha, you won't think that when your beloved dog dies within 24 hours of them moving out. That noise and chaos and friction and messiness of family was pretty amazing after all.

Think you're a successful writer? Ha, well, see how successful you feel when you lose your weekly column, lose out on an regular freelance gig to a friend, and all of your opportunities dry up in a matter of weeks. Never mind that writing was causing you major anxiety, boring you intellectually, and not your true passion, but you like seeing your name out there and getting the work and feeling important, damn it. Oh, and paychecks, too. Well, too bad. Gone. Poof.

But you still have your friends! Your social life! Oh wait, you don't get invited to things much because you're not writing, and oh yeah, since you went off your meds your social anxiety is through the roof, and you'd rather stay home and sleep anyway. Plus you've been feeling sick and off for months, and no one wants to be around a whiny, low energy downer of a friend. And then you become even more isolated and misunderstood and lonely and alienated.

That's okay, you still have running. Just put all of your energy into running. You're a great runner. You qualified for the freaking Boston Marathon. Ha, just kidding. Let's see how you feel about running when you manage to be simultaneously undertrained and overtrained for your race AND try running that dream marathon with a nasty case of enteritis. Quitting at Mile 20 and ending up in the hospital overnight was super fun and rewarding, wasn't it? But still. I didn't listen to my body telling me to slow down. I kept punishing myself, piling on the miles and willing myself to be fast again. My body broke down.

Wait, you still have teaching. You're a great teacher. You love teaching. Oh yeah, you just gave up that one class at another studio and now two of your classes have been canceled at the other one and your studio's building is being sold and you might not have a job in a year.

So what to do with all the anxiety and frustration and anger and pain when all your other outlets are gone? You get some cheese dip and a margarita (or two). You have wine and nachos for dinner. And then feel guilty and skimp on food for the next two days and then repeat the pattern of eating and drinking your feelings and rewarding yourself for a hard day. And then feel more bloated and tired and anxious and unloved and worthless and, and, and...

So obviously, I was at a really low point two weeks ago when my nutritionist proposed this diet re-set. Give up red meat? No problem. Did that for ten years. Dairy? Never eat it at home anyway. Wheat? Eh, not that big of a deal, as I generally only have whole grains and don't really love breads and starches like I used to. Alcohol? Eeeek, but again, gave that up for six months and probably need some parameters. Sugar? Whaaaaat? Caffeine? Um, how am I going to function in life? 

But I was feeling THAT poorly, I was willing to go cold turkey on it all, the day after a four day vacation of doing nothing but consuming all of the aforementioned food groups.

And it's the best decision I've made all year.

The first few days were rough. Especially waking up at 5 a.m. and trying to teach on zero caffeine. That was definitely the hardest habit to break. Sugar was a close second. I never really eat cakes or cookies or pre-packaged goods, but I was eating *just* enough sugar in my snacks, even the "healthy" kind like yogurts and protein bars, that I was addicted, and it was making me miserable and spiking my blood sugar something fierce. I was ALWAYS hungry. Always tired. Always cranky.

But the cravings subsided. My energy leveled out and then increased dramatically. I stopped snacking and started filling up on whole, nutrient dense food. Traded my morning waffles for chia bowls. Made my own protein balls. Explored new recipes. Added two and three vegetables to every meal. Drank lots of La Croix with bitters.

When I went out for a drink with a friend on my one "cheat night," it was a big deal, and time well cherished with good company, where I didn't lose control or over drink to compensate for my anxiety or to "reward" myself for being "good."

Over the past two weeks, I lost the bloating, the lethargy, those five pounds that have been stubbornly hanging on for several months, an inch from my waist, the emotional baggage, the bad coping skills, but most of all, I found something. ME.

Me beyond the cute dresses and Insta-worthy food photos and bylines and running accomplishments.

That real me is the one in no makeup at 6:15am in the morning, cheering on my TRX students with my cheesy themed playlists wearing a shirt covered in dog hair and last night's guacamole.

The one who would rather take a two mile walk/hike with my dog than ever qualify for the Boston Marathon again.

Who would take fifteen minutes of story time and cheap Mexican food and giggles with my niece over some dinner at the latest hip restaurant.

Who now reaches for pen and paper--or in this case, laptop and keyboard--instead of wine or whiskey or chocolate or chips to deal with the pain.

There is power and freedom in just LETTING GO.