The story of the month for September 2009 comes from Julie Riddle.

I have known Julie for some time now, and highly value the enthusiasm, grace and gratitude that Julie applies to the experience we call life. Knowing also that Julie has been on her own journey where health and wellness is concerned, I was thrilled that she was open to sharing her amazing experiences with all of us here.

Julie has had many adventures in her life. Some may even say that Julie had far from an easy life, and her health has reflected all of the ups and downs. This is where the most significant and inspirational part of her journey comes in. Julie took her health into her own hands. Whatever came along her path, she didn’t give up or give in. She has and is continuing to transform her body and health, by incorporating a balanced view of the mind, body and spirit.

Over the years, Julie has written on her own blog Random Meanderings about her personal experiences and shared many nuggets of wisdom to inspire others. Today, Julie lives in Arizona with her husband and many animal friends, enjoying all that life has to offer.

Please welcome Julie as she shares her wisdom, love, practical advice and valuable experience with us.

Area(s) of My Health and Wellness that Needed Change

Health and wellness, in my mind, encompass far more than simply physical health. My philosophy is that our minds, bodies, and emotional states are aspects of a single whole and, when we have imbalance in one area, all areas are affected, whether we consciously realize it or not. Indeed, an imbalance in one area may even manifest itself in another.

For some time, I’ve been on a quest, searching for holistic balance, and some of that search is shared in our Evolving Beings interview. And while I’ll address physical health here, you will still see overlap with mental and spiritual well-being. I’ve learned life’s issues are far more manageable when dealt with, as Edgar Cayce suggests: “Meet the problems first, though, in the spiritual; then the mental and the material results will become more satisfactory.

Despite a very healthy diet and lifestyle, I was diagnosed in my mid-30s with irritable bowel syndrome, gout, the onset of osteoarthritis, and this shocker: multiple sclerosis. Since then, I’ve also managed to give myself two herniated cervical discs. There’s not a doubt in my mind that most of my physical woes were in direct response to my emotional turmoil of the time, a way for Soul to speak to me loud enough for me to hear. My “Beings” interview explains much of what was occurring during this period, and it all affected my mental and emotional states. There was much turmoil.

Also, for my entire adulthood, I have suffered from a slow digestive system, worsened by what I’ve finally realized is a hefty intolerance for most meats and for gluten, oils, and fats. While I don’t actually have celiac disease, my level of gluten intolerance makes it virtually so. It took me a while to make the connection to which foods were the culprits. Meanwhile, I was reacting intensely to “everything” I ate.

My toenails were splitting off lengthwise; my hair was brittle and my lips were peeling; my back ached when too long in any position; and capping all that was a painful red, scaly rash that broke out on my back, chest, legs, arms, and underarms, which remained for several months. Good grief, I was falling apart.

Then, more recently, I suffered from sleepless nights, so restless I was only clocking three or four hours a night, in 1-hour chunks of time. For nearly a year, I was exhausted, just running on fumes, as the saying goes. My weight shot up, I was often cranky, and I found myself nodding off into la-la land at the blink of an eye—even while driving!

Those who know me well, know I see and hear and intuit spiritual connections in life. Well, all my nighttime activity (lucid dreaming, then snapping wide awake so I’d have instant recall, only to go into another lucid dream, one after another, conversation after conversation, event after event)… This was Spirit’s way of explaining to me what the effects of my actions would be; showing me how I was progressing, or not; and coaxing and encouraging me to make adjustments. “They“- those mentors from the dream world – were helping me through some mentally stressful times and showing me, telling me that if I would eat raw (“It’s where I am”) I’d be more able to intuit/hear the guidance I sought. The dietary changes being urged upon me were meant to make a cleaner pathway for our unspoken conversations, make it easier for me to hear and understand what was being told to me.

Strategies I Implemented & Their Results

First, I had to pinpoint the cause of the various symptoms. So diverse were they! Asking “what” and “why” over and again helped. The way I saw it, my physical health comprised internal and external processes:

  • Diet (internal)
  • Thoughts (internal)
  • Fitness (external)
  • Products (external)

I took a hard look at how I was affecting these four areas, consciously and unconsciously.

Here’s what I found. Over the years, I’d gradually slipped away from my early healthy practices. I was an adult doing as adults worldwide do:

  • drinking too much caffeine and alcohol
  • eating too many foods from the wrong end of the food pyramid
  • being physically lazy, like driving everywhere and then using the elevator instead of taking stairs; and
  • using readily available mass-produced and mass-marketed personal care products

All normal things, right? Nothing outrageous, nothing unusual, and certainly nothing seemingly worthy of all those ailments. But I’d not yet factored in my stress levels. We all have stress throughout our lives, of various kinds and to varying degrees. It’s how I was not handling mine that was contributing to the ill effects of my diet and personal care.

Our thoughts really do affect our bodies. When stressed, we tend to give first preference to our negative emotions, and we end up suffering from the ripple effects. Our relationships become strained (causing more stress), we reach for “comfort” foods, sit around more, and all in all just “pamper” ourselves without regard of the consequences. Stress is a huge factor in our health, adversely affecting the very cells of our bodies.

Anyway, while all these internal and external areas needed addressing – and I did, starting with my thoughts – by far the next largest adjustment was in my diet.

I decided I needed to stop being “normal,” stop listening to the food pyramid advocates (don’t get me started), and to start eating the things that my own body was telling me it wanted. I decided I was going to relish the adventure of being my own drummer marching to my own beat, down my own path. I was going to relish being unique.

My plan was to stop taking in caffeine and alcohol and to return to the healthy eating choices of my youth (smaller portions, lots of fresh veggies, no sweets) but with one major change: I was going stop eating all the foods my body said it didn’t want. All of them. That meant meats, baked goods, fried foods, pastas, grains (and I make a yummy quinoa salad!)… Oh, so many things so many of us have considered as staples to our diets. I mean, give up steaks? Pizza? What was left?

I sent out a plea for helpful ideas from my blogger friends, and among all the wonderful assistance was a truly awesome book recommendation from Evita: “Eat to Live,” by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. It’s marketed as a weight-loss solution, but that’s not what the book is about. This, from Dr. Fuhrman’s dedication, says it all:

…for instilling in me an interest in superior nutrition.”

This book explains in clear, caring, layman’s language the nutritional values of foods and how our body processes work. You’ve probably heard of Dr. Mehmet Oz, a cardiovascular surgeon who is self-admittedly “infatuated with the challenge and promise of ‘high-tech’ medicine and surgery.” I’m quoting from his introduction to the book:

I have become convinced that the most overlooked tool in our medical arsenal is harnessing the body’s own ability to heal through nutritional excellence.

Dr. Mehmet Oz

I’m always the first one in the line labeled “Skeptics.” My family history is filled with all kinds of cancers plus diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis, but my family background is also rich in teachers and healers (nurses, a nutritionist, and a couple of herbalists) and my parents actively discussed and debated psychology, philosophy, and metaphysics, and strongly encouraged me to always ask “why” – and I do! I come by my intense curiosity and interest in holistic health quite naturally, and I never take as gospel what any professional tells me, not even a diagnosis of arthritis or MS or even the need for neck surgery (and that surgeon was downright insistent). For me, it’s like, “Yeah, right, that’s what you say.”

But… I agree 100% with Dr. Fuhrman’s lovingly offered dietary advice. And I’m here to tell you it works. As long as you don’t sabotage yourself, like I did.

Have I been able to stick to my goals? Ahem. No, I’ve not been able to stick to all my goals, but my goals were unrealistic considering my willful nature, and I don’t mean that in a positive way. Really, knowing myself as I do, what had I been thinking? I expected to make sweeping changes instantly, and of course that didn’t happen.

In fact, I need to fess up. During the past few weeks, after my last day at the office, I was bad, bad, bad. As a result, I am now more “softly rounded” in certain areas than before and it’s due to the extra five pounds I’ve regained. It was a period of celebrations, one after another, plus some just plain laziness on my part, and some self-indulgence – which explains why the banana cream pie whispering to me finally was born into existence. Yes, I have been struggling with a willpower issue. Sigh.

My biggest hiccup, though, has been with meat. I’d hoped to stop eating any of it. My digestive system simply can’t handle beef or pork at all and yet my mouth sometimes wins the tug-of-war with my reasoning. While my husband is making it easier for me by joining in on my switch to a plant-based diet, there are some times when he just really wants meat. In all honesty, we are both great cooks and the aroma is so enticing… I sometimes cave and have “just a little.” And I’m always instantly sorry because my body is never shy about speaking up.

I’m an experiential learner. Yes, I slip. That’s why I’ve made some conscious choices to slip. That’s right, deliberate “slips.” Realizing it’s been more difficult for me than I thought it’d be to make broad, sweeping changes overnight, I’ve found that easing back in some areas helps me be able to put more effort in others. Seeing progress lets me know I will ultimately reach my goal, so then I have faith in myself. I’m my own best cheerleader!

For instance, coffee still entices me, but I’ve realized it’s mostly an emotional habit; now I can brew it but not be interested in drinking it once I have the cup in my hand. That’s progress! Just this morning, I decided to make a cup of decaf, but by the time I was out of bed and even before I made it to the kitchen, I’d consciously changed my mind. More progress! Or, when I treat myself to a yummy microbrew or a glass of wine for a special occasion, I don’t feel guilty. Instead, I sip it, and enjoy it and the company, and I know that I’ll not have another for quite awhile. I’m okay with that. And despite my firm belief that the only sugar we need is that from fruits, I’ve reverted to a small dollop of natural ice cream nearly each night-simply because I haven’t felt the willpower (yet) to abstain while my husband has his nightly dish! I’ve learned how to make all my “slips” be treats instead of part of a daily habit. Eventually, they’ll cease even being treats, because I’ll have weaned myself from both the habit and the taste.

While it’s not been as easy as I hoped to stop eating all the things my body resisted, overall, it’s not been very difficult to make the changes I have made. Surprisingly, it’s been fun!

The standard American diet is not for me; not “super-size-me,” not grains or meats and or even dairy. Though I didn’t manage to blissfully make all my changes “cold turkey” (sorry), once again my diet is based on vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, water and herbal teas. That sounds boring, but it’s not! There’s just so much variety! No end to the flavors and textures and combinations… And when I explore various ethnic dishes, oh my, the world opens up! And you know what? The single best thing about a plate of fresh fruit and nuts? About a variety of vegetables prepared without creamy sauces? It’s the enhanced flavors! I had forgotten food could taste so awesome!

I have rekindled my love affair with simple, fresh foods. Several online sites help keep my creative juices stirred, fueling my love of fun in the kitchen. Evita’s Evolving Wellness site offers recipes, I’ve not seen before that also include each dish’s nutritional information; a wonderful bonus! Monica Shaw includes recipes in her SmarterFitter blog, with mouth-watering photos and descriptions of how she often adjusts recipes she finds. Elana of Elana’s Pantry offers simple gluten-free recipes that inspire me to be creative and come up with alternatives that will fly in my tummy-ruling household. Heidi Swanson shares vegetarian recipes in 101 Cookbooks that are so rich in flavor you don’t even miss the meat. A final one I’ll mention is Dr. Fuhrman’s own recipes at Disease Proof , which I’ve only just discovered and am excited to explore. There are so many resources online!

Now, as for the rest of my physical woes, well, my herniated discs are quite manageable without the recommended surgery. I learned a couple very simple exercises that I can do anywhere, any time. My hair and skin issues are resolved, too. I simply use different products, most of which I easily and quickly make myself. By far the biggest reason for improvement, though, in these areas, I believe, was in how I was able to visualize my way out of stress: I started talking to my body. For example, when doing the neck exercises, I imagined I was a trainer coaching my client through a tough movement: “Just relax. We’ll take it slow and easy. You’ll be fine.” I wasn’t talking to myself; I was speaking directly to my neck muscles. This not only helped me relax, but it kept my focus on the body area that needed the attention. In yoga, we’re taught to breathe into the tightness. I just did the same thing with my neck “conversations.” It worked wonderfully.

While I don’t do any formal exercise, because I simply don’t enjoy it, I do manage to be very active. The pedometer I wore daily for two months proved I walk 10-14,000 steps each day, just by doing my daily things. When I started wearing my high heels infrequently, my back became more limber, less achy and my posture improved, returning to a more natural alignment.

Being active doesn’t need to mean sweating and panting in a gym or being up at the crack of dawn to get a jog in before the work day. It simply means moving around – a lot. It’s so easy, and when it’s combined with a healthful diet, it’s amazing to see how it affects stress levels, too. I found it was much easier to get back into my meditation practice. In fact, interestingly enough, I noticed that not moving my body enough contributed to a general worsening in all areas I was trying to improve. Movement is very beneficial to whole body health, affecting our minds, emotions, and our bodies.

How My Changes Benefitted Me

I’ve no longer any symptoms of gout, arthritis, or MS! As long as I stick to my dietary plan, keep moving, and keep up my meditation practice, my whole body is perfectly happy. Movement keeps my back healthy and strong. With the neck exercises, my herniated discs aren’t painful and don’t restrict my motion by much at all. My rashes and skin peels have ceased, too. All in all, I’m in pretty good shape for my age, even if I do wiggle a bit in places!

One day, I took my office lunch break at my mom’s house. When she saw my tossed salad and handful of cherries, she remarked how healthy it looked. I said, “Yeah, and I’ve lost nine pounds and I didn’t even do anything any differently. Well, except…” And I paused, then laughed, because it struck me that my changes were so gradual I hadn’t even really noticed them. The weight loss was swift and effortless. Absolutely effortless!

Next Steps on My Health and Wellness Journey

Well, I’ve a plan to hike an urban mountain trail three mornings a week, once the weather cools a bit. This is something I enjoy doing so I think it can become a treat rather than a “have to” fairly soon.

And I still want to get a handle on the meat issue. My strategy is to continue learning new vegetarian recipes and have fun with them. I’ll be reading through my cookbooks and sorting through my collection of recipes, visiting different aisles in the markets, and creating a whole new roster of plant-based menus, the kind that include enough enticing treasures that even if my husband chooses meat and pasta and breads and all the other things that I want to avoid, I’ll not be tempted to revert back to my “just one little nibble” game that leads to me being sorry later. Re-reading Dr. Fuhrman’s book will be welcome reinforcement!

Also, I want to return to my yoga practice. It’s tremendously helpful for strengthening my muscles, helping me become more limber, keeping my posture upright, and for reducing my appetite. I haven’t yet figured out how that works, but it does!

Wisdom & Inspiration for Others

The primary message I have is to take responsibility for your own health. Don’t rely on doctors; they are simply here to help us. We are the ones responsible for our own well-being. Also, don’t believe everything doctors tell you. They aren’t infallible.

Here are some more:

  • Adopt the belief that your body is dependent upon you. Retain your power: be parental, nurturing, loving toward it. You can make beneficial adjustments to your lifestyle that will make a difference.

  • Don’t discount stress as a factor. Do what you can to mitigate it, through healthful means. Alcohol and sweets aren’t healthful no matter how many times we sweet-talk ourselves (sorry!) into believing otherwise.

  • Don’t worry. Worry will create a belief that you truly don’t want. Instead, try being inquisitive and see where that leads you. I shudder to think, what if I’d believed the diagnoses?

  • Remember that the purer our diet of food, thought, and movement, the healthier we are.

  • If change is difficult for you, take it in baby steps. You’ll be amazed how you’ll gain momentum, just by focusing all-out on one change at a time while introducing the others. Play. Experiment. Make your changes be fun. In just a few months, you can see tremendous results!

  • Don’t give up. Each morning begins a brand new day; just renew your intentions as if they are brand new, too.

Here is one more message I’d like to share:

Our own beliefs create miracles! Don’t be afraid to listen to and trust your own body. Have faith that it’s telling you what’s best for its optimum health and then reinforce that with your actions. I hold the belief that I’m healthy and I encourage my body to believe it, too, by feeding it the foods it likes, giving it constructive movement, and talking to it as if it is so eager to please me. It’s rewarding me nicely by living up to the belief.

That said, I could tell you about how my mother has amazed her doctors for years, but that’s her story to share. Suffice it to say, despite her bad habits, she has nothing wrong with her other than a slow-down due to aging. She’s 72 years old and although she moves a little slower than she used to and has some aches here and there, she looks 20 years younger. We tease her that she’s as healthy as she is because of her own firmly held lifelong belief that she’ll outlive everyone she knows. Her belief is keeping her well. There’s simply no other explanation.

So now you have two examples of our mental powers of persuasion. I had a healthy lifestyle yet was suffering mental and emotional stress and my body began falling apart. My mother’s lifestyle was not as healthy as mine, yet she is physically fine likely because of her positive outlook. And, once I attended to my mental and emotional bodies, my physical body revived its own healing powers. If you look around, you’ll find other examples everywhere you turn.

Our minds and emotions and bodies function as one incredible instrument, and to over-emphasize one aspect over another is to disregard the nature of the whole being. It might help to believe that every aspect of what we term a “body” holds life. Now, someone might respond, “Are you kidding? My stomach is alive? My heart? My fat cells?” My answer is yes, although not “life” as we’re accustomed to seeing, but life nonetheless. If you think of your body as alive, then you can think of your body as your friend. You’d care for a friend, wouldn’t you? A relative? Your child? You can give your body the same kind of loving respect.

Oh, just one more thing, and I learned this from my MS diagnosis: There can be absolutely no room for fear in any healing, and the first time fear appears, try to tell it to please go away, that you don’t need its protection, that you are infinitely safe and cared for and in fine hands (yours and God’s).

So, from the nutty gal in Arizona who’s totally serious about integrating mind, body, and spirit, I say:

  • keep only positive thoughts in mind
  • healthful practices in body
  • and hope, love, and trust in spirit

You and your body will become best friends and the two of you will live happily ever after!