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In my 4+ years of blogging, this goes down as one of the most difficult posts I’ve written. Tears spilled over more than once as I pulled together the photos and began writing. I’ve wanted to do a before and after post for over a year, but it’s taken me a while to feel ready. I’m ready now, and so today I’m sharing part of my story with you that is deeply close to my heart.
November marks the 5 year anniversary of me being gluten-free. But so much more than just my diet has changed in 5 years. I’ve been trained and certified in holistic nutrition, I’ve published 2 cookbooks and 2 ebooks, I’ve taught dozens of cooking classes, I’ve grown to love exercise, I’ve made dozens of dear friends through blogging, I’ve been on live TV twice, I’ve become the editor of a leading gluten-free magazine. And all this because of a food sensitivity.
Talk about a blessing in disguise.
But my biggest accomplishment by far has nothing to do with magazines or TV segments. For the first time in probably more than 5 years, I feel so filled with joy. I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be in my life. Emotionally and mentally, I feel capable. And that is saying a lot. A whole lot.
The photo above is from about two and half years ago shortly before my nephew was born. I was at my sister’s house and we were getting ready for her baby shower. It was a happy day.
But here’s what brings me to tears. I know that inside, that girl was far from happy. I can put up a brave front. I can hide my emotions with the best of them. But several years ago during that time of my life, I was filled with fear, anxiety, physical pain, negative thoughts, and worry out the wazoo. My future was uncertain, my plans were shaky, and my confidence was near an all time low.
I’d been gluten-free for a good chunk of time, but healing still came very slowly for me. It’s amazing to think that in that photo I was actually 8-10 pounds heavier than when at my lowest weight. Scary stuff.
At the time of the photo, I was incredibly frustrated with my slow progress in gaining weight, getting healthier, and making strides toward a future that everyone told me was bright. All I could see were the obstacles and the things that were going wrong. I viewed almost everything relating to my life in a negative light.
I hated the way I looked. With everyone telling me I was too thin, all I could see was someone who was something she shouldn’t be: underweight. Shopping for clothes just plain sucked. Nearly everything was too big. Finding clothes that fit took so much energy, especially for someone like me who isn’t crazy about shopping anyways.
But I pressed on. With an overwhelming amount of support from my family, I kept taking steps forward—small though they were—and eventually weight came on a bit more easily. With new experiences, I grew more confident in myself and started to see what I was capable of. I began exercising more, which increased both my appetite and my self esteem!
Day by day, bit by bit, bite by bite, I got healthier. I attended conferences, read stacks upon stacks of books, and talked through tough situations with my ever-wise parents. I set goals. I started creating vision boards to help me tangibly see my goals every day. I stopped beating myself up over things I’d done in the past. I started moving forward.
You guys, getting well is so much more than just eating gluten-free and drinking your 8 glasses of water each day. Yes, eating a healthy allergy-friendly diet has helped me tremendously over the past 5 years. I believe that going gluten-free saved my life.
But the quality of my life didn’t change until I started getting honest with myself, taking ownership of my life choices, and stomping on my fears as often as I could. Most of all, I started believing in myself. I told myself YOU CAN. I told myself YOU WILL. That’s the thing about self esteem. External influences can boost it, but at its core, self esteem is cultivated within our own hearts, minds, and spirits. That’s why it’s called SELF esteem. Because it comes from within.
I’m not going to lie. I still struggle with self esteem. But now more than ever, I make daily efforts to affirm truth to myself.
I am loved.
I am respected.
I am dignified.
I am smart.
I do not have a spirit of fear.
I am safe.
I live with integrity.
I am enough.
I choose faith over fear.
I live life on purpose.
Harnessing the power of positive thinking has made a huge difference in how I view my circumstances, whether they’re good or bad. So often we wire our brains to think toxic thoughts. I’m not good enough. That will never work. That’s just impossible. They’re too stubborn to change. It’s too hard. I can’t. I shouldn’t.
But I am a firm believer that when we change our thought patterns and rewire our brains to think uplifting and positive thoughts that empower us rather than drain us, our entire worlds can change almost instantly. The past 5 years have been overflowing with lessons for me. I have learned an incredible amount about not only health and how we can heal with food, but also about emotional wellness and how our physical health is so dependent on it.
No words can express how grateful I am for all that I’ve come to learn and accept. Several years ago, when that picture above was taken, I felt like I was constantly reaching and grasping for some sort of life line, some set of answers that would make everything better. I never found it.
I did not find true peace and healing until I stopped reaching and grasping and began releasing and receiving instead. I let go of the unnecessary. The negative thoughts, the struggle. I gave up the fight of trying to have all the answers and “fix” everything. I stopped trying to be everything and just started being Hallie. In the scary and tiring tumult of my health problems, I’d lost sight of her. Her laughter, her creativity, her heart for hospitality, her gentleness, her joy. It all had faded. She was gone. And only a thin shell of a frightened girl remained.
Photos like this one stir up such emotions in me. Smiles can be such spin doctors. Because inside, I know that girl was scared, doubtful, and quivering with anxiety.
I am a very blessed woman. In the past 5 years, God has transformed my life into more than I ever thought possible. Looking at old photos, I almost don’t even feel like the person in them. It’s as if there are two versions of myself, the before and the after. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude at the shape my life has taken.
What once was self hate has been replaced with self appreciation and respect. What once was low self esteem is now quiet confidence rooted in the power God gives me to face each day and each obstacle with courage. What once was a pit of sadness is now a fountain of joy that seems to grow fuller every day.
In the before photo, my nephew was about three months old. The after photo was taken this past summer when I surprised my family with an impromptu visit. I can’t tell you how much joy it brings me to see his sweet face…and to see how much we’ve both grown!
If you’ve stuck with me this far, thank you. This space has been one of the constants in my life over the ups and downs of the last 5 years. I cannot thank you enough for reading, for supporting me, and for welcoming me into your life in a small but meaningful way.
I’m living proof that healing happens from the inside out. It astounds me how far I’ve come, both physically and emotionally. My life has been transformed by food, spiritual growth, and the art of letting go. I’ve gone from fearful, lonely, and confused to faithful, lively, and confident.
Last week I started what I’m calling my Life List, which is sort of my take on the Bucket List concept with things I want to do, see, or be in my lifetime. This one’s hovering near the top:
Witness a miracle.
Just last week, I made the decision to cross it off. What God has done in transforming my life, renewing my mind, and restoring my health is nothing short of miraculous. It may not have happened in an instant, but it happened. As I live and breathe, I truly believe that I am a walking miracle.
In many ways, I think we all are. Blessings and miracles speckle our lives like gems if we simply open our eyes to see them.
From the bottom of my heart, thanks for reading.