Life Update: Thoughts on Whole30, Epiphanies, and NYC

It's September 6 and here I am, blogging just like I said I would! After a truly great but tiring weekend, I'm back in the office, back at work, and back to staying on top of all of my goals.

It's embarrassingly taken me 22 years to learn this, but people come first over whatever crazy plans and goals I have for myself. This weekend, the opportunity came up to take a trip to Long Island, hang out at the beach, and drink a lil with my roommates, friends, and boyfriend. Instead of strictly sticking to my goals for the month of September, I let them go until after Labor Day weekend (honestly I was never planning on starting Whole30 until today, but the other goals took a backseat to a fun weekend). Past McKenzie would have panicked. She would have either backed out of the trip or snuck away during it to get in meditation and not ordered meals out because they weren't Whole30 approved. Present McKenzie? She knows that's stupid. The people in my life are more important than any arbitrary set of guidelines that I make up for myself. The goal of becoming happier and healthier does not always result from the most constricting actions. It can come from letting go, too.

So that's what I did this weekend. We laughed. We climbed over rocks, tipsy from drinks, to get to the beach. We napped multiple times a day because we could and we squeezed six people into my roommate's tiny convertible as we sped down winding Long Island roads, laughing as I screamed when he hit the accelerator. We ordered ice cream and bought candy and drank rum (which I hate). There's a time and place for goals and strict rules for yourself, but if try to stretch that into all the time, something else has gotta give, and I'm not okay with that. Personally, I'm trying to make that more of a 85 percent stick to things and 15 percent let it all go approach (I'd currently rate myself at like a 95/5, so we've got a way to go). But this weekend was great. And now, here I am, easily back to my regular life.

 

Whole30 Update

So after my weekend of fun, this is where I'm going to pick up for today. This was easily the hardest goal that I set myself for the month of September. I have a history of disordered eating issues that, among other things, has made me pretty bad at recognizing or following my hunger cues. I'm also notorious for eating healthy all day only to devour a whole bag of chocolate chips or pretzels (or both) at night. Snacking is not inherently bad, but I wanted to re-teach myself how to eat when I'm hungry and to only put things in my body that make it feel good. I've also had a lot of stomach issues since I was a kid (I was lactose intolerant, than I wasn't, then I was again; I *probably* had IBS, but no one really seemed sure; I had negative reactions and felt sick to my stomach from everything from alcohol to coffee to citrus; you get the idea). So I've always had weird habits when it comes to eating, which is fine. But passing up on healthy carbs like rice or sweet potatoes with meals so I could later binge eat pretzels? Not so good. Meticulously tracking my macronutrients in my phone, inevitably going over at night when my sweet tooth kicked in, and feeling guilty so I'd start over again the next day? Yeah, not my best habit. 

So this is where Whole30 comes in. I want to learn what foods trigger stomach issues and make me feel sick so, at the very least, I can know that going in if I choose to eat them. I want to cut out alcohol for a month since tbh I don't really like it that much anyway (more on that later). I want to pay more attention to when I'm hungry and what will give me energy rather than when I'm craving a random food because I'm stressed or emotional. 

But Whole30 is a very specific program. And for someone who's had disordered eating issues, my boyfriend rightly pointed out, that might not be the best idea. Also, I know plenty about nutrition and what my body actually needs to fuel my almost-daily workouts, so honestly, I think I know better what to tweak for myself than the people over at Whole30 do. If you're a strict adherent to the program, well, sorry not sorry. This is my body, my mind, and this is going by my rules. So here's the Whole30 that I'm going to adhere to for this month. (If you're unfamiliar with Whole30, you can check the program out here, but it's basically like paleo on steroids. Fun, I know).

  • no grains (if you're wondering "is this a grain?" the answer is probably yes)
  • no dairy (probably good for me anyway since I'm lactose intolerant but for some reason still love yogurt and whey protein)
  • no alcohol 
  • no added sugar, real or artificial 
    • HERE is where I'm making a tweak. During high school, I went literally 1.5+ years without tasting a dessert. Nothing, not even a bite. And while yes, it did cure me of my sweet tooth and I didn't crave chocolate anymore, when I eventually started eating it in moderation again, I totally caved. I ate all of it, everything in sight. I couldn't go a day without chocolate (and I still sort of can't). So instead of potentially restarting that cycle, I'm going to leave myself the OPTION of having dairy-free, grain-free, unsweetened chocolate (like this) if I so please. No, I will not be allowed to binge eat it, that isn't cool. But if this solves the stomach ache problem I often have after eating chocolate, I'll know it was the dairy that got me.
  • 2-3 servings of fruit a day
    • Another tweak. I would OD on fruit if possible. I've always loved it and been able to eat endless amounts. So since the goal of my version of Whole30 is to help my relationship with food and learn to eat when I'm hungry, replacing cravings for sweets with a million servings of fruit will not actually serve me well. So I'm definitely going to be limiting that.

If you don't like these rules... then don't follow this diet. You should never hop on board to a diet trend of any type just because it's cool and popular or sounds like a good idea. Do your research, figure out what works for your body, and don't be afraid to challenge yourself. That's about all I have to say on the subject of Whole30 right now because, well, I'm less than 24 hours in. But so far so good! It's going well, I'm excited, and I've never been more thankful for almond butter + sweet potatoes (if you've never combined those, do it).

And now, onto the more rambling part of the blog. If you don't want to hear me talk about my thoughts, maybe skip this next section.

 

Life Epiphanies and Living in NYC

Whenever I make a major life change, I have a series of emotional reactions that go about like this: thinking everything is fine and it's nbd (you might call this "ignoring the problem"), intense stress and anxiety, panic, excitement, disillusionment, acceptance. This fun rollercoaster of feelings then ends in coming to touch with reality and chilling the f out. This happened when I moved away to college, when I decided to fly across the world and study abroad, and now, when I moved to NYC a week post-graduation.

This time, though, the rollercoaster was a bit different. Instead of panic and anxiety, I built up my move with months (and if we're being honest, years) of anticipation. I was so excited. New York City was the perfect place for me. I would follow my dreams here and live the most exciting life possible. I was also, of course, a little nervous about leaving college and less than thrilled about embarking on a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend, who was moving to DC. But in general, I was over the moon about the idea. The uphill phase of the roller coaster, the anticipation and planning, just kept going up. And up and up. I moved, and the smaller anxieties start to set in. (How was I ever going to make enough money to live here in the long run? How does one move a mattress across NYC? How exactly am I supposed to live here when the word "cockroach" brings on a full-on freakout?) I landed my first NYC apartment (hats off to Max because this is all thanks to you), moved in, slowly watched my stuff arrive in boxes from my mom in Ohio, and waited for the excitement to set in. Where was the culmination of all of the months and years of buildup?

Well, I'm 2+ months in, and I'm still waiting. The excitement I thought I would find in NYC, the fun life that I was sure would be waiting for me, perfectly curated like a still-life painting just missing its subject? Turns out it isn't here. There have been moments of excitement like I imagined. Staring in awe at the millions of twinkling lights from my balcony and realizing that an actual person, or many people, existed behind each one of those tiny bright specks, all living their own lives in the same space as me. That breath-taking and somewhat jarring moment, a little like getting punched in the chest, when I emerge from the subway and see Central Park or Columbus Circle or an entirely different part of the city I've never seen before waiting to greet me. The quiet moments late at night when I'm alone in my room, trying to fall asleep, but can't because the city is bright and loud and chaotic and I can't believe I actually got to move here, that I'm not stuck in the suburbs like most of my little town and that I'm doing what I set out to with my life for no other reason than that I can.

But those are just that, they're moments. A few seconds strung together to make a fleeting memory, not a feeling that lasts. Not the reality of my day-to-day life. What's much more common are the reoccurring panics because despite working multiple jobs, I'm not sure how I'm going to pay my rent or replace a broken computer or fly home to see my family. The tears when I'm alone and feeling lost and unsure and wondering why the person I care most about is hours away, why I let it happen this way. The annoyances of a late train, a broken air conditioner I don't want to spend the cash to fix, a street so crowded I have to stop and wait when all I want to do is lie in bed after an awful day. New York is a unique and amazing place, but it's not magical. And living here as a 22-year-old, in all the ways it makes my life incredible and I feel lucky, there are many more in which it makes it worse. I have opportunities that many people in my field would kill for, but I still don't have a full-time job. I'm surrounded by amazing restaurants and thrilling nightlife, but I don't want to and can't spend money on anything outside of the budget I keep in an Excel spreadsheet and update daily. I live in the city that never sleeps, the place with a million possibilities to offer, and yet I can't sleep either because I wake abruptly in the night, my head so full of possibilities and choices that don't have right answers that I can't even be still. 

If I could go back and old McKenzie not to move here, I wouldn't. In many ways it has been so, so worth it, and I am happy and feel lucky to have the life that I do. But what I would go back and tell her is to stop acting like any place is the dream. To stop believing that New York is the magical city where you find everything you've ever wanted. To let go of the idea that she would be happier here and to stop building up a place with so much anticipation that the actual city could never live up to what existed inside her head. If you idealize anything too much, the reality will never measure up, no matter how wonderful it is. Coming to realize that this city is just that, a city, with its own unique advantages and drawbacks has taught me to be more considerate of other things in my life. It's made me take a step back and think harder about what my expectations are and if they're realistic. Turns out a lot of the time, they aren't. 

NYC is not what will make my life awesome. I'm going to have to do that myself. NYC is just the place that I live now that I will have to learn how to fit into the life I wanted to have. I know I will be happy here, but I can also be happy somewhere else. And someday, sooner or later, I will be.

 

At the end of the weekend, as we were about to leave to walk Hal to his bus back to DC, I found myself in tears for reasons I couldn't fully explain. He's used to this (something I'm thankful for) because I have a lot of emotions and opinions about, well, almost everything. I told him I was sad because he was leaving, but that wasn't the only reason why. After a few minutes of confused rambling, I blurted out, "I feel like a failure that I don't like New York as much as I thought I would." He said some smart and insightful things, as usual, wiped my tears, and we were off to the bus. But as I walked back, empty-handed and especially aware of what it felt like to be alone, I realized that the only person I'd failed was myself. Not by not falling in love with NYC in the way I thought I would, but by continuing to expect more (of myself, of others, of places, of jobs, of choices) than they could ever give me. New York is just a city. And I am just a person. We both kind of suck sometimes and I'm not sure why I expected anything else. 

For now, NYC and I have come to an understanding. Right now, this is my home. I love it, but most of the time I kind of hate it. I feel lucky to have gotten here, to where I'm (barely) paying my own rent in Manhattan and going to work and sometimes doing really fun, cool things. But I  also don't feel obligated to be head over heels for NYC, to assimilate to the nightlife and drinking culture I've never really been about, to sign another lease here next year, to live here a moment longer than I actually want to or that makes sense for my career and future. I will soon visit the DMV because, well, New York > Ohio for my driver's license. In general, for now, NYC and I are going to keep each other at arm's length and continue our truce. I'll let you know how it goes.

I'm writing all of this and publishing it on the Internet because I've also become acutely aware that I'm part of the problem. I'm a part of the system that's perpetuating the whole "living the dream my life is so fun" image of living in NYC. I Instagram perfectly curated moments. I put things on my Snapchat story that are fun or interesting. I do this because it's fun, it's what social media is for, but I also think it gives the wrong idea. Just because I post pretty pictures on Instagram doesn't mean that I'm trying to make others believe that this is an accurate representation of my life. I do it because you can find beauty in small moments and I do it as much as a reminder to myself as to others that there is beauty in my life. But this is something else: This is my opportunity to be transparent, so I'm going to take it. 

 

I hope you've enjoyed my ramblings about life, NYC, and realizing things I should've probably figured out before age 22. The next post will return to your usually-scheduled programming, but feel free to leave me a comment or contact me in any other way.