Once upon a time a young girl was trying to decide what she was going to be when she grew up. The idea that it was maybe a little premature to contemplate such a thing never occurred to her.

Society taught her that you go to college, get a job, work until you retire and then you get to do what you want and have fun. This was the path to success. She watched her parents, who had not taken this path, struggle to support the family. This made the college, job, retire path seem even more appealing and like the right way to go.

Luckily, school was easy for her and she graduated, went to college, got an accounting degree and got a job. Check, check and check. She did everything she was supposed to do and now she would be happy, right? Not so fast.

I’m sure you know by now I’m telling you my story and probably the story of many kids who grew up in the 80s and 90s.

I was lucky, the economy was taking a turn for the better when I graduated and I had a job before the summer was over. It’s funny when you are in school and you can’t wait to start making money with a real job. Of course, when you start working full-time you long for the days with more free-time. In the US, the workweek for full-time employees averages almost 48 hours. And that’s the average. How many people are working 50 or 60-hour weeks?

Getting up and going to work every day was hard. My alarm would go off right as I felt like I had finally fallen asleep. I was tired all the time. I didn’t drink coffee back then, so I would get a Coke in the morning. I’m pretty sure I didn’t eat anything for breakfast so the soda was all I had powering me. Lunch was usually some combination of bread, meat, and cheese. Maybe there was a salad now and then but it was an exception.

Every day at 3 o’clock, right on schedule, my head would go down on the desk and I would be out. It was such a regular occurrence that my co-workers pinned a cartoon above my head. It was basically a joke about waking up on the wrong side of the desk. I thought it was funny and this was just the way I was.

Falling asleep in the middle of the day may not seem like such an awful condition. How about at meetings, on the phone (yes, I did that), at parties (yep, that’s me asleep on the chair in the corner). When I asked my doctor about it the only advice I got was to get more exercise. That was it. Nothing more specific like go for a 20-minute walk. All I could think was how on Earth does the doctor expect I have enough energy to exercise when I can’t even stay awake all day. I gained some weight but I’m tall and lanky and I can carry it.

Asleep on a cruise 1999

It wasn’t just the weight, I suffered from depression and was on and off multiple SSRIs over the course of 10 years. Nothing made me feel better and no doctor had any helpful advice. I tried at least 7 different therapists over the same 10 years and then some and the only information gleaned was I feel this way because I had a fucked up childhood. Understanding the reason why I felt the way I did was helpful but it didn’t do anything about the torment I felt on a day to day basis.

I always felt guilty because I was depressed. I had a decent job. By then, I was living a very cool life in San Francisco. I traveled the world, had amazing friends, spun fire at Burning Man and had many adventures. From the outside, I looked like everything was going my way but I still felt like crap.

Spinning fire as Part of the Fire Conclave at Burning Man 2001

I was listening to personal growth podcasts, reading self-help books and becoming obsessed with learning about nutrition. That’s when my life started to improve.

I started to think more about how food is fuel and if I wanted to feel better I had to give my body the food it needed and get off the foods that zapped my energy. For me, getting off gluten, dairy, and chicken (I know, weird, I get stomach aches from eating chicken and it’s not totally uncommon) created the biggest difference. I didn’t know that the dairy made me anxious and the wheat made me depressed and kicked my allergies into high gear until after I did an elimination diet.

But I’m still falling asleep every day. Not just nodding off a little, I would go into a conference room, lock the door, set my phone timer for 15 minutes and fall asleep. One time I fell asleep sitting in my chair staring at the computer and was woken up when someone came to ask a question. Only slightly embarrassing and by slightly, I mean utterly and completely.

Asleep at a wedding reception in 2007

Then I met a woman who did nutritional coaching. She told me I wasn’t eating enough food. Wait! What! How am I not eating enough? I had never considered that before. She helped me learn what kinds of food I should eat and when.

After that, I started making a PFF breakfast. That stands for protein, fat, and fiber. I cut out anything that easily turns to sugar, like bread and cereal, and learned to drink my coffee without sugar.

Like magic, I stopped falling asleep in the middle of the day. Did I still get tired some days? Of course, but it was the exception not the every day.

Next, we worked on stress and sleep with an Adrenal Stress Index test. The adrenals regulate how much cortisol is in the system. Cortisol is like gas in the tank, it’s what makes us go. I was in stage 3 of adrenal dysfunction. That meant my adrenals weren’t producing that much cortisol because they had been overworked. My cortisol curve that should be high in the morning and low in the evening was inverted. Meaning it was low in the morning, so I couldn’t’ get out of bed, and high at night, so I couldn’t fall asleep. Sugar also played a huge part in this cycle and it was time to get serious about cutting way back on the sweet stuff. I was, and still am, addicted to sugar and can easily cave when I get stressed.

From there I wanted to find out what else I could do to feel better. I started adding nutrient dense food, like sardines and avocado to my diet, doing yoga and eventually developing a meditation practice.

My years of learning what works for me is what led me to become a health coach. I was stunned by the fact that what I was learning was so counter to what I would hear on the news or read in magazines. It takes 17 years for new nutritional science to make its way into the mainstream. I don’t have 17 years to wait for my doctor to tell me that eating healthy fats is good for me. I want to know now and luckily, that information is out there. You just have to know where to look and who to trust.

Now, I’m always in an n-1 experiment. Trial and error. What works for others may not work for me and the only way to know is to give it a shot.

The biggest needle moving habits for me were:

· Learning to cook for myself

· Giving up gluten

· Giving up dairy

· A regular meditation practice

Those are all great places to start for anyone looking to make healthy changes but doesn’t know where to begin.

Over the years I continue to create new healthy habits. They have become a part of my lifestyle now. I don’t get the mid-day slump and I’m not taking multiple medications for depression and allergies. But the biggest difference I notice is I just don’t get sick that often. I watched a co-worker be out three different times with different colds and I wasn’t sick once. We all sat in a bullpen type room and I was surrounded by sick people. We often joke about the plague that goes around the office two or three (or six) times a year. I’m rarely, if ever, knocked out by it and I’ve never had the flu. That’s no joke.

I know anyone can make simple changes to their day that can increase energy and improve mood. They just have to want to and make different choices every, single day.

It’s simple, yet not easy.

It has taken me years to get where I am. I can cook for myself, which was not something I could do very well just a few years ago. I meditate regularly and I’ve been able to fit exercise into my day.

This is coming from a starting place of getting up in the morning, slamming coffee, working all day, coming home, eating take out, flopping down in front of the TV with a glass bottle of wine and then starting all over again the next day.

Don’t let the fact that it takes time to deter you from making changes. It may have taken decades for you to get to where you are today and it’s going to take more than 21 days to get you where you want to go. But everyone starts somewhere.

Every day you make healthy choices is a success to celebrate, just not with cookies. You have so many opportunities to win. Those daily wins inspire you to continue to make healthy choices. This creates a virtuous cycle that motivates you to remain on this healthy path.

f you’re content with where you are in life that’s fantastic. Keep doing what works for you. But if you are dissatisfied with any area of your life then take a step back and think about what choices you can make that take you in the direction you want to go.

Take daily, consistent action to do something different. It can be just one thing but you have to make an effort every day.

Before you know it you’ll look back at who you used to be and not remember what it was like to be that person.

I look back at my former self and it feels like she was a character I know of from a story, not the person I used to be.
 That’s how I know anyone can do this. I’m not special. I procrastinate and I can be lazy. But I got sick of feeling like crap and chose to do the work to make permanent changes.

Me in 2016, visiting a friend in Austria as part of a 3-month world trip.

I invite you to start making new choices. The only way to know what works for you is to try making changes and notice what’s different.
 Use whatever success you have to keep you motivated and create a new you.

Originally published at eatbreathemove.com on February 25, 2017.

Originally published at medium.com