"I Stopped Medicating Myself with Food"

One of the things Cyndi (AQUAGIRL08) has learned during her journey toward better health is moderation in all things. She's dealt with several medical conditions that have forced her to learn to live with pain. A positive attitude, learning new eating and activity habits and a commitment to making every day the best it can be turned her misery into opportunity. We asked Cyndi to share how her commitment to healthy living has reduced her pain and depression while giving her a new purpose in life. We know her journey will show others what can happen when you work hard and make a commitment to your healthy living plan.
What kind of pain issues have you dealt with in your life and how did that affect you?
I have congenital stenosis of the spine (a narrowing of the spinal canal) and a variety of orthopedic issues as a result of old athletic injuries. I've had twelve orthopedic surgeries in the last eighteen years. I'm allergic to aspirin and NSAIDs so I have difficulty treating inflammation and pain. I have an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), which makes me prone to weight gain, fatigue and joint pain. I was used to being very active and I worked out 4-5 days a week doing running, interval training, aerobics and team sports. That came to a sudden halt. I had a knee replacement and a spinal fusion which changed my life forever. The first year, I gained over 100 pounds. I had to retire from teaching and totally revamp the type of activities I could do on a daily basis. Between the weight gain and the activity change, I became depressed and overwhelmed. The weight and lack of activity made the pain so much worse. At first, I decided to ignore it all, which didn't work. I felt desperate to find relief from pain and I loathed the way I looked from my weight gain. I felt sick most of the time. Pain and my weight made me miserable. I had no quality of life.

How has adopting a healthy lifestyle helped you improve your life and pain management?
I stopped trying to control my pain by medicating myself with food. I decided to take control of my diet and make food work for me instead of against me. I started to choose foods based on how they could nourish me and heal me. By controlling my sugar intake, I found I could reduce the inflammation that a diet high in sugar can cause. I found what I like to call "power foods" that could help reduce inflammation and added them to my eating plan. I looked for ways I could work out without stressing my joints and spine. I discovered that exercising in water can be very healing and healthy. The end result was a big reduction in my pain and a large increase in mobility. My depression lifted and I had a new purpose in life--to make me the best I could be!

How do you maintain a positive attitude despite these difficulties?
I had to change my mindset from "Oh, poor, pitiful me" to "Look at the opportunity I have to be creative and make big changes in my life." It wasn't easy, but I dug my heels in and was determined. That day was the start of "Cyndi's Great Life Adventure!" I decided that every day I get a chance to have a fresh start. If I mess up, I learn from it and move on. I had to learn to forgive myself. Now, every new day can be anything I decide to make of it.  Imagine the possibilities!  It's very exciting!

Has weight-loss been a factor in helping you relieve pain and improve mobility?
Definitely! Extra weight stresses the joints and spine, thus causing additional pain. As I've lost weight, my joints have begun to feel better. Weight loss combined with strengthening my body has greatly increased my mobility. When my joints and spine are held firmly in place by good posture, strong muscles, tendons and ligaments, my pain level decreases dramatically.

What are the best techniques you use to stay motivated to stick to a routine even on tough days?
I have developed a strong support system for myself. I have 3-4 workout buddies who support me in my workouts and in my other goals as well. We have a wonderful local Spark Team. I depend on the members of the team for "face-to-face" support as well as online support. We schedule monthly events where we get together. I love it! One of my workout buddies is a member of the team. I schedule exercise and "me time" the same way I schedule any other important appointment. My family and friends know that I'm unavailable during these times. I build my free time around my exercise and "me time." It was hard to do this at first but, after a while, it became a habit and my family and friends adjusted.

How has SparkPeople helped you in your journey?
SparkPeople has supplied valuable tools and opportunities for support. (Thank you SparkPeople!) All I had to do was use them. The trackers help me stay consistent with my eating and exercise, which is so important. The Spark articles give me information that I use daily to make healthy decisions. I've found that information is power. I have been able to take the power back from food and regain control of my life. During this process, I've had tremendous support from my SparkTeams and SparkFriends. The whole journey has been easier and more enjoyable with the help of SparkPeople.

What other health benefits besides weight loss and pain management have you seen while reaching healthy living goals?
My overall health has improved and I don't get sick as often as I did. My last lab numbers were wonderful! My attitude is more positive and I actually like myself a lot better now. I'm sleeping better at night and have more energy during the day. My body is stronger and more flexible, and I have better mobility. 

What healthy living strategies have you found most helpful in naturally controlling pain?
  • Limiting sugar intake helps me to control inflammation. I also eat dark cherries, blueberries and other foods that help to control inflammation.
  • I get between 7-8 hours of sleep per night. This helps to control my muscle spasms and muscle and joint pain.
  • I drink around 72 ounces of plain water and eat potassium rich foods daily to help to reduce muscle cramps.
  • Aerobic exercise in some form, daily, helps to warm the muscles and lubricate my joints. This decreases pain and increases my mobility. Combined with 2-3 weight training sessions per week, my workouts strengthen the muscles, ligaments and tendons to offer support to my joints and spine. 
  • I listen to a meditation/breathing techniques CD several times per week to control stress and increase relaxation. It helps control migraine and body pain and helps me to sleep better.
What is the best advice you could offer to someone who is struggling with pain and feels like giving up on their healthy living or weight loss goals?
  • Make a written and signed agreement with yourself that says, "Giving up is not allowed to be an option!" Post copies of the agreement in your bathroom, kitchen and car. Give copies of the agreement to the people who support you the most.
  • If your insurance covers it, enroll in a nationally ranked pain management program to learn natural techniques for pain management. If that isn't possible, ask your doctor to give you some natural techniques for pain management. Use the techniques that you learn in conjunction with all the wonderful tools that SparkPeople has to offer.
  • Build a wide support system for yourself and make your own health a priority in your life.