Episode 1: Howdy and Who We Are

Well hello there!

We’re wading into the wide world of podcasting. Want to join us? Listen in on iTunes or Stitcher.

Historically, the trotters41 podcast was a place for Jonathan’s sermons. Those will still be there, but it will also be home to the occasional conversation shared occasionally. We’ll plan to talk about marriage, parenting, TCKs, church work, missions, food, and other stuff probably.

Have an idea or a question or a recommendation? Find us on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or gmail and let us know!

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Listen to Episode 1 here or below:

The Books I Recommend Over and Over. And Over.

by Jonathan

I like books. I also like giving my pastoral counseling clients the option of accessing resources outside of the counseling room. Here’s a list of the books I recommend the most…

Dating/Relationships
Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love

 

Marriage
Created for Connection: The “Hold Me Tight” Guide for Christian Couples  (Read my review and how I use this in marriage counseling here.)

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert

 

Parenting 
Families Where Grace Is in Place: Building a Home Free of Manipulation, Legalism, and Shame

Hats: Reflections on Life as a Wife, Mother, Homeschool Teacher, Missionary, and More

 

Anxiety/OCD
Flee, Be Silent, Pray: Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians

Loving Someone with Anxiety: Understanding and Helping Your Partner

Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior

 

Sex
Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship

For more recommendations on point, visit On Making Love

 

Emotions (in general)
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature

The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God

 

The Love of God/Perfectionism/Grace
The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel

Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life

 

Cross-cultural Missions
Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker

Misunderstood: The impact of growing up overseas in the 21st century

Third Culture Kids: Growing up among worlds

 

Trauma
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

 

Miscellaneous 
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life

Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward

Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

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*Amazon affiliate links

 

Saying Goodbye to the Automatic No {how I learned to have fun again}

by Elizabeth

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This photo. It looks so simple and sweet, the picture of a woman enjoying herself on holiday. But it’s more than that. Much more. This photo also represents a victory in a long-standing tug-of-war with the AUTOMATIC NO.

Are you familiar with the Automatic No? It’s an old acquaintance of mine, a seemingly comfortable companion. It’s cunning. It’s clever. But it’s actually a traitor to happiness.

The Automatic No sneaks into relationships and slowly poisons them. Someone, usually a family member, will ask you to do something fun with them, and you decline. How many times have I done this?? How many times has a loved one asked me to play with them, and I said no without really thinking about it?

I’d been obeying the Automatic No for a long time without ever knowing it. Sometimes there’s an underlying fear — I’m afraid of this or that germ, afraid of this or that injury. Sometimes there’s an underlying laziness — I just don’t want to move or get up. And sometimes there’s an underlying assumption that “fun is for kids.”

I wouldn’t generally articulate my reasons. I would just say no and stay out of the activity. Over and over again, I chose to remove myself from the merriment without ever asking why.

But then last year happened. A colleague of my husband’s helped us pinpoint OCD as the cause of so much mental anguish in my life. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: it made so much sense. At last, I had a label for my oddities. Finally, we had an explanation for my eccentricities.

So I dove into the literature on OCD. Some of the most helpful work came from Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, author of Brainlock. Brainlock describes what happens in the brain of a person with OCD, and it prescribes a plan for changing your brain by changing your behavior.

And let me tell you, this plan works. Of course, it only works if you implement the strategies, but the strategies are highly effective. (Watch this 30-minute video for an introduction to the four-step plan for treating OCD.)

Basically what happens in that the gear-shifting system in the brain (the cingulate system) is “sticky.” It doesn’t shift well. So when a thought, usually something bothersome, dangerous, or anxiety-provoking, comes into an OCD mind, it literally cannot leave. The thought is physically stuck on a loop. The brain can’t move from anxiety to safety because the gear shift is faulty.

It takes a lot of work to shift gears, especially at the beginning of treatment. And it is this lack of ability to flex that causes us to say no automatically. We don’t think through our answers; we just say no. We can’t shift our attention very easily, and NO is always an easy answer to give.

My husband, who works as a pastoral counselor, has a lot of books on mental and emotional health laying around the house. One of them is Dr. Daniel Amen’s Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. I picked it up and flipped to the sections on fear & anxiety and on worry & obsessiveness.

It was in the section on worry & obsessiveness that I discovered the name of my adversary: the Automatic No. It was in the pages of that chapter that I came face to face with my tendency to destroy fun in a relationship.

When invited into the fun, I don’t explore it. I don’t get curious. I don’t ask myself if I really want to do something. I just say no. I don’t even consider it. I just say no to getting in the water and swimming with my family, even though I always enjoyed it as a child. I don’t play ball games with my family. I stay on the sidelines and watch. I don’t do that fun thing my husband is asking me to do. I opt out.

Because why should I say yes, when I could just as easily say no instead?

But I recognized myself immediately in the description of the Automatic No, and it scared me. So I determined to alter my customary no’s. To at least try to fight back against my familiar, well-trodden brain paths. To give myself time before answering the invitation. Time to think about whether I really have to say no, or whether I could possibly say yes. I never knew I could say yes, that I could try it and see. Maybe I’ll like it, and maybe I won’t. But I’ll never know unless I try.

So I started saying yes more often. It was a tentative “yes?” at first. But soon my yeses became firmer. The first picture below was nearly an Automatic No. It was a recent holiday, and we were at the mall. I was watching the kids play Skeeball at the arcade. I was cheering them on when out of the blue, my husband asked me if I wanted to play. He had enough coins if I wanted.

Initially I told him, “Nah.” But then I stopped myself. I asked myself what I really wanted, and it turns out, I DID want to play. I hadn’t been thinking through the offer. I had just been offering that dread Automatic No again.

But when I took a moment to mull it over, I remembered that Skeeball was my favorite arcade game as a child. It was the only game I ever played at Chuck E. Cheese, in fact. I had just assumed that “arcade games are for kids.” I never considered playing as an adult (even though my husband plays these games all the time).

So a minute later I nudged him and said, “Actually, I think I DO want to play this game.” And I did. He took this photo after I had just made a 40-point score. That look is not posed; it’s pure joy.

After Skeeball, we all played at the basketball machines — that’s the bottom photo. But I would never have tried my hand at basketball had I not rethought my original Skeeball “no.”

It’s hard at first to say “no” to the Automatic No, but it gets easier with practice. And with time, rejecting the Automatic No leads to a lot more fun in life. Little yes by little yes, we change our brains, and we change our lives.

So if you, like me, say NO to the fun far more frequently than is good for you, I dare you to go out and say YES to something today. Who knows? One little yes may be all that it takes to change everything.

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A Guidebook for Dealing with PMS {Part 4: Tracking Your Cycles}

Today we come to the end of this PMS series. We’ve talked about changing the way we eat, about adding supplements to our lives, and about exercise, breathing, and rest. Now we’re going to talk about tracking our cycles.

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1. Count Those Days, Ladies

For nearly a decade, I charted for both birth control and pregnancy achievement. I tracked my symptoms, including my morning waking temperature and cervical fluid. But after we moved overseas and decided for safety reasons not to have any more children (I tend to hemorrhage really badly at birth), I didn’t think I needed to chart anymore.

It felt like freedom not to have to keep track of symptoms, not to have to remember to take my temperature. So when my PMS got really bad and my husband suggested returning to some form of charting, I resisted. I didn’t want an extra complication in my life. I felt that life was heavy enough without charting. I thought that keeping better track of my cycles sounded like too much of a burden.

Honestly, charting felt like a cross I had to carry. This wasn’t fair, I thought. Why couldn’t my body work the way it used to work, so simply, so easily, without my doing anything to make it run nicely? Why did things have to change and force me to do extra work?

But as Simcha Fisher reminds us in her book, The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, “A cross is a cross.” (Note: my copy of this book is underlined up and down. Regardless of whether you practice NFP, the wisdom Simcha offers on married sexuality is some of the best I’ve read anywhere.) This might seem like a small thing, but it felt huge to me at the time.

I started keeping better track of my cycles anyway. At first, yes, it seemed so obnoxious. But over time I’ve become accustomed to it again (though I’m not tracking temperature). And somewhere along the lines I realigned my thinking with Fisher’s: “I can see my fertility as a gift that I need help caring for, not as a burden.”

Because I’m keeping track of the days, I now know when to be more prepared for anxiety and OCD symptoms, when to work out harder or more consistently, when to do my breathing exercises, and when to try harder not to yell at my kids for something silly (because I’ll just feel terrible and have to apologize later).

I am not perfect at this, but I am more aware than before. I purposely try to stop myself from overreacting to little things in the second half of my cycle. I also have to be careful just before ovulation, because there’s a hormonal shift that occurs then too. I can become irrational just at ovulation instead of after. It varies from month to month, so I keep watch.

Some days I wake up and am angry at the whole world. Lots of people in specific and lots of people in general. That’s often a wake-up call that PMS is beginning. I try to be aware of when it happens and take my anger and angst less seriously. Thankfully I have a husband who, while taking PMS seriously, doesn’t take my extreme statements too seriously.

Do you remember Steve Martin’s Father of the Bride? I loved that movie as a teenager, and this clip in particular describes irrational, overreacting me at certain times of the month (in addition to making me laugh!).

Here’s some more cycle-related humor. A friend shared this photo, and “stupid fruit time” has become part of our family vernacular.

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But to return to more serious matter, my OB-GYN says this about PMS in the late 30s: “Your hormones will be getting more wacky as your girls hit puberty, so getting the PMS stuff under control NOW will significantly help you when they are going the reverse hormone process in a very few short years.”

This statement was another wake-up call for me. It forced me to consider the way my hormonal issues will impact my daughters, the way their hormonal issues will impact me, and the way all of our combined hormones will impact our family relationships. And if there’s one thing I don’t want to sacrifice on the altar of PMS, it’s family relationships.

So I am committed to feeding myself quality food, supplementing where I need to, exercising and resting regularly, and counting the days of my menstrual cycle.

If you have never kept track of your cycles, you might want to read up on fertility awareness with Toni Weschler’s book Taking Charge of Your Fertility. In it, she explains that not every woman ovulates on Day 14. Some ovulate earlier, some later, and it can change from month to month too. Likewise, the second half of your cycle, the luteal phase, can vary in length.

Although women’s cycle lengths can vary, here is a graphic my OB friend sent me that shows all the differing hormones and changes throughout the month. Weschler’s book has many graphics like this.

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2. Beware Those Blood Sugar Dips

Also called being “hangry,” low blood sugar problems can be exacerbated in the pre-menstrual time. Some mornings I wake up feeling fine, but then I walk into the kitchen to find that someone has used my favorite mug. (But watch out family, because my favorite mug tends to change from month to month.)

Or I walk into the living room to find that someone has left a pile of books right where I want to sit and read and sip decaf out of that favorite mug. Or someone is already awake and making noise or asking me to do something for them, even though they know they’re not supposed to ask yet.

In these moments I try to remember that I need to put something in my mouth before letting rude or thoughtless words slip out of my mouth. There have even been times my husband has said something innocuous to me at the breakfast table, and I’ve wanted to snap back. In those times I try to remember not to respond in the moment but rather to say, “I need to eat something.” He understands this statement implicitly (or impliedly as it were – inside joke between the two of us).

Nearly always, I feel more in control of my emotions after I’ve eaten something. I’m usually not even upset about the offending person or event. And if I still am, I can discuss it more reasonably. So if you get hangry, especially in the mornings, try to be aware of it. Remember: eat before talking. Food before fighting.

The pre-menstrual time may also be the time that you are craving junk food. It’s really better if you don’t give in to that craving. As we talked about before, high-sugar and processed foods do nothing to lift our mood. Unhealthy food actually worsens our blood sugar highs and lows and consequently, worsens our mood swings (except for very dark chocolate – indulge in that one!).

 

3. Watch Your Self-Talk

Now a word about your inner world. Do not believe everything your brain says to you in the week or so before your period! Do not believe that everyone is judging you. Do not believe that everyone is angry with you or rejecting you. Even if they don’t respond to your text right away.

Do not believe that your husband, or your co-worker, or your children, or that your God, are out to get you. That’s the hormones talking, and we do not have to believe them!

Since I’ve implemented the steps I offered in parts 1, 2, and 3, my mood is more stable, but I still have days and even hours when it’s not. I still have to be mindful of what’s going on inside me.

So I’ll echo the encouragement from my OB: “You are NOT ALONE!!” Truly, we are in this together. We are sisters in this messy, fallen, chemically-complicated, tech-driven modern world. That is unfortunately the world we live in. But instead of cursing it, let us choose life rather than death.

I love the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 30: “Today I am giving you a choice. You can choose life and success or death and disaster (verse 15, Contemporary English Version).

He continues in verses 19 and 20: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life (NIV).

A year ago when I realized I needed to make a lot of changes in my life, life was truly a disaster. I felt overwhelmed. I was in such a dark place that when I read about various changes I could make, I interpreted the advice as PRESSURE. I could not see it as possibility. I thought it was “pull myself up by my bootstraps” and “cure myself.” Changing, choosing life, felt like one more thing I could not handle.

But now after a year of making small changes, of making slow but steady progress, I feel the promise rather than the pressure. I know that I am not the Healer, but I see the ways in which God invites me to participate in my own healing. I now know that what felt like rock-bottom was actually an invitation from God to be a priest taking better care of my temple.

My mindset has morphed from Jacob’s begrudging “everything is against me” (in Genesis 42:36) into gratitude that I’ve been given this chance to make healthy changes. I am getting better at choosing life.

Together, we can choose life. We can choose what to put in our bodies, how to move our bodies, and what to think and believe, especially during certain days of the month. So resist the temptation to believe you have no control over your PMS. We have so many ways to manage it more effectively.

And remember, on the days when we don’t make good choices, there is grace. We don’t have to “choose life” perfectly. The God of peace is with us and within us. So make the best decisions that you can, and then, dear soul, be at rest.

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Here are some of the main sources of information that I relied on over this past year.

Karen Hurd is a nutritionist with a Masters in biochemistry. She explains how to eat for better mental health and offers several free resources. I also rented her PMS seminar.

Dr. Aviva Romm is a midwife and M.D. I purchased her book The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution and also depended heavily on her website. Here’s a post specifically on PMS.

Christa Orrechio is also a nutritionist whose advice I followed. Here’s her post on PMS.

A Guidebook for Dealing with PMS {Part 1: Dietary Changes}

by Elizabeth

PMS

From the title you can probably guess that this one’s for the ladies. (All you guys out there can take a pass.)

And truly, I never thought I would blog about this. But someone recently asked me for advice on dealing with PMS. I didn’t know the specifics of her situation (PMS symptoms run the gamut of the physical and emotional), so I just threw everything I had at her, hoping something would stick. My husband looked at my list and told me that it could help a lot of people and that I should turn it into a blog post.

So here we are, talking about Pre-Menstrual Syndrome in a public forum.

First let me give you all the caveats. I am not a medical professional. I am not a nutritionist or dietitian. I am just a 38-year-old woman who has had to get better control over her physical and emotional states in the past year, because the situation had become desperate. I dreaded half of every single month, and so did my husband.

I’ll simply be sharing things that worked for me. I recommend that you do your own research and talk to your own doctor before making any changes. I talked with both my nurse-midwife and a friend who is an OB-GYN about most of these things, and I’ll note their advice in each section.

I would also recommend that you start slow. You want your changes to be sustainable over the long run. I’ll be sharing a lot of options here. Starting small and getting a handle on just one or two things first, before adding anything new, can go a long way in making these changes permanent lifestyle changes. And that’s what you want – permanent changes. You won’t be able to sustain the benefits if you can’t sustain the habits.

I would also encourage you to be patient. Your mind and your body will improve in response to your changing choices, but it takes time, sometimes a lot of time. In my experience the physical symptoms improved long before the mental symptoms improved, but they did improve over time. Some sources say to wait at least 3 months before expecting meaningful change – that’s how long our hormonal systems need to adjust.

Everything is cumulative, so there’s a sort of snowball effect that happens when you’re able to implement a bunch of strategies at once, but it’s also true that every small change can be helpful. So don’t lose heart in the beginning.

Ok, now that that’s done, here’s a little medical definition of PMS, according to my OB-GYN friend: “Ovulation is marked by massive progesterone surge, and progesterone stays elevated until just before the next menses.  Hence the ‘premenstrual’ syndrome is more accurately a ‘post-ovulation-syndrome.’ Progesterone causes fluid retention, can be associated with irritability and depressed mood, and in general is a pain in our heads!”

Here are the main pre-menstrual (or post-ovulation) symptoms I was dealing with: anxiety, moodiness, snappiness, irritability, recurrent female infections, breast tenderness, and to a lesser extent, acne.

I was also dealing with menstrual cramps and migraine headaches on first day of my cycle and/or the day before.

In this article I’ll be discussing diet. In the following articles in this series, I’ll discuss supplements, movement & rest, and emotion/cycle tracking.

I’m starting with diet because that’s a place where a lot of us fall short. I don’t think we can just pop a pill or swallow a supplement and watch our symptoms magically disappear, not if we are dumping garbage into our temples. We have to do the work of changing how we eat.

I have a history of an eating disorder, and for years I ate a highly unbalanced, carb-heavy, nutrient-light diet. However, I paid very careful attention to my eating when I was pregnant and nursing, because someone else’s well-being was depending on me. But when I was done with those precious childbearing years, I let a lot of my healthy eating habits lapse. This has been especially true in the midst of stressful overseas living. So believe me when I tell you, I had a lot of room for growth.

Here’s a list of some changes you can make, along with the potential symptoms they relieve, according to what I’ve read and experienced. Explanations and plans for implementing the changes can be found in each section, along with my personal stories.

  1. Decrease caffeine intake: reduces anxiety, breast pain, and sleep disturbances.
  2. Decrease sugar and refined carbohydrates: reduces mood swings, acne, and female infections.
  3. Increase quality protein, fats, and fiber: reduces anxiety, acne, and mood swings.
  4. Decrease alcohol: reduces sleep disturbances.
  5. Decrease dairy: reduces breast tenderness.

 

1. Decrease caffeine

I had developed a dependence on coffee in language school and over the years had increased my intake to 3-4 cups per day. That’s how much I needed to get through a day. Now that I’ve given it up, I realize what a large amount of caffeine I was consuming.  And interestingly, now that I don’t drink coffee, I actually have the energy to make it through my days without coffee.

Caffeine can be problematic for many reasons including sleep, anxiety, and breast tenderness. Caffeine is a stimulant – that’s how it keeps you awake. It can make your heart race and worsen your anxiety. With all the extra stress and screen time in our modern lives, the last thing most of us need is an extra stimulant.

And indeed, I initially decided to cut out caffeine because of my rising anxiety. I had anxiety every day of my cycle, but it spiked really high after ovulation (mid-cycle) and didn’t drop until my next cycle began. And even then, the anxiety didn’t really disappear. It was just less than the anxiety of the pre-menstrual period.

But it was so hard for me to give up the caffeine! It took me a full 2 months to cut out all the coffee. I cut out a cup at a time and waited for my body to adjust. It basically took me two weeks to adjust to every cup (or half cup) that I cut out. I was tired all the time and got a lot of headaches. Eventually I was able to switch to decaf coffee.

I love a hot drink. It’s so comforting. But these days you’ll find me drinking either that decaf coffee or various herbal teas. My favorite herbal teas are peppermint, spearmint, chamomile, and rooibos (red). These teas are all supposedly good for anxiety. Even if they have no positive effect on anxiety, at least they are all caffeine-free and thus have no negative effect.

It’s important to note that decaf coffee still has caffeine in it, but it’s greatly reduced. I seem to do fine on the decaf, though, even when drinking it at night with my husband. I also still eat dark chocolate and will occasionally drink green tea (but I’ll explain that in another section).

After I gave up coffee, I drank black tea (which has less caffeine than coffee) on vacation and noticed a marked increase in anxiety that week/month. And then there was that one boiling hot April morning without electricity when I drank an iced coffee trying to cool off. I thought I would be fine, but my body reacted really badly to the caffeine. My heart began to race, my breathing sped up, and I felt flushed all over (the opposite feeling from what I was going for), so I really do avoid regular coffee.

 

2. Reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates

Just like the coffee, the sugar and processed food consumption sneaked up on me. I was busy homeschooling four kids and running a website. I began depending more and more heavily on packaged foods for myself and my kids, simply because it saved time. Super sweet yogurt drinks, packaged crackers or cookies, lots of white pasta and canned sauces.

But sugar wreaks havoc on our hormones, beginning with blood sugar dysregulation and ending with terrible moodiness. When we consume sugary or sweet things, our blood sugar levels spike, forcing our pancreas to pump out a bunch of insulin to shuttle that unnatural amount of sugar out of circulation and into our cells.

Unfortunately, the pancreas usually overshoots. That’s because it is sensing the rate of the blood sugar rise, not the amount of sugar. (I will refrain from geeking out over calculus here.) Our bodies don’t know that the sugar intake will stop; they just know that the blood sugar is rising too rapidly for safety. So the pancreas dumps too much insulin into our systems.

This leads to a blood sugar crash. Blood sugar drops below the normal level, making us hungry again very quickly and also making us moody. So we reach for something sugary again. When we eat this way, we are willingly putting ourselves on an emotional roller coaster. We end up snapping at our families, and they don’t deserve to be snapped at simply because we haven’t taken the time and attention to nourish ourselves well.

Alternatively, if we can’t get to food when our blood sugar drops low, our adrenal glands will work to increase our blood sugar without food consumption. This is quite an elegant system, but when we abuse it by depending on it on a daily basis, we can wear our adrenals out. (Caffeine is another one of those adrenal stressors, and depending on it to get through your day is another way of wearing out your body.)

Additionally, sugar consumption (in all its forms) tamps down on our immune systems. So even though we crave sugar and may even claim that we feel better when we eat it, it’s just bad for us, all around. As my OB-GYN says: “You have insulin jumping in here to help confuse the picture, so take the avoidance of simple carbs part seriously.”

Practically speaking, cutting out sugar can be harder than it sounds. Sugar lurks in a lot of places, including cereal, yogurt, peanut butter, pasta sauces, salad dressings, and salsa. I didn’t even have a sweet tooth. I wasn’t craving or eating a lot of desserts. I just ate too many simple carbs.

So I had to find and eliminate the hidden sugars and refined carbohydrates (which are so broken down already that they act nearly like sugar in the body). I was really dedicated to eliminating sugars because of repeat infections in the pre-menstrual period. I was losing my mind and could not handle any more of these painful infections.

Here are a few examples of the changes I made.

  • Boxed cereals. Oh how I loved Cinnamon Life and Cheerios (when I could find them on the shelves). Now I will occasionally eat cooked whole grains like buckwheat, millet, quinoa, or oats, but not every day.
  • Refined grains. I stopped eating packaged crackers (there are some really yummy ones here, but they are all made with a lot of white flour and sugar). I stopped eating Pringles (in years past I could down half a can in one sitting, especially when I was really hungry). I will occasionally eat popcorn with a movie. I eat tortilla chips with our favorite bean soup probably once a week.
  • Pasta, rice, and bread. I stopped eating white rice with our Khmer lunches and just eat the main dish by itself. I stopped eating pasta, couscous, and bread. {If you’ve known me since adolescence, you’ll know what a big change this was for me.}
  • Yogurt. I stopped drinking sweetened yogurt drinks and stopped eating regular sweetened yogurt. I started buying an unsweetened yogurt (made locally here). It was so sour at first I could hardly stand it, but I forced myself to keep eating it. Now it tastes only slightly sour to me. I’m sometimes able to find unsweetened kefir here locally too. (Kefir is a fermented dairy drink with more probiotics than yogurt, but it definitely still tastes sour to me.)
  • Peanut Butter. I love peanut butter! But I stopped eating regular peanut butter and started buying natural, unsweetened peanut butter (also made locally). I also started eating nuts for snacks.
  • Salad dressings, pasta sauces, salsas, and seasoning packets. I still use these on occasion, but I’ve also made my own sometimes. Since I don’t use them very often, this hasn’t been an area of too much concern for me, although it is another way to cut down sugar if you want to.
  • Coffee creamers. Yes, I used to put these non-dairy coffee creamers in my coffee. Yuck. They contain extra sugars and bad fats and are full of strange-sounding chemicals. It’s shocking to think about how many of these little creamer packets I used to use! Now I stick to plain coconut milk.

 

3. Replace the junk with quality proteins, fats, and fiber.

I’ve heard it called “carbage” — a clever combination of “carbohydrates” and “garbage.” But you can’t just cut out sugar and refined carbs; you have to add in the good stuff too. Protein, fat, and fiber blunt your blood sugar response to any carbs you might eat. They keep you feeling full longer and supply sustained energy over several hours. This will help with the moodiness and irritability.

There are other reasons for protein, fat, and fiber too.

  • You need a sufficient amount of amino acids (which are found in protein) to make your neurotransmitters (happy chemicals in the brain). Eating a lot of protein is therefore especially important for dealing with anxiety. In fact one counselor told me that “anxious brains need a lot of protein.”
  • You need enough healthy fats for your body to produce and stabilize your female hormones as well as build healthy skin and tissues.
  • And you need fiber (both soluble and insoluble) to feed the good bacteria in your intestines, keep your digestion regular, and to eliminate excess hormones in your body.

I will be honest with you. I made mistakes on this road. When I first cut the carbs, I suddenly couldn’t find enough to eat. Everything I had been eating was processed or taboo in some way. I was afraid to eat nearly everything except eggs, yogurt, chicken, and nuts. I was afraid of the dangerous, hidden carbs in everything. I wouldn’t even eat complex carbs. That made for a hungry, hangry momma.

It also made me accidentally lose some weight, weight I probably shouldn’t have lost. (I have since regained it.) I was so afraid of foods that could potentially make me sick again. I developed so much anxiety around food, and that just added to all the anxiety in my life. I kept thinking of food as potential poison rather than nourishment. It took me a while to relearn how to eat complex carbs.

So this is where I will quote my midwife: “Complex carbs are fine.”

And here’s what constitutes a complex carb: beans, vegetables, and the occasional whole grain. Complex carbs are not, as I thought in high school, a dish of pasta or a bowl (or bag) of pretzels. Complex carbs are slow-burning. The fiber in beans and vegetables is especially nourishing to our systems. (In my opinion, whole grains don’t offer the same amount of nutrition as beans and vegetables.) But when I first started on this healthy eating journey, I was even afraid to eat them. Now I find that I feel so much better when I do eat enough plant foods. So don’t be like me. Eat your veggies and beans.

In fact, my anxiety and breast tenderness spiked even higher when I first cut out the carbs. I could tell the very instant I ovulated, because my hormones shifted, my progesterone soared, my anxiety spiked, and strong breast pain appeared out of nowhere. What I eventually figured out was that I was depending too much on animal products. The first form of plant fiber/protein I added back in, as a way to counter all those animal foods, was beans. I found that when I put the beans back in, the breast tenderness very quickly subsided.

This is the advice my OB-GYN friend gave me: “Eat many anti-oxidant foods (blueberries, spinach, kale), other veggies, legumes, complex proteins.”

And here is where I get my protein these days:

  • Yogurt, kefir, and cheese.
  • Beans of all kinds. (Hummus and other bean dips, along with bean and lentil soups.)
  • Chicken and eggs.
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters. (I like walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds the best, but I can’t always find them cheap enough or at all, so I take what I can get, when I can get it.)

Here is where I get my fat these days:

  • Eggs.
  • Yogurt and cheese.
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters. (Notice how several of these items do double duty here? Nice.)
  • Butter (for cooking eggs), olive oil (for dressings and hummus), and coconut oil. (Yes, I know that last one is controversial, but I’m sufficiently comfortable with it to eat it, especially when mixed with a nut butter and some cocoa powder – yum!)
  • I eat 85% dark chocolate when I can find it. I still consider 70% too sweet.

Here is where I get my fiber these days:

  • Beans
  • Vegetables (My go-to veggies are carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, bell peppers, cucumbers, and leafy greens.)
  • Garlic and onions (They’re good for the immune system and have a special kind of fiber that feeds the good bacteria inside us.)
  • Flax seeds (They also do double duty on fats.)

I know that we are “supposed” to get a lot of our proteins and essential fatty acids from fatty fish, but I will again be honest and tell you that fish is not one of my favorite things. I wish I could like it, but at this point, I don’t, and it’s not worth it to me to try to force myself. Neither do I like taking fish oil. It makes me gag and burp. I figured that out several years ago when I was looking into natural ways to prevent migraine headaches. But if you like fish or fish oil, more power to you.

Something I’ve noticed is that if I eat a lot of fatty meat in a month (like sausage), or if I don’t eat enough vegetables, I have more pre-menstrual breast pain. So while I’m not afraid of eating fat, and while I get a lot of fat from my nuts and seeds, I have noticed that the fatty meat affects my body. So watch how various animal products affect you, and cut down on the ones that most noticeably make your symptoms worse.

The upside to all this protein is that for the first time in my life, I can grow long, strong nails without the help of polish. I wasn’t going for that, but it’s a nice side benefit.

Another upside to all these dietary changes (and I don’t know whether that’s the reduced sugar intake or the increased healthy fat intake or both) is that pre-menstrual breakouts have lessened. My main complaint wasn’t acne, but I did break out in the week before my period, sometimes painfully so. That happens much less now. I never would have undertaken such extensive life changes just for the acne, but it sure is a pleasant side effect.

(Full disclosure: For years I have used a topical salicylic acid lotion once a day to treat and prevent acne. I still had monthly breakouts in those years. And I also still use that lotion, even while eating differently.)

All these personal changes mean I’ve changed the way we eat as a family too. I don’t force my children to eat the unsweetened yogurt or nut butter or to stop eating cereal, but I do cook them a whole lot more eggs and beans (and sometimes eggs and beans together), and we eat a lot more fresh veggies.

I use a lot more spices in my cooking, especially garlic and onions which are good for the immune system, as I mentioned. I also use a lot of turmeric and cumin. (I adore cumin.) That’s something else that’s happened — learning to use more spices means food tastes a lot better than before. And the children have definitely noticed that.

A note about some things I haven’t done: I haven’t asked my helper to change the way she cooks. She makes us one Asian dish per day, and know she puts sugar and maybe even MSG in the chicken, and she cooks the chicken in soybean oil. I have not known how to approach this issue from a culturally appropriate standpoint. Friends who have tried to have these conversations with their helpers have often run into difficulty. So at this point I just eat the meat dish without the rice and figure I’m doing the best I can in other areas of my life.

A word about eating out: I don’t stress about this either. I just choose the best option I can find. That usually means something with either a lot of protein or a lot of vegetables, or both. For a time I found that it was best for me to take little containers of nuts everywhere I went just to be on the safe side (and because I was constantly hungry). Or I ate something with protein before I headed out to a meeting that might only serve carbohydrate-rich foods. But I stress less about it now. What I’m saying is, make the changes you can feasibly make, and celebrate your successes. Then don’t worry about the rest.

 

4. Decrease alcohol.

Why is a Christian missionary even talking about alcohol on her blog?! Well, because some missionaries drink alcohol (shocking, I know). Some of them even drink alcohol as a form of stress relief. And my readers aren’t just missionaries, either. So I really felt I should mention this one.

I had never even tasted alcohol until I was 27. I was afraid to try it, convinced even one sip would inebriate me. There are some alcohol addiction issues in my extended family that made me want to avoid it altogether. In the years since first tasting alcohol, I only ever drank wine a few times a year, and the most I ever drank was 1/8 of a cup, which felt like plenty for me. I also love a good gin and tonic, ever since a friend introduced the drink to me.

However, alcohol was never something I “needed” for stress relief. So when I explained all my symptoms to my OB-GYN friend, and she told me that the “best natural remedies are diet: avoid high salt, processed carbs, artificial sweeteners, MSG, alcohol, caffeine,” I had no trouble giving up the alcohol. I do occasionally miss the gin and tonic, but with all the sugar in it, I simply don’t want to consume it.

Other women have told me that alcohol affects their sleep. Alcohol seems to relax us and even make us feel sleepy, but it actually interferes with the deeper cycles of sleep. So if sleep is an issue for you (especially if the fatigue makes you grouchy the next day), and you consume alcohol from time to time, you might consider stopping.

 

5. Decrease Dairy

A lot of sources claimed that dairy exacerbates PMS (specifically breast tenderness and acne) and recommend that people keep it to a minimum. I did not end up cutting out dairy. I love the protein and probiotics in my yogurt and kefir (not to mention the taste of cheese!). I’ve gotten such great results from all the other changes I made that I never made this one.

But I do have to watch the cheese. I usually eat cheese about once a week (it’s kind of pricey here), and I’ve noticed that, similar to the fatty meats, if I eat more cheese than that, I do notice more breast tenderness that month. So I can do yogurt and kefir daily, but not cheese. The moral of the dairy story? Find what works for you, and do that.

I think that’s enough information for now. Here’s a summary of the potential dietary changes I discussed and their potential benefits:

  1. Decrease caffeine (to reduce anxiety, breast pain, and sleep issues).
  2. Decrease sugar and refined carbs (to reduce mood swings, acne, and infections).
  3. Increase protein, healthy fats, and fiber (to reduce mood swings and anxiety).
  4. Decrease alcohol (to improve sleep quality).
  5. Decrease dairy (to reduce breast pain and acne).

 

Part 2: Potential Supplements

Part 3: Movement and Rest

Part 4: Tracking Your Cycles

Created for Connection — a roadmap for your marriage

It’s the best marriage book I’ve ever read.

I’d love to show you why; I’d also love to show you how I use it in my daily practice as a pastoral counselor.

photo-1508839370228-5ae14793c2f5 (2)

Created for Connection, by Johnson and Sanderfer, is my go-to book for marriage counseling. I use Gottman’s tools and research extensively too, but Created for Connection feels deeper, more hearty. While Gottman focuses on the what and the how-to, Created for Connection focuses on the why.

I love this book so much that I turned the chapter headings into a roadmap of sorts, adding in other tools and resources.

If you were meeting with me for marriage counseling, I would give you a copy of this sheet to (hopefully) help you see where we’re at as we walk through the various parts of marriage counseling. Disclaimer: I’m a pastoral counselor, not a licensed therapist. I don’t hold myself out as a therapist, but shoot, just because I’m a pastoral counselor doesn’t mean I’m afraid to use the latest evidence-based research when it comes to helping clients love each other well (and happily)!

OK, here’s what I would give you:

created for connection

Now, here it is again, with links to the resources in brackets. In addition to the material in the book, we would bring in some of these other tools/resources:

1. Recognizing the Demon Dialogues [The Vortex of Terror]

  1. Find the Bad Guy
  2. Protest Polka
  3. Freeze and Flee
  4. [The Four Horsemen]

 

Finding the Raw Spots

  1. [The Shapes Diagram]
  2. [Pain Words worksheet and Feelings Wheel]

 

Revisiting a Rocky Moment

  1. [Reflecting Back. I teach three parts to this: 1. Reflect back. 2. Validate. 3. Care.]
  2. [Turning Towards, and here and here]

 

Hold Me Tight – Engaging and Connecting [Caring for the Heart]

  1. What Am I Most Afraid Of?
  2. What Do I Need Most from You?

 

Forgiving Injuries

  1. [Repair checklist]

 

Bonding Through Sex and Touch

  1. [On Making Love, a resource post about sex]

 

Keeping Your Love Alive

  1. [Six magic hours, here and here]

 

If you’re looking for some marriage help, here’s a map! I didn’t create most of this; I’m just putting some of what’s helped me and others into one place. I hope that’s helpful for you. Get the books, watch the videos, talk with your spouse, and have a great day!

— Jonathan M. Trotter

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Created for Connection, by Johnson and Sanderfer

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by Gottman

17 years of marriage and this is all we’ve got, by Jonathan and Elizabeth (and now it’s 19!)

*Amazon affiliate links.

I have a work spouse

by Jonathan

I have a work spouse.

It’s working out OK, because she’s also my actual spouse. Folks often wonder how that works. How do we write together and work together and still like each other?

How do you edit a spouse’s work without dying?

We know it sounds cheesy, but in our internal memos we call it “Team Trotter,” and we really do have a lot of fun. But it wasn’t always this easy. In fact, there were times we almost dumped our whole site into the black hole of DELETE. For real, there was a day when I left to lead worship at an all night prayer gathering, pretty sure that trotters41.com wouldn’t exist when I got home.

So, how did we recover from that? How do we enjoy our work spouses? Well, in short, we just really like each other. In addition to simply being good friends, we also enjoy each other’s differences. Oh, and we got some counseling. (For more on that part of the story, you can read Elizabeth’s article, Jesus Loves Me This I Sometimes Know.)

 

Same Same. But Different.
We both write and we both edit the other’s work, so it makes sense that people think we’re doing the same job, the same ministry, the same thing. We even write at the same spaces (this site, alifeoverseas.com and even occasionally at velvetashes.com).

But really, what we do is very, very different. We recognize the differences, we value the differences, we even enjoy the differences. I think that’s what really helps this to not crash.

 

Writer and Pastor
I describe it like this: Elizabeth is a writer who pastors and I’m a pastor who writes. It might not seem like those starting blocks are all that different, but they are.IMG_6405 (2).JPG

Elizabeth is an artist with a keyboard. She treats words like colors, sentences like brushes, the internet like a canvas. I’m just not that cool.

I value her love of words and the way she uses them. As teenagers in the same youth group, I remember her answering a friend who asked the obvious question, “What does loquacious mean?” Elizabeth answered without thinking: “Verbose.” I remember smiling at this teenage girl who didn’t know how much she knew.

The way she and I tell stories is so.very.different. In fact, we used to offer style advice to each other, but we’ve pretty much stopped that now because we both know we like our own styles and we’re not interested in changing them. We’re both pretty secure in who we are and who we aren’t.

Elizabeth writes her muse. She writes about her journey and what’s inspiring her. She writes about the wind beneath her wings. I write about other people’s wind.

I look around and ask “What are people dealing with? What’s the Church or the missions community struggling with?” And then I write about that. Sometimes I share my story, but not nearly as often as Elizabeth.

And while we both cross-over occasionally, my writings tend to be more didactic. Her style is a bit more narrative.

 

Big Picture vs. Details
I never add commas. I mean, when I look at Elizabeth’s stuff, I never give editorial advice of the fine kind. I take a step back, away from the bark and look at the forest. Sometimes Elizabeth needs me to say, “OK, that doesn’t make any sense outside of your amazing head.”

Elizabeth always adds commas. Always. (I think she even knows what “oxford comma” means. I don’t have a clue.) When she reviews my stuff, she fixes it and makes it technically correct, but she never gives me big picture feedback.

Her ability to hyper-focus is awesome, and it’s what gives her articles such depth and clarity. She spends deep time really seeing herself, her words, and her readers. My ability is more like SQUIRREL!

 

We Just Showed Up
If you do the thing that you can do and leave the results to God, you’ll have way more fun. And I think it’s why we’re both still having fun. We’re not counting or comparing or striving. We’re just trying to do the next thing faithfully.

Neither of us set out to be writers. Neither of us cared about getting known (whatever that means) or anything of the sort. There was no agenda. We wrote for our friends; we wrote for us.

Our first exposure to a larger audience happened after I pitched a guest post idea to A Life Overseas. On a whim. It was literally one of the only things I’d ever written. I was browsing around the site for the first time ever (I had heard Elizabeth talking about it), saw the “Submit Guest Post” link and thought, “Well, what the heck, I’ll give it a whirl.” From idea to submission took about three minutes.

I wrote Outlawed Grief as a way of processing my own feelings during a week of pastoral counseling training. I didn’t write it to publish it.

When we heard back from the editors and they told us they liked the article and wanted to run it, along with a couple of Elizabeth’s articles, she wasn’t happy. She was scared and I was in the dog house.

She started writing for our family and friends. She wasn’t trying to “make it” or achieve anything. She was terrified of exposure. There was no striving or networking or ginormous ambition.

And that’s been a huge key for us. We’re not competing or striving. We’re just playing.

Of course, it’s still work and it’s often tedious and hard. It’s serious business writing about some of the things we write about it. But we do it for a purpose. And that purpose brings with it a whole lot of freedom. Freedom to be individuals. Freedom to rejoice in each other’s successes. Freedom to enjoy working and serving together.

And we do enjoy it, because work spouses rock.

Read Serving Well, our biggest project yet!