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What’s my secret?

Written by Emily Hartmann MD

July 18, 2020

I’ve had countless people comment on how different I look all of a sudden, which makes me feel so validated. They tell me I look radiant and somehow younger. The truth is I’ve been on a journey and I struggle to put it all into words. A part of me wants to keep it hidden and not share my roller coaster but this also won’t help anyone else out there. Here I go with slight trepidation…but boldly I share: As of January 1st 2020 I quit drinking alcohol and eating processed sugar. As much as I was concerned it would effect my relationships, it hasn’t been an issue in the slightest. I adopted an “if you don’t love me for my journey then I don’t need you in my life” attitude which has served me in spades. The following excerpt is from a book I hope to write someday.

I don’t know about you but once I hit 40 I was absolutely done with shame. My entire life has been filled with the constant pursuit of “getting healthy” and “looking good enough”. Good enough for whom might I ask? I was born a chunky kid to the most amazing parents who loved and adored me however the kids at my school, not to mention the litany of magazines Cosmo and movies, made me realize I needed to be ashamed of myself. Ashamed for not having the fanciest peg-legged pants or newest line of troll dolls (ya’ll know what I’m talking about).  I joined a gym at the age of 14 in an effort to “get skinny” but truthfully I have always loathed gyms and their rickety stair masters and dirty showers. I was eating the most ridiculous amounts of foods I thought were healthy because it was labeled “fat free”.  As a latchkey kid I was home alone frequently and I can actually remember eating a tub of weight-watchers butter mixed with granulated sugar. I can remember a little red cart this lady would wheel out during school lunch time with full size loaves of french bread (like the kind you see in the center of an Italian dinner table) and they were considered healthy food because they were “fat free”.  I would eat the ENTIRE THING for lunch!  WTAF? No wonder the gym was ineffective.  
College hit me like a ton of bricks with a menagerie of new fad diets and binge drinking. I grew up in a college town and microbrew capital so alcohol was a constant. I thought I was “living life” with a massive hang-over, puking outside of the brunch restaurant and slugging down more hair-of-the-dog Bloody Marys like everyone else. My liver was working overtime with not only the ethanol consumption but the food was heavily processed. It wasn’t until the end of my college years I read a book, Marilu Henner’s Total Health Makeover. She was really ahead of her time. She talked about quitting dairy and focusing on whole foods and complete proteins.  This was the first time I had ever learned about food as more than calories or a point system. I was floored to realize that milk is meant to be consumed by calves…not humans! This really spoke to me and excluding dairy came easier than I realized. 
I then moved to Washington, DC to start my graduate work followed by medical school. I brought my new healthy eating habits. For the first time I was living alone in a new place, walking all over the dang place, and my weight came down! I hadn’t been that low since 5th grade. I could eat whatever I wanted and with my young metabolism coupled with the walking it didn’t matter. On occasion I would drink a bottle of wine in the evening by myself and no hangover! I had no idea what was about to come over me. Medical school is no joke…the level of type A-ness is so intense that my relatively happy-go-lucky constitution weakened under the stress and I developed panic attacks. One episode in particular I had such terrible insomnia I did not sleep for 3 nights in a row and I chugged a bottle of wine to get me to knock out. When that didn’t work my sweet husband encouraged me to seek help. I was put on medication for sleep, medication for anxiety, and a healthy dose of “pull yourself together” from the psychiatrist. When the exams were over so was my anxiety. Nothing had prepared me for my next rodeo….surgical residency. 
My surgical residency was exactly what I had mentally prepared for: a war zone. The militant mentality was essential to survive and this meant endless exhaustion, studying for exams, dehydration, no exercise except for running up and down stairwells, eating milkshakes at midnight…because this was war!!! Somehow I managed to have 3 kids, only by the grace of my amazing husband was it possible, and my life was in overdrive. I didn’t know how to combat stress aside from “exercise” which was just not possible in any true sense. I did sign up for a marathon (WTAF?!) and become vegan because that’s what you do in times of war…you level up and make it as hard as possible! BURN BURN BURN that candle!!!
So what now? I moved back to my hometown where I work as a plastic surgeon and the LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL isn’t as bright as I thought it would be…or like totally non-existent.  Instead I’m looking around like WTAF? There have been times where I actually scared myself. Where my life’s stressors were so huge and unrelenting I would rather just opt out of life than to get out of bed.  I’m ok, don’t worry, but those thoughts signaled a huge cry for help from my young girl inside saying STOP YOU’RE HURTING ME!!!!!!
Listen to her
She’s in there….with those really cool troll dolls…of course
She needs love
I did some serious digging, and reading, and tuning into my little girl. I tried to find cause and effect and why I could accomplish so much in this life and yet feel like the heaviness of my world was caving in. I took pencil to paper and this appeared:
I couldn’t believe my entire life had been this cycle and the one thing that derailed my attempt at “balance” was succumbing to stress. I also recognized the negative impact alcohol was having. It’s like the alcohol put a blanket over my cheerleader and whispered “it’s ok you don’t really want to be happy anyway”.The alcohol prevented me from making choices that I knew would make me happy. I would just end up binging on the couch. That shame spiral then made me hide food in my car which then just perpetuated the shame.
I made two lists, good things and bad things for me.
What I know to be good for me:
Self care
Let go of perfection
Yoga feels amazing
Good to have fun but make good choices
Meditation is helpful
Dairy is toxic
Processed food is toxic
Alcohol is toxic
Over-stress is toxic
My biggest problems:
Sugar is my weakness
Overeating, rapid eating, mindless eating
I am constantly thinking about food like it’s a drug
What was I trying to soothe with this drug? What void am I trying to fill?
What I need:
Stillness, routine, calm my cravings, feel satisfied, create boundaries, bring good energy and people around me, carve out special time with my kids and husband, organized spaces, contentment
What I seek:
A life that can weather any storm gracefully!
Once I had put it all down on paper it was magical. I was able to truly reflect on my inner voice and little Emily was finally so clear. Removing the toxins was my next step and the results have been miraculous. Start living a life true to my soul and nourish her every moment of every day. Yes it will be messy and imperfect but as long as I’m tuned in and listening to her she will guide me.

There it is. This is my secret. I avoid the toxins that feed the self-saboteur. Notice I say “avoid” rather than “omit” because I know that placing absolutes on myself is just another way to feel defeated when life gets messy. I allow myself to be human and with this comes a constant ebb and flow. Though I know I’ve come a long way I am still learning and growing. I have compassion for myself and hold space for my mistakes and triumphs.
If this girl from the 80s/90s can let go of the fad diet mind control… Anyone can!
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