Sept. 1, 2021

E104 Why I made weight loss a priority in healing trauma | CPTSD and Trauma Healing Coach

In this episode, I talk about my journey in weight loss and why after learning about The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study that I made a massive shift in the way I think about taking care of my body. In my journey of losing over 100 pounds, I learned about how important small changes can be. 

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In this episode, I talk about my journey in weight loss and why after learning about The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study that I made a massive shift in the way I think about taking care of my body. In my journey of losing over 100 pounds, I learned about how important small changes can be. 

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Hey! What's up, Unbroken Nation! Hope that you're doing well, wherever you are in the world today. Very excited to be back with you today with another episode.

And today, I'm going to talk to you about my own personal weight loss journey, and the reason why I think this is so important, is, to be honest, I don't think that I've really gone into depth on it before but also I was thinking about and the process of research when I first discovered, a lot of information around the trauma impact with long-term adult ramifications and coming across something very fascinating that I know that I've grazed over before, but I've never gone into depth on. So early on, in my healing journey about 10 years ago, I started making fitness become a serious part of my life. At the time, I was well over 300 pounds really closer to 350 smoking, two packs of cigarettes a day, drinking myself to sleep, generally, not taking care of myself often in any capacity, and that's kind of when I was in the window of that rock bottom moment.

And for those of you that have listened to the podcast and know about my journey, there was a moment where here I am 350 pounds smoking, two packs a day, I'm lying in bed, one morning, 11:00 o'clock in the morning, smoking a joint and eating chocolate cake, while I'm watching the Crossfit games, like talk about the ultimate rock bottom moment, and at that moment, I was actually kind of awe when I was watching what these men and women were doing, as they were performing these incredible feats of strength, and I remember thinking very vividly like they understand something that I don't because they're able to push themselves physically to a place that I never at that point had been able to push myself. And in that, as you guys know, the story later on the next day, when I was looking at myself in the mirror, and I was like, what are you willing to do to have the life that you want to have?

One of the pieces of the mental health journey that I don't talk about enough or at least in depth, is the weight loss part of this.

I posted something a long time ago on Facebook that basically said, you want to heal your mind, you have to heal your body, I believe that to be true, why? Because you can actually see a lot of correlation between long-term Health ramifications and being overweight things like diabetes, heart attack, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, emphysema like the list goes on and on and on. And when I was reading and researching about the ACE survey, the Adverse Childhood Experiences survey and study have done in 1994 by Dr. Felitti |Kaiser, Permanente in California, and the California Center for Disease Control.

One of the things that I came upon was the understanding that the study began because Dr. Felitti was working with obese patients who were trying to get healthy, and so, the short version of it is, one day, one of his patients come in, who he hasn't seen in a while. And she had lost something like, I want to say, 50 pounds and she had come back to see him because she had gained all the weight back in less than 90 days. That's like, such an incredible amount of weight to put on. And in passing, she said, you know, I filled stress because this guy at work, hit on me and it reminded me of this trauma, the sexual abuse that I had as a child and so I'm paraphrasing, I don't want to butcher his words. You can find and read exactly what he talks about in this, but he was, so a student that moment that he picked up on that one little thing that I think a lot of people would have missed out on in that she was triggered. Now, I will say this, you know, going on 20-plus years ago, I don't think we have the language to say that's is what had happened to her, but Dr. Felitti picked up on this, and so what happened is this research study around adverse childhood experiences, really started in him trying to help and assess the long-term health problems that these obesity patients, he was working with were having, so I found this study now, I've been a couple of years into trying to get into shape, in a big part of that was I knew I wasn't taking care of are of my body, wasn't taken care of it by the things I was putting into it.

I was poisoning myself. I was making myself sick not only from the drugs and the alcohol, and the mindset, and the cigarettes and the whole nine, but was what I was eating.

Now growing up, I will say this and I believe this to be true for most people, we kind of adapting to life, based on the experiences that we've had, that informed, the decision-making that we have.I've said this before to figure out to get to where you want to go, have to figure out how you got to where you are.

And the diet part for me was such a profoundly difficult aspect of this journey, growing up, our food consisted of generally, speaking like, pantry food from the church, a lot of processed food, a lot of box food, canned food, food that would be given to us, not only from the church, but from the government we were on a stamp, food stamps, and WIC, I think is what it used to be called and we were only allowed to spend that money in some places, and so while my mother and my stepfather, to whatever extent that they try to do their best at their best when it came to food, they were feeding us in the same way that their parents had feed fed them. Like almost look at food as like this weird like the juxtaposition of generational trauma within its own right and it can be really healing, but it can also be super detrimental. And so I look at, also, the way that my grandmother feta is when I would happen to be with her and this really southern-style like lard and deep-fried food everywhere and, you know, fried this and fried that and sugar this and sugar that, and so, on the one hand at home with my mom and my stepfather, it would be all processed food, all, you know, this highly sugared food, all of this food out of boxes and cans and then with my grandmother are generally speaking all fried or fast food like she loved to spoil us with, you know, pizza and McDonald's and Wendy's and things like that. And so that was my baseline for nutrition.

Now, you factor in the other part of it, which I'm not going to make this political, but you go look at what they serve kids in schools, it's nonsensical, it's bullshit, it makes no fucking sense at all to me. And so I was eating at school, very similarly, to how I was eating at home. A lot of processed food, a lot of junk food, a lot of snack foods, I would hoard gummy bears. As you know, and as many of you know, when I was you know, 10, 11, 12 years old, I was in this period of being homeless and living with all these different families. I will tell you this; One of the most terrifying experiences for me as a child is being in other people's homes was I never understood some of the food they brought out like salads and green beans and vegetables and things with sauces that were unfamiliar and I would just not eat, I was so scared, I wouldn't eat, and I have other trauma experiences around food. Now, I won't get into them here because I don't know that it'll bring a lot of value, but, you know, there were things like clean your plate or you're going to get beat, or if you don't eat, the plate gets down on the ground or getting sent to bed hungry or not eating for a few days at a time. And so those things, those were part of my experience as well. And when I was homeless or when I was trying to figure it out on my own, the only thing that I knew in terms of nourishment, well, in part also, because I was a child is, I would go to the corner store and I would still all like the hostess, you know, the cake products, the Oreos and the twinkies, and the HoHos and the ding-dongs, and all these ridiculously name products as I'm like, saying them of my name out of my mouth right now, and also, I do things like I would take just a tremendous amount of gummy bears and fruit snacks and I would just gorge on them to the point, I would get so sick, like I would throw up. And so food for me as a kid was a huge problem and I was a size husky, when I was like, 10, 11 years old, which is nonsense, was just a fat kid, right? And by the time that I was 13, I kind of started growing into my body a bit. I started playing sports, you know, between getting kicked out of school, and next thing, you know, I'm like six foot two, six foot three and then I'm, you know, that weight is starting to kind of balance itself out, but I was always the chubby kid. I was always the kid that got picked on for his clothes were too tight or they didn't fit or, you know, all those things so, so much of that trauma around being bullied was tied into food, and I was so embarrassed to eat in front of people, and a lot of times at school, I wouldn't eat in the classroom, I would just take the food and bring it with me, and I'd eat when people weren't around.

Well, fast forward, a bunch of years, and I find myself at 350 pounds that, did not happen by accident, like I'll be fair with myself here. I put myself in that position of becoming morbidly obese of being that fat because of the choices that I was making, I will say this. I didn't understand that there were other choices, I could be making because I never really researched nutrition. I didn't understand that there were things like healthy alternatives to fast food. I didn't understand that eating chocolate cake for breakfast, isn't the smartest thing. I didn't understand eating fast food, even though subconsciously, like, you know, don't eat fast food. I didn't understand like eating thirty times a week is probably going to kill you super fast. And so I was in this weird juxtaposition of the beginning of this healing journey where I'm looking at myself in the mirror, not recognizing my face, being at that way, and trying to assess a game plan for how to create this massive shift in my body because I had a feeling like I would have to get my body healthy if I wanted to continue to get my mind healthy.

And so as I was going to therapy also started, going to yoga and started doing hot yoga in this place on the north side of Indianapolis, where you know, I was going the hot yoga for five times a week and then that turned into at one point, I went for like 60, four straight days. And so I was seeing like this weight come off, but the nutrition part still wasn't there. And I started thinking about, okay, well, what do I need to do to be healthier? And I am not even joking when I say this. I don't think I had a salad for the first time until I was like 22, like, that's not a joke, and so I started thinking about well, how to an athlete, see how do people who are healthy? And it took a long time to wean me from really poor food decisions because I was educating myself in the process and there was always fast food as an option, it's always easier like eating pizza is way easier to pick up the phone and call and order that in, then it is to cook like healthy and nourishing foods, but I slowly wean myself from it and I'm not going to lie. I still have my vices like I love popcorn right? Still, a huge part of my life, anyone who knows, I know I'm probably eating popcorn three times a week, but I try to make it and I try not to do process other foods in my day-to-day diet.

And so this thing started happening as I was taking care of my physical body by putting healthier food, and I noticed that the way I thought and felt about myself started to shift. I started getting this thing called confidence and self-esteem, which at 27 years old, I never had, I didn't recognize that that was a part of my experience. I didn't even know I was allowed to like I never believed in myself being a little kid, being a teenager in my early 20s, I can never believe in myself, and so as the weight came off I started to get more confident, but it was a war of attrition like the showing up day in and day out every single day for years and years and years, not drinking so much, not eating so much, not eating gummy bears for dinner, which trust me? There's nothing I love more than gummy bears and chocolate cake at the same time, optimally, but I had to make a decision. I had to make a choice was I going to go into the McDonald's that was in front of the gym, like, fuck you McDonald's, this is such a common thing. Anyway, I'm gonna go on a rant, if I go down that page but in front of the gym, there was a McDonald's and there was a bar and for years, I've gone to the McDonald's, I would smoke a cigarette, would go into the bar, smoke a cigarette, look at the gym, and be like tomorrow, and then I started thinking about well, you know, what? No tomorrow you have to, for lack of a better term, I'm seeing myself, you have to like pay the taxes, this is how I used to talk to myself about was like, you have to pay the taxes for all these things that you've done. There's a bit of suffering that's going to have to take place to get the ball rolling here, yoga helped me start this process of getting closer and more in tune with my body, it helped me with being dissociate helped me in a lot of different areas, but getting into the gym and picking up heavy weights and moving my body on treadmills, and doing the fitness classes was a challenge, was far more mental than it was physical, and even to this day, I will argue that. And, you know, I've done CrossFit for years. I've done muay thai tie for years of, you know, run tremendous, distances, and lifted heavyweights, and all those things for years, and it's a part of my weekly routine. I'm working out at minimum four, if not five times a week, every week and it's still a war. It is a mental war and so in that, I was challenging myself, like understanding that it was going to be painful, and instead of fighting it which I used to for years. I said, what if I just go again tomorrow? And this is I talk to you guys about momentum all the time, but this was the thing that I really started, hold onto, like, can I just go tomorrow? Can I go tomorrow? I went today. Great. Can I just keep the momentum going into the next day? And the next day and the next day and it's these small incremental microscopic choices and decisions that started creating the momentum, and as I watch the weight come off, I felt better about who I was, and as I watched the food I put in my body and my body felt better at felt stronger.

And look, there's always going to be event and flow to it, there's always going to be a back and forth work to it. For me, I don't think I'll ever be perfect at it and I don't want to be, because I do still want to experience the things in life that bring me joy, but there's so much more meaning in them when I have them now. It's when I'm having a deserter from having a cheeseburger of, there's like something about it, where it feels like the right choice, but that's the same way I think about the foods that I'm not having. You know, my mentor told me something really important one time, he said; ‘You're going to have to give something up, to get the life that you want to have' and in that when it comes to food for me, I had to really think about so much of the poison that I was putting into my body, and it was all the alcohol, all the sugar, all the gummy bear, guys, I'm telling you, I love gummy bears more than you can ever imagine, and in the last six-seven years, I can probably count on one hand to let's call it to probably the eight or nine times that I've had gummy bears in the last few years.

And here's why because I had to make a decision and I had to make a choice about what I was going to put in my body, when I made that choice, I made a promise to myself, to stick to it as much as humanly possible, and to not indulge because I was trying to run from something or to satiate a feeling or pain that I had, but instead in those moments, when I wanted something to give it to myself without having to create a precedent for whether I deserved it or a catalyst for giving it, but instead just say I want this, so I'll give it to myself.

In this process, one of the things that I also did, which I've mentioned before is, I became a certified personal trainer and nutritionist. I only did that for myself because I wanted to understand even more deeply, the complexity of the human machine and as I got more fit and I got more healthy, I was able to use my body more and more and more and the things I've never done like running a Murph and doing that on for CrossFit Memorial Day, which is one of the hardest workouts I've ever done in my life, to be able to run many marathons on treadmills, to do muay Thai in Thailand and Vietnam and travel the world doing these things, and to be in this position where I was taking this beautiful care of myself, because I think about this all the time like taking care of your physical body, it's a gift. It is a gift that you have to give yourself in the same way, you take care of your mental body, your mental health, not your mental body, but it's a gift. The same, we take care of your mental health because if you think about it, and you really break this down when you're doing self-care at this scope and out this scale to not take care of your physical body, I think, is at your own detriment, and I used to be the guy who would look at and go its DNA, it's genetics, it's my grandmother, it's my mother, it's blah blah, blah, it's my ethnicity. This is the reason I'm so big, but it wasn't, it wasn't. I'm not saying that that's not true, for some people, I don't know, I'm not you. I'm just saying for me that wasn't the case, the truth was, I was making choices that were not the right choices to be healthy. and so I had to start asking myself, can I eat the salad, instead of the cheeseburger? Can I instead of the milkshake and the french fries? Can I go home and cook salmon and broccoli instead of going to McDonald's and getting, you know, what are those things called, they're so good, the McGriddle, Oh my God, those things are their poison. I know McDonald's going to assume either is so good, but they're definitely poison when you sue McDonald's, just know that, I don't have anything for you, but you are poison, and instead of eating my Gretel's for breakfast right? Can I put something healthy in my body, like overnight oats or granola or a banana or an apple? Right? And I think about it all the time. This is all about momentum, it's microscopic.

And today, you know, I'm sitting here. I'm 6 foot 3, 6 foot 4, I should probably actually figure out how exactly tall I am and I'm 219 pounds this morning and I'm okay with that. I don't get on the scale every day and I don't weigh myself in those days. I know I'm 285 and there are days, I know I’m 210, and if I got super unbelievably, incredibly strict like I was a couple of years ago, I could be walking around at 200 pounds with a six-pack and I went from 350 to that. Now, that's a tremendous amount of work, a tremendous amount of effort, calorie counting working out for three hours a day that whole nine. I don't think that's conducive to the lifestyle that I want to have, but it was a challenge for myself, and I ask myself could I get there and I got there I felt really good about it. And it was a challenge because as you guys know, I'm always trying to challenge myself, but I would say long-term, it's just not sustainable, it was too strict, it wasn't enjoyable I never got to have fun when I was eating.

A big part of this journey in the shift of my trauma experience with food was learning how to have joy in eating, trying new restaurants, trying new things, going new places, cooking new meals, experimenting in the kitchen, and learn in the fall in love with food, to some extent, I'll say this; There are some foods I'll never eat and just and call it limiting self-belief. Fine. I get it, but there are some foods that I just when I eat them, my palate does not accept them as much as I want them to, right? But outside of that, I want to experiment, I want to try foods, I want to put healthy things in my body, but on sometimes on some occasions. I'm going to have flan and I'm going to have gluten-free, no flower chocolate cake because it's amazing, and I'm gonna have a glass of red wine with that, and I'm going to enjoy the moment. But I'll tell you this out of the 30 meals that I may consume any given week, you have to understand that 28 of those 29 of those are going to be on point with my diet, right? Because I made a choice and I made our decision to but healthy food in my body.

 So I want you to think about this now because I'm no longer a certified nutritionist and business fitness coach. I'm not going to give you advice on what you should do because that's not in alignment with the agreement that I made to myself when I got certified, but there is a ton of information out there and I think that you have to figure out what works for you, and I think that in this process like the measurement and I want to be clear about this, the measurement for physical fitness to me, it was never about the wait, never, and it still wasn't. That's why I'm comfortable walking around with a few extra pounds on me. It's not about the weight, it's how I feel about myself, it's how I perform, its how I show up, its how my body moves, it's how I'm able to articulate my thoughts and movements throughout the day as I'm going about my life. And so what I want you to think about is just this if you're not in a position where you're feeling healthy in your body, what can you do about it? What can you quit? What can you give up todaythat tomorrow will help you be better? Help you be different because I'll tell you this. The cokes that we drink, and the soda that we consume and the Gummy Bears and the candy and all the crap that we put in our body, and you can go look at some of the research in the studies and I'll do a follow-up episode on this about it, but there's a direct correlation that we're starting to find between sugar and anxiety and depression, and if you're drinking like three, cokes a day and you're depressed, there might be a reason, right? And so I'm not saying do keto, I'm not saying do paleo. I'm not saying to do anything other than what works for you, but what I am saying is if you're not happy with your body, that is a part of this experience to not be happy there, and this isn't about acceptance, this isn't about body shaming, this isn't about those things, it's about when you look in the mirror, are you with confident saying; that you're doing everything in your power to take care of yourselfbecause if you're like me 11 years ago, you weren't, but you can, and that comes with a choice, my friend, that comes with believing that you're capable because I'll tell you right now. I say this all the time. I don't know anything that you don't know. I truly don't, I don't know anything that you don't know, but I picked up the books and I listen to podcasts and I went to the conferences and I got the certifications so I can understand the human body so I could take care of it better because here's what you have to take away from this if anything. Your brain and your body, they're not inseparable, they are together, one does not work without the other. If I take your brain out of your body and I say walk, it ain't gonna work. Well, you'll also be dead but you get my point, right? And so, the thing that I want you to take away from this is to treat your body the same way that you would treat your mind as you were on this healing journey, you can heal your body too.

You know, one of the books I recently spoke about was the body keeps the score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, there's so much truth to the fact that our body stores the traumas and you have to release that, maybe it's through myofascial release and acupuncture, and yoga and physical therapy and all those things, but it might just be also in the food that you're eating because if you take care of your body, I promise you, I guarantee to you, that you will see a difference, you will feel a difference, you will understand a difference in your mental health.

So I hope this was inspirational for you. I hope it was just something for you to think about today. Can you make one little change today? Can you give up something that's in your way of having the life that you want to have, to adopt something new that can help you become more in tune with your body and help you feel healthier about it, and help you in your mental health journey?

So, my friend, thank you so much.

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Michael Unbroken


Michael is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, coach, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma.