In the summer of 2011, I had my second child. As with my first bundle of joy, I was immediately smitten, infatuated, and wrapped around his perfect, tiny little pinky finger. Over the next few weeks, I wanted to spend every waking moment with my angel, and could think of nothing else but the day when I would have to leave him to return to work.
Before I knew it, I returned to the daily grind of early mornings and 10-hour days spent within a maze of badly lit cubicles. Combined with the realities of being a parent to two little boys, time became an elusive luxury. I quickly found myself in a state where I was constantly fatigued, mentally and emotionally disengaged, and with nothing left to give the ones who mattered most in my life.
I slowly came to the realization that this was not the life I wanted to live, and that I was not being the person I wanted to be. More importantly, I was not being the parent I wanted to be for my children.
Fast forward to 2014, and I was finally in a position to take the entrepreneurial leap; I decided to leave the world of full-time employment and start my own business. It was hard, it was scary, but it felt right. Entrepreneurship would allow me to be the master of my destiny, the boss of my own schedule, and more present for my family.
Exhaustion and Stress
Entrepreneurship, it turns out, is hard. All the promises of being the master of your own fate and deciding when and how much to work and to play can quickly be eclipsed by the realities of needing to keep the income coming in.
I knew this, as I had been involved in a number of start-ups at different points in my career. But this time, it was just me. I was the only one building this business, and the only one to blame if things didn’t work out.
Stress started to mount, late nights started to accumulate, and “eating right” seemed to happen only when all the stars aligned.
The most frustrating part of all was that it seemed like I was running in place. I felt that although I was working hard, the progress I was making was in no way proportional to my efforts.
Upon further reflection, I admitted to myself that working hard did not mean that I was also working smart. It was easy to see that I was not focused in my approach or execution. I was jumping from one thing to another, and constantly adding more to my plate without having a proper strategy or cost benefit analysis in place.
This was hard for me to come to terms with, as it went against the way I perceived myself as a professional, as well as the way I wanted my clients and business partners to perceive me.
Around the same time, I was starting a new bootcamp-style exercise program in an attempt to gain more energy and strength. I was a dedicated member of the 6 AM bootcamp class, and got to know some of the others in the class. We talked about everything as we worked out (when we weren’t out of breath or grunting too hard), including our families, work, and the obvious – diet.
It Starts With Food
One day, I heard a couple of the women discussing getting prepared for something they were calling the Whole30. As they debated whether certain foods would be allowed or not on the program, I became very curious. I am pretty dedicated to the scientific method, and am always open to experimentation on myself, especially when there is potential benefit to my health.
In preparation for my first Whole30, I read the book It Starts With Food and was impressed with the authors’ holistic approach to health and redefining our relationship with food. I realized that the goal of any “eating plan” I had ever followed in the past had the goal of weight loss, which left me with a broken relationship with food, and a disregard for the other aspects of my life that I needed to take care of in order to achieve overall health.
I proceeded to read as many of the articles and discussions on the Whole9Life.com website as I possibly could, and when the time came for me to start my Whole30, I felt ready. There are a lot of stories out there proclaiming the physical side effects and benefits of the Whole30, but for me that wasn’t where the big change happened.
Mental Clarity & Lifestyle Improvements
For me, the resulting mental clarity and stabilization of energy levels was the most significant. I experienced a true transformation by incorporating changes to my sleep habits, relationships (with people and nature), and exercise habits alongside the changes to how I ate per the Good Food Standards in It Starts With Food.
Mentally, I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt so clear. I realized that I had unknowingly been experiencing brain fog for years, which was undoubtedly affecting my work and relationships. Through experimentation, I also started to become aware of triggers that led to unhealthy behavior, and the power of having a “home base” I could return to when I veered too far off the path of healthy living.
Sleep, Healthy Movement and More
Over the course of the next year, I experimented with the various Whole9 factors and found a place that left me feeling productive, clear, and mentally strong.
My first experiment was with sleep. I had always been one of those people who claimed that they just naturally needed less sleep, and could operate just fine on 6 (or even 5, sometimes 4) hours of sleep. I knew this delusion needed to end, so I started an experiment where my goal was to sleep a minimum of 7 hours a night for 7 nights. I took my experiment public, by sharing my goals and results on Twitter and Facebook, in order to increase my accountability and put some pressure on myself to follow through.
The results of my sleep experiment were dramatic. I wasn’t tired in the middle of the day, wasn’t nodding off at my desk any more, and could sustain a consistent level of energy for most of the day.
One of the more difficult factors to experiment with was “healthy movement.” To me, healthy movement meant I needed to become mindful of how, when, and why I moved my body. Was I waking up to exercise early in the morning even though I hadn’t slept enough? Was I training to try and achieve a “perfect” body, or was I trying to build strength, incorporate functional movement, and achieve the mental health benefits of the right amount and right types of exercise for me? Over time, and by being patient with myself, I learned how to stop pushing myself when my body was already over-exerted, how to listen to and understand the messages my body was communicating to me, how to enjoy doing things that were fun and playful, and how to be kind to myself when I chose sleep over working out.
My business has benefited and grown because of the focus, clarity, and even-keeled energy I have learned to maintain through finding my own happy place, which started when I first borrowed a copy of It Starts With Food.
Even more importantly, I feel more mindful and present with my children and family. Instead of collapsing after a day or week of hard work and pushing myself to exercise when I probably should have been sleeping, I am ready to jump, run, play, and be with my kids in a way I was not able to be before.
I am grateful to the authors of It Starts With Food, as well as the amazing community that they have created, for the progress I’ve seen in my health. I am not perfect, and believe in continuous improvement, but at the very least, I know have a system and a way to “reset” myself back in the direction of my optimal health.
Hala Saleh, President of 27Sprints, is a technology and startup process and product strategist. She helps companies strategize on product and process innovation and development. Hala is a teacher at heart, and she works with companies and individuals to teach, train, and help them implement better processes and frameworks for working together. She is passionate about startups and innovation, and is inspired by people who truly love what they do. Hala is a startup mentor and coach with a local startup accelerator, as well as through her own company.
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