This blog post is a special one; I am going to spotlight a woman who has embodied my belief that Powerful women Can Overcome Symptoms. This regular feature is going to be highlighting women who are taking control of their health and who are successfully managing their lives. They are healthy and happy and want to inspire and empower other women to do the same.
Today I would like to introduce Staci. Staci is someone who has overcome obstacles and become a stronger person for it. She has done things that she never thought possible. With hard work and dedication, Staci is happier and healthier than she’s ever been and she wants to help others achieve that feeling and satisfaction as well.
Here is Staci’s story.
I always knew that "something wasn't right" with my body. From an early age, I was bullied in school because I was a big girl. I always remember wishing I could be like the other kids. By the age of 10, my mom became concerned and put me on Weight Watchers. This began a long and awful relationship with food that I am only now starting to change. After years of diets, a personal trainer, not having a carb for two years and being accused of "sneak eating" when I was exhausted by two-a-days, I felt demoralized.
By the age of 12, I was prescribed birth control because of the excruciating pain that arose when my fleeting period showed up. I felt that all the doctors did was cover up the symptoms. They were not looking at what was causing me to be physically and emotionally worn down.
I finally got a diagnosis when I was 17, and they sent me off to college with Metformin in my pocket (the side effects of which were not fun with a shared common bathroom). What was a freshman 15 for all of my friends was an awful lot more for me. By the time I graduated college, my weight had tipped the scale at a whopping 240 pounds. My self-confidence was low; my heart was broken, and I felt that my value in the world was only that I could do something for others. I had never had a boyfriend, and I often questioned if my symptoms made me appear manly to the rest of the world (No boobs and hair in places I couldn't wax fast enough).
Post college, I moved to Baltimore to teach fourth grade through Teach for America. The added stress of dodging stray bullets/supporting my students through trauma took a toll on me. The tipping point came when what should have been a simple tumble down some stairs resulted in me not being able to get back up because I was now almost 300 pounds. I felt hopeless and like my future was bleak. The doctors at the University of Maryland suggested gastric bypass surgery to support the weight loss I needed. Although a difficult choice, and not one that I would recommend lightly, this process began my journey to realizing that I had to find hope for a future me that could eat food differently and learn to love myself.
I had a number of health complications from the surgery and would caution others about whether this is the right choice for them, but I slowly began to walk off the pounds. I would walk 15-20 miles around Baltimore every Sunday. I would think about how beautiful the harbor looked and how amazing it was that my legs, the same legs that I had always had could carry me all this way. It gave me a new relationship with my body, and I began to wonder what else it could do.
I found a cycling studio and despite all of the voices in my head that said, "you are the fat girl" and "are you crazy, you can't do this,” I went into that dark room with loud music, and I tried my hardest. I remember the instructor yelling out, who are you?? and who do you want to be?? I answered that question for myself every single time I got back on that bike. I wasn't little like the other girls in the class, and I would probably always have to eat differently than them, but my body began to get stronger and stronger. I liked who I was on that bike, and I began to like who I was even if it meant that I did things my way.
Two years went by, and the emotional roller coaster of continued PCOS symptoms and being diagnosed with endometriosis left me feeling like no matter how hard I tried, things were just always unfair. I fell out of my routine, and I gained some weight back. I was right back to saying things like, “see, my PCOS will always limit me”.
I left teaching and moved to New York for my dream job teaching leadership development. As I taught young people about always finding a way to believe in themselves, I found myself wondering why it was always so hard for me to practice what I preached? I found a new cycling studio, and I began to ride again. Back on the bike, music blasting, I became more forgiving of myself. I didn’t have to be the fastest, the strongest, or the thinnest; I just had to be forgiving enough to come back each time I fell off (missed a class or chose foods that weren’t the best for me). I started coming back no matter what. I wasn't the thinnest, strongest, or lowest weight I had ever been, but I was the happiest.
After a while, the amazing coach who would dance and laugh and keep us riding asked me about my story. I told her that it is a challenge every day, and she offered me the chance to TEACH. I didn't think I was ready, and I didn't think I was fit enough. But with some encouragement, I gave it a try. I enjoyed helping others find the freedom I found when I sat in the saddle. It empowered me to keep motivated to not only live with but overcome the challenges of living with PCOS.
It is an ongoing battle that I accept. I will not waste energy being angry or resentful that it is "easier" for my friends without this condition. It may be my "curse", but it is also my "blessing" because it has brought me greater will and courage to face each new challenge in my life.
Q & A with Staci:
How have you had success managing your PCOS?
Clean eating: I focus on maintaining a low sugar diet that falls closest to a Paleo style diet.
Daily vitamins -I take a daily Multivitamin, D3, B12 and Biotin gummies (Which has helped with thinning hair)
Visiting a chiropractor for regular adjustments
Making sure to get more sleep
Regular exercise (spinning is my exercise of choice)
Being forgiving of myself
Finding mentors and friends who support me
What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed with PCOS?
Try not to be overwhelmed by the seeming lack of "solutions". There may not be a cure for this, and we may not understand it fully, but we control our lives even if we can't control our symptoms. We may face challenges, but that doesn't mean we can't do the things we want to do. When I finally stopped wishing to be "normal" like my friends without PCOS, I could focus on being the best version of me instead. Try not to waste a day on the resentment.
What keeps you motivated when you are having a bad day or going through a difficult situation?
I choose people to be friends and mentors who bring joy and comfort to my life. They know me well enough to remind me of exactly who I am when I forget. I am open and honest with them in my lowest lows, and they know how to encourage me. It takes time to figure out who these people are in your life but when you find them (all you need is one good one) make sure you thank them and are equally there for them in return. I believe that strong relationships with others carry me through.
What is your favorite song that you would love to see on the PCOS Playlist?
I love Fight Song, which is already on there, but these always get me going.
Do you have any words that you live by?
It may sound cliché, but I am a big fan of affirmations. In my weakest moments, I tell myself the truths I need to hear. Sometimes it is when I wake up in the morning, and sometimes it is in a very particular time of need, but I repeat the following statements for myself. I am brave. I am strong. I am fearless. Saying it in my head or out loud helps me believe until it is true. I spent a lot of my life trying to be PERFECT, only to realize that being brave and authentic is far more fulfilling. It allows me to admit when I am struggling and speaks to the fact that as long as I am trying and doing my best, I am on the right road. Also, falling out of my best habits HAPPENS, it is what I do afterward that counts. Stop playing the blame game with yourself and just find a way to get back to it.
Any go-to recipes you would like to share?
Making foods that taste good and remind me of comfort foods keep me on track with a healthy way of living. I don't feel like I am withholding the chance to enjoy food from myself.
This is my favorite recipe right now:
Paleo Fruit and Nut Pancakes
Adapted from paleoleap.com
4 large ripe bananas
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbs ground cinnamon
1/2 cup of both walnuts and dried cranberries
1/2 tsp baking soda
- Whisk the eggs together in a bowl.
- In another bowl, lightly mash the bananas with a potato masher or a fork.
- Add the egg, the baking powder, the vanilla, cinnamon, walnuts and cranberries to the mashed bananas and stir to combine.
- Pour about 1/4 cup batter at a time onto a skillet placed over a medium-low heat and cook until the bottom appears set (1 to 2 minutes).
- Flip with a spatula and cook another minute.
How much exercise do you get? How often do you cycle and for how long?
I work out three days a week and try to diversify my workouts so that I can try new and fun things. (a 30-day challenge of Bikram, a 6-Week Challenge at Crossfit, a new Zumba class)
I teach cycling twice a week at FlowCycle in the financial district. We have RealRyder bikes that move like real bikes and promote a full body workout in one 45-minute class. You will get stronger every time. If you are in NYC, come and ride with me!
Any other tips or advice you would like to share?
Do the workouts you love and don't get in the habit of torturing yourself. You won't be inclined to stick to anything that you don't enjoy (at least a little). Most of my journey has been about finding out what I actually love, not only in fitness but about myself. I am finally in a place where I can celebrate small victories and get back on the horse when I fall off. Give yourself every opportunity you can to surprise yourself. Put yourself in the position to do something you never thought you could do. You might be surprised at what will happen.