By Sari Huhtala
It's hard for Karen Mathewson to fathom the idea of ever returning back to her old habits of a hard-driven life in the fast lane where climbing the rungs of the corporate ladder was deeply woven into her sense of self-esteem. A time when she believed that earning more money translated into success, despite what the familial consequences were; despite how "out of balance" she was and how her own health was crumbling. "I wanted people to like me and respect me so I would do whatever needed to be done for the company I worked for – to prove I was good and to earn their respect," says Mathewson. "I drank too much, ate too much and smoked."
Dinners were typically McDonalds on the run, Kraft Dinner and Skillet Sensations – all the processed foods that required little prep time, lunches were grabbed at a drive-thru window and snacks consisted of pop, chips, cookies and junk food.
She had jumped ship from her job when, after bringing her young son into the office one day, she was told by her boss that the office was no place for a child. She decided then, perhaps, it was no place for her either and left her job. Being driven for success led her to eventually start her own consulting company.
By 2005 she found herself "worn out and exhausted," popping anti-depressants to keep her mood up, continually gaining weight and eventually tipping the scale at 200 pounds.
"The doctors just kept prescribing drugs, but nobody talks to you about why you feel the way you do and how you can make it better. I didn't know what was wrong and how to make it better," Mathewson, a Greater Sudbury resident, says.
"I ate even if I was full. I could never just have one. I had to eat until it was all gone. I ate so much and I was tired all the time and I was sleeping because I was taking pills."
Plagued by hot flashes, night sweats and insomnia, she came to believe she was going through early menopause. She'd land herself at the doctor's office regularly, asking "What's wrong with me?" "Every part of me felt awful and I didn't know why. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired."
Her daughter, at one point, had expressed her belief that her mother loved her own business more than she loved her daughter. It was an eye-opener, Mathewson says. This awakened within her the idea that perhaps she was, in essence, creating her own reality through her beliefs about herself, and that the symptoms she was experiencing were physical manifestations of a life lived out of harmony.
"If I was being questioned about my ability to be a good mother, then I had to ask myself 'What was it that I needed to do to change this situation?' I needed to be healthier. I needed to sleep well. I needed to eat healthy."
And so her journey to wellness began about four years ago, gently, with affirmations and a gratitude journal. A friend had told her how she would go out onto forest trails and exercise, doing lunges and stating affirmations that evoked positive feelings and positive health. "I figured if it works for someone else, it's gotta work for me, so I started doing exercises and affirmations." "I needed to stop and just listen, and I started to do that by starting a gratitude journal."
Shifts in her dietary habits and physical well-being, and even weight loss, began to manifest when she focused on her journey to have better mental and emotional health.
"I didn't want to sit in the sidelines and watch my children grow up. I did things on purpose so that I can be the mom I want to be; the mom who can get up off the couch and go for a bike ride or go swimming with her kids, and not always saying 'I'm too tired.'"
A friend had asked if she'd ever heard of the Paleo Diet and suggested she consider this dietary approach to wellness. Transitioning into a gluten-free diet, Mathewson began making the connection between mood and food.
Diagnosed with gestational diabetes after the birth of her daughter, who is now 20, Mathewson remembers hints of making that connection even back then, but her theories were shunned by her doctor. "I had said to my doctor that I'm pretty positive that what I'm eating really affects how I'm feeling and he just said to me 'That's crazy.'" "I would eat cookies and bread and feel gassy and bloated, but I was overweight so I didn't pay much attention to it and figured that's how I always felt so I would just lay on the couch and sleep."
She had invested in a Paleo cookbook and made a pact with herself that if the food item wasn't featured in the cookbook or in the Paleo Diet recommendations then she wouldn't eat it.
She did a 21-day detox for her body – eliminating all sugars – and realized just how toxic her body had become. "I had headaches, nausea and diarrhea," Mathewson says. "I felt lousy for two weeks, but I knew why I felt lousy so it was okay."
The result was an increase in energy and mental clarity. "I wanted to get my diet under control so my body was working the way it was supposed to so that it would give me mental clarity so that I could understand my emotions."
She admits it took her about a year to fully co-ordinate, organize and accumulate the utensils and cooking equipment she needed to have in place to continue comfortably on the Paleo Diet.
"I basically started by just getting rid of all the food items I was supposed to get rid of. You do need to be organized and you do need to plan. I taught myself how to cook. It was exciting and fun and I felt proud of myself." After 10 years of being on antidepressants, they are no longer part of her life.
"I don't take any more medications," she says. "The antidepressants stopped me from digging inside and finding the things in me that I needed to fix. If I couldn't feel, then I didn't know what my body was telling me. The best thing that doctors could have done for me was to help me eat properly, but every time I said 'I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired' they just gave me more medications."
She transitioned into a non-smoker last year and daily affirms to herself "I'm so grateful I'm a non-smoker."
Having lost weight through her dietary changes, and quit smoking, she decided she was ready to focus on the physical strength and endurance of her body and joined a Muay Thai kickboxing class. "The first class I did I fell on my face. I couldn't do one push up. It took me six weeks to learn how to skip. Now I can skip, do push ups; I'm stronger and more capable of doing things now at age 47 than I was at age 37. It feels good to be strong."
"I think I'm pretty awesome. "When you're open to try new things, that's when you're ready, but most people are too lazy to be ready because change is hard."