This is your brain on exercise: 

how I conquered depression by moving my butt
… a guest post by Natalie Rickman

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It’s hard to talk about my depression now because I don’t really remember it. The parts I do remember are really painful, and when I think back on them, I squirm in my seat with regret and embarrassment.

I do remember that days turned into nights, turned into mornings, turned into days, and I was floating, walking around existing, mostly just sleeping, and drinking whiskey and diet soda for months.

I first became depressed in February of 2014. I’ve battled anxiety sine I was about thirteen, but I had never been so unbearably sad. I was in denial for a short time, and then the floor broke through, everything I knew crumbling at my feet. I dropped out of college, I ended my relationship with my boyfriend of over a year, I was always drunk, and I was experiencing migraines four or five times a week.

My life was wrecked.

I picked up more hours at my part-time job at the fro-yo store where I’d worked since high school and took on more responsibility there. It was mundane work, but I was making money and making myself get out of bed everyday.

But I finally came through the depression about six months later, and energy started to creep back into my body. I reconciled with my boyfriend, re-enrolled in college, and gradually I was able to try a little more. Even though I was still experiencing the migraines, I had so much energy. Some people might call this behavior “manic”—some people being my mother—but I held on to my high and started writing and cooking again and faced a goal that would ultimately be what pushed me through manic and onto a more stable wavelength.

I also started running. I became friends with this crazy, runner girl and asked her to coach me. I told her I wanted to get in shape, that it was my lifelong dream to run a mile.

What a dream.

But we went for it, mostly because she was ready to start training for a 5K and liked having a running partner, but also because, I believe, she wanted to help me.

Because I was enrolled in school again, I had access to the university’s fitness center. We started on the treadmill, and I was surprised to find that I could run half a mile in about six and a half minutes. We kept going, training every day, and soon I was able to run an entire mile in ten minutes and then I was able to run a mile in nine minutes. We went on like that for months, training like mad people, sweating and showering and sweating and showering.

Here’s the crazy thing—while I was training like that, I had virtually no anxiety and no panic attacks. I also wasn’t the least bit unhappy. I was sore, and when I slept, I slept hard, but I wasn’t sleeping too much. I wasn’t mad at everyone all the time either. Everything was easier to handle; all my tasks were realistic to me.

All the while I’m running a mile here and there and doing yoga in the park, challenging everyone I knew to a planking contest like a dumbass, and feeling great for it. At the same time, there were all these voices—all the doctors, my mom, and various other people—telling me what they’d been telling me for years: “Exercise can help you feel calm.” They were right, and, in fact, exercise helped me more than medication. Where medication mad me sleepy and puffy, exercise made me take hard, calming breaths and gave my body a tightness I didn’t know it could have.

I haven’t been depressed since I started running, and though the migraines are occasional, they are less frequent when I run a mile a few times a week and eat a piece of fruit. Fruit! Who freaking knew?

The training isn’t as hard now either; we are lucky to get together twice a week. But both my friend and I feel better on the days we go, even when we haven’t run in a week, and the warm-up makes us want to hurl. The nausea goes away, but the good feeling in my chest—the feeling that makes me stand taller—lasts.

I’ve learned that if I treat my body well, all other parts of my life benefit. People tell me depression is a battle that I will never stop fighting, and while I believe them, I don’t feel helpless anymore. Running is my new battle, and it’s one I’m fully equipped to tackle. It’s one that not only gives me the energy to live a better life, but gives me the focus to live a more authentic life.

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NATALIE RICKMAN is a junior creative writing major at Western Kentucky University. She was born and raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and loves shitty beer. She one day hopes to own a vintage clothing store.

(Fat)al: a story of growing up fat in America
… a guest post by J.C.

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Shame. It’s a heavy word.

When people ask for my story, they assume I have been hurt because of prejudice about my sexual orientation. That’s the narrative they want. The you-came-out-as-gay-in-the-South-let-me-praise-you-for-getting-through-this-hardship story. That is not the narrative I feel obligated to write.

Yes, I was ashamed of my sexual orientation when I became conscious of it at fourteen. But that shame no longer exists. Sure, the word “faggot” still gets fired at me, but that isn’t the problem anymore. My “story” is about my anxiety as a fat man, especially a fat gay man. I’ve been ashamed of my fat ever since I can remember. “Fat” is the word that has plagued my entire existence. “Fat” is the hurricane that dilutes my humanity.

My mother provided me with my earliest memory of shame. She didn’t just tell me I was fat: she showed me. Pushed into countless fitting rooms, I was unable to find clothes my size at a young age. Still, she refused to buy me jeans that fit. For three torturous years, I wore pants that would attach by Velcro, not buttons. I wanted to be vapor. I wanted my fat to instantly vanish into thin air because I felt like a burden to her. After all, what would the other parents think of her fat first-born?

Imagine a child as young as eight telling his grandparents he wasn’t hungry because he was fat. That’s what I did. Their solution was to bribe me with one dollar for every meal I attempted to eat.

At age twelve, I was too embarrassed to change my clothes for gym in front of the other boys. Refusing to do so, I received a C in the class. It was worth it.

When I started a food diary, I convinced myself SlimFast was the salve that would weaken the poison fat on my body. I drowned my stomach with that faux chocolate to the point of nausea. It replaced my breakfast and lunch. Every. Single. Day.

I got thin. But I also got weak. And I didn’t lose enough to satisfy myself despite my family complimenting my weight loss. There was a sense of Armageddon within my fat cells. My goal was a BMI of 18: I wanted to be underweight.

When one of my friends got her driver’s license, we went to Walmart, so I could buy Lipozene for the first time. The words “lose pure body fat” coaxed my brain into submission. I took my precious miracle to self-checkout only for an automated voice to say, “Please wait for assistance.” The employee told me I was too young to buy weight loss supplements and sent me home. My friend suggested eating only five hundred calories a day, and we became each other’s food coaches.

A year later, I came out as gay to my mother for the third time. Her response was to “cure” my “queer-washed mind” with anxiety medication. I launched the pill into my stomach every morning, and, as a result, my mouth got sore and eventually bled. I could only ingest a small portion, but I savored the metallic liquid, hoping it would sustain my body for one more day despite the excruciating pain.

In college, I had a health professor who wondered how fat people had sex because “their parts don’t fit.” I felt like the other students were staring at me as if I were the only overweight person in the course, as if I was the target of her words. I felt even more ashamed and thus began a diet of SlimFast and Special K. My roommate and I would run at the gym until I felt like I would collapse. Once, when I ate a cookie, he posted unsolicited advice to my Twitter page: “Go throw up.”

I could have died from that shame.

The treatment I got because of my fat made me feel as wretched as Frankenstein’s monster and as twisted as Mr. Hyde. That’s when I realized I needed to change before I ended up eradicating myself with diet rituals. What I learned is that fat people don’t need to feel shame. I’ve ended up gaining eighty pounds back in college, but I feel healthy and positive now. I’ve learned to be patient with myself and surround myself with people who encourage me to love my body. I have the right to exist and won’t let anyone water me down. I am not a problem, nor am I a before and after dichotomy.

I am a credible, intelligible fat human.

—J.C.

The influence of celebrities: good or bad?

It’s no secret that every generation attaches itself to a celebrity and idolizes everything about that person—to the point that they are changing parts of themselves to be more like said celebrity.

When I was growing up, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were the celebrities every young girl wanted to be. Naturally I thought they were fantastic. More than anything I wanted to have their amazing clothes, which were never worn twice, and perfect hair—their hair never seemed to move out of place (which lead to my discovery of hair spray and the fact that using half the can still didn’t make my hair flawless).

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Eventually I grew out of my infatuation with Britney and Christina and realized that perfect hair and wear-only-once outfits aren’t part of reality for us non-celebs.

Still, I worry about the celebrities young girls are idolizing today. Specifically I worry that our current crop of celebs are making young women obsess about more than perfect hair and stylish clothing.

Take, for instance, Kylie Jenner. What kind of influence does a celebrity like Jenner have on young people today?

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Kylie’s family made their debut on a reality TV show called Keeping up with the Kardashian’s, and fame really suited her—within a year, she was so invested in cultivating her image that she no longer looked like a young girl going through puberty. She had perfectly styled hair and make-up, not a single pimple, trendy clothes—the works. Kylie is also known for her flawless lips, and she can work a nude lipstick like nobody’s business. They are so perfect, in fact, that they’ve launched their own movement: the “Kylie Jenner Challenge” or #kyliejennerchallenge, which shows young women putting suction on their lips to make them as big and full as Kylie’s. Apparently these young women use an object like a jar or glass to draw blood to the surface of their lips, causing them to swell and seem fuller than in their natural state.

Is it just me or is this the last thing we want the young women in our society to be doing? And doesn’t it send the absolute wrong message? The message that women need to harm themselves to be attractive or get the look they want.

It makes me wonder why girls who want to be like Kyle don’t just dye their hair blue. Wouldn’t that be a simpler way to emulate their favorite star?

Or better yet why don’t they follow in the footsteps of someone like Ian Somerhalder who plays hunky vampire Damon on The Vampire Diaries and started the Ian Somerhalder Foundation, which strives to improve and impact the earth and all living things on it. Why can’t he be the kind of celebrity that young people want to emulate?

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I suppose the answer is that it’s just not cool to be a do-gooder. Instead, young women today would rather stick a vacuum on their mouths and wait for the real and metaphorical bruises that will eventually come with that decision.

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But if they really want to be like Kylie, they should take the advice she’s been offering on her Twitter account: “I want to encourage people like me to be YOURSELF and not be afraid to experiment with your look.”

Enough said.

Brittany Eldridge

Resources for your body and mind

What most of us don’t figure out until later in our lives is that there are resources to educate ourselves about our bodies and their habits. Recently I’ve taken an interest in researching things about natural eating habits, managing a healthy weight, the woman’s menstrual cycle, etc. I want to share some of the books I’ve encountered with you, so that you may enlighten yourself and your body with some newfound information.

Natural Living: The 21st Century Guide to a Self-Sufficient Lifestyle by Liz Wright

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Today, being conscious of what’s happening to the Earth as well as our bodies is something of the norm. So wouldn’t it be nice to have a handbook to guide you on your path to a better lifestyle? Natural Living provides “an in-depth look at the way we live and comprehensive guidance on the crucial changes we can all make.” If you want to learn about all aspects of living in the 21st century, then Liz Wright’s Natural Living gives you the insight you need—whether it’s for gardening, food planning, raising animals, or composting—to get you started. Available at Barnes and Noble.

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Eat Pretty: Nutrition for Beauty, Inside and Out by Jolene Hart

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It’s nothing new to hear that being nutritious is a trend that everyone wants to adopt. Eat Pretty provides readers with a program that “offers a full lifestyle makeover, exploring stress management, hormonal balance, and mindful living. Charts and lists, plus nearly 20 recipes, make for a delicious and infinitely useful package—in the kitchen, at the grocer, and on the go.” Available at Amazon.

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Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance by Rosie Molinary

Beautiful You

Do you struggle with self-acceptance? Rosie Molinary encourages readers—no matter their size, age, or ethnicity—to make it a goal to feel better about themselves and work towards that goal while ignoring the implicit negativity of the media. Using realistic techniques in a one-year plan to empower and push women to embrace a healthy self-image and break unwanted habits, “Beautiful You strikes a chord with every woman who has ever faltered in her self-confidence or lost her personal brilliance—and it makes sure she never lets it happen again.” Available at Amazon.

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Hopefully these books will enlighten you and give you a little bit more information on feeling positive and maintaing a healthy life.

Brittany Eldridge

My body is my friend: the story of how I stopped being underweight

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As I mentioned in my very first blog post, I’ve always struggled with maintaining a healthy weight for my height and age. For this reason, it was never a shock to me when my doctor told me I should put on a few more pounds.

He even advised that I not attempt any sports—back in high school—until I could manage a healthy weight. I was always so confused because I ate all the time. What I didn’t realize is that I wasn’t eating the right things. I was trying to fuel my body with fatty foods and carbs to try and gain the weight that my body needed.

I didn’t really start to worry about my size until I was sixteen and still wearing pants that were a double zero size. I couldn’t begin to count all the times that students and teachers told me I looked sick or asked if I had an eating disorder. I was offended—how could someone just look at me and decided, according to my size, that something had to be wrong to me?

I was five-foot-four during my four years of high school, and I weighed about 105 pounds with a BMI that was less than 18.5. According to my family doctor, I needed to weigh between 110 and 115 pounds to be “healthy.”

You might think that five pounds isn’t that hard to gain and keep on, but, for me, it was impossible. It didn’t matter what I ate—my weight only ever went down. And as a young teenager, I didn’t have the patience to worry about how much I weighed. I would have much rather stayed inside reading any day.

But then something really surprising happened; as I gave up on trying to gain weight by eating literally anything I could, I started to go up in pant sizes and found that my arms weren’t as thin as my bones anymore.

That’s when I realized that when we panic and stress about the shape of our bodies and internalize the scrutiny of others, it becomes more difficult for us to achieve our weight goals.

By the end of my freshman year of college, I had gained roughly ten pounds and was wearing a size two. My doctor didn’t say a word relating to me being underweight and hasn’t for three years. Why? Because I stopped caring.

I started eating my fruits and vegetables, which I love. I eat whole grains even though I love white bread. And I make sure to get fiber into my body, which seemed to be missing for most of the rest of my life. Not everything I do is completely healthy, but I’ve stopped eating junk and filling my body with grease and sugar.

What I learned from all this is that it’s pretty much impossible to be healthy when we are pressured by others to do so. Instead we have to come to the conclusion ourselves that we want to be healthy before change can happen.

If you become friends with your body, then giving it what it needs becomes not a chore, but a privilege. Sure this may sound cheesy, but you’re with your body for your whole life life, so why not cherish it?

Brittany Eldridge

The imperfect figure: accepting our bodies

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We are all born to look a certain way. It’s not until we are exposed to beauty expectations that we start to have issues with the parts we have.

Have you ever looked in the mirror and decided there was something about yourself that you didn’t like? I can answer be honest and say that, yes, I have had that experience.

The women in my family—including my mother, my grandmother, and me—have all been “blessed with” a not-so-prominent backside. I’m talking about our butts. This fact was so well known that for a while I was called “little butt.” To me, the name was always a joke until one day I looked at it in the mirror and was like, “Wow, they weren’t kidding!”

I’m sure that each and every person alive—man or woman—has looked in the mirror to observe a part of their bodies at least once. But what tells us something is wrong with the way we look? Is it the magazines that retouch every photo we see? Take Kim Kardashian, for instance: she’s well known for her booty, so why is it that her photo was still fixed to make her bust, waist, and hips look smaller?

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Kim shared this photo with fans and even admitted to having cellulite and not being bothered by it:

“So what? I have a little cellulite.”

This makes me wonder why is it that we label people or point out what’s different about their bodies. Small, skinny, thin, big, wide, fat, average: the names are endless and pointless.

Comfortable is a word that should be used more often, followed by happy.

When I look at myself in the mirror now, I say that my size isn’t small or skinny or thin or average. It’s just my size. And unless I decide to have surgery or retouch every photo I’m, in I’ll always look like this… until I grow old of course. Even then I’m going to accept my wrinkles like I’ve had them my entire life because they won’t be going anywhere.

When it comes to self-acceptance, there isn’t a limit on how much we can achieve. Simply put, we all need to love our bodies and everything that comes with them.

Brittany Eldridge

Freckles: beauty or beast?

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I got my first freckle when I was almost nine; I had noticed it on the left side of my chin. My first case of denial was born; I didn’t want freckles. I wanted to have clear skin like the numerous models I had seen in make-up commercials.

Since I was still a kid, I had never paid attention to the fact that everyone in my family was covered in freckles. Especially their arms. When I finally did notice, I was terrified. I couldn’t tell you a specific reason why freckles scared me, but I knew I didn’t want them.

Skip ahead to when I was thirteen: the dreaded puberty began, and so did the agglomeration of freckles. My arms were targeted first and then my face. For a long tome I had a bridge of freckles that traveled from one cheek, across my nose, and to the other. It sure wasn’t the way to make me feel pretty. I hated them, and I hated when people would point them out and call them cute. What was cute about freckles? The way they made people stare? No.

When I first started experimenting with make-up about a year later, I discovered concealer, but to my dismay it refused to work for freckles. Still, I was determined to make them disappear. I wanted my skin to appear smooth and free from any sort of discoloration.

But what I didn’t know then was that I was doomed from the start. They just kept appearing, and eventually I started to lose track of how often new ones would pop up. Before I knew it, I was covered from head to toe.

Yes, they are even on my feet. Weird, I know.

And my upper lip. I literally have a freckle mustache.

The strange part about it all? I started to be okay with it. I suppose once you’re forced to deal with something for so long, you learn to accept it. And the thing is, no one really cared that I had freckles. It was just me. And now, at almost twenty-one, I wouldn’t want to look any other way.

I love my freckles. To be honest, they make me feel pretty. I think they draw out the better things about my face, and without them I  wouldn’t recognize myself. They have become an integral part of my identity. I smile when I see them, and while it took me a good amount of time to get to this point, I can honestly say I’m happy to be here.

Embrace the freckles.

Brittany Eldridge

Shailene Woodley’s carpe diem approach to life

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Have you ever wanted to meet someone who lived by “seizing the day”? I have, and the person I want to meet who does this is Shailene Woodley.

I’d be thrilled if I could sit down for ten minutes to pick her brain about living a natural life, enjoying every moment, and—more controversially—rejecting feminism. Yes, rejecting feminism.

When she was asked in an interview by Time magazine about whether she considered herself a feminist, this was Woodley’s initial answer:

No, because I love men, and I think the idea of “raise women to power, take the men away from the power” is never going to work out because you need balance.

Woodley goes on to talk more about the need for balance and how she sees herself as 50% feminine and masculineI think balance is an ideal that permeates her life. But part of me also wonders whether or not she’s familiar with all that feminism entails.

A lot of people wrongly think feminism is based on the idea of women hating men (maybe because of the name) or wanting to “rise above” men as Woodley says. But, in truth, feminism is about equality between the genders. And hate doesn’t even fit into that equation.

Despite her misunderstanding of feminism, there are plenty of reasons to admire Woodley. She’s chosen to live a natural lifestyle in which she claims to be completely “in tune” with her body. She’s learned what her body needs and considers herself a part of the Earth, as it’s a part of her.

I’m amazed by Woodley’s commitment to and passion for healthy living. Woodley told Natural Health magazine that she relies a good deal on herbalism, which is defined as the study or use of medicinal properties in plants. She says:

I started learning about all the wild plants in my area, as well as all of the wild medicines that I could gather and create for myself. I was in control of my body, and I could feel what was happening. It was eye-opening.

Woodley also says an herb that is a part of her regimen is called stinging nettle (stinging? yikes!), which she seals in a jar with boiling water and then strains it before drinking, something she does this before every menstrual cycle. She claims stinging nettle is full of natural vitamins and minerals that women require and she would much rather do that as a tea-like infusion that take pills.

In addition, Woodley doesn’t seem to worry about body weight or her looks. She claims to shop at thrift stores and only buys clothes she can wear multiple times. Woodley also claims that, in order to be healthy, she doesn’t stress or worry about what could happen:

Living in a state of fear makes no sense…If I have X number of days to live, I am not going to live them in fear. Where’s the laughter in it? Where’s the joy?

I think we should all take a page from Shailene’s book of life. A healthy way to live is a happy way to live.

Brittany Eldridge

Growing up flawed: Living with acne

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When most people hit puberty, they develop acne. We are told, by doctors, parents, and those much older than us, that it’s a part of growing up and that “it will go away.”

But for some of us it doesn’t go away. And unfortunately that’s been the case with me. Sure, it’s not as severe as it was when I turned fourteen and started high school with a face full of little red mountains of fury (gross, huh?), but now that I’m in my early twenties, I’ve noticed that my skin does more than just break out—it’s dry and/or red in certain areas, and it’s discolored from past acne. Also, there’s more hair growing on my face.

All I do when I look in the mirror some days is frown. Shouldn’t my skin be at it’s prime when I’m entering my twenties?

I can’t even begin to explain how many times I’ve looked up remedies for blotchy skin or those damn blackheads that never want to leave. Pinterest has provided me with more than enough information, which I never seem to try. Why is that?

I wonder if maybe it’s because I don’t want to be one of those people who blow through tons of money trying numerous products filled with chemicals that could do more harm than good. Instead, I’m trying a new approach that allows I’m comfortable with my skin and accept that it’s flawed. After all, it was flawed when I was young, it is now, and will obviously be when I’m older.

I see far too many celebrities who still look 30 when they’re more like 50 or older, like Cher or Madonna, and it makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. 

They’re talented, yes, but I can only imagine what they have to do on a daily basis to keep that flawless skin. To me, that seems like much more trouble than it’s worth. What’s going to happen when the inside of their bodies: heart, lungs, liver or kidneys, doesn’t work anymore and they can no longer take care of their faces? I hope that they are taking care of more than just cosmetics. Isn’t it important for us to take care of our entire bodies and to accept that one day we will look older? It doesn’t mean that we won’t or can’t be beautiful.

I’m not saying I don’t take care of my skin; I do. I wash my face daily, remove my make-up before bed at night, and moisturize to keep the dry and flaky patches at bay. But I’m tired of fighting my skin and feeling like I’m in a losing battle.

Recently I tried something I’ve never been able to do before. I had gotten one of those really big red bumps right beside my nose and couldn’t touch it without making it have a heart beat, so I left it alone. Yeah, my behavior surprised me too. But it also helped me realize that I can have some acne and be okay with it and the way I look. Self confidence is literally just that. Self. I realize now that as long as I’m okay with it, then being imperfect doesn’t really matter.

Brittany Eldridge

Feeling rad about clean, organized eating

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Have you ever looked at the ingredients of a food that you were about to eat and then asked yourself what you were about to put into your body? I have. In fact, I do it all the time.

So I decided to cut things out like canned soups, frozen dinners, hot dogs and bologna, fast food (who knows what’s really in that stuff) and more. The truth is, eating those types of things, especially fast food, was making me feel awful. I was constantly tired and my energy was nonexistent, my skin was vacillating back and forth between clear and a war zone, and I had no confidence.

I just wanted to feel good again.

One of the things I’ve started doing since I began this new clean eating approach a few months ago is making sure I eat my fruits and vegetables. I’ve always like them, but I never took the time to make sure I ate them with my meals. Now I make sure to eat some everyday. Sure, it may not be the exact amount that doctors say I need, but some has to be better than none at all.

But now that I’ve been doing this I want to take clean living a few steps further…

First of all, I want to learn to control my meal times. I think eating at the same time every day can help me avoid snacking throughout the day (when I tend to gravitate towards cream cheese doughnuts).

Second, I’m always on the hunt for recipes that substitute healthy ingredients for unhealthy ones. Like mashed potatoes. It’s not hard to replace the potato with cauliflower, and the end result tastes great, maybe even better than the original.

And lastly is breakfast. I’m also not a breakfast person. I can’t wake up in the morning and sit down to eat. I’m just not hungry that early. So I came up with the idea to try making a green smoothie. I had been doing a lot of research on how they can give you energy and make you feel full until lunch time. Well, my “green” smoothie turned out brown. Yikes. I added kale, strawberries, apples, and orange juice. It was a simple recipe, but somehow I messed it up. On top of being ugly, it tasted bad. It was just too healthy for my taste. But it’s all about trial and error; I plan to try again and hopefully next time it doesn’t look like mud.

I’m going to try more foods soon and hopefully my eating will become a little more clean.

Brittany Eldridge