In previous posts about Julie Reed and Melissa Lewis, I’ve made reference to a group of Cherokee educators and scholars that are collectively listed at Think Tsalagi and given the name ᏗᎦᏓᏤᎵᎢ (digadatseli’i) by the late Cherokee elder Benny Smith, meaning “we all belong together” – as in, we are actively caring for or taking care of something, one another. And we do.
Every one in that group is special to me in a unique way. Collectively they have made it their life’s work to always keep expanding their own knowledge while helping to educate and bring along the next generation of students, thinkers, univeristy teachers, scholars. That’s Candessa to the core. It’s hard to quantify the number people she has positively impacted.
In addition to her professional life as an educator and scholar, she’s an incredible mom of three great kids and a Cherokee National Treasure for her art as a finger weaver – you can see one of her peices as the cover art of Think Tsalagi.
Whether it’s college students or her own kids or in a broader context, she’s always giving to others and investing time and energy to help keep others on track. The tough part (like so many of us) is keeping herself on track. But she’s on to something.
Candessa is one of a growing list of Indigenous women committed to the Cherokee Harvest Half Marathon in September 2021 at Eastern Band Cherokee. For now, the list is Stacy, Candessa, Julie, Chrissi, others . . . and maybe you? We’ll grown, laugh and limp our way to the finish line and there’s no such thing as too slow or too old. I’m looking forward to the drive out as much as the race because I know we’ll show up in Cherokee, NC with stomach cramps from all the laughter.
Candessa’s wellness journey is unique to her, as it should be. She’s doing it at her pace, pursuant to her own philosophies. And it has worked wonders. I’m pleased to share her health story here for many reasons, but it’s an excellent reminder that there’s no one path or a magic formula to health.
“At a 2019 Christmas holiday luncheon, one of my best friends, Kenny Glass, told me he wanted to take a picture with me. When he showed me the picture of the two of us, I was shocked at how I looked. Before that day, I’d taken selfies but they were all from the neck up and I’d use angles to present a version of myself that didn’t show all the weight I was carrying. However, in this picture, I could see all I’d been trying to avoid.
That’s the moment I knew I needed to change my life. I just didn’t know where to start. I went home and downloaded a really ambitious running plan and thought if I ran enough I could lose the weight. Running gave me something to do but the weight didn’t change and I got more and more discouraged each week. I tried a new diet centered around calorie counting and food restrictions but still didn’t have any real change. With no progress, I was discouraged and even convinced myself I didn’t have time to run and stopped.
Then, I received an email that changed my life. Our Benefits Coordinator at Northeastern State University sent a school-wide message that our health insurance covered a program called Naturally Slim that focused on mindful eating. Mindful eating is about hydrating with water, eating slowly, and taking time to really taste your food. One of the most useful lessons for me was to use a 10-5-10 approach to a meal. Eat slowly for 10 minutes, take a 5 minute break, then if you’re still hungry eat slowly for another 10 minutes. This gives your body a chance to recognize it is full.
This was a game changer for me because I was accustomed to grabbing a fast food lunch and eating while I drove back to my office or rushing through dinner so I could do household chores. Most importantly, it wasn’t a diet. It was a change in thinking.
By June 15, 2020, I had lost 13 pounds in 5 weeks with just mindful eating. I felt more confident and I was ready to start another running program. However, this time, I started gradually with walking/running intervals. By taking things slowly, I was able to hit my goal of running three times a week and by the end of July and I was logging 6 miles a week.
This time, I could feel I was doing things right. Mindful eating even changed how I ran. I wasn’t running for the finish line, instead I was enjoying the act of running. I was looking around at the birds, the trees, and the earth as I ran. I was taking the time to be present.
I added intermittent fasting into my routine after realizing I’m not usually hungry when I wake up in the mornings. Now I eat between noon-8pm and still use the tools of mindful eating I learned through Naturally Slim. I try to limit sugar but no foods are off-limits. Instead, I eat slowly and really enjoy the food I choose. Some days I find myself rushing through a meal, I find myself eating outside my 8 hour window, or I indulge in sugary food. When that happens, I don’t wait for the next day or the next week to get back on track. I go through my checklist for my next meal. Am I hydrating? Am I using 10-5-10 when I’m eating? Am I limiting sugar? Am I exercising? By running through my checklist, I find where I can improve.
Through this experience, I have learned that taking time for myself makes me more productive and a lot happier. Along the way, I’ve also lost 50 pounds and I’ve gone from a size 18/20 to a size 12. I logged 169.3 miles from June to December 2020. However, most importantly, I’m still eating mindfully. Mindful eating is something I can do for the rest of my life because it’s about being present and being in touch with how you’re feeling.
The reason nothing had worked for me before was because I was trying to change the outside, or the number on the scale. The right path for me was to start from the inside because it helped everything on the outside fall into place.“