How I Changed My Life

Hello friends! I am finally sitting down to share a really personal post about my health journey. A little over a year ago I began working really hard on my habits, health and other things that were causing me anxiety and stress. It was during the first season we were home with Nova. It was, by no means, the first time I had started a healthy commitment, but in a lot of ways it was my “breakthrough” that I had been wanting for so long. Today, I want to share some of the things that helped me to achieve my goals.

First, I want to say this isn’t a post about weight loss, although dozens of “how did you lose weight?” DMs are what prompted me to write this post. This post is about how I changed my WHOLE life and if you read it all the way through you’ll see that it was not just one thing (such as a diet or exercise routine), but a compounding effect of a lot of healthy changes.

What people saw on the outside was that I lost 20 pounds, but what those closest to me saw was that I changed my whole life. Last year was, by far, the biggest year of change I’ve ever had. Becoming a mom felt like the right time to face my “demons” and focus on being the best version of myself I could. It’s a lot of responsibility to have a little person watching every single thing you do, and it changed my life.

I know many people (myself included) can feel triggered by weight loss posts, before/after photos and promises of what a 30-day plan can do. This is not that. One of the reasons I have struggled to explain, even to my best friends, how I was able to lose weight is that is a very long story and it’s not all about food or exercise. For me, a huge part of it was internal work that I needed to do.

Before I begin, please understand that this is my personal experience and story, not an advice post. Maybe it’s something that could help you, maybe it’s just a story. That’s OK.

It started with a 100-day challenge.

One hundred days is a long time. Time enough to accomplish a series of small goals, but short enough that if you don’t make the goals you’ll feel like you blinked and the time has passed.

I drew 100 squares on a piece of paper. I made a list of things I wanted to change. Some are too personal to list, but my list included having better spending habits and saving money, losing some weight, having a more organized home (this list was extensive), and many things on the list were things I had been putting off out of fear or laziness … but the kind of things you stress about when you wake up at night.

As the days began to pass and I would color in a square each day, I felt motivated to face each thing on my list. As I began to cross off items from my list, I felt more and more in control of my life.

These are some of the things I changed in different areas of my life during that time.

Doctors: Before our adoption, I hadn’t been to the doctor or dentist in around 10 years. With each year that passed, I became more panicked, but also more avoidant. It was a big deal for me to begin seeing a doctor (I took care of the dentist at the same time just to leverage that momentum) as we were preparing for our first adoption. It was a requirement for the home study to get a basic physical. After that was over, I was so happy and relieved that I kept going to my regular appointments, vowing to not be afraid of them anymore. It’s been such a great feeling to stay on top of these things instead of avoid them!

When I started my 100-day challenge, I had a few appointments I was still putting off. I wanted to see a dermatologist to get a skin cancer screening and begin a yearly regimen for that. And I wanted to see a chiropractor (as soon as we adopted Nova I developed extra back issues due to becoming an instant parent to a toddler and all the physical stuff that comes along with that).

I did both these appointments right away and felt like a NEW PERSON.

After that, I faced another kind of random fear, which was to get massages. I don’t know why I was so weird about it; I had a few massages in the past, but this past year I began to get them regularly (usually during Nova’s weekend nap time) and it was a huge self-care step forward for me!

I know these may seem like strange fears to you, but facing them gave me so much new confidence!

Money: Becoming a parent put a lot of things in perspective for me. For the first little bit, I barely even thought about money, I was pretty overwhelmed. But sometime last year I began to feel irrationally panicked about money, savings and our future. It wasn’t all the time, but when those feelings popped up they were strong.

It wasn’t until we began talking to a financial planner that I was able to relax. I think that having that outside perspective really helps to feel like we are on track and keeps me focused on our next couple goals, not too many goals at once. Money is never going to be my favorite thing or my big passion, but having a plan that we work on with a professional helped me feel at peace with it.

Parenting: This one was easier in some ways because I was literally from scratch. I didn’t have to fix years of bad habits as I did on some of the other ones.

I’m still a new parent and I’m not pretending to be an expert. So I’ll just simply tell you what things we did that worked well for us and that I’ll keep doing. 🙂

Seasonal bucket lists have been HUGE for us. They help to remind me to do fun things and a bigger variety of things than I would think of without the list. I also make a list before every weekend of 2-3 fun things to do for each day (so 6ish things) and we usually get to about half of them. Having that plan for doing things like crafts, going to the library, scheduling outings with friends or going on a picnic to the park helps me from defaulting to easier things that I don’t want to default to.

I’m not a perfect mom, but these simple habits have helped me to give Nova the most magical childhood I can.

The other thing I feel like I am really good at is not comparing myself to other parents—especially other moms on Instagram. I really believe that is a mind game you can’t win. Most importantly, there’s nothing to compare because comparing reality to someone’s Instagram photos is not a fair comparison. It’s a losing game, so don’t fall into that trap!

Food: I realized that the best diet for me was the one I could stick with long term. That’s it.

Over the years, I tried a lot of extreme diets that didn’t work for me, or only worked temporarily. The big changes I made last year were surprisingly simple. I found super healthy foods that I loved and stayed on a path of eating healthy for longer. It wasn’t any one diet or plan. Some of the time I counted calories, which my husband does so it came easily to me. Some of the time I did my own version of Weekday Weekend where I stuck with my super healthy soups, carrot juice and vegetable dishes during the weekdays and had some fun food on the weekends.

During this year, I still ate pasta and had cocktails and wine, but I also had long periods of time where I skipped all alcohol, all sugar and ate vegetable-based meals.

The only new thing I did last year was stay on my healthy streaks for longer. There is no secret. Unless the secret is broccoli.

One last thing I want to say about food—at one point I hadn’t had alcohol for two months and people started asking me about my skin constantly. It was a great feeling (if you haven’t entered your 30s yet, skin compliments become like GOLD), but I always felt like I had to tell them the truth. There is no skin serum in the world that can do what a couple months of no alcohol can. It’s sad for someone who loves a strong cocktail as much as me, but it’s the truth.

Exercise: This one is tough for me. I have been through a lot of different fitness obsessions, but I still struggle to stay consistent all the time. This year, I have been trying a new routine that has finally helped me. If you’re already good in the fitness department, just skip this next part because it’s kind of embarrassing.

I realized that the number one reason I was struggling was because I kept choosing workouts that I “dread.” Now I know this is different for everyone, so I wont get too specific. But I kept starting and quitting after three days over and over again.

The thing that helped me is that I gave myself an easy workout. And my goal right now is to just do the damn workout without dreading it. I feel like I can work up from there, but at least I am moving my body every day instead of feeling guilty for not working out for weeks at a time.

Again, the same as food—the best workout for me is whichever one I will actually do.

Lowering my bar + letting go: In addition to all these new habits, there were other things where I simply just lowered my bar, or decided to let some things go. A few examples:

I used to feel bad all the time when I didn’t get dressed during the work week (I work in my pjs a LOT) or when I didn’t have time or feel like getting “cute” before we went to brunch on the weekend. This was an area where I was feeling guilt and shame for something that I didn’t actually want to fix. So what I did instead was change my perspective. I let go of the guilt. Now if I do hair and makeup for our brunch on the weekend, I feel like it’s a bonus, not a necessity. And if I realize it’s now 6 p.m. and I’m still wearing what I woke up in, I feel grateful that I had a productive day working from home. No guilt!

Time management was another big one. As I new mom, I finally got to a point of accepting how many hours there are in a day, both to be a mom and to do my work. I learned to be more protective of those hours and more realistic. This will always be something I struggle with, but learning to say no (a lot) more and to focus on a few important tasks each day is how I live my life now. No going back! It’s simple math. There are only so many hours in the day and so I use them the best I can each day.

(Dress from Sezane (similar here), Boots from Seychelles.)

A year later, I still have things I want to work on and change, and I know I always will. The big difference is I know I can do it. I know there is no reason to put things off or avoid making an appointment. And though it still scares me, I feel more able to try something new and commit myself to something without the fear of failing. We all fail! The key to my success was trying longer before I gave up. It sounds so simple now, looking back, but it changed my life. Thanks for reading! xx – Elsie

Note: This post is pre-scheduled. I am currently on my maternity leave with baby Marigold (!!!!!!!), so if I don’t respond to your comment, don’t worry, someone else on our team will. I am so grateful for the opportunity to take a little time to bond with our new baby. But I left a bunch of posts in the drafts for you to enjoy while I’m away. See you on the other side! xx

Credits//Author: Elsie Larson. Photography: Amber Ulmer. Photos edited with A Color Story Desktop.
  • This was really helpful this morning. I’ve been feeling stuck and procrastinating but this made me feel like I can grab ahold of my life. Enjoy maternity leave. 💕

  • Thank you for sharing!

    I’ve been wondering: I’ve been thinking about doing a Whole 30 soon, and your blog was the first place I heard of it. Years on, do you still consider it a positive experience? Would you still recommend it?

    • Ally my husband & I dreaded but committed to doing whole30 2 years ago. It wasn’t easy, but we both succeeded & that felt great. It mostly helped us reset our minds to healthy eating. My husband lost weight, I maybe lost a few pounds but wasn’t needing to lose weight. We still randomly choose a month & repeat strict whole30.

    • Hi! I would recommend it as a reset, but it’s not a sustainable diet over time and I don’t do it anymore. Basically it was only great for me the first couple times I tried it. 🙂

    • Ally, I tried Whole 30 because of the posts on ABM about it too. It was definitely an experience to have (I lost 8 lb) but for me, it wasn’t sustainable. It is eye-opening when you realize that EVERYTHING you want to eat is full of sugar. It’s a good learning tool, I think. Kudos to those that do it as a lifestyle but for me, it’s just not something I can do every day. If you love veggies, it may be an easy thing for you. I’d say try it at least. 🙂

    • Thanks for taking the time to respond, Gail, Elsie and Lauren!! I appreciate your insights 🙂

  • Aw, this was soooooo helpful in more ways than one as I am on a journey to actually love the skin I’m in. Thanks for sharing, Elsie!!

  • Thank you for sharing! I’m so curious about the 100-day challenge – did you check a box each time you crossed one thing off your to-do list? Or did you check a box each time you completed your daily routine (working out and eating healthy, for example?)

    • I’m curious about this too, Annie! I love the thought of the 100 day challenge and the boxes, but curious as to what exactly I’m supposed to be checking off. I love making lists and marking things off as I accomplish them, so I think this system would work well for me!

    • I have the same question. How did this work? You mention multiple small goals, so what prompts coloring in the box?

      • Hi! So I had a big list of goals- some of the items took one day, some took weeks or more. So during the 100 days I was trying to complete all the items on my whole list. I got most of them done! 🙂

  • I hear you on the exercise! I’m glad I’m not alone because I feel like I’m surrounded by people who love working out and I struggle in that area. This year I started yoga, and it’s something I can look forward to most days.

  • You look amazing. 🙂 Enjoy your time off with Marigold and Nova. xo

  • Loved reading this, I relate to a lot of it and maybe I will go make a doctors appt now… haha!

  • I kind of did a similar thing this year. I’ve lost 35 lbs so far and I am going back to school after staying home with my kiddos for 13 years.

  • Yeeessss Girl!
    This was definitely inspiring for me to write a list of my own. Thanks for the Monday morning inspiration!

  • Thank you for this post!! I’m working with a health coach and a lot of these things that you worked on and shifted spoke to me. Even the doctor/dentist thing. This year I got my wisdom teeth extracted after a decade of putting it off. Something that’s sort of haunted me in the background for so very long -to be able to turn it around and cross that off the list felt so empowering. Then it’s like—-what else can I do?
    Also the exercise thing—I’ve also realized I’m not going to do workouts I dread. Still searching —but anything with dance elements seems joyful and doable. There are online “Broadway” style workouts that are really fun. And yoga! But quick and simple is awesome.
    Lots of other “me too”s here. Thanks for sharing!! Very inspirational. Feeling stuck is the worst. But every “win” or success can propel us to the next one. And suddenly—you’ve changed your life! ❤️❤️

  • I can relate to so many things you’re talking about. I’m going on 4 years of avoiding all medical and dental appointments. I’ve been trying to work through some severe bouts of anxiety this past year and the idea of being trapped in a dental chair or any medical appointment for that matter, is too much to face.

    I am working on myself – mindset, physical, you name it, to try and grow my courage to conquer the hard things I’ve been avoiding. Your honesty and courage have given me hope. Thank you for sharing your very personal story of struggles and triumphs! And by the way, I have followed along with your adoption journey and you make such a beautiful mother. You can see the deep love you and your husband have for these dear little ones. What a special life you all have together. Wishing you all the blessings and more xo

    • Tell me about it..every first appointment with a medical person is 80% me crying overwhelmed by emotion.
      Haaaaate the dentist. He’s the WORST lol. I want to get over it to set a good example for my kids tho.

  • This is SUCH a relatable post on so many levels! Thanks for sharing your personal journey, it is a lot like mine (especially in the exercise department) and I’m sure many other people feel the same. So awesome that you not only look great but you feel great, which is most important! 🙂

  • I can definitely relate to how conquering your fears can lower anxiety and improve your life! I did the same thing with the dentist two years ago and it makes me feel so much better! Also, making less plans and guarding my time has been very key to my happiness!! Thanks for sharing this, glad you are in such a good place! Enjoy your maternity leave. 🙂 XO – Alexandra

    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

  • I can identify with many of these things! I’m motivated to draw out 100 squares and tackle some of my fears and things I’ve been putting off too long. <3

  • What an inspirational blogpost!
    We should try all the time and we should never give up!!
    All good things need time !
    I wish you a wonderful day with your family 🙂

    Ezgi from ezgissimo.blogspot.com

  • I loved reading this post! I was just wondering what role your husband had throughout the process. Did he help you come up with ideas of things to do in your challenge? Were there conversations about “if this is what I’m aiming for, this is how you can support that/what I need from you”?

  • Seems really interesting but I dont understand the link between 100 days / list of goals : do you pick one goal and work on it for 100 days ? Do you break your list into smaller goals and pick one each day for 100 days (and keep it up for the duration if needed) ? If anyone has any idea / explanation, I’m really curious… (and happy Maternity leave to Elsie, those days are SO precious)

    • Hi! I guess it was kind of two different things. But I was trying to start a healthier lifestyle within 100 days. So I worked on something from my goals list every day and it seemed to have a compounding effect- gaining momentum! xx

  • I really love this post! I have been looking for someone’s look on changing their life (and how they’ve done it). I am going through it now, but none of my friends or family are going through something big like this at the moment and it is hard to share.
    For me, the light bulb came a bit too late and I became burned out. Looking back, there was not much I could do to avoid it. I am very grateful it happened because I finally was able to say to myself: it’s okay, let’s start over. And I have been doing that ever since, more than a year now.
    It is going in baby steps and sometimes I get very impatient. And on days like those, I wish there was somebody who could just understand and say: you got this, keep going! Your post feels like that. So thank you, a lot. I am very inspired now to keep going ahead and have gained a lot of trusts it will all work out.

    Enjoy your maternity leave!

  • Thank you for this post!!! I relate to so much of this, but especially the part about exercise, food and letting go of the guilt! I am still trying to make time for meal prep and find a work out I will actually do! I am a HUGE to do list addict where I make impossibly large to-do lists for the weekend, and then feel guilty I don’t get it done. Over the last few years I have learned to make smaller lists and add fun things too (similar to what you do), this has helped so much! Thanks again for your insight. And I also want to say I think it is incredible that you accomplished all of this as a new mother!! Way to go!

  • This post came in such perfect timing. I too feel guilty if I’m not dressed up & still sitting in my PJs all day but at least I got my work done. I’ve come to the point where I have to switch up my mindset more than anything. :]

  • Very good advice. I really love the “doing the workout you won’t avoid and will actually do” advice. Recently, I started doing the same! I decide every day what I’m up for and choose from a list: yoga, barre, dvd or HIIT. I used to try and follow a whole program but I find, if I don’t mix it up daily, I don’t do it.

    Also- totally gonna do the colouring in squares idea!!

  • Thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing your story. I identify with it so much and have been taking similar steps to change my life. I want to try the 100-day challenge and fill in my own squares!! Hope you’re all settling in well as a family of four 🙂

  • Your vulnerability is beautiful 💕 I also waited a long time to go to the dentist! You’re awesome, thank you for sharing.

  • My sister recently told me you don’t need to give it (exercise for example) 100% if you don’t feel you can, give it 1%, and give that 1% 100%. So whatever amount you’re doing, give that portion 100%. Thanks for this post!

  • Thank you as always for sharing your life- I am inspired and encouraged and appreciate your honesty and writing. It is so wonderful to see your growing family <3

  • I’m sure I speak for more than just me when I saw we appreciate and value your honesty and transparency more than you know! It’s so meaningful to build a community and we all struggle, work, and connect. Congrats to you!

    And I’m with you on the doctor – what is it that makes us dread it so much? 😀

    I feel like my life has been so chaotic lately a list of goals is just too daunting. I tried to cut out how much TV I watch in the past few months though and do something around the house instead. Doesn’t have to be a dedicated DIY project and it’s most often cleaning the kitchen and taking care of my plants. BUT even though it’s boring chores I’m much more fulfilled without all the extra TV. Baby steps, yano? 🙂

  • So glad you found a system to address issues that were bringing you down! I was also curious if you did one task per day (that seems like a lot) or just worked a little on each one per day.

  • Hello. I want to ask the same questions as Annie’s, for the 100-day challenge – did you check a box each time you crossed one thing off your to-do list? Or did you check a box each time you completed your daily routine (working out and eating healthy, for example?)

    Thank you!

    • Hi! I was working in my general health for the entire 100 days, but I check off big things from my list one at a time. Some were things I could do in one day, but some took longer. 🙂

  • This was exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you Elsie. As a new parent, too, I struggle with pretty much everything you discussed. I really appreciate your honesty and please know that posts like this mean a lot to us! Thanks for being vulnerable.

  • When I first started working out after my kids were born I used the videos on Popsugar Fitness (on Youtube). There are all different lengths of videos and the host Anna Renderer is super fun and friendly, and they are free and you don’t need equipment. I started out with the goal of just 10 minutes (because that’s all I had energy to do) and after a while I thought, since I was already sweaty, I will just do another segment or video. Now I am the strongest that I have ever been in my life and it feels great! Just starting is the hardest part, if you can do that you are already on your way to a healthier you!

  • What a wonderful post! It’s so inspiring how you did a challenge over 100 days- small little steps to reaching your goals is such a great idea. I’d really like to do the same for a few aspects in my life, thank you for sharing this it’s given me that extra push!

    http://mylovelierdays.com

  • Thanks for sharing this post- I loved reading it and it was such an inspiration. I took down some notes of things to work on!

  • Wow! Amazing how many people payed attention to this I never noticed your weight only how cool you are, If you feel better that is the best part 🙂 happy time with your family.

  • Thank you for sharing! I find it so much easier to eat healthy foods that I like rather than try to follow along to someone else’s plan, with foods I don’t like or haven’t wanted to eat. Also, I too was in the same place as you. I would start a plan and then after 3-4 days not finish the exercise plan because I hated it. HIIT is just the worst in my opinion and anything impact related sends my shin splints into screaming anger mode.

  • I am so in the same camp regarding doctors + massages!! glad to hear I’m not the only one haha. and thank you for sharing–I’m inspired to try this 100 day challenge and stop putting these things off!

  • Hi Elsie,
    thanks for sharing your story. You already mentioned it in your post but it’s easier said than done. Seeing everyone doing really well on Instagram or other Social Media outlets lets us believe you are stuck in your own little world with your challenges. It’s good to know how others struggle as well but more importantly how they turn these situation into something great. Very grateful for your tipps and shared experiences. You can be proud of you!

  • This is so refreshing to see someone improve their overall life quality and choices that included weight loss but not specific to weight loss alone. There’s so much out there online that uses this same amount of Words and then some and the only topic is weight loss and fitness. This is just so balanced and a good example for every woman- I think we all struggle with most of the same things. We deserve to be a whole person, not a number on a scale. I want to lose weight but I also see so many areas of my life that have room for improvement. I think they have been standing in my way and I didn’t know or forgot I had permission or the right to address them as
    Well. The takeaway from this post is huge for me. Thank you!

  • Thanks for writing and sharing this post. I have to admit I was hesitant because I am one of those people uneasy about weight loss talk, but I am so glad I decided to read on. I am currently in a place of feeling very stuck in my life – procrastination has taken over and I can feel a bit paralyzed and overwhelmed by even the smallest to-do lists. Reading this made me feel much less alone and encouraged me to start taking baby steps in the direction I want to go. It feels HARD, but I know it’s possible to climb out of this rut. Thanks for being so candid here. I know I’m not the only one benefitting from your words today.

  • There are tons of celebratory emojis going off in my head reading this!! I’m inspired to do so much now, and I love the visual board so it’s not overwhelming.

    And the “just do the damn workout” quote can be felt on a real spiritual level for me.

  • I love this!!! I am going to use this idea for myself. 100 days. I have a long list, but this is the perfect way to start!

  • Thank you so much for sharing Elsie. Your honesty is always refreshing and you always inspire me. I became a mum for the first time 4 months ago. I’m really aware that, although I think the human body is incredible and amazing, I do not love the physical sight of my body. I am so aware of my duty to teach and practice self care / love and body positivity. Body hang ups are just a compete waste of time and energy. They can stop you doing things (for me that includes massages!). I also have cupboards and drawers that I need to organise but put off before my daughter was born. Now my time is limited I can plan and really dedicate time to getting it sorted and then I can let go of that stress and anxiety. I can go on and on about the various ways I relate to the points in your post but I won’t. I just want to say thank you, you’ve given me so much to take away and not only think about but ideas to take positive action. Thank you. Truly x

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