Who is this book for?
If you can relate to any of the following - then this book is for YOU!
Struggling to get on top of everything?
Need multiple coffees just to get through the day?
Body slowing down when the world demands more speed?
Battling burnout and exhaustion?
Looking for ways to break a bad sleep pattern?
Trying to break bad habits?
Ready to stop taking on too much?
Review from Dr Sandra Cabot
If you feel broken, overwhelmed, exhausted, sick and gaining weight - then this book is for you. From Broken to Beautiful is a deeply transformational guide book to help you take control of your life, delivering cutting-edge, easy-to-follow strategies that will guide you on a path to being calm, happy and slim.
I recommend this easy to read and well-researched book, as your health is your greatest asset. Dr Sandra Cabot, MBBS - Medical and Executive Director of the Australian National Health Advisory Service - World-renowned holistic medical expert - Author of a transformational range of health books.
I am often pleasantly surprised when I peek into a mirror now and see this calm, happy, and slim woman. Is this me? Wow—I certainly didn’t look or feel like this ten years ago. To remind myself of how stressed I was, I keep a photo in my desk drawer and when I pull it out and take a good, hard look, I see this haggard-looking woman. This old photo is an amazing reminder to keep making myself a priority, to say no more often, and to have more fun. Most importantly, it reminds me that I have to keep working on myself, or reprogramming myself, to believe that I am worthy, that I can say no, and that I deserve to be loved and respected. Why? I know that sometimes (regularly - if I am not present) my old behavior pattern of taking on too much and rushing through each day like a steam train takes over and that’s when things go wrong and I end up sick. Have you ever noticed when you’re rushing and not present, you drop something or run into something? I believe these are timely messages from the universe to be in the moment or present. Which for most of us is not that easy, considering most of us spend about 95% of lives not being present.
I would love to share with you how I transformed myself from feeling and looking broken in every sense to being calm, happy, and slim. Reflecting on this, the most important part was learning how to reprogram myself. I knew I would keep making the same mistakes of taking on too much, rushing, and having little respect for myself unless I created more supportive values and beliefs about myself.
If you are feeling tired, stressed, and gaining weight, then you may have values and beliefs that are not supporting you to make healthy decisions. If you want to make different decisions you need to start at your foundation, which are your beliefs and attitudes that control your behavior automatically when you are not present, which is over 95% of the time. Yes, most people are not present 95% of the time, meaning they live their life on autopilot. If you are living your life on autopilot, then your current beliefs are controlling your behavior. Change them and you will change your life.
If you’re feeling broken, I can say with a great deal of authority that you need to install some positive beliefs, so you start to value yourself more, say no, get out of that toxic relationship, get that job you deserve, or just make yourself a priority. If you don’t commit to reprogramming yourself, you will keep gaining that weight, attracting that toxic partner, overworking, or having no respect for yourself and your needs.
Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency (AI)—an uncommon disorder, where your adrenal glands, which are just above your kidneys, do not produce sufficient levels of the adrenal hormone cortisol, and sometimes aldosterone, to sustain life. My health was as low as it could go. I could no longer keep up my crazy schedule of working ten hours a day, going to the gym, being a volunteer Lifeline counselor, and rushing through each day like it was an Olympic medal race. My body did say a big “No” for me and I had to humbly learn my lessons and change my crazy behavior of taking on too much, and not respecting my body’s needs.
So many memories come flooding back to me from my childhood that clearly show me where this crazy pattern of neglecting myself started. One memory stands out and that’s when I was competing in a zone swimming carnival. I was pushing myself so hard to win, that I remember nearly drowning, as I was gripped with stabbing chest pains. My mother took me to the doctor, and was told they were growing pains! However, those pains would continue to plague me throughout my life, when I pushed myself too hard. They were my body’s early warning system that something needed to change.
Through my life this self-destructive pattern of behavior reared its ugly head all too often. I believed that somehow I was invincible, and that I could keep pushing myself and ignoring my needs without any consequences. To give you another example of how I didn’t consider my needs, when I first started teaching, over twenty years ago, I was teaching a subject that didn’t have a textbook, so I thought nothing of working in my holidays, weekends, and nights to create one. I had no boundaries or regard for my own welfare. As a result, both my family and I suffered.
At that stage of my life, I was raising a family and working full time as a teacher, and I was aware I had to to reduce my stress—every intelligent person is. So I learned how to meditate, visualize, eat the right foods, exercise, and go to the gym. All that sounds like a recipe for a great life, right? Well, no; if you have a tight schedule and a self-destructive pattern of pushing yourself over your limits, then it becomes a growing list of things you have to tick off. That’s what it became for me. I was still placing enormous pressure on myself to get through each day and tick off every box. Had I meditated? Did I go to the gym? Have I eaten great food? These things should be the foundation for a great life; however, if you have a behavior pattern that tells you to push yourself over your limits, then this can sabotage all your good intentions. That’s what happened with me.
If some of my story is resonating with you, then read on, as you have the power to change that. I did and you can too.
The penny dropped for me after being diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency; before this, I remember dreaming and fantasising of ways I could escape the crazy life I had created. Adrenal insufficiency became my wake-up call. I knew that unless I created some new behavior patterns, my health could deteriorate even further and that was a prospect I didn’t want to consider. So I set out to reprogram myself with new attitudes and beliefs that would help me to value myself, make myself a priority, and improve my health. I am so grateful now, as I do value myself, I do set boundaries, I look younger than I am, and my health has improved immensely. So what are the main things that I recommend if you are feeling broken and need to make changes in your life?
There are many strategies and you will find the ones that are effective in this book. Without a doubt, committing to reprogramming yourself is the start of the process and the most important. Why? You can have all the best intentions, read every book on health, but if you don’t reprogram yourself, you will find your old beliefs controlling your behavior automatically. What does that mean? You may have just read a book about the importance of diet or sleep, and really be motivated to start to eat well and clean up your sleep habits; however, after a short period of time, what will happen is when you are not present (95% of the time for most people) you will revert to your old behavior patterns of eating a poor diet and not making sleep a priority. If you want to truly change you have to start with the attitudes that are currently controlling your behavior and change them. Change them and you can change your life. You don’t want to get to the stage where you can no longer enjoy a normal life because your health has deteriorated. This can happen if you don’t take charge and make a decision that you will create the beliefs and behavior patterns you need to start making yourself a priority!
After all, you are the result of all your thoughts, feelings, and actions you have had. You have created your life. What you find in your life now is partly a reflection of what you believe. You have to take complete responsibility to change your life. And you are more powerful than you can ever imagine and have the power to change your life. Reprogramming yourself sounds hard and almost like something from a sci-fi movie. It’s not. You can do it easily. I did it. There are three steps to follow, and it is truly my passion to guide you through this simple, but life-changing process.
The first step in the process is to understand the impact stress has on your body. Without a complete understanding of this, you won’t know how your simple, everyday habits like skipping meals, rushing, not getting enough sleep, over-exercising, and so many others will activate your stress response system.
From Broken to Beautiful - How to reprogram yourself to be calm, happy and slim - in 3 easy steps.—let’s take a brief look at them now.
Step 1—Read chapters 1 to 3.
To understand the impact of stress and learn lots of practical solutions you can use right now to dramatically reduce your stress.
Step 2—Read chapter 4: How to Create your “Life Vision”
Follow my easy steps to create your Life Vision—which is your guide to being calm, happy and slim.
Step 3—Read chapters 5 and 6 and learn how to do the “Feel as If” five-minute, fun visualization.
To begin with, I would like to share with you just how damaging stress is and how it’s a contributing factor to 75%– 90% of most disease, how it can age you, lead to osteoporosis, weight gain, memory problems, and more. This book will give you the tools to reprogram yourself, set goals, and transform yourself from feeling broken to being calm, happy and slim. This book is the first in a series called The Secret to Being Calm and Happy and its focus is on reprogramming yourself.
Chapter 1: Do You Feel Broken?
Broken is a strong word to use, but it beautifully describes someone if they are feeling, tired, stressed, sleep deprived, and gaining weight. Once you truly understand how your body functions and how stress affects it, you will be at step 1 of the reprogramming process, as you can’t reprogram something unless you have good reasons why. So let’s start with understanding the stress topic.
If I cast my mind back to my pre-reprogramming days, I didn’t know that I was pushing myself too far, and I certainly didn’t know that my behavior patterns were a problem. One of my friends who knew me and worked with me said I used to hurriedly throw down a mouthful of food at lunch and then literally run down to my next class to prepare for it. I remember most of those days to be one big long blur: rushing from one commitment to the next, and feeling anxious that I would be late, or not know what I was doing. I wasn’t aware of the damaging impact that my self-destructive behavior patterns had on me back then, but if I had a stress meter measuring the amount the of stress hormones I was producing, it would have been off the richter scale.
Looking back and reflecting on this period in my life I feel proud of where I am now. As most of the time, I don’t rush. But I do sometimes and I am working on reducing those number of “sometimes”. The only way I have found to change my behaviour patterns is to continually work on myself every day. I have used lots of strategies to reprogram myself, including affirmations, goal setting, meditation, and the 3 step process that I offer you in this book, has been the most successful. It is easy, it works and you will enjoy it. The first step in the process is really important. You must understand what stress is, how it affects you and how to reduce your stress and that’s were we are going now.
What Is Stress?
Most people think of stress as something bad that happens to you, that causes you to feel anxious, like going for a job interview, being late for an appointment, or having a fight with your partner. Yes, those things can cause you to experience stress, but it’s the not-so-obvious things like lack of sleep, illness, or being too hot or cold that can cause stress as well. Learning exactly what stress is and how it affects you is critical so you are motivated to create positive beliefs that ensure you look after yourself and minimize your exposure to stress.
Put simply, stress is anything that moves your body out of balance. Your body is always trying to maintain a balance (homeostasis) for everything, like blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. Your body is a magnificent machine, and your stress response system is built to respond to any source of stress and then, ideally, bring it back into balance, or homeostasis.
If we define stress as anything that moves your body out of balance, let’s look at some examples:
being too hot or cold
illness of any kind
lack of food and water
lack of sleep
exposure to chemicals
inadequate oxygen supply
low blood sugar levels
marriage and relationship problems
lack of support
loss of income
There are literally millions of stressors that can move your body out of balance—you can’t avoid them all the time. According to Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras don’t Get Ulcers, just thinking about something stressful can activate your stress response, which is why worry is so draining. The secret to being able to manage your stress is understanding what stresses you and how it affects you, so you can then nurture yourself with sufficient food, rest, and sleep to bring your body back into balance.
When you experience stress from any source, your stress system is activated to increase your blood sugars, oxygen, and blood pressure—whilst at the same time decreasing things that are not important for your immediate survival, like normal cell function, digestion, and immune function. Just imagine every time you are feeling stressed:
That you don’t digest your food properly—which leads to poor nutrient absorption and vitamin/mineral deficiencies leading to disease states.
That your trillions of cells don’t function properly- leaving you feeling tired.
That your immune system stops protecting you—which leaves you vulnerable to disease.
Our stress system was designed to deal with short periods of stress, like escaping from a wild tiger, where you need a lot of energy to escape quickly (that’s why your blood sugar, oxygen, and blood pressure increase—to give you energy to escape), and then you actually use up that extra energy by running away or escaping from the stressor or tiger. Once you have used up the extra energy and escaped from the tiger, your body is supposed to return to a normal balanced state, or homeostasis.
However, many of the stressors we face today, like being late, a job interview, or argument with our partner, don’t usually allow us to run away or escape, and therefore use up all that additional blood sugar. According to Dr. James Wilson, this leaves your body in a sustained stress mode, or in other words, it leaves you in a state where your stress response is constantly switched on. This is a huge problem for society today and can lead to serious disease, like insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, auto-immune disease, cardiovascular disease, and more. Why? As Dr. Wilson states, your blood sugar, insulin, and blood pressure stay elevated during periods of chronic stress and your digestion, cellular growth and repair, and immune function are suppressed, leaving you vulnerable to disease. Most of us today are reacting to everyday events, like being stuck in traffic, as if they are life threatening and activating our stress response all through the day, as our brains are not good at distinguishing between a threat that could harm us and one that just makes us feel anxious.
We are now going to take an in-depth look at our stress response system. Learning this will be one of the keys to understanding the secret to being calm and happy.
You can see from the image above of the stress response system that the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands are involved. This is your body’s stress management system, and is referred to as the hypothamamic-pituitary-adenal (HPA) axis. The three parts that work together are:
Your hypothalamus—(regulates all physiological systems to maintain balance and is the chief controller of hormone production)
Your pituitary gland—(your master endocrine gland)
Your adrenal glands—(produce important hormones that influence every cell, including cortisol and adrenaline)
When you are feeling stressed—for whatever reason—your body has a very efficient survival mechanism which is called the fight/flight/freeze response, designed to keep you safe and out of danger. When your amygdala (a tiny but powerful part of your brain, responsible for assessing threats) perceives any kind of threat, which can be a physical threat, like a speeding car, or a perceived threat, like worrying about a future situation, it sends a signal to your hypothalamus, which controls your autonomic nervous system (ANS).
Your hypothalamus then sends signals to your adrenal glands to release adrenaline. The adrenaline ramps up your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and energy, so you can deal with your perceived threat. Next, after your surge of adrenaline declines, your hypothalamus signals your pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotrophic hormones (ACTH). ACTH now tells your adrenal glands to release the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone that helps your body stay on high alert, prepared for whatever threat it encounters.
The important point to note here is that your body responds to all threats the same way and does not know the difference between our perceived threats generated from our minds, such as our negative thoughts, worry, and self-criticism, and real threats coming from our five senses—vision, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Your stress response system does not discriminate between imagined threats and real threats, it responds the same way, which is to activate the stress response, which you will hear about soon. Stress researchers report that it is our internal threats, such as our negative thoughts, memories, self-talk, and self-criticism that are most problematic. Knowing this helps you to be motivated to stay present in your life and not caught up thinking, and overthinking and worrying all the time. Learning how to reprogram yourself is part of the solution to experiencing less negative thoughts which can activate your stress response.
We will focus on the adrenal hormone cortisol, as your body must produce increased levels of this hormone when you are chronically (for a long time) stressed. Each time your stress response is activated your body has to produce higher amounts of cortisol to cope with the threat. If you are consistently producing higher levels of cortisol over time then, this has serious side effects including:
weakening your immune system
blood sugar imbalances
insomnia (high levels at night prevent sleep)
aging you prematurely
impairing brain and memory function
disrupting synapse regulation
linked to serious conditions like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disease
High Levels of Cortisol Can Cause Weight Gain
It’s also worth noting that experiencing chronic stress leads to weight gain. If you are experiencing chronic stress your body needs to produce higher levels of cortisol, so you have more energy. These high levels of cortisol increase your blood sugar to give you more energy; this is great if you happen to be going in a marathon or plan to do a 10 km run! Unfortunately, most of us do not run or exercise when we feel stressed, so we don’t use up that energy. Therefore, the increased blood sugar levels—unless depleted—can lead to obesity and increased risk of type 2 diabetes. This is why so many people put on weight and end up with what is fondly called a stress belly. I remember I had one, even though I was exercising, eating well, and meditating, as I was extremely stressed! I wish I had known that stress can increase your weight, as I definitely would have worked on reducing it sooner.
Other Health Conditions Which Can Also Cause High Levels of Cortisol Other Than Stress Include:
I have to mention here that stress is not the only thing which can cause your cortisol levels to increase; there are other serious medical conditions as well, which include Cushing syndrome, pituitary tumors, adrenal gland tumors, and medications like prednisone or hydrocortisone. Other symptoms that may indicate high levels of cortisol include thin skin, easy bruising, facial flushing, slow healing, muscle weakness/aches, severe fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, high blood pressure, and headache.
If you have any of these symptoms, you need to go straight to your doctor and be assessed.
Cortisol—The Master Hormone of the Endocrine System
You might be thinking that cortisol is bad. Not so! You would not survive without adequate levels of this incredibly important hormone.
Cortisol has many vital functions, such as maintaining blood pressure, controlling blood sugar, regulating metabolism, and helping the body deal with inflammation. Cortisol also influences behavior, mood, and brain function. Your production of cortisol varies throughout the day, and your body produces the highest amount in the morning (so you can wake up and start moving), and the lowest at night (so you can sleep). If your levels of cortisol are too high at night—which could be caused by chronic stress—you may find it difficult to sleep. If your cortisol levels are too low in the morning, you may find it hard to get out of bed.
To function at your best, you must produce just the right amount of cortisol at the right time. A bit like Goldilocks! Consistently producing too much because you are chronically stressed may weaken your immune system, affect your memory, weaken your bones (leading to osteoporosis), and invite chronic disease. However, not producing enough cortisol is also linked to serious health issues.
If you keep pushing yourself and exposing yourself to chronic stress over a period of time, without nurturing yourself with sufficient rest, food, and sleep, then your body may eventually struggle to produce enough cortisol to keep up with your demands. Alternative health practitioners, such as naturopaths, may refer to declining cortisol levels as adrenal fatigue (AF). AF is given different terminology in traditional medicine and is viewed in the broader context of hypothalamic - pituitary - adrenal (HPA) Axis Dysfunction. According to Dr. Jockers some of the symptoms for people suffering with AF are:
unable to handle daily stressors
frequent energy crashes
Unfortunately, I have arrived at the stage where my body does not produce any cortisol, (called Adrenal Insufficiency) so I am intimately aware of how important cortisol is. My endocrinologist does not know what caused my adrenal glands to eventually stop producing cortisol. However, I was first diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an autoimmune disorder that causes an under-active thyroid) a year prior to being diagnosed with Adrenal Insufficiency. If you have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, this may increase your risk of being diagnosed with Adrenal Insufficiency or Graves’ disease. Your adrenal and thyroid functioning are somewhat interdependent and if you experiencing problems in one area this can create problems in the other.
There are many things which could have caused my Adrenal Insufficiency and my crazy lifestyle possibly contributed to it. All through my life I felt anxious and I rushed a lot. I was a high achiever, and I never felt complete unless I could tick all my boxes off. I would have been initially producing increased amounts of cortisol and because I didn’t value myself, and kept on pushing myself eventually my body would not have been able to keep up producing the amount of cortisol I needed, so I would have had declining levels of cortisol.
However, having AI has given me deep insight and understanding of how important producing the right amount of cortisol at the right time is to your quality of life. I now have to take cortisol every day to keep myself alive and I wear an insulin pump, which has cortisol in it, which is delivered directly to my body. I have been instructed by my endocrinologist to increase my cortisol during any time my body is placed under additional stress. Here are some examples of when I have to increase my cortisol so my body can effectively cope with each situation:
When I am emotionally upset—for example, grieving
When I am sick—particularly if I have a temperature over 37.5 Celsius
When I have a medical procedure, surgery, or dental procedure
When I do any strenuous exercise that I am not used to
If I have an accident
Infections, including the flu and stomach viruses
Severe allergic reactions
Abruptly stopping steroid medication
If I don’t increase my cortisol when my body is under increased stress, then I can go into what is called an adrenal crisis. An adrenal crisis can lead to shock, coma, seizure, and can potentially be fatal, according to a report published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
I have had three adrenal crises, and they were frightening. I had one when my mother passed away, as grief is a big stress to the body. And even though I doubled my cortisol for a week after my mother passed away, it was not enough and I had an adrenal crisis. I woke up in the middle of the night and was convulsing; I knew that I had to give myself an emergency injection of cortisol or I may die. Knowing when to increase your cortisol when you have AI is tricky and I know from being part of an international AI support group that many people don’t recognize their low cortisol symptoms, and end up having an adrenal crisis.
You don’t want to get to the stage where your body is not producing enough cortisol. This can happen if you are putting yourself under a lot of stress, for any reason; even good things can cause your body to be under a lot stress and need more cortisol. I must admit I get quite angry when I see the media and others celebrating people who have pushed themselves to their upper limits, through either marathons, walking around the country to raise money, or training ridiculous amounts of time to get fit.
All these things require your body to produce more cortisol and place a huge stress on your body. It’s okay to do these things for a short period of time and then nurture yourself with enough rest, sleep, the right type of food, and then get back to your normal state. Your body can handle that. However, if you are the type of person who continually pushes yourself, then eventually your body may struggle to produce enough cortisol because it just can’t keep up. Living with adrenal insufficiency is the biggest challenge that I now face and it has taught me many things. I have had no choice but to learn to pace myself, eat well, sleep well, enjoy the company of friends and family and pursue meaning in my life. If I don’t I end up in a heap at the end of the day with low cortisol symptoms, and not functioning.
The Link Between Stress and Disease
There is much evidence now demonstrating that a significant amount of people who were unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with cancer had a stressful period in the eighteen months preceding their diagnoses. If you are producing high levels of cortisol, this can reduce your immune function, leaving you vulnerable to illness.
Not only do high levels of cortisol weaken your immune function, they are also linked to osteoporosis, memory loss, insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, and stress really does age you. I can attest to that—in my staff photo taken at a school over a decade ago, I looked ten years older than I do now. Look at prime ministers and how quickly they age after a couple of years; all that stress and responsibility takes a toll!
Remember, understanding the stress topic is step 1 in the reprogramming process. We are now going to take a look at some common everyday stressors, and practical solutions you can use to decrease your stress.
Chapter 2: Practical, Easy Solutions to Reduce Your Stress
What causes stress to your body? Here are the big ones, which are presented as stress and then solution:
Stress: Lack of Sleep
What happens when you don’t get enough sleep?
You are more likely to gain weight, as lack of sleep is a significant stress and your body responds the same way it does to other stressors: which is to alter normal cortisol production and disrupt the HPA axis. This in turn increases your blood sugars - potentially leading to obesity. This cycle sets you up for gaining weight and other metabolic diseases like diabetes. We all know how bad you feel when you are sleep deprived, it affects your brain function, coordination, energy, enthusiasm, mood, and sex drive. I consider getting a good night’s sleep to be one of my most important health goals, as when I don’t get a good night’s sleep - I can barely function. Lack of sleep also decreases your immune function, leaving you more vulnerable to all viruses, pathogens and other disease.
What are the benefits of sleep?
Improved weight management
You look younger
Improved immune function
Improved blood sugar control
Improved blood pressure
Improved hormonal and brain function
Increases the level of BDNF (brain derived Neurotrophic Growth Factor)—a key neurochemical responsible for the growth and maintenance of neural connections in your brain
Proper memory formation