Conversation with Sarah Roberts
This week Liv has a Kitchen Table Conversation with the inspirational Sarah Roberts, of Sarah Talks Food!
Sarah entered sobriety 13 years ago and, ever since then has been exploring her passion of a healthy lifestyle. Through her research, she has designed a formula that has led to enjoying a healthy weight and maintaining good energy. Sarah shares her research on a website she has created, www.SarahTalksFood.com. She lives in Ottawa, Canada with her partner.
Kitchen Table Conversation
Liv: First, you made the decision to bravely share your story. Why did you decide to do that?
Sarah: I was tired of hiding behind my truth. I was tired of dodging the question as to why I didn’t drink, and I wanted to live more authentically. I wanted to feel fully integrated, and I was at the point where certain people knew my truth, and others had no idea. I just wanted to feel free. And I wanted to lose the shame I had carried around for so long. I knew that if I shared my story, good things would happen. I knew that holding on to the lie kept me mired in the past and held me back. I was just “over it”. Yeah, freedom. That is a biggie.
Liv: You shared that when you stopped drinking, you immediately lost weight and this motivated you to take your health and fitness seriously. How did stopping drinking lead to weight loss and can you describe the mental shift from a destructive behaviour to a positive one?
Sarah: I hit a rock bottom and it was really stressful to have to quit drinking. I wanted nothing more than to find that “third door” as some people call it; that place between drinking and not drinking…and although I knew it didn’t exist, I really, really wanted to find it. When I finally realized there was no third door, I immediately felt a release. I immediately felt a growing and a maturing and then so much happened so fast. I wasn’t drinking a ton of calories and so I think the stress and the not drinking and the change of my whole life contributed to the weight loss. I wouldn’t call it a mental shift, because the truth is…I lied. I wrote about it on my blog (titled “The Truth Is…I lied”) where when people would offer me a drink I would say “No, I’m on a cleanse”. Or, “No I’m going to the gym” or “No, I don’t drink…I’m a health nut” (even though I was still smoking at that time) LOL. I just figured that if I said I was “healthy”, then people wouldn’t bug me about not drinking. It worked for the most part. And in the process, I ended up becoming healthy, quitting smoking, getting fit and loving mybody, which was pretty great. But I was still living a lie. I was still mired in shame about my truth.
Sarah’s Recovery Strategy
Liv: You state that in your recovery, you tried a few AA meetings but they didn’t resonate with you. What has been your recovery strategy?
Sarah: When I moved to Ottawa, I relapsed and so I decided to try AA. I went with a friend in recovery. It just never resonated. I really enjoyed the people and hearing the stories, but I didn’t feel like I belonged, and I kept thinking that there were SO many things I would rather be doing than hearing the sad stories and talking about our drinking lives. I wanted to feel alive and AA didn’t feel that way for me (granted, I didn’t try many meetings, but this was my experience). I felt like I could be doing yoga or going to pilates, having tea and reading a great book, doing schoolwork or hitting the gym. I just didn’t feel like AA“fit” me.
Quite honestly, I didn’t have a strategy. I simply grabbed my life by the ears and I just went for it! I enrolled in Business School days after quitting drinking. I moved in with my then boyfriend to save money and be closer to College. He was an incredible support system for me. In fact, I don’t know where I would be today if it weren’t for him. I immersed myself in school and I hit the gym 5 days a week. I also worked at a local pub. That may sound crazy, but working there and serving all of those drunk people was truly cathartic for me. For one, I was still kind of social by being in a scene that I was familiar with and I would watch people get drunker and drunker and I would witness their behaviour and imagine that it was exactly what I would have been doing if I had been drinking. It made me really trust that it was not the life I wanted for myself, and so I felt empowered by the experience. Plus, I made enough money in a couple of shifts a week to get me through College and graduate at the top of my class. It was an incredibly life-changing time for me.
Liv: You talk about it being easier for a healthy person to say that you don’t drink; how so? Did you ever have a negative experience when you told people that you didn’t drink?
Sarah: I touched on this earlier, but, yeah, I felt like I could “get away” with not drinking by saying I was into health. I could use it as an excuse. Oh, yeah, I have had lots of negative experiences…usually with drunk people wanting me to drink and pushing it on me. But, honestly, it’s even in the more subtle ways. In the ways where I am not really welcome (or even invited) to parties, or where people gravitate to the table where others are drinking, or at networking events where there are the women drinking wine and then there’s me. It can feel awkward. Things are shifting, for sure, and this makes me really happy. It’s more and more common to see people sipping soda water at events now compared to even 10 years ago, so that is a welcome change!
Liv: You shared that you relapsed after moving to Ottawa and of your subsequent acceptance of your disease. Why did you know that you could never live the life that you wanted to lead with alcohol in it?
Sarah: First, I still have a hard time with the word “disease”. I believe anyone anywhere, given the right environment and circumstances can become addicted to alcohol.
But as for your question, yes, there was an acceptance after I relapsed. For sure. It was like, “ok. You’ve tried this again. And it really didn’t work. Are you satisfied now?” And I was like “ok, ok, I get it…” So, it didn’t quite go like that, but close. I woke up with a hangover for the first time in years, and I was ashamed of my behaviour the night before and I felt scared. I didn’t feel grounded for the first time in a long time and I had experienced so many amazing moments in my life when I got sober that the thoughts of going down this path again were terrifying. I just couldn’t throw away everything I had worked so hard for. And I knew that if I kept drinking, it would end badly. I remember dragging myself to the bathroom to look myself in the eyes. I stared into my own eyes and told myself that enough was enough. No more. I told myself to go and be the person I wanted to be. And I have spent the last 9 years working towards that goal. I am a work in progress, but I have learned to love myself so much more than I ever did before. And that feels like freedom.
Liv: You describe the reading you undertook during your spiritual awakening and the conclusion that ‘we are all connected at the same source energy’; what do you mean by that?
Sarah: Shortly after getting sober, I read Eckhardt Tolle’s A New Earth. It changed me in big ways and subtle ways and every way in between. I had a-ha after a-ha moment, and everything started making sense. I was in Business School, and the world of business was making more sense, too, so my brain just felt so fertile. I kept soaking up piece after piece of truth and I felt very connected to everyone and everything. I just began to realize that we are truly all part of this collective consciousness; I started manifesting things in my life andrealizing that thoughts become things. I worked at understanding my ego and how to detach from it; I learned how to be the observer in my life and to not always react so quickly. I am a work in progress, and I can still react poorly in situations, but I have learned so much about the way the universe operates; the laws it abides by, and human nature, that it has become a driving factor in my recovery.
On Nutrition in Recovery – Sarah Talks Food
Sarah: It feels like freedom!! I know I keep saying it, but truly, feeling free is the greatest accomplishment (if I can call it that?) of my life. I have found a way to love my body and myself so that I truly want to treat my body with the utmost respect. I choose not to harm it or disrespect it or damage it. I feed it and nourish with foods it knows how to handle; I give it water and sleep and exercise because that is what my human body needs to thrive. I no longer understand how people can blame their bodies when things go wrong, and yet if they are honest about how they have treated their precious bodies, it is a miracle something didn’t go wrong before then! Our bodies are exceptionally resilient, and their ONLY job is to work for us! I have been able to develop a deep, intimate love and respect for my body and that has helped me to navigate the world of food, excess and temptation, and to understand our innate desire for fat, salt and sugar. I have come up with a program that works for me, and is helping others, to know that we can live our best lives when we love ourselves, trust ourselves and respect ourselves (and that doesn’t mean we will never eat another slice of pizza, either!).
Liv: When describing your passion to serve others with the nutritional knowledge that you acquired, that you were able to share your identification, as an addict, with food addiction; what parallels would you draw between food addiction and alcoholism?
Sarah: In truth, all of them. I see all addiction the same way. It all fills a hole inside of us. Whether it is shopping or sex or drugs or food, it doesn’t matter. Addiction numbs, pushes down and soothes emotions that we don’t want to feel. And yet what happens is that the feelings are still there after we use our drug of choice; all we’ve managed to do is pile on the guilt and shame of our addiction, which only makes us feel worse…and the cycle continues.
I am not a nutritionist or dietician, but someone who understands addiction because I’ve been there. I know that we need to get to a place where we love, trust and respect ourselves before we can truly make a lasting life-change.
Liv: You talk about the feeling of shame. How does shame feature in food addiction? Would you describe it as a barrier to seeking help?
Sarah: Shame is food addiction. Food addiction is shame. The trouble with food addiction is we need to eat to live! So, we get confused about what to eat and what not to eat and we “try everything” and we give up and we eat. We crave fat, salt and sugar because we are hard-wired to do so. We keep saying “yes” to what we want right now (the cookie, the cake), which means we are saying “no” to what we really, really want, which is a healthy, happy life where we are free from our food addiction.
We can say we have ”tried everything”, and I believe people think they have because the diet industry is a multi-billion dollar industry for a reason. But the ONLY people I have ever known to lose weight, keep it off and go on to live healthy, happy lives are the ones who gave up on diets and started eating REAL food. They realized that there has to be something to the idea of eating vegetables, fruits, legumes, lean meats, eggs…they realised that moving more than sitting would be a good idea. They realized they had to stop hating themselves and their bodies into submission through starvation and deprivation, and they made a decision to no longer settle for the life they had been living.
Absolutely shame is a barrier to seeking help. In fact, I have a secret Facebook group for the Kick The Sugar Challenge because so many of them said if it wasn’t secret, they wouldn’t be able to share. There is so much shame in admitting we can’t control our food. And I get that feeling, as I dealt with shame for so long while hiding my addiction to alcohol. But I hope attitudes are changing. I hope we can all embrace the truth that we all need help in an area, and that if we can’t admit we need help, we remain mired in our addiction for longer than we need to.
Change is Possible
Liv: In your mission, you assure the reader that change really is possible and that all that is needed is a plan and belief. Can you elaborate on this?
Sarah: I believe anything is possible when we make a decision. I believe it all starts there. Having a plan can simply mean figuring out the next step, and what’s amazing is the universe rewards action, so we take the next right step. And the next one. What’s great about working with someone who has a plan that is shown to be successful is that we can follow it and trust that our journey can also be successful. It takes the guesswork out of where to step next.
Liv: You reference a phrase ‘our secrets keep us sick’ and state that by sharing your truth, you may be able to help someone struggling. What difficulties/struggles do you think those with food addiction suffer with?
Sarah: Being addicted to food is so tough because we have to eat food. We can’t survive without it. People who are overweight are immediately judged as weak or lazy or gluttonous by others, and that is not fair. I see food addiction the same way I see alcoholism…that anyone, anywhere can become addicted to it. When I see a drunk person, I feel the same way as when I see an overweight person. I immediately feel their pain and I want to help them. I know they are using their drug of choice to soothe, to numb, to push down pain. And all of our pain is different, and all of our pain is the same. I also know that until people are ready, there is no change. You never know when your message is going to reach them, though, so we must remain vigilant about sharing our stories in the hopes of inspiring someone else.
For so many years into my sobriety, I hid the truth. It was only when I started working at a health studio that I finally started really opening up to people as a way to connect with them and let them know I understood. They were dealing with food addiction and weight issues, but when I shared that I was a recovering alcoholic, they could trust me when I would offer suggestions, share recipes, show them workouts etc. It was the beginning of me finally ridding myself of my shame…on my path to wholeness.
Sarah: I am enjoying the writing. I am enjoying connecting with others who enjoy reading it, and I am looking forward to seeing it evolve. I have created the Kick The Sugar Challenge, and that is where a lot of my energy is being used right now. I love seeing people reach breakthroughs and when they share a-ha moments, it is exhilarating for me! I know exactly what it feels like to go from feeling like a “slave to a drug” and from hating myself to feeling free and truly loving myself. I am absolutely in love with this work and with the people who are going through my program. It feels like I am in the exact right place in time. I am honoured and humbled to be able to lead these amazing people towards a life of wholeness, happiness and freedom!
Liv: You state that the purpose of your site ‘isn’t about starvation & sacrifice…’ rather self-love and self-respect. What do you mean by that?
Sarah: The diet industry is a multi-billion dollar industry for a reason. We say a diet “worked” if we lost weight on it…even if at the exact moment we are saying that, we are carrying MORE weight than we had BEFORE we started that diet!! We blame ourselves for it not working, instead of blaming the diet! Isn’t that crazy? What I teach is a way to live that makes us so aware of what food is, what it does, how we relate to it and how we feel about it, that we develop an incredibly intimate relationship between the food we eat, the way we feel, and the way we view ourselves. We learn to trust ourselves around food. We learn to love ourselves so much that we want to nourish our amazing bodies instead of disrespecting them and treating them with hate. And we no longer succumb to the lure of “diets” that promise fast weight loss because we absolutely know that the only way to fast weight-loss is through deprivation, starvation, and sacrifice (Grapefruit diet anyone? How about cabbage soup?) They just don’t work. They don’t. They have us starving and miserable so we can fit into an outfit for 5 minutes, and then we go back to our old ways because the old ways felt a lot better! We gain all the weight back, plus more. So unless and until we break this cycle, this is the way life looks forever. It is exhausting and painful. It is no way to live our precious lives. It is no way to treat our amazing bodies.
Liv: You have designed a food journal on your site; what is the importance of keeping a journal as part of a weight loss journey? And what other tools would you recommend?
Sarah: I am so glad you asked! Did you know that people who use food journals lose two to three times the amount of weight as non-journalers? That one step could get you closer to a healthier weight, so why not do it? So, how does it work? Here are my top 5 reasons:
1. Journaling IN THE MOMENT (not at the end of the day when we likely forget what we’ve had) helps keep us accountable. We don’t want to write things down if we aren’t proud of the choices; so it is more likely we will make better choices.
2. Food Journaling, when done in a loving way of NO judgment, sends a powerful message to the subconscious that we are focused on what we are putting in our bodies. That we love and care for our bodies. That we are mindful of our choices. This helps us make a strong body-mind connection that frees us from a “diet” mentality of restricting, and allows the body to relax and know that we are taking care of it. We reduce cortisol, which reduces belly fat.
3. Food journals, when we track foods AND moods (which is KEY) help us spot weaknesses, patterns, pitfalls and track our cravings. For example, if you ate oatmeal and berries at breakfast for a few days and felt energized afterwards, but later in the day you noticed you were having major sugar cravings, we would look at what you had for breakfast. We would see you didn’t have enough protein, and we would adjust your breakfast for the next few days. If that helped, we would have our answer.
This is why journaling AS WE ARE EATING is key. We NEVER remember everything we’ve eaten at the end of the day.
That brings me to #4.
4. When we DON’T journal, it is amazing how much we can eat mindlessly, adding weight even when we are eating well. We certainly might be eating well, but what if we polished off the entire (insert food) by the end of the day and didn’t account for it? Out of sight, out of mind…yet our bodies notice everything.
5. A Food Journal can uncover that we are not eating ENOUGH during the day, and then we may end up bingeing at night because we are STARVING. Or, we will slow down our metabolism because our body goes into starvation mode and holds on for dear life.
For all of these reasons, Food Journaling is your BEST FRIEND when you are looking to become your healthiest weight.
Remember, too. Water intake affects weight loss. We MUST stay hydrated, and we track out water in our food journals.
As for other “tools”, I would say developing a really strong self-care routine is key. Listen to nice music, read a great book, take a bath, body brush, moisturize your body…anything that connects you to yourself and shows yourself love.
SLEEP is such a key in weight loss! When we are tired, we crave sugar like crazy, we slow our metabolism, and we increase the stress hormone cortisol when we aren’t rested. So, again, this is another reason the food journals are so helpful because we track our sleep there, too. If you’re tired, go to bed. If you can’t go to bed, drink water and eat a high protein meal.
Protein is the King of the macronutrient world. Seriously, when we don’t eat enough protein, we suffer sugar and food cravings. Starting your day with 20-25 grams of protein (so, a 4-egg omelette, leftover chicken dinner, a high protein smoothie (from REAL ingredients like Hemp Hearts or Greek yogurt, NOT a store-bought protein powder), we can ward off afternoon and late night sugar cravings.
28 Day Sugar Challenge
Liv: You have a 28 day sugar challenge on your site, can you explain a little more about that?
Sarah: People like Challenges. I write about Challenges a lot on my blog. Just like people like to make decisions. Something happens when we make a decision; a lot happens. All of a sudden, we feel different. We behave differently, and we have to make new choices to support out new decision. I love making decisions, and deciding to undertake a 28-Day Kick The Sugar Challenge means that for 28 days, we eat no sugar. That said, after 14 days, we re-introduce berries. And in the 4th week, we re-introduce some grains…but for 28 days there is no sugar (no candy, chocolate, cookies, soda etc.), no refined carbohydrates (no bread, bagels, pasta, rice etc.), no dairy, no alcohol and only ONE cup of coffee per day, if necessary. It is tough! But the breakthroughs have been incredible. And after 28 days, you have the choice of continuing on to my Re-Integration Phase, or you can be done, able to go back into the world armed with more knowledge and information than you ever had before. After Re-Integration, I have an entire Maintenance Phase, where nothing is off-limits, and we really get into the nitty gritty of our relationship with food. The entire program is centred around self-love and empowering ourselves with the truth about food, so there is a lot of inner work we do. It is life-changing work, and it is the work I am most proud of, by far.
Sarah: 1. I eat well and I cook my own food. Nourishing my body and connecting with the foodI eat has made a huge difference in relationship with myself throughout my recovery. Nothing connects you to the food you eat and the body you are blessed to live in the way cooking your own meals can. When we outsource it all, we lose an intimacy that changes our view of food and our world; it changes the way we see ourselves in relation to it.2. I move my body every day. In early sobriety, I found that exercise helped me not only feel better physically, but it really helped me get through those anxious times when I would have otherwise been drinking. Working out truly saved me and became another powerful tool in connecting me to my body.
3. I drink water! So many people ignore drinking water. They go all day on a few cups of coffee or some soda. It’s crazy. Our bodies are made up of 65% water, and we NEED it to function properly. I switched from drinking alcohol to drinking water almost exclusively, and I couldn’t believe the difference in my energy, my skin, my cravings and my focus. Consider your favourite plant. What does it look like when it needs a drink? That is what we look like on the inside when we are dehydrated. But what happens when we water our plant? It comes to life! That is exactly what happens to us when you hydrate ourselves. At events, I always have a glass of water in my hand…both to hydrate me and to signal to people that they don’t have to ask if I want a drink.
4. I prioritize my sleep. This has always been hard for me because I work a lot, but as a society, we are awake too late, we get up too early, and we sleep with the TV on or our phones/screens in the room with us. I practice a shut-down routine that sends a signal to my brain that it is time to sleep. Lack of sleep affects our moods, and can have us battling with cravings more than we would if we were rested. When we are tired, we crave carbohydrates (sugar), so we can tend to crave alcohol more when we are tired or we end up eating late at night and then we munch during the day to stay awake. It is said that when people don’t want to go to sleep,it is because they are not happy with their lives or their day. If this is true for you, I suggest finding ways to become fulfilled during the day and develop a sleep routine that helps you prioritize this essential piece of your wellness. Limit your caffeine intake, keep your room de-cluttered, comfortable and cold; darken your room and learn to love your sleep!
5. “Follow your bliss”. This advice is at the root of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey”. Following our bliss may not mean we can quit our jobs to go do the thing we are passionate about…but it might. For me, I spent several years dipping my toe in the water and trying new things before finally being able to do what I love. Following my bliss, having worthy goals and chasing dreams that I believe in have made a huge impact on my happiness, which has helped me see my sobriety as the greatest blessing of my life. Perhaps you will volunteer and help others; perhaps you will start a business that nourishes your soul; perhaps you will create a community around your passion. Whatever way you can add passion and purpose into your life, with a way that serves others, I think that is the key to lasting happiness. And happiness is the key to living well in sobriety. If I felt miserable and hated every minute of my sober life, it would only be a matter of time before I relapsed. Loving myself, showing myself love, trusting myself, respecting myself and doing things that make my life have meaning…this is my recovery plan. And I feel like it is working for me.