Making Space

Ashley Gibson photo by Ian Brown

And just like that summer is behind us, and we're heading into the fall. It feels like yesterday that it was the end of May and I had some time off before starting a new job and embarking on a new part of this journey. Time certainly does fly.

There are a bunch of things that I'm excited to write about that happened this summer - finishing my latest fitness program, travelling to Indianapolis and Montreal, and finding my groove in Toronto's east end once again. But first I want to talk about something a bit more meta, and the thing that's enabling me to write this post at all: making space.

I've had some big changes in the last couple of years, and this summer brought on its own unique transition. Within less than a month, I started a brand new job with a new company and then moved in with my partner. Getting that job offer was very exciting, but it also put a lot of other things into motion - giving notice and leaving my previous job, as well as giving notice at my apartment. Suddenly I went from lots of comfort and familiarity to a whole lot of transition and change.

And that transition felt like it lasted the whole summer! Every time I looked at the calendar I felt like there was something else coming up, whilst still gaining my footing in the day-to-day of my new job. I am so grateful for everything that was thrown my way, but it felt chaotic and tiring at times, and didn't leave me much space to find my new normal.

And now we're here.

Post Labour Day with those back to school feelings that leave me yearning for new school supplies and a fresh day planner. I finally feel like I've caught up with all of the changes and can just enjoy this new chapter of life that I've decided upon.

I can breathe.
I can enjoy this place.
I can take space for the things that bring me joy.
And be intentional with how I fill the space.

I've been doing some of these things naturally (prioritizing time for lovely friends, trying new recipes, practicing good self care) and others need to be a concerted effort, like practicing piano, reading for pleasure, and writing more regularly.

When I was working in my old job that so was so heavily connected to social media, writing and blogs, I didn't feel excited to come home and write. I was also focused on doing all sorts of social media activities related to coaching, and that always left "write new blog post" at the very bottom of my to do list. I've been using this blog as my online home for 10 years now, and over the years my posts have continued to dwindle in numbers. I've talked about changing that multiple times, but in this moment I see where writing fits in to my life and I'm determined to make it a priority.

So, hi.

The goal is for this post to be the first of more regular posts. I've made a list of things I'd like to write about and would love to hear from you what you'd like to see here. Fitness, health, lifestyle, travel, who knows what else - if there's something you'd like to read from me, let me know in the comments.

Morgan Harper Nichols

Photo by Ian Brown, Make up by Megan Fraser
Quote & image by Morgan Harper Nichols (I've been pinning so many of her quotes of late because they all resonate so deeply)

To Frances Spade (from someone else who lost her mom to suicide at 13)

Dear Frances,

I've been thinking a lot about you over the last couple of days. I want to start off by saying that I'm so sorry for your loss. Losing a parent is incredibly difficult at any age, but 13 is even more tough. Not only am I sorry for the loss of your mom, but I'm so sorry that you will be going through this in the public eye, with a lot of people sharing their thoughts and opinions about your mom, her death, stigmas about mental health, and the fact that it was a suicide.

I too lost my mom to suicide when I was 13. It was in 1998 before the internet was popular, yet even still, news of my mom's death and the "mysterious" circumstances spread like wild fire. People said that I was lying. My peers speculated on the way that she died. There were rumours, lies, and a whole lot of opinions that I could have done without - and my mom was just an everyday person, not even a public figure.

Over the last 20 years I've grappled with many emotions, feelings and waves of grief. It isn't my nature to be angry, but if that's what you're feeling, it's ok. Your feelings are valid, whatever they are. A friend once shared with me that grief is like the seasons - ever present, but always changing. Over time you will run the gamut of emotions, you may have already felt like you've gone through too many to name this week.

I was very lucky to have an incredibly guidance counsellor and a very compassionate homeroom teacher when my mom died. And that guidance counsellor set me up with my high school guidance counsellor, who helped me to participate in a bereavement group in my high school. I found a great therapist 2 years ago and she's been instrumental in my continued journey. I am so grateful for those resources and support. I urge you to find that support for yourself, or talk to someone who can help you do so; It will be invaluable for the future.

With each passing day, this will now be the lens with which you view the world. Your friends' and peers' problems will likely feel small and challenging to empathize with for awhile. It isn't common for teens your age to lose a parent, especially not in this way. They may be dealing with moving out of their childhood home, getting a low grade on a test, or having a disagreement with another friend - it is okay to show compassion, set boundaries, and remove yourself from the situation if needed. Managing your own self care and self preservation in those moments is key.

As you meet people in your life who have gone through something similar, don't be afraid to be vulnerable and talk to them about your shared experiences. I have found that I have become deeply connected to those who have experienced trauma, grief, loss and the suicide of a loved one. I cherish those relationships deeply, and know that they have helped me in my own process over time.

Don't read the comments on the internet. While always a good practice, when it comes to these matters I would advise you to be even more stringent. People can be insensitive, cruel and downright nasty. You may feel attacked personally by their words and insensitivity. Save your energy and potential rage.

As the years go by, continue to take care of your own mental health and practice good self care. There will be days that will be hard - some will be predictable (like mother's day, her birthday, the loss of others, special days in your life) and others will be sneaky and catch you by surprise. Lean on your supporters, ask for help from your network and remind yourself that it's ok to not be ok.

Your mom brought joy to many people - not only with her brand, but to you, your family and those who knew her closely; her death does not take that away. Talk about your mom. Say her name. Print photos. Ask people who knew her to tell you stories about her. Repeat your favourite stories about her. When you meet new people, share her story. They won't be able to meet her, but her legacy will continue to live in you.

These are all the things I wish I could go back and tell myself. Twenty years later I am impacted deeply by my mother's life and her death, and I still miss her every day.

Kate Spade was an incredible woman who loved you very much. I am thinking of you through these challenging days, and hope that little by little, things will seem a bit brighter. Take care of yourself.


Photo by Matthew Henry

8 Things I've Learned About Gluten Free Living

Gluten free brownies

It’s been 9 years since I’ve been gluten & dairy free, and I remain symptom free from Crohn’s about 97% of the time (sometimes it creeps up if I have another illness or I'm terribly stressed)

About 2 years before I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, I did a detox with a friend that involved cutting out gluten and dairy. I hated it so much! Afterward, I remember writing on my MSN space (remember those?!) about how gluten free living might be for some people, but I certainly wasn’t one of them! Post-detox I went back to eating just the way I did before.

Fast forward to 2008 when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s after being sick for over a year. I was presented with the options of medication, hardcore medication or surgery, and didn’t love any of those options! I started seeing a naturopath and she encourage me to do a blood test to determine my food sensitivities.

The test showed a number of sensitivities, including gluten and dairy. This time I was ready to make a change. Within 2 weeks of cutting out all the foods on this lengthy list, I wasn’t in pain anymore. I followed this plan for 3 months, and then slowly started to reintroduce many of the foods, except for gluten and dairy. Thus began my gluten free life.

8 Things I've Learned About Gluten Free Living

There are lots of different reasons why people decide to go gluten free - some by necessity (like being diagnosed with Celiac or a gluten sensitivity) and some by choice (because they find that eating gluten makes them feel bloated, gassy or just generally terrible) This post isn't to convince you that going gluten free is the way (after all, there's no one diet that's right for every single person on the planet), but more so to offer reassurance and guidance for anyone who is embarking on this lifestyle as a result of a diagnosis, a suspicion, or curiosity of how it could make them feel.

It's going to be scary, but you can totally do it

If you're like me, you probably grew up eating white or whole wheat bread, crackers, pretzels, cookies, cakes, soy sauce, frozen waffles, pancakes and donuts, all filled to the brim with gluten. The prospect of cutting all of those things out and entirely changing the way that you eat can seem daunting, overwhelming, or downright scary. I believe in you! My first experience cutting out gluten wasn't a positive one, but when I reframed my thoughts to see why I needed to do and embraced the foods I could eat, it seemed like a much more manageable change. Change is scary, but not impossible.

There are loads of foods that are naturally gluten free

Many whole foods are naturally gluten free. Lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds are all gluten free, not to mention the variety of gluten free grains like quinoa, rice, buckwheat, amaranth and teff. All of these foods may not don a a gluten free label, but they are amazing options when it comes to adopting a gluten free life.

Gluten is sneaky AF

Once you get a handle on the foods that are naturally gluten free, it's also important to learn where gluten can be hiding because it's sneaky. Soy sauce, coatings, breading, seasoning, fillers - it's not pretty, but gluten lurks in a lot of surprising places. Outside of the foods that you know are naturally gluten free, start to read those nutrition labels! Some packages will say gluten free right on the front, but it's great to get to spot the different names for gluten and also have peace of mind before you eat.

Life is a lot more fun when you focus on the things that you can eat

This was a big shift for me and made a huge difference in my outlook on following a gluten free diet. There are so many incredible things that you can eat, bake, make or get at a restaurant that are all gluten free - focus on those! I remember being at a party and afterward crying because I had just wanted a cupcake. When you focus on the things that you can eat, you'll probably feel a lot happier and more fulfilled. 

Gluten free donut holes

Gluten free baking is an art, but not impossible

First rule of gluten free baking is that you're going to have to blend your flours. Most gluten free flours don't have the same elasticity that wheat flour does (that's the gluten!) so to mimic the texture and create baked goods that don't turn out like rocks, it's important to mix your flours. There are lots of great gluten free flours blends out there that you can get pre-made, or you can pick up a variety of your own flours and go to town! My go-tos tend to be brown rice, chickpea and oat flour. You can buy small amounts of these flours at your local bulk or health food store so that you can start experimenting to see which ones you enjoy most. 

Other people will have a lot of opinions about your diet

When it comes to making any sort of change in your life, people are going to have opinions. Some of them are going to be positive and encouraging, while others may be the opposite. I'm not sure what it is about the proclamation of going gluten free that causes people to get nasty, but for some reason it has that potential. Get out your rhino skin and remind yourself that their opinions don't matter. Does eating gluten free make you feel good? Do you feel less bloated / foggy / gassy / terrible because you're no longer eating a food that's not essential to your diet? If the answer is yes, then keep rocking your gluten free life and remind those people that you're not forcing your lifestyle change upon them - they can continue to enjoy all the gluten they want! Not only is change hard for you, but it's hard for other people too. 

Most things can be made gluten free, with a few exceptions

I've yet to have a really good gluten free perogi, and I also miss decadent desserts made with layers of flaky pastry whenever I'm visiting Greektown on the Danforth here in Toronto. That being said, I've made awesome gluten free gnocchi, gone for gluten free dim sum, travelled throughout the world and tried all sorts of great gluten free food. So it's pretty rare that I feel left out. Again, if you can place your energy on the things you can eat you'll feel a lot happier and fulfilled. 

Gluten free living has come a long way

In the 9 years that I've been gluten free, I've gotten to watch the emergence of so many gluten free cookbooks, blogs, books, restaurants, bakeries and more - it's phenomenal! Many traditional restaurants in large cities have a full on gluten free menu, or will designate which items are gluten free or can be made gluten free. Here in Toronto, there are so many awesome options for dining out, plus a wide variety of stores where gluten free products are readily available - including the bigger grocery stores! Whenever I travel, I always look forward to visiting new gluten free restaurants, and seeing what GF products may be available in that place. It's awesome to see that it's become so widespread and I feel thankful to have so many incredible Ashley-friendly options at my fingertips. I always cook gluten free in my home, and my friends and loved ones haven't had any complaints - I think that's a great sign!

I don't know that I had any idea that after that first three months of gluten free living that this huge change would have such a lasting impact in my life. I'm grateful that it's helped me to keep my Crohn's in check, introduced me to so many awesome restaurants, recipes, and people, but most of all, enabled me to thrive. I can tell you that as you transition to a gluten free lifestyle it does get easier and there is so much delicious food for you to enjoy! Be kind to yourself, arm your kitchen with a great cookbook or two, start to learn those sneaky names for gluten and it will become easier and more intuitive day be day.

20 Years of Grief

Sometimes it feels like yesterday, other times, a lifetime ago; February 24th, 2018 marks 20 years since my mom died.

Grief is a funny beast. Sometimes it's predictable, like in February. I've come to learn that each year grief is going to make itself known very prominently in February. It's cold, grey, and bleak, and so often I feel overcome with sadness that I can't entirely explain. Everyday challenges feel like a heavy weight I can't bear, and some days I struggle to just get out of bed. I've come to learn that self care is key, and do my best to be gentle, while surrounding myself with people who can be gentle for me when I've lost my way.

The February grief I'm familiar with - it's the sneaky grief that catches me by surprise. The times when I catch a glimpse of a mother and daughter doing something lovely together. The ordinary thoughts of the things she will never be a part of. The photo that falls out of a book to reveal an image of a person who I long to be near. The realization that I can't easily recall the sound of her voice. Twenty years will do that to a person.

This week I was talking to a friend whose mom died a year ago. She said that she's at a point now where her mom feels further and further away with each day that passes. I know that feeling well. I've passed through more than 7,000 days without my mom, and now she feels like a distant whisper of the person I used to know.

Last year I mentioned that this 20th anniversary scared me. 20 years somehow felt more significant. Now that I'm here, it still does, even though I know it's just another anniversary. I re-read this quote earlier this week, and it still resonates so deeply:

"As far as I can see, grief will never truly end. It may become softer over time, more gentle, and some days will feel sharp. But grief will last as long as love does -- forever. It's simply the way the absence of your loved one manifests in your heart. A deep longing, accompanied by the deepest love. Some days, the heavy fog may return, and the next day, it may recede, once again. It's all an ebb and flow, a constant dance of sorrow and joy, pain and sweet love." - Scribbles & Crumbs

Twenty years ago I experienced one of the worst days of my life. I've spent the years that have followed grieving, recovering, exploring, learning, growing and changing. I know that losing my mom at 13 has played a huge role in shaping me as a person - but I can't diminish the impact of everything else that has followed. Grief has left me forever changed, as I miss the person who gave me life, and I know that I will never be the same. 

80 Day Obsession - Week One

80 Day Obsession week one recap

I made it through week one of 80 Day Obsession! Week one was full of learning, ups and downs, meal prep, timed meals, intense workouts, challenging new moves, delicious combinations, random things thrown together, early bedtimes, dishes, epsom salt baths and a few tears - but I made it.

Love at first lunge

The Workouts

The workouts in 80 Day Obsession are intense! This week ranged from 31 minutes to 60 minutes, with most of them being on the side of 45-60 minutes. I was definitely challenged by the movements, range of motion, and intensity.

Total Body Core kicked off the week with a full body workout that engaged the core with each movement. It was a swift kick in the pants but felt great to get started.

Booty focused on, well, the booty and incorporated lots of crazy movements with the resistance loops to target different parts of the booty. It hurt for a few days. 

Cardio Core alternated low and high intensity cardio with tough core moves and it certainly challenged me! 

AAA (Abs Arms and A**) was probably my favourite workout of the week. I really enjoyed the focus on these three areas, the moves and the flow of the workout. It also seemed to go by the fastest, which was a plus. 

Legs - one thing to know about trainer Autumn Calabrese is that she loves working legs whenever she can and it's her favourite day. As I write this post, I can still feel the impact of leg day!!

Cardio Flow was a challenge, especially when I learned that we would be repeating this workout every week and that in week 5 we would increase the number of reps we do, and then again in week 9.

Roll & Release included some helpful guidance for stretches with a foam roller - totally necessary after this crazy week! It's kind of a bonus since Sunday is a rest day, but definitely provided some love for my poor muscles.

The Meal Plan

80 Day Obsession Meal Plan ideas

The 80 Day Obsession meal plan was a really good thing for me. I can fall into a pattern where my eating is really great, but then lots of little treats and extras start to creep their way in. Following this meal plan this week has certainly broke me away from the little treats and extras, and has helped me to focus on eating nutritious food to fuel my workouts.

It felt like more food than I would normally eat, and I'm working to adjust myself to eating a meal first thing in the morning before my workout. I followed the meal plan that I created, but by the end of the week my meals ended up being random combinations of foods that fit into my allotted containers. One thing that helped me to be successful was to keep things simple! I heard this advice before I started the program and I'm glad that I listened. 

80 Day Obsession lunch packed

I also found that doing a bit of meal prep on Sunday made a big, big difference. I'm going to continue meal prepping, even just a little bit each week as I found it to be really helpful to my success in following the meal plan and my own sanity. On the days I was at the office for work, I packed a large lunch bag with up to 4 meals for the day. When I was home, I followed my set meal times and grabbed what I needed when it was time. Having a plan was key and I enjoyed my meals throughout the week.

80 Day Obsession Meal Plan B Sample

I decided to keep things simple again for week 2. I have a couple of meals out this week (last week there was just one) but I feel confident in following my plan and sticking to my plan. I may just be the gal busting out the rainbow containers at a restaurant so that I know I get my portions right.

The Rest

Getting up at 6am on weekdays got easier as the week went on and my body fell into a routine. I found that by the end of each day I was absolutely pooped, so I was clocking a solid 8-9 hours of sleep each night. Autumn talks about the importance of sleep all the time and I found it best to listen to my body - I needed those zzz's.

I didn't have a tonne of social situations this week, so there was very little sneaky food to avoid. I did say no to a gluten free muffin. There was one night I found myself wanting to eat, pretty much for something to do, so I just had a cup of tea. I felt satiated most of the time, so wanting to reach for snacks was mostly mental instead of physical.

Most days I had a lot of energy. The exception to that was after leg day. I had gotten a little less sleep than I had wanted and the workout just tuckered me out. I had a short nap midday and that seemed to do the trick. I find that I start powering down a bit before meals, but I'm getting into the groove and know that I want to stay within that 2-3 hour meal window.

I cried a couple of times during the week, which wasn't very surprising because it's often how I express my feelings. Twice on the first day when I was listening to an inspiring video from Autumn, and then again when Eminem's Lose Yourself came on. (who knew Slim Shady would have such an impact on my feelings?) There were some other tears during one of the workouts that was particularly tough and then on Sunday I just found myself having a low energy, sad day.

I know that this can be a tough time of year for me and that I'm doing something more extreme than usual. I'm challenging my physical and emotional fitness, so Sunday made a lot of sense to me even though it was hard. I'm thankful for my boyfriend who has been doing everything he can to help and make things easier for me, sweet friends who continue to check in and the awesome gals in my January and 80 Day Obsession groups who inspire me every day. (We'd love for you to join us!)

Foam roller love

Epsom salt baths are my new favourite thing and I think I'm going to have a love/hate relationship with my foam roller.

I'm really proud of completing week one and feel great about continuing onward with this program! There are parts that are going to get easier and more intuitive (following the meal plan, knowing how to take care of my body, finding joy in the process) and also parts that are going to get tougher from here (pretty much anything related to the workouts!!) I'm thankful for this process and look forward to how I feel at the end of week 2.

If you want to follow along my daily adventures with this program, I've been sharing a lot via Instagram - you can follow me @ashleydtl or on Facebook. Would love to connect with you there!