A Reflection on Bikini Beach Photos with Supermodels

I recently got back from a trip to Miami with two friends.  Did I say friends?  I meant supermodels.  I know you perverts like visuals so here you go…

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I spent so many years of my life trying to lose weight.  I wanted to be a model.  I wanted to be those pictures of my friends above.  I wanted to be recognized as the beautiful one- the one that society takes and puts a big skinny stamp on saying “you’re special”.  I wanted to be anything but the chubby, class clown with tons of friends and no boyfriends.  And so I spent 15 years dieting, bingeing, throwing up my meals, taking appetite suppressing drugs, and starving- and then beating myself up over the fact that my willpower wasn’t strong enough to get me to where I needed to be.  The place where I thought happiness lived. Somewhere in the gap between my thighs.

It took me a long time but I finally got burnt out and decided I was ok with the hand I’d been dealt.  I started focusing on my strengths rather than shortcomings.  I was tall and felt beautiful most days, and years of having to work to get people to like me landed me one kick-ass personality and some impressive bantering skills. And then one day while at Bank of America, I was scouted and signed with a modeling agency.  At a size 14.  I would be what the industry calls a “plus size” model.  I’d been called a lot of names in my life from “whale” to “fat girl” to a “liability”- but this certainly had a more positive ring to it.  I got to live my dream without trying to be someone I wasn’t. And three years later I’m living in New York City as a full-time, plus-size model with my face plastered up on Wilhelmina New York’s website. A dream come true- and one that came to fruition when I finally stopped trying to be somebody I wasn’t.

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But with finding extreme love for yourself comes a new desire to really take care of yourself.  I finally realized my value and decided I wanted to be the best possible version of me.  Through nutrition, exercise, meditation, and a lot of self-reflection- I managed to reinvent myself in the last 9 months that I’ve been a Manhattan resident. I’ve lost 30lbs and various jobs but I’ve chosen my health as a priority. My mind is functioning at a level I couldn’t even imagine and I feel more joy, energy, and clarity than ever before.  I am beginning to live my passion and purpose and it has come along with a new found sense of confidence.

Which is important when you take a vacation to Miami with supermodels.  Because honestly, three years ago, you could have paid me $10,000 and given me a free trip to the Greek Islands and I still wouldn’t have dreamed about putting on a bikini and posing for a picture in the Aegean Sea. But when my friend Holly suggested a primarily free weekend trip to Miami, the new Danika said HELL YES!

And it ended up being the perfect weekend getaway.  We relaxed on the beach, cooked healthy dinners at home, spent time meditating and journaling, and managed to soberly out-twerk everybody at club LIV.  But throughout the entire weekend, I still found myself feeling different.  Identifying myself as the “big friend”. Feeling like the third wheel to two bombshells and having to make up for my shortcomings with my exuberant personality and ability to ask strangers questions for an hour straight without being bothered that they haven’t even asked how to pronounce my weird Croatian hybrid of a name.  Dan-uh-kuh. Thanks for asking.

And so on the last day, when our tans were the darkest they’d be getting, Holly and Alexis suggested a group bikini photo by the ocean.  I quickly responded “I’m good, I’m just really comfortable” which really meant “I’m not good and I’m really uncomfortable posing next to you freak shows”.  But because I am quite possibly the biggest pushover in all of the land, I finally obliged and struck my pose for the 75-year old Italian men that were one Instagram filter away from a heart attack- and for the one picture ever that I hoped for a finger over the lens, they managed to snap with pure precision.

We returned to our chairs and I requested full approval before posting rights.  And then it happened. I really looked at the photo.  Rather than seeing some version of negative thoughts and assumptions of my differences, I had no option but to admit that I looked GOD DAMN AMAZING! And I also looked just like my friends. Did I say friends? I meant supermodels.

The supermodels who had spent the weekend equally concerned with their own bodies. All of us too busy tearing ourselves down inside to notice that we were all in this together.  Feeling “bloated” or “saggy” or “too pale” or “not toned”.  The ones who asked if they looked good in their outfits and the ones that borrowed MY makeup and wanted to know how I ate and what I was cooking and what kind of workout I did at the gym.

And something really struck me.  Even the girls that the media prints in the pages of your magazines- in store windows and taped to teenager’s (and murderer’s) walls have the same insecurities that we all do.  They wake up having days when they feel amazing but they also wake up feeling less than their best quite often.  They’re looking for the latest beauty tips, the best workouts, and the healthiest dinners. They’re feeling insecure in their skin because not even THEY feel like the photoshopped version of themselves that’s glued to your fridge in an effort to empower you to stop eating.  Empowerment comes from love by the way, not hate or fear.

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And so here I am, sharing my Supermodel Bikini Beach photo with the world.  Because someone out there is looking up to me and wanting what I have. And to be honest I don’t blame them.  Cause I look good.

And so do the supermodels.  I mean, my friends.

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The Trick to Creating Permanent Change: Losing the Weight for the Last Time

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There’s a certain high that comes along with a great weight loss and feeling better about ourselves… and a very clear low when our diet eventually fails us and we gain the weight back. By this point, most health-conscious individuals recognize that diets don’t work.  The key is making realistic lifestyle changes that have no end date in sight.  So if diets don’t work, what can we do in order to create lasting change? I’ve got your back!  Check out my latest video on creating permanent changes and the trick to losing the weight for the final time.  And a bonus, this tip helps in all areas of life whether it’s addiction, a job we don’t like, a bad relationship, or just an overall desire to step yourself UP in the game of life.

Find out why I’m so sure that my recent 30lb weight loss is a permanent one and what made this time around so very different.

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Things That Have Been in my Mouth: Ginger-Garlic-Cashew-Dijon-Jalapeno Dressing

IMG_8216 Another delicious meal has driven me straight to the blogosphere. I was craving a salad for lunch (that sentence was about as recognizable as Arabic for me a few years ago) and I was somewhat bored of my usual olive oil-balsamic-salt-pepper dressing.  I’m traveling to Costa Rica in a few days for a yoga retreat so I’m holding off on going grocery shopping and trying to make use of what I already have in my fridge.  Enter this new salad dressing concoction! And it is DELISH!

My mom didn’t really cook much growing up- leave it to me to point this out on MOTHERS DAY- but really, she didn’t.  We were always on the go so I ate a lot of fast food- pizza, McDonalds, bagels, Taco Bell.  As a result I never really learned how to cook.  As I got older and started caring much more about what went into my body, I was forced to teach myself… and honestly it is super easy. The number one concern I get from people wanting to eat healthier is that they think they can’t cook.  I promise you, you can.  Pick a recipe, cook it, and then you can forever use it as a starting point to make your own varieties and mix up flavors and ingredients.

I’ve been eating super clean for over four months now and essentially follow the Whole30 program, which is quite similar to Paleo.  My diet consists of organic fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, and meat that is hormone/antibiotic free and properly fed/raised, and healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, and raw nuts. If it doesn’t fall into one of those categories, I don’t eat it.  Period.  I’ve learned so much about our food industry and I think that we desperately need to get away from all the processed foods, chemicals, and added sugars we are filling ourselves with these days. I don’t count calories, fat, or really anything. I eat when I’m hungry and I try not to when I’m not. Four and a half months later, 30lbs lighter, and more vibrant, happy, and energetic than I’ve been in my entire life- I am living proof of how powerful nutrition can be.  Food is most certainly the best medicine. And I am most certainly in this for life.

I often miss those creamy Caesar and Ranch dressings that I used to eat before I realized what was in them, and I’ve found the secret ingredient to get back that comforting consistency without the poison.  Cashews!!

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Ginger-Garlic-Cashew-Dijon-Jalapeno Dressing Recipe (Paleo, Whole30, and Life-Friendly)- Makes about 4 portions for meal-sized salads

1-3 Organic Garlic Cloves (I’d aim for 1, I used 3 and the Garlic was a little overpowering)
1 1/2 tsps Organic crushed Ginger
1 small jalapeño pepper chopped- seeds/center removed
1/2 cup soaked raw cashews- You must soak these or the dressing won’t have the same consistency- Just cover them in water and soak for about 6 hours… or if you’re me three weeks because I forgot about them.  I recommend making a double batch so you can use them for other things
3 tbsp Organic Apple Cider Vinegar
3 tbsp Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tsp Dijon Mustard
Salt, Pepper, and Red Chili Peppers to Taste
 
Blend all ingredients together in a food processor, magic bullet, or whatever fancy apparatus you have that I can’t afford. Store excess in a glass jar or tupperware in the fridge. I don’t know how long it can stay there. I don’t work for the FDA.  I’m surely thinking about it though. 
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Arugula Salad with Avocado, Pear, and Cherry Tomatoes (Amounts are for one meal-sized portion)

1/2 bag Organic Arugula 
1/2 Organic Pear
1 cup Organic Cherry Tomatoes- halved lengthwise
Freshly Ground Pepper
 
Toss arugula, pear and cherry tomatoes in dressing with your hands to coat evenly.  Arrange on plate and add avocado across the top because it will look prettier that way in your Instagram photo.

 

Enjoy!!

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Meditation, Tuning In, and My Weave

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I’ve gone and done it friends.  I’ve started meditating.  And I can’t really stop. It’s a massive game changer and I had no idea what those crazy meditating people were talking about until my girl Oprah offered me a free 21-day meditation challenge. And if there are two things in this world that I can’t say no to, it is Oprah and anything that’s free.

Just by sitting still and quieting my conscious thoughts for 20 minutes a day, I have uncovered so many things that I had previously buried with ideas of how things should be, expectations and anxiety, and stories of how I wasn’t quite good enough. It has been less than two weeks and I’ve already discovered a few key points AND seen them playing out immediately in my daily life. Let’s just say I’ve been using the phrases “Wow!” and “Holy Sh!t” in my journal a lot lately.

Here is what I now know for sure through my mediation practice:

1. Everything we need, every single thing, is within us

2. When we find it in ourselves to stop worrying and to trust that we’ll be taken care of and everything will be ok, the universe will have the space to get to work.  And that damn “universe” (or God or Energy or whatever you prefer to call it) knows what’s best for us. Like always.

3. Letting go of our conscious thoughts allows us access to our core, deeper ones- the ones that know us best and that aren’t affected by the stories and lies we tell ourselves- the subconscious self has all the answers but we have to be in a position to listen.

And so maybe this makes me a hippy but I’m certainly ok with that identification if it means I can keep this up on the reg. Do you meditate?  I’d love to hear about your experience if so… mainly to prove that I’m not crazy.  And because I love you. I realized that while meditating. You’re welcome.

Check out my experience via video blog, a cameo from Kingsley, and find out why I put my weave in for your viewing pleasure…

 

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What Diarrhea All Over My Rug Taught Me About Coping With Discomfort

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The other day while I was in Milwaukee traveling for work, Kingsley decided to explosively diarrhea all over my area rug.  Kingsley is a 200lb English Mastiff- but dog, human, or dinosaur, it doesn’t really make a difference.  Either way there is brown liquid mucus on my rug that takes up about half of my NY studio apartment. My friend Bianca was staying at my place and was able to take him out in the mornings and at night, and since I was too cheap to pay my dog walker $25 to take Kingsley out midday, the universe decided to punish me for animal abuse.  Bianca, who I owe massively, scooped up what she could and rolled up the carpet until I got home.  When I got back to NY that night, my place smelled so badly that I secured the rug in two trash bags and promptly put it in the hallway.  Because I’m that kind of neighbor.

Well that was three days ago.  And said diarrhea rug burrito was still in the hall.  I decided that today was the day that I needed to take some damn initiative.  Not because I felt bad for my neighbors but because I was taking photos to post my apartment on AirBNB to make some extra cash, and it just looked so much more appealing with that rug decor. I cut it out of its trash bag coffin and laid it back into place on my floor.  Some of the diarrhea was dried so I scraped it off into crumbs that I later vacuumed. The other half was still damp and I massaged that nicely into a paper towel and deeper into the rug.  A bottle of Resolve later, the spots were gone and I was temporarily happy.  I sprayed it all over with Lysol and Air Freshener. For those that don’t know, I am a real hippy these days, eat all organic, and am not really down with chemicals- so that should give you an idea of how desperate the situation was.

I decided to sit down at my desk to do day six of my daily meditation challenge with my friends Deepak Chopra and Oprah and focus on the fact that “my wisdom is within”. I sat there still, for twenty minutes, breathing in and out- and wisdom was certainly not the focus… “Om, Diarrhea smell, Om, dead carcass, Om, selling my dog on Craigslist, Om, I’m going to hell, Om, not even Gandhi could Om in this environment”.  I was pissed.  The last five days of meditation had proven truly magical and enlightening and today I was nothing short of agitated. I told three people, including my brother, that I couldn’t hang out with them on Easter. Life as I knew it was over. This was a black diarrhea-y hole and I was sinking. In the old days (and sometimes the new ones) I would turn to binge eating but I’ve been making sincere strides in that department so I took to my journal.  I wrote about how disgusted I was and how I couldn’t focus and how I was going to try to take a nap to calm myself down. I got in bed. No sleep.  No Oms. The smell was so putrid. I reached my breaking point.

I made that rug my bitch and it is currently sitting in the bathtub in its 5th round of soap and water soaking. Looking like a million bucks or at least like the $140 that I bought it for on Amazon. And like the true introspective, yogi, personal-growth-obsessed, twenty-something that I am, I learned a very valuable lesson from the experience.  And so I want to share this journal entry with you.  And this photo.

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Having Your Diarrhea and Losing it Too (what? I don’t know)…

I couldn’t get the smelly rug out of my head so I decided to get up and do something about it.  I’m realizing a couple things right now about myself. The first, is how important it has become to me to have neat, clean surroundings.  The more order I find in my life, the more peace I find in order. I decided to roll up the carpet and soak it in the bathtub with laundry detergent and hot water- stomping it clean, however many times it takes until the water is no longer brown.  I also re-swiffered the floors and the place is already smelling good as new. 
 
The second thing I’ve noticed is my ability nowadays, since I’m so much more clear-minded than I used to be, to think outside the box a bit more. It’s not like using the bathtub and laundry detergent was some genius idea, but stepping back and out of the situation allowed me to gain a new perspective and figure out what the most efficient way to manage the situation was.  I hope that this parallel plays out in many other areas of my life. I have a feeling it will. I just feel like I’m able to remove myself lately and see the big picture.  And I like it.
 
Most surprising of all was that this particular situation didn’t lead me to binge eat. It’s as if I’m finally learning that food will not fix the problem, it will in fact amplify it. Add MORE pain and discomfort. I’m learning to recognize the source of the pain, whatever it is that’s causing discomfort within me, and find the logical way to solve it. Rather than take the easy way out and numb myself, I can go deeper and attend to the real issue. For so long I would feel something uncomfortable and I would mask it with food. Numb myself with large quantities so I didn’t have to face the real problem.  Because when the problem is that the rug needs to be cleaned, the only thing that will solve that problem is cleaning the rug- not kicking Kingsley (which I would never actually do FYI), not spraying the rug with pounds of Lysol to cover up the smell rather than solve it, and not numbing myself with food to avoid the real issue.  The ONLY thing that can soothe that pain is getting in the tub and cleaning that mother fucking rug. The ONLY thing that can solve any pain is dealing with that pain directly.  Not covering it up and praying for the best. It always emerges later, maybe in a different form, but eventually you will have to deal with it.  So why not save yourself  the time and energy, the calories, the alcohol, the drugs, the sex, or whatever your comfort is… and grab that bull by the horns. Or that diarrhea by the… hands.
 
And honestly, diarrhea explosion or not, that rug needed to be washed desperately- so it actually ended up being a blessing in disguise. The universe works in epic ways. So does my dog’s stomach.
 
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Practicing Vulnerability: Journals Unedited

In the last couple months, I have been journaling every day.  I absolutely love to write and when I do, time stands still. It has been the first time that I’ve been able to really make sense of my thoughts and to truly access that deeper level that has been buried or numbed for so long. Most of my blog posts take fragments from my journal and are edited to suit an audience but every now and then I want to share with you the dialogue that comes straight from my heart.  My journal entries, completely unedited.  Here is what came up this morning…

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Date: Friday, April 11th, 2014
Time: 12:30-1:30pm
Location: NYC- Meatpacking District: random table and chair outside Gaslight
 
I decided to stop and sit in the action of the city to do this morning’s journaling.  With the exception of the cigarette smoke that’s reaching my health bubble, everything is pretty perfect.  I just had a casting at Milk Studios so I’m looking pretty top notch as well. I like being alone in a big city occasionally.  All sorts of energy passing by as I peacefully sit here and write.
 
I want to feel like New York is as magical as if I was sitting in the middle of Paris or Barcelona.  And it is!  It can just be hard to recognize when you feel like it isn’t going anywhere.  When you live here it is really easy to take for granted the fact that I’m living in the most beautiful part of the most amazing city in the world.  How lucky am I?!
 
I really don’t need much to make me happy.  Getting good sleep, getting up and ready for the day, and getting out into the world is so fulfilling.  What I’m doing right now is what I hope to be doing forever.  And its so great to know just how little I really need to be happy. A journal, a pen, a roof over my head, food to eat, and love and support around me.  I could really make that a reality anywhere.
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It’s truly a great day in NY.  The first since I’ve moved here that was really suited to sitting outside and writing.  I have a feeling that Spring will be when I fall madly in love with this place.  As I’ve been spending more time out and about, meeting people and being present, I’m reminded of how many wonderful people are out in this world.  It’s a true shame that we don’t get to meet all of them but I trust that the universe brings together the right ones. 
 
I’ve been really wanting to be my true, authentic self more lately.  I notice that I still wear a lot of masks and that I want nothing more than to totally strip myself of them in all arenas. The thing is, I know I’m a beautiful, passionate person worth of love and I truly believe that I’d find even more support and much deeper connections if I could just find a way to cut out all the bullshit.  All of the caring what people think, trying to please everyone, and anything I do that suggests I’m trying to be something that I’m not.  I know I’ll get there.  I’ve already come so far and I know it’s just a matter of time.  I’m just going to try to be more aware of when I think I may be faking or trying too much and to make some positive shift.
 
(My friend) Julia is staying with me and she’s just so real. So able to be vulnerable and not concern herself with what I think when she tells a story.  She seems to just be really in tune with herself which I admire.  For so long I numbed myself to all my emotions so I can’t expect to start feeling and being completely in tune with them right away.  It all takes time.  It’s a journey much like mine with food.
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I’m beginning to get a lot more comfortable with being hungry.  I’ve found that now that I’ve told myself that being hungry is ok, I’m a lot less frantic about the concept.  I can relax and live more, knowing that I don’t have to plan every move around my next meal.  Knowing that food will always be there and that I won’t starve.  It feels really freeing.  And I think that’s gonna be the key to being able to tune out the thinking about food all day thing.  Because when I know its ok to be hungry, I can forget to worry about it and in turn focus on living fully during the remainder of my days.  When its not a constant concern, I’ll be able to forget about it- which for me is the ultimate goal. 
 
To only think of food and eating when my physical body tells me it needs fueling.  That would be a true cure for me.  The goal of all of this.  To take all the power away from food and to view it strictly as fuel. Be someone who “forgets to eat” or who finally views eating as another normal daily task like going to the bathroom or sleeping. Something we think about when our body alerts us to its necessity and that we don’t think about when it doesn’t. That’s how I define being cured from food addiction.  That’s the END!
 
I think I’ve always had a hard time determining what the goal was.  What to strive for at the very end of all of this.  What I can tell people to expect when they can finally conquer all of this.  Being the kind of person that can have a box of Cheez-Its go stale in the cupboard or find a bag of peanut M&M’s that have expired in your pantry.  
 
And fortunately through all of this I’ve managed to become super passionate about health and nutrition as well.  Thinking for so long that they were two completely related concepts but really they’re quite different.  I’m glad my comfort eating led me to thinking nutrition was the answer because though I’m realizing that it isn’t, I managed to gain an extreme love and passion for quality, real, whole foods in this process of self-discovery.  And that is truly invaluable!
 
Danika
 

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Things That Have Been in My Mouth: Carrot and Broccoli “Spaghetti” with Meat Sauce and Sweet Potato Fries

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Get your mind out of the gutter.

So I just made something for dinner and my mouth/body fell in love to the point that I felt almost sinful not sharing the recipe with you guys immediately.  Like, I want you to eat this for dinner.  And cover your body in it.  Or maybe I was just really hungry and it wasn’t that good but there’s really only one way to tell.

This is technically my first recipe post but as many of you know via my Instagram FoodFlashMob (@danikabrysha) I’ve been cooking up a storm since I began my journey to health a few months ago.  I’ve been wanting to share recipes with you and so let’s cheers our tea and ice waters to the start of something awesome.

IMG_7227Now, just a few notes.  I mainly shop at Trader Joe’s because I like my money, so most of the ingredients I use are from there.  Also, I don’t measure anything… because who has time for that?  Really I just don’t have a dishwasher in my NY studio apartment that I pay way too much for, and this gal is not about to wash an extra tablespoon for nuthin’.  So if you have more specific questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments and I will not hesitate to answer you.  Unless I’m really busy.  Like on Pinterest or refreshing my Instagram feed or something. I also keep a lint roller close by the stove at all times. I just feel safer that way.

Everything I eat is free of dairy, grains, added sugars, additives and hormones, legumes, and all that junk that holds us back from functioning at our optimum level. And our goal here in my cyber universe is to help you be your best self ever as I continue my journey to be mine.  I try to buy all organic as far as produce goes but it definitely isn’t the end of the world if not.  For meats, I make sure they are free of hormones, humanely raised, and fed proper feed.  For beef, that means organic and grass fed.  Cows are so stuck up.

I didn’t plan on writing a blog on this but when my mouth felt that warm, salty, meaty explosion I sprinted (ok, I didn’t sprint) to my computer to shout on mountaintops.  Enough banter, more beef.

Grass-Fed Meat Sauce (Makes about 3-4 Servings: awesome left-over with just about anything expect probably fruit…)

1 Package (1lb) Organic Grass-Fed Ground Beef from TJ’s
Extra Virgin Olive Oil- If I had to guess I’d say 2 tablespoons)
3/4 red onion chopped
4 mushrooms (I think they’re button, whatever that means) chopped
5 cloves of garlic chopped finely
10 cherry tomatoes- halved lengthwise
1 green bell pepper chopped
1/2 can (3oz) of TJ’s organic Tomato Paste (comes in a 6oz can)
Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder, Oregano, Basil, and lots of Red Chili Flakes if you like to spice things up

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Organic Carrot and Broccoli Spaghetti (Makes about 2 servings)

One bag of TJ’s Organic Broccoli and Carrot Slaw
1 tbsp Coconut oil
Salt and Pepper to Taste

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Organic Sweet Potato Fries (Makes 2 servings)

2 small to medium organic sweet potatoes
1-2 tablespoons coconut oil
Salt and Pepper to Taste- (cinnamon and unsweetened shredded coconut are great additions too)

 

Sweet Potato Fries: Preheat the oven to 400.  Chop sweet potatoes in half length wise and cut into skinny fries.  Toss with melted coconut oil, salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet lined with foil.  Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until some of the fry ends turn black. I like them crunchy. And this is my blog so thats how you’re eating them.

Meat Sauce: In a large pan, sauté (fancy for “mix with plastic spatula I got at Target for $1″) olive oil, bell peppers, onion, garlic, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes on medium-high heat for about 4-5 minutes until soft-ish.  Add whole package of ground beef by breaking into pieces and then continuing to break with spatula.  Mix meat in will with veggies and oil. Add spices to your liking- I love salt and red chili flakes so I went heavy on those but about 1-2 teaspoons of most of the spices should do. Cook until browned and add half a can of tomato paste and mix in well.  Let meat sauce simmer on low heat for however long it takes to get everything else ready- anywhere from 8-20 minutes is great.  Clearly this is a very serious recipe.

“Noodles”: In another large pan, heat coconut oil and add full bag of carrot and broccoli slaw.  Mix with coconut oil and add salt and pepper to taste.  Saute for about 5 minutes until soft and noodley where you’re like “woah, are those noodles or vegetables?… I guess I’ll never know”.

 

That’s it! I’m not going to tell you how to arrange this on your plate because I like to believe that the people I surround myself with, i.e. you, know how to do such a thing.  If you don’t, maybe send me a private message.  We’ll have more to talk about than food aesthetics.

And Voila!  A delicious Paleo, Whole-30 Approved, fancy looking meal that won’t have you heading to bed or the toilet immediately after.

Let me know if you’d like to see more recipes or if you made this one and what you thought of it!

I love you.

Danika

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Food as Comfort

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I just woke up from a short, very much needed nap and felt an overwhelming lure to eat.  Quite zombiesque, I went to the kitchen and began shoveling some assortment of fruit into my mouth.  A box of raspberries, a carton of blueberries, blackberries, and a handful of grapes- non-organic… ballsy, I know.

It was temporary comfort and I acknowledged quite quickly what was happening.  I had still been physically full from a big lunch I had had an hour before and it was clear to me that this yearning or hunger was coming from a different place.  I acknowledged it and did my best to be present in the binge.  I knew that when I was eating and I wasn’t hungry, I was actually eating to fill some void.  To find some comfort for something within me.

And just a note- my binges didn’t always look like the example listed above.   They used to involve $45 at the Taco Bell drive thru, 5 spoonfuls of raw cookie dough, bags of Funyons, Munchies Mix, and Flavor Blasted Goldfish, a full Hawaiian pizza, Heath bars and Peanut M&M’s- and much more. The memory is so clear.  I’ve shifted the foods I keep around to be much healthier after educating myself on all the chemicals, hormones, and additives in most of our foods today. So, though the food types may have changed, the emotional connection is exactly the same.

I continued… eating a Chocolate Coconut Lara Bar followed by a Fuji Apple with probably 3 servings of Raw Almond butter sprinkled in cinnamon.  Upon the last bite of that apple I was physically stuffed, slightly uncomfortable, and now on top of the discomfort I had felt that originally led me to food- I had added the feeling of guilt.

The biggest challenge that I’ve been facing lately is deciphering between my hunger for sustenance- the physical growls and pangs of an empty stomach and a body that needs (healthy) fueling- and that of my hunger for something more.  I’ve used food as comfort for as long as I can remember and I’m very aware that at the core of finding my way to a super healthy relationship with food, is the ability to recognize the difference between these two hungers- and to act accordingly.  When the hunger is not physical, the answer is not food. Healthy or otherwise.

On this particular day, I am very tired.  I have been quite consciously focusing on getting 8 to 9 hours of sleep a night lately, but I’d made an exception.  Last night something really magical happened to me.  I sat down and started writing in this journal after years of only writing directly on my computer (technically typing).  I’d always wanted to start journaling again like I often did in the single digit years of my life, but it always just seemed unproductive and like work.

I’m not sure what it was that made me take an actual pen to paper, but from the second I started writing I felt a rush of pure passion come over me and the next thing I knew, it was four hours and almost half a journal later of my thoughts and feelings and ideas before my eyes.  I couldn’t stop writing and I got completely lost in the words.  For the first time since childhood I felt like I was able to directly stream words from my heart to the paper without the process of overthinking that comes with the usual pitstop in my head- the writing for an audience and critical self observations.  Time just completely stood still and I felt like I had rediscovered this passion that I had known all along was within me.  The next thing I knew, it was 5AM and my eyes were burning but my soul was in one of the calmest most serene states I had felt in ages. As if I’d just emptied layers of emotions I’d numbed over time.

Which brings me back to the point that I am VERY tired today and rather than listening to what my body really needed- sleep, I turned to food instead.  But when I use food in this way, I am in reality just covering up the problem instead of solving it.  Much like many prescription drugs do today, I was treating the symptoms rather than the cause. Food is a drug. It’s real yo. Except we can’t quit cold turkey. Mmm, Turkey.

But then something clicked and I paused in my place. It’s ok to not be perfect all the time. To seek comfort in something outside of us.  The best thing we can do is pause for a second, be completely present, and show compassion towards ourselves.  Shift the thinking from being guilty, “cheating”, or lacking willpower to making the conscious choice that though you may know that what you’re doing is not the answer, it is what you need at this time.  And when you pause to accept that you are eating to comfort and you are consciously choosing to do so, then you’ll find that the “craze” and feeling of powerlessness diminishes even faster. You’ll quickly gain back control and you can then stop when you’ve had enough. It is important in that very moment to be kinder than usual to yourself, and then move forward having learned something from the experience, and with a new sense of power and ability to cope when you’re forced with it again.

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Coming Back Home: Food, Fears, and Finding Yourself

I’ve found what I want to do with my life.  What I want to be when I grow up.  I’ve always had an idea and I was headed in the right direction but the last couple months have been filled with a few lifestyle changes that have put me on the yellow brick road to personal happiness and fulfillment.  What is my dream? Well since you asked…

I want to inspire and motivate people to live their best lives ever- focusing first and foremost on developing a healthy relationship with food.  Food addiction, constant dieting, eating disorders, obesity, emotional eating, body image struggles… all of it. I’ve been there and while it still takes daily work to maintain, I have found the answers that I spent so many years looking for.  And I want to share them.  Through blogging, videos, books, public speaking, comedy, media, photos, the fashion industry, by interviewing others and hearing their stories, and through any other platform that helps build a connection and create positive change.

Over the last decade or so, I have suffered immensely in regards to my relationship with food. I still define the last 15 years by the different stages of food struggles I endured.  I’m working on that.  It has been my comfort, my therapist, my loving connection, and my greatest enemy.

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I grew up on McDonalds and other fast foods, ultimately feeding my young brain and body with chemicals rather than the nutrients I needed to fully thrive.  We were busy kids and my parents were doing their best to get my brothers and me all over town to our various sports and activities.  Not many people were educated on what was going into those quick “meals”.  My poor nutrition led me to gain weight which led me to feeling different and being bullied for being the “big girl”.  Which led me to seek comfort… which I found in food.  I’ll never forget the time when a car full of boys yelled out the window “Go back to the beach whale”.  I felt ugly and undesirable which created extreme body image issues.  Instead of focusing on what I could do with my innate talents like writing, performing, and inspiring people, I decided it was more important to prove people wrong. To show them I was more than a “whale”.

(My bedroom walls during high school- floor to ceiling photos of models)

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My goals shifted from owning a zoo and having my own talk show, to being a model.  The skinny, emaciated kind.  After all, I had “such a pretty face”.  I learned to diet and lost 45lbs doing Atkins in high school. And low and behold- I won homecoming queen. I made varsity cheerleading.  Guys loved me.  But when the weight started coming back on, I had to find other ways of staying skinny.

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When I was sad or stressed or insecure or lonely, I binge ate thousands of extra calories a day.  And then I threw them up. Seven, ten, twelve times a day. I had a special blue toothbrush hidden away for this very event. I wouldn’t weigh myself with even a bobby pin in my hair in fear that it would tip the scale unfavorably.  Four root canals later I knew I had to shift my process.  Enter drugs and alcohol.

I drove to dangerous neighborhoods to buy hard drugs that I had heard were appetite suppressants.  I was desperate to keep the weight off and spent thousands of dollars on my new “hobby”.  Something finally told me I was too valuable to go down that path and I managed to ditch the drugs.  The illegal ones at least.  I realize now that food can be more of a drug than the hard stuff.  But each time I decided I was better than some disorder or temptation, I unknowingly moved on to something else.

Alcohol gave me an escape like binge eating did.  It numbed me and for those drunken moments I didn’t have to feel so much. And when I was drunk and able to let go a little bit, I ate even more.  I spent years and all of my energy caught in the diet/binge cycle- turning to food for love, affection, comfort.  My life was defined by two things… the times I was in control, and the times I was out of it. Do you know how exhausting it is to think about food, calories, and your body image for every waking moment of your day? I have a feeling a lot of you do.  I was robbing the world and most importantly myself of all the amazing things I had to offer.

I’d finally had enough.  Enough weight watchers weigh-ins, enough writing my goal weight in my planner, enough shoveling food into my body unconsciously while no one was looking.  Enough of not feeling like enough.  That little voice in my head that told me I was better than all this popped up in the time of crisis like it had done a couple times before.  And so I made a promise to myself.

I quit dieting once and for all.  I didn’t talk about diets or negatively about my body and my friends weren’t allowed to either.  I saw THIS BOOK on Oprah and I read it.  It changed my life.  Somebody was finally speaking my language.  I wasn’t alone.  I started sharing with close friends.  Not only was I not alone, I was actually one of many. Why didn’t anybody talk about this?

Little by little I started loving myself and my body more and more.  In the mornings I’d wake up and rather than thinking about losing weight and how flat my stomach looked, I was focusing on growing as a person, finding the things that made me happy, discovering new passions that had been buried under my weight consumed brain for so long.  And when I finally found a bit of peace with my body, guess what happened? I became a model.

I was running an errand at Bank of America and was approached by an agency and asked if I had considered plus size modeling.  I did some research to make sure they weren’t murderers and eventually signed with them.  My career took off quickly and I added agencies in New York, London, and Germany to my roster.  I was living my dream in a way that didn’t require me to hurt myself.  Turns out that whole “be careful what you wish for” thing is legit.

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During the last few years while I’ve been working as a full time model, I’ve learned a lot about myself.  I’m a little ashamed that it took the industry to tell me that I was “good enough” but for me that was what I needed.  Modeling gave me the opportunity to travel, meet all sorts of interesting people, and to work on my confidence- but most importantly, it has awarded me a lifestyle that allows me the time, means, and financial freedom to chase my other passions.

And for a while I thought this was the end of my story.  Coming full circle, living my dream, finding contentment. But I was still seeking comfort in food and often alcohol.  I had come a really long way but I still felt somewhat consumed.  I wanted to feel my best- to live at my most optimal level.  And in the last few months something shifted.  My contentment turned into drive.  I stepped back and looked at my life from the outside.  I took into account the dreams that I still wanted to pursue and picked out certain things that were holding me back. I was fine with my body and was learning to love it but I knew I wasn’t living to my potential.  I wanted to feel vibrant and alive and full of energy.  I wanted to function at my highest level possible.  I wanted to be my best self ever.  And if I’ve learned anything, it is that the most significant change happens outside your comfort zone.  If I wanted different results, I’d need to take different actions.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

As it turns out, I was most certainly insane.  I committed to making 2014 the year of being my best self ever- and to be a person that keeps my commitments.  I spoke to a health coach friend and got inspired, followed a clean eating program called the Whole30, cut out alcohol and any processed foods like dairy, grains, added sugars, legumes, and more. I educated myself.  I started from square one and lived by the Whole30’s motto that “food either makes you more healthy or less healthy… there is no in between”. I committed to being active for 45 mins every day- incorporating yoga almost daily, running, strength training, long walks with my dog, and little things like taking the stairs and carrying my groceries home. I stopped eating out almost entirely and started hosting healthy dinner parties and tea dates (it turns out that a lot of people like these sort of get-togethers even more than the drunken bar ones!). I still went out to the bars occasionally and sipped soda waters with lime and danced until 3am- I’m pretty good at faking drunk after all these years of practicing the real thing. I focused on getting 8-9 hours of sleep every night.  I took baths, wore cute lingerie to bed for myself, read TONS of books (which I’ll share in the future), took pride in the cleanliness of my apartment, burnt all the nice candles down to the glass, and cooked myself elaborate healthy dinners better than most restaurants I’d been to.  I realized that every moment of life is a special occasion and it was time I started living it that way.

To wake up every single morning and know that you are a better version of yourself than you were the day before is a feeling that is hard to put into words.  A month passed and I had no intention of going back to my old ways.  Instead, I was so impressed with my ability to change my life in a month’s time, that I created a little game for myself called ‘The 12 Months of Greatness’ in which I commit to a new challenge, outside my comfort zone, every single month, while keeping all the challenges from the prior months.  In a year’s time I would have 12 new habits.  If that doesn’t scream “Best Self Ever”, I don’t know what does.

For the first time in my adult life, I can say that I am truly coming to peace with food.  I still struggle with turning to food for comfort but I feel completely in control of what I choose to put in my body, yet not obsessive or consumed by rules and strategies and guidelines.  The key to making lasting change is to be compassionately strict with yourself.  Push yourself- but when you make a mistake, which you will, rather than beat yourself up for what you did wrong, instead look at how much you did right.

I had no idea that through changing my relationship with food and what I chose to fuel my body with, I would so immensely change my entire life.  I am cleaner, more confident, more productive, more vibrant, have more energy, more optimistic, more active, more balanced, calmer, less judgmental, more centered, present, and most importantly happier.  I can’t tell you how many times I start dancing around my apartment alone for no good reason other than to express my joy.  I still have a lot to work on but that is why life is a journey.

At the forefront of it all, I’ve learned to trust and listen to my body again.  I’d been so detached from it for so many years, it is nice to be home again.  And in trusting it I’ve learned that it has had a lot to tell me.  It told me that I’ve found something that works for me.  I’ve found the answers that I’ve been looking for all along.  It told me that I get joy out of sharing with others- being able to inspire those with similar struggles, telling my story, helping people find the answers that will lead them home too.  It told me- clearer than it has every told me anything before- that this is my message.  This is what I am here on this earth to do.  And what better way to be my best self ever than to inspire you to be yours?

I challenge you to take a step back and look at where you are.  If you are not where you want to be then have the courage to change something.  Make it realistic but push outside of your comfort zone.  Recognize that your personal happiness is a direct result of only one thing- YOU.  So trust yourself- your body, your dreams, your passions.  I promise they won’t steer you wrong. Commit to waking up every day as a better version of yourself.

Because when you truly love yourself wholeheartedly, and you recognize how valuable you are- you will take the necessary steps to take care of yourself.  And when you can do this, I can promise you with every part of my being, that every other piece will fall perfectly into place.

 

With compassion, love, gratitude, and so much more,

Danika

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MONDivation: So I don’t hate Mondays… Sue Me

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I thought I’d bring back my weekly MONDivation.  I enjoy writing and having an outlet to express where I’m at on a regular basis.  It is purely selfish really and I’m doing it for myself but if it benefits you in some way then I am really quite happy to hear that and I hope you’ll share what these posts mean to you.  We all have so much to offer each other and I thrive off sharing and receiving intelligence and experience with others.

I’m realizing now how ironic it is that I call it MONDivation.  The premise was that my readers and I needed extra motivation on Mondays when we go back to the routine of our everyday work week. In reality, we should be creating careers and ultimately Mondays, that we eagerly await rather than ones we want to escape from.  And to be honest, I feel like I’m getting there.  I really quite enjoy Mondays.  For me, Mondays bring about potential work opportunities, a completely clean slate for all that I can create for the week.  Mondays mean I get to come back to the productive behavior that makes me truly happy.  I get a lot of joy out of working on something that I love whether it’s writing for this blog, traveling or shooting for a client, or collaborating with friends on creative videos and concepts.  Or maybe it was just because TUESivation didn’t have the same ring to it.

I read a lot of quotes.  My pinterest board “Quotes to Live By” is like the lover I can always count on to call the next morning.  And because I have serious commitment issues, this relationship is HOT and HEAVY. At some point in my life I connected the idea that it was exceptionally important to love what you do.  Especially in the case of a career- something you spend countless hours of your life and energy on- you MUST find what it is that makes your heart excited.  And the only way to do that is to keep trying new things until something really sings to you.

I’ve wanted to model since I can remember.  I put all of my energy into being a model.  I KNEW that one day I would be one.  There was no doubt in my mind.  The desire stems from years of not feeling beautiful and a need to feel accepted and acknowledged- but that is a whole other blog post.  Now, after a few years of calling modeling my career, I realize that that dream of mine doesn’t quite fill me up.  In a way it left me searching for more.  Do you know that calm worry when you achieve something that seemed really far away and now all you have left to do is dream bigger? How terrifyingly exciting.

Now before I go any further I’d like to mention that I am beyond grateful for my modeling career and I truly hope I can do it for many more decades (especially as the industry continues to change and encompasses more sizes, shapes, colors, and ages).  Modeling has given me the confidence, financial support, audience, flexibility, and time to pursue all of my other dreams.  Every single day I am grateful for the freedom that this industry provides me with.  The freedom to be absolutely myself and the utter privilege of spending 90% of my time and energy on things that drive me forward towards my now bigger dreams.  It has allowed me to create a life where I look forward to almost all days, even ones that start with “Mon”.

When I initially called these posts MONDivation, I coined the name because I was trying to fit in with how I was supposed to feel about Mondays. I’ve found that I do and say a lot of things because I think they are what people want to hear.  And I’m definitely working on that.  So for now I will tell you.  I like Mondays.  A lot.  Because when I’ve been working hard and putting myself out there, Mondays bring potential opportunities that bring even more joy. So let’s work on creating Mondays that we like even more than Fridays and Saturdays!  And with that, here’s a little MONDivation for you… as if you needed it.  Pssssssh

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