Who am I without my diabetes?

What’s the single most powerful tool from yoga that’s helped me manage my diabetes? Atma Vidya. Atma Vidya is Self-Knowledge. Atma means Self and Vidya means knowledge. What do you think of when you hear these two words put together? Before I was led through these beautiful teachings I thought SELF meant me, my name, my ideas, my beliefs, my broken pancreas. KNOWLEDGE referred to knowing this, getting this.

I was mistaken.

It’s easy to know what I have. I have a name, a job, a relationship. I have thoughts, ideas and beliefs. I have a condition called diabetes. It’s obvious that I know about things that I have. The deeper question is who does the name, job, relationship, idea, disease belong to? Who is that?

I travelled to India and to the heart of the tradition to find out. The tradition I studied with is thousands of years old. Knowledge shared orally in an unbroken lineage. This kind of teaching is not available in your neighbourhood yoga studio. It has only just recently been brought out of orthodoxy and secrecy. It’s a legacy that was reserved for the priests in India. It’s only due to my teacher and his teacher breaking with tradition that enabled my partner John Weddepohl (who teaches this knowledge) to study this methodology for 7 years in India. And lucky me, after meeting John in 2011, also having the privilege of studying with his teacher.

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Going through the teaching on an ashram in India while dealing with diabetes wasn’t easy. I wasn’t on insulin at that stage and was trying to control my levels with diet. With special permission I was able to set up my room with a fridge and cooker. That way I could cook low carb meals and control my levels.

When I started the course, I was nervous about how I would manage. We were told we would have to sit in the teaching hall without leaving for the duration of the lecture. I needed to pee every hour so that freaked me out.

The structure of the course was three 1.5 hour lectures a day, in between we were expected to write out our understanding of the lecture and then hand those notes to our teacher. That way the teacher knew exactly how we were assimilating the teachings. Sitting on a cold marble floor 4.5 hours a day learning about the SELF that wasn’t what I thought it was was confronting.

We spent days dismantling our ideas about everything and I mean every single thing! Imagine being shown without a doubt that the idea that the body is sick, imperfect, unfixable is just that…an idea. Even my thoughts about my ideas where stripped bare. Revealing the ‘I’ thought. This idea I have about myself.

If you’re reading this and thinking…WHAT?

Yep that was me in India too. Until the whole teaching reached its peak.

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You know when you’re trying to untie a knot and how it takes ages to loosen and then finally you find that one part of the string which unravels the knot? That’s what it’s like when you are shown the nature of Self.

Once I understood the nature of Self, my relationship to diabetes completely shifted. I no longer felt burdened by it. Something my teacher emphasised when I met with him privately, was that the body is not our business. We don’t know why it does what it does. Our job is to get out of the way, to see the body as something that is happening in our presence. We can do one of two things hinder or aid the body. If the body requires food, water or sleep it’s up to us to provide that. If the body needs medication, again we must give it what it needs.

I have often shared in my posts that I have diabetes I am not my diabetes. The knowledge I gained in India is the essence of that phrase. I can never be what I have.

Knowing this has kept me sane.

See you tomorrow #NDAM #DiabetesAwarenessMonth

with great respect…

rachel

Staying in range

I’m feeling motivated to get my levels back to where I want them. Not that their not in a good range, its just I know I can do better. At the beginning of the year I worked with the Diabetic Health Journal. It’s a great way to stay accountable, set goals and track patterns. When I was using it my Hba1c went from over 6% to 5.5%. For anyone living with diabetes that’s a perfect number, but really hard to maintain. As much as I know that time in range (keeping my levels between 4-8 mmol) is ideal, there have been a few too many peaks and troughs for my liking. So when I opened the journal and set my goal for the week, I thought I’d try some intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting is different to a regular fast. I’m still eating, just spacing out when I eat. The last two days I had my last meal at 7.30 pm and broke the fast with lunch at 1.00 pm. That’s 18 hours between meals. The idea with IF is that it increases insulin sensitivity. It means I assimilate the insulin I am injecting better and blood sugar levels are lower. When I’m really sensitive to insulin I can even reduce the amount of insulin I’m taking which means less low blood sugars events. It’s a win win.

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The only issue for me is I am a huge fan of my avocado and egg breakfast. Day 1 was easy because I distracted myself by going to yoga. Day 2 (today) was harder. I was pretty hungry from about 10.00 am onwards.  I also haven’t seen any concrete results yet. I.e lower levels and increased sensitivity. Patience Rachel Patience…

After I started taking insulin in 2014, I came across a book by Ginger Vieira called Your Diabetes Science Experiment. I read it from cover to cover and learned a lot about the variables that affect diabetes. I learned that even though there are  guidelines and formulas for managing diabetes, it’s not one size fits all. Flexibility and a willingness to experiment are key assets. I’ve been using my yoga practice for years as my personal laboratory to see what my body is capable of. Having diabetes has made things tricky. Sometimes I’m not sure what’s affecting what. Is the sequence or practice supporting what I am doing or is a day of higher or lower levels affecting my practice?

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I feel like I am drawing a giant question mark on a blackboard.

Not having all the answers is something I’ve grown accustomed to.  I was the child that had to be ‘right’ or else. I thrived on competition. That’s why having diabetes has been a bonus in my life. It’s taught me to stop comparing, be kinder to myself and take a gentle approach.  So even though I’ve set a goal for myself to get back to the numbers I feel healthiest at I’m also open to the possibility that where I’m at now is absolutely fine.

See you tomorrow #NDAM #DiabetesAwarenessMonth

with great respect…

rachel

Catching a relax

Today the whole of our shire is blanketed in a smokey haze. The smoke is everywhere. It’s awful and there doesn’t seem to be much respite on the way. Meanwhile life seems to continue as normal…or does it? It’s pretty hard to ignore what’s happening not just on a local but global scale. The word that comes to mind is chaos.

When I think of managing diabetes I also think of the word chaos. Not because I can’t manage it, because overall I do that really well. Rather its the unpredictable nature of diabetes that keeps tripping me up. One day I’m struggling to stay above 4 mmol and the next I can’t get under 9 mmol (in range numbers are between 4-8 mmol). There is no X=Y with diabetes. The pancreas is a strange and elusive animal which doesn’t like stress. And how many times have I been stressed without even knowing I’m stressed? A lot.

The opposite of stress and what the pancreas loves is relaxation. Recently I’ve been catching those moments when I’m relaxed. Noticing a nice deep relaxed breath, a feeling of calm, soft tingles through the body, mind slow and centred. Every time I feel a ‘relax’ coming on I remind myself with a verbal prompt. This is me relaxed, this is what it feels like. Simply acknowledging these moments has helped me to sleep better, digest better, even think better. In fact, Relaxing makes everything better.

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This morning I went to a yoga class with my teacher and friend Louisa Sear. Her classes are hard. Not because there are complicated postures or sequences, more because she asks you to be in the pose with every fibre of your being. She instructs the class to hold the pose, fix the gaze and still the mind. Every pose is taught like this so that by the end of the class there is a sense of being cleansed from the inside out.

The ultimate agitation is our habitual need to identify with the moving miasma of the mind. Thoughts will always be there, including thoughts about diabetes, its up to each one of us as to whether we uptake that thought or not. Thoughts don’t have power. You do!

Understanding the triggers for relaxation and  fixing the gaze on that is a profound way to deal with the constant stress of living with diabetes. Instead of focusing on the tension you’re experiencing, mentally, emotionally or physically try and find somewhere in your body that is at ease. It could even just be your big toe. As soon as your mind goes there all the awareness and focus goes there too. When I do this, within seconds I’ve forgotten what the problem was.

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As I write this I’ve decided to take my own advice. There’s not much I can do about the external factors such as the choking smoke or annoyance with erratic levels. What I can do is take a full breath, be kind to myself and catch a relax.

See you tomorrow #NDAM #DiabetesAwarenessMonth

with great respect…

rachel

The number of tests?

“How many times do you test per day?” this was the question put to me this morning by the Accuchek Guide rep while I was trying to replace my meter. “About twenty,” I replied adding that my blood sugar can tend to be volatile. The rep murmured a sympathetic sound. But I wondered what she really thought.

I know what my Endo thinks. He’s mentioned to me on more than one occasion that I am obsessed with checking.  Do I really need to wake up throughout the night to check? Ummm…YES!  It’s not like I set an alarm or anything, I seem to naturally wake up between 1-3 times per night anyway so why not check?

Overnight lows are the worst. In the days before I had the whole diet thing mastered I’d wake up and have to eat at 2 am. Nothing worse than sitting by myself in the kitchen watching the clock tick over while I wait for my blood sugar to rise.

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And what about in the day? Do I really need to check every hour? I actually don’t check every hour, it depends on whether I’m insulin resistant or have had some sort of injection blunder. Most mornings I can go from breakfast to lunch without even checking. I know my liver is doing its thing, dumping some extra glycogen into my system so it’s rare for me to drop. It’s usually between 12-5 pm that I like to be vigilant. I can never seem to get my lunchtime bolus right, and then there might be some extra exercise thrown in the mix around 4 pm.

Checking vigilantly when you live with Type 1 Diabetes is a make or break situation. Especially if you can’t tell when your low. Its called hypo unawareness, it happens when you have too many lows and the body stops recognising the feeling of being low. Like my horrible hypo two weeks ago, before I knew it I’d dropped to 3.2 mmol. Scary!

It was also after that horrible hypo and sharing it here that some friends encouraged me to use a CGM (continuous glucose monitor). This is something I would love to have but sadly here in Australia there is no subsidy for someone like me. To be eligible for the Dexcom or Medtronic CGM you have to be hypo unaware and admitted to hospital more than once or under the age of 21.

The Freestyle libre flash glucose system is also on offer here, but this has no subsidy at all. I have written before on the blog about how much I love this product. Sleek, discreet and accurate using it has increased my peace of mind and saved my finger tips. I’ve attended  product launches and #dx2Melbourne and can honestly share the company, its ethos and care are palpable. I’ve even lobbied the government to make access affordable for people like me and had a small feature in the Noosa News. In spite of my passion and efforts, I still can’t justify spending $100 every fortnight.

But wait ho… my wonderful parents, after reading my blog, gave me the best early christmas gift ever! A 6 months supply of the freestyle libre. I am touched and grateful.

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Here I am ready to launch. So excited to have some time off from the drudgery of test strips and the ability to see whats actually happening minute by minute with the food I am eating, the insulin I am taking and the sleep I’m sleeping. I’ll probably put one in starting next week so stay tuned…

See you tomorrow #NDAM #DiabetesAwarenessMonth

with great respect…

rachel

Dance 4 Diabetes

There’s a picture of me performing in a dance piece somewhere in an old photo album in my storage. When I think about that picture I think about a life time ago. Pre diabetes, pre marriage, pre child, pre yoga.

Being a professional dancer was a childhood dream. By the time I was twenty one I had performed, taught and choreographed in dance companies throughout Australia. There was a moment though where I came to a crossroads. I decided that if I wasn’t going to get into the company of my choice, which at the time was the Australian Dance Theatre, I was going to call it quits. I auditioned, didn’t make the cut and was devastated.

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Me dancing at 22 on the far left in Tasdance

I gave up and devoted myself to yoga, but my resolve didn’t last. Eventually I was asked to teach, choreograph, perform and serve as the Head of Dance at a local performing arts college. It was around the age of 35 that I hung up my professional dancing hat for good. Not because I wanted to but more because the demands of my job as a yoga teacher took over.  Living in NYC at the time and having to support the family meant there was only so much time for ballet classes and auditions. It was a reluctant decision, but I have no regrets. Sometimes the things we think we’re born to do turn into the things we are called to do. For me that’s yoga. I never asked to teach and share yoga but here I am.

Just before my diabetes diagnosis dance had reappeared in my life. I did a healing retreat which included dance as therapeutic release. It felt incredible to move again and I loved how the movement wasn’t about impressing an idea on anyone ‘out there’ instead it was about what was longing to come out.

To dance is to free oneself of grief, expectation, anger. A return to joy, freedom and peace.

When I saw this months campaign from Diabetes Australia, dance 4 diabetes I got excited. Now here’s something I’m good at and can get behind. Dancing takes the difficulty out of diabetes, it’s uplifting, inspiring, motivating, fun and good for blood sugars. It reminds us to be light hearted in the face of it all and inspires community and support. I love seeing people share their love of movement while shedding light on such an important cause.

The campaign motto is: Stop what you’re doing and dance! Then donate and dare (share) by tagging three friends and asking them to dance, donate and dare too.

Fun right? Here’s my entry below and the link to join Dance4Diabetes


See you tomorrow and happy #WorldDiabetesDay for my US friends!

#NDAM #DiabetesAwarenessMonth

With great respect…

rachel

World Diabetes Day…again

Today is World Diabetes Day and to be honest I’m flat.

The fire emergency here in Australia combined with higher blood sugars have kept me from my usual enthusiasm. But it’s not just that. It’s hard to put a positive spin on diabetes all the time.

All I can say is my daily yoga practice pulls me out of the doom and gloom. It reminds me that as much as I like to get lost in the details around my health management it’s never going to be perfect. Control is necessary but there has to be some wiggle room. Giving myself a hard time isn’t productive. I’ve learned to relax in the tougher poses, to breathe deep and find stillness. These mini lessons are perfect metaphors for the ups and downs of this disease. And believe me I need that right now.

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Today marks the birthday of  pioneer Frederick Banting and as such celebrates the discovery of insulin in 1921. Before 1921 they didn’t even know what insulin was. Every time I think of this I’m gobsmacked. 1921 is not that long ago yet I take so much for granted when it comes to all the available medication and tech. Here in Australia there is subsidy for our medication and equipment. I am stunned that this isn’t the case in other countries. No one should have to pay for life saving medication!

Luckily there is an initiative out there to help those in need. Its called Type 1 International and their mission is to support local communities by giving them the tools they need to stand up for their rights so that access to insulin and diabetes supplies becomes a reality for all.

Please join me today on World Diabetes Day in supporting this wonderful organisation.

See you tomorrow #NDAM #DiabetesAwarenessMonth

with great respect…

rachel

The one truth that can’t be faked

I have been obsessed with Twitter since September. Growing up in the United States in a liberal democratic family means I have a keen interest in U.S. politics. The election in 2016 floored me and I have watched the steady decline of ‘the facts’ over the ensuing three years. Not that facts are all they’re cracked up to be. Think about it, as much as science claims a finding to be reality that same theory can also be disproved. Guaranteed change is a constant. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim for justice and liberty and all those other principles though. It pains me to see so much division, hatred and frustration emerging in a country where I was taught that no matter what your circumstances you could achieve the fulfilment of your dreams.

In a new paradigm of ‘alternative facts’ it’s hard to know what to believe, who to trust and what’s real. With all the fake news out there I’d like to note there’s one truth that can’t be faked.

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Diabetes.

Diabetes is a fact. Pancreatic beta cells have tanked. Insulin is required. Life is on a knife’s edge.

I can remember thinking early on after my diagnosis that there must have been a mistake. Maybe the lab messed up my blood tests. I wasn’t the type to have this disease and I was so healthy. A few health care providers even corroborated my theory. Even as late as 2008 some practitioners in Australia didn’t know that out of the 40,000 people diagnosed each year with type 1 diabetes, 50% are adult onset.

Fact: “According to the ADA, 1.25 million Americans have this disorder. This is about 5 percent of all diagnosed cases. The ADA estimates that 40,000 people receive a type 1 diagnosis each year in the United States.” Source: Healthline

Swallowing this fact has been a total reality check. Coming out of denial changed everything.

When it comes to chronic health issues especially ones that are invisible it’s hard for people to validate or understand our struggles. Keep in mind it’s not up to anybody else to verify what we are going through. Empathy and compassion is a powerful ally but in the end when the bugger’s hunkered down and immovable. What to do?

Flush out the tiger!

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It’s only through coming out and spreading awareness that truth can come to light.
It’s why I’ve been posting relentlessly here and all over social media. Plus writing about diabetes is therapeutic. It gives a voice to my inner world.

It’s also how I feel about the state of the union at the moment. Lets get it all out in the open. Let’s get to the bottom of this whole debacle. Let’s see the naked truth.

Once you know the truth about anything you’re free.

See you tomorrow #NDAM #DiabetesAwarenessMonth

with great respect…

rachel

Meditation for diabetes

Yeah so diabetes is no picnic. I think I’ve pretty well established that in the last 10 blogs. There are however so many ways yoga can help. Working with a strong focus for the mind through sound and imagery is one. When we give the mind something to do and draw it out of its habitual need to identify with thoughts, our sense of individuality is suspended leaving us with SELF, the nature of which is peace, contentment, oneness or more aptly put, YOGA.

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I learned the beautiful meditation in the video below from my teacher Alan Finger when I was living in NYC. I invoked it quite often, especially after being in 9/11. I found that taking my feelings and releasing them back to source was a profound way for me to come to terms with all the emotions that seemed to be piled up on top of each other as my body worked to release the shock.

My diabetes diagnosis was also another moment where I worked with this meditation. I was actually terrified at diagnosis, felt ashamed and alone and had no idea how I would recover from something that I knew had no cure. These feelings of helplessness dissolved into the simple focus of the practice and soothed my worried heart.

If you live with diabetes, or are just needing something to soothe and support your nervous system I invite you to join me for the meditation below

See you tomorrow #NDAM #DiabetesAwarenessMonth

with great respect…

rachel

Diabetes is an opportunity

It’s burning in the hills behind the town where I live in Australia. I am grateful not to have to evacuate but am concerned for those who do. The entire valley all the way to the beach is in a blanket of smoke. It’s hard to breathe. We just went to the beach for some relief but there was none. It was strange to see people out and about in cafe’s and shops as per normal. Apparently it’s only going to get worse. So many more friends are leaving their homes to be safe. It’s heartbreaking.

I feel this way about Diabetes too. Even though I live with it myself I feel for every single person who lives with this condition. It’s heartbreaking when anyone is diagnosed. I know all too well the challenges ahead. Every day can feels like Russian roulette. It’s a massive learning curve and you can’t get away from it.

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In spite of all the feelings that come up after diagnosis I also see diabetes as an opportunity to live differently. Instead of taking things for granted I wake up each day grateful to be alive, I’m learning through yoga and other modalities to regulate my nervous system, to react less to the stress of variable blood sugar levels. My diet is refined and I maintain an active life. This kind of approach takes focus and sustained effort and there are plenty of times where I feel frustrated and defeated.  But I try not to let my down days take over. I have always been an enthusiastic participant in life.

Today as the smoke chokes the air around us I think about all the people all over the world in crisis. How do we rise above, stay resilient and not give up in the face of uncertainty? How can we make a difference in spite of circumstances beyond our control? I draw strength from a simple Ayurvedic principle.

You can’t fight fire with fire. The softness of water is what douses the flame.

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The softness of water is about slowing down, tuning in and calmly moving forward. Flowing with change rather than pushing against it. Connecting with water is about dispersion and delegation. In the face of disaster it’s coming together in community and supporting each other. If we all share the burden we’re stronger together.

It’s the same with diabetes. When I reach out into the diabetes online community I find like minded friends managing their health in myriad ways. All of this forms my pool of inspiration. Even better is going to a support group or event where we all meet and share. I’ve learned more about my condition from these brief in person events than I have from my doctors and diabetes educators.

Knowing there is a community out there to answer a question, share a technique, help me find the best product or device is priceless. Before diabetes I would never have outsourced, researched or informed myself in this way. Diabetes has literally inspired a whole new me. My mission for diabetes awareness month is to share from the heart how diabetes affects me personally but its also about sharing how yoga is an incredible balm.

In this very difficult time, no matter what the struggle, it is my prayer that the varied practices and teachings of yoga become an important part of the healing journey.

More on that tomorrow…  #NDAM, #DiabetesAwarenessMonth

with great respect…

rachel

What can you eat?

Nine days in to 30 days of writing for Diabetes Awareness Month and today’s topic is diet.  I can’t keep count of the number of times I’ve been asked, ” What can you eat?” It’s actually a loaded question because the answer from a person with diabetes would be, “what can’t I eat?” As long as we know how many carbs we are ingesting (everything from veggies to fat to protein breaks down into a carbohydrate in the system) we can eat whatever we like based on our insulin to carb ratio. I.e how much insulin is needed per carbohydrate. Do the math and presto every food is available.

But that doesn’t mean I choose to eat whatever I want.

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Since I was little I’ve been a fussy eater. I didn’t like green vegetables, any kind of meat,  or corn on the cob. I can remember being at the dinner table and slowly scooting portions of pork chop into a napkin when no one was looking and then excusing myself to hastily flush it down the toilet.

In my late teens I was put on a strict candida diet which meant no dairy, sugar, fruit or fermented foods. Not being a huge fan of animal foods I became a vegan.  My strict diet was hard to maintain during pregnancy so I reluctantly ate fish, chicken and eggs, but as soon as I could I went back to my vegetarian ways.

When I was diagnosed with diabetes in 2008 I had already started eating foods that resonated with my constitution. Being a fire type, pitta in ayurveda, I avoided nightshades and spicy food and instead focussed on cooling foods with sweet, bitter and sour tones, pulses, avocados, whole grains, roasted veggie salads and gut healing protein smoothies. As my initial diagnosis wasn’t clear (they weren’t sure if it was type 2, type 1 or even diabetes) the only change I made to my diet was to eat low glycemic foods and to add fish, chicken and eggs back in.

At that stage I was eating linseed/soy bread, enjoying oats, quinoa, low carb fruits like blueberries and strawberries and lots of different kinds of veggies, soft cheeses like paneer and ricotta. I still dabbled in eating pasta and pizza as long as there was a good quantity of protein in the mix. I never ate packaged or processed food even if it was a ‘healthy’ packaged food. I’ve never been able to deal with fillers and preservatives.

Once my levels became unmanageable my doctor suggested I look at the ketogenic diet. That was in 2013. Keto was just getting popular and having tried everything else bar insulin, I enjoyed the strict discipline of dropping all carbs. At that stage my diet was mainly eggs, some fish and green veggies like chard, zucchini, broccoli, asparagus, fennel, cauliflower, avocado, ghee and the same soft cheeses. My doctor expressed concern that it was too narrow a corridor of foods. So did I, it seemed that blood sugar wasn’t my only issue with what I ate, I also had a lot of trouble digesting foods. Later I found out that the pancreas also helps with digestion and that sometimes it doesn’t work as well as it should in people living with diabetes. Eating the same foods over and over was actually making me sensitive to the only foods I could tolerate. A never ending cycle.

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Thank goodness I went on Insulin after a proper diagnosis in 2014. It has opened up my diet to include more foods again, even though I’ve stuck to a low carb vegetarian diet. It’s so much easier to cook the same meals at the same time each day, to take the same amount of insulin and know exactly how my body will respond. My friends wonder why I don’t get bored, or ask me if I feel like I’m missing out and my answer is always the same. Eating in a way that keeps me calm and balanced is more important and desirable than the headache of eating something that will later cause blood sugar issues or hinder my digestion.

Whether you live with diabetes or not diet is a very personal thing. The body needs nutritious food. It knows what works, how to process it and what to eliminate. All the intricacies of digestion and assimilation of food are out of our hands. It’s up to us to feed the body with nutrient dense foods.

Something I’ve learned to say to anyone who questions why I eat the way I do is this; “I eat to feel well so I can best serve others to feel well too.” 

And that’s that…

See you tomorrow

with great respect…

rachel