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My Journey Back: Navigating life after the "after" photo

By Jenice Johnson, assistant director of marketing and communications

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There is nothing more humbling than watching yourself shift from completely focused to a fraction of that focus in just over two years.

I started my journey to health a little after becoming a member of the Tanka Team in 2010. I had been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, which affects the thyroid. Since then, I had been following a primal/paleo lifestyle - eating minimally processed whole foods, minimizing my intake of gluten (eventually not even touching the stuff for about two years) and working out regularly either in a gym or at home. I was even featured in a few paleo-related publications. But the best part was that I was able to get off my thyroid medication; I lost a lot of inches and a good amount of weight and felt better than I had in years.

When I moved to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota (the location of the Tanka headquarters) in January 2013, I knew it would be a challenge to continue my trend of health. I discovered first-hand the difficulties of living in a food desert. But between flipping tractor tires at the cabin where I was living, working out with the ladies after our shifts at the office and eating MOSTLY clean with the wonderful addition of local buffalo, I managed to return back home to Texas almost a year later - a few pounds heavier but still mostly on track.

Moving back was when everything really changed for me. I began a serious relationship with my guy, David, and we pretty much ate out almost every day of our early courting. And boy, did we do it up. Even though I can say I was at about 80/20 in the beginning of the relationship, I started eating lots of gluten-free pastas (really not much better than the gluten-filled ones), chocolate cheesecake and enchiladas -- well, you get the idea. I got comfortable and didn't work out nearly as much, though I had joined a gym. I wasn't this one-woman show anymore, solely focused on myself. I was in a partnership and a whole new family that included kiddos, who didn't really eat like I had prior to the relationship.

Though I haven't returned to my medications, I am obviously aware enough to know the difference of how I looked and felt before all this throwing caution to the wind and where I am now. All I have to do is try to put on a pair of jeans I bought in South Dakota. Though probably pretty late to the game, I joined a local CrossFit box in my area. Many Tanka Bar eaters are CrossFit folks and I usually did a few CrossFit-related exercises at home or in the gym when I was more active. But this is the first time I've gone through the actual process. And let me tell you, this isn't easy!

I'm in my second week of what is called On-Ramp, the beginner's class before you can work at your own schedule. I'm sore in places I didn't realize were there. Last night, I was driving home from class, certain my seat had needles in it because I felt prickly pokes along my thighs. Nope. That was just the aftermath of my workout!

I have always worked out alone, so I found it very jarring that I suddenly felt the need of a community to get me back in shape. They encourage me, and I really need that right now! At home, David supports my efforts, but unless you are around others making that kind of commitment along with you, it's so easy to just fall in line with goal-depleting habits. Although I do realize that most of my health starts in the kitchen, there is something very empowering in getting the type of workout done that makes me feel like I've accomplished something. And for me, it's a strong support system for resetting to my old way of eating. I'm reminded about how the fuel I put in my body is important to my performance. Also, the CrossFit box I joined, as with many others, encourages a paleo lifestyle, which I'm no stranger to anyway.

I'll be 37 in a few weeks and it is always so cliche to begin a goal of health and losing weight at the beginning of the year. But for me, it's like revisiting an old friend I haven't seen in a while. I didn't really mean to neglect her, but I know we are going to catch up where we left off.

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