I actually remember the first time I met you a few years ago. I was on line for church outside of Irving Plaza. We were meeting there for maybe 6-8 services per Sunday and the line to get in would wrap around the block! You were volunteering Connections at that time and you came to chat to me and my friend online and you remarked on how we both had gapped teeth! Haha. I said we were gap sisters and you smiled and walked away. Now it’s about six years later and you’re still one of the most welcoming, friendly faces people see when they come to our church! I love it and I love YOU!
Karen Cecilia: A lot has happened since we met at Irving Plaza years ago, hey.
Tell me a little about yourself—a little history of the life of Shanelle and can you share a bit about what life is like for you now?
Shanelle: Before I accepted Jesus I felt like my life was like a TV show — specifically like “The Cosby Show.” I thought my life was perfect and problems were easily and quickly resolved. There was no need for a God in my life. And, I honestly had a great childhood.
But as I got older I realized that life wasn’t perfect. And, I realized that I needed savior — although I don’t think I realized what the word “savior” meant. I had never heard about Jesus in the way I know now. I just knew that Jesus was associated with a god. I didn’t know what being saved meant; or who the Holy Spirit was; and on and on.
Now — I know God has a huge plan for my life. So looking back I can see how He guided me to Him. I was saved in college. And my life changed even more when I came to Hillsong years later. I learned about real love.
Now, I’m a girl who loves Jesus, loves life, my friends, this crazy city, and more. I’m really enjoying life. God has been revealing to me little nuggets about who He is. Those nuggets are treasured, valuable, and priceless.
I feel like He’s got so much goodness for me. He blesses me with beautiful dreams, thoughts, and reminders of His love and goodness and Grace. He answers my prayers. I feel loved and honored and valued and wanted. God is Good.
KC: I feel like there’s a hundred and one things I can sit and chat to you about, but I’d love to zero in on something that’s been particularly important to you as of late. Over the past few years, at least since I’ve known you, you’ve started on what could pretty much be described as a health and fitness journey. Can you tell me a bit about what got you started on the path of health-consciousness?
S: Yes! Actually the keyword there is “journey” because from when I can remember up until years after I moved to New York I was always overweight. I even developed diabetes in high school.
Also there’s been a lot of sickness in my family. One of my grandmothers died from a heart attack. She also had diabetes. My other grandmother died from years-long complications of an aneurysm. My mother has diabetes and she also has a kidney failure and other health complications. A lot of people in my family from cousins, aunts, uncles and so forth also suffer from similar diseases.
The most important thing health-wise that happened in my family is when my mom got breast cancer in 2015. Her cancer with the chemo treatment and diabetes took a really big toll on her life — and actually resulted in some serious complications that almost took her life. That was a two-year battle.
It was during that time that I realized I needed to make a change because I didn’t want to be another person in my family that suffered from similar diseases – because I was on my way there.
I first started with working out a little – walking, running up steps in the park, and taking an occasional work-out class, but my food choices didn’t change for years. I LOVE ice cream, cake, cookies, burgers, pizza, chicken, pasta, biscuits.
I would work out and eat the same, but I wouldn’t see a difference in my progress or my health. It wasn’t until about 2017 that I decided I needed to make a huge change in the foods I eat.
I started reading books and learning about how food affects the body! That’s when real change happened for me.
KC: What does living healthy mean for you? What are some things that you’ve centered this lifestyle around? (ie exercise, eating, classes, etc.?)
S: Living healthy for me – first, is making the right food choices. For me, it’s not necessarily saying “no” to certain foods (like: “I’m gunna do no carbs” or “I’m going vegan” or “Keto diet”). Rather, I’ve been learning about how certain foods affect the body, metabolism, and overall health.
For example, eating vegetables that are high in antioxidants, like blueberries, actually fight off free radicals floating in your body. Free radicals are nasty things that actually can feed cancer cells. On the other hand, white bread lacks all nutrients and immediately spikes your blood sugar because of the glucose in the bread. This then creates an increase of insulin. If this continues to happen with other types of highly processed foods, then our bodies can become insulin resistant – which leads to disease like diabetes.
I’m not a doctor, obvi, but these are things that I’ve learned.
Living healthy also means staying active with exercise. How can I challenge myself? I read that at age 30 our bodies start to break down muscle. So we need to train our bodies to build muscle.
Also – staying healthy spiritually (staying in the Word), mentally, and emotionally.
KC: I can speak for myself (and I’m sure many others) when I say that staying committed to getting healthy is NOT EASY! I have put in a consorted effort many times over the years and it’s been a struggle to stay committed. How do you stay on track? (Particularly when you may feel like giving up or giving in?) What are some ways you stay motivated?
S: Well, one reason is vain: I want to fit into really pretty clothes and jeans. Haha.
Also, I read this book called “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg which went over topics such as creating new habits, stopping bad habits, how to identify cravings, and how to create a reward system in your brain to maintain good habits.
Through this I’ve identified some cravings I have for food. I have to sometimes tell myself that my brain is craving ice cream but I’m in control, not my brain – if that makes sense.
Also, creating good, healthy habits comes with a reward. My rewards for working out are vain – haha – I like to post my work outs on Instagram.
I also, like I said, love clothing, so I have goals to fit into jeans. I buy jeans and other pieces in faith. For example, recently I’ve purchased some size 4 and size 6 jeans in faith. I hope to fit into those size 6 by the end of this year and the size 4 jeans by next year.
I also have number goals in terms of my health. I have a A1C goal to reach, a BMI goal, a Body Fat Percentage goal (notice I didn’t say a weight goal!).
KC: That’s awesome! I agree that it’s so important to look at health holistically and not measure it by just our weight—which is sometimes the only numbers we care about!
KC: We live in a very competitive culture where comparison is difficult to avoid. I think the temptation of comparing our progress to the progress of others is one of the biggest detriments to our joy and celebrating our individual achievements. Have you encountered the temptation to compare yourself with others on this journey and if so, how do you combat it?
S: I sometimes compare myself to JLo. I mean… c’mon! Her body is fire.
But seriously — when you think about health, not just the physical aspects of your body, you learn you can only compare yourself to yourself. My body doesn’t react to food the same way JLo’s body reacts to food. We are different, not only physically, but health-wise, culturally, and in lifestyle. So, I learn to think what is best for me. What are real goals that I can reach?
And, honestly I don’t really have a big problem with comparing myself with other ‘real’ people… Like my friends and other girls I see in the city or at the gym. If anything I’m challenged, in a good way, by it. If I see another girl who looks great (especially if I know her and her progress) then it inspires me to do better with my food choices and activity.
Also, I hang with people who inspire me and who are positive. I don’t spend too much time with negative people. Negativity can create a negative mindset where you start comparing yourself to other people in an unhealthy manner.
KC: That’s a really great way to see things and I can definitely appreciate the healthy kind of comparison where it’s more about inspiration than self-deprecation and negativity! Having a squad around you that lifts you up rather than tears you down is healthy in more ways than we can count!
KC: We’ve been friends for a few years and over the course of those years we’ve shared with each other some of our hopes and dreams for the future, including marriage and starting families. I think about the things we’d pass down to our children and the culture that we want to model for them. Setting the tone for the future of our family’s health isn’t just limited to their emotional or spiritual health, but their physical health as well. What are some ways, taking into account the health history in your family, that you hope to effect change in your family now and in future generations?
S: Oh, this is a good question. I have been thinking about this. I have also read many books that discuss ‘western diseases’ (such as diabetes) that are caused by the western-diet (processed foods). These diseases can get a head-start as early as in the womb. If the mother is over-weight, diabetic, has high blood pressure, etc. – then it can have an effect on the baby.
Disclaimer: Again, I am not a doctor. These are things that I’ve read and researched. Do your own research or speak to your doctor to learn more.
So, for me, although I am not married, a mother, or even expecting, I am working on my health now so that my choices are passed on to my future children.
KC: Let’s talk about self-care for a moment. Life is obviously pretty full and in a city like ours it’s easy to get caught up in the go-go-go of life. What are some ways that you practice self-care?
S: I have a thing called self-care Saturdays. I usually do it every other Saturday, if not every week. I use that time to do my nails, toes, give myself a facial. I also meal prep and get my week prepared. I take time to spend alone time. I love ‘me time’ and thinking, praying, and journaling.
KC: You’re also a bit of a nutrition-book nerd. What are some of your current favorite reads? Do you have any good recommendations?
S: Oh my gosh! Yes! One of my favorites so far “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” by Michael Pollan. He discusses the ethical and sustainable nature of food and how it is grown and produced. The book focuses on corn, soy, beef and chicken products. Very interesting! It has honestly changed the way I think about food.
Another recent favorite is “The Case Against Sugar” by Michael Taubes. Taubes investigates the history of sugar, the sugary industry, and how the white stuff affects our bodies and contributes to diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Taubes also wrote “Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It”. The book looks at western diseases that have developed in modern history due to our consumption of processed foods.
Another great read is “How Not to Die” by Michael Greger. The book goes in-depth about the benefits of a plant-based diet.
Currently, I am reading “Salt Sugar Fat “by Michael Moss. I’m learning about how the food industry has created processed foods with these three ingredients and how their foods contribute to diabetics, obesity and other sickness. The book also discusses the history of the food industry and its products.
KC: Let’s get into some questions I like to ask my Her:Stories gals, shall we?
KC: If money weren’t a factor, what would you spend your days doing?
S: Honestly, I love this city, my church and my life here. I’d probably be here helping to build the church with my free time. At other times I would occasionally travel the world, but not too much — As they say, “there’s no place like home”, right?
KC: Haha, right! I love this city, too!
KC: What do you want to be remembered for?
S: A woman who pointed people to Jesus and who spent her time with Him.
KC: Simple, powerful and to the point. Love it and I love you! You’re definitely already someone known for this.
Thanks so much for taking time not only to share a bit of your story, but also for sharing some of the things you’ve learned along the way!