Monday, July 29, 2013

Emerging

It's been quite a year. In June of 2012, my beloved mother was diagnosed with cancer. 12 long hard months later, she drew her last breath. My biggest and most important job during that time was being mom's primary caregiver through the chemo, the surgeries, the clinic and ER visits, and ultimately her funeral. Thankfully, there were silver linings along the way but also many challenges, including my father's heart attack last January, even as mom was struggling to overcome large blood clots in her lungs--an unexpected side affect of her bladder removal surgery.

Until 2012, mom was always the healthy one, seeing my dad through one health problem after another: Stroke. Diabetes. Colon cancer. Kidney failure. Until one day, to her great surprise and ours, mom became the patient.

Our last trip together was to Charleston, South Carolina. 

I'm still processing the events of the past 13 months. It's often hard to believe that mom is really gone and not coming back. In some ways, it feels almost like I've been living in a cave, isolated from the real world. When I emerged from the cave, I encountered all the things I've neglected for the past year, and it's a long list. My dad still requires a great deal of help, as well, not all of which he's entirely receptive to.

Overwhelm has perhaps been my greatest ongoing challenge. I think I expected to feel more relief by now, but so far it hasn't worked out that way. I am grateful that my mom is no longer in pain, so there is an element of relief in that, to be sure, but the rest still feels pretty relentless, even though the scenery has changed a bit.

So for now, my work is to simply do what I can, as mindfully as I can, knowing I won't get all caught up in a day or a week or even a month. In this moment, I don't have to know exactly how I will be able to cross the finish line. I only have to know how to take the next step.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Back in the Saddle

ICEBERG!
I have felt a bit stuck with regard to my health and fitness goals ever since the December holidays. I've had a few good moments, but not enough of them to add up to significant progress. Finally, on the day after Easter I made my way back back to a Weight Watchers meeting and signed up for the new program. I can already tell it was a good decision. The iceberg I was headed for wasn't lettuce.


I had been thinking about returning for a while, not only for the support but to learn the new PointsPlus program, as there have been quite a few changes since my last experience with Weight Watchers.


One day last month, I found myself next door to the local WW center and stopped in to inquire about the weekly meeting schedule. Among other things, I learned that lifetime members at goal weight now have free access to all the great WW etools, including the points tracker, as long as they continue to weigh in once per calendar month and stay within 2 pounds of their goal weight.


Free access to etools is a nice perk for lifetime members. In fact, it had been something of a pet peeve of mine that we had to continue to pay each month to use the online points tracker even after achieving lifetime status. I paid to keep using WW etools for an additional year or more, but after a while enough was enough, so I discontinued my subscription--and tracking all my food. Having now rejoined the program, I'm looking forward to not having to pay once I make it back down to my goal.


Another thing I'm excited about is that on the PointsPlus program (unlike the original Points program on which I initially lost my weight) most fresh or frozen fruits and non-starchy veggies are ZERO points. Not only does that encourage healthy eating, but it means I never have to worry about having what I used to call a "hungry day," when I was out of my budgeted daily points but still craved something far more substantial than celery or sugar-free Jello! On the new program, there is always something you can eat without going off the program. Somehow, just knowing that makes the fear of getting hungry less of an issue.


It also makes tracking your points less tedious because you don't have to account for every bite of cantaloupe or broccoli you put in your mouth. There's less to track and less to measure. I especially like that it encourages you to listen to your body for signs of satiety rather than relying entirely on external measures and daily allotments. At the same time, it does help you establish appropriate boundaries and healthier thinking about food and activity. I was impressed with the program before, and I'm even more impressed now.


My husband decided to join and go to meetings with me this time around, which will be great for both of us! It's so much easier when everyone in the same household is on a similar food and exercise plan.


So, as of April 9th, I'm back in the saddle, as they say. So far, I'm not losing weight quite as quickly in my 50s as I did in my 40s, but at least I'm on track and losing again--not to mention consistently making healthier food choices and already feeling better. It's not a radical departure from how I was trying to eat and move anyway, but I now have better tools and support in place to do so more easily and consistently.



Thursday, March 22, 2012

Our Bodies as Allies

I came across this image on the internet today and started thinking about what amazing things our bodies are.



I only wish the picture didn't illustrate one of the relatively rare and quite specific types of body that our society has deemed lovable: young, slender, white, blemish-free, symmetrical.

I cannot fathom even a fraction of the complex and intricate work our bodies do, minute by minute, day and night. Even when overwhelmed by illness or neglect, bodies continue to do their best for us. 

Yet, too often, we treat our bodies as though they are our enemies. We insult and mistreat them. We withhold the basic care required do what bodies are designed to do.

Not only is it a waste of energy to direct that kind of negativity toward such an incredible ally, it leads us into even more damaging acts of deprivation and punishment.

Honesty Check:
Do you ever think of going on a diet (or going to the gym) as punishment for excesses, lack of willpower, or being unsightly, in some way?

What if instead we joyfully gave our bodies the nourishment and attention they need to thrive?

If the only exercise you ever get is kicking yourself, maybe it's time to re-think that approach.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

TUESDAY TIP: Start Where You Are

What could be more obvious? Where else would you start, right?

But how many times do we decide to wait until ?


...until Monday.

...until I'm in a better frame of mind.

...until my life calms back down.

...until I can afford a gym membership.

...until the kids are in school.

...until after the holidays.



Occasionally, this actually works. If you set a realistic start date not too far into the future and really plan toward that date, you may help facilitate your own success. 

Too often, though, it doesn't turn out that way.

Monday passes or school starts and we come up with a new reason to procrastinate, moving our deadline farther into the future. In the meantime, we put off taking proper care of our bodies and probably feel pretty bad about ourselves for it.

Of course, it's only January 3rd, so there's a good chance you're fully motivated and on track with your 2012 goals, at this point. If so, that's fantastic! 

But maybe, like me, your new year got off to a rockier start than you anticipated, or experience has taught you not to even make new year's resolutions. You may remember too many worthwhile projects or good intentions that you didn't follow through on.

For whatever reason, you may just not be in the mood.

That's okay. You don't have to be in the mood, and it doesn't have to be Monday or warm enough to walk outside. You don't have to have your fridge carefully stocked with fresh organic veggies and a spotless house. There's no need to wait until you can do everything perfectly, because--let's face it--that day never comes. No matter how committed or determined we may (or may not) be, some things are beyond our control. That's okay, too. Because we simply start wherever we are: each day, each hour, each minute.

Life can feel wonderful, on occasion, and I hope you are enjoying one of those occasions right now. At other times, however, those all-systems-go experiences feel like distant memories, and life can be downright overwhelming. Especially in those moments, the ability to move forward is often less about things we should add to our to do lists than about things we can stop doing to ourselves.

Whether you are high are on the mountaintop, deep in the valley, or somewhere along the hillside, you can take the next step toward health. It doesn't have to be a big deal unless you want it to be. My Tuesday tip is to not wait for fireworks--or for anything else.

Start wherever you are in this moment.


If you have a tip to share, I'd love to read it in the comments below!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Starting Fresh

     
“Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.”
                                                                                            ~ John Lennon

It's the beginning of a new year, and people have been reviewing the last 12 months, formulating new goals, and setting new year's resolutions. There's something undeniably appealing about a fresh start.

I'm not arguing against any of these practices, but I am mindful of the fact that January 1st gets a lot of hype and high expectation even though, frankly, many resolutions don't have a great track record.


Nonetheless, I try to be optimistic about January 1st and usually ring in the new year with high hopes, so I was disappointed to find myself feeling ill only a couple of hours into 2012. Fortunately, it must have been some minor 24-hr bug, because I'm already feeling much better, but my big plans for the first day of the year and how I was going to get off to a great start completely tanked. I wasn't well enough to exercise, clean, organize, or do much of anything. Thankfully, by January 2nd I was not as weak as I had been the day before, but I still wasn't nearly well enough to jump in to any resolutions with both feet. 

I mention this little saga not to evoke sympathy (okay--mostly not) but because it was a great example of how the famous John Lennon quote above applies even on special occasions.

There's no denying that life doesn't always go according to plan, and I have to confess that I'm not nearly as excited about cautiously easing into my game plan this week as I was about enthusiastically jumping in on day one, but maybe it will be a good thing in the long run. There's a downside to assigning almost magical powers to any one particular day on the calendar when it comes to planning: if anything goes wrong, the whole plan may collapse like a house of cards.

In spite of all the hoopla about the new year, January 1st is in many ways a day just like any other.  If you get sick that day, you don't have to wait until another January 1st rolls around to re-start your plans, whatever they may be. By the same token, if you didn't get in gear and set goals yet for the new year, that doesn't mean you are too late.

At the end of the day, there's no real magic to starting anything on January 1st (or on Monday or after your vacation, or when the weather improves or you have more money...). 

You can make a fresh start any day. 

And there's no time like the present.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

TUESDAY TIP: Celebrate the Small Victories

It hit me a few minutes after midnight.

Halloween was over, and I had eaten NO candy all day. 

None.

I'm pretty sure that was a first for me--at least since I've been old enough to eat candy.

No, I didn't find a cure for cancer. I didn't run a marathon or climb a mountain. I didn't even lose a pound.

Nonetheless, it was a small victory.

Small victories mark the path to bigger ones. No one loses 50 pounds in a day or becomes a bestselling author or concert pianist overnight. If you got a new job today, it's not because you had one good day, it's because you did a lot of things on a lot of days to make that achievement possible. Some of those things may have been little, but eventually they added up to a new job.

There is a subversive psychological phenomenon I've noticed when I start to celebrate a small victory--even privately. Almost as soon as it dawns on me that something good has happened, I feel the urge to downplay it. Have you had that experience? I think it's pretty common.

Maybe it comes from not wanting to show off or appear arrogant, but too often when you acknowledge an accomplishment--something positive you've done--a critical voice will pop up and attempt to invalidate that simple affirmation.

In my case, I had just realized that I made it through Halloween with no candy when I found myself thinking, "But I should have walked today, and I didn't."

It didn't stop there, either. Within 30 seconds I had a whole mental list of things I should have done, putting me back in my place and reminding me what an insignificant little drop in the bucket my "achievement" was.

Here's my theory: I suspect that critical voice prevails in so many of our internal conversations mainly because it gets so much more practice than our positive, celebratory voice. It's always easier to tear down something than it is to build, so exercise your positivity muscles by encouraging personal growth--however incremental--and celebrating every victory you can - small, medium, large, or microscopic.

Look for things to celebrate, creating them, if necessary:
  • I just did two leg lifts before getting the milk out of the fridge.
  • I looked both ways before I crossed the street.
  • I didn't let that rude person push my buttons.
  • I did 2 minutes of stretches at my desk after that stressful meeting.
  • I noticed that I was satisfied while there was still food left on my plate, so I stopped eating.
  • I did some slow calm deep breathing before I went back to my phone calls this afternoon.
  • When I caught myself trying to eat my way out of a shame spiral, I stopped and put the cookies away.
  • I drank 8 glasses of water today.
  • I picked up some healthy snacks at the store this afternoon.
  • I logged my food intake this morning.
Challenge yourself to come up with at least 3 each day. If your critical voice responds with discouragement or dismissiveness, counter with more encouragement.

Before long, you'll have even bigger victories to celebrate.


How about you?  Is there a tip you could share with the rest of us, today? It doesn't have to be exciting or original, just something that has helped you and might help others. Please leave your tips in the comments below. And be sure to celebrate the fact that you shared it as one of your small victories today!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

From Convenience to Compliance

This principle is pretty obvious, yet I don't always take advantage of it:

Convenience tends to encourage compliance.

I had not even finished typing that sentence before I had a SHOULD ATTACK.

I SHOULD be committed no matter what.

I SHOULD do what is right, rather than what is convenient.

Fine.

But, contrary to what prevalent societal messages might imply, there is no virtue in doing something the hard way when it isn't necessary. Why not make doing the right thing convenient?

You know why all that junk is displayed in the checkout lane--things you might not walk across the store to buy but will occasionally toss into your cart while you are waiting? Sure you do. So does the store. The more convenient it is for you, the more likely you are to buy it.

Consider these questions about your health and fitness lifestyle:

1) What kinds of foods are the easiest to grab in your home at this moment?

2) If you decided that you wanted to exercise right now (or immediately before or after work), what would you have to do first? Find your walking shoes? Move furniture around and find a video or a mat or your pedometer or some weights? Drive across town to a gym?

3) How about your support system? When you need help related to eating or exercise, what do you do? Do you have support and/or resources already identified which you can access quickly and easily, when the need arises?

Here's my guess. If the answers were that 1) you usually have healthy snacks readily available and no candy or baked goods lying around under your nose 2) you already have a nearby place to exercise with a workout routine you've established and know exactly where your exercise shoes, clothes, and equipment are, and 3) you have a good support system in place, then I'll bet you are doing well with your fitness goals.

Most of us know, at least generally, what kinds of choices will move us in the direction of health and wellness, but it's easy to let them slide. The key is making it as easy as possible to keep the promises you make to yourself, like eating better and moving more.

I've done fairly well with my own weight loss goals, and I'm physically stronger than I was 6 months ago, mostly from exercising regularly at a local gym, but there's definitely still room for improvement. It's time for me to take a look at my day-to-day routine and find new ways to encourage consistently healthy choices and discourage choices that set me back or slow me down.

How about you? What are some things you've done to make it easier to stay on track? Are there additional changes you can put in place to facilitate doing the right thing? I'd love to hear your thoughts.