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. 


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.


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.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Breaking a Few Crayons

I once had an elementary school art teacher who made us break all of our new crayons in half and take the protective paper off. As a proud owner of my very first 64 pack of Crayolas with a built-in sharpener, I was not enamored with this instruction.

To this day, I believe that particular teaching moment, which launched the school year and all of our upcoming art classes together, could have been handled much more gracefully. But at least as an adult I better understand the point my teacher was attempting to make.

Trying to keep things "just so" can severely inhibit creativity and exploration. My art teacher didn't want us being overly careful not to press too hard when coloring or distracted by the specific names of all the colors. She wanted us to actively experiment, making our art boldly rather than timidly and using the sides of our crayons as well as the points. She knew that--in the long run--breaking our crayons would actually be freeing. She may also have been mindful of the students who didn't have brand new boxes of crayons to use and who might have felt diminished by comparison. Brokenness can be an equalizer.

The broken crayon concept carries over into other areas of life. If you've ever driven a brand new car or invested in a new paint job on an old vehicle, you know how cautiously you drive and park at first, wanting to keep it shiny and pristine for as long as possible. Eventually, though, you will encounter a mud puddle or a shopping cart.

A fresh manicure also requires extra caution. (Ever paint your nails too close to bed time and end up with sheet marks?)

I'm certainly not arguing against taking appropriate care in what we do, but the fear of messing up is not a very satisfying motivator. Besides, let's face it. Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty or be willing to sweat a little bit.

I've been using a free website called SparkPeople.com in my recent weight loss efforts. There are lots of resources on the site: recipes, food and exercise trackers, health-related articles, exercise information, social networking, motivational tools, and more. You can use as few or as many as you like.

One of the clever little things you can do there is to collect "SparkPoints" by using the various tools on the site to make progress toward your goals. You earn points from reading health articles, drinking 8 cups of water in a day, taking a Spark poll or quiz, exercising, trying a new Spark recipe, creating a blog post, reading a Spark email, or a host of other helps. The site also tracks your "SparkStreaks" which record how long you have stuck with particular goals that you have set up, such as logging into the site every day, drinking enough water, journaling 3 days a week, or walking 5 days a week.

I have to admit that SparkPoints are the very kind of thing I often roll my eyes at, but, once I tried it, I found that tracking these points was actually kind of fun and did offer some welcome motivation, so I decided to stick with it.

I had logged on to SparkPeople.com to track my points every single day since I signed up to participate in early July of this year. Some days there wasn't much to record, and I was only on the site for a minute or two. Other days I took the time to read a few articles or watch a 5 minute exercise video. But at the very least, I logged on every day...

Until last Sunday.

I thought about logging on to SparkPeople a couple of different times. I even reminded my husband to be sure to track his SparkPoints. But I got distracted with something and remembered at 10 minutes past midnight that I had not tracked any points that day. By then, it was too late. I had broken my streak.

I am embarrassed to admit how disappointing I initially found this realization to be. Mind you, these points and streaks have no monetary value but are simply an invented incentive to stick with your program and progress through various levels. Still, I was pretty bummed.

It felt almost like discovering the first ding in my car door in the Kroger parking lot or breaking the first Crayola in my 64 pack. It was no longer perfect.

Yes, here we go again. Yet another appearance from my insidious little friend, perfectionism and her all-or-nothing thinking.

And here's the really silly part: Having now broken the spell of this magical "streak," I've been mucking around in oh-why-bother-ville ever since... as though accidentally not logging on to a website one day suddenly gave me license to overeat and procrastinate about exercise again!

Since Sunday night, I've decided that breaking that little streak was probably a good thing. I was getting just a wee bit obsessive about my SparkPoints, to the degree that they may have been more of a distraction than an aid. I'm back to using the site again, but without as much attention to points or streaks and with more focus on making use of information which can directly assist me in achieving my healthy living goals.

I've said before that I believe the way we think about eating and moving is at least as important as the actual food we eat and exercise we do, because thinking has a profound effect on doing.

Hitting this little snag helped me notice another area where my thinking needed some attention. Having now considered what happened when I ran off the rails momentarily, it's time to get back on board. I had a wonderful healthy salad at lunch today, and I'm headed back to the gym tonight.

How about you? Are there any "crayons" you need to break so they won't hold you back?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Keeping Promises

I'm challenging myself to write a fairly brief blog post this time.

It's related to the whole perfectionism/procrastination thing.

Even though I often think of things I'd like to blog about, I tend to put off writing until I've had time to expand on those thoughts for a while.

Then (being an inexperienced blogger) I don't always narrow down my topic enough; I want to be thorough; I lose sight of the fact that I can always write more on the same topic later; and almost before I know it I've written an EPISTLE.

So, what does all this have to do with health or fitness?

I have similar tendencies with eating and exercise.

I will put off exercise until I can do "my whole routine" or "a longer walk," but once I finally make it to the gym, I frequently stay later than I had planned.

I may skip breakfast (yes, I know better!) but once I start eating, I may find it hard to stop, even when I know I've had enough.

I've noticed that we recovering perfectionists sometimes have difficulty with the concept of *enough.*

I'll probably write more about "enoughness" one day.

But, not today...

Because I've written enough for the moment, and I'm learning to do a better job of keeping promises to myself.

What promise to yourself will you keep today?

(I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Time for Tuesday Tips!

It's Tuesday again! Please take a moment to share a healthy living tip in the comments below.

It doesn't have to be original or exciting, just something you've found helpful.

Here's my tip for this week:

Spoil your appetite!

Did your mom ever tell you not to eat something right before dinner because it would, "spoil your appetite"?

Put this principle to good use by having a healthy snack shortly before any meal at which you might be tempted to overeat. Or begin your meal with a low-cal salad. Then take your time and eat slowly throughout your meal, chewing each bite thoroughly and putting your eating utensils down between bites.

Remember that it takes about 20 minutes after ingesting food for your brain to begin to register feelings of satiety or "fullness." So give your brain time to catch up with your belly.

Similarly, it's a good idea to have something healthy to eat before going to a party--especially if you suspect that wise choices may be limited once you get there.

Drinking plenty of water also helps you feel satisfied with less food and (other) drink.

Now it's your turn...

Just leave your Tuesday Tip in the comments below.  No idea is too small!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The 'C & R Brothers

Perfectionism sometimes rears its ugly head for me in all-or-nothing thinking.

I get an idea in my mind, a goal I want to achieve--maybe making a big splash at an upcoming reunion by showing up 30 pounds lighter.

So far, so good. A vision is a wonderful thing.

My idea is big enough to require considerable time and effort to pull off. I think it's do-able, but not easily. It will require multiple steps to achieve.

I want the whole picture, though--the full effect. If I "only" lose 10 or 15 pounds, I'll still weigh more than I did the last time most of them saw me.

I know that to lose 30 pounds in the 4 months until the reunion will be a challenge. I'll really have to pull out all the stops and make this a top priority.

Then I begin to consider all the other things I also need to attend to in the next few months...

Enter my old friend Procrastination with his sidekick, Rationalization.

'Cras and Rash, we'll call them.

'Cras points out that I can't possibly make the lifestyle shift required without purging my kitchen of all unhealthy junk and restocking it with only fresh, whole foods and maybe even installing a state-of-the art water filtration system. In other words, a major project before I can even begin. Ugh.

Rash reminds me that it is Thursday, and NO ONE starts a diet on a Thursday. Besides, it would be wasteful to just throw out all the unhealthy food currently in the kitchen, so I have until Monday to eat it all (by which time I will have more than 30 pounds to lose).

'Cras also explains that since I let my gym membership lapse years ago, it's become more expensive to join, so I'll have to wait for them to run a special before I try to sign up again.

Before I can think through any viable alternatives, Rash tells me that what little I can do in the way of exercise at home in the meantime isn't going to be enough to make a dent in the amount of weight I have to lose, so there's no need to even consider it.

I'm sure you already know that the ending to this tale does NOT include a grand entrance at the reunion in a size 6. More likely, I'll be sitting at home that night in sweats instead, eating donuts and berating myself again for my lack of willpower.

When it comes to visits from the 'C & R brothers, it doesn't matter whether you want to lose 30 pounds or 300. They are equal-opportunity uninvited guests. But you don't have to let procrastination and rationalization in just because they have knocked on your door with their all-or-nothing sales pitch. There is plenty of middle ground to be explored instead.

Yes, sometimes long-held dreams or a bold vision will inspire sweeping changes that catapult us to achieve lofty goals in record time. It's wonderful when we have those dramatic WOW experiences, but it's not the only way important things get done.

If a show-stopping 180-degree turn-around doesn't look promising for any reason, we aren't out of options. We needn't give up or wait for another grand inspiration, which may or may not arrive.

The conventional wisdom is that we have to double down, get tough with ourselves, step up our game, make it all happen. But there are times when a kinder, gentler approach is more appropriate. The results may not be as dramatic, but neither is there a high crash-and-burn potential when we make adjustments gradually. 

We can choose to proceed imperfectly, knowing that we aren't necessarily positioned for an impressive showing but also recognizing that something is almost always better than nothing. 

If you can't fit 30 minutes of exercise into your day, start with 10...

Or 5...

Even ONE.

If you aren't ready to commit to all aspects of a healthy eating plan, start by drinking more water and reducing your food intake only slightly. Begin to make a few healthy substitutions.

Even if you can't slip into that little black dress in time for the reunion, you can be healthier than you are now, and that's enough to matter.

How we think is every bit as important as how we eat or how we move.

The act of simply taking whatever small steps we reasonably can at the moment is such an obvious concept, but when we are caught in a downward spiral of poor choices and self-loathing we convince ourselves that the idea of doing so little is worthless in the face of the task ahead.

Or maybe life is actually going pretty well, so we are not groping around in some emotional black hole, but perfectionism still convinces us that it's not worth doing anything until we can do it "right."

The last time I lost a significant amount of weight, I did so in a determined and disciplined way. After a long period of procrastination I finally bit the bullet, joined Weight Watchers, and followed the plan religiously. I could tell you how many "points" were in almost anything. I could also tell you the date I joined, the date I reached my goal and shifted to "maintenance," and the date I became a "Lifetime Member." Although mine was not one of those incredible weight loss stories you sometimes see on television or in magazines, my friends and family knew I was on a mission, and it was indeed life-changing for me, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.

This time it's far sloppier, but no less important.

I knew I had let some of my good habits slide and needed to get back on track, but frankly I had other things on my mind and wasn't entirely in the mood to deal with it. I reluctantly got started on the food part of things before I felt ready to exercise, and I'm still experimenting with various approaches to eating, uncertain about whether or not I want to count Weight Watchers points again. Even now that I'm in full gear with both healthier eating and regular exercise, the excess weight is coming off more slowly than before.

At one point, I began to ask myself, "Why bother?"

Why am I putting myself through all this effort for such incremental results?

My answers...
  • Slowly feeling better and better beats the hell out of slowly feeling worse and worse. 
  • Doing something imperfectly is still better than doing nothing at all. 
  • Being well enough to live the kind of life I want to live is important to me, even if slow progress is all I can manage right now. 
  • And I suspect that these less dramatic changes may actually be more realistic for me to maintain, long-term, than strict adherence to a more formal weight-loss program.

Once 'Cras & Rash have been ushered out, what initially seemed impossible becomes easier and easier. Now that I've finally gotten started on my imperfect path, it isn't the dreary undertaking I had convinced myself it would be, and my slow progress has actually begun to speed up. 

When you hit a bump in the road--and you will--that's okay. It doesn't erase every good thing you've done. Nor does it mean you can't move forward again. Just take the next little step.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Each Tuesday, I'm inviting readers to share a brief healthy living tip in the comment section of this blog. It doesn't have to be profound or even original--just something you have found helpful.

It could be a product, food, or easy recipe, a website you like, a quote that motivates you, a smart phone app you track exercise on, a habit you have cultivated, or pretty much anything that others might like to know (or be reminded) about.

Here's my "Tuesday Tip" for this week:

It's a food product I learned about at a Weight Watchers meeting several years ago, although it's not a Weight Watchers product. Unfortunately, this won't be helpful to those of you going the low-carb or gluten-free route, but if you are on a more traditional low-cal and/or low-fat eating plan and you like bagels, check out The Alternative Bagel by Western Bagel.

They are a little on the small side and not quite as dense as regular bagels, but they are quite good for 110 calories each (and much better than the Weight Watcher's brand, IMHO... Do they still make those?). Alternative Bagels are high in fiber and low in sugar and fat, with no trans fat and no high fructose corn syrup. They are available in six varieties: country white, roasted onion, sweet wheat, cinnamon spice, very blueberry, and Italian herb. All have less than half the calories of their traditional counterparts.

I get mine at Publix, in the bakery/deli area, but if you can't find them at your local grocery store it is also possible to order them online at www.westernbagel.com. They do freeze well, in case you want to buy some extras once you find them or when they are on sale. (Last week, they were buy one - get one free at Publix!)

How about you? What tip can you pass along this week that has helped you in establishing a healthier lifestyle?

Please encourage others to leave tips in the comments, as well. I look forward to your ideas!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Time for Tuesday Tips!

I'd like to try a little experiment, if you would be willing to indulge me...

On Tuesdays, I'm inviting readers to share a brief healthy living tip in the comment section of this blog. It doesn't have to be profound or even original--just something you have found helpful.

It could be a food or easy recipe you especially enjoy, a website you like, a quote that motivates you, a smart phone app you track exercise on, or pretty much anything that others might like to know (or be reminded) about.

Here's my "Tuesday Tip" for this week:

If you are tracking the calories, carbs, or Weight Watchers points, etc. of your foods, use a permanent marker to clearly indicate the serving size and number of points, or what-have-you, on the various packages/boxes in your pantry or fridge, so you can easily see it at a glance. When feasible, go ahead and divide foods into individual servings (and mark those), so you can quickly grab a pre-measured serving and know immediately how much you are getting.

How about you?  What Tuesday Tip can you share with the rest of us?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Motivation vs. Willpower

My husband and I were returning from the local gym after a workout recently.  We finally decided to invest in a membership and have just begun to establish new exercise routines. "I know this isn't a very positive way to put this," I said to Bill, "but I didn't hate that as much as I thought I would." I've been pleasantly surprised that in spite of some added physical challenges--not to mention age--since I last worked out on a regular basis, I'm finding my new routine to be quite doable.

Around the same time, I was excited to receive my first blog request: a friend suggested that I might write about "mind over matter" when it comes to choices and portion control. So I've been thinking about that topic while learning to use the cardio equipment at the fitness center.

When I hear the phrase "mind over matter" I think of willpower, and certainly there are times on a health journey when willpower is required. You can read, journal, and think about what to do all you want; but at some point you still have to do it.

I suspect one reason so many diets fail, though, is that they rely too heavily on willpower--on forcing ourselves to do things we dislike. For most of us, there's a limit to how long we are willing to feel deprived, and we spend most diets looking forward to the day we can finally stop and do whatever we please again. Hello, Yo-Yo Syndrome.

It seems to me that when it comes to portion control and other healthy choices, the less willpower required, the better. Instead, we should establish as enjoyable and sustainable a healthy lifestyle as possible. In short: We need to focus on positive motivation rather than sheer willpower.

This is where knowing yourself is essential, because not all of us are motivated by the same things. Point systems, meetings, trainers, internet programs, recipe books, journals, online support groups...  there are a million tools available, but you have to choose the ones which you personally find to be most encouraging, inspiring, or--at the very least--helpful.

The tricky part is that sometimes we don't know as much about ourselves as we think we do. So, I find that the combination of remaining open to different approaches (when I can manage to do that) and a little trial-and-error can be surprisingly effective. I was sure I would hate working out at the gym, but it turns out I don't. I didn't like my first workout, but within 2 weeks working out on those machines went from something I dreaded to something I don't usually mind. I can even imagine looking forward to it. In fact, I'm already looking forward to getting stronger. I was reading a book yesterday which quoted stats indicating that this kind of positive shift is common among exercisers who start slowly and gradually. They begin to look forward to exercise as they get better at it and experience its many benefits.

If after 2 or 3 weeks, however, I found that I was dreading the gym more and more instead of the other way around, it would be time to make some changes, based on honest inquiry: What is it about workouts that I so dislike, and what could I change to make them more pleasant? An "outdoor person" may never be satisfied working out in a gym except as a back-up plan. A morning person may feel too tired to exercise after work. A social and/or competitive person may prefer team sports to a gym workout, while an introvert may do better with exercise videos at home.

The same approach applies to food. If you eat mostly "diet food" that you find bland and uninspiring, it's well worth doing enough homework to discover more of the abundant options available. With a little research, you can find healthy food choices which you truly enjoy and that also meet your particular requirements, from easy preparation to working around allergies or other conditions. It's so much easier to stick with healthy eating if the nutritious foods you eat are also foods you love and look forward to.

When it comes to portion control, again, for me, the key is to set things up in such a way that I don't have to feel deprived or hungry much of the time. No one wants to sign up for long-term misery. It's essential to do some internal investigation to determine if the hunger I am trying to satisfy is primarily physical or not. If so, I might increase foods with a high water content so that I can eat larger quantities. Or maybe in my impatience to see quick results I've gone overboard with restricting fats and need to sprinkle a few nuts or a little low-fat cheese into my meals in order to feel more satisfied with a single portion.

Of course, if what I really want from food is comfort, companionship, security, or relief from pain and stress, I need to find better ways to more directly address those issues. I might benefit from additional time spent with friends, individual or group therapy, a 12-step program, Weight Watchers meetings, or a class on managing my finances. Or perhaps something even simpler would help address those needs without food, like a bubble bath, listening to music, taking a walk, calling a friend, or conversing on Twitter. Unfortunately, a side-effect of dieting can be obsessing over food, so remembering to consciously place your attention on things beyond food part of the time is essential.

But here's a key point about food and distraction: focus attention away from the food you want to avoid--extra helpings or unhealthy choices--but not from all food. Pay attention to what you actually eat and the choices you make as you are eating. It may be helpful to distract yourself from the leftovers after a meal by engaging in another activity away from the remaining food. But don't distract yourself from a meal that you are in the middle of eating. If we want the food we eat to satisfy us, we need to eat it slowly and mindfully, savoring every moment. Enjoy not only the flavor, but the colors, textures, and aromas. Notice when you begin to feel satisfied and stop before you feel too full--even if there is still food on your plate or nearby. Once we have had enough to eat, then it's time to shift our focus completely to something else and physically remove ourselves from the presence of additional food. Mindlessly plowing through a bag of chips or box of cookies is far too easy to do in front of the television or computer or while curled up with a book. So, when you eat, eat; when you are doing something else, don't eat.

Finally, we need to learn to be gentle with ourselves. Self-compassion is more important than we tend to acknowledge. It's tempting to slip into a punitive mindset while struggling to set appropriate limits regarding our food, but when we punish ourselves for overindulging, rather than consciously deciding what would best support us in achieving our goals, we set ourselves up for failure, disappointment, and shame. Punishment leads to misery, retaliation, or worse. Is that really where you want to go? Instead, be kind to yourself. Withholding kindness until you finally meet all your goals only intensifies feelings of deprivation and hopelessness, and the potential for rebound eating under those conditions is tremendous. Be kind now--whether or not things are going well. In fact, be extra kind when things are not going smoothly. We respond so much better to kindness than cruelty.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for motivating us to do what we need to do, but a prudent approach always involves paying attention--in this case to our needs and to the variety of ways we can adapt to them. Mindfulness may not be a magic wand, but paying attention can initiate miracles. And miracles are worth getting motivated about.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Take what you need, and leave the rest.

What a loaded little statement.

How much better might our world be if we would only take what we need and leave the rest? More to share. Less poverty. Less waste.

Adopting a generous interpretation of the word "need" to allow for what we require in order to thrive rather than merely subsist, this single concept could dramatically improve our lives and our planet.

To live by this rule, however, we would have to recognize and acknowledge the true nature of our needs. If much of our hunger is actually for love, acceptance, beauty, God, belonging, relief from pain, or triumph over adversity, no amount of food will fill that void. Many of us don't need as much to eat as we think we do, yet the very thought of being deprived of the food we want is enough to trigger all manner of hoarding and binging.

It's not surprising that someone like me who is carrying excess weight might have trouble following this advice in multiple areas. When in doubt, I tend to adopt a more-is-better approach. If I visit the napkin dispenser in a fast food restaurant, I almost never take just one napkin. My core assumption revealed in the moment is that it is safer to have too much than too little, so I've developed the habit of taking "a little extra."

Of course, my assumption flies in the face of the whole, 'tis-more-blessed-to-give-than-to-receive thing, but I've never been one to let a little cognitive dissonance stand in my way.

I've occasionally heard speakers or authors preface their words with a version of the take-only-what-you-need adage, giving permission and even encouragement to extract from their work what we find useful and disregard the rest, understanding that at another point in our lives we might take away a substantially different message from the same presentation.

I'm reading Geneen Roth's excellent book, Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything.

It's my second try.

I checked out the same book from the library last year and didn't get very far before I hit a pothole. Something Ms. Roth said revealed a view I don't necessarily share, and from that point forward, I found it hard to concentrate on anything she had written. As I continued with the book, it became increasingly evident that the author and I see the world through somewhat different lenses, and--largely on that basis--I found myself questioning her credibility.  Although I thought she made some good points, I returned the book to the library without finishing it. There lingered, however, a vague sense that I might have missed out on something valuable.

Fast forward about a year: a great deal of personal and professional strife has mercifully eased since last summer, and I'm feeling calmer, less afraid, and better able to concentrate. I'm now ready to get serious about healthier eating.

This time, I bought the book.

This time, I didn't bristle when the author expressed a belief or conviction which I don't happen to share.

This time, I'm taking what I need, and leaving the rest.

Among other things, the book is reminding me to notice before I eat whether or not I am actually hungry, and, when I am, to note the specific nature of that hunger. I have also been challenged to consider how often the pain I try to avoid or dilute by overeating is not from a current threat, but rather pain which has already occurred--sometimes long ago. Present day eating cannot possibly alleviate the pain from a story of my past. The book goes on to outline a non-judgmental method of compassionate inquiry into whatever we are currently experiencing in our bodies.

One of many sentences I have underlined in the book is a Pema Chodron quote: "Never under-estimate the inclination to bolt." Although Ms. Roth introduces the quote in the context of attendees at her weight loss retreats suddenly deciding that they have to leave, it was not lost on me that when I tried to read her book the first time, I also bolted.

My history differs from Geneen Roth's. I haven't worked with hundreds of people in dealing with their compulsions, and I will admit that one or two of the conclusions she reaches about food and eating, based on her experience, seem a bit bold to me. But whether or not you are ready to accept everything she says, there are such important insights in this book that I would recommend it to anyone (male or female) who has struggled with weight or compulsive eating.

Just take what you need and leave the rest.

Disclosure: I've signed up for Amazon's affiliate program. I'm new to it and not entirely clear precisely how it works, but (assuming I've done everything correctly) if you buy something from Amazon via one of the links on my blog, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Step By Step

There are a few time-honored stories which have always bugged me, including several from wisdom literature.

The biblical story of the prodigal son gets under my skin because I relate to the brother who stayed home and did as he was told.

Aesop's fable of the tortoise and the hare doesn't set well with me either. Like the hare, I tend to accomplish things in bursts of energy, often preceded by procrastination and immediately followed by exhaustion (and occasionally a sizable dollop of self-loathing). With considerable effort, I can make myself work systematically on a project if I believe it's absolutely necessary, but slow-and-steady has never come naturally to me. I know who wins the race, but there just doesn't seem to be much tortoise in me.

My hare-like tendencies are all too well suited to yo-yo dieting. Perhaps my one saving grace is being such a picky eater that I've not been tempted by most fad diets. Nonetheless, I have a history of putting off exercise and healthy eating for fairly long stretches, punctuated by bursts of nutritional perfectionism which I cannot hope to sustain.

I'd really like to step off that roller coaster.

I'm taking it slowly this time and trying to be mindful of the whole process--not only what I eat and how I move, but also my thinking. I want to be honest with myself about what I can and will maintain and allow the time and space I need to establish habits I'm not bound to abandon as soon as I've hit some magic number on the scale or desired dress size, and to incorporate any underlying emotional work I have to do along the way.

I'm also considering realistically the consequences of further procrastination and inaction on my part. Taking good care of myself may not be as fun as eating all the fudge I want, but the ultimate consequences of neglect are hardly appealing. At my age, the word "ultimate" isn't way off in the distance any more. I'm already dealing with some of those consequences, so I'm ready to gently but firmly set a healthier course.

It's time to summon my inner tortoise and get more comfortable with the part of me who appreciates taking things slowly and thoughtfully, recognizing that healthy living is not a short-term project. At the same time, I can make peace with the fact that my approach to things may always be somewhat non-linear and a little bit lumpy.

Change is not only possible; it is inevitable. The question is how active a role I will take in that process. I don't have to watch helplessly as entropy takes over. Neither do I have to make everything into some enormous uphill test of strength or resolve.

All of this sounds pretty reasonable in the abstract, but I'm not yet sure what it will look like in real life. The elusive quest for balance is certainly nothing new and extends well beyond the realm of diet and exercise. The great thing about letting go of my hare persona, though, is that I don't have to figure it all out at once. I can work on it gradually, as I go along. The main thing I need to do at this point is to simply keep taking the next step in the general direction I want to go.

I may run into a few roadblocks and take a detour or two. I'm sure I'll need to make some mid-course corrections, but that's not such a big deal when you aren't charging ahead at 90 miles-per-hour.

The way of living that I establish for myself is more important to me than the number of pounds I lose or the size clothes I wear. So I'm going to take the time I need to pay attention to what I'm doing, as I keep putting one foot in front of the other. I intend to make the most of this journey.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Doing What We Can

It sounds so simple and obvious. But too often it's not where we focus our attention. We get hung up on other things.

Have you ever spent part of your drive home mentally rehearsing excuses?

I have.

Or gotten angry with yourself (or someone else) for messing up?

Yeah, me too.

It doesn't help, of course, and in some cases it can actually make matters worse. But it's what we do when we aren't in a positive frame of mind.

What if we took a different approach? What if we were to focus instead on doing whatever we can do--large or small--for our health and well being in that moment, and just let the other stuff go?

Instead of, "Why does this keep happening?" or "What's wrong with me?" a far more productive question might be:  

"What can I do for my health and wellness right now?"

There is an infinite number of answers, not all of which will apply in every situation, but here are a few possibilities:
  • I can take some slow, deep, calming breaths.
  • I can relax my grip.
  • I can do a few stretches.
  • I can focus my eyes away from the computer for a moment.
  • I can eat more slowly.
  • I can save the rest for another meal.
  • I can take a walk or a swim. 
  • I can do an exercise video--or even part of one.
  • I can make a healthy grocery list.
  • I can make a list of things I'm grateful for.
  • I can find or create or share some new healthy recipes.
  • I can ask for help.
  • I can delegate a task.
  • I can let someone else be in charge.
  • I can do less.
  • I can find an alternative.
  • I can have a healthy snack.
  • I can sleep.
  • I can brush my teeth or my hair.
  • I can take a shower or a bath.
  • I can listen to relaxing or uplifting music.
  • I can light a candle.
  • I can pray or meditate. 
  • I can read scripture or other inspirational writings.
  • I can research new options (classes, support groups, websites).
  • I can pound play-dough or tear up an empty box.
  • I can bounce or toss a ball.
  • I can balance a book on my head.
  • I can clean out a drawer or closet or handbag.
  • I can journal or blog.
  • I can write a poem or draw or paint or sing.
  • I can make something.
  • I can walk the dog.
  • I can walk away from the argument.
  • I can reconsider.
  • I can be kind.
  • I can smile at a stranger (or a loved one).
  • I can hug someone or ask for a hug.
  • I can offer encouragement.
  • I can help someone in need.
  • I can make a long list of things that I can do.
Any one of these actions can be a step in the direction of greater health and well-being. It's okay to start small (or medium or large). Just start wherever you are. And do what you can.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Having a Little Fun

I walked into my first Weight Watchers meeting six years ago with a less-than-great attitude.

I really didn't want to be there.

Not only did I wish I had no weight to lose, the idea of PAYING to stand in line to be weighed each week and then sit through some sort of pep talk was utterly ridiculous.

I was a busy person. I didn't have time for this nonsense. I had trouble finding time for the things I really wanted to do--some of which were free!

The problem was that I also had trouble finding time to take proper care of myself by eating well, exercising, and meditating, and it was beginning to take a toll on me, including my work and my personal relationships.

So here I sat in a hard, squeaky folding chair, all "weighed-in" with a STICKER (yes, really) in my little booklet, my name tag getting caught in my hair whenever I moved the wrong way, avoiding eye contact with anyone and waiting for the stupid meeting to start.

The leader began with what she called "Bravos," which were brief reports of small successes people had experienced that week: walking a little farther than usual, passing up a dessert, finding a delicious healthy new salad dressing and using it, fitting back into a beloved pair of jeans. Okay, fine.

Next we recognized those who had reached a particular weight loss milestone since last week--usually a multiple of 5 pounds lost. There were several of these, all rewarded with applause and yet more stickers and such. It all felt rather awkward that first day, and I could feel my inner middle-schooler kicking in because I was tempted to roll my eyes, except that... well... I did feel happy for them. In fact, all of a sudden I was kind of almost on the brink of weepiness. 

And then (as S. Harris might say) a miracle occurred...

The meeting topic was actually helpful

I'm not sure why this surprised me, but it did. The miracle, frankly, was that I even noticed that it was helpful, with such a bad attitude. In fact, the meeting was all about attitude, but the leader was smart enough not to use that word and trigger my defenses. Instead, she simply talked about having a little fun with the program and ways to do that, generating even more ideas from those assembled.

Fun.       Making the most of the situation.

Somehow, fun had never even occurred to me as an option.

**ENORMOUS attitude/paradigm shift**  

And thus began my surprisingly cheerful trip to the supermarket afterward to try some new foods and challenge myself to find healthy things to eat which I would actually look forward to.

To get out the door to the dreaded meeting, I had informed myself that I no longer had a choice. I had to go, period. But the truth was that I still had lots of choices, including this very important one of attitude. That one subtle-yet-profound shift on the wings of the enthusiastic brainstorming in the room one evening ushered in a new and far more hopeful season of health in my life.

It's time for me to tap back into that vibe again and have a little fun with it.

How about you? 

What can you do to have a little fun with the process of eating better and moving more? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Here We Go Again

About six years ago, after many years of resisting most popular diet programs on the grounds that I already knew what to do but just hadn't managed to do it yet, I finally decided I needed help and joined Weight Watchers, where I had an excellent experience.  I lost 30 pounds and developed far better eating and exercise habits than I've probably ever had. I met and exceeded my goals and felt fabulous.

You would think after a mountaintop experience like that I'd do everything in my power to hang on to my improved health, but after a couple of years of strict maintenance I gradually began to backslide, and here I am now wanting to drop 20 pounds and overcome a lot of aches, pains, and other physical limitations again.

One of the great lessons of my Weight Watchers experience was to be mindful of the way I think as well as the way I eat and move. This new blog is a way for me to pay more attention to my thinking about health and fitness as I adopt better eating and exercise habits. I invite you to join me on the journey.