Lots of changes here for SKF and MindBodyPlate. I’ve been working for a company that allows me to offer one-on-one support to people recovering from eating disorders. I’m also still seeing private health coaching clients via Skype (I set up … Continue reading
Practice self-care, loves; this post may be triggering to some.
Today is a special day for me – one of my favorite days of the year. September 3rd is my recovery anniversary, and today marks 6 years since the last time I binged and purged.
I blogged about my recovery anniversary last year, but a lot has changed since then. Last year I started the day by taking my favorite yoga class; this year I woke up at 5:30 AM to teach a yoga class.
Last year I thought that self-care was something extra you made time for every day; this year I’ve learned that every facet of life and every choice you make is an opportunity for self-care (self-care isn’t the frosting on the cake, it’s the cake itself).
Last year my ideas about what I should be doing with my life were getting in the way of the actual doing; this year I have a private practice which offers nutritional coaching, private yoga sessions, and peer coaching for those in recovery from eating disorders, and I’m in the early stages of planning the New York City debut of my one woman show about food and body image.
The long view almost always highlights growth — I think that’s why I like anniversaries. Because, individually, most of the last 365 days felt like nothing was happening, like I was getting nowhere. But the sum is greater than its parts, as they say.
I want you to know that ‘6 years recovered’ does not mean I have a perfect relationship with food. Just yesterday, for example, I was so frustrated with the logistics of setting up my new laptop that I ended up eating a ramekin full of peanut butter mixed with maple syrup… with a spoon.
…and then I went back for seconds.
Emotional eating at its finest, folks. Were there elements of a binge there, where I felt out of control? Sure. The difference is that after it was done I didn’t throw up my hands and say, “Well, now that I’ve totally blown it, I better eat everything else in the kitchen.” The difference is that I didn’t want to purge or punish myself at the gym. The difference is that I knew a little bit too much peanut butter would not send my weight or my body image spiraling out of control. The difference is that I didn’t beat myself up.
Actually, I had a bit of a chuckle. I mean, we all get frustrated sometimes — let’s be real, especially when setting up new electronics. Of course I lost a bit of control as my brain became overwhelmed. Of course my body tried to comfort itself. And of course it chose the path of least resistance (dietary fat and sugar!!!).
That I can hold yesterday’s mini-binge with empathy, love, and a bit of humor is the real sign that I am recovered.
Just as all of the changes in one year may not be apparent until the year is over, the hundreds and thousands of mini-steps towards recovery may not be apparent day-to-day. That’s how it is with overcoming anything, I think. We relish when we can look back and feel pride in our accomplishment, now abundantly clear. But the good stuff is happening with every mini-step, every choice to incorporate self-care, every day, every moment, every bite.
Do you ever think about how you think?
This is the topic explored by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman in his New York Times Bestseller Thinking Fast and Slow. In it, Kahneman illustrates that we have two distinct systems responsible for the way we think: System 1 is quick, intuitive, and often emotional; System 2 moves more slowly – it requires deliberate effort and is more logical.
When a drug addled homeless guy bum rushes you out of nowhere with hands outstretched towards your boobs and in a split second you somehow dart out of the way just in time without getting hit by a yellow cab – that’s System 1 in action. When I ask you to multiply 137 and 14 right now in your head – that’s System 2. Got it?
The answer’s 1,918, if you’re interested.
So it turns out that when the deliberative System 2 is busy, the impulsive System 1 has more of an influence on behavior than it might otherwise. In fact, a slew of psychological studies illustrate that when people are preoccupied with a “demanding cognitive task” they become more susceptible to temptation. Kahneman explains,
“Imagine that you are asked to retain a list of seven digits for a minute or two. You are told that remembering the digits is your top priority. While your attention is focused on the digits, you are offered a choice between two desserts: a sinful chocolate cake and a virtuous fruit salad. The evidence suggests that you would be more likely to select the tempting chocolate cake when your mind is loaded with digits. System 1 has more influence on behavior when System 2 is busy, and it has a sweet tooth.”
So why is this important?
Because it illustrates precisely why we tend to make poor food choices when we’re overtaxed and why relaxed mindfulness can help us make better choices in order to maintain a healthy weight.
Making positive choices for your body and mind requires mental effort, and those efforts can be easily thwarted when your brain is preoccupied with other demanding cognitive tasks. One of the ways we can override that tendency is by pausing to take stock of our present reality. When we do, we make sure that our impulsive System 1 doesn’t run off to the races (with an entire cookie jar).
So how about a real life scenario: here I am sitting at my desk trying to finish this blog post. I’m struggling a bit, because now I’m at the part in the blog where I have to make a cogent point and wrap it up nicely. I can tell that it’s asking a lot of my System 2, the part of my brain that requires deliberate effort. Not coincidentally, I can’t stop thinking about the Kale Oatmeal Raisin Cookie in my purse across the room (you guys, it’s actually sinfully good). See, while System 2 is preoccupied with this damn post, my instinctual lizard-brain (System 1) is like, “I’m sooooo tired and annoyed at all of this thinking. I need some quick energy. Yeah, something sweet would be just purrrfect. K thx.” And I’m not gonna lie: that voice is making a TON of sense right now.
But if I push back from the computer screen for a moment, if I set up my meditation bench and come back to myself, if I just breathe and take stock of my present reality and needs… I may give my System 2 a chance to speak up and offer its two cents. And it may say something like this:
“Hey SKF, I know that cookie sounds really good right now, but you just finished a big lunch of red quinoa, braised purple cabbage, garlic roasted tomatoes, hard boiled egg, and pumpkin seeds. It was such a delicious meal, and it was really filling! Actually, you don’t feel all that hungry right now. But you probably will in 3 hours or so! And won’t that be a lovely time to enjoy your cookie?”
OMG you’re totally right, System 2! I’m not even that hungry, not really. But I was getting kind of overstimulated finishing that blog. I’m so glad I took some time to relax and recharge!
What a paradox that mental health involves so much talking to yourself like a crazy person.
The takeaway, I think, is that this ‘two systems’ knowledge can help us identify why we’re having certain cravings at certain times. And the more we understand our cravings, the more agency we wield in our food choices.
New York Magazine recently featured a piece on orthorexia nervosa, the unhealthy obsession with eating only healthy or “correct” foods. The term isn’t officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, and some are skeptical that it has diagnostic criteria unique enough to warrant a separate designation, but I think it can be helpful in describing a specific kind of extreme attitude towards healthy eating.
While the behaviors of orthorexia may overlap with anorexia or bulimia, it’s the motivation behind the behaviors that are different. In the case of anorexia or bulimia, the underlying desire is to achieve thinness or weight loss; in the case of orthorexia, the desire is strictly (and paradoxically) to achieve optimal health.
So it doesn’t surprise me that those who are recovered from eating disorders are particularly susceptible to orthorexia. After overcoming a dangerously rigid set of unhealthy eating behaviors, it makes sense that one might get caught up in an equally rigid set of “healthy” ones.
Whether it’s in the DSM or not, I’m glad orthorexia is getting this kind of attention in the mainstream media. Ferocious commitment to dietary health is widely accepted and even encouraged in our culture, especially as we become more and more preoccupied with the “war on obesity”. As such, it’s important that we encourage mindfulness and dietary moderation with equal fervor.
The slippery slope of orthorexia is exactly why I spend ample time with my clients exploring how we improve our health & wellness and make more positive food choices without relying on the labeling of certain foods as inherently ‘bad’. As soon as we label foods good or bad, we enable the kind of extreme thinking that can lead to orthorexia.
It was a humid one in Brooklyn today. And after a short morning run with my husband, a 90 minute yoga class, and a sunny, mile-long walk home from the studio, I was feeling the heat. I needed something light, fresh, and cooling.
Enter my subtly spiced summer slaw with pistachios – a raw green cabbage dish with a delicate hint of coriander, celery seed, and nutmeg. It’s just the side dish for your next dinner party, BBQ, or picnic.
Ayurvedic wisdom tells us that coriander is a cooling spice, good for dissipating the excess pitta energy that tends to build within us during the summer months. This recipe asks you to warm it on the stove top with some extra virgin olive oil in order to bring out its unique flavor, a step that you can probably omit without much consequence if you’re stretched for time.
In case I haven’t made this clear before, I’ll say it again: I love sauce. The dressing for this slaw is designed to be rather abundant, so that each bite of cabbage will be fully saturated with flavor. If you don’t want your slaw to be a tad on the soupy side, you may wish to add more cabbage or refrain from using all the dressing.
Spiced Summer Slaw with Pistachios
Vegetarian / Gluten Free / Soy Free
- 6 c green cabbage, finely shredded (there’s more than enough in one small head)
- 1 c yellow onion, finely diced (approximately one onion)
- 1/2 – 3/4 c shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
- 1/2 clove of fresh garlic
- 1 c plain organic yogurt, from grass fed cows
- 1/8 – 1/4 c champagne vinegar
- 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp celery salt
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- pepper to taste
- Heat the olive oil and coriander on the stove top over low heat for approximately 5 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let cool completely.
- Peel away and compost the outer leaves of the cabbage and rinse what remains thoroughly. Divide the head into wedges and finely shred them in a food processor (I like the pieces of cabbage to be quite small). Set 6 cups of shredded cabbage aside in a large bowl.
- Finely dice one onion (ideally about 1 cup), and add to the bowl of shredded cabbage.
- Add the cooled coriander-infused olive oil to a blender, along with the garlic, yogurt, vinegar, and remaining spices. Blend until incorporated.
- Pour the finished dressing on the cabbage and onion mixture, add more pepper to taste, and stir in the roughly chopped pistachios (leave a few whole pistachios for garnish).
- Stir thoroughly and refrigerate until serving. Can be made a day ahead of time, giving the flavors a chance to really mesh!
MBP3 is a series dedicated to walking the walk. What are 3 things you’ve done today to nourish your mind, your body, & your plate?
Some days, you just feel a little bit low. Nothing in particular is bothering me, I’ve just been struggling to stay uplifted. Maybe it’s the changing season; maybe I’ve been pushing myself a little too hard; maybe it’s just an unavoidable hormonal shift. It doesn’t really matter, because I’ve learned to take these days in stride. I’ve learned to interpret them as a sign: time to embrace and support myself more fully than ever!
Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
Body: I didn’t feel like going to my favorite yoga class this morning. What?! Nonsense. I told myself that I just had to make it onto my mat, that if I got there and wanted to spend the whole class in Child’s Pose that’d be just fine. So I went, and of course, once I got moving, it felt wonderful. As usual, it filled me with joy and with pride, and I’m so grateful that I made it.
Plate: For lunch, I threw together a nice, big salad, with kale, quinoa, black beans, onions, avocado, pickled jalapeño, and sauerkraut. On my husband’s advice, I added a teaspoon of black olive & garlic tapenade to a straightforward olive oil and balsamic vinegar pairing. It was a home run!
Mind: Supporting your mental health isn’t always about relaxing or getting all zen. In fact, sometimes the very tasks we find aggravating, challenging, or downright boring are the ones that set us up for long-term peace of mind. So, I spent an hour this afternoon looking at my finances. In particular, I searched among my spending trends for clues as to how I can better save (hint: I could cut back a bit in the “Food & Dining” department – I’ve been on a raw vegan restaurant kick lately and they are not cheap). I prefer to use Mint.com, but there are plenty of financial planning resources available online. If, like me, you’re really in need of a financial makeover / wake-up call, I highly recommend Barbara Stanny’s book Overcoming Underearning; her website has a great collection of resources as well.
How are you faring this week? Are you finding it easy to incorporate the MBP3?