What does perfection look like?

Last week I was expecting the delivery of an important package. I knew the delivery window began at 11am, and I also knew that I had time to get to the gym and back before then.

But just in case it comes early, I thought, I’ll leave a note on my door.

The next thing I knew, I looked down at the coffee table and saw this:

please leave package with doorman

Ohforchristssake.

It happened like lightning. In the blink of an eye, I had written a note for the delivery person not once, not twice, but three times, all to get it just right. The first one was spaced wrong, the second one was a disaster, and the third one — well, I wasn’t happy with that one either, but by that point I realized how weird this all was and acquiesced.

And why — why had I wasted all that ink and paper, all that time? Was it because I thought the random stranger delivering the package would like me better if my note was polite and well-spaced, so that they might send me goodwill and treat my package with the tiniest bit of extra care? Or because I was thinking about all the people who live on my apartment building floor and all of the conclusions they might draw about me based on the color and cadence of my post-it note?

Well, yes; actually, yes.

And oh man, doesn’t that speak volumes about all the time I’ve spent in my life, all the tiny moments I’ve wasted, worrying about what other people think of me? It makes me exhausted just thinking about it. I may have made some pretty beautiful progress so far, but it’s little post-it moments like these that reveal to me how much work there is to be done.

If you could call it perfection Leza LowitzWould I have even known what the perfect version of that post-it note looked like when I saw it? Probably not. And that’s the trap of perfectionism. As long as I’m striving for some standard of perfection that does not actually exist, then my writing will never be perfect, my body will never be perfect, my relationships will never be perfect…

But if I can learn to embrace things as they are, flaws and all, and just call that perfection, then I’m side-stepping a whole lot of suffering.

So in honor of the theme of this post, I’m just going to publish it without sleeping on it or spending multiple days editing it. It might not be my best post ever, but that’s okay. It’s more than enough.

What are you going to do this week to eschew the flawed ideal of perfection? In your yoga class are you going to resist the temptation to take a pose into its more advanced variation, even if it’s accessible to you? When you notice a typo you’ve made in a social media post, will you resist the urge to edit it? Will you look at yourself in the mirror and call what you see perfection, knowing that right now it is really enough?

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What do you love? / 7 posts in 7 days

nyc metro card and birdcage - mindbodyplate

So there I was, making perfect time on my way to yoga when, upon arriving at the bus stop, I realized my unlimited metro card was expired. I wouldn’t have time to trek to the subway stop a quarter mile away to get a new one. Shit. I dug around in my purse and retrieved three dollar bills. Yesss. When the bus pulled up and its doors opened, the sign next to the driver was clear: no bills, exact change only. In other words, if you want to take the bus the old fashioned way, you need $2.50 in quarters. Yikes. As I stepped backwards away from the doors to let more prepared Brooklynites board, my right foot landed smack dab in a foot-deep, greasy and grimy New York City gutter puddle. Double shit.

Dejected, I turned around and started to head back home. I guess there’s no yoga class for me this morning, I thought; maybe I can catch a class later, or buckle down and do a sufficient home practice.

But I didn’t get far.

Wait a minute, I thought, you love this yoga class. Are you really going to let the fact that your sock is saturated with what is likely sewer water stop you from getting there? Resolved, I waited for the better part of ten minutes for a cab, soggy foot and all, and I raced to the studio.

Class was twice as packed as usual, and the air in the place was filled with a jovial and generous spirit that immediately redeemed my journey there.

Carla, a true teacher among teachers, began class with a characteristically casual dharma talk. She reflected on a passage of the Bhagavad Gita regarding dharma itself (you might translate it to mean duty). The passage suggests that we don’t perform our dharma to get something in return, we do it for love. She touched on our collective tendency to focus on all of our problems, our hangups, our issues; and how the problem is, that list is never-ending. “The question isn’t what are your issues,” Carla concluded, “the question is what do you love?”

The view from a bridge in Brooklyn's Prospect Park

The view from a bridge in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park

See, recently, out of either busyness, writer’s block, or just plain perfectionist paralysis, I’ve been neglecting the MindBodyPlate blog. Part of me expects that the blog has to be something special, which of course is a surefire way to guarantee I’ll avoid doing it. I’ve also caught myself dwelling once or twice on the unfathomable number of people with health and wellness blogs or coaching businesses these days. I mean, what’s one more? Plus, the cranky counterculture teenager inside of me is embarassed that I would allow myself to be a part of such an overwhelming zeitgeist. Like, jeeze SKF, a wellness blog? How original. Good luck being a needle in an organic, non-GMO haystack.

But the question isn’t what are your issues, the question is what do you love?

And I have thoughts about what it is to be alive in a physical body in twenty first century America every single day. And maybe like, two people will care to read them. But most importantly, I love having these conversations. And I think it’s my dharma to do so.

Which is why, as a way to kick start a new chapter of the MBP blog, I am committing to a week-long, blog-writing challenge. Get ready for at least a little bit of blog every day, for the next six days. They probably won’t all be home runs, but they will get written.

gazing at prospect park lake - mindbodyplate

My new yoga buddy gazing out over Prospect Park Lake in Brooklyn

Oh, and the rest of my day? Well, after yoga, the very same willing attitude that allowed me to turn around and get to yoga against the odds allowed me the opportunity for an impromptu summer day with a brand new friend from the studio. We talked about IUDs and family and love over perfectly chilled grüner veltliner and deviled eggs at a sidewalk cafe. Then a walk around the lake in prospect park turned into an afternoon of roller skating at the outdoor rink. It was beautiful. And I never even washed my foot off.

Are you letting your issues get in the way of doing what you love? Are they worth it? Can you name your dharma, your virtuous duty in the cosmic order of things?

MBP Daily Three: When Your Lucky Underpants Don’t Help

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?
calvin and hobbes lucky rocket ship underpants

From Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Woof. Some days, you’re just so, totally down in the dumps. I knew a girl who called it “going to her dark place.” Luckily, the MBP Daily Three is a tool you can use to pave the way toward a better tomorrow, no matter how you feel today. It’s easy to remember: just check off one thing you’ve done today to nourish your mental health, your physical health, and your nutritional health (mind, body, and plate). The MBP3 might not turn your whole day around, but a little bit of self-care today may do a great deal of good in the long run.

Body: My handsome, bearded husband took the day off for a doctor appointment. Though he practically had to drag me out of the house, we ended up going for a short run through the neighborhood together. My brain was doing this weird thing where I thought if I couldn’t go run a 10k, then I shouldn’t run at all (being a perfectionist is really special sometimes). In the end, I just had to strong arm my way through that resistance and get out there. And don’t think I forget for one second how lucky I am to have a partner who can kindly nudge me in the right direction when I’m getting in my own way.

Photograph by Nicole Franzen for Gardenista

Photograph by Nicole Franzen for Gardenista

Mind: Our new neighborhood in Brooklyn is home to this cool little business called Sycamore Bar & Flower Shop. It’s, well… a bar attached to a flower shop. They’ve got all kinds of beautiful moss and ivy creations hanging in glass terrariums in the windows, along with gorgeous and unique flowers littering the mason-jar-filled space. After our run, we stepped inside just to have a look around. There was something about taking in the delicate beauty of some of those little succulents and air plants that demanded mindfulness. And practicing mindfulness helped lift my mood. Maybe we just ducked into a little bar and flower shop, but in some way it felt like a tiny trip to some sort of Midsummer Night’s fairyland, and it shook up my day in just the right way. It’s interesting how the smallest things can affect one’s perspective.

Plate: Finally, we stopped at the health food store, and I pulled up a recipe for red lentil coconut soup that I’ve been eyeing on Pinterest for a while. I took my time perusing the store, an enjoyable pastime for me in itself, and gathered the ingredients to make the dish. The truth is, I may not even make it tonight; I may just not have it in me. But I’ll be able to make it tomorrow. And somehow, just knowing that I have all of the ingredients to make such a rich and healthy meal makes me feel more at ease.  No matter what happens, I know I have some rewarding nourishment coming my way.

Will you tackle your MBP Daily Three even when it seems like a futile undertaking? Who are the people in your life you can turn to for a gentle nudge in the right direction? Let me know in the comments below, and have a lucky rocketship underpants kind of day.

The Pendulum Effect

Foucault pendulum hanging in Milan’s National Museum of Science and Technology. Photo courtesy of Ben Ostrowsky.

Foucault pendulum hanging in Milan’s National Museum of Science and Technology. Photo courtesy of Ben Ostrowsky.

I find myself talking about pendulums pretty frequently. Why pendulums? That Foucault could use one to demonstrate the earth’s rotation is pretty cool, but I usually reference them because they serve as the perfect metaphor for so much of what I talk about with my clients. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Newton was talking about the physical laws of motion, but I find it interesting to view our mental, behavioral, and even physical shifts through this same lens.

The universe is always seeking balance, often in ways beyond our control and outside our periphery.

When you pull a pendulum really far in one direction and let go, what happens? You can bet that it will swing really far back in the other direction. A big shift begets another big shift. And we can find this rule of balance playing out in our day to day (or month-to-month, as it were)…

A Tale of Two Months

February was an extremely stressful, obligation-filled month for me, jam-packed with intense emotional growth and periods of distressing uncertainty.

In 28 short days, I turned 30, celebrated my partner’s birthday, celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary, juggled multiple jobs alongside 20 hours a week of yoga teacher training, hosted my parents during their visit from California, became a certified yoga teacher, braved the New York City rental market to find us a dream apartment (after our first one fell through), packed up our lives in boxes, moved to a whole new borough, and then unpacked those very same boxes, all amid freezing weather and one winter storm after another.

Needless to say, by the time March rolled around, I felt tired. In fact, I found myself struggling to stay motivated. Midway through the month, I even started to get a little down on myself. What was happening to me? Why did I feel so lazy? Then it hit me:

Well, DUH.

Of course I feel like I’m swimming upstream against a current of relentless lethargy. Of course it’s all I can do to go through the motions and cover the essentials. Of course all I want to do is eat and drink and enjoy the casual company of good friends. Of course my immune system is compromised. Of course I watched all three seasons of The Borgias in two weeks.

This is my body’s way of creating balance, of carving out a period of rest and recovery. This is my body’s response to February. This is the pendulum effect in action.

Macrobiotics* and the Yin-Yang of Food

Have you ever had too many salty foods in a short period of time and found yourself wrestling with intense cravings for sugar not long thereafter? This is your body seeking balance through appetite, and it’s a pretty obvious example of that pendulum swing.

Turns out, there’s an entire dietary approach that concerns itself with balancing the energies of food. The Macrobiotic diet pulls from ancient Chinese philosophy, asserting that every food item falls somewhere on a spectrum of energy, from yin to yang.

Different foods may be more yin (as in sugar) or yang (as in salt). Some foods exist near the extremities of this spectrum, containing high amounts of one kind of energy (red meat, for example, is strongly yang), while other foods fall towards the center and have a more balanced composition (leafy greens, for example, are faintly yin, and root veggies contain just a hint of yang).

yin yang food chart

Someone who follows a Macrobiotic diet seeks to balance out the yin and yang energies on their plate. The best way to do it? Not to swing the pendulum too far in either direction; in other words, to eschew the foods with extreme yin or yang energies, choosing instead those items which are relatively balanced: fruit, sea vegetables, leafy greens, round veggies, root veggies, beans, legumes, grains, and white-meat fish.

I don’t follow a strictly Macrobiotic Diet, but I do dig the idea of seeking harmony on my plate, and I definitely know what it’s like to experience a balance-seeking backlash in my relationship with food.

The Inevitable Backlash of Deprivation

According to researchers at UCLA, the average person who diets for six months will lose five to ten percent of their starting weight. Great! Except that’s not the whole story. Within five years, one-third to two-thirds of those who lost weight on a diet will regain more weight than they lost. There’s that pesky pendulum effect again.

Your body is a finely tuned, highly functioning machine, but it’s not always in cahoots with your intellect. For instance, when you decide to try that fashionable juice cleanse, your brain consciously acknowledges that you’ll be dramatically reducing your caloric intake for a short time. You’re fully aware that you’ll probably get a little hangry or euphoric, but that it’ll all be over in a matter of days. Everything will be fine! It’ll be more than fine – you’ll be glowing by the time you’re through!

But the thing is, your body doesn’t necessarily get the memo. As far as your body is concerned, you were going along fine, enjoying your abundant 21st century menu, when – all of a sudden – your caloric intake was cut in half, there’s no fiber coming in, what happened to the healthy fats, and ohmygod, this can only mean one thing: FAMINE!

Do you know how the human body responds to famine? To semi-starvation? It shuts down any nonessential activity to conserve energy. Immune function? Forget it. Reproductive capacity? As if – we can’t make a baby when there’s hardly enough fuel for one! Moreover, when your body is faced with semi-starvation your metabolic rate drops. It slows. And when you begin eating regularly again, it doesn’t necessarily speed back up. The pendulum has already swung to the other side.

Keep in mind that this juice cleanse example is a bit of an exaggeration. The effects of caloric deprivation take a few days at least to register in the body as an emergency situation. In fact, some research suggests that intermittent fasting may benefit overall health. But for chronic dieters or those suffering from eating disorders, this is no exaggeration.

I suffered from anorexia nervosa for a period of time around the age of 12, then began binging and purging a handful of years later. I had pulled the pendulum of deprivation to such an extreme, that by the time I was in college I felt helpless in the face of my compulsive urge to consume everything around me.

My particular brand of deprivation, so indicative of the “fat phobic 1990s”, was that I denied myself any form of the macro-nutrient fat. Many years later, a nutritional counselor asked me what type of food I binged on the most during my struggle with bulimia. “I don’t think there was one type,” I answered, “I feel like I binged on everything: ice cream, cheese, creamy pasta, doughnuts, pesto crepes, and peanut butter.” She stopped me. “Don’t you see? Those foods do have something in common: fat.” She was right. They were all foods high in fat. How’s that for a pendulum swing?

the cosmic pendulum

Not Quite Equilibrium

So how do we mitigate the destructive arc of the pendulum effect? How do we find balance in the areas of appetite, energy, and mood?

Well, let’s look to the metaphor for answers: a pendulum is never completely still. Even at rest, it is always moving, ever shifting, oscillating back and forth, but imperceptibly so. Just like the pendulum, we never seek to make our lives static, to be happy all the time, or relaxed all the time, or militantly controlling of our diets so they never stray from “perfect” equilibrium. We welcome these shifts, because they a part of being alive in a human body.

And yet, we wish to minimize the extreme swinging back and forth. Which is why we turn to mindfulness. The more in-tune we can become with the subtleties of our moods, patterns, and habits, the more likely we’ll be to notice a swing before it gets too extreme. And we can take a further cue from the Macrobiotic camp: if we aim to steer clear of extremes altogether, we automatically limit the extent to which those appetite, energy, and mood swings can get out of hand.

So let’s take another look at the way my February and March went down: what’s clear is that I have a tendency to push myself too hard until I reach a breaking point, at which time I go through a period of lethargic withdrawal. If I can integrate more mindfulness moving forward, perhaps by scheduling a 10 minute meditation break in the middle of every single work day (no matter how much there is to do), I’m less likely to burn out by the end of the week. And if I can limit my overall obligations and be more realistic about what I can get done in, say, a 28-day period, I’ll be even less likely to crash.

Basically, it’s about being kinder to myself and becoming more successful in the process. After all, two months of working at approximately 78% productivity is better than one month at 98% and the next at 2%. I’m not looking to eliminate my natural ebb and flow, I just want to keep the massive swings to a minimum.

In what ways do you experience the pendulum effect in your own life? Have you noticed it in others? How often do you stop to notice your dominant tendencies, and what would it mean to consciously cultivate a little bit of the opposite? Let’s take a cue from the universe and strive in the general direction of balance, whatever that means for us. After all, the other shoe is going to drop eventually.

scales

*Mine is a crude representation of the rich and wonderful world of Macrobiotics. For more information, check out The Hip Chick’s Guide to Macrobiotics by Jessica Porter.

References:

http://www.kushiinstitute.org/what-is-macrobiotics/
http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/dieting-does-not-work-ucla-researchers-7832.aspx
http://archive.unu.edu/unupress/food2/UID07E/UID07E11.HTM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Starvation_Experiment
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-intermittent-fasting-might-help-you-live-longer-healthier-life/

Re-Frame Your Food Sins

I had a bad food day

In my health coaching practice, I read a lot of food journals.

Keeping an account of your eating patterns, complete with accompanying physical and emotional states, can be an invaluable tool in examining your relationship with your mind, body, and plate. But it can be scary to let someone else in on your most vulnerable food moments, and the whole process can stir up quite a few insecurities.

“I had a bad food day.” I hear this one a lot. I hear it from my clients as well as my friends and coworkers. In fact, this sort of language is pretty pervasive. I let myself go. I fell off the wagon. I went to my dark place. I’ve heard people use all of these phrases and more when describing a self-perceived food transgression.

I had a bad food day. One of my clients muttered it with shame as she recounted her previous week. For some reason, it bothered me more than usual. Perhaps it was because this client is one of the most radiant, wonderful women I know, and I couldn’t stand that she would beat herself up for eating a few sweets amid her generally impeccable diet. The phrase just seemed so judgmental, so determinate. It was the last time I ever wanted to hear “I had a bad food day” ever again.

So I gave her an assignment to find a word other than ‘bad’ to describe that day and others like it. Two weeks later she offered an alternative that took my breath away, along with permission to share it here with you.

re-frame the sentiment“I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom and restraint,” she said. “Too much of either is a bad thing. With freedom and restraint, it’s really all about finding a healthy balance. And that’s why instead of saying I had a bad food day, I think I’ll say that I was being free with myself or that I had a free food day.”

She went on to describe that in re-framing the sentence, she was able to re-frame the sentiment. A few indulgences no longer felt like an unforgivable sin, but instead like a necessary and logical counterbalance to the nearly constant restraint she attempts to impose on her diet. And balance is a very good thing.

So if in the coming weeks your relationship with food doesn’t go the way you envision, take a moment to consider the words you use, with yourself and others. For my part, the next time I pair my apple with the better part of a jar of peanut butter (What, me? Never!), I’ll do my best to embrace it as an experiment in being free with myself. This is America, after all. Let’s allow ourselves a little freedom now and then.

 

MBP Daily Three: When Life Gets Messy

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?

MindBodyPlate Salt Spill

Life gets messy. We make mistakes. Things go wrong, and it’s not always possible to make them right. But no matter how hopeless a situation may seem, there is one thing that is always in our control: the extent to which we have our own back.

If you’re a sensitive soul, it’s all too easy to take everything that’s gone wrong and use it to punish yourself. Depending on how many years of practice you’ve had beating yourself up, having your own back in the midst of conflict might seem like an impossibility. So it’s important to start small. Little acts of self-care go a long way in getting you through the mess.

The next time you’re struggling to uplift yourself, remember the MBP Daily Three. Relentless self-care in the form of tiny but deliberate acts of self-kindness will give you something to grasp onto when you feel like falling down.

Mind Seek out emotional scaffolding.

When I’m faced with highly emotional conflict, my tender heart takes my physical body for a ride: nausea, elevated heart rate, dry mouth, the works. And since I’m still learning to have my own back, my mental health feels similarly precarious. I liken my state to a tower of jello: the form is there, but the structure is shaky. So I reach out for what I call emotional scaffolding (emotional buttressing might have been more appropriate, but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it). I reach out to my loved ones and picture building an all-encompassing scaffold up and around my shaky tower, plank by plank. With each phone call, text message, or lunch date my scaffolding grows higher. I reach out to others like it’s my job, even if I want to hide at home under the covers. I reach out not so much to commiserate as to remind myself that I am surrounded by people who know me and love for for who I am, as I am.

Body Get outside and get moving.

When your body feels like a shaky tower of jello, running a 5k doesn’t make a ton of sense. So go easy on yourself, but do get moving. A walk to the mailbox or the local coffee shop might be all you can muster, and that’s just fine. When last I felt this way, I met a friend near Bryant Park and asked her to peruse the Alice + Olivia showroom with me. Window shopping may not be an Olympic sport (yet), but it gets the blood flowing, and in my case, it felt therapeutic and safe. Simple upper body strength training is another great option, as weight lifting tends to inspire more than just physical strength. And if your nerves are steady enough to hit up a restorative yoga class, do it. Any activity that gets you moving and stills the mind is really where it’s at.

Plate Keep it simple. 

If you’ve ever struggled with anxiety, you know the curse of the anxious stomach. You feel too queasy to eat yet become increasingly weak as your blood sugar wanes. You’re not doing yourself any favors. But I have some surprising and delightful news for you: you know all those refined grains and simple carbohydrates we’re supposed to steer clear of? Now’s their time to shine. Refined carbs are much more gentle on the digestive tract than whole grains and most other foods, so when your nerves have got you queasy, feel free to bust out the white rice, saltine crackers, and French bread. At this point, providing your body with the energy it needs to function is far more important than achieving some kind of arbitrary dietary perfection. If your nervous stomach wreaks havoc on your intestines as well, you might be interested in congee, a Chinese porridge that is super gentle on the stomach and has, ahem, a binding effect on elimination. Warm, non-caffeinated herbal tea and broth are also good choices that will help you to feel more grounded and calm.

I hope it’s clear that one or two small acts of self-kindness can go a long way in bolstering your spirits when things go awry. While it’s important to admit when you’ve made a mistake, you don’t earn bonus points for torturing yourself about it for days, weeks, or years to come. Self-awareness must be tempered with self-forgiveness. If you’re struggling with that, then follow the MBP Daily Three like it’s a prescription, and you’ll find it gets easier. Because cultivating self-care, having your own back, and putting yourself first actually feels pretty damn good. Even and especially when life gets messy.

No Juice for You!

Orange wedges dropping into water

A few months back, I had the pleasure of visiting my sister in Napa Valley, where she works as a pastry chef in a popular, historic bakery. I spent most of my mornings in the bakery’s café area, mindfully enjoying a cup of tea and a bit of breakfast, perhaps reading or just taking in the sights and sounds of the affluent small town. On one such morning, I witnessed an event so unexpectedly horrific that I still think about it every time I see fruit juice.

A mother (or otherwise maternal figure) walked into the bakery with two healthy boys of about five or six years. They approached the register, at which time the boys noticed an open cooler full of Odwalla juice. “Juice!” they squealed, “Can we get juice?”

Source: State Library and Archives of Florida

Source: State Library and Archives of Florida

“No, we’re not having juice this summer,” the mother replied, “and let me tell you why: it’s filled with sugar. Besides, you don’t want to waste your Sweet Treat before nine in the morning on a drink.”

This piqued my interest. Though she was in a bit of a crabby mood, it seemed that this mother was sharing the logic behind her decision and trusting her boys to understand its nuances. I really appreciated that. I’m also not a huge fan of fruit juice, especially for kids. I continued to eavesdrop, curious to see how she would handle any follow-up questions.

As expected, the boys persisted. They really wanted that juice. She got agitated.

“You need to learn what ‘no’ means. I don’t want to argue with you. This will not be the ‘Summer of Juice.’ Juice is full of sugar, and it’ll make us fat. If you’re going to have juice, it will be fresh-squeezed.”

*record scratch*

Uh…what? Okay, so at this point, I realized that this conversation was no longer about health. It was about aesthetic value. It was about how juice is “bad” and how being fat is also “bad.” This was also the moment I realized this woman might be kookoo bananas, since she somehow believed that fresh-squeezed juice would be less sugary than a 6oz Odwalla (it is not).

Ready to negotiate, one of the boys said, “But we can have a juice now if we don’t have any other sweets today, right?”

“No, no!” she quipped, “Now listen to me.” At this point, she grabbed the face of the other boy, pinching the loose skin underneath his chin between her thumb and index finger, and shaking it for effect.

“Look at this! Look at your brother! We will not be drinking any more juice, because it’ll only add to this [chin] and we are not going to get fat!”

Need I remind you that this was a perfectly healthy pair of young boys? Not even close to overweight. I was mortified. Soon thereafter, they purchased their breakfast (ironically, a bag of carbohydrates – aka SUGAR), and left the bakery. I whipped out my smart phone and transcribed the interaction, still in shock about what I’d just witnessed.

We know better than to believe these creepy old orange juice ads, but we need to be careful about labeling certain foods as “bad.”

We know better than to believe these creepy old orange juice ads, but we need to be careful about labeling certain foods as “bad.”

Food Rules and Weight Gain

There’s no question that we need to address the obesity epidemic in this country. But when will we realize that labeling foods as inherently “good” or “bad” is not the answer?

Look, I typically stay away from fruit juice, and I’ve made the personal decision to cut out refined sugars. Yet, from time to time, my body tells me that it needs some no-sugar-added citrus juice, and I’ll be damned if I ever deprive my body of what it needs ever again. Granted, it took me a long time to suss out the difference between a true need and an emotionally driven craving, but it’s a skill set that we are all capable of achieving.

And though I typically say no to refined sugars, when I’m visiting my pastry chef sister in Napa, California, I will never deny myself a taste of one of her delectable creations, because I know that there is nourishment in such a thing that goes way beyond nutritional value. There’s a term I use in my practice called Primary Food, and it applies to all of the non-food aspects of living that feed our soul, nourish our mental health, and satisfy our hunger for life. Bonding with my sister over her passion is one such example of Primary Food, and I know that it will benefit me more in the long run than abstaining from a few bites of sugary pastry.

I typically don’t eat refined sugar, but when I do, it’s usually for a taste of one of my sister’s delectable creations.

I typically don’t eat refined sugar, but when I do, it’s usually for a taste of one of my sister’s delectable creations.

Restricting food almost always backfires in the end. Research shows that making certain foods off-limits can lead to obsessing and bingeing. In fact, eaters who restrict are more likely to experience cravings and more likely to give in to them. A study published in the journal Appetite demonstrated that the more a mother restricts her young daughter’s access to snack foods, the more snack foods the daughter will eat when given the chance (1).

It’s time to shift the conversation so that it’s about feeling healthy and good in your body, not about a number on a scale or about attaining some kind of saintly dietary perfection. And it begins with us, in our every-day actions and our every-day conversations.

Let’s teach children that too much sugar actually makes you feel pretty gross, in the short term and long. Let’s make it about them feeling good in their bodies. Let’s make it clear that there’s nothing inherently bad about 100% fruit juice, but that it’s a “sometimes” food and not an “all-the-time” food.

The war on childhood obesity may be warranted, but if we continue to tolerate fat shaming and fail to teach moderation, we’re creating a generation of binge eaters.

References:

(1) Fisher, J.O, & Birch, L.L. (June 1999). Restricting Access to Foods and Children’s Eating. Appetite, 32 (3), 405-419. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/appe.1999.0231

The Post That Took a Year to Write

churchill

This is my first official blog post. The first time I’m sitting down to write something specifically for my brand new blog. I’m terrified. I feel twitchy. My brain keeps telling me to take a bathroom break even though I took one ten minutes ago. Somehow, a bobby pin just ended up in my mouth and I’m chewing on it like a candy cigarette. There seems to be a red bump on my forearm, maybe I should pick at it for a second… NO! STOP IT. Just. Stop.

Just start writing.

I’ve always been a procrastinator. When I was a kid, we only had one computer in the house. My parents set it up in their bedroom to discourage us from putting off assignments until the night before they were due. And yet, I often ended up in that bedroom long after my father had gone to sleep, my mom patiently reading a book in bed. I had a pearl-covered princess crown (a costume piece from when I played Cinderella in a local youth theater production), and I used to wear it during those late-night homework sessions. I called it my “thinking cap” and thought it would somehow imbue me with superhuman paper writing abilities. I was in high school.

Really, I was just terrified that my finished work wouldn’t be perfect. And the idea of creating something perfect was so daunting that I often ignored the assignment all together for as long as I could. So I’d end up bleary eyed at 3 AM editing a satirical short documentary on Montesquieu when the assignment called for a simple power point presentation.

No one ever told me I needed to be perfect. Somewhere along the line, I just decided it was the only way to be. And it’s been tripping me up ever since.

FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY

I wanted to start this blog a year ago. Then this happened:

“But it needs to look professional.”

“I don’t know how to use WordPress.”

“I need to save some money so I can buy a custom template.”

“I should really study other Health & Wellness blogs for a while.”

“I don’t know anything. Who cares what I have to say?”

“People will think my blog is dumb and then they’ll hate me.”

All the usual suspects. All the usual bullshit. Only this time, Ms. Heimsoth wouldn’t be waiting for me to show up in her classroom with screenshots of my perfect blog. No one expects me to do this. And no one will miss it if I don’t.

A few months ago, I met with my mentor to discuss my emerging health coaching practice. “I haven’t taken on any clients because I feel like I don’t know enough yet,” I said. “I’m afraid I’m not going to get it right.” She leaned over her cup of Rooibos and replied, “You’re not going to get it right. You’ve got to begin somewhere.”

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway is the title of a best-selling book by the late psychologist Susan Jeffers. I came across the phrase while reading Overcoming Underearning by the fabulous Barbara Stanny, and it really resonated with me. Logically, I know that nobody’s perfect. I’ve known this for some time, yet no amount of reminding myself ever alleviated my perfectionist anxieties. You see, some small part of me still struggles with the erroneous belief that my worth as a human being depends on my ability to perform well, to get things right. But I’m not always going to get it right. And that feels scary.

The message behind Jeffers’ now famous phrase is that it’s okay to feel scared. It’s absolutely human. It’s scary to know that you might fall flat on your face, but you’ll never get anywhere if you don’t try. So I’m going to readjust my criteria for self-worth to include what I do after I feel the fear. Do I let it paralyze me, or do I take the leap? After all, I’ve got to begin somewhere.