Do you remember the first time you held out your hand, right under a dog’s nose, as a tentative gesture of introducing yourself? Extending your hand was a signal to the dog that you could be trusted, and the wet sniffing around and possible lick of a drooling tongue was the beginning of a long-term relationship. As long as you held up your end of the bargain – feeding the dog and keeping it safe and loved – you and your new friend would have a long, happy coexistence together.
But, if that dog had been abused or neglected in the past, if it had been ignored and kicked so many times that it learned that people could not be trusted, you might not have gotten that affirming nuzzle on your first attempt. You may have had to extend your hand several times, patiently demonstrating that you are kind and trustworthy, before that dog believed that you could be trusted. Only after consistently proving your steadfastness would you be rewarded with that reciprocal relationship of unconditional love.
Well, your hunger is like a dog. When your body signals hunger to you, and you ignore it, it is like kicking that dog. Kick it away enough times, and it will simply stop coming around. You may notice that you don’t feel hungry anymore. Advice to “eat when you’re hungry” may seem confusing because you’ve ignored your hunger for so long that you never even feel hungry.
How do you get that feeling back? What if you want to stop kicking the dog but he won’t trust you enough to come over?
Regardless of whether you hear your body’s hunger signals or not, you still need to eat during the day to fuel your body’s energy needs and to manage weight in a healthy and sustainable way. Hunger can show up in ways other than a growing stomach; headaches, feeling weak or tired, grouchiness, and feeling dizzy are all signs that you have kicked the dog. Reconnect with your growing stomach by demonstrating consistently – with regular meals and snacks – that you can be trusted to provide nourishment to your body. Feed that dog!
Be intentional about eating something small at regular intervals – every three hours or so – and when you eat, make a note of your hunger level on a scale of one to five, with one being not at all hungry and five being ravenous. Pay attention to whether your hunger varies during the day and as you are more intentional about eating. If you are worried that you may eat too much, pay attention to signals that you are full, such as eating mechanically without enjoying the food or feeling pressure in your stomach. Remember, wellness is about progress, not perfection. It is okay if you don’t master your hunger signals right away. Make notes, adjust, and try again in a little while.
Yes, this means that at first you may need to eat when you do not feel physical hunger, and that does feel counter-productive. Don’t worry, you don’t need to sit down to a three-course meal! A piece of fruit with some peanut butter or low-fat cheese, a cup of protein-rich yogurt, or some crackers and hummus are low-calorie snacks that can be enough to wake up your metabolism without making you feel stuffed.
As you consistently extend your hand to yourself in a gesture of goodwill and nourishment, you will be rewarded with that welcome feeling of a growing stomach. That is your metabolism jumping into your lap and giving you a big wet slobbery kiss like a happy dog whose owner has finally come home!
Once you are reunited, all is forgiven. All you need to do maintain your new relationship with is to keep providing food, love, and compassion to yourself. It won’t always be simple and of course you’ll mess up now and then. That’s okay. A happy dog comes home eventually.
Last week I posted an article on my Facebook page featuring everyday women and their bellies. Big bellies, flat bellies, lumpy ones, and ones covered in scars from childbirth. It was a beautiful testament to the incredibly impressive piece of work that is the human body, and a celebration of its strength, function, and value beyond appearances. My friends loved it. Everyone felt empowered and liberated. We all did a collective fist-pump for our freedom to be flabby and congratulated each other for being so accepting of ourselves as we are.
And then, I suspect, some of us thought, “but I still want that six pack.” It’s okay to admit it if you would have been among them. I was.
Because you know what? You can love yourself and still want to change. Yes! You can! It is entirely possible to think that you are great just as you are and still want to change yourself at the same time. The key is in your reasons for wanting change, accepting where you are now, and connecting with your readiness for the challenge, should you choose it.
Sustainable change comes from a motivation that is positive, self-driven, and empowering. It’s not unusual for us to make many attempts at changing a habit before it sticks. Often, the stickiest attempt is the one that comes from within, not to please others. If you feel pressure to change your body to gain the acceptance or admiration of others, hear this: it is absolutely okay to like the way you look even if you’re not sure if others do. They will get over it.
Body acceptance is important because one of the first steps in bringing about change in your life is fully accepting and celebrating what it is now, as well as all of the choices and circumstances that led to this point. After all, change takes work, sometimes more than we are willing or able to invest even when we have enthusiasm for it. By accepting the past and the present, we can better choose a future.
I am pretty proud of my body. It is really strong and can do some impressive stuff. But it doesn’t look the way I thought it would considering how hard I work to maintain it. Sometimes, despite feeling proud of my strength and endurance, I hear myself saying, "if only I could get rid of this belly." Does that mean I don’t appreciate being strong? Of course not! We are all allowed to want things without making it a priority to pursue them. Sure, I could drink less wine and eat less cheese, and I might have better abs as a result. But I’m also okay with that not happening.
It’s also okay to want to change. It is not okay to tell yourself that you are worthless unless you do. It is not okay to deprive yourself of love and happiness and compassion because you are imperfect. It is not okay for others to degrade you because of how you are. But if the motivation for change is coming from a place of positive enthusiasm for challenge, and the commitment aligns with your priorities, then go for it. On your terms.
I am here today to tell you that it is possible to want something different while still appreciating what you have. You do not have to choose! If you’re going to liberate yourself from anything this summer, let it be from the belief that wanting to change something about your body or your habits is the same as rejecting yourself. It is not.
Enjoy yourself. You are amazing! Take a moment to soak in just how incredible your body has been throughout your life and appreciate the story behind every lump, line, and bump. And if there is more to your story, turn the page when you feel excited about what may lie ahead.
The pharmacy where I worked as a teenager had a sign in the back displaying the store’s hours of operation. You’ve probably seen it in other businesses as well:
“We’re open most days around 9 or 10. Occasionally as early as 7, but sometimes as late as 11 or 12. We’re closed around 5:30 or 6. Occasionally as early as 4, but sometimes as late as 11 or 12.”
It goes on with more exceptions to the rule, and it always gets a chuckle. It also sounds a lot like me when someone asks me whether their weight loss plans will work. Reducing calories and increasing exercise should work, but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you lose weight at first and then stop losing weight. Sometimes you do everything “right” but some other medical condition is causing a plateau. Sometimes you and your friend do the same things, and one experiences results when the other doesn’t. The reason is because losing weight is more of an art than a science.
Science is exacting. It is either right or wrong, and can almost always be explained with facts, data, and reason. Science is using a food scale to measure your portions so you know exactly how many calories you are eating each day. There is a definite element of science in how we manage our health, especially when numbers like cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood sugar need to be monitored. Science allows us to know statistics like how losing 10 percent of your body weight can reduce risk factors for heart disease, or whether you need insulin. Science plays a role.
Art, on the other hand, is open to interpretation. The same piece of art can be seen differently by different people, just as a size 10 on one person feels as comfortable and manageable as a size 4 on someone else. Art is connected to our own personal values, and when health is art, we are able to create a picture of what balance means for us. Health as art is about quality rather than quantity and knowing that maintaining healthy habits will result in healthy returns, even if the numbers don’t always add up. Art makes us whole.
Science plays a role and art makes us whole. The truth is, we need a little of both to make magic happen in the world of weight loss. Consider these balance points as you work on your goals of achieving a healthy weight.
Balance calories with consistency
I’ve been maintaining my current weight for about five years now, but I still weigh my portions most of the time. Calorie management is a big part of weight loss, and attention to the details can make the difference between losing weight and maintaining. But what’s more important than the everyday ratio of calories in versus calories out is the consistent pattern of a deficit over time. It’s just like watching the Stock Market or investing for retirement; it’s performance over the long haul that matters.
Balance your weight with your waist
The science of weight loss tells us that 3,500 calories is equal to a pound of fat. So, using 3,500 calories through exercise and reduced calories should equal a pound of fat lost...right? Yes, it should. Except when it doesn’t, which is usually about a week before you need to fit into a bridesmaid dress or rented tuxedo. Relax. There is so much going on inside your body that can make those three little numbers on the scale go haywire. Medications, not drinking enough water, your current hormonal state, the workout you just returned from, and what you ate for dinner last night will all factor into the number that shows up on that scale. Your body is a living thing that in flux all day long. Put the scale away and focus on the waistband of your jeans instead. If it’s changing, so are you, regardless of what that hunk of metal and plastic tells you.
Balance perfection with progress
One of my favorite things to do is read stories of people who faced immense odds or setbacks and figured out a way to climb out, sometimes to epic levels of triumph. I often refer to these stories when someone is stuck in the muck of imperfection, thinking they are never going to make progress because every day, something happens to push them back. That, my friends, is called life. Success is not found in everything going according to plan, but in finding a way to move forward despite setbacks. I am going to say this part really loud: you do not have to get it right, you just have to get it going!
The truth is that weight loss is not just a numbers game, and it’s also not as easy as just making better choices. It takes a combination of science and art to make progress in changing our health, especially when the canvas is an ever-changing living thing that sometimes plays by its own rules.
So, relax. You got this. Enjoy those days when it all comes together and you knock it out of the park. Balance them with the days when you have to really focus to make any ground. If you are consistent, your success story may very well become a work of art.
Last weekend a friend of mine hosted a vision board retreat, and since I was overdue for some purpose and structure in my life, it was perfect timing for me to do some planning. Now, I have a good bit of experience with vision boards, so I went in prepared to get myself organized, make some concrete business planning goals, set some smart goals, and kick myself into gear. I was pumped!
That afternoon I left with a big poster board covered with images and words that were nothing that I expected. I had not done any concrete business planning and I didn’t feel much more organized, but I was definitely in gear. The direction I was heading, though, was unexpected.
One of the defining elements of my vision board was this quote by Oprah Winfrey: “The real point of being alive is to evolve into the whole person you were intended to be.” I liked it, so I tacked it up. Then, a few days later I walked past my vision board, propped up on the mirror above my dresser, and the word, “evolve” jumped out at me. Hmph, I thought. Who has time to evolve? I want things to be the way I want them now! But I knew that word was important, so I got a pen and I circled it.
When I sat at my computer, I looked up the definition of the word evolve, and smirked when I saw that the Latin root is evolvere, which means, “to unroll.” Of course. Yes, it was starting to make sense now.
In a world that promises results in 90 days and praises overnight success stories, waiting around to evolve into the person you were intended to be seems like sitting on the sidelines. We’re supposed to make it happen! Just do it! Be the change you want to see in the word! Carpe diem…and hurry! We want to force change to happen in our lives, so we keep shoving it into place, as if we are trimming the ends of the puzzle pieces of life so they fit together into something that kind of feels like it might stay that way, as long as no one touches it. But then it buckles and warps, and the pieces come apart, and we know we should have slowed down and done things correctly. We should have let it unroll.
When something evolves, it changes. It grows, morphs, adapts, streamlines…it becomes something new by nature of what it has experienced. We can’t rush evolution; it has to happen on its own. Creating change in our lives, especially in how we manage our health and well-being, is the same way. Although it can seem overwhelming to think about changing the course of our lives and everything that entails, it is really can be as calm and steady as allowing ourselves to unroll.
So that’s my big health advice for this week. Just sit there and allow yourself to evolve into the person you were meant to be. Pretty easy, right? No, we are called to find the balance between forcing change and surrendering to it. I’ve begun referring to this as my proactive, responsive steps.
Be Proactive About Change. I believe that evolution favors the proactive: those who are willing participants in the process of being changed, and open to the possibility that rolling with change could very well send you in a direction that was better than you what planned for yourself. Create a vision for how you want to live your life and manage your health, set your course for that destination, and launch that ship, friend. Go for it. But don’t forget the next step.
Respond. This is the key element of evolving into the person you were intended to be: notice when you have to keep shoving those pieces back in place, and respond to that. If sticking to your charted course requires a rigid lifestyle that can’t be maintained without constant attention, there’s a good chance that you’re headed in the wrong direction. Healthy changes aren’t always easy, but they are absolutely attainable and shouldn’t require much forcing. Pay attention, and respond.
Take the Steps. The balance between being proactive and responsive is in partnership. It may not be realistic or practical to change all of your habits at once in pursuit of a healthier life, but taking the first step is. Relax. Don’t rush this. Just make the next step. Allow yourself to unroll, and evolve, into the person you are intended to be by taking the next positive step towards your goal.
Honestly, I don’t know if evolving into the person you were intended to be really is the point of being alive. I think the point of life may be a little bit bigger than that. But in a world that rushes and pushes and forces change, perhaps those who take those quiet, proactive, responsive steps will be the ones who survive to find out.
Are you ready for some football food?
You better be, because tailgate season is here! Whether you head to the stadium to tailgate, watch the game at home, or ignore it altogether, this is the time of year when food comes front and center in grocery store displays, television commercials, and of course, on the bbq grill. Some approach this time with open arms, ready to be reunited with their favorite game foods. Others, though, take a deep breath and get ready for a test of will power. So many fall events are centered around food, and if you’re trying to live a healthy lifestyle, it can be a challenge. So, here is my playbook for the upcoming tailgate season, and coming out as a winner.
Plan Your Offense
Pull out last year’s tape and review your strengths and weaknesses to make a plan. Are there certain foods or drinks that sacked you last year that you need to avoid? Make a plan before arriving at the tailgate party for not only what you will not eat, but what you will. Traditional advice like bringing a veggie tray or other low-calorie dish to share is a great strategy, and online recipe sources have plenty of creative ideas for making healthy eating fun. If eating beforehand curbs your appetite and makes it easier to pass on snacks, have a well-balanced meal before you arrive and bring a bottle of water. But that approach does not work for everyone; if you want to indulge, decide ahead of time how you will manage portions, and why it is important to do so.
Be Strong on Defense
Even with a smart and solid offense, a strong defense protects that plan. Remember that bottle of water? Keep it in your hands to make holding a plate of food a bit of a hassle. If you’re anticipating pressure from friends to sample their prized recipes, practice your responses ahead of time. You might feel silly, but that’s okay. You can care enough about yourself to do something silly. And remember, no one needs an explanation for why you eat what you eat. A simple, “thanks, but I’m good,” is a perfectly perfect response to unwanted offers of food.
Be Ready for an Interception
Of course, there will be times when none of that works, and you get intercepted. It happens, even to the pros. When you realize you screwed up, do what any champion does: figure out where your weakness was, patch it up, and get back into the game a little more alert and aware. Setbacks happen, but winners don’t make the same mistakes often.
I don’t care what the ref says, when you get through a food-central social event without regret, that deserves a victory dance. Celebration is important, because living healthfully should be rewarding and fun, and the more often you are able to connect healthy living with a sense of achievement and reward, the more likely you are to repeat the process. Give yourself every compliment in the book. Don’t hold back! You deserve to feel like an MVP when you do push yourself to the next level.
Have I used enough football analogies to make my point?
You’re in the game whether you want to be or not! When tailgate parties lead into Halloween temptations, then Thanksgiving right around the corner and quickly followed by a parade of holiday sweets, we’ve all stared down a table of food and broken the promises we swore to keep. Well it’s a new season now, and all of the polls predict that you have what it takes to be undefeated.
One morning last week, as I crawled out of my car in the predawn hours to go for a run with a friend, I noticed that the sky seemed to have more stars in it than usual. When my friend trudged up her driveway, also still groggy from sleep, she followed my gaze up to the sky. For a few moments, we stood in stark wonder, truly in awe of the sight before us. A solid five minutes passed before we broke our trance and began running. And the stars followed us.
As we ran, we talked about the stars and the vast enormousness of the universe. We talked about the eclipse and our memories of the solar eclipse we both experienced as children. And the stars followed us.
We talked about the news, and feeling conflicted between wanting to be informed citizens and also wanting to bury our heads in the sand. We talked about our kids’ first week of school, and how aware they were about current events, and part of us hoped they were blissfully absorbed in their own middle-school worlds and unaware of the tornado swirling around them. And, yes, we looked up at the stars, and they were still there, a silent part of our conversation.
Things feel really big right now. Sometimes they feel so big that the pressure of processing our world today is overwhelming. And sometimes, looking at the stars and thinking about what else is out there besides us, it helps to remember that we are but specks. We are a blip on the radar of time. The stars gaze silently down at us as we scurry about, trying to turn this planet of ours into something we can be proud of, and they have seen it before. We are nothing new.
We live in stressful times, as have many before us. We have an advantage though, that our ancestors did not. We know more now than ever about the power of the resilient mind to keep us calm, strong, and present as we tackle some of the biggest issues of our day. It’s as if the stars are patiently waiting for us to look up, feel small, and check our egos at the door.
If the daily barrage of current events is beginning to take it’s toll, take advantage of what we know about how to cope:
Talk About It
We were not meant to shoulder life’s burdens alone, and resilient people know and remember this. Talk with friends who share your viewpoint. Talk with folks who don’t. Talk to people about completely different subjects; laugh, appreciate the lighter side of life. Whether you connect with a friend or a therapist, talking about what you’re experiencing is a key step in relieving stress and moving beyond it.
Take Positive Action
History shows us that resilient people and teams have something in common: they take positive action and become part of the solution to the problems they face. Positive action doesn’t have to solve everything or be something big; it just needs to be a step in the right direction. Stomp around, shake your fists, shout your protest, and then do something positive to change things in your pocket of the world.
Stay Active and Sleep Well
Even the most powerful, robust machines need maintenance. For our bodies, that maintenance is exercise and sleep. Healthy food helps, too! A brisk walk can clear a cluttered mind, and a good sweat-fest can fill you with energy. A good night’s sleep gives your body - and your busy mind - the time it needs to recover and embrace another day. It is worth the time it takes to make these things happen!
In the moments that the noise of the world around us becomes a clashing cymbal, just breathe. In that moment, close your eyes, inhale deeply through your nose, hold that moment, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat four or five times, or until you feel calm again. It may help to internally chant a mantra like, “this too shall pass,” or “I can handle anything.” Both are true!
About thirty minutes later, my friendand I arrived back at her driveway. The sun was beginning to dim the brilliance of the stars, and we commented that we had been lucky to see the most dramatic part of their show. I walked to my car to drive home, and my radio came to life with a news update. I turned it off. I looked up at the sky. I couldn’t really see the stars anymore, but I knew they were there, watching us. And waiting.
Sharpen your pencils and shake the dust off of the backpacks that were tossed in the back of the closet back in May...the first day of school is here! Whether you have kids in school or not, the back-to-school energy signals the beginning of a new chapter, the opportunity to make a fresh start, and a time to transition into new habits. To be honest, things at my house get pretty casual during the summer, so each year when we begin a new school year I announce to my family that we will no longer be eating our meals in front of the television or running through the grocery store every other day to pick up something quick for dinner. It’s time to get organized!
But even though I am a health and wellness professional and love to eat healthy food, asking me for advice on how to get picky children to eat vegetables is a waste of time; mine seem to live on pizza, grilled cheese, cereal, and fruit. I don’t want it to be that way, though. Food affects the way our brains function, and our ability to focus, sustain attention, and make good decisions is linked in part to how we fuel our brains with food. I am not going to be much help when my kids get to more advanced levels of math homework, so I really need them to be as prepared to learn as possible. I do my best to equip them with a breakfast and lunch that will help, not hinder, their school day.
After all, what kids eat now affects brain function beyond their school years. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine report that a poor diet has been linked directly to heart attack and stroke, as well as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and inflammation, all of which can have a negative impact on brain function and performance.
So, no pressure, mom. It’s just the entire fate of your child’s intellect and future health resting in that little lunch sack. But that’s okay. We’ve got this. Giving our kids a nutritional boost is all about making sure their meals contains the A-B-Cs.
A = All-Natural. If our goal is to fuel our kids’ brains with nourishment, we should provide them with real food! Wholesome eating has become much more convenient with the availability of healthier versions of foods that appeal to kids. For example, some packaged applesauce or yogurt contains added sugar, but a no-sugar-added variety is also available and a healthier choice. Most snack foods like fig bars, crackers, and fruit bars are offered in versions that are just as convenient but with less sugar. When you need something quick to toss in a lunch bag, check the list of ingredients and look for “added sugar” on the nutrition facts label. Higher quality brands can be more expensive, so I skimp on other things so I can get better food.
B = Balanced. When advice rolls around that we should be feeding our children as they do in France, I joke that my children are practically dual citizens: most of their meals consist of bread, fruit, and cheese! It’s not an altogether bad combination, since the most satisfying and nourishing meals are those which contain a balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrate. Protein and fat can come in the form of lean meats, low-fat cheese, eggs, hummus, and yogurt. Nuts are also a great source of protein and fat, but usually not permitted in schools due to common allergies. Whole grain starches like bread, rice and crackers are commonly considered to be our obvious choices for carbs, but fruit and vegetables are also carbohydrates. We need a little bit of each to have a balanced meal.
C = Colorful. If you look in your lunchbox and see a lot of beige, liven things up with color. Sometimes it is fun to have a goal of eating each color of the rainbow during the day (popsicles do not count) or aiming for five servings of fruits or vegetables. There are so many creative ways to prepare vegetables that some people’s children really enjoy. Not mine, but we’ll get there. For now, I’m thrilled to buy as many berries as are in season!
Of course, the foundation of these healthy meals is on the habits we have for meal times. Food is a brain and energy booster, but only when portions are appropriate, hunger signals are respected, and it is not used as a reward or incentive.
I hope you have a great start to the school year, whether you are raising children or watching the school buses roll by. I’ve made my family announcement, and I’m sure everyone at my house will be super excited to get back on track. This year, we will all race to the head of the class when you remember our A-B-Cs.
I couldn’t help smiling when I overheard my son and his friend talking about how to deal with someone at school who was argumentative. This wise fifth grade friend had the perfect solution: let go of the rope. In his mind, engaging with the other student was like picking up a rope for a battle of tug-of-war. But he knew he didn’t have to play that game. He could stop pulling, drop the rope, and opt out of that stressful situation. I don’t know whether he learned that somewhere or came up with it on his own, but I was impressed and I hope that pragmatic, resilient perspective sticks with him into adulthood.
Sometimes life feels like a tug of war, doesn’t it? With us in the middle being yanked from side to side as competing priorities try to gain our undivided attention, it can often seem like we never get to choose where our energy goes. Other times we are on one side of the rope, trying to pull experiences and achievements towards us. And of course, the harder we pull, the more invested we become, and the more determined we are to win the prize of having won.
In fact, we spend so much time pulling on that rope, pulling experiences and achievements over the obstacles, over the rugged surface of resistance, through whatever gets thrown in our way to distract us from our course, that eventually we wonder why it has to be so hard. We think it shouldn’t be this hard. This week, I invite you to consider what you may be pulling on – or what is pulling you – and whether it is worth hanging on to.
How do we choose what to pull? Some things are worth pulling into your life. When you are facing a health crisis, a scary diagnosis, or other urgent need to change your habits, it’s worth your energy to start pulling. Change is hard, and we are set in our ways. In this case, pulling may mean challenging yourself to choose a bag of apples at the grocery store and not get the caramel dip to accompany them. That is not easy to do! Pulling may mean not having a glass of wine when everyone else is. Difficult, but worth the effort when the payoff can change the trajectory of your life. As a wellness coach, I want change to be a natural process that happens when we are ready. In reality, there are times when we have to force change, and pull hard to get to a safer place.
How do we know when to let go? Everyone loves a fighter! Cheering for someone who beats the odds and overcomes a challenge is inspirational, and being the person who inspires in that way is appealing to a lot of us (*ahem* me). But while some health goals are admirable and would be a great achievement, they come at the wrong time in our lives for the amount of energy they require. I learned this lesson personally when I tried to simultaneously run a wellness consulting business, care for a newborn, train for a marathon, and continue juggling all of the balls I already had in the air. The decision to let go was made for me when I began having physical signs of stress and, as a health professional, read the writing on the wall. I had to press pause on some of my business goals until I could devote more energy to them. I changed my running goals to something that gave me the challenge of training without the exhaustion of a marathon. I let go, so I could hang on to what was more urgent.
Here are signs that it is time to let go of the rope: when you are feeling like it shouldn’t be this hard, and that you’re working really, really hard for results that are elusive at best, it’s time to let go. When you become resentful about working so much harder than others and not enjoying the process, it’s time to let go. When you realize you have been working on the same goal for a very long time and have not seen a change that warrants the energy you have invested, it is time to let go. When you begin to dread the time when you need to turn attention to the goal at hand and have to talk yourself into it most days, it is time to let go.
Letting go doesn’t always feel like a responsible option, and sometimes it is just not possible. We can’t just let go of our responsibilities as parents, at work, or to loved ones who depend on us. We can let go of extracurricular activities we that we have chosen to take on, other people’s priorities that we have obligated ourselves to, and really great ideas that are more likely to thrive at a time when there is less competition for your attention.
How do we deal with how it feels to let go? I’m sure you have heard this before: if you love something, set it free; what comes back is meant to be. There will be times when letting go is an indulgent relief, like deciding to not reach your goal weight but be happy five pounds heavier. There will be times when letting go feels like giving up, like when you have to say goodbye to someone who is a toxic influence in your life despite your best efforts to be friends. Mourn that feeling of loss, and remind yourself of what you gain as a result. If it is helpful, keep a journal where you can record the benefits you experience as a result of not pulling on that rope anymore. Look around and enjoy the life that you were missing when you were focused on the rope.
One of my biggest fears as a wellness coach is that my clients will become impatient with the slow rate of lasting change, and it is tempting to let them grab a rope and pull because I want them to feel the triumph and thrill of accomplishing a challenge. I love cheering for the underdog, too! But the real reward comes in knowing when to let go, feeling confident that it will free you up to enjoy the life you were meant to have.
Mindfulness has made headlines this year for being the latest and greatest habit for well-being. If we can just slow down, stop multi-tasking, and focus on one thing at a time, our health as a society will improve as we naturally reduce stress and distraction, eat less, and sleep better. I’m a fan of mindfulness; every time I am intentional about incorporating more mindful living into my day, I am calmer, less distracted, and less stressed.
I also check a lot fewer tasks off of my to-do list. Being mindful all day long can seem like a luxury that our busy lives don’t have time for, regardless of the science proving its value. I’m working on shortening my to-do list so I can slow my roll and be more mindful. I’m okay with that being a work in progress, with one exception: mindful eating.
Mindful eating is the concept of paying attention to your hunger signals to avoid going overboard and reaching that uncomfortable level of fullness. By eating small, moderate, undistracted meals throughout the day and obeying our body’s signs of fullness, we reap the rewards of better digestion, more satisfaction and enjoyment out of our meals, and natural portion control without deprivation. Simple, right?
Of course, simple does not always mean easy. When is the last time you had a meal without distractions? When is the last time that you stopped eating when you were full, even with a plate of delicious food in front of you? How do we bridge the gap between what we know we should do and actually doing it? Food is delicious, and for many of us, the concept of simply putting down the fork and being okay with it is easier said than done. If your appetite overrides your brain at the table, try some of these tips.
Begin with the end in mind, and anticipate how you will feel emotionally when you realize you are full physically. Pay attention the next time you realize you are full mid-way through a meal, and name that emotion: are you content? Disappointed? Ambivalent? Resentful that you prepared a meal for which you are no longer hungry? Being prepared to feel this way can ease the discomfort. Then, create a response for that feeling. Imagine saying, “I thought I might encounter this; time to move on and come back when I am hungry again.” If that sounds ridiculous, think of what would sound better to you.
This calm acknowledgement reassures your brain that it’s not in an emergency, and that the food is not going away. It’s just on pause. In a society where we can drive to a grocery store at 2:00 am and buy just about anything we want, eating is not a limited time offer. Yes, it’s annoying to face a plate of food and not be able to eat it. I’ve been there. It’s also annoying to stand in a closet full of clothes that don’t fit because we went ahead and ate it anyway. I’ve been there, too, and I don’t want to go back.
When we face the reality of our calorie needs, and what will happen if we consistently live beyond them, mindful eating becomes a strategy for partnering with our bodies to protect them from the misery of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and uncomfortable jeans.
So now we get to the big question: what do we do instead of eat? Be prepared ahead of time with something to do when you realize you are full. Sort through the mail, fold laundry, give the kids a bath, write a thank-you note, just get out of the environment and occupy your mind. When that plate is still tormenting you and you can’t stop thinking about it, throw it out. In your neighbor’s garbage can. If you’re really stuck, email email@example.com. We will get through it together!
Eating feels good, but balanced living feels better. Be there for yourself now; the food will be there later.
In a 1961 episode of “The Twilight Zone,” called, “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” a man is given the gift of mind-reading after a penny lands on its side. He is astounded by what he can hear going on inside people’s minds, especially when he overhears his co-worker conjuring up nefarious plans of how to rob their employer and retire off of the riches. But as the episode progresses, he learns that these overheard thoughts are just innocent, indulgent daydreams and not actual plans for the future.
This story came to mind recently when I caught my mind wandering to a scenario that I felt was a waste to think about because it could never happen. But as I snapped back, I remembered that some of the most fantastical daydreams can become the inspiration for the daydream’s more mature and sophisticated older sister: vision.
When we are making plans and goals for improving or changing any area of our life, it’s important to know the difference between simply dreaming about change and actually planning for it. Those who create sustainable and satisfying change move beyond the daydream and create a vision that is supported by progressive goals and action steps. But that doesn't mean daydreaming is a waste of time. The truth is, both are important exercises for balanced health! Today, I want to challenge you to explore your daydreams and determine whether there is anything in them that is calling out to become part of your reality.
Fantastical daydreams are fun to indulge in. Spending time imagining an experience that you never intend to fulfill is a great opportunity for a brain break during the day. I like to think of these daydreams as the equivalent of splurging on a dessert after a long period of disciplined nutrition choices. They let our brains get their wiggles out, play a little, and recharge without disrupting our actual lives.
Sometimes, though, there are elements of these mind escapes that have a little more pull to them. Just as every joke has an element of truth, some daydreams have an element of yearning. If we pay attention to the underlying themes of daydreams, we can uncover opportunities to set goals in reality to bring desired elements into our day to day life. For example, the man who daydreamed of robbing his employer and retiring on a cash windfall may have no intention of actually breaking the law, but does yearn for a comfortable retirement from the grind of his job. It's easy to see how that daydream can turn into a life goal.
When you notice that your daydreams have elements of true desire, take those parts down from your mental cloud and put them on paper in a structured wellness vision. A vision is the big picture of what we want to achieve down the road. That may be a few months, a year, or longer; it should be a time frame that you can easily get to, but more challenging than something you can achieve in a few weeks. A wellness vision keeps us grounded and focused, and it serves as that happy place to go to in your daydreams when the work of achieving it becomes tiresome.
There are five elements of a vision that make it different from a simple goal or a daydream. Put your dreams to the test and see if they are ready to be part of your real life.
A Vision is Grounded. The first criteria for a vision is that it be able to actually happen! Stealing money and retiring cannot happen in real life, but planning for a comfortable retirement absolutely can. Your vision should be something that can happen independent of the choices or actions of anyone else. If you find yourself thinking, “if only so-and-so would…then I could…” that is a sign that your vision is not realistic. Enjoy the daydream of so-and-so doing what you wish they would, and move on.
A Vision is Bold. Even though your vision needs to be grounded in reality, challenge yourself and think big! Your vision should make you wonder a little bit about whether you can achieve it. It should give you goosebumps. Go ahead and admit what you want. It’s not selfish or wrong to want things. If you had no obstacles and were free from guilt, what would you do with your life?
A Vision is Desired. Once you have admitted what you really want and put it through the “could this happen” reality check, it’s time to decide what you’re willing to do to get it. It is completely okay to acknowledge that you value and appreciate something but have higher priorities to work for. Yes, you can want something, know that it is possible, feel that it is important and know that you will be glad that you achieved it, and still not take action on it. When you recognize this, it’s a sign that this rightfully belongs in the category of daydream for now. When you want it bad enough to take action, it belongs in your vision.
A Vision is Palpable. Have you ever planned a beach vacation in the middle of winter and feel like you can smell the sunscreen and hear the seagulls? That’s a palpable vision. Think about what would be an ideal day in your vision. When you close your eyes and imagine yourself living that way, you should be a little surprised when you open them to find that you are not there. You should feel even more excited to get to work on it, because it is so possible to you.
A Vision is Participatory. What makes a vision real is when we live in it. I encourage my clients to create a vision that you can begin to participate in immediately. If you have a vision of living an active life where you participate in community races and have eliminated the need for medication, start attending weekend events and participate at the level you are ready for. You can be in your vision now mini goals that get you to the vision you have created.
Pay attention to your daydreams. Some are whimsical flings of the mind that are little brain splurges throughout the day. But others are calling to you. Listen. Pull them down from your mind cloud and see if they are ready to be part of your real life.
About This Blog
Each week, I write the "Healthy Heather Blog" in the Tallahassee Democrat. It is republished here in case you are not a subscriber (what???). Sometimes it is really good and other times it is just okay. Thanks for reading it regardless of your opinion!