If you’ve read to a small child recently, you may be familiar with a certain very hungry caterpillar who ate lots of healthy fruits and vegetables all week long. He was so good!
Then, the weekend arrives, and our caterpillar friend does what many of us do on the weekend. He went off the plan. In the child’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, he eats through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake, and one slice of watermelon. And that night he has a stomachache!
The very hungry caterpillar had a cheat day. You know, that one day of the week when you cheat on your diet. You eat whatever you want and throw caution to the wind because you deserve it! You’ve worked so hard! You’ve been so good! You deserve….to cheat?
As a wellness coach, I hear a lot of stories of being “good” during the week and “bad” on the weekends, and plenty of justification for having a cheat day. I used to do the same thing, anticipating my day off from trying to be healthy all the time. But over time, I began to feel that when I stopped my healthy habits and went in reverse, the only one being cheated was me. Food became more central in my life than I wanted it to be. And, I began to believe that if I felt the need to cheat on myself, maybe I wasn’t managing my health in a very balanced way. So, I started to investigate why I felt the need to rebel.
Rebellion is human nature! We all rage against the machine at some point, and at times that machine is us. After all, everyone needs a break now and then, and rebellion can be a therapeutic release from the restrictions of polite society. But cheating is a little different from rebellion. While rebellion comes from a place of confident defiance, when we cheat, it is because we don’t think we can succeed on our own. If a student cheats on a test, it is because he is not prepared. When someone cheats in a relationship, it may be because they don’t think they can bring what needs to be brought. When we cheat on our nutrition, it is like telling ourselves, “I cannot do this on my own.”
Making the choice to choose to overindulge in food or eat something that is not healthful does not necessarily mean that you are cheating. It means you are human! You have the power and ability to make a healthy choice, and are simply choosing something else. That’s okay! When you are ready to get back into your healthy habits, you will. Consider it an open relationship; you’re allowed to see other habits.
You deserve better, and can give it to yourself by changing one little word. Turn “cheat” into “choice” and step into a positive place where it’s easy to see that your health is not a test, and you don’t need to cheat.
On Monday afternoon, I sat in the glorious Florida sunshine and watched two of my dear friends, and about 35,000 of their comrades, complete the Boston Marathon in cold, freezing rain. Knowing the level of commitment, discipline, and tenacity it takes to accomplish any marathon, much less qualifying for one of the most prestigious races of our time, I was in awe and inspired. Wow.
Then, I took to social media to share in the energy of the running community, where my friends were posting their reactions to the finish. One post stood out for all of the hearts that surrounded it; my friend Denise had highlighted an element of the race that made me grin from ear to ear. It is a story of self-doubt, selflessness, and what I hope it a sign of the radicalization of our time.
You may have already heard it, but I am going to tell it again, and tell you about three things that 2018 Boston Marathon winner Desi Linden did that makes her like you and me, and which look to me like the extended hand of camaraderie.
She Had Doubts
It’s hard for me to imagine that a person who has run as many races as it takes to qualify for the Boston Marathon at such an elite level would ever doubt themselves, but Linden admits that in the early stages of the race, she wasn’t sure that she would finish. Now, most marathon runners will tell you that their goal is simply to finish the race, but we know that they have something much more specific in mind. So while her context of finishing a marathon may differ from yours and mine, the concept of self-doubt is universal. We doubt whether we can make it to the gym three times in the week, or if we can resist the nachos at the ballpark, or if we can keep the weight off once we’ve lost it. Knowing that an elite athlete who I admire has the same doubts that I do helps me feel more willing to keep going despite my own.
She Had Help
Desi Linden crossed the finish line alone, but she didn’t get there alone. None of us do this amazing stuff on our own. Somewhere along the way, people have helped us, supported us, and given us a leg up so we could get our footing and carve out a little place for ourselves in the world. We may think we’re self-made people, but we’re not. Having a strong network of support and guidance is not reserved for professional athletes or celebrities; it is part of what everyone deserves and needs to achieve greatness. Reaching and sustaining a healthy lifestyle isn’t always easy, and we all need a little help from our friends. If you don’t have ready access to people who support and cheer for you along the way, look online at the hundreds of positive communities dedicated to just that. Join one. Give the same to others. Ask for help and be the help.
She Had Perspective
Now this is the part of the story that I want to really zero in on. You may have heard by now that during the race, Desi Linden’s teammate and fellow runner, Shalane Flanagan, defending champion of the 2017 New York City Marathon, veered off the course about halfway through the race to duck into a port-a-potty. And in a move that was fueled both by camaraderie and strategy, Linden waited for her. She waited for her competitor to rejoin the race. And as they returned to the front of the pack together, Linden eventually pulled ahead and won the race.
So what does this have to do with healthy living? We all have doubts. We all need help. And even though there is a big skill gap between us and the people who win marathons, there is not a gap in our ability to persevere, especially when we are willing to slow down and help each other to the finish line. In an age when competitive advantage and political rivalries dominate the news, sometimes the greatest gains are made when we work together.
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.
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!