Americans tend to gain 1-2 pounds a year throughout their adult lives. For the majority of us, those pounds get packed on between Thanksgiving and New Year...and we don't lose it with our resolutions. A couple pounds here and there really isn't going to have a significant effect your health, but 10 pounds every decade adds up by the time you're 60. This means that keeping your wellness focus through the holiday hustle and bustle is not only a worthy effort, but can help you prevent heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and other chronic health conditions associated with high body mass. Your future-self will thank you!
What is it about the holidays that can completely dismantle healthy habits?! For me, it's the limitless sweets, bottomless wine, and the packed social calendar that disrupts my exercise, meditation and sleep schedule. Putting your finger on what derails you is the first step in preventing the fall down the slippery slope.
Here are some strategies I'll be using this year to holiday-proof my wellness goals. I may not be in control of what food is offered to me, but I sure am in control of what I put on my plate.
Sometimes I feel like the most courageous woman in this world. I have no hesitations when I leave my house: I know exactly who I am and what I'm doing here. I have value. I add value.
And then other days, I feel like I'm role playing in my life. Just pretending to know my stuff and have it all together. On these days I suffer from full on Impostor Syndrome and would rather curl up in a ball than engage with someone looking to me for answers. Every question feels like an inquisition, every celebration of someone else's success, a reflection of my failure.
(I'm going to just take a pause right here to acknowledge that my experience is NOT unique and I would put money on it that most of the people who read this are going to nod their heads and say, "me too.")
There are so many parts of my life that I navigate effortlessly. I find it easy to connect with people and have an elephant memory for them all. I'm that creep that remembers everything about anyone I have ever had a conversation with. I'm besties with all the baristas at my local coffeeshop and can't go anywhere in my neighborhood - scratch that: anywhere in Mpls - without running into someone I know. I have a big heart and I love with abandon.
There are also parts of my life, parts of me that I really struggle with. You know the saying, "you are your own worst critic?" I major in self-criticism. I get an A++. If I ever actually overcame self-criticism, I would graduate with honors. I never know enough. I'm never smart enough. I'm never good enough.
The positive side of this characteristic is that I am always open to learning and constantly striving to do better. But I'm frozen in this space of "never enough" that (to use a concept from my newest shero, Brene Brown) gets between me and wholehearted living.
I'm trying to reframe. To actually live the message I want to leave on this world. One I want to model for the young people in my life...and for everyone else too. Because here's the sad truth: lacking self-confidence is the biggest creativity killer there is.
Consider all the greatness you've witnessed in your lifetime that would never have happened if the creator of it gave into self doubt. You can buy a ticket and fly anywhere in the world, for crying out loud. Imagine if the Wright brothers sat on their porch one day and talked themselves out of building an airplane because they hadn't gone to college or done it before. We would still be traveling by boat and railway.
Smaller acts of greatness need also be mentioned. I mean creating airplanes is pretty cool, but I can think of endless examples of day-to-day greatness that have impacted me much more personally and profoundly. The generosity of strangers (who frankly have other things to do), the patience of parents, the commitment of teachers who just will not give up on a student. What would we miss if our mentors and leaders were too afraid to share their little nuggets of magic with us?
And what would the world - be it the microcosm of your neighborhood or the world at large - miss out on if YOU didn't share your little nuggets of magic?
I've started thinking about my tombstone as of late, and what message it was I wanted to leave on the planet when I died. It's kinda morbid, I know, but it's really helped me get over some lingering body image junk I was getting tired of. When I felt down on my body, I would remind myself that I didn't want "she was thin" to be the memory I leave on this world. So why was I spending so much of my energy trying to be that?
What is actually important to me? Loving people up and helping them find ways of loving themselves too. Do I need to wear a size 0 to do that? Nope. I can love at any size.
So I'm re-writing some tombstones these days and in so doing letting go of some limiting beliefs about myself.
This whole being human thing is kinda hard, huh? Good thing we've got each other.
I feel very fortunate and privileged to have encountered a lot of serendipity in my lifetime:
I met my best friends after taking a job at a coffeeshop two blocks away from my freshman dorm.
When I was 19, I enrolled in massage school to learn a trade so that I could support myself as a musician. What I found changed my life and gave me the tools I needed to overcome my eating disorder.
Looking for someone to keep me company during one especially cold MN winter, I met my wife (that's the best one of all).
And just over two years ago, I had breakfast with my colleague, Sara Jean Barrett and Wellness Minneapolis was born. Today's reminder of such kismet sat with me over coffee and shared a little friendly advice (thanks, Jana).
I really do think there are hidden gems in every day that need our acknowledgement and celebration. It's really easy to loose sight of them through the haze of this presidential campaign + extraordinary global and local violence + rampant racism, sexism, homophobia...oh, and work and chores and I could go on.
Point being: there are so many things to worry about. There are so many things to drag us down into a depression, if we let them. There are so many things that require attention, energy and effort. But there are also thousands of acts of kindness and inherent beauty that we can see if we just look.
So look, ok?
Nutrition is not intuitive.
At least not anymore. Not with all the nutrition noise in popular media. You can't open Facebook without receiving some (well-intentioned) message about how you should eat...and subsequently how you should look.
It frustrates me to no end.
Here's what I know to be true about eating healthfully: your body knows what it needs. It even knows how much of it it needs! Your body has such wisdom that if you tap into it you will never need to know a damn thing about macros, food combining, balanced meals or phytonutrients. You'll just eat.
Doesn't that sound NICE?!
We were born into this world with deep intuition and an innate ability to feed ourselves. But then something happened to cloud the clarity and muddle the message. Our families influenced our food beliefs. Our culture showed us that how we are is not thin enough, pretty enough, good enough and if only we avoided these foods that cause belly fat, we'd be thinner, prettier and good-er. But then we try that, right? And it doesn't work. So we try being vegan. And that doesn't flatten our stomach. So we try Paleo, and our thigh gaps still do not open. We probably ate too much tofu followed by too much bacon followed by something else that was 100% clearly our fault. Our failure. Rinse and repeat.
Here's the thing: food, even healthy food is not that hard. Believe it or not, eating vegetables and drinking water feels good. And you like to feel good. So feeding yourself healthy food is actually the path of least resistance. It's easy. The hard part is unplugging from society's expectation of what healthy looks like on a plate and in the mirror.
Health comes in all shapes and sizes. And yes, this is coming from a 5'11" woman who has weighed the same 145 pounds since college. You'd be fooling yourself if you thought I didn't need this reminder. Even skinny girls get the message that they're not thin enough, pretty enough, good enough. Not one beautiful soul is spared. I have never been "overweight" and I still spent most of my life fighting the monster in the mirror.
Here are 5 steps I took to build my nutrition intuition AND step into my own healthy beauty:
1. Eat at least 3 times a day.
I got so good at being hungry that for many years in the beginning of my recovery I had no idea when to eat and when to stop eating. Those hungry/satiated triggers were never quite on or off sending me crazily confusing messages. One way to overcome this is to eat at regularly scheduled times, at least 3 meals a day.
2. Eat real food.
I have a sad story to tell you: The ingredients in your food that makes them taste so good and last long enough on the shelf that aliens will be able to dine on them after human life as we know it ceases to exist...these are not food. These are chemicals meant to fool us into wanting and buying more. They're replacing whole food ingredients that, by their nature, do not last forever. These items are easily identified on food packages: you likely can't pronounce them and definitely won't be able to find them in nature.
Real food comes from the earth. Real foods are whole foods - vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, meat, eggs, nuts, seeds... And while it takes time to make them into a meal, you're body easily recognizes them as food and has no trouble discerning what to do with them. This is the key ingredient to building nutrition intuition. You can't unlock your body's secrets when you fuel it with Mac 'n Cheese, Lean Cuisines and Poptarts.
3. Every day practice self-care.
Drink water. Get sleep. Move your body. Express your emotions. Connect with your community. Live intentionally. Smile. You need all of this to learn and listen to your inner wisdom.
Don't expect perfection overnight. In my experience this takes months if not years to master. Every day is practice and you have all you need to succeed right inside your beating heart. But it this feel too big to tackle on your own, let me help, ok?
"If love could speak to you about food it would say, ‘Eat when you are hungry, sweetheart, because if you don’t, you won’t enjoy the taste of food. And why should you do anything you don’t enjoy?’
I spent the last week sharing my story with a bunch of strangers. It was totally awesome.
I completed an advanced training through the Center for Mind-Body Medicine - a righteous (in a good way) organization that is bringing self-care skills to people all over the world to support them in times of crisis and facilitate their healing process. CMBM is a really remarkable organization not just because of their mission but because the entire faculty practices what they preach. They walk the walk. They are a crew of the most empathic, open and loving people I've even met. I want to move in with them all.
There's something else happening at CMBM beyond just their incredible ability to handpick rockstar faculty. The model, created by James Gordon, MD, is magical.
1) It is built around group healing, which is both powerful and effective. Participating in community gets us off our islands and out of our heads. We are forced to show up for others and, maybe more importantly, let them be present for us. Sitting in a room full of people who are there to make their lives better is so awesome.
That it feels good is enough of a reason to participate in group healing, but there's more. Research shows that participants of support groups reduced their blood pressure, improved health behaviors and increased their quality of life1. For cancer patients, support groups improve quality of life, prolong life and reduce disease recurrence2, 3, 4. Research on the effects of participating in groups have also shown that they help low back pain5, improve metabolism and energy production (i.e. anti-aging)6, and reduce risk of heart disease7. There are so many more symptoms and diseases that have not been included in this research, so just take note of this evidence and consider what group support could do for you.
2) The second reason I love this work is that there is a practice of deep listening incorporated into every group, giving each person a captive audience to share thoughts, feelings, fears, family drama, work disappointments, stories that show the best and the worst of you without fear of being interrupted, judged or gossiped about. The purpose of these groups is to teach self-care tools, like meditation and guided imagery but for me this sharing and being shared with is the most magical and compelling piece.
And here's why:
Sharing and listening proves to us each that we are not alone. And that gives us the comfort and courage we need to keep up the good fight.
My group this last week included 10 women and one gentle-man who traveled from as far away as Japan. We were social workers, receptionists, psychologists, mothers, wives, betrothed, bisexuals, self conscious, damaged, lost, struggling and thriving. Every time one of us shared a piece of our life story there was this unanimous nod that went around the circle that said, "me too!"
I'm invisible. I am struggling through my pain. I don't like my body. I'm not living my life's purpose.
There is so much comfort in that shared experience, even if the story line is unique. We all have loss and regret and disappointment. We all struggle. And for most of us those struggles weighs on us more than our successes can pull us up and out of. Life is tough! But we're in it together.
I plan to continue my training with CMBM just so I can soak up as much of their magic as possible and then bring it back to my community and clients. I'll be pulling the techniques and skills I've learned through my training into my individual and group coaching sessions. Self-care is the bedrock of all health and wellbeing. We all need to practice it every day, even just for a moment.
I hope to facilitate a mind-body skills group this fall, so stay tuned! Sign up for my newsletter to learn more and stay in the loop.
References: see in text links to citations.
I started reading Amy Poehler's Yes Please last night (I'm gonna bust through that book in a hot minute, let me tell you what). It's witty, brilliant and sneakily insightful - just what I expected it to be. What I didn't expect is to run into such a beautiful way of approaching body image...at least not in my first sit-down with the book.
I had already made a decision early on that I would be a plain girl with tons of personality, and accepting it made everything a lot easier. If you are lucky, there is a moment in your life when you have some say as to what your currency is going to be...Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier. - Amy Poehler
My currency is my ability to connect with people, set them at ease. I can draw the life story out of the shyest person. I was the kid on the playground who everyone brought their problems to. I have a big squishy heart and I'm not afraid to open it.
When I think about this being my guiding purpose on this planet, it no longer matters if my socks match my pants or if I have a bad hair day. A flat stomach has nothing to do with a warm heart. And striving for something other than spending my currency gets in the way of my time to shine. Wanting to be perceived as beautiful or sexy is a distraction.
So, what's your currency? Did you choose it? Why?
Many years ago my beloved collaborator, Julie Kesti, made a sticker that so radically affected me that 7 years later I'm still thinking about it, writing about it. How revolutionary those four words are: I love my body. When you put that sticker on your chest you're telling everyone who can read that you love your body! But when they read it, they read "I love my body!" Woah, that's a powerful message! Do I love my body? Can I love my body? How can I love my body? What does it even mean to love my body? Does it mean losing 20 pounds? Does it mean I have to start running?
No. It means loving your body. Right now, just as it is.
It's just not that simple, though is it?
So I've been thinking about these things and chewing this message over for years. Recently, I realized that all the science I've studied, all the metabolic pathways of nutrients I've learned, all the supplements, diets, and conditions mean nothing if my client doesn't love themselves enough to get better. Every physical symptom is attached to an emotional experience.
Today my neck hurts. It hurts because I was at a show last night (Lake Street Dive: drool) and I slouch when I stand. Always have. Because I'm 5'11" (over 6' with shoes on) and I'm a woman. I'm not meant to take up that much space. I'm not supposed to be taller than men. I'm not worthy of "looking down" on someone when I talk to them. So I tuck my pelvis, I round my shoulders and I jut out my chin taking a good few inches off of my power. When I stand that way I also breathe into my chest, because my abdomen is compressed by my posture. So I'm not breathing into my organs and my neck pain is accompanied by bloating and constipation the next day. Rinse and repeat and it's no wonder at 20 years old I was diagnosed with IBS and all because I have low self-esteem.
My point in sharing any of this with you is to set an intention for myself and for this space. I co-opted Julie's brilliance in branding my tagline "love your body, love your food" several years ago when I opened my health coaching practice and in subtle ways that's the soul of the work I do. Yet, my exploration of body positivity, self-talk and self-care has been thwarted by other projects like opening Wellness Minneapolis last fall. It's time to take it on. I need to for myself and for my practice, but also because it's the mark I want to leave on this world. If I can teach one person how to genuinely, authentically, unabashedly love their bodies I can rest easy.
So. If there are specific topics you'd like me to take on, send them my way or leave a comment. This blog may look like a modern dance for a bit as I get into my flow with it. I have a laundry list of pieces I want to write, people I want to interview, projects I want to take on. Today, I start.
This time of year, I get really into salads. I've been craving them for months, but since Minnesota's winter took it's time exiting the stage, my vata (cold, dry) body has not really been up for cooling foods. Today I rode my bike to work in the sun and 60s and am really enjoying this Greek salad with sardines. Huzzah!
If sardines scare you, as they once did me, take the plunge. They are a delicious, inexpensive, have low contamination, are sustainably fished, and packed with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and calcium.
Greek Salad with Sardines
Voila, it's lunch!