Have You Opened Your Present Today?

I happen to be blessed with a sister-in-law who has become one of my best friends. Whenever I am stressing about something or worried about something, especially family-related, I just text her and she calls me. I end up talking in circles but she gets it. With so much going on this year on all fronts I can’t believe she has not blocked my number as I have bugged her a lot! Anyway, on a recent phone call (well, a few weeks ago, but everything feels like yesterday when you are retired) I was venting about the election and worried about the future, about things I just could not control. I also was reflecting on long ago, decisions made, wondering if I made the right ones. I was in a tizzy!

As per her usual simple yet brilliant Chellie-style, she shared something her mom (or her grandmother, ugh, this memory of mine) once shared, that she thought might help me chill out. This is what she said:

Yesterday is History.

Tomorrow is a mystery.

Today is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.

Yes, it is simple, yes you have probably heard it before (Eleanor Roosevelt said it first I believe), but have you ever stopped, really stopped to think about what it means? After I hung up with my sister-in-law, as usual, I felt more focused and happier. I knew I had to write something about it, as finally, after months of brain chaos, I thought this might be important to remind people of. We need to stop wasting our days with worry and regret. It hasn’t helped.

So I started to open my eyes. I purposely tried to tune in to my surroundings and look for things wonderful. Funny, I started to notice this gorgeous butterfly that seems to always be fluttering around my pot of zinnias in the morning. OK, maybe it is not the same one every time, but still, a daily dose of butterfly? What can be better than that? I have found myself standing in the sunshine, waiting, watching, just to see what it does. I feel like I am in heaven when I see it! Once it literally made circles around me (of course it made me think of my dad in heaven…who knows…). {UPDATE: yesterday afternoon while zooming with my three children from up north, I went out to show them a few things and low and behold, there was my yellow striped butterfly. Not only did he sit on a few flowers for long enough for them to see him, he also flew circles around my IPad while I was holding it!!}

During the late morning when I get out on my walk, instead of stressing about things I have no influence on, I started to just look around. I noticed the sky especially, which is always crazy down here in Florida…..it can be sunny one minute but the next thing you know the sky starts to downpour from just one random gray cloud…..and then, just as fast as it comes, it is gone. But, the puddles are there…and I now make sure my sandals are off and I purposely go out and stomp in them. It brings back memories of being 8 years old because that is what gave me joy back then (that and catching frogs and toads and floating down a stinky creek in a blue plastic boat). I also have started to truly cherish having a body healthy enough to be able to jump on my bike and ride. I soak in the smells of the warm air and the sight of the long straight bike trail ahead of me. I still keep my eyes out for those black snakes that like to cross the bike path that I try not to make a speed bump and so far have succeeded.

And recently, when I take a shower after a long hot day, I don’t just rush through it….I have stopped and imagined, just for a minute, what this simple shower would feel like if I were a woman my age who happened to be a refuge in Syria. After crossing the dusty, hot, dirty desert on my own, feeling exhausted, thirsty, hungry and yucky……how amazingly wonderful would it feel if I finally was able to take a long warm shower in a bathroom as beautiful as mine? Suddenly, I don’t care about the discolored grout in the corner anymore. The warm clean water feels like a gift I typically forget to be thankful for.

I think most of us take for granted luxuries like hot showers, good water to drink, warm blankets, and safe beds to sleep in. Maybe we need to paint a room that looks shabby to us, or maybe we want to redecorate, or maybe we can no longer afford the big house or nice condo we have and need to downsize. But, the reality is in our country most of us are truly blessed to have what we need to survive and be happy. We just sometimes tend to look at and focus on what we don’t have, what we want verses what we need. We don’t think we can be truly happy “now” so we look to the future (which we can’t predict and can’t control) to try to figure out how and when to be happy. When right in front of us, it is all right there.

We also have regrets. We think back to all the mistakes we have made. We wonder, how would it be if we did things differently? We wonder how many people we may have hurt or done wrong. Even though we can’t go back and change it, stressing about it, feeling guilty or sad or bad takes away our present.

Recently, in some of my readings, I came across a concept called “Ho’oponopono”. It is a way of seeing the world, originating in Hawaii, based on the concept of living in the present and letting go of the past that you keep worrying about. The technique was created by Morrnah Simeona and disseminated by Dr. Hew Len. The basic premise is in addressing “the divine within you”, whatever that may mean to you….the words, or mantra they recommend is saying to yourself, out loud or silently, whenever you find yourself stressing is:

I am sorry, forgive me, I love you, I am grateful.

Apparently, we miss lots of wonderful, beautiful, happy moments every single day because we deep down have had bad experiences that we hold on to. Because this is a blog about nutrition and eating and acceptance of imperfection in our eating, I have reflected on what this may mean to those with eating issues, whether it be those wanting to lose weight, those sick of dieting, or those who have suffered with eating disorders. I know for a fact that lots of people, especially women, regret what they ate yesterday, stress about what they are going to eat tomorrow and worry about dealing with the holidays that are going to be happening for the next few months. I know that those who already feel they have “blown it” or failed in whatever way they judge themselves are not recognizing their ” present”.

So I just want to remind everyone that tomorrow is not here yet. Yesterday is gone. The only thing you have is today. Your present. How much energy you waste on yesterday and tomorrow is wasted energy. All you have is today. I challenge you to look around and find your present. Even if you have to step outside and look at the sky, I promise, there will be beauty there. Do you have a very cool smart relative, sister, friend that you can call and vent to like I do? What a gift!!!! You deserve it! Call them!

Or maybe you are someone struggling with eating issues, maybe you have turned to old behaviors that you know are not supportive of the best you. That was yesterday, today is a new day! We ALL have things we wish we could change overnight, but that is not how true growth happens. It is only when we pay attention to what we are not happy with and then forgive ourselves for our imperfections, and return to love…..not only for others, but for ouselves. We deserve it.

So, as the holiday season is at our doorstep, a time we should enoy but find ourselves struggling, for good reason……please never forget to open your present every day. It is there.

You just have to notice it. You have to find it.

It’s Five O’Clock SOMEWHERE….But Not Everyone is Drinking

Image may contain: people sitting, table and indoor
Almost 5 O’clock in Cinque Terre, Italy

 

Do Ground Round restaurants still exist? I remember back in the 70’s The Ground Round was my favorite place for happy hour. They served free popcorn and good cheap wine (well, back then what I considered good, what did I know?). I was so excited when a Friday rolled around and I could meet my friends or my sister there for a nice glass of Beringer’s white Zinfandel. Yes, the pink stuff. I loved it. It wasn’t every Friday, mostly when I came home from college (the drinking age was 18 back then, and you could smoke cigarettes in restaurants). Life was good. Simple and good. But different.

For example, when it came to drinking and alcohol there was no such thing as “binge drinking”. I only knew one girl who could drink more than 2 or 3 beers. She was in my dorm back then, a small tiny girl who could pack away 8 beers. Eventually it would affect her and she would be embarrassingly drunk, but it took awhile for that to happen. We all thought she was funny, crazy in a good way, wild and different, and although we didn’t know what to make of her, I remember being fascinated that she could drink all that and still walk. Back then it was kind of cool.

These days, things have changed. Binge drinking has become more of the norm on college campuses. If someone drinks 8 beers in a short amount of time at a party, I am not sure if anyone would even blink. They are all usually doing the same thing. Despite the fact that the drinking age has changed and smoking cigarettes is no longer cool, drinking alcohol somehow has permeated most people’s lives in a very sneaky way. It is not like in Europe where wine may be a part of most meals because that is what they do and have always done as part of their culture. Here in the US it feels more like a gradual brain-washing over time, probably by the alcohol industry to make drinking intertwined with almost all aspects of life that are fun. Add to that the fact that alcohol is an addictive substance that gradually changes the brain to make you crave and need it, then, bingo, you can make yourself some good money if you are in the business.

And, it is not only young, college-aged people who get sucked in. Young mothers are another target particularly for the wine industry. Who hasn’t heard of “wine-o-clock” or “mommy’s juice”? I totally could identify with this crowd. Having young kids is stressful and crazy at times, and a big glass of chardonnay certainly feels good at the end of the day when that last kid is tucked in bed. A reward. Is this how it starts? And then there are the funny wine-themed cards, the wine-themed dish towels, coasters, napkins, pillows……I have bought them and I own them because I buy them and people buy them for me because they know I love wine!  Anyway, personally, being Italian, wine might be a part of my culture, but I really didn’t see it that much growing up. My mom never drank and my dad might have an occasional tiny glass of red chianti with a Sunday pasta dinner (you know, that kind that comes in the straw-wrapped bottle?). Eventually, he would get the gallon size bottle of some cheap wine I can’t remember the name of, and it would last for weeks in the fridge.

When I traveled to Italy, however, I got a taste of how they drink wine over there. It is served in a glass pitcher at lunches and dinners. It is almost always homemade, pretty inexpensive and delicious, always served with lots of good food. They don’t drink it to get a buzz. It goes with food. In fact, if you just pop into any random restaurant or bar for just a glass of wine, they bring you food. Peanuts, a platter of cheese and bread, chips. They don’t just drink, you need to eat when you drink wine.

Here, in the US, wine plays a much different role. We women like to meet each other for wine happy hours. We love doing wine taste-tastings, especially at all of the wineries that have opened. They are absolutely wonderful, with their beautiful tasting rooms, gardens and views, gorgeous spaces to sit and eat food and drink. It all adds to an amazing experience that makes you feel very spoiled and special….especially after you buy a bottle of their very expensive wine, and then buy more after getting a little tipsy with that first bottle (why not? you deserve it!). And so it goes…. But women aren’t the only ones with money, I mean, not the only ones who deserve to treat themselves. Enter breweries. Don’t get me wrong, even though I am not a beer drinker, I just love the coziness of those places, I love the fact that you can taste-test something before buying it. I know lots of women who love their beer (and don’t like wine) and a brewery might be a fun place for them. But mostly, when I think of beer, I think of men (and sports). Budweiser and Super Bowl. It just goes together. Did you ever watch a football game and NOT drink?

Where am I going with this? I just wanted to share a personal story of a journey I started after seeing an ad about wine. At first, I impulsively clicked on it because I thought it was going to be something funny. You know, a “wine-o-clock somewhere” story. But it wasn’t, I was tricked, or so I thought. But I got sucked into reading the article anyway.  It was not what I thought, it was about how “wine-o-clock” has gotten a hold of mostly women and how it gradually can take over and become a not-so-healthy habit at the very least and at worse, a true addiction. I totally connected with every word. Yes, yes, yes, when 5 o’clock rolls around and it is time to cook dinner, if there is an open bottle of wine, I am having a glass. If it is a Tuesay and I walk by the neighbors building I also will go tell my husband and join them (since moving to Florida and with Covid, everyone tends to sit outside at happy hour to drink before dinner, safely socially-distanced but still within earshot). Then there is “real” happy hour on a Friday and Saturday (hey, it’s the weekend, right?) and then of course my personal favorite, “Sunday Cookin” which of course means wine for me, wine in the sauce, wine for me….and wine for me. Yes, I totally related to the article and gave my email for more information. I was curious.

Well, I kept getting these emails daily, most of which I would skim through and delete. There were bits and pieces of some truly interesting things that eventually got me hooked. I am a sucker for anything related to brain chemistry and brain function, to understanding biological reasons we humans do what we do, eat what we eat, drink what we drink. I always have been adamant that willpower is a stupid word because there is no person in the world who can fight biology (if you drink a gallon of water, can you use your willpower to avoid peeing for two days?). The same holds true for people who starve themselves then try to resist eating too much. It is not about willpower. Well, apparently, if you ever have decided you really shouldn’t drink so much (maybe you noticed you have gained weight or you just are sick of poor sleep or headaches in the morning) you will find it isn’t so easy. And it is not because you don’t have enough willpower. According to these emails, alcohol really changes your brain. I couldn’t resist. I finally clicked on that button “start your 21 day reset May 1st!”.

Right away, I was regretting it. I paid 96 dollars to try not to have wine for 21 days? Even my husband asked “if you want to not drink for 21 days to see how you feel, why don’t you just do it?” Because I couldn’t. I just couldn’t make up my mind to do it, and because I was just too darn curious as to what this was about. I knew I had fallen into a habit that I wanted to change (but not enough). I didn’t ever get drunk or drink an excessive amount, but at my age, even 2 glasses of wine can make you feel less than your best (especially if your wine glasses might be kind of large), especially if you are retired and want to do water aerobics every morning at 9 am and ride your bike in 90 degree weather for 20 miles…..it makes life harder when you are as old as me.

So I started the 21 day “reset” the day I signed up, a few days before the scheduled May 1st start day because, why not? Part of the program was joining a Marco Polo group (we had about 20 women in our group which eventually increased to 33 and ended up with about 14 of us regularly checking in). If you are not familiar with the Marco Polo app, it is basically a way to share a video of yourself talking or whatever, as long or short as you want with whoever you add to your group. I love the app and use it with my kids. Anyway, we all kind of introduced ourselves and shared why we were doing this. These women were from all over the country, from Colorado, Texas, Maryland, Wisconsin, California, Michigan. They were all ages, retired, single, with young children, with older children, with grandchildren. They were from all walks of life, doctors, teachers, nurses, physical therapists, homemakers, etc. They all had different reasons for wanting to take a 21 day break from drinking (mostly wine drinkers, all women). Some drank like me, just wine, not to get drunk but gradually, it had seeped into life mindlessly becoming a habit. Others found themselves escalating into using alcohol to numb something, often staying up very late to finish a bottle or two of wine. We all listened to each other’s stories without judgement. We all read the books and emails and learned about how alcohol gradually affects the brain and takes away our brains natural ability to feel happy and good. How alcohol over time creates a need for more alcohol to get the brain to feel good again. Eventually, our brains can’t do it on their own, and so, the craving begins. Not only that, but we eventually get conditioned by people, places and things. Just like with food, if we drink in the same place doing the same thing over and over again, repetitively for days on end, eventually, we don’t even think about it anymore. Think about the person who turns on the TV every day after a long day at work, feeling tired and stressed, grabs the bag of chips and sits on the couch and munches until the bag is gone. Eventually, just sitting on that couch triggers the need for chips. The same thing happens with drinking. If you pour yourself a glass of wine after work every day while you relax in front of the television, or while cooking, eventually, it just won’t feel right if you try to cook without that drink.

We also learned about drinking and our culture. Why is it wierd to order water or iced tea instead of a drink at a restaurant? Why do people wonder why you are not drinking? When did it become un-cool to just not want a drink? Why do people think you “must have a problem” just because you don’t want to drink? Let’s face it, drinking is the norm, not drinking is wierd to most of us who socialize mostly with drinkers. I never really thought about it until now.

Anyway, these were the kinds of things I already kind of knew but did not really think about. I did not realize the habitual grip drinking wine had on me until I stopped it. At first I truly felt what they call the “wine witch” at 5 pm. A somewhat strong urge to pour that glass of wine, even when there is no reason other than habit to have it. We learned that having something else to substitute is helpful, as is just paying attention to how you feel. I discovered Kombucha gingerade which is a fermented tea that is just yummy. Also, an alcohol-free wine (Ariel) that is ok, good to sip while cooking without getting the effect of feeling tipsy. Anyway, after a week or so I discovered that I started to absolutely love the feeling in the morning I had. I just felt different, better than before. I didn’t realize that even a little wine can stay in your system for hours, 12-24 or more, depending on how much you drink. I was loving this feeling and it helped motivate me to make it through those 21 days. When I finally was done, I was kind of excited about learning that once I got out of that automatic habit, once I became more aware that I NEEDED to be more aware, I felt freed. My brain has started to rewire itself, thank goodness, and now it is much easier to catch myself. Yes, I had wine after that 21 days, and it did not taste as good as I remembered. I also paid attention to how I felt when I had that first glass again. I paid attention to how I felt in the morning. And I decided I wanted to continue this so-called “journey” into “re-negotiating my relationship” with alcohol (wine). When was it good to have it, and when was it stupid to have it? I have decided that drinking wine, even a little, almost every day is not good for my body and detracts from feeling my best. I have also decided I will keep wine in my life because I truly enjoy it when I am mindful and when it is a conscious decision to have it, not just me being a robot because I have been mindlessly conditioned. I will enjoy happy hour with my friends which doesn’t happen often these days. I might have good red chianti when I get inspired to cook some amazing Italian food. But I am truly thankful for taking the time to take on this challenge. I believe it will make me healthier and happier in the long run. I believe it is consistent with my repetitive message of “listen to your body” that I am always preaching. I tuned my body out, but it was not my fault. You really gotta be careful with alcohol, it really can be sneaky. I didn’t realize how bad I felt until I felt so good again.

If you want to learn more, here is a useful link:

https://21day.sobersis.com/21daychallenge Sober Sis 21 Day Challenge

I just hope one day that we will stop judging people who struggle with giving up alcohol, even when they need to because of their health. It really is not their “fault”….they have been sucked in, their brain has been hijacked, and it takes a lot to learn how to change and get it back to normal. Having a non-judgemental and understanding support system really helps. Being non-judgemental of yourself really helps, too.

Finally, I hope that we will all someday realize the one person at the table who is NOT drinking with the crowd is probably the coolest of all.

Please Note: talk to your physician before making any changes to your drinking habits, especially if you are a heavy drinker as suddenly stopping alcohol can have severe health risks, including death.

Don’t Let Crappy Covid DeRail Your Move Toward Health

healthy lifeI woke up at 4:37 am today. After tossing and turning most of the night, I could not figure out if it was anxiety over the fact that I have to have a tooth extracted today at 10 am….or if it is excitement that I am actually getting to go out and do something different.  I can’t believe those words are coming out of my mouth, someone who going to the dentist is right up there with getting a flat tire, or jury duty, or sliding off the road in a snow storm. I am afraid of those things and I dislike them immensely. But here I am, so excited about getting out that even getting a tooth pulled sounds good. What is this crazy quarantining doing to me? What is it doing to everyone?

I am sure you have noticed, as I have, how people around you are reacting. I have read some interesting and enlightening posts on social media expressing our struggles perfectly. Two of my favorites included one from someone I know and one from a stranger. The first one, from someone I know expressed the true struggle this has been for her. She expressed the dissonance lots of us are feeling: we want to do what is right and be safe, yet we so desperately want to get back to normal life. We are torn. We are scared, but we also can’t stand it anymore. The second post was long but worth the read. It was a great reminder that no, we are not in the same boat. We are in very very different boats fighting the same enemy. Some boats are pretty easy and fun. No small kids at home, sudden extra time to hang out at a beautiful home with plenty of funds for good food and Amazon purchases. Much different than the young single parent at home with two special needs children, living paycheck to paycheck (that they aren’t even getting right now) just to pay the rent, living in a busy city with no back yard and no transportation, no family support, no money for enough food or Amazon purchases. Yes, both posts were great reminders that we all have different circumstances, and we all are taking this differently (even differently day to day, or minute to minute). So, as I write this post, please keep in mind that I can only share my own personal trip on my own unique boat which is probably very different than yours.

However different our “boats” are, I am guessing you also may be noticing a few “themes” coming to light as to how some people are dealing with this. I have been paying attention to the comments of others when it comes to how this is affecting their daily habits, their thinking and ultimately, their health. So I have a few thoughts that might be worth sharing.  I have noticed lots and lots of joking around food, eating and drinking. Oh and also some funny ones about being stuck at home with a significant other who may be driving you crazy, but since I am no expert on relationships, I am not commenting on that one! However, when it comes to using food and eating, or drinking/addictions, that I do know more about. And I know not everyone is laughing.

There are lots of people who “use” food to feel better in a very “normal” way. “Emotional eating” can fall on a spectrum in a certain way. It really isn’t a big deal to treat yourself with chocolate because it makes you happy. Or, if you had a rough day and your partner wants to take you out for a drink and luxurious meal (again, this may be chicken wings for some of us, lobster and escargot for others). The point is, the food and the eating are part of the treatment for feeling better. Think homemade chicken soup when you are sick. Lots of us can relate to that. When I stayed home from school if I was ill back in the day, my mom would crank open a can of that good ole Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, the kind with the big fat overcooked noodles and maybe three bites of chicken in every can. It didn’t matter, it made me feel better. Today, I make real chicken soup, because I know how to cook (not that mom didn’t but with four kids, Campbells came in handy). Anyway, it still works. Food makes us feel better sometimes. And that is ok. Comfort food, I love it.

Binge eating is not ok. By binge eating, I do not mean the kind of eating people are joking about right now. The jokes tend to be about being “good” all day, following a diet and then turning to cookies, chips, ice cream, pizza all night long. Some people think that is funny. To the “typical dieter” who may diet during the day and lose it at night, this may just be a pattern of eating they have gotten used to. Maybe it doesn’t bother them, maybe they do want to lose weight but they have fallen into this pattern and it hasn’t started to interfere with their life yet emotionally (getting depressed, poor self-esteem, etc). Yes, people think turning to food during a crises is funny. I don’t. Maybe because I know way too many people who actually do get affected in a very big way when they turn to food to feel better. I worry about those people now because this is one of those times where we all need some coping skills. If you have not worked on it in the past or gotten professional help to develop some healthy skills, using food in this way may occur and only add to the stress, not relieve it. That is the problem. When I read one of the posts that was supposed to be funny (and I am sure some people without any disordered eating DID think it was funny), well, it struck me that after all that eating in just a few hours, all you end up with is a tummy ache. The difference is one person can happily go to bed with that tummy ache while another is devastated.

I have noticed there arn’t any jokes about the opposite end of the spectrum: not eating as a means to cope. I don’t think people have concerns about people who diet or starve themselves.  Maybe because our (messed up) culture sees restricting food as a “virtue”. I am worried about the people I have known with eating disorders who are going through this. If you are a typical eater, when you feel hungry you don’t like the feeling so you eat lunch, feel better and move on. For others, not eating and feeling empty numbs them. It is a very dangerous way to deal with things, and it is much more complicated than I can even explain or even understand. But it is very important that we don’t ignore children, spouses, relatives or friends who are now suddenly losing weight, skipping meals or not eating. It is extremely important for those who have already been diagnosed with an eating disorder to pay attention and stay connected to support systems.

I have also noticed lots of joking about drinking. Again, some of these are funny to those of us who have some control over how much we drink. I totally relate to the use of wine to connect with people during this time over virtual happy hours and outdoor “social distancing” happy hours, etc. But I also know people who have worked so hard to figure out how to stop drinking because they needed to. This is not an easy time for them. Epecially since lots of the coping skills involve social support systems where people connect in person, whether it be a meeting or church or whatever. Now what? I am guessing we are all learning much more than we ever knew about social meeting apps, Zoom, Facetime, etc to enable us to keep these good things going. At least we all need to be aware of those around us, and try to be supportive as much as possible to enable loved ones to continue on their positive path.

Finally, I have noticed some funny comments about being lazy. Here again, we are all different. One person may be climbing the walls, cleaning every cabinet, rearranging every room, walking miles a day, biking, painting walls, cleaning garages, knitting sweaters, building lego towers, painting portraits, and on and on. Another person my not get out of their pajamas all day. They may walk from the coffee pot to the couch. They may be using this time to catch up on all of their Netflix series. And then go to bed to do it all over again the next day. And sometimes, we can alternate between these two. And I think that is ok.

I wish I had some brilliant advice to help everyone get through this when it comes to eating healthy, being active in a balanced way and coming out of this better than before. The only thing I can think of is to remind yourself that you have never gone through anything like this before, so therefore however you are dealing with it, whatever is getting you through is ok……as long as it is not seriously interfering with your mental or physical health. If you are someone who has had issues with depression, eating disorders, or addictions and you find yourself slipping or struggling to cope, don’t ignore it. Go back to your resources, your support system, your therapist or doctor or whoever it is that helped you before.

If, on the other hand, you are one of the lucky ones who’s boat is pretty simple, then use this time to learn about yourself. If you really don’t have any serious issues with eating or drinking or maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but find yourself ignoring what you are eating, getting out of your routine, drinking a bit more than feels good, then maybe it will be helpful to take back some control. This whole thing has taken a lot from us. It has robbed us of our freedom and fun, family and for some it has taken lives we loved. Now that we have been doing this awhile, maybe it is time to look back at what used to work for us. Did we eat three good meals a day before? Maybe instead of snacking out of stress it is time to do some meal planning to help feel more in control. Maybe you used to go to the gym at lunch time at work, or maybe after work, but you can’t do that right now. Instead, why not take that same time and go for a walk, or do some stretches or dance to some music to let out your energy? Was bedtime 10 pm before because you had to get up for work, and now it is 1 am? And you don’t feel so great the next day? Try getting back to your regular sleep schedule. Maybe controlling the things you actually can control will help.

Or maybe not.

If you just feel like taking this time to do whatever you want, and you are feeling just as happy and just as energetic and just as healthy, that’s ok too. The point is, whatever floats YOUR boat is what is best.

Oh, and wish me luck on my exciting adventure today! I hope you get to do something different today, too. Something more fun than going to the dentist.

 

 

 

They Are What (and How) You Eat: How to Have a Positive Influence on Your Child’s Eating Habits

Image may contain: one or more people and babyI have never met a parent who does not want the best for their children. From day one, most parents have researched how to feed their new precious babies, and even if they feel prepared, it isn’t always easy. I have witnessed new moms who have persevered through initial breastfeeding struggles (having nursed three babies myself, I can tell you from experience it sure as heck is not fun in the beginning!). Some moms who choose to bottle feed instead also struggle. It’s not easy washing all those bottles right after having a baby, with little sleep, exhaustion, and all that goes with giving birth…yet, we get through it. Not to mention kids with digestive issues who struggle with reflux, constipation, you name it. Yes, feeding a newborn takes a lot of work, energy, and sometimes trial and error. But we never give up.

And then we start with foods. Baby cereal, pureed fruits and vegetables, Stage 1, Stage 2 and then finally on to table foods! We feel relieved when our child meets their goals for growth and weight gain, and happy when we see them joyfully eating a good variety of foods. Yes, getting through this stage is really important, and a giant first step towards a healthy child. Most of us tend to reflect on the types of foods we are preparing for our children. We read every label, we try to avoid foods with chemicals and sugar and food dyes because we just want our children to be healthy, right? The big mistake many parents make, though, is focusing way too much on the actual food itself and not enough on the crucial behaviors they are slowly instilling as habits around feeding. You can be feeding your children the healthiest foods you can find, but if you are neglecting to reflect on the big picture, it may not be enough. In fact, I dare say, feeding your child the perfect diet while neglecting the creation of lifelong healthy habits may be meaningless when it comes to supporting a healthy relationship with food.

I am not saying that what you feed your child does not matter, of course it does. That actually is one of the “habits” we might pass on to our children if we are not aware of what is happening. Babies and children, teenagers and we adults need a certain flow of specific nutrients on a regular basis to grow, function and feel our best. But I know you can get all the information on what your child needs hopefully from your pediatrician or a registered dietitian. Check out The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website or KidsHealth for evidenced-based information on feeding, nutrition and more.

So, instead of giving you the specifics of nutrition, I am going to give you some important tips that I not only learned from talking to and observing thousands of families, but also from the experts and research. It’s the stuff you typically don’t think of or pay attention to, but is so much more important than you think.  It is more about the “big picture”, the gigantic, complicated, intertwined factors that all influence your eating habits…..and ultimately your health (and your child’s health) in the end. The hard part is that it may involve some changes for YOU. Most parents are pretty stuck in their ways, and have fallen into their own eating habits and practices, some promoting health and some not so much. I never ever try to tell someone what to do (except “listen to your body”, the standing joke in our family). However, if there are some eating habits you have fallen into over your lifetime that you didn’t realize may be harmful to your child’s health in the future, now may be the time to reflect on those and make some changes. Also, some very typical beliefs and attitudes around feeding that have been around for decades and that we don’t tend to question but, rather repeat from generation to generation need to change (the old adage “clean you plate” for example goes totally against instilling intuitive eating). We just didn’t know then what we know now.

Ready for the challenge? Here are some scenarios that have the capacity to affect eating and health in a negative way. See if you recognize any of these in your own life:

  1. Eating in Front of a Screen. We all have done it.  You just can’t get away from them. Think smartphone, IPad, laptop, computer, TV, DVD, video games. Add in the likelihood that most of us just have way too much on our plate. We have deadlines to meet, laundry to do, grocery shopping, cleaning, sports to play, people to visit, church, you get the picture. There is no time. I just retired 5 months ago, yet it is taking me weeks to finish this one blog! Where does the time go? Of course we need to eat while we are watching TV. Of course we need to eat at our desk. We need to multitask. I am sipping my coffee while eating a muffin as we speak.                               I am thankful that when my kids were little I didn’t have a computer. Truth be told, I didn’t even own a cell phone. The only screen in the house was the TV for quite awhile…..something to be said as I think about it for the good ole days. But things are different now, and young parents have an added challenge I did not have growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, and my own children did not have in the 80’s. These days I see babies just loving their parent’s cell phones. They turn into great portable devices to distract an unhappy baby, but when you pair it with food, it becomes a complicated mess. Then of course we have the TV with its on-demand features, binge-watching (which wasn’t even a word back in my days….if you missed a show, you missed it. Imagine that). Parents are eating in front of TVs all the time, and so are their kids. We all know people who own a dining or kitchen table but never use it (instead it becomes a landing place for mail, backpacks, projects, etc). No, people aren’t sitting at the table, they are sitting on the couch to eat. So what is the big deal?                                                                                                                                                   Lots. First of all, when you don’t look at your food while you eat (and enjoy it), it kind of disappears. Well at least it feels like it does. And, when you don’t actually LOOK at your food while you are consuming it you miss out on the sensory satisfaction eating is supposed to provide. The joy of eating, the appreciation of how good it tastes (depending on who cooked it I suppose), all of these factors contribute to truly feeling satisfied after eating. What happens when you simply watch the screen, and fail to look at the food you are putting into your mouth? You need more…..because it sometimes feels like you never even ate it (have you ever experienced this? I have!).                                                                                                          Secondly, when you eat in front of a screen, chances are you are not eating the healthiest of foods. Who grabs an orange they have to peel (and actually look at) when they grab a snack to have while working or watching a show? You are more likely to grab a handful of something or bowl of something dry (think of anything?) Research (see Watching TV While Eating and Diet Quality) actually shows that eating while watching TV “is associated with poorer diet quality among children, including more frequent consumption of sugar‐sweetened beverages and high‐fat, high‐sugar foods and fewer fruits and vegetables…….the cumulative effect may contribute to the positive association between eating while watching TV and childhood obesity”(the research tends to focus on “childhood obesity” because everyone is obsessed with it, I personally rather focus on health, but the information is still useful).  Even if you actually are eating as a family and eating together, it doesn’t help if the TV is on.    Consequently, research shows that intake of fruits and veggies (healthy foods) actually will be less if children eat in front of a screen (see article Screen Time and Eating Behaviors )Finally, eating if front of a screen contradicts “intuitive eating” goals. If you want to help your child achieve their own natural body, the one they are genetically born with and meant to have, then teaching them to follow their own cues of hunger and fullness is critical. We want children to stop eating when they are full, and to eat more when they feel hungrier to help them trust their little bodies and develop good intuitive eating skills. Watching a screen while eating disconnects them from what their bodies are saying just as it disconnects us. Who hasn’t finished a giant bowl of popcorn in front of a Netflix movie when they weren’t even hungry? Not that this is a big problem, it is a fun family thing to do, however repeated on a daily basis with all meals and snacks is certainly contributing to the development of an eating behavior that is not supportive of future health.
  2. Picky Eating Parents. It was always a bit hard for me to hide my chuckle when a parent would complain that their teenager did not eat vegetables…..then when asked what vegetables they ate and wanted their child to eat, they would respond “well, I don’t eat them, I don’t like them, but she needs them”.  Doesn’t that strike you as unfair? After all, parents serve as role models and eating is no exception. Children WILL eat what you eat, eventually. They just won’t buy it when you try to convince them green beans are delicious but they won’t pass YOUR lips! It is hypocritical.                                                                                                                                    So here is some advice. Let me introduce you to what we dietitians call “The Rule of 20”. This means that it actually takes AT LEAST 20 tries to truly know if you like a food. It could take more or less, depending on the person (for example, children with sensory issues may have to try 60 times). But let’s assume you are a typical parent who just does not like vegetables. You truly believe you would gag if you had to take a bite of a green bean. You don’t have to down an entire serving to expose your taste buds and your brain to the green bean experience. Just one bite. We sometimes suggest parents put out a “taste test” plate with a small amount of a vegetable or fruit that we would like our children (or ourselves) to eat. Then, have fun with it. Have dips (preferred tastes) such as ketchup, sour cream, maybe flavored yogurt if you are taste testing a fruit, melted cheese, honey, etc. Then have fun. Avoid pushing a child to try something and instead, just work on having a fun and positive experience with the food.  Even getting a child to touch and smell a food is a huge step. Increased exposure is what we are looking for, as well as creating a positive interaction with the foods (so the old “you are not leaving this table until you eat your green beans) is never appropriate as it creates a very negative (and somewhat horrifying) eating experience. It does not work.                              Another trick is to use “food chaining” to help make foods more acceptable. You can add some diced green beans to soup or pasta, or melt cheese on top (if cheese is a preferred food). This is not about “disguising” a food or “hiding” a food, since doing that will only create distrust. Instead, be open and honest with your child and say something like “let’s see how green beans taste when we melt cheese on top! Yum!” Of course you can also try vegetables prepared different ways. Some people just love raw veggies but dislike the same vegetable when it is cooked. I am not a fan of beets, however I have found that when they are roasted with olive oil in the oven I just absolutely love them. Get creative. And be a role model. This means being brave and taking a bite yourself. Remember, there are some foods that you may not like the first time, but if you continue to expose your child (and yourself) to healthy foods, eventually you develop a taste for them. It literally took me over 30 years to get to the point I am at now with beets, and that’s no lie. Also, just as we adults don’t feel like eating a food sometimes (have you ever been in the mood for eggs one morning, but the next morning the thought of eggs makes you gag?), well, kids are the same way. I have had parents offer a food once or twice and a child accepts it. Then, they offer it again, and that day the child refuses it. “They don’t like eggs any more”, and so the parent stops offering them. Remember, a young child is not able to verbalize “sorry mom, just not it the mood for eggs this morning”, but their refusal is telling you they don’t want it. Don’t force it, and don’t give up on eggs. Just offer them a few days later, or at another time, over and over and you will see, just like us adults, their preferences change day to day, meal to meal. Try to honor that.
  3. Unreasonable Expectations: Daddy’s Food. I often wanted to shake my head in disbelief when parents would come in and expect me to scold their child for sneaking “daddy’s soda” or “mommy’s chips”. The conversations would go like this:   Me: “What brings you here?”                                                                                                     Parent: “Johnny needs someone else to tell him, he needs to stop sneaking food. He needs to stop taking his father’s soda, and his sister’s cookies. She is skinny, she needs them, he doesn’t”.                                                                                                               Me (looking straight at Johnny): “So you are sneaking your sister’s cookies? (shameful head nod from Johnny). Me: ” Well, I don’t blame you, I would too! Cookies are good!”  At which point the parents would look at me as if I were crazy. Johnny would smile (he knew I was on his side). I would then ask the parents if they could tell me their very favorite food in the entire world. They would think for a minute then answer “lobster!” or “chocolate!” I would then ask how they would feel if that specific food were in the house and everyone else could eat it but them. Does that feel fair? Not when it is you. It is way too much to expect a child to resist helping themselves to a yummy food that everyone else gets. This creates a “sneak eater” and also instills lots of shame in a child. They of course don’t want to do anything wrong, they want to please their parents, yet, food is a necessary part of life, and it is unfair to expect children to resist what is in the home. So my advice was focused more on creating a healthy home for everyone, not just the child who is sneaking the cookies. If you don’t want your children drinking soda, don’t bring it home (have it at work, keep it in your car, anything but drinking it in front of your child unless you are going to share). Nothing wrong with having some soda here and there, but drinking soda on a daily basis in large quantities isn’t a great idea for anyone (if you are full on soda, not much room for other things that you need to eat to be healthy). Same goes with cookies or chips or ice cream or anything else most people typically consider “bad” foods. I don’t use that term, I just don’t believe any food is bad, especially if you like it. But we need to be smart about it. If you have cookies in the house, make them be a part of a meal (not nibbled on throughout the day where they are likely then to interfere with appetite for meals, when more nutrient-dense food is typically served. And remember, if you nibble, your child will nibble). Whatever you do, don’t discriminate on who gets what depending on their body size. This is a sure way to create a closet eater and a child who is more likely to develop a very unhealthy relationship with food.                                                                 The bottom line is that what you eat as a parent is probably one of the most important influences on what your child will eat. For a recent review, see The Influences of Parental Practices
  4. Double Dinners. Experts recommend sitting at a table for “family dinners” to promote healthy eating and a good relationship with food. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. I have encountered many families where parents work different shifts, mom or dad may get home at 8 pm, a few hours after the kids have had dinner. An issue I have seen is when a parent gets home and needs to eat dinner at some unseemly hour, children who have waited up to see them may end up eating another dinner. This was quite common in the outpatient nutrition office where I worked, mostly dealing with children who gained weight above their growth curves (triggering a referral to outpatient clinical nutrition).  Parents and children being on different feeding schedules can indeed cause some issues.  Parents tend to focus on their children, often neglecting themselves. They may do a wonderful job scheduling regular meals with a structured snack time in between meals (just what we recommend, 3 meals with a planned snack in between). We don’t want children nibbling all day and then being too full to eat regular meals. You may know some individuals who “graze” and it works for them as they nibble throughout the day, somehow getting what they need. But this is more risky for children, as we have learned that nibbling throughout the day often interferes with appropriate weight gain (they may not gain enough, or sometimes gain too much).  But what happens to mom or dad when they just plan for their children’s meals but don’t sit down and eat themselves? This typically leads to a need to snack, just to keep up energy. Just as when a parent gets home late and needs dinner, a child seeing you nibble is going to want some. Eating becomes chaotic and sporadic and children’s little bodies get confused. Natural hunger and fullness is difficult to detect with constant nibbling (vs 3 meals, a morning and an afternoon snack, and a bedtime snack).                                                                                                                              What is the answer? Each family is unique, but in general, I suggest parents plan ahead. They should try to plan for foods they also enjoy so they can eat at the same time as their children. Granted, feeding kids is often chaotic in itself, never mind feeding yourself. Having more than one child myself, feeding three made it more confusing than ever. But, breakfast and lunch can be simple, and even if you aren’t a fan of cheerios, you can sit down and have whatever it is you enjoy. The same with lunch, keep it simple and sit with your child. You don’t have to eat exactly what your child is eating (who really likes applesauce?), but taking a few spoonfuls of whatever counts. Sitting down and eating, even if it is towards the end of the meal (due to having to get everyone settled truly prevents parents from sitting down the entire time, unless you have a live-in helper which most of us don’t). And when it comes to dinner, perhaps save some fruit for eating with mommy or daddy when they get home to have their dinner. It is important to sit together and have that time together. If your child wants a few bites of whatever it is, that is no big deal. I have seen it become a problem only when a child is truly not hungry, but wanting to connect with the parent, they end up eating another entire meal, leading to unnatural weight gain. Another solution I have seen work for some parents is to have a snack together and then eat their dinner when their child goes to sleep. Whatever works for your family. Just be aware that eating with your child is the most important thing of all. Check out Give Peas a Chance by Kate Samela, MS, RD, CSP for some excellent information on dealing with a picky eater, ideas for menus, important nutrition information and the importance of avoiding “short order cooking”.
  5. Bad-Talking Food. Jen, our psychologist on the Feeding Team where I used to work, dealing with children with all types of feeding problems had a saying: “Don’t Yuck My Yum”. That means that no matter how horrifyingly disgusting a food appears to you, you need to keep your mouth shut. The person eating the food loves it. This is easier said than done. Trust me, down here in Florida, people eat some weird things. Gator bites. Conch fritters. Oysters. These all make me cringe, but people love them. When I have been out to eat at a restaurant and someone orders gushy oysters, I think of Jen and try not to make a face. I don’t say “eeeewwww!” because that violates the rule. So, when it comes to your dinner table, when you offer broccoli alfredo for the first time and someone makes a face and a comment, this would be a great time to introduce the rule: “Don’t Yuck My Yum!”
  6. Body Shaming  It blows me away how so many people apparently think it is A-ok to talk about someone’s body right out loud, with zero concern (or awareness) of how words can hurt. Not only hurt, but affect someone for years to come. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have heard from the eating disorder patients I have worked with in the past stories about their experiences with body shaming. I am not saying that telling your child he can’t have a second cookie because he is too fat will definitely trigger an eating disorder, but it might. Even if it doesn’t, talking about a child’s body certainly isn’t good for self-esteem. You would think we would get it by now, but lots of us don’t. I see adults joke about other adult’s bodies, about beer bellies, and weight gain, even jokes about being thin, it seems to be socially acceptable (which makes me sad).  Anyone’s body is open game it seems. The problem is we just don’t know how fragile a person may be. Besides being plain rude, it can be dangerous (this will sound ridiculously silly to some, but to others it will make sense because they have experienced it). I have seen children literally stop eating after a visit to the pediatrician’s where BMI was discussed openly in front of the child. I have seen adults binge eat in secret because of spouses commenting on their food intake. Making a big deal out of body size, or allowing any family member to talk about bodies like this is just plain wrong. And, it goes both ways. Insulting a person by calling them a name (chubby, fat, etc) is wrong, but so is calling a child skinny or whatever other name someone thin is called. Yes, I know, most people think being “skinny” is desirable, but to the child who is self-conscious, it is just as mean and hurtful (and believe it or not, thin adults don’t take it as a compliment when you praise them for being thin….it makes them uncomfortable). I have seen people praise others because of their thin body types. This is also harmful as it instills in children that being thin matters. It sends a message that body size matters, and it shouldn’t. Make a rule in your house (discuss with your spouse or partner, or any other adults in the home) that you don’t allow talking about bodies. Stress it to other family members and nip it in the bud if anyone who visits your home talks about your child’s body. I may sound a bit dramatic here, but remember, this post is about promoting a healthy relationship with food, and instilling a healthy lifestyle for your child. Focusing on body size, weight and/or shape is damaging.
  7. Toxic Food Environment.  This concept incorporates a bit of the previous points. It simply means that your family will eat what is there. Period. Therefore, if you want to promote healthy eating, there needs to be some healthy foods within reach. This does NOT mean you should not have other kinds of foods in the home (such as cookies, ice cream, chips, etc.). In fact, it is important to send the message to children that foods are not “bad” just because they might be sweet or salty, and/or may not have much to offer nutritionally (other than energy, which, by the way, is really important for all of us). The key is your attitude, and balance. Common sense. Serving only french fries and cookies for dinner every day wouldn’t be a great idea. Having fries with your fish sticks and salad sounds like a decent dinner for a kid. Only having cookies in the house and never having fruit is not a good example of balance and variety. Kids need to be offered a variety of fruits and vegetables on a regular basis since exposure contributes to acceptance. But, restricting sweets, for example, only makes them more desirable. Labeling foods as “bad” only instills guilt when kids actually do eat them (and they will, at school, at friends, at family gatherings, etc.). Making kids feel bad or guilty for eating these foods does not promote a healthy eating relationship. Research actually suggests that parents who restrict their children so they won’t gain too much weight actually make kids more focused on food, contribute to overeating and sneak eating, and may result in excessive weight gain (see review article: Food Parenting and Child SnackingI personally have seen countless examples of children gaining excessive weight once their parents started to focus on weight and limiting foods. Intentions, of course, are good. These parents love their children and want them to be healthy, so when their pediatrician informs them of a BMI that is not in a certain ranges, most parents do what they think is right, but instead it backfires. Due to the health community’s focus on “the obesity epidemic” researchers have been looking into what influences eating habits in order to know how to foster better habits that promote “healthier” weights (Note: you CANNOT look at a BMI chart to decide if a child’s weight is a healthy weight, you have to look at individual growth charts). If your child appears to be tracking somewhat normally for THEM then it is good. If, however they fall off or jump up way above what is typical for THEM it should be looked into. DON’T go by one simple number such as BMI no matter what anyone tells you. I advise parents to ask the doctor to see the growth chart and to explain it. If your child is following a certain percentile, chances are that it normal for them.        

The take-home messages is this: you have a huge impact on your child’s eating habits. You can structure meals (3 per day) and snacks (2-3 per day) and you can try to eat meals with your children as much as possible. You can insist on turning off any screens while eating (easier to start this when your kids are young, it may be a hard habit to break when they are older, but don’t give up). You can promote positive body image and a healthy relationship to foods by avoiding talking about weight and body size and by supporting your child’s natural growth. You can provide the nutrients your child needs with healthy foods (offering fruits, veggies, dairy foods, protein foods and grains) on a regular basis. But you can also “normalize” all foods by refusing to treat foods such as cookies, ice cream, chips, etc as anything special. Just don’t have them as the only option. Oh, and don’t use sweets (or any food ) as a reward…read them a book, play a game, anything but food. And yes, you might have to learn to cook, but you can still keep it simple. Most of all, remember, you know your child best. You may feel differently, and you need to do what is best for you and your family. You should never feel bad or guilty just because you may go weeks without a family meal or vegetables. We all have days (and weeks) like that. It is only important to keep trying. Check out the references and the book Give Peas A Chance. Reflect on your own eating habits and food preferences, but remember, judging yourself doesn’t help either. Simply reflect, be honest, and work on it.

Don’t forget, it took me decades to make my peace with beets. I wish I tried earlier. Just think of all those years I could have been enjoying them…….you can, too.

 

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions and Weight: Tips for Success (if you really gotta do this)

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It takes a lot of tries to finally grasp that rubber ducky!

I don’t do them. Making  New Year’s Resolutions that is. I don’t like setting myself up for failure. That doesn’t mean I don’t reflect on things at the end of the year….. it just may take me more than the month of January to figure things out. But, tonight is New Year’s Eve and having listened to the “new year’s resolution” chatter already, I am pretty confident there will be lots of people living it up like there’s no tomorrow (as my mom likes to say) until New Year’s Day is over and it’s time to face the music.

Yes, people make resolutions about all kinds of behaviors they don’t like about themselves, usually focused on some health behavior change. Things like quitting smoking (yay), exercising more, eating healthier, losing weight. Sometimes people vow to spend less, save more, get a new job, go back to school, get organized, experience new things, etc. Of course, most new year’s resolutions I tend to hear about are related to wanting to change one’s body. You know, lose weight. It’s not just me, if you google “New Year Resolutions” there are lots of top-10 lists, and right at the top of most of them is “lose weight”.

I am not a fan of dieting and here’s why: As my friends and family know, I have spent much of my career trying to help people focus on health instead of dieting and weight loss. They are surely tired of me saying “listen to your body”, and they joke about it (especially my husband who loves to tell me his body is telling him to eat another cookie). What most of them will never truly understand is the struggle, pain, loss and often tragedy of those struggling with disordered eating. I have been forever affected by the lives I was blessed to share with some true heroes. Young and old men and women, girls and boys, mothers and daughters, who have fought this terrible disease and manage to keep going, and even to thrive despite its grip on their lives. I can’t forget them. And so, that is why when people tell me they want to lose weight, I struggle. Also, I believe in the “Health at Every Size” philosophy, and that someone’s body size, BMI or weight is absolutely no indicator of health despite our obsession with BMI and numbers. However, there are individuals who have been in their natural weight ranges most of their lives but then, due to some gradual but detrimental changes in their lifestyles gain weight that is NOT normal for them….and may affect their health because of that reason, NOT because of the number on the scale. I totally understand why those people would want to lose weight, and although reverting back to their original lifestyles that promoted their normal weight sounds easy, it is not.

So, despite my passion to prevent eating issues, I realize I really should not discount the feelings of others. If there is something that is important to you and you are determined to do it, it is not fun to hear someone else tell you it is a dumb thing to do. Plus, it doesn’t change things. It really doesn’t help.  People are going to diet, period. I have learned to keep my mouth (kind of) shut and let others learn on their own what works for them. Inevitably, life goes on. People lose weight, they may regain it over time (we all know people who say “such and such diet works! I lost 30 pounds on it last year!”). So they do it again, it is comfortable for them. Maybe some people (the lucky ones who don’t fall into a disordered eating pattern) may learn something good (like how to make healthier meals, smarter ways to shop, meal prep ideas, etc).  Do I wish they would avoid giving the diet industry even one more penny…..yes. But that is because I believe the diet industry all too often seems to prey on the insecurity and desperation of people striving to lose weight, and that bothers me. They make money off of the reality that most people are repeat customers due to the simple fact that by design, you start and then end the diet. Unless someone really becomes self-aware and uses the lessons learned in the right way, letting go of the rest of the ridiculousness all too often results in weight regain. For example, counting points (or calories, or carbs) for life just is not normal eating and not possible. I have NEVER seen someone adopt that as a forever lifestyle. So, you pay again. And again. And again. But back to what I said initially, I am not going to try to talk anyone out of anything. Not any diet (unless I know for a fact it is dangerous to that person), not any lifestyle, not any food. I am not an expert on anyone’s life, they are, so they know what is best for them, and they need to travel and learn in their own way, even if it takes a few rounds of it. What I do want to do, however is share what I hope might prevent disordered eating and what might truly help someone adopt a healthier way of looking at dieting, food and weight.

So, if you are one of those people with “lose weight” at the top of your New Year’s Resolution list, here are my tips for you:

  1.  Reflect on your “weight and lifestyle” history. Was there a time in your adult life that your weight was settled in a 5-10 pound range for several years and you didn’t have to pay attention to it? What was your lifestyle like? Sometimes we have even minor changes in lifestyle that eventually affect our health (or weight) such as moving from the city and walking everywhere to moving to the country and driving everywhere. Over time, the decrease in physical activity has an affect on our body. With that said, excessive physical activity isn’t exactly a doable lifestyle either. I have heard people say “in college I only weighed such and such, I want to be that weight again”. Well, in college, if you were on the track team and ran 70 miles a week, or maybe walked across campus day and night, or danced your butt off every weekend, that is not typical! You were probably at an unnatural low weight for you as an adult, and your present weight is more normal and healthy. Instead of thinking you should go back in time and be a certain weight, consider reflecting on your current activity level. Do you get an hour of joyful movement daily? Maybe that should be a focus instead of that number on the scale. So turn up that dance music, join the Y, find a walking buddy, or whatever you need to do to incorporate healthy movement into your life. Or, did your weight always fluctuate? Were you always on a diet, always trying to lose weight? Have you suffered from disordered eating such as binge eating alternating with trying to starve yourself and skip meals? If you have had extreme fluctuations in eating over many years and never got help, I would suggest an evaluation by a therapist who specializes in eating issues (ask your doctor for a recommendation). If, however, you have slipped into some unhealthy lifestyle and/or eating patterns such as eating out every day, drinking lots of soda or alcohol, watching 8 hours of TV a day, staying up way too late then maybe your weight really has been affected by these unhealthy changes and they are worth working on. And yes, although I would be happy because changing these behaviors will make you healthier, they may also help you be at your healthier weight, too (your goal). Bottom line: your weight and dieting history affect everything. Don’t ignore it and don’t compare yourself to others.
  2.  Reconsider your goals. If your diet plan or program makes any suggestions regarding how much weight you should lose (per week or whatever), I would suggest ignoring that. If you think your unique, individual body and metabolism is going to cooperate with anything but its own reality, think again. You will be setting yourself up for disappointment. You will not feel successful if you set yourself up with expectations involving numbers. Our bodies just don’t work that way. Fluid shifts may result in changes in the number on the scale which have absolutely nothing to do with what is happening regarding body composition (muscle vs fat vs water), so why judge yourself on it? The funniest story I can think of is when one of my patients came in after having ice cream the night before, thinking her weight was going to be up. Instead, it was down. “Oh wow, I didn’t know ice cream makes you lose weight!” she said….I had to laugh. The lesson is that your weight is going to fluctuate no matter what. Instead of focusing too much on that, could you consider looking at all the good things you have been accomplishing to be healthier?  Have you been eating more fruits and vegetables? Drinking more water, less alcohol and sugary drinks? Walking more? Sleeping better? Maybe instead of feeling bad because you did not lose weight, stop and think about all the healthy changes you have made. Find something positive. Then move on.
  3.  When your body talks, LISTEN. I was going to word this one “Beware of all-or-nothing thinking”. All too often when people start weight loss regimens they are “on the diet”. This implies something really powerful which many do not understand when they undertake this endeavor. It can be a set-up if you are not careful. I have used the term “diet jail” before. This analogy is pretty easy to understand, and worth repeating. When you start a diet it psychologically places you in “jail” where all the acceptable foods exist. The lean meats, fruits, vegetables and healthy “good” meals that you are going to restrict yourself to are available, and you are expected to eat a certain way as long as you are in there and until you lose the desired amount of weight. Outside of this self-imposed jail is the “bad” food. This is where the chips, ice cream, cookies, chicken wings or whatever else you are trying to avoid are. Unfortunately (or fortunately) our bodies know better than we do regarding what we are missing (again, I’ve talked about this but worth repeating). Since most diets are deprived of adequate fats and carbohydrates, if too restrictive our regulatory systems may send signals to our brains to fix it. This means you just may crave a cookie. Or chocolate. Or chicken wings. Since these are not in the jail (on the diet) where you planned to live for awhile, what is a dieter supposed to do? Often, since it is almost impossible to ignore body signals (have you ever had to REALLY pee on a road trip??) you give in. You break out of jail (or pull over on the highway). That is ok. What is not good is the way you react to this experience. Here is where you can make a change. If like most people, when you do what your regulatory system demands (eat the cookie, satisfy your body’s need for carbohydrates to function properly) you may be inclined to binge or overeat. It is natural to want to hoard something when you are deprived of it. But you don’t live on a deserted island, you are not a contestant on survivor and you really can get a cookie tomorrow if you wanted. Do you feel guilty because you ate the cookie? Guessing the answer for most dieters is “yes”. Well, instead of just accepting your self-judgment, why not try to give yourself some credit for being so intuitive and listening to what your body is trying to tell you? Can you try to eat just the amount of whatever it is to make that nagging thought (need) go away? The reality is that a few cookies (5 chocolate kisses probably satisfies a true chocolate craving) is no big deal. Binge eating IS a big deal because of the way it tends to make people feel (both physically and emotionally). Even then, it truly is a learning experience (“wow, this is harder for me than I thought. Maybe I need to research strategies to prevent this next time). The bottom line, if you are a dieter, this is likely to happen depending on the diet. If you can learn to eat healthier yet still fit in the foods you crave this is a behavior you can take with you for life, long after the diet ends. (Note: this does not apply to those suffering from Binge Eating Disorder, where professional help is needed; this advice is meant for the typical dieter who may overeat just because they broke out of diet jail).
  4.  Don’t give specific foods magical powers. Here’s a news flash: all food are equal when it comes to weight gain. I am not talking “big picture” for surely, if you eat a lopsided diet your appetite may be affected (no protein or no fat or no carbohydrates may affect your appetite and what you crave over time). I am talking day to day, meal to meal, snack to snack differences in food choice. Think of the ice cream girl. The ice cream did not make her lose weight, and if she gained weight it would not have been because of the ice cream. If your diet calls for only fruit for snacks for example, and you have that day when you just can’t look at another apple, having that muffin truly won’t make a difference. Again, it’s that darn smart body wisdom again, telling you what you need. So don’t give food that power. It doesn’t have it. Eating kale everyday or drinking some magic juice also won’t do anything magical. It won’t negate poor sleep or stress or smoking or a sedentary lifestyle. But if you like kale, eat kale : D
  5.  If there is a magic bullet, it is this.  Sleep. If you are staying up past 11 pm or midnight chances are you are going to affect your appetite in ways that won’t make you happy if you are a dieter.  According to one study, ” physiologic evidence suggests short sleep may influence weight gain through effects on appetite, physical activity and/or thermoregulation”- see Sleep Study . In other words, getting less than 6 hours of sleep may put you at risk for feeling hungrier, being too tired to be active and/or affect your metabolism in ways that may promote weight gain that is not normal for you. Clues you may not be getting enough sleep: needing a long nap on a regular basis. Naps longer than 20 minutes or so tend to interfere with falling asleep at night, and so the cycle begins. Do me a favor, do an experiment for a week and don’t nap, don’t take electronics to bed, turn off the TV, avoid caffeinated drinks after noon, avoid alcohol and try to get to bed by 10 pm (if you can). See how you feel.
  6.  Learn Learn Learn. If you look at your “diet” solely as a means to lose weight and change the way you look you are bound to be back where you started eventually. Instead, this may be an opportunity to learn so much about yourself. You may be forced for the first time to go grocery shopping in different isles. You probably have to cook more, and this is a good thing. Most healthy minded people I know have learned to enjoy cooking because in order to eat something both tasty and healthy, you really do need some skills. It does not have to be difficult, the microwave is fine. I know people who may have gone on and off diets but always have a few recipes they kept because they were really good. I suggest keeping a collection of dishes you have tried, maybe fast lunches or crock pot meals. No need to ditch the yummy healthy recipes you will find on this journey you have chosen. I tend to jot things down when I find a recipe I end up loving. I use google a lot! For example “Healthy Breakfast Casserole” gave me my favorite fast make-ahead breakfast for when I have company. “Best Ever Quinoa Sliders” and “Best Ever Gumbo” gave me other favorites. It really can be fun! I jot them down and stuff them in my recipe box (hopefully, you are more organized than I am). But healthy cooking is one thing to learn and keep, learning about yourself is the other great thing. Some changes come easy (maybe you discover yoga and love it). Some changes seem impossible. You may learn you struggle with one thing or another. Maybe it is too hard to break a night eating habit. Maybe you discover you can’t stop eating certain foods in moderation. No matter what happens to your weight, you will learn about yourself. And if you can’t fix it,just learning that you may need some help/support is a life-changing accomplishment.
  7.  If your diet program only focuses on food, be careful. Our eating habits are no simple matter! It drives me crazy when programs or health professionals spit out obvious information we all know without considering the individual experiences of a person. “Don’t eat too much sugar”, “Exercise more”, “Take smaller portions”, “Drink more water”,  “Limit eating out”, etc. etc. etc. What about the person who has tried to be active but just can’t because they were made fun of their whole life in gym class, failing that stupid pull-up test and mile run? What about the person who has been using food for 30 years because for them, it really is the only way they feel better? Or the person who has dieted for years and just can’t get out of that “all-or-nothing” mentality? Or the super picky eating adult who still only eats 3 foods? What about emotional eating, binge drinking, workaholism, stress, hating your job, bad relationships, not to mention health issues such as hypothyroidism, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia? It is way too easy to give advice, to think you are helping someone by spelling out eating and exercise instructions. But that is just one little piece of the puzzle. If you are determined to use a diet plan, please know that it is not the end-all and there is no shame in needing support for other things you struggle with in life. It is all inter-connected after all.

So that is my simple advice. I have so much more I would like to share but time is short today! We are getting ready for a month on the road, doing some exploring of the Southern USA in January. Being away will give me that time to reflect on the New Year and where I want to go. So far, I will share one thing I have figured out since my retirement in July. I still feel obligated to share my experiences somehow, to hopefully help others. Especially in the world of pediatrics and how weight issues are treated at times in children. I feel the need to get my 2 cents in, so finishing that book, even if it is just published on Amazon, is definitely a goal. Other than that, like most everyone else, I will continue to be grateful for all the love in my life, from family to friends to past co-workers and patients, students and families. ALL are what make me so thankful and feel so blessed.

Oh, that adorable little guy in the picture reaching for the rubber ducky? My new grandson! At not even 6 months old, he made me realize we must be born with determination. I watched him for hours mastering the skill of grasping for his toy (that is after he took a few months to get the fingers-in-the-mouth skill down pat). His face was contorted from concentrating so hard. His eyebrows furrowed, he looked so intense, he tried so hard. And when he finally got it and found out how to bring it to his mouth, the delight on his face was just awesome. We can do it, too. We can find our balance. It won’t come easy, nothing good or worthwhile ever does. If you are reading this, you surely were successful with lots of things in life (you got the ducky!). You got this, too. Happy New Year!!!!!

Thanksgiving: Feeling Thankful When Life Isn’t Perfect

321602_278316702194454_4244576_nIt was probably mid-July when I started to write a post about dust and sunlight. It was going to be about what you do when the sun shines through the windows in the late afternoon and illuminates the room so that dust that is normally invisible can suddenly be seen. I was going to make an analogy with our lives, and how sometimes we have moments where something strikes us about ourselves and we become truly clear about what we need to do……yet  we still don’t do anything….we leave the dust there, even though we know we should probably clean it up.

But that post never got finished because life turned kind of upside-down. Well, my laptop also was on the blink so I could blame that too. The reality was we had worked for almost a year getting our house ready to put on the market. We got rid of lots of random stuff we never used, we cleaned the attic and garage, we painted and fixed things and finally, we said “now or never”. All that work paid off. The house sold in a day. The closing came fast and before I knew it I was following my husband in a rental truck, me in our car down 84 west…..we were moving to Florida.

I was kind of pushed into an early retirement, having to leave both part time jobs that gave me so much joy (working at Connecticut Children’s Hospital and the Gengras Center School for children with special needs). I was leaving behind almost all of my family and most of my closest friends. My beautiful garden was left to someone else. I stuffed as many sentimental flower pots and lawn ornaments I could into that truck but moving to a condo meant I couldn’t take it all. It was hard to drive away from a life that took decades to build. And yet, I was so excited to be retired and not have to drive through any more snow storms during rush hour. I was thrilled to be in a new place where I could have sunshine and walk barefoot and swim most days of the year. Was I doing the right thing? I was so happy yet so sad.

I was a mess.

But I survived this big upheaval in my life. I am sure some of my friends reading this are thinking I am crazy to have even one ounce of regret. I mean, not having to work and living in the sunshine state? What on earth is there to complain about? I actually did (and still do) feel a gigantic sense of relief that I won’t have to deal with having to drive somewhere everyday, or deal with snow, especially driving in it, which I don’t enjoy. And as far as missing family and friends, well already I have visited for a few weeks and had more quality time with my daughters than I typically do (two sleepovers filled with lots of laughs). I dragged my mom down to Florida for a few weeks and trust me, she was ready to go back home. But the point is, I am realizing I can make time, precious meaningful time with my family and friends. It just may be more expensive, flying verses driving a few miles.

But what about joy? That’s what I got from work. That’s what I felt every day interacting not only with the cutest kids in the world, but the most inspirational co-workers, at both jobs. I have missed that joy and even though I have been so thankful for my easier but different life, I have not figured out this part yet. Yes, my visits with my daughters and family and friends back home gave me that joyful feeling, but I need it more regularly.

I have had a few moments down here though. I have met some amazing women who happen to be older than me. One in particular who happens to be 96 years old and sharp as a tack, as they say. She is absolutely beautiful, radiating a sense of happiness and joy. Whenever I have popped in to visit her she is always sitting near a window, soaking in sunshine or watching people walk by with her little bowl of Werther’s Original toffee candy nearby. She says she needs brightness and sunshine, lots of light makes her happy. She is funny and makes others laugh. When you ask what her secret is to looking so young (her face is smooth, not like you would expect for a woman in her 90’s who lives in Florida), she mentions her glass of scotch every night before bed. I doubt that is it, I am guessing it is her contagious joyful attitude. I was a bit worried when I heard she was in the hospital last week (due to COPD). Someone thought she wouldn’t be back. But then yesterday, while on a short golf cart ride around our block, guess who zoomed by? There was Bunny, sitting on the passenger side of the golf cart, her equally joyful and funny caretaker driving. I was thrilled to see her waving as she whizzed by.

I have also felt joy just listening to the ladies in my daily water aerobics class. That is the one reliable routine I have fallen into. Every morning at 9 am anywhere from 4 to 12 women, most in their late 70’s or 80’s join together to exercise. At first I thought I might be bored, not sure how much I would have in common with these women. But over time I learned their stories. Stories of pain and loss, and survival. So many have had some type of cancer, breasts removed, sections of lungs taken out, hip, shoulder and knee surgeries. loss of spouses and even children. And yet, they laugh and giggle constantly. They make jokes about their aches and pains and help each other modify the exercises to make it doable for everyone. They help each other, they are there for each other.

One remarkable lady lost her husband years ago, and then last year lost her older daughter in a car accident. She has an older son with special needs who often stays with her. She has health issues herself, yet, she shows up wearing her “bling”, making us all laugh and giggle. I love visiting her, her door is always open, no need to call, just pop in. Although the rule for our building is that you can only have 3 pots of flowers outside, Adele has ten times that! She is a gardener and loves her flowers. She says she just tells everyone she is “babysitting”. Anyway, this one particular day we were sitting on the couch and out of the closed guestroom came her son who I had never met. He struggled a bit with his walker, eventually making it out to the lanai. He introduced himself and even he made me laugh, telling me my feet were pretty (they are NOT, trust me). When I left her house that day and walked in my flip flops along the sunny brick walkway, I had that feeling, that feeling of happiness and joy. It hit me that I need to interact with people like Adele and her son and Bunny on a more regular basis. I need to be inspired by people who have gone through things most of us would struggle with. People who keep their sense of humor no matter what.

The one thing I sense these joyful people have is a feeling of thankfulness. They have gratitude for all that they do have despite their challenges. They are thankful for their sunny days and friendships. They are fulfilled by helping each other. Yes, they have gone through a lot, but they are survivors and they keep going, focusing on the funny side of life (which is always there, you just have to find it). I often hear someone say “we are so blessed!” These words out of the mouth of someone who survived lung cancer, needs monthly shots in her eye for vision issues, went through months of weekly infusions due to a rare infection that took months to cure. No complaints, no bitterness, just “we are so blessed”.

On this Thanksgiving day I know there are many going through really hard things. Many people I know have health issues, some have relationship struggles, others trying to make ends meet while raising a family. No matter what you are going through, what your struggles are, I hope you can learn from my new water aerobic friends the value of gratitude and looking at the good, not the bad in your life. As I write this, I realize how blessed I am. Now, time to make that pumpkin pie!!!!

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy every moment and all that you have.

PS. Thankful for my new laptop! More posts to come, next one probably to do with dealing with “the day after” Thanksgiving  : D

Checking Out: Sometimes, you just gotta do it

IMG_9335I cannot believe so much time has passed. Here it is, St. Patty’s Day 2019 and I have not written anything since last Fall? I used to be so disciplined, waking up early every Saturday morning to write. There was always something that felt pressing to talk about, or some important message (in my mind) to share with whoever might be interested. Sometimes, I just needed to vent over some ridiculous diet thing I came across, to be sure to set it straight. Over the past several weeks (months), however, I feel like I have “checked out”. Trust me, there have been moments where I have said to myself “OMG, you need to write something about that, that is ridiculous!”. But then, the holidays came, I needed to visit my mom, the couch looked more inviting than the computer, “This Is Us” sucked me in. Football. Politics. You name it, I had an excuse.

What motivates me now to write again? It struck me that what I am going through is probably very common. The feelings that surface when you don’t do what you think you should be doing are different depending on who you are, but I am guessing there are lots of people like me who feel a bit guilty, inadequate, not living up to expectations. The funny thing is that at this point in my life I thought I had gotten over all that. “It’s good enough” has been my mantra for years now. And yet, I have been judgmental of myself, feeling “intellectually lazy”. By that I mean, I just don’t feel like thinking sometimes. This is different than just feeling “lazy” physically, which happens to all of us (listen to your body, I always say).

Anyway, with the New Year come and gone, I thought, “should I make a resolution to start writing again?” Nah. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t believe in setting unrealistic expectations for yourself (just another reason to feel inadequate!). Instead, I have kind of accepted that my life may be shifting as I get older, closer to retirement age (although as of now, I just can’t imagine not working at the jobs I love, with people I cherish). Maybe it is coming to the realization that as time goes by, career is so much less important to me than other things in life. I feel like things are changing fast. I see my mom getting older, slowing down. And although I haven’t lost energy physically (thank God) when mom and I go for long rides in the countryside, neither one of us can remember where we are going or how we got there….FYI if you have to get lost in Connecticut, Litchfield and Cornwall are beautiful, New Haven not so much.

Yes, I have to admit I enjoy getting lost in the countryside and listening to my mom’s stories much more than thinking about dietitian kind of things. There are times when I quite honestly am really tired of being a “nutritionist”. I get tired of the reality that so many people think about eating and food in ways that to me are just not fun. Sometimes it makes me sad that a person can’t just “dig in” and enjoy food because their thoughts are busy judging, fretting, worrying, feeling guilty, planning, ugh. Sometimes I wish I did not notice these things, but because of my career and because of the clients I worked with for so many years, I can’t help it. I have spent decades trying to undo whatever damage I can, every chance I can. Even though I don’t work specifically with eating disorders any longer, I still try to give anyone a reality check who asks me for one. “Is the keto diet good?” NO. “Aren’t carbs fattening? ” NO. “Should I count calories?” NO.  And on and on and on. I have been trying in my daily life to help anyone who asks me a nutrition question to avoid the lure of crazy diets that promise to make you into something that supposedly is better than who you are right now. I have spent lots of energy over the years trying to teach people, anyone who asks, about a more holistic approach to feeling happy and good in your body. This involves intuitive eating (which is much harder for some than others, much more difficult than it sounds for those who have dieted or who have body image issues or disordered eating). It also involves good sleep, joyful movement, good hydration, healthy relationships and mental health in general.

So I guess the reason I needed a “time out” or to “check out” for awhile is just because I got tired. And just because I am writing now does not change anything. I still am tired of thinking about nutrition, but I am not tired of trying to help others enjoy their lives. I may have just shifted, I have noticed, into enjoying the cooking and cuisine aspect of it all more than the nutrition aspect. It is just so awesome to watch as someone (tentatively) tries a spinach ball or mango salsa for the first time, and ends of loving it. It is even more rewarding to see an autistic kiddo who used to only eat candy now accept pears and strawberries and blueberries. It even makes me happy when my corn-dog lovin husband tells me my quinoa sliders are delicious : D

My priorities have definitely shifted, and I honestly don’t know when I may feel like writing again, and who knows what I may feel like writing about….but spring is around the corner, so I am guessing it may have to do with flowers…..

In the meantime, please check out this article about how people judge what we eat, it says it all     .Don’t Judge

Happy St. Patty’s Day!! Hope you eat or drink something green today, and I don’t mean kale!

 

Ending the battle on obesity: can we talk about building health instead?

soupHave you ever gone to your doctor and had advice thrown at you without them even asking about the reality of your life? It is unfortunate that most jobs in the healthcare industry now revolve around “productivity”and making a profit. A friend of mine who consults in pediatrician’s offices around the state tells me the poor doctors scramble and stress about their time and seeing patients because their productivity is tracked by the companies that manage them. It is for this reason I believe some doctor visits seem rushed. It is probably why in some cases there is just not time for a doctor or nurse to get the information they need from you to counsel you appropriately. So many people I have worked with have told me they have felt insulted when told to “stop going to McDonald’s!” or “just exercise more” or “cut down on your portions” when the reality is they cooked only healthy foods, they ate tiny portions and they already were exercising. Or, even scarier, the eating disorder patient being told to “keep doing what your doing, your weight is good!” without even asking about the dangerous way the patient lost weight. So, it is not always lack of time, but, sadly, the tendency for people to make judgments about behaviors based on someone’s appearance or size.

A friend shared this great article with me recently that describes what is going on perfectly. In a nutshell, it tells personal stories of individuals and what they go through. It describes our “war” on obesity, and the repercussions of that war. Finally, it suggests changing our focus instead to one of promoting health.

Please take the time to read the entire article, it is worth it. huffington post article

The truth is, looking at our life as a whole instead of just the fat on our thighs (or butt or tummy) just may lead us in the right direction. Taking a look at sleep, stress, nutrition, physical activity, smoking habits, etc. and tackling a little bit at a time brings us closer to feeling good (and yes, probably looking our best, too). It is not glamorous or exciting or as dramatic as fast weight loss and the lure of dieting can be, but the difference is, it may be doable.

The Dieting Game: Can You Really Ever Win?

hungry man and burgerI have two questions for you. Question #1: Do you know anyone who followed a diet and lost weight? I bet you do, because ALL diets work. Yes, I said that. And NO, I don’t believe in dieting, but they DO work…..initially. If you ever tried one, then you know. That is why I often hear “I am going back on the Atkin’s Diet (insert Weight Watcher’s, Zone Diet, Hollywood Diet, etc) because I lost a lot of weight on it last year, it works”. Yes, all these diets “work” because they provide less calories (energy) than you were eating before (if you follow the restrictive guidelines spelled out in whatever plan). Voila! You lose weight.

Question #2: How many of those individuals that you know who were “successful” in losing weight continue to maintain their weight loss a year or two later? I am guessing there aren’t too many. Research predicts this, past experience proves this, yet, millions of people continue to support the diet industry (or continue to repeat the same diets over and over). Even worse than gaining back weight is falling into a destructive eating disorder, another fall-out of starting on a restrictive diet. If you are reading this and thinking “hey, I actually lost weight and have kept it off!” then you, my dear, are the exception. Hopefully, you are one of the lucky ones who made some positive changes in your lifestyle as a consequence of starting your diet; and hopefully, none of that disordered thinking that goes along with most diets did not stick.

I have known people who started exercising at the same time as dieting and learned they actually loved moving. They end up becoming yoga fans, or loving the gym or zumba, and enjoying every minute. Even when they give up the diet, they have successfully incorporated something healthy into their lives that is helping them have a healthier lifestyle (and body). Sometimes, people who are forced to learn to cook healthier because their diet calls for different foods realize they actually enjoy some of the healthier meals. They may learn how to shop smarter and eat out less and end up eating healthier in the end, even though they give up their weight loss diet. Again, these people are the lucky ones who have taken something positive from their restrictive diet and are able to move on and incorporate a healthy habit or two. But this is the exception rather than the rule.

Unfortunately, for most people, this is not the outcome of following a strict weight loss diet. Instead of loving the new exercise regime they started, they give it up immediately because the only reason they started it in the first place was to lose weight. And since they are off the diet, they of course are off the exercise. To them, exercise still feels like punishment, so why would they continue?

As far as learning and incorporating some healthier cooking and eating habits, most dieters end up missing the foods they have been restricting so much that they tend to overeat them once they give up their diet. They avoid salads like the plague. They go right back to the easier life of picking up fast food or eating whatever is quickest. They go back to that “all-or-nothing” thinking (and eating) because in the back of their minds, they know another diet will come (so why not enjoy it all now, right?).

If you are a dieter, but not one of the lucky ones who has evolved into a healthier lifestyle, and just can’t imagine life without another diet in your future, what other options do you have? How about a reality check?

The reality is that YOU are not like anyone else. Over the years I have learned that our bodies (and weight) are affected by so many complex factors that only focusing on eating/food/exercise is like taking a toothpick to chip away at an iceberg. You really need to get to the bottom of it. We all have our own “big picture” of what affects what we eat, how we live and what we are, and these factors can be supportive of health or non-supportive. What kinds of things am I referring to? I group these contributing factors into three categories:

  1. physiological
  2. behavioral
  3. psychological

If you do not address each of these areas then evolving into a healthy happy lifestyle is next to impossible. Although some diet programs attempt to address things like behaviors, positive thinking/emotional eating and metabolism, they typically only scratch the surface, and they tend to be “blanket” approaches. We are all different and what works for one may not work for another.

So where to begin? Instead of judging yourself (I notice people often beat themselves up emotionally when they fall off the dieting wagon) I recommend a “detective” approach. It means more of a problem-solving, discovery model of moving toward change rather than a judgmental approach. In other words, you just want to gradually figure out, step by step, by trial and error, how to move into a lifestyle that is better for your body (and mind and soul for that matter). For example, let’s start with #1: Physiological.

What kinds of things contribute physiologically to your body and weight? Here are a few:

  • Conditions such as low thyroid (hypothyroid),  PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome-a condition many women have and don’t know with symptoms such as irregular periods) and genetics all contribute.
  • Lack of sleep affects hormones that cause weight gain and food cravings.
  • Inadequate protein intake or imbalances in macro-nutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) may contribute to food cravings.
  • Not moving enough, loss of muscle mass, sedentary lifestyle in general compromises our body’s ability to self-regulate (in other words, active people are more in tune with their hunger and fullness, making it easier to avoid over-or under-eating)

As far as #2: Behavioral, some things that contribute to our not-so-healthy behaviors include

  • repetitive behaviors that have evolved into automatic habits (such as sitting on the couch the minute you walk in the door from work, or stopping in for a donut just because it is on the way to work, or eating in the car, or skipping meals, etc).
  • Non-supportive food environment: purchasing lots of unhealthy foods because it was on sale (hard to resist those buy-one-get-two chips!); leaving food on the counter where it becomes a trigger every time you walk by; not planning ahead for dinners so you have to resort to eating out; going to the grocery store hungry so you end up buying stuff you didn’t plan to buy
  • Clean-plate Club: you were made to finish your food even if you were stuffed because someone is starving somewhere
  • Eating food because it is free (such as when your work provides free pizza or donuts or whatever and you just had your lunch, you are not hungry, but you eat it anyway…because it’s free)
  • You eat food because you think you should, because it is good for you, even though you don’t want it or aren’t hungry anymore (note: some people with a history of disordered eating often do have to make themselves eat according to a meal plan, even when they may not feel hunger. This is critical for them as they may not be connected to their body signals).

And, finally, #3: Psychological

  • You grew up with lots of attention paid to body image, weight, dieting
  • You have used food throughout your life to provide pleasure (after all, you got a cookie when you were good growing up, now you can reward yourself whenever you want to)
  • You have used food and eating to stuff emotions (you are not good at expressing yourself or you grew up repressing how you really felt because it just wasn’t acceptable or permitted); you never received counseling or got help for this or you may not even be aware of it
  • You have dieted so much in your life that you are fearful of being without food
  • You had a parent (or spouse or friend or sibling) who restricted your food or commented on your eating or your body/weight and so you are rebelling
  • You have extremely negative “self-talk”, in other words, you beat yourself up in your mind way too much

These lists are just examples and do not come close to all of the factors that can have an affect on our eating and health. They are probably just the tip of that iceberg, and I am guessing you can think of many more examples in your own personal life. The bottom line message is to accept how complicated and intertwined all of these things become over time, and how difficult and complex it can be to figure it all out. It takes time. It takes more than a diet. So please don’t feel bad if you are one of those people who didn’t last on one. Instead, maybe you did learn something about healthy cooking or grocery shopping, or maybe you discovered you really do like grilled fish or roasted veggies. Don’t give those good things up just because you are not on that specific diet anymore.

Maybe you can use your experience with dieting and only keep what you want.

But then consider putting on that detective hat. Can you ignore what everyone else is doing, and instead start to look at your lifestyle, habits and emotions that are unique to you? Just start somewhere. Maybe you don’t get enough sleep. I promise you if you start getting to bed earlier (before 11 pm) and getting those 8 hours of sleep you will feel better immediately (and likely have less food cravings). Or, if you are tired all the time, or have irregular periods, maybe it is time to get checked out by your physician. You can’t be active or motivated if you are exhausted. You may decide to make a small change such as meal planning instead of eating on the fly. It is up to you, after all, you know your life best.

Can you win at the dieting game? Yes, you can. If you just take what you learn from them….and leave the rest.

 

 

Untethered Eating: Exciting….or Terrifying?

Image may contain: people sitting and foodI love the word “untethered”….not sure why, probably because it makes me think of a dog escaping his leash and running free to smell the grass, jump around and finally, being able to be the creature he was supposed to be. Maybe that is why when I arrived at the airport way too early last month on my way to Florida, I ended up impulsively buying a paperback in the airport bookstore. I actually almost always end up buying a book at that bookstore because we are ALWAYS early. Anyway, I ended up purchasing The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer because I liked what it said on the back, it was not too long and like I said, I like the word “untethered”.

As I was reading the book, it struck me there were lots of parallels that could be made with the way we eat. I tend to be slanted in the way I look at eating because of my experience with working with individuals with eating disorders and with parents of children who have the dreaded unacceptable BMI. I often react to things very differently than others. When really smart and educated, even insightful and spiritual people fail to react to something that totally infuriates me, I know I am prejudiced against some of our culturally expected natural instincts. Anyway, I know this is why this book struck me so hard in the way it relates to eating, and especially dieting minds.

To see what the book is about check out this description on the Untethered Soul’s website. The bottom line, to me, was learning how to live in the moment verses constantly reliving and regretting the past, and/or spending way too much time planning, worrying about or dreading the future (hhmmmm… do you know anybody who does that with food?). It was about that voice that is continually and always in our heads, barking orders, belittling, shaming and stressing us out. And although it is somewhat different (the book refers to inner consciousness) I have talked about “self-talk” before. It is a common term in healing from disordered eating. We sometimes refer to this nasty voice as “ED” (eating disorder), the one telling us we are fat, we are stupid because we ate something, a cookie will make us gain weight, and on and on. The first step is to start to become aware of that voice.

And that is what struck me about the book message and how it can apply to the way we eat (or try not to eat). Becoming aware of that voice is the first step to a more peaceful relationship with food. Being non-judgmental of that voice, no matter what it says, is also critical. The important thing is to become more conscious of what is going on. Not running from it, not trying to change it, and definitely not judging it. Just sitting with it and accepting it.

After reading the book I started to think about what “tethered” eating looks like. All of the things patients have said to me came to mind. The sad thing is some of the culturally acceptable messages also came to mind (so you can imagine how hard it is to heal from disordered eating when cultural messages about bodies and eating are also disordered……how do you fight the world?).  Some of the thoughts stuck in our heads that keep us tethered might be:

  • You need to lose ______pounds
  • You need to get down to a size _____
  • You need to get rid of that tummy (thighs, butt, insert body part)
  • Carbs are bad
  • You need to be “good” (meaning don’t eat “bad” food)
  • Don’t eat fried foods
  • Sweets are bad
  • Don’t eat after 6 pm
  • Read the label and don’t eat anything with sugar
  • You ate __________ so now you need to burn it up by exercising more
  • Cheese is bad
  • Meat is bad
  • Eggs are bad
  • Cookies are bad
  • Pasta is bad
  • I can’t eat what everyone else is eating
  • I can’t order what I really want in a restaurant

And on and on, you get the message. We are so wrapped up in perfect eating and perfect bodies (whatever that means) that we end up feeling tied up when it comes to food. I actually have witnessed people looking almost like a cartoon when they are faced with food. Imagine a child in front of a bakery counter, drooling over whoopie pies or amazing looking desserts and the mom pulling the kid away, the child’s neck still stretched as far as it can toward that sweet display. Sometimes, that is how people strike me, but there is no leash, no adult pulling them back, they are just drooling and denying themselves something they really want because of the subconscious “tether”.  Then again, at other times when I see someone gobbling something up, it is because they have decided to cut the tie and go crazy (just like the puppy running free, they really let loose). It is a natural instinct I imagine, after feeling tied up for so long. But it has nothing to do with enjoying food in a healthy way (or a normal way). There is nothing intuitive or conscious about either extreme (of restricting or overeating).

If you are someone who is trying to lose weight (or simply trying to be a “healthy eater”), you may be thinking “of course I need to control myself, if I didn’t I would eat everything and gain weight (or be unhealthy)!”.

Probably not, if you stop and think first. Not if you tune in to your true hunger (or your true desire, craving or need). Not if you get to a place of knowing you are truly free, and believing it.

Remember, although I wish everyone with disordered eating could do this and be free, I know it is not that easy. Eating disorders are complex, and getting better is not this simple. Stopping binge eating or recovering from anorexia or bulimia takes lots of therapy , work and medical attention. And although leaning how to “tune in” to true hunger (verses using eating or not eating for something else) may be part of the process to recover, what I am talking about now is directed more toward the “typical dieter” who is simply falling into the trap of thinking eating needs to be perfect, or a certain way in order to affect weight. Those of you with eating disorders need to work with your specialists to do what you need to do for your individual situation. I know you will agree, though, that EVERYONE would be happier and mentally healthier if they got off this crazy perfect eating bandwagon.

With that said, my goal is to give you healthy-eating, dieting, weight watching people a little reality check. Thinking you need to be tied, tethered or whatever to eating a certain way either for a certain time period, or forever is actually preventing you from being the healthiest you can be. Keeping yourself leashed to a specific and narrow way of choosing foods based on Lord knows what not only may affect your physical health, it is likely a drain on your mental health, too. Thinking about every bite you put in your mouth is not only draining, it prevents you from living in the moment and enjoying all that life has to offer. And even worse, it actually keeps you disconnected and less in tune with what your body needs.

But what about our health, you might be thinking? Of course we need to think about what we eat! It is the only way to make healthy choices, right? OK, here is the clincher: it IS a balancing act. You DO need to care about your health (which means caring about your food choices) but, you also DO need to be happy and live life. You DO NOT need to be tethered to anything. How do you do both, eat healthy but be free? THAT is the balancing act.

Here are some tips:

  1. Reject any “all or nothing” thinking. Example (my pet peeve, this drives me crazy): sugar is bad, therefore I need to avoid any foods that have a lot of sugar. I need to pick the yogurt with the least amount of sugar (even though I really don’t like it).  I can’t get the one I like because it has 10 grams of sugar. Mine only has 5 grams. Really? FYI 5 grams of sugar is a teaspoon of sugar (15 calories people). So, for an extra 15 calories you are not going to get the yogurt you truly enjoy? NOT THAT CALORIES MATTER but, the point is, 15 calories is only a tiny fraction of your total intake for a day. It is basically meaningless. Eat the darn yogurt you like, would ya!?
  2. Be skeptical of the latest craze. For example, avoiding gluten. If you have celiac disease or a true intolerance, that is one thing. But most of us don’t have this problem, we have no digestive reaction to eating gluten containing foods and there is no reason to avoid it. On the other hand, it is perfectly smart to avoid things that we know are harmful (trans fat, for example), or, if you have a medical condition and need to limit something (such as saturated fat) that is different. But for those of us who don’t have medical conditions, there is no reason to scrutinize every label and every bit of food we eat. With that said, avoiding weird additives and artificial dyes, etc, and preferring natural whole foods is a personal preference and choice, not what I am referring to here (I like real food myself).
  3. Educate yourself about nutrition, but don’t be perfect. I have said it before, it is smart to make healthy choices, to learn how to cook in a healthier way, to plan ahead in order to avoid spending money eating out, bringing lunch to work or school, etc. But just because you know what makes a healthy meal does NOT mean every meal needs to fit some perfect pattern. Being a dietitian is sometimes irritating because I am totally aware of what I am missing in a meal. And I know how my choices may affect how I feel later. I still, though, really do try to practice what I preach. A good example is my recent craving for avocados. For some strange reason, I have been wanting avocados every single day for the past several weeks. Maybe it is the changing weather, with warm weather finally arriving, who knows. Anyway, there have been days where for lunch I just smash that avocado up with some salt on a roll or other bread item and skip the usual protein source (often leftovers) I typically have. I may have other things in my lunch, but they definitely don’t have protein. But guess what? I feel completely satisfied and happy. I know my hair is not going to fall out just because I got 20 less grams of protein for lunch. Yes, I may get hungry earlier in the afternoon than usual, but who cares, that’s what snacks are for. I would rather be happy with what I am eating and truly enjoy my lunch rather than force feed myself a few slices of turkey that I don’t want. So care about your nutrition, but please don’t try to make it perfect.
  4. Make a decision about what you want to eat BEFORE you start eating. Some people are so “out of tune” with what they like, and so accustomed to denying themselves foods that they tend to have an internal war with themselves when they have to pick something to eat. They may want to heat up a plate of that leftover lasagna for lunch, but noooooooooooooooo! That was a splurge on the weekend, and today they have to be “good”. They should have a salad (the last thing they really want). So, as they start to throw together their boring salad, they grab a few wheat thins (they have deemed that as healthy, so that’s ok), then maybe a few grapes (safe too). Maybe a bite or two of cheese as they grab the lettuce out of the fridge. Oh, there’s that lasagna….maybe a cold broken piece of noodle off the top. Finally, after NOT enjoying any of the bites of food they mindlessly nibbled on, they sit down to their bland salad, feeling deprived, but safe. What if, instead, this person stopped for a minute to think about what they really wanted to eat? Maybe they first had to case the fridge to see what was available (smart). They would have discovered the leftover lasagna and made the executive decision that this would be what would be truly satisfying. They get the plate, cut a piece the size they know would be satisfying but not make them uncomfortable, heat it up, and they sit and enjoy their lunch. They leave the table feeling satisfied, not deprived. There is no need to keep going back to nibble because they have actually satisfied their appetite and had a perfectly acceptable, normal lunch.
  5. Slow down. Put the phone down. Turn off the TV. Get a plate (or a bowl). Sit. There just is no way to start to tune in to enjoying your food when you are distracted. If you want to work on being free from restrictive eating and following rules, and you have taken the brave step to allow yourself to choose a meal you really want, then you also need to pay attention to how you feel. It sometimes takes time to learn how much is enough. It is ok to make mistakes (that lasagna person may be satisfied with half of the piece they took, or may find themselves hungry an hour later if the piece was too small). It is a learning process. If you don’t pay attention and tune in to your tummy and how you feel, you will miss it.
  6. Be wary of peer pressure. It is just weird to me how people care what other people are eating (or not eating). When you are truly in tune with your hunger and fullness, and when you start to really know what you like or don’t like it is a great, freeing thing. But sometimes, it does not make sense to others. I think most of the adults I know kind of think they should not eat sweets, so they avoid them like the plague. But when there is some occasion to celebrate, and sweets are available, they just don’t get it that someone may not want any. Something like desserts and sweets  really do lose some of their allure with both children AND adults when they are not made out to be so naughty. Friends or family probably will comment either way, if you eat it or if you don’t (you can’t win, I am telling you!).  If you don’t want something, they will say “oh, you are so good” and if you do take something they will say something else. Don’t let the stupid comments of others make you either eat something you don’t want, or skip something you really do want. The important thing is to eat what, and how much, makes you feel right.
  7. Don’t stop caring about eating healthy. The reality is that a good part of the time we are actually not too picky and don’t care what is available to eat. You may not be on an avocado jag. You may not care if you have the lasagna or a turkey sandwich if that is what is in the fridge. Maybe the blackened salmon on kale salad with goat cheese appeals to you just as much as the chicken wings with onion rings. Why not go with the healthy choice? That is the smart thing to do. But, if you are really wanting the choice that you have previously had rules about, why not take that risk and get what you truly want? The key is to take the time to tune it to how much is satisfying and enough. For example, if a gigantic basket of onion rings (which I love) is placed on your table in a restaurant, having some is satisfying, but eating the entire basket just because they are there leads to discomfort later for most of us. Taking a serving and passing it on is not restricting, it is knowing your body and what makes it feel right.

Untethered eating is not for everyone. For those who have eating issues such as emotional eating, binge eating disorder, or who have other eating disorders or disordered eating behavior, moving to intuitive eating may not be doable on your own (but, hopefully, you are under good professional care and working on it). And for those of you who are dieters, or just trying to eat healthy, but simply can’t imagine taking that step, I hope you at least take that first step: pay attention to that voice. Ask yourself: are you regretting what you ate yesterday? Are you stressing about what you are going to eat tomorrow? Why not at least take a moment to be in the present. Don’t miss out on the simple joy of even one meal or snack you could be enjoying today.

Just like the puppy who breaks off the leash and runs free…..don’t you want to be free when it comes to thinking about food and eating? Just like that puppy who runs around and around and goes wild for awhile, eventually, he plops down and relaxes…..

and so should you.