What’s Keeping YOU From Blooming?

IMG_7668After spending 3 hours buying plants at 4 different nurseries, then over 6 hours working in the garden, there’s lots of time to think. It was exhausting (but enjoyable) work, dragging gigantic bags of potting soil around the yard, filling pots, sticking plants in the dirt, watering, rearranging while my husband trimmed what seemed like endless bushes and shrubs that then needed to be dragged away into the woods. All this while running inside for a “break” from the sun to catch up on laundry, vacuum under the beds, change sheets, wash floors and dust ceiling fans. When you have been away for 3 weekends in a row, then are home for the first sunny Saturday in weeks, well, it is pretty hard to ignore all the dust you can now see clearly.

Finally, the time came, that long anticipated time to take a long hot shower, pour a drink and sit outside on the chair swing watching the sun set,and getting  to finally  admire all of our work. My husband and I pretty much collapsed on that swing, silent for awhile just looking around at the trees against the sky, and the colorful flowers in the new cobalt and turquoise ceramic pots I just bought thanks to a gift certificate from my daughter for Mother’s Day : ) “Isn’t it just so beautiful? I just love it! I love this time of year”, said me, the person who pretty much can’t contain herself when she is among the beauty of nature and flowers. “Stop bringing me down!” my husband joked, as he often does when I get super-happy over what most people seem to ignore. We had our discussion about the yard, what’s left to do and everything else under the sun. The peace and beauty of the yard, the trees, the birds, the sky all struck me as heavenly. My husband said something to the effect that heaven is supposed to be like earth (so he read somewhere), and I could understand why someone would believe that. Whenever I am in a garden, it pretty much confirms for me that someone much bigger than us designed all this. When you think about every single flower, they are all so different and unique, yet each just as beautiful as the next. Just like us.

Which brings me to Zootopia…….the movie. Friday night, we went out to see it. We were exhausted from the long work week but, it was an early movie. What does Zootopia have to do with gardening? Yes, I have a touch of ADD and I don’t meant to change the topic, but it all will make sense later. If you have not seen the movie, and are a big fan of diversity, you need to go see it. The movie characters are all different animals, yet they all get along in Zootopia…well, kind of. Just as all of the flowers in a garden are different yet beautiful in their own way, one of the messages from the movie is the uniqueness of each individual animal (person).

But sometimes,(back to humans)….people don’t quite know they are unique and wonderful. Sometimes people struggle. The problems and issues are different from one person to the next, but usually, they are not alone in what they struggle with as others have gone through some of the same things as well. But it never feels like that, right? When people are struggling, it often feels like they are the only one. For instance, when a parent brings their child to Feeding Team and tells us how worried they are because Johnny only eats 5 foods, can you believe it? What is wrong with him?! It is a relief for the family to hear that Johnny is not alone. We see one kid an hour just like Johnny. When a parent brings in a teenager, newly diagnosed with an eating disorder, who has been losing weight, now won’t eat with the family, stopped socializing, is impossibly moody, a parent feels scared and alone, helpless. When they learn they are not alone, this disease strikes many young girls and boys too, and there is help, a parent starts to look a bit more hopeful. When someone can’t get out of bed because of depression, or someone can’t stop eating, or turns to food for comfort, they often feel alone, as if they are the only ones with this problem. Even if cognitively they know other people go through it, for them, if feels different. Other people can deal with it and stop, but they can’t.

Many people I have worked with who have disordered eating (either restricting or turning to food and binge eating) tend to blame themselves. Those who have body image concerns tend to pick on themselves. Just the other day, in the garden shop where I was looking to use my gift certificate and pick out some pots, the middle aged woman who helped me kind of threw me. I could not budge the giant pot I wanted without struggling (and since I did not want to risk breaking it, I asked her for help). When she easily lifted it and placed it on a wagon, all I said was “wow, this job keeps you nice and strong! that is great!” Well, that was enough to trigger her to respond with “but I need to get rid of this stomach!” as she grabbed her middle. It’s everywhere. Instead of saying “Yes, I love being strong!” she was focused on the negative about herself.  Unfortunately, I don’t think this is unusual at all. As we pick on ourselves for one thing or another, someone else is admiring us. I do it myself with my curly hair. Growing up in an era when having poker straight hair like Cher was the ideal, my long curly somewhat frizzy Italian head of hair was torture. I ironed it, wrapped it tightly around my head at night with millions of bobby pins, blew dry it, gelled it, anything to de-frizz it and make it be more like everyone else’s. Why is it that when someone compliments me on “my beautiful curly hair”, something inside me just does not believe it? Yes, I have a much greater appreciation for the ease of my curly hair, and at my age, no longer care if I look like everyone else, but still, there is that nagging memory.

Picking on ourselves is not limited to the physical realm. Living in this day and age puts lots of pressure to live up to some crazy physical standard, yes, but I notice people don’t always see the wonderfullness of themselves in other ways.  They feel as though they should accomplish more (even my husband, at the end of a very hard working day yesterday said “well, I only got to 2 things on my list” as if working 9 hours doing yard work was not enough?). A co-worker was upset the other day because she did not meet her “productivity” goals of seeing a certain amount of patients that month. She really does not have much control over who shows up, and she loves working with her patients, and develops great connections with them, yet instead of focusing on the wonderful part of herself, she was really down about something she could not even control. Another co-worker only works part-time was upset at herself because she was not sure she did enough for a family. Yet, she always stays late, makes phone calls from home, and goes out of her way for everyone. She is a wonder-woman in my eyes, yet I get the feeling she does not even see it.

Then there are those people who have accomplished so much in life, yet they don’t feel like they have. They have overcome obstacles, gotten to a good place in life, but still they feel they should be doing better. What is that nagging feeling of inadequacy about? Isn’t it alright to just stay where you are as long as you are making ends meet and healthy and happy, and move onto something else when the time is right? Like when you no longer are feeling content and happy. That is a different story. Another friend of mine got to a place in her job where things had changed and she no longer enjoyed her work. She left work everyday feeling mentally drained and unhappy. It was time to leave. But not because she felt inadequate, but because she was in tune with her own need for joy in her life and would not settle for anything less. She was brave to make the change, makes less money but has no regrets. That is different than the person who likes their job, is happy at the end of the day, yet does not feel good enough.

Is there something you have been struggling with that you beat yourself up for every day? Do you feel as though you are the only one, and that something is lacking in you because you can’t fix it? You probably are not alone. So many people struggle with things, yet many of those same people do actually get through it. You can, too. Sometimes, people need help and support from others, specialists, therapists, family, friends. I think the first step is even just recognizing that something is wrong, knowing you are spending way too much time worrying about a problem or feeling “not good enough”. Admitting you have a problem is a better place to be than denying it. It is totally alright to go at your own pace as far as moving forward, staying still is always better than going backward I have always believed.

So…..is there something that is keeping you from “blooming”? You are as unique and beautiful as any flower out there, you just may not see it all the time. In the movie (which I LOVED) the tiny little bunny wanted to be a police officer. The police force was made of giant animals like elephants and rams, and bulls, yet there she was, fighting to prove she could do it, too. The message was, no matter how you see yourself, or how different you feel from everyone else, you really can do it.

Happy Gardening!



What I learned about food and eating in Italy

IMG_5635 I recently returned from an almost three week vacation in Italy. It was an amazing trip in many ways, mostly because it truly validated who I am and why I like the foods I do, (and why I love dancing). I felt very connected to my roots. Growing up in an Italian family with a grandfather who spoke broken English and a grandmother who did not speak a work of English created many wonderful memories. Family was the center of our lives and meals and gatherings that centered around cooking and eating were just a part of life. I remember going to my grandmother’s house who did not speak English, and she would take chunks of aged Parmesan cheese and melt them on a gas stove as a snack on the end of a fork. Every Sunday was pasta and meatballs and fresh Italian bread.

In Italy I loved the way everyone was never in a hurry. Meals took a long time! If we went to a restaurant, the bread always came out with the olive oil first. Then the liter of homemade red wine which was cheaper than the water! and tasted better : ) And then the “first course” would come which was your pasta, pesto or sauce or whatever and it was always homemade. Then came the meat or fish, chicken was rare to find on a menu. And salad was last, always simple and always olive oil and vinegar. Dessert was offered but the funny thing was that every single breakfast we had at every hotel or B and B consisted of beautiful homemade cakes and croissants and pastry as well as some type of cheese and ham. We joked at the end of the vacation that we did not want to see another slice of ham or salami for awhile! Italians love their ham and prosciutto and salami! and the olives were out of this world. In fact, if you stopped in anywhere for just a drink you were always given a platter of food that usually consisted of cheese, ham, bread, nuts, olives and/or potato chips….I was in heaven.

What I loved the most was the feeling of never being rushed. Italians will never bring the check until you ask for it. They do not seem to care if you sit for three hours over the same plate…..they understand the importance of savoring a delicious meal and a glass of wine and spending time with friends talking. It was absolutely wonderful. Oh, and I had real gelato for the first time…in a word, YUM! But they have not learned about super-sizing…the cups were tiny….but just enough. It did not strike me that Italians wanted quantity, they were more into quality and deliciousness.

I hope to continue to take the time to enjoy and savor all that meal times represent. It is more than just eating. It is savoring and enjoying and connecting over traditions. Whether you are Italian or Polish or Asian or French or Hispanic, whatever your culture and your food traditions, take the time to learn about them, learn how to prepare them and cherish your heritage.

But it is good to be home!!!

Feeling “Full”

boy with cake

Back in the day when I was young, I am guessing it was easier to know if you were “full”. These days I find many of my patients are very confused about this. Now that we know a lot more about the physiological contributors to feeling both hungry and full it is easy to figure out why back then people didn’t struggle as much.

So what are some of the contributors I am referring to? This topic is so complex that I am going to only focus on three:

(1) Balanced Meals: we now know there are messengers that respond to what we eat that communicate to our brain that we got what we needed. For instance, if we do not include adequate protein with our meals, our belly may feel “full” but our brain will tell us we are not satisfied because of a messenger called NPY (Neuropeptide Y). If we do not consume adequate carbohydrate our serotonin levels will fall and likely trigger a craving for something sweet later on. Back in the day, getting “three square meals” a day was the norm (and you were very lucky if you ever got a dessert, and that was probably on holidays and birthdays!). Today, things are different. Family meals barely exist as families tend to be busier, children tend to be glued to computers and video games, and family meals have fallen by the wayside. A typical “meal” for many teens I have seen is a package of Ramen Noodles (not much protein there, more snacking will be needed).

(2) “Sensory Satisfaction”: research has demonstrated that when you eat while distracted (such as while watching the TV or on the computer) you do not get an adequate release of dopamine which tells your brain you are satisfied and can stop eating. Need I say more? With one small TV in the home, 3 channels to choose from, and the remote not invented yet, back then we all ate at the table.

(3) Fitness: studies show that people who are active are more in tune with their hunger and fullness. In other words,one of their fullness messengers (called PYY) works better. Back in the day, there was no choice but to be active. There was nothing to do in the house, so kids played outside. We had to walk 2 miles to school and then back home, etc etc etc.

So, feeling “full”, a very normal physiological function is no longer that easy. Working on having balanced meals, shutting off the TV and sitting at the table sounds like simple advice, but more important than most people realize. And getting outside to play now that spring is here is a good idea too!!


Is Pizza bad?


I find it somewhat funny when patients often ask me about a food such as pizza. “Is it bad?” Or maybe pasta, or bagels or potatoes. Why is it that some foods are so confusing to people? Why is there a need to classify foods as “good” or “bad”?

My simple answer is always “if you like it, it is good!”.

I think what people really want to know is “is this food good for me?”. The truth is there is a place for ALL foods in our lives. We all need to have a variety of healthy foods to feel good, stay healthy, and have energy. Yes, we need protein foods, fruits, vegetables, etc. But food plays a much more important role in our lives than just keeping us healthy. I am not a big fan of the slogan “eat to live”, because most of us have wonderful connections to certain foods and great memories around meal time.

For instance, being from an Italian family, holidays always came with specific foods. Easter breakfast had sausage and peppers, fried dough and ricotta pie. Christmas Eve had an assortment of fish dishes and Christmas day was always several gigantic pans of lasagna and eggplant parm. And sometimes, it is just simply wonderful to order a pizza delivered to your door on a Friday night after a long week at work when you are just too exhausted to even think about cooking.

Unfortunately we have been brainwashed to avoid carbs, avoid fat, avoid sugar, and that is why so many people are so confused. The diet industry relies on us to have these concerns, or how else would they be able to sell their products?

So instead of trying to judge if a food is “good” or “bad” why not try to eat healthy most of the time, but enjoy the foods you love, in moderation, listening to your hunger and fullness, eating so that you enjoy it and feel good afterwards;

In the end, you will be both healthy AND happy!

Habits: our brain’s fault

vegetable brain

We all have behaviors that we wish we could stop. Some people smoke and wish they never started. Some people want to start exercising yet they go straight to the couch the minute they walk in the door. Others want to eat healthy, yet just can’t drive by that fast food joint without going to that drive up window. You get the picture! What is going on here? Why is it so hard to change?

In all of these situations our brains have taken over to theoretically make life easier for us. In all of these situations a habit has been formed. Our brains have learned that when it gets a certain “trigger”, a “routine” follows that results in a “reward”. The first time we perform the behavior (walk in the door, take off our shoes, walk to the couch) our brains had to think through each step. But eventually, the step of walking through the door gets directly connected in our brains to the reward of sitting on the couch! We can already feel the reward! And that my friend, is a craving.  Our brain is now automatically wired.

How do we undo this unhealthy behavior? We need to start to rewire our brains! You can start with changing your routine. Instead of taking off your shoes, put on sneakers. Go outside instead of to the couch. Or take a different route home (bypassing your trigger). In time, the urges decrease (although the brain connections always remain, they are weakened, and your new healthier connections become strong).

So ask yourself: is there anything YOU do automatically, without thinking, that you wish you didn’t? What have you got to lose? Even just identifying your habits can be the first step to help you move into a healthier lifestyle.