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!

 

Giving Thanks For A Bumpy Road

Image may contain: people standing, tree, plant, sky, outdoor and natureThere is a reason I don’t ski.  And it is not just because I am not a fan of heights, I hate speed and despise the cold. Why would I ever want to sit on some shaky lift that brings you way up high just so you could freeze your butt off while at the same time sliding out of control at an uncomfortable speed….with those things strapped to your feet? Well, when a ski trip is a Christmas gift from your boyfriend at the time, what choice do you have but go?

It was not pretty. What was supposed to be a wonderful weekend spent skiing with friends, then cooking a nice dinner in a beautiful chalet in the mountains of Vermont did not turn out exactly as planned. This girl decided to criss-cross her skis on the last run down the (baby) hill. Just to be clear, the baby hill at Mount Ascutney in Vermont is like a wall (if you ask me). Anyway, when I found myself face first in the snow, I felt a new joint in my shin, somewhere between my left knee and ankle. Yup, something broke. I didn’t move, and I didn’t look at it because I knew I would faint. I just stared up at the blue sky and waited……I could see my friends come toward me and tear off their equipment so they could help. Thankfully, they both were in medical school and knew what to do. Being as it was on the side of a mountain, in the middle of nowhere, there apparently were no ambulances or stretchers, so I was gently placed on a toboggan, slid down to the waiting station wagon that transported me to the hospital. Long story short, my left leg had 2 breaks (tibia ad fibula) and when I could not walk with the crutches, they realized my right ankle was broken also. So I arrived home with not one, but two casts, one on my entire left leg and the other a walking cast up to my knee.

It just so happened to be in the middle of my dietetic internship (at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville) and now I would have to stay home for a month. I was not happy. One minute I was enjoying a daily jog around the city of Nashville and bee-bopping around the hospital learning how to be a dietitian. I had just finished a dance-a-thon at the college. Now, I was flat on my back….for a month.

It was my younger brother David who said a few words that changed everything. Just as I was feeling like life was over, he said “just think….this is probably the only time in your life that you are legitimately going to get to sleeze!” hmm. I am not one to “sleeze”. I have lots of energy and feel lots of guilt when I don’t do what I think I am supposed to do. This was not easy, yet, I realized he was probably right. There was nothing I could do but wait. I might as well enjoy it.

So I started to watch all the dumb TV shows I never would have time for before. I read magazines and played board games and cards with whoever would sit long enough on the couch with me. The month flew by and before long, one cast was off and the other cut down to a walking cast, and I didn’t even need my crutches. Back to school, work, studying and moving again. The funny thing is, my brother was right. I learned so much from that time, a time that at first appeared to be a major bump in the road for me, one that made me afraid and want to give up. After that, I learned I actually could get through things. Little did I know at the young age of 22 how often I would need to remember this lesson over the next almost 40 years of my life.

Have you ever had a plan, or a dream that did not go as planned? Have you gotten rejected from what you thought was your dream job, or dumped by who you thought was the love of your life?  Did you ever have the rug pulled out from under you just when things were going along just perfectly? In the world of body image and dieting, have you worked hard dieting and exercising and lost all of the weight you wanted, but then gradually found yourself back where you started? Or, have you struggled with an eating disorder, worked hard at recovery, gotten to a better place, only to fall into ED’s clutches again?  With Thanksgiving around the corner, I have been reflecting about all of the things I am grateful for. Like everyone else I imagine, the simple things come to mind. Family, children, friends, shelter, electricity, food, flowers, music, a job, eyesight, hearing, taste, legs to walk, hands to cook and garden, a cozy bed to sleep in, peace in my home, love in my life. As I reflect on all of this obvious stuff, what I realize is that I would not be here if I had not had the bumps in the road. When I look back, all of the times I felt like crawling into a hole actually equipped me with strength. With every fall, I learned something about how to cope. Yes, it would be lovely if we could avoid every painful experience, or so it would seem. But I imagine life would be so much less rich, way too vanilla. How can you appreciate warmth if you have never been cold? How can you appreciate peace if you have not experienced friction? How can you treasure freedom if you have never been imprisoned (by something)? By that I don’t mean the steel bars of jail, but what may feel just as restraining and debilitating. Rules about how to behave, self-expectations about where we should be by now, self-imposed standards about pretty much everything. And I could go on and on about that one.

So with Thanksgiving and the holidays coming up, I think a lot about the people I have know throughout my life and how they are coping. I think about former patients and pray they get through all this, and even find themselves enjoying it all. I think about those who are dieting and have fallen (or feel like they have fallen) because they have taken a bite or a serving, or maybe succumbed to a binge because of all the triggers around this time of year. I can almost hear their self-talk and feel the weight of the guilt that descends like a ton of bricks, like a loud yelling voice, a voice that insults and berates….a judgmental voice.

It has dawned on me that when it comes to pretty much everything in life, we need to fall. But it is how we look at our falls that matters, not the fall itself. Even if it is not that we fell, but that something was thrown in front of us that caused us to stumble, it matters how we decide to look at it (yes, decide, because it is our choice). I understand that we are all different as far as how resilient we are. Some of us can just stand up after a fall, dust off our clothes, and move on. But others tend to get dragged down, and just can’t stop thinking about what they could have done, should have done, or even fall into the blaming of everything on their bad luck. Any way you look at it, these are what some consider to be the negative-ish people that always seem to complain about their circumstances. They may not be able to help it, it may just be their nature. But I like to think that if we become aware of what we are doing, and we don’t like it, at least we can decide to experiment with going in a different direction. Notice I said “experiment” and not just “decide to do it”. Maybe because I am not a fan of commitment when it comes to changing behavior. I think it is rarely that easy. I believe we do need to try different approaches to things, and that we don’t always know right away what may work for us. Part of the problem I see is that many people who want to change think there is only one way to do it, and that is just not true. There are a gazillion ways to change, and sometimes we need to try dozens of different things before we ease into what works for us. And therefore, that requires stumbling. And falling. But then you get up. And when you do, I hope you smile and say “that was interesting! well, that didn’t work! I wonder why…………..let me think about this”. Analyze it. What happened? What were the barriers? What are your triggers? How do you get rid of them? And then start experimenting….again.

Sometimes, though, the bumps in the road have nothing to do with us or our choices. Sometimes, really bad and sad things happen that we have no control of, and these sad things really affect us. Losing a loved one is the hardest thing (in my opinion). My mom has been struggling with the loss of my dad over a year ago. A friend of hers (who also lost her husband years ago) said to her “don’t let anyone tell you when you should be over it. It took me 7 years. It takes as long as it takes”. This one statement helped her so much. She let go of her own expectations and self-judgement as to why she was not in a better place. She now accepts where she is and does as much as she can to help herself. She is getting out, and hiking up mountains and getting lost in corn mazes (it was a first for both of us, we both get lost at the mall, a corn maze was not a good idea). She talks to strangers wherever we go. When she grocery shops (which is often…she is not good at keeping a list) she donates to the food banks when they are there. She bakes cookies for us and still cooks on Sunday. But, she no longer seems to be expecting herself to live up to some magical standard when it comes to getting over the loss of a man she spent decades with.

So with this holiday season, I wish everyone would be thankful for the bumps in their lives. I hope we all just accept wherever we are (it is probably where we are supposed to be, after all) because we may have more to learn. We DO have more to learn. We probably will ALWAYS have more to learn. I never want to be that person who knows everything (or who thinks they do). I am not a fan of those kind of people. I prefer the real ones.

I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, and hope you find lots to give thanks for. Family, children, friends, shelter, electricity, food, flowers, music, a job, eyesight, hearing, taste, legs to walk, hands to cook and garden, a cozy bed to sleep in, peace in your home, love in your life.

The Gift of Good Enough

When my son turned a year old, I made him a Choo Choo Train cake. It did not look like this. It kind of resembled a train “wreck” if you ask me. The frosting was kind of thick and it definitely did not have great wheels. I am not artistic but for some reason, since he was my first (and only) son, I thought he should have a train. When I look back, I realize no matter how bad I felt about the appearance of that very important cake, it was good enough. Now, he lives in a different time zone, and he has a birthday coming up, and I bet he would love to have me there making him a cake and would not care at all what it looked like. And neither would I.

Although this is a “nutrition blog” the idea of “good enough” is relevant. It doesn’t only apply to baking the perfect looking birthday cake for your child. It applies to all aspects of life, and especially to eating (and exercise). I have observed that many people tend to turn to food and eating to feel better about not being “good enough” in some aspect of their lives. I also have seen people avoid eating and starve themselves because they don’t feel “good enough”. Let’s face it, people, women especially, are super critical of their bodies. They are NEVER good enough. I don’t think it is always about comparing yourself to others, but often just being hypercritical of yourself. I have witnessed both women and men be critical of their bodies (but mostly women, probably because we women spend more time on things like appearance….unfortunately). Much of the time the discussions focus on weight loss but sometimes I notice we tend to over-scrutinize body parts. Butts too big or too flat, legs too flabby, arms too thin, chest too small or too big, hips too big or no hips at all. I am always fascinated when I get the chance to people watch on a beach. It is so glaringly obvious how different we all are when it comes to our bodies. Tall, short, muscular or not, round, straight, long legged, short legged, even kids and teens all differ. Dark, light, red headed, brown or black or white haired, curly, straight, bald. No two people look alike. And yet, we still scrutinize as if we can change things, and even worse, when we can’t we blame ourselves.

It is not only our bodies that we want to perfect, it is our eating. I absolutely love those nutrition-innocent adults I know who “just eat”. They don’t read labels, they don’t analyze every ingredient, and they definitely don’t jot it all down in their app. They may be healthy eaters or not-so-healthy eaters, but still, I just love them,probably because in my world it is refreshing to be around people who are not obsessed with it all. Yes, I do preach healthy eating and totally believe in the fact that you do feel better when you tend to eat a variety of healthy foods on a regular basis.But is it really necessary to find that one bar with less than 5 grams of sugar? What if it does have 10 grams but also has protein and fiber and tastes good? 5 extra grams of sugar translates into 20 calories. Do you really think that will matter? Yet, I have overheard people talking about things as minute as this, just to be a “perfect” eater. There are other things people monitor, and actually, some things definitely worth avoiding (such as trans fat). But when we take it to extremes, it just creates stress (not good for health).

Besides bodies, and eating, many people also have unrealistic expectations about exercise. I had a wonderful experience awhile ago with working with a young woman who was not feeling too energetic and thought maybe eating better would help. As it turned out, she was not sleeping well at all. She had recently moved and previously had been working out at the gym for 2 hours a day. Now, she just did not have the time so she stopped. She admitted to being an “all or nothing” kind of person, and said that if she could not do a full 2 hour workout, it wasn’t worth it. I shared with her some recent article I read stating that even 30 minutes of walking daily helped people sleep better. Anyway, I asked if she thought she might be able to incorporate something like that in her life to see if it helped, even though it was not her “perfect” workout. She agreed to try. Only a week later, she came in all energetic and happy. “This changed my life!” she said. Apparently, just adding in the walking helped her sleep which made her feel so much better. We also tweaked a few things in her diet (her snacks and lunch were lacking protein and so she was crashing pretty regularly). After adding in some protein sources and the walking (both doable) she felt much better. The best part of all in my mind was that she was able to do it despite her old “all or nothing” frame of mind. She was totally ready to change from that paralyzing way of life and embrace normalcy. It is not always that easy.

Anyway, I think we all can relate to being somewhat picky about certain things in our lives. We had fun at work the other day talking about all the things we had some OCD (obsessive compulsiveness) about. I just can’t leave dishes in the sink at night (it needs to be empty in the morning). I also can’t be late for anything. I used to have to stop on the treadmill when I was finished (say 3 miles, or 2 miles, but could never stop at 2.5). Now, I stop on some off number just on purpose (2.33 miles, or 2.71 or even 3.2). I do this just to challenge myself and stop being so silly. When I shared that with some co-workers they all cringed. It really bothered one person especially, and she said “Ugh! I could never do that!”

Has anyone every accused YOU of being a “perfectionist”? Can you relate to some of these scenarios? You might enjoy this article on perfectionism in Psychology Today

In the meantime, just for fun, why not challenge yourself? Don’t read that label. Don’t jot it down in that app. Skip the gym and go for a walk. Or stop on the treadmill (or bike or elliptical) on an off number. How does it feel?

And next time you are at the beach, or anywhere for that matter where you are people watching, embrace the beautiful diversity. And remember, “good enough” is a gift you can give yourself.

 

5 Tips to Deal With Food Anxiety: When You Can’t Make Up Your Mind About What to Eat

buffetI am not a fan of buffets. I remember the very first time I went on a cruise, and hearing about the buffets and how wonderful they were. Not to me. Don’t get me wrong, the food looked amazing, but there were way too many choices: Asian food, Mexican, Italian, Thai, sushi bar, ice cream bar, salad bar, dessert bar, fruit bar and good old American burgers and fries. I would see something I thought looked yummy, but then walk a few feet and change my mind. I know the limits of my tummy capacity and there was no way I could try something of everything. So instead, we decided on the sit down dinner option (the only negative being you had to look presentable). Anyway, this option ended up being perfect. Each night we were presented with a limited (gourmet) menu with only a few choices for appetizer, salad, main course and dessert. This I could do. Not to mention, we were treated like royalty, and the food was spectacular. I loved it.

Cruises aside, I believe having anxiety about what to eat or even whether to eat is a common thing, especially among those who are trying to eat healthier, or trying to lose weight. Yesterday I did a workshop on a college campus (all women) and one of the questions was “How do we know what to eat? What do we go by? I have a friend who writes everything down, all this information about what she is eating (like grams of carbs, calories, fat), it seems so stressful, and I just don’t have time for that!”

Great question, I thought. But it is so hard to answer in this technological and perfect-body focused world we live in. Even websites and apps with good intentions, and that want to promote health (such as the Choose My Plate website) seem to be fat-phobic and hyper-focused on monitoring every morsel of food and calorie burned in exercise, all with the intent of assisting someone in attaining a lower weight. But with technology, and all of the new food products out there taking advantage of our phobias of sugar and carbs and fat, it really can get confusing. I hear people wondering out loud if their lunch is healthy, if they should eat this or that, complaining about eating something they consider “bad”, feelings of guilt about what they eat, or what they want to eat. When it comes to deciding what to eat for breakfast, or what to pack (or buy) for lunch, or what to cook for dinner, people struggle. And when a restaurant is involved, it can get very confusing.

Some people may not be able to relate to this stress at all. They eat whatever is there. They truly don’t care. God bless you! But please don’t get frustrated with your family members or friends who just can’t ignore the bombardment of nutrition information or body shaming that is out there. So, this post is for them. If you get really confused about what to eat, or if you feel bad about choices you sometimes make, here are some tips I hope make you feel better. After all, eating is only one small part of your very interesting life!

Tip #1: Food isn’t everything. Look at your “big picture”. When it comes to being healthy, things like stress at work, poor sleep, not exercising and not having good friends and/or family are truly more important. Food comes next. If you figure out how to make everything else good, usually eating healthy is much easier. So, answer these questions honestly: do you sleep well? are your relationships healthy and nurturing? do you love what you do? are you able to be active? If you don’t have these issues settled then it will be much harder to figure out how to manage to eat healthier too.

Tip#2: Do you eat your 3 meals a day? Breakfast, lunch and dinner are words that our modern lifestyle seems to forget. Back in the day, I remember looking forward to eating lunch. These days, lots of people feel guilty taking time out of their busy lives to enjoy a good lunch and instead get by with coffee, packages of crackers or fast snacks. They down giant coffees instead of breakfast and wonder whey they need to nibble all night. Making meal times a priority in your life is important. If you nurture your body by giving it enough energy in the form of a meal three times a day, you are more likely to feel good, have energy and make wiser choices when it comes to eating and your health.

Tip # 3: When it is time to decide what to eat, and you are confused, ask yourself: am I craving anything? If you are, well, there is your answer as far as what to eat. Remember, a craving is when you really want something that you did not see. It is different than a trigger food, which is a food you see and then think you want. You can get over a trigger food, because once you walk by it (or change the channel or walk away from the coffee break room where the donuts are) you will forget about that food. But, if you are truly craving a food, if it is on your mind all day (for example, I sometimes really really really want Buffalo Wild Wings boneless Thai wings and boneless Garlic Parmesan wings). I start thinking about them at work and have to order them so I can pick them up on the way home. This happens about 3 or 4 times a year. It doesn’t matter what I may have planned for dinner or what is simmering in the crock pot. I want wings. I believe in listening to that voice that tells you that you want something specific. You really can live without a salad every meal. If, on the other hand, you are not craving anything specific, then by all means, go home and have that yummy healthy whatever you are simmering in that crock pot. (Note: for those suffering from Binge Eating Disorder or other eating disorder, this advice may not apply and you should use the strategies that work for you).

Tip #4: If you are one of those people who are confused about your feelings of hunger (not really sure if you are hungry or not) then it can be difficult to know if you should eat or not. If you can relate to this, then you might want to do some reflecting at those moments when you are wanting to eat, or not sure if you should eat, or perplexed as to how much you should eat. First, ask yourself: when did I last eat? If it was an hour ago then you may not really be hungry. If it was over 4 hours ago then chances are, your are hungry and need to eat. But the other important question to ask is”what did I eat?” If you actually did eat only an hour ago but thought you could get by with just a yogurt for lunch, then you my friend are probably hungry. If, on the other hand, only an hour has gone by and you had a good meal with protein, fat, carbs and fiber (think nice sandwich with meat on a roll, lettuce and tomato, some pretzels and a yogurt) then you might not really be hungry and should try to figure out what you really DO need.

Tip#5: Nutrition Matters, but one meal does not make the man (or woman). In other words, yes, you need to learn about healthy eating, cooking, food preparation, and the basics about what someone your age needs to have energy and be healthy. You may not like milk so may need a calcium supplement. You may not eat meat so would need to find another source or protein and iron. Yes, there is a reason we nutritionists say you need to “eat a rainbow” every day (make half that plate colors!) But, your body does not really care that your day to day eating has to be perfect. All it cares about is that over time, you get what you need. Nothing bad will ever happen just because you did not drink milk or eat veggies and fruits for a day or 2. Trends over time are what matter.

So, if you don’t want to think too much about eating or nutrition, well, that might be a good thing. Instead, keep it easy. Just work on increasing the basics: more fruits and veggies, including protein foods with your meals so you don’t crash and drinking more water.

Extra Tip: If you ever find you stress out too much about what to eat you may want to seek out some support from a therapist who specializes in eating issues. Life is too short, and eating should be a joy, not add stress to your life. In fact, too much anxiety around eating may be a risk factor for disordered eating (see link below for a summary article on the relationship between anxiety and eating disorders). In the mean time, enjoy those buffets in moderation. Me, I will be at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Anxiety and Disordered Eating

 

Being Thankful For Good Enough

great book by Veronique Vienne

Anxiety over imperfection. That is the statement that got stuck in my brain at 4:45 am this morning as I was struggling to make myself stay asleep. Despite telling myself that today is the only day this week I can sleep in….I just couldn’t. When you are tormenting yourself about whether you should make mashed potatoes or not for your Thanksgiving Dinner it is hard to sleep. What is going on here? What happened to my priorities?

Sometimes I feel I have been fighting this my entire life. Not sure, but I am guessing I have already written a post about it (so forgive me if this is repetitive). Although at this stage in my life having “things”perfect is not at all important to me (anyone who has witnessed what my hair looks like on any given day of the week can testify to this). And if you glance upwards in my house in almost any room it will confirm to you that perfection is not something I suffer with (and the spiders are very happy about that). But that is my physical world. When it comes to “performance” or maybe it’s behavior, or how I may be affecting other people, well that is a different story.

I am guessing I am not the only one who absolutely needed to get the A on a report card. Back in my high school years that C+ I got in typing really bothered me (I told myself I would never take a job where I needed to type anyway and that helped me deal with it..remember, computers weren’t invented yet). Unfortunately, I couldn’t predict this modern world where I have to type every day of the week. Anyway, as time went on, this feeling of wondering if what I was doing was good enough seemed to get worse as responsibilities grew. The first time I was criticized by the chief dietitian in a medical center where I was doing a practicum almost crushed me. It was just the start of my career in the nutrition field and my first experience working in a research hospital, and even though I was not a dietitian yet, it was a lot of pressure. I thought I was doing my best. Yes, I was very shy back then and spoke very softly. That is what put her over the edge I think. She took me in her office and pretty much yelled at me for not being confident. It was horrible. For heaven’s sake, I was probably 19 years old. Although I left in tears, in the end, like all painful experiences, it was a gift. It took a while to digest it all but she was right. I needed to work on this, and so I did. By the end of the summer practicum when I had to do a presentation in front of a large group (well, about 25 people, to me that was big) I nailed it.

But that did not change that inner voice that seemed to always question if I was doing enough. Enter my first child, Jennifer. I was proud of myself for making it through a long labor the natural way, it is what I went to those birthing classes for and I did it! But could I successfully breast feed my new baby? I will never forget my wonderful Italian grandmother looking at me with doubt. She actually said “are you sure you are going to have enough?” She was assuming the size of your breasts were correlated with how much milk you could make. Thank goodness that is not true, but I panicked anyway. She was wrong. I was a natural.

After two more babies, I was blessed to be able to be a “stay-at-home” mother. I had so much energy and was able to keep up with the house, food, laundry, dirty diapers, doctor’s visits, holidays, playgroups, you name it. So why was I feeling like I was still “not enough”because I was no longer “the dietitian”? I was not making any money anymore and it felt weird. Most mothers I know today would have been thrilled to do what I was able to do. Of course, years later after going back to school and work (at the same time) it dawned on me that those years of staying home with babies was much harder than working full time and going to school. I always joke about the joys of getting to go to the bathroom by yourself, or even getting a lunch break where you can actually finish a sandwich. That does not happen on a regular basis for stay-at-home parents.

So then life went on and with experience came confidence in the job/career world at least. Now I know what I don’t know. It is probably a lot but that is totally ok with me because wherever I am working I have no problem asking for help or guidance. It took years to learn that it is alright that you don’t know everything. We learn so much from those around us, whether it is our patients, our students, our co-workers or in my case, even my children. Not knowing it all is not the problem. It is worrying about making everyone happy. That is my conclusion and that is what woke me up this cozy rainy Sunday morning when I should be sleeping.

So back to the potatoes. Are you planning your holiday dinner and wondering about the same silly things? You want the table to look pretty. You want to be sure everyone has a place to sit (in my case anyway). The bathroom needs to be clean. You need to have everyone’s favorite (so even if just one person wants pecan pie, well you need to make it).But what if you didn’t? Would it really matter?

In the end, for me anyway, there is lots of joy derived from all of this. For example, my sister-in-law Michelle is making my son’s favorite brownies as well as pumpkin moon pies. If you despise baking because it is so much work (like I do) that kind of tedious work sounds painful. But to her, I know the pay-off is seeing the smile on my son’s face when he sees that plate. Money can’t buy that feeling. When you give, you receive. Making people happy is a wonderful thing. But is there a line there, a limit to how much energy we should invest? Finding the balance between joy and stress? When does making people happy become a problem?

Only you have that answer. This time of year can bring a lot of both, joy and stress. The need for perfection in yourself, be it in your physical world (body, clothes, clean house, etc) certainly makes it harder. Needing to make everyone perfectly happy can also make this time of year hard. Getting the perfect present, making the perfect meal, sending the perfect card. I ask, do you care what gift you get, or what card, or what food is served when you gather with family and friends? Probably not. It is the people that are around us, the love, the laughter that matters. And I can’t wait for that! Mashed potatoes or no mashed potatoes, I bet nobody cares.

This will be the first Thanksgiving without my dad and we will miss him. I am going to make that pecan pie anyway because he is the one who liked it. I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving and hope you enjoy all that is truly important. The people around you.

 

 

 

Taking Care of Me and YOLO

Imagine people frolicking on this beach. Old friends from high school, now 30 years old (almost) playing volley ball, jumping on motor boats, reminiscing about the good old days. Best friends from high school, former team mates on football teams, lacrosse teams, now grown up with experiences we may not even be able to imagine (like my good friend’s son who is now a Navy Seal, very emotional for me to see him, so thankful to have the opportunity to hug a hero, and say thank you for protecting me), yes,all these friends coming together to celebrate the marriage of someone they all love. Adding to the wonderfulness of it all was getting to see my son from Colorado and his girlfriend for a few days, enjoying a 3 hour drive with them up to New Hampshire and back that otherwise would not have been so much fun….anyway, back to work today, the dust has settled, we now are getting ready for another busy weekend with a going away party for my husband’s daughter and her husband. It seems the fun never ends….and the time scarce. When am I going to write my blog this week?

My husband said “why don’t you just write a short one? why do you always have to write so much?” I realized, he was right. I have these expectations for myself, and sometimes it seems it just never is good enough. You would think I would know by my age, what is important….like family….and sanity.

And so I just want to bring up the topic of perfectionism…..and the danger of missing out on life. I learned a word from one of my students who came to see me for some nutrition counseling at a college where I work. She was saying how she had some Chinese food (General Tsao’s chicken) and then she said ” you know, YOLO”…what is that? I asked….and she explained, YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE. Although I did make sure she understood that there is nothing wrong with eating food like that, I really loved the expression. It made me think of my dad, and the day he was told he was now in Stage 4 for his esophageal cancer (less than 6 months to live we were told). He had not been able to eat much for weeks. But for some reason, he wanted to stop at a locally famous hot dog joint (Capital Lunch in New Britain CT). He actually ate 2 chili dogs. He passed away less than a week later.

So you see, it is ok to not always do the best you know you can do. Sometimes sanity is more important. I apologize for any typos. I just don’t have the energy to go back and check. Maybe this weekend. But right now, I need to take another sip of wine and watch the first episode of Blacklist. YOLO.

What Do Dietitians Eat?.

IMG_5485When it comes to food and eating, life as a dietitian is kind of weird. I remember clearly when I changed my major from biology to nutrition when I was a sophomore in college. When I went to the cafeteria with the same friends I always went with, I had this feeling that I should be setting some kind of example by what I ate. It is kind of funny, because I really am not a huge fruit fan but I remember thinking I should take an apple because an apple is healthy (not that I was a horrible eater but I really did not want an apple). Another day that week, all my friends were getting ice cream from some truck that only came around once in awhile. I wanted some! I think I lasted about a week trying to make this good impression, but on this ice cream day, I made a decision that it was not healthy to NOT eat ice cream! Way back then, when I truly was not even slightly educated yet, I had the instinct to know it just did not feel right to make yourself eat something you just did not really want just because it was healthy.

These days, after many moons of being a dietitian and knowing literally dozens of them personally, I think I can speak for most when I say we sometimes feel like we are under a microscope whenever we eat. Well, not with close family and friends because they know us and they quite frankly don’t really care about what we eat, they care about much more important things (such as how we are doing with our jobs, how our loved ones are doing, what we did on vacation, when we are getting together again, all that good stuff). It is the people who barely know you, such as extended family or co-workers or other casual acquaintances. Heaven forbid you mention you have to stop on the way home and pick up wings for the game (YOU eat wings?). Another common response: “I can’t believe you are eating that!”   Or if you walk into a break room at work and someone is eating pizza or birthday cake (or some other labeled “bad” food), inevitably the comment is made…..”you aren’t going to like this. You won’t be happy!”  Huh? Free pizza? Not happy?

I think you get the picture. It is assumed that dietitians are perfect eaters and never eat foods that are not considered healthy. It is also assumed by many that dietitians will judge what you are eating.

Let me share my experiences (and these are just what I have noticed) in my 35 years of being a dietitian, working with dietitians, going out to lunch with dietitians, planning parties with dietitians, cooking with dietitians, volunteering in soup kitchens with dietitians, etc.

Dietitians, like everyone else are all different when it comes to their attitudes about food and eating. But most I have met and known  have these things in common (my experience only):

  • they believe health is important and having a healthy lifestyle is important to them (for instance, I can’t think of one RD I ever met that smokes cigarettes. Which is not to say they would judge anyone else if they did).
  • even though they believe in a healthy lifestyle, they are not perfect either
  • they care about people in general and became a dietitian because they want to help people be healthier (be it through working directly with people, doing research on nutrition, or teaching others about nutrition)

When it comes to what and how they eat, I have noticed differences among the dietitians I have known:

  • Most enjoy cooking, some absolutely love it, however some don’t like it at all
  • Most really enjoy social eating and gatherings centered around eating, such as going out for a dinner, having a celebration where you can plan for some great food, bonding over meals, visits to cool places such as vineyards. I have never tasted food as good as our Nutrition Department holiday parties!
  • Although most dietitians are very aware of the nutritional content as well as calorie content of foods, most I have known don’t pay that much attention to it. Instead, they just tend to cook healthy foods that taste good, and eat them. They tend to pack some really yummy lunches that also happen to be healthy (think chicken wrap with spinach, feta and craisons or leftover Mexican grilled shrimp on arugula salad with avocado and tomatoes), but they also don’t mind grabbing pizza from the local really good pizza joint.
  • On the other hand, a dietitian will take a supplement such as calcium and vitamin D if they know they just don’t consume enough. When you know how lack of nutrients affects your body, you tend to want to do something about it. This is one reason I do pay attention to including protein with meals, because I know I will crash pretty quickly without it (although I am not really aware of the actual amount I might consume in a day, I am confident I am getting enough because it is usually in most of my meals in some form).
  • Most dietitians I know like natural, real foods (not huge fans of packaged, processed foods such as Twinkies). They would rather make their own home made cookies.
  • They usually love their colors-think veggies and fruits. They like their plates looking like a rainbow.
  • There are some dietitians I have known who really do pay too much attention to what they eat (well, if you ask me). Here and there I have know some who count protein grams or who may restrict portions when they know something has a lot of calories, or even suffer from some disordered eating behaviors. Yes, there are some people drawn to the career because they have had eating issues themselves. There are dietitians who are larger sized and this is not easy, as they will often be judged. Yes, they struggle from the same issues as anyone else sometimes. But remember, body size has nothing to do with health, it is a persons habits and lifestyle that affect health (as well as genes of course). It really bothers me when someone makes a statement about a dietitian regarding his or her body size, as if that has anything to do with how good of a dietitian they are.
  • They cherish their cultural favorites. Italian, Asian, Indian, Polish, Swedish, they usually know how to make the traditional favorites and enjoy the foods they grew up with.

So the bottom line is dietitians are just like anyone else with perhaps a heightened interest in food and health. They are not perfect eaters, they come in all different sizes and shapes, and they most likely don’t care what you are eating (unless, of course you are their patient). I am guessing, like me, they get a bit uncomfortable when you make judgmental comments about what they are eating. Hey, we like ice cream too! But then again, over time, most of us are used to it, and it really is no big deal (kind of comes with the territory).

So that picture? Funny story. That is me in Florence, Italy enjoying the very best gelato I had the entire vacation there (3 weeks). I was on a mission to find the best pistachio gelato, mission accomplished. So I put the photo on Facebook and wouldn’t you know it. The first comment: “I notice you did not choose the fresh fruit I see in the background!” I just laughed. Welcome to my world.

Do You Need To Be Perfect?

downloadIt dawned on me this week that one of the most wonderful gifts in life is the ability to not have to be perfect. I was reminded of this on a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon last week. It was one of those picture perfect, almost fall days with a gentle breeze, sunny sky, no humidity and perfect temperature. Once a year I go with one of my best friends to a reservoir near where I live to go kayaking. My husband and I go several times during the warm months but my friend Barbara does not own a kayak and so for the past two years she and I decided to start a traditional and yearly kayak outing. She is retired and I get out of work early on Friday, so last Friday we went on our trip. We packed some sandwiches, the new Lay’s Reuben flavored potato chips and some wine and a camera, and off we went. Since it was a week day we almost had the reservoir to ourselves. We both had our hair disheveled, no make up to speak of, crappy water shoes, faded shorts and tee shirts, and no jewelry (well, except one of the necklaces that I refer to as my kayak necklace, which is made of natural jute and beads that my daughter made for me, and that I love (and do wear other places), but especially love for things I do in nature, like kayaking).IMG_6753

Anyway, we paddled along and stopped at a clearing on the shore to go walk along a path that became muddy, but was beautiful along a bog with reeds and lily pads and frogs. We also had found a spot where we paddled to float near a fallen tree (dubbed Broken Bark Bar) to have our late afternoon lunch/happy hour plastic cup of wine and proceeded to chat about everything. We both agreed we were at a point in our lives where we were so thankful that we were content and thankful to enjoy all the beautiful but simple things in life. We realized how relieved we felt to actually not care about our hair, our make up, or what we were wearing. Life is hard enough as it is. Problems come up with children and family and friends and life in general. It never ends! Imagine the extra strain of having to be perfect. Sadly, I clearly remember all the people I have met who struggle with this on a daily basis.

Just imagine:

Having to do a certain amount of exercise a day. Having to follow a certain diet, and think about every morsel that passes your lips (yes, there are people with dietary restrictions who have to avoid foods for medical reasons, but that is not who I am referring to). I am thinking about those people who forbid themselves things on a daily basis, and truly get emotionally upset when they do not follow their own self-imposed rules. People who invent some body image goal they feel is the only body they could possibly be happy in. It typically is not achievable without mental and physical repercussions, yet they carry on with the delusion that this perfect body will be the answer. Even when they reach their “goal weight”, it is never good enough. One thing I will never forget is the anorexic patient who told me “I finally realize, the only time I get to wear my goal jeans is when I lose so much weight that I have to be hospitalized”.

Can I share what I have learned from those I have seen reach these goals? These are the patients I have worked with over the years, and this is what I have seen: they change their goals once they reach them. It starts with one goal of losing a certain amount of weight, but then, that is not good enough. The weight goal lowers. They reach it and it still does not make them happy. The person who has the goal of doing a certain amount of exercise? The need to run a certain race, then another and another. Well, when they reach their goal, it is not enough. The goal increases. And they still are not happy. The end never comes.

I think we all have a bit of perfectionism in our lives, or at least unreasonable expectations. I know of moms who need to vacuum 4 times a day (and don’t let their children walk on the carpet….no footprints allowed). I know of women who pick their perfect outfits out of their perfectly organized closets the night before work (I definitely can’t relate). I personally struggle with going to bed if there are dishes in the sink. It won’t happen, I can admit. I just can’t wake up to that. Mornings are hard enough.

So, anyway, at the end of our kayak trip we got ashore, loaded our kayaks, life jackets and oars and drove back, back to reality. We put up our pictures on Facebook, and tucked another wonderful memory away in our hearts. I felt thankful for this friendship with such a wonderful and special woman, a mother who I am sure whose sons would consider the perfect mother, a friend who her many friends would consider a perfect friend, and to her significant other, well, I know he thinks she is perfect, too. With no make up, disheveled hair, faded shorts and tee shirt. I left feeling so very thankful for this beautiful day, but mostly for the realization that I now, finally, can embrace my imperfections and truly not care. Age has helped (one of the perks of getting older!) I only hope and pray that others might take a step to let go of just a little bit of perfectionism in their lives. Care about your health, but there is no need to eat 100% perfectly, or to exercise 100% every single day or to any perfect schedule, or to be any certain body that is not achievable without getting sick or obsessing about food. If you try and try and try…….and still can’t let go of it, consider getting some help. Realizing that you don’t want to have to be perfect anymore is a huge step forward.

For a long time now I have realized being imperfect is my definition of perfect. So consider a new definition of perfection for yourself!

Now if I could only get over leaving the dishes……