The Tipping Point

Hello, old friend. It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog entry. Like my diary, I write this blog on an as-needed basis, and I haven’t felt I’ve needed to health blog.

Until a few weeks ago.

I have been in complete denial about putting on a significant amount of weight in a very short time. I’ve been tremendously happy lately, celebrating a number of exciting career achievements and new family members and engagements of dear friends. In other words, I’ve been eating a lot of celebratory food. I’ve been tremendously sad and angry lately, recovering from minor whiplash after being rear-ended, and growing increasingly frustrated at my financial instability and distance from career goals. In other words, I’ve been eating a lot of comfort food. Have you ever had the experience feeling as though your emotions (both positive and negative) are the ones in control of your eating, rather than your self? The worst part is, I was utterly unwilling to admit that this was happening to me.

And I invested in the lies I was telling myself about my binge eating/drinking. I did a bunch of online shopping, 3 or 4 sizes up, and told myself that it was nothing at all; everyone changes sizes from time to time. I would look in the mirror and think “I just ate too much last night and I’m bloated” or I would tell myself that seeing myself 12 pounds heavier than just a few months earlier was not hurting me. I invested a lot in myths I needed to create in order to not break down about my body.

But the myths weren’t holding up. The tell-tale signs were there. My expensive workout gear, that I refuse to replace at this point, fit snugger. Exercising felt substantially harder. Worse, my blood pressure is higher than it’s ever been before- perhaps because of stress, but I also know it’s because I’m not taking care of myself and my health.

And here’s the hard part: it feels impossible to acknowledge that I’ve steadily put on almost 30 pounds since I started grad school, while still being kind to myself. The number of the scale tells me that I weigh as much as my boyfriend did when we first met (a hard pill to swallow in a society that suggests that women must weigh significantly less than men, regardless of body composition). I’m struggling to offer myself kind words when I hate that I’ve put on so much weight. I don’t know how people who have yo-yo’ed in their weight manage the barrage of emotions associated with gaining and losing weight. I can hardly manage this first instance.

The self-compassion exercise I’m most working to engage in is imagining what I would tell a cherished loved one coming to me and explaining to me their weight issues (Neff, self-compassion.org). What would I tell them? How would I say it? I imagine I would softly say that I can imagine how hard it is to feel like something is so out of your control, and that I would do whatever I could to help them feel strong again. I imagine that I would remind him or her about my love for them, and that I will walk beside them in their journey to be healthy again, if they would let me.

In my moments of deep-seated self-criticism I hear myself using harsh, patronizing words and an aggressive tone. I say words that touch upon maladaptive core beliefs, that assign self-blame and that suggest that I am weak and incapable. Where is that soft, loving, compassionate voice? I miss her.

So let me tell you about my tipping point. I weighed myself and, at 160 pounds, decided that I needed better manage my habits. I made an appointment with an incredible dietician. She never once asked me about my weight; she only asked if my clothes fit tighter than usual. She is having me keep a food diary, with my symptoms of digestion, mood, etc. listed on the other side of the page. She also suggested that I didn’t necessarily need to eat less, but to shift my eating to earlier in the day, to avoid going into “food debt” which can cause binges in the evening.

I’m just getting started on making changes. My goal is to feel healthier and more in control. In just two weeks, and without major dietary changes by any stretch (I’ve only cut out beer, which destroys my stomach), I feel so much less bloated. I feel much more in control of what food and drinks I consume, and even simply writing my food down has made me so much more mindful of my consumption. I want to make it clear that it is not my main goal to lose weight, but it would be a happy accident if I lost a few pounds! It’s going to be a long effort, but I want to work towards better managing the relationship between my eating and my emotions.

 

 

I got that September Sadness…

You might have noticed that I’ve stopped posting. There’s a reason that I’m a bit afraid to admit. I’ve been REALLY, REALLY down in the dumps. There have been a number of events that have spurred on this sadness, and yet I’m usually much more resilient in such experiences. I’m not sure what is different this time, but something certainly is. Maybe it’s the cumulation of a number of rough patches, or I’ve exhausted my resilience resources. The best way to describe this feeling is being stuck in a rut.

Since I’m training in mental health, I know that what I’m experiencing is not abnormal or “clinical.” In actual fact, one rich silver lining of this experience is that I feel more connected to people who have trouble getting out of bed or who find that life is just piled up on top of them- I definitely have an ounce more empathy for how gruelling that experience must be. I am still able to experience joy and pleasure and fun, and I know that what I’m faced with right now is just one small chapter in my story.

Speaking of stories, back to why I’ve stopped blogging…this health blog made me feel hypocritical. I’ve been feeling so down that I haven’t been meeting my own expectations around self-care. I mean, I have in some respects- I’ve been binge watching Netflix, staying in my PJ’s too long and eating and drinking comfort substances. And yet that’s not the self-care I know I need. In fact, I know that the kind of self-care I’m describing right now is my way of avoiding real problems or challenges. It’s experiential avoidance. I know that I need to get back to the most recovering form of self-care I know: running, cycling, the gym, cooking, eating wholesome food, and indulging in mindful, self-loving ways.

So I’m going to do my very best to get back to myself, inside and out. And at the same time, here’s the other thing: this period in my life has made me very aware of the well-intentioned-but-destructive messages that exist about life, attitude and mental health. All these choose-happy, just-need-to-put-on-a-smile, be-positive-all-the-time messages aren’t helpful… in fact, they can be hurtful. If someone around you is suffering in the way I’ve been lately, or if you yourself are, just let it be. Accept it and don’t work so hard to fight it or cover it up. Instead, recognize that it is a temporary moment and do what you need to tolerate it with compassion and kindness. Give the distress and suffering a voice and… well… this too shall pass.

Yours, in health.

Building a Habit

It’s funny that I’m writing about building habits when I completely missed writing a blog post this week… however, I also recognize that even with the most engrained habits, there will be some days when life gets in the way and despite all the motivation in the world, things won’t work out. You’ll wake up for a 10 K run but there is a lightening storm or a migraine. You’ll plan to eat a packed nutritious lunch but your colleague brought in her world-famous brownies. You’ll vow that you won’t have a drink this week, before remembering that your friend is defending her dissertation and you’ll just have to celebrate with her (twist my arm!)

Building a habit takes persistence, acceptance and perseverance. I think where habits fail people is because of the immediacy of results that we expect. Especially for people like me, the “couch to half marathon” type, we’ve had years of positively reinforced, self-indulgent habits. Just like exercise is a habit, so is sedentary non-exercise. A watching-TV habit is, in many ways, the same as a gym habit. The fundamental difference lies in which is immediately pleasurable, convenient and not painful- and what we’ve had more experience with in our lives of habit.

I have a few tips for “building a habit.” I’m not going to include sources, because I’m not reinventing the wheel here. These are all incredibly well-researched motivational phenomena. These just happen to be the ones that I saw work for me, first hand. I hope you’ll find them helpful.

Before September 2014, I was donating $40 a month to Goodlife- money that could go to a much more deserving “charity”. But in that September, I started to (very slowly) build a habit that would make that $40 donation become a well-spent investment in my own health. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Start small. I didn’t start going to the gym doing the same routine I’m doing now (push day, pull day, leg day, repeat endlessly….) I went to the gym “afraid of the machines.” I started on cardio equipment because it felt the most comfortable to me. I found mats at the back of the gym and spent a lot of time doing some weird combination of yoga and stretching that literally embodied the “dance like nobody’s watching” concept. I slowly integrated equipment to build strength, mostly with my partner’s very patient help.
  2. Take advantage of freebies. A few months ago, I took advantage of a free personal-training session that involved a trainer watching form on compound lifts. It was the worst at the time- I recall fighting back frustration tears- but it created the foundation of my strength-training now, and I’m able to squat, bench press, and deadlift with reasonable enough form.
  3. Make it “me” time. Whether you are running, practicing yoga, or strength training, use that opportunity to be incredibly self-indulgent. For the first six months at the gym, I read books on my kobo on the elliptical. I maybe ellipticalled one mile in each hour, but it’s still better than what I would do on the couch. It made the gym a much more comfortable place. I would read the most chick-lit novels and loved every second of it. Make playlists. Run to parks to meditate. Strength train with images of yourself running up the Rocky steps. Do what you need to do to squeeze every drop of pleasure out of your new habit.
  4. Hold yourself accountable. There are plenty of ways to do this.  Buy nice workout clothes, if you can. Keep a workout schedule. Make friends with the staff at the gym and always say “see you tomorrow” when you leave. Recruit a workout buddy. Start pedometer challenges if you have the same one as your friends. Do whatever it is you need to do to hold yourself accountable, whether that be personally (“I just spent almost $200 on these shoes, I have to get my money’s worth) or with the help of our human desire to impress others (“What will the other regulars think if I miss spin today?”) One benefit of Goodlife is they have a contest where you get an initial from a staff member every time you work out. 6 initials gets you a ballot for a draw to win money. I’m not sure if it’s the idea of winning money that’s motivating me anymore or the fact that I want more signatures on my workout card…
  5. Set goals. OK, so this is the oldest motivational mechanism in the book. HOWEVER, I’m for setting whatever kind of goal will motivate you. For some, this might mean a weight goal (these are often the most tricky, because muscle weighs way more than fat, so these aren’t the ones I’d suggest). For me, it’s a “how do I fit in my clothes?” goal. I don’t want to have to buy a new wardrobe, so I have to fit comfortably in the clothes that I own. Most people I know benefit from “before and after” shots. Show as much skin as you’re comfortable showing and snap a pic. Try to wear the same outfit everytime you take an “after” shot. Remember that your first pic is your before shot, and EVERY subsequent photo is an “after” shot. Working on our health and fitness is a journey, not a destination– said the cheesiest person ever.

I hope that you find these helpful as you build new habits. There’s all sorts of habit-building advice out there, so it’s all about what is going to work for you.

Best of luck and happy heathy habit building!

 

 

Visiting a Naturopath

I am very, very lucky. My health benefits cover up to $500 of naturopathy appointments. The downside of this incredible privilege is that the remedies that a naturopath suggests are not covered by my plan, so B12 injections, probiotics, fish oils, etc. come at a price. That said, this small proportion of what I have to pay for opened by eyes to how expensive the process can be. And goodness, I love the naturopath and would recommend it for virtually anyone. However, I recognize that the appointments and products are out of budget for many people.

Here’s some wisdom I will suggest that I learned from my naturopath when I used to go regularly:

1. Learn when to take your vitamins and supplements. It’s good to consult with a doctor or naturopath about the best time of day to take supplements. I learned from the naturopath that the calcium/magnesium supplement I was taking in the morning would be much more effective at night. Who knew?

2. Dry brushing. Oh my goodness, I can’t recommend this enough…. spend $5 on a pair of exfoliating gloves. Before you turn on the water in your shower, scrub your skin in light circles, starting at the soles of your feet, all the way up to your heart. Dry brush your whole body (except your face). Then shower (and wash your exfoliating gloves regularly). Your skin will feel so soft, and the regular practice of dry brushing is good for circulation. This is especially recommended in the winter, with all that dry skin you’re carrying around!

3. Elimination diets can tell you a lot, but they might not tell you everything. It’s definitely a good thing to try once, because you will learn a lot about how your body reacts to different foods. Unfortunately, I was sick through a lot of my elimination, so I didn’t learn as much as I would have liked to. I should have done the right thing and started the process again, but it’s a really hard regime to follow. I plan on doing one again when summer patio drinks aren’t calling my name.

4. It’s really lovely to be heard by a medical professional. If you’re like me, you don’t have a consistent physician. It was so nice, in my intake appointment, to spend an hour with someone answering questions like “how often do you sneeze?” and “do you ever see circles around lights?” My naturopath made me feel heard, and also empathized with how frustrating day-to-day crummy symptoms can be.

5. Check out elimination/candida diet recipes! There are so many great foods that you can eat on these diets that are so clean and nutritious! I lost a fair amount of weight on the elimination diet, and though these diets are not intended for weight loss, it was good for me to see that I am capable of controlling my weight after putting on some excess pounds.

6. PROBIOTICS! I swear by these little miracles. Especially before travelling, I am certain to double dose on probiotics, a trick that my naturopath taught me. I also travel with a lot of probiotics. My stomach takes some time to adjust to novel foods and to jet lag, so I loved trying to tackle pains with probiotics before I turned to alternatives like Pepto.

I’d love to hear about people’s experiences of visiting a naturopath. I find these medical professionals so wise, and they certainly have a lot to share. Check your health benefits- if you’re able to go visit one AND have it covered, then what are you waiting for?

Ending Dietainment: Cheerios Ad Campaign

(I apologize. This is a rant that is kind of off-track from the posts you’ve been seeing on this blog, but it’s been something that I’ve been thinking about a lot today!!)

Yesterday night as I was watching T.V. before bed, this commercial came on:

Cheerios and “Dietainment”

Though I immediately connected with the intention of the message, I couldn’t help it. Something within me was triggered. I can’t state enough that I wish mass media would be more vigilant, more socially-aware, more accountable, less aggressive, less racist, less sexist…(and I could go on forever). Nonetheless, I’m not sure it is the most effective use of time, resources, our voices and our efforts to address this at the level of the “media.”

I applaud Cheerios for starting the discussion, and here are a couple of my thoughts to add:

1. Marketing + Prosocial Messages = ?

We’ve all been here before, people. Dove’s campaign for real beauty left us all wondering how genuine a message of change can be when there is a thinly veiled attempt to sell a product. This always makes me go “yikes” a little inside.

2. The reasons I think the “Canadian” media is an ineffective target are that a) the Canadian media is only a sliver of what we consume… our neighbours to the south produce most of the dietainment media we see… and b) if it isn’t dietainment, the “media” will attack and humiliate and marginalize some other group in some other way. I know that’s cynical, but I don’t have a lot of faith in the industry. Weird, right?

3. Perhaps most importantly, we need to educate young people. Not just young girls. Young people. And middle-aged people. And old people. OK… all people.

I don’t know the best way to best educate people to be critical consumers of the media. It’s tricky, but if we bolster the abilities of people to recognize dietainment (thank you Cheerios, for integrating the buzzword), question it, roll it around in our heads rather than passively consume it, maybe we’re better off. Maybe it’s more effective to use a holistic approach to media literacy, rather than a single-pronged petition to the Canadian media about an individual aspect of what “they” are doing terribly wrong. If we educate one another and our young people about questioning and analyzing what we’re seeing, maybe we’ll approach sexual violence in advertising differently, dietainment differently and racist depictions or exclusions differently. The media are giving people messages constantly. Things do need to change, and I’m not sure the system will change anytime soon (again, I’m so cynical!) So maybe in the here-and-now, we can change the conversations we’re having. We can change the way we perceive and consume media. We can support brands that don’t depict and perpetuate violence, racism, hatred or shaming. This whole dialogue makes me think about the conversations people are having about the new sex ed curriculum in Ontario. It’s like there’s this notion that if we hide something hard enough, people won’t be exposed to it and everyone will then be “safer” and better off. But the fact of the matter is that if we equip people to responsibly and respectfully deal with the (let’s face it!) inevitable- whether it’s sexual development or the diet industry- isn’t that when we’re better off? If we give people, from a very early age, the skills to really analyze, consider, question and contemplate their decisions of what media they orient themselves to, and when and with whom they have relationships with…. I seriously think that is when we are all winning.

Bottom line: It’s important to remember that the media is trying to sell you something, so buyer beware.

(I should let you know before I go that I absolutely LOVE multigrain cheerios and it happens to be one of my favourite cereals!)

I’d love to know what others think and I’d love to hear what have you add to the discussion.

Signing up for Runs

Have you ever signed up for a run? Like getting tattoos or wine tours, signing up for runs is ADDICTIVE! Once you start with a 5 K, it’s impossible not to have the itch to sign up for more.

A lot of people ask why I pay for torture of a run- having to train, show up on race day and run in sometimes horrible conditions, and then have to recover for a week after. I mean, in what other situations do we pay to run a huge distance, sweating, crying, and shaking?

Here is why I sign up for runs: to have something to strive for.

I remember meeting a man at a race expo not too long ago. He explained that he does ultras, marathons, and triathlons regularly. Our motivations to engage in such craziness were similar. We both admitted that if we didn’t have a race day planned in the future, we’d have a lot more trouble getting out the door a few times a week for a jog. However, he also said that he signs up for races because he looks at his same-aged friends and sees them getting older in the worst ways. They are sore, stiff and bitter and he doesn’t want to suffer the same fate.

I told him that it’s strange, because running leaves me sore, stiff and bitter. He laughed and suggested that at least we know what it’s like, so when the inevitable aging part comes and we will be unable to accomplish the feats of our youth, at least we’ll know how to accept the soreness, the stiffness and the bitterness with grace.

I’ve now incorporated that motivation into my runs. I want to age gracefully and know that I did everything I physically could while I was capable of it.

Why are you signing up for a run?

“Rules for Eating Well on Vacation”

There is a reason that the title of this post is in quotations. I have read many articles about what one “should” do about the eating situation on vacation. These “rules” often include suggestions like “eat only one heavy meal a day,” “order salad instead of fries when possible,” and “sign up for early morning yoga!”

While I think it’s wonderful that some work hard to be healthy during vacation, we have to remember that health is a holistic term, and that means it includes mental health as well. Vacations (and even staycations) are a privilege so critical to maintaining mental health. So I think that a part of that is abandoning the “shoulds,” and “rules” because these are the mental health pests that lead to guilt and shame.

Here are my “rules” for eating on vacation:

1. Order at restaurants and fill your plates at buffet based on what you know you will mindfully enjoy.

2. Go to your destination with a list of foods that are known to be particularly good in that particular place (I just went to Holland and Belgium for two weeks, hence this post. My list of foods included, but was not limited to: speculaas, Dutch pancakes, Dutch apple pie, croquettes, bitterballen, Belgian frites, Belgian chocolate, every beer…)

3. Eat well when you come home to “reset” your system (though I don’t agree that this should be an extreme detox or cleanse)

4. Do what you need to do to feel well when eating so much during your time away. For me, I need to drink a lot of water. For some, it means that you need to do a lot of walking.

5. Don’t listen to anyone else’s rules (I recognize that I’m rendering myself obsolete here).

Vacations are an important time to reset our batteries, and that might mean that we don’t follow the rules we conform to in everyday life. Just as it’s important to eat healthy most of the time, it’s really important to eat unhealthy at certain points and enjoy it.

I’m attaching a picture to this post, and I want you to bear in mind that this is what I had for lunch one day. Not even kidding.IMG_1261

Happy vacationing, staycationing, or whatever you need to do to abandon the rules and enjoy yourself.