Sunday, March 11, 2012

Get Real

At the check-out in Wegman's recently, I found myself looking at the items on the belt of the person in front of me.  I need to say here that I consciously do NOT look at others' items because I can't help but let my mind go in places I don't like it to be.  And to be totally honest, I don't often go to mainstream stores like Wegman's because I like to stay in my little health-nut bubble, shopping at my local health food stores or at Whole Foods.

But, there I was, in line at Wegmans, staring at the food on the belt, and this is what I saw:  Among a few other items, Lactaid milk, sugar-free chocolate pudding, fat free ice cream, and Pepperidge Farm cookies.  The shopper was a middle-aged, pot-bellied man.

I'm so tempted sometimes to hand out my card to people, to tell them, "please, let me help you find delicious, healthy REAL food."  But I can't.  Not only is it not ethical or socially appropriate, but these people don't want my help.  I'm pretty sure this man has it figured out already (or so he thinks).  Who knows, maybe he was even shopping for someone else.  It's really none of my business.
But those items on the belt represent, to me, the wrong direction that this country has taken in food-like substances (as Michael Pollan says).  Besides those items not being whole foods or even real foods, they are also imposters.  They are trying to pretend to be other things, and in my opinion, quite unsuccessfully.

Get real.  As I say to my clients, if you don't want to give up the ice cream, then don't.  Learn to moderate.  Learn to strategize so that you are forced to have small portions, and when you're treating yourself to that smaller portion, savor it.  Eat it slowly, enjoying every taste and texture and smell that you can out of it.  And then eat real, whole foods, mostly vegetables, the rest of the time so that you don't have to guilt yourself over having that one delicious cookie or small bowl of ice cream.

Last month I went to Belize for vacation where we ate local, whole foods for all three meals of the day.  One of the guides that gave us a tour asked me what I did back at home. I told him I was a health and nutrition counselor.  He looked at me perplexed.  I explained, "Well, in America, people often don't know how to eat healthy foods."  "Ahhh!"  he said, "Too much McDonald's!"  He had never been, of course.  And perhaps, that's why he was so perplexed at first.  I can't tell you how refreshing that was.  The truth is, if I were to retire to Belize, I may still have a job, but my clients would be the expatriate and retired Americans who finally decided it was time to get real.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Holiday Sabotage Story

This time of year, I hear the message loud and clear:  “I’ll get back to being healthy after the holidays.” Of course, everyone has their own way of saying it, but basically, people just want to let go, eat what they want, and not think about it until January when they swear they will “be good” again.

But this is a script, as I call it.  Just as play writers design their scenes, with characters doing whatever they write them to do, you are your own playwright and you can rewrite the script you wrote yourself a long time ago, the one that is similar to what I explained above.  So, before, your script was to try really hard to eat well and exercise, maybe even do a cleanse in the fall.  But, uh oh, here comes Thanksgiving.  What to do?  Well, you don’t want to not enjoy yourself.  What’s worse, you don’t want to have to explain yourself to those relatives you see twice a year—the ones who DON’T try to eat well and exercise, EVER.  So, you decide to fall off the wagon for Thanksgiving, and since Christmas/Eid/Hannukah/Kwanza is next and holiday parties in between, well, why don’t you just stay off the wagon until the New Year?

But you’ve worked too hard to get to this defeated place.  You don’t need to fall off the wagon—maybe you’ll drag your feet on the ground a little bit, but then get them back in the wagon.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, not so much because of the food, but because family is around and we reflect upon the things we’re grateful for.  This is powerful to do in a large group, and it’s fun to hear how the kids’ gratitude evolves over the years.  What the heck, it’s fun to hear how the adults’ does too.  

Here is my rewritten script:  If I’m hosting, I make sure to prepare a lot of vegetables.  If I’m not, I volunteer to bring a few vegetable dishes.  I keep to the rule of 75% of my plate being vegetables (mostly green), but I allow that other 25% to be whatever it is I want on the table, whether it’s turkey and stuffing or butter-laden potatoes.  I eat it very slowly, savoring each delicious bite.  I may even put my fork down between each bite.  The benefit of Thanksgiving dinner is that it’s usually eaten earlier in the day (as we should eat all our big meals), so by the time bedtime rolls around, I’m nicely digested.  I also allow myself a small piece of pie or two that equal a small piece.  I eat it very slowly, again, savoring the flavors.   And then it’s over.  Restaurant closed.  No picking or snacking afterwards.  And as people are packing up to leave, I give away the foods that don’t serve me, which are the ones that people usually want to take, and keep the vegetables that most people would rather, sadly, leave.  Better for me! 

The next day, the holiday is over—back to my healthy ways, fondly remembering that delicious piece of pumpkin pie (and my memory is crystal clear since I took my time and savored every bite). 
If and when a holiday party comes around, I use the same strategy, though, often the food at these such occasions aren’t so great, so I don’t bother with the ones that famously look good, but taste average at best.  I just keep this awareness and stay away from the dessert table, which is the biggest culprit in putting on a pretty face, but not following through with taste.  I’d rather imagine a delicious sweet treat than blow my healthy habits on a piece of unworthy junk.  If, however, you are at a particularly unique holiday party where the food is fabulous, have it and enjoy it, without filling up.  Eat slowly and mindfully, stopping before you’re full, and remembering that the next day is a new day again.  You’re still firmly on the wagon.  And you feel great for it, mentally and physically.
I also use targets to help me through this season.  I’ve been almost completely sugar free (which means no refined sugars) for the last three weeks.  My target is Thanksgiving, when I know I’ll have a small slice of pumpkin and apple pie.  If it’s not sweets for you, maybe it’s mashed potatoes or biscuits.  So, enjoy them.  And the next day, they’re gone (that’s the trick you need to take care of), and you set your next target.  Allowing yourself the things on occasion that you like that may not always be so healthy is a strategy.  Deprivation doesn’t work.  But, little allowances do, keeping in mind that you are treating your body well so that it serves you well now and in the future.  

It’s really about the big picture.  And as much as I think we should live in the moment, when it comes to food, I can’t disagree more.  Of course, live in the moment as you are mindfully eating, but when you make your choices of what you’re going to put in your mouth, it’s necessary to think, “Will this serve me?”  “Will I feel sick tomorrow?”  “Will this put on the five pounds I tried so hard to lose last month?”  “Is it worth it?” And, looking even further into the future, keeping the cells of your body healthy so that they don’t develop disease and illness.  This awareness alone is enough to keep you on the right track.

I’m at the age where my peers’ health is starting to fade because of the bad habits they chose.  It seems everyone knows someone with cancer, diabetes (Type 2), or heart disease, if not many.  These are all lifestyle influenced diseases.  Sure, we may have been dealt the bad gene, but that doesn’t mean we have to turn it on.  It’s my goal to make sure my “bad” genes stay in the “off” position.  I’m not a believer in disease as a destiny of old age.

So, this holiday season, enjoy yourself.  See your enjoyment as single instances in the bigger picture and make sure to honor your body, only making choices that truly make you feel good.  Don’t give in to the old script.  It’s your book to write (and revise), so make it a good one.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Small Gifts

Gifts are on my mind lately; literal material gifts,  as well as philosophical.  It was my birthday last week.  I got one mailed birthday card, but at least 30 birthday wishes on Facebook.  I'm not on Facebook much and so I don't appreciate it as others do, but it sure was nice to get all those greetings.  It really felt like my birthday!

I realize in recent years that material gifts, though very nice sometimes, don't really stick with you as the philisophical ones.  Maybe not that you remember the philosophical ones more, because sometimes you don't, but their meanings stay with you unlike the material ones.

Last month I was on my way home from an appointment, just about to cross a small bridge.  There is a stoplight about 500 feet from the bridge and a small park on the right of the road.  Traffic flows smoothly here, normally.  That day, however, cars were backed up before the stop light.  I couldn't see why,  at first.  As I looked around the cars in front of me, I saw the line of Canada geese.  They were traveling from the park, across the road, to the marsh behind the restaurant on the other side of the street.   One by one, they crossed.  Traffic was held up on both sides.   I sat there in my car as the light turned green, yellow, and red several times, giggling because here we humans are in our busy self-involved lives, and we all had to just stop and let the geese cross.  It didn't matter where we were all going, or when we had to be there.  We had to wait.  For the geese.  It was beautiful.   These creatures, oblivious to human wants and needs, simply wanted to get to the other side.  All 50 of them.  Sometimes it takes something like this to make us stop and just be.  I wondered how many of the people in the cars were doing this.  I have a feeling not many.  But this was a gift given to us, whether we knew it or not.

On my birthday, my daughter gave me a scarf that she crocheted herself.  My son gave me a tea pot that I had admired at a gift shop the month before, and my husband gave me a pasta maker.  We rarely eat pasta, and especially of late as both  my son and I have gone mostly gluten free.  I wanted to be gracious, but at the same time, I didn't want to keep this machine that I knew I wouldn't be using.  I also held back the comments in my mind as I saw what it was.  I know how difficult it is to buy gifts sometimes, especially for someone who is not so materialistic.  So, I looked at it as a gift--something thought about and bought with the intention of making me happy, if for a moment.  I suppose that is what birthday gifts are about.  Glad they come but once a year.

Yesterday, I came across a woman with a small bull-dog puppy.  One of my rules in life is to never pass a dog without attempting to pet it (assuming it's safe).  So, I asked to pet her and crouched down to touch the little being.  She was adorable beyond words.  Sleepy and sweet, with ripples of skin to grow into.  Her smushed up face was precious and she was too young to drool as her later self surely would.  I couldn't get enough of her.  It took all of my energy to get up and leave after the appropriate puppy petting time was up.  I just wanted to scoop her into my arms and kidnap her.  She was a drug of ecstasy that I wanted to squeeze and absorb into my cells.  And so her spirit stayed with me the rest of the day and still.  That was a gift.

In thinking about this blog, it occurred to me that I should keep a notebook titled "GIFTS" and write down things each day that felt like gifts, material or philosophical.  A great exercise to do when I'm in a rut.  It may help me look for gifts too, instead of overlooking them in my everyday self-involved rush.  Just like the picture of the Canada goose that I keep on the edge of my computer monitor but often look past.  There are usually gifts right in front of us if we just opened our eyes and minds to see them.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Golden Blood

As I sat at the blood donation center a few weeks ago, filling out the form that asks a hundred questions about  risk factors, I looked around at the other people who were doing the same.  One woman came at the same time as I did.  We parked next to each other.  She got out of her car slowly.  I guessed her age to be in her early 60's.  As she walked slowly (seemingly in pain) to the door of the center, I noticed a cup in her hand--McDonald's coffee.  I wondered what she was answering on her form.  Across the sitting area from me was a man, probably in his late 40's or early 50's.  He was quite large around the middle.  Fifteen minutes later, I was set up on a recliner to have the blood drained from my arm.   Across the room was the Mc'Donald's lady and already being drained was another woman, probably in her 50's.  She looked healthy enough, but I still thought to myself, my blood must be healthier than these peoples'.  That may sound snobby, and I suppose it is, but I know I'm not average in the way I eat and take care of my health.  The average person eats too much sugar, artificial flavors and colors, preservatives, trans fats, and other food that isn't organic.  The average person is inactive and overweight by at least a few pounds.  And as much as I've dedicated my days to pointing this out to people who know this isn't good for them, there are still millions of more people who are going about their lives not giving it a second thought.  And some of those people give blood. 

You are what you eat.  Literally.  If you haven't really thought about it before, consider this.  Whatever we eat gets broken down by our miraculous body into all of its nutrients, vitamins and minerals.   As David Katz, M.D. explains, "The nutritional content of what we eat determines the composition of our cell membranes, bone marrow, blood, and hormones. Consider that the average adult loses roughly 300 billion cells to old age every day and must replace them. Our bodies are literally manufactured out of the food we consume."  Scientists and doctors don't even know the half of it as to what our bodies do with all the phytonutrients and vitamins that we ingest.  Probably some really amazing things. 

So, considering what I eat on a regular basis, my blood is made up of some really good stuff.  The majority of my diet is fruits and vegetables.  I stay away from all artificial ingredients and chemicals and I eat very little refined sugar.  My blood tests are stellar.  My antioxidant levels are almost off the charts.  I've worked hard to get here--I'm banking on having a very long and productive life.  So, if you were the one who was receiving blood, wouldn't you want mine?  If you had the choice between mine and the McDonald's lady, whose would you choose?

But people don't get the choice, of course.  Of course they test it for disease or infectious agents.  But they don't test it for its quality, or its antioxidant levels.  This made me think, shouldn't my blood, in a sense, be more valuable than the McDonald's lady's?  Shouldn't there be levels of healthfulness, where blood like mine would go to an infant holding on to her last breath getting a blood transfusion while the McDonald's lady's goes to a adult junkie who needs a transfusion for anemia because of his unhealthy lifestyle?  I imagine graded donation centers where you go according to your healthfulness.

I'll put that image into the collection of other images of a healthier world that I store in the back of my mind.   And for now, I'll just give my blood, knowing someone somewhere is getting the gold standard and I'll assume that person really needs it.  It was meant to be.  But that won't stop me from asking the phlebotomist next time about blood quality, even though I already know the answer.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

An Image

When I was going to school at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition to become a health and nutrition counselor, Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, came to speak.  I hadn’t read the book, and what he said about the industry of fast food surprised and disgusted me.  Though it had been several years since I ate or stepped in a McDonald's or Burger King, I regretted any business I had provided them in the past.  At one point in his talk, I got overwhelmed and decided to take a break in the restroom.  As I got up from my seat, an image came to me.  I smiled, and made my way to the bathroom.  There was another woman in there, seemingly doing the same as I was.  “It’s overwhelming.” I said.  “Yeah,” she agreed and rolled her eyes with a breath of release.  “A weird thing happened to me as I got up just before,” I said, sensing she’d be open to what I was about to say. (The school’s students were almost all open-minded people, often leaning toward alternative ideas and practices.)  “As I got up, an image came to me of my children all grown, telling their children (my grandchildren) about this place called McDonald's that was around when they were young.”  “Oh my god!” the woman said all excited,  “I had the same exact image!”  We stared at each other for a moment smiling in disbelief.

Who knows if that moment was pure coincidence?  After all, we were similar in age and obviously had shared interests since we were both at IIN.  But it was a little magical, I must say.  And it gave me hope.  For those of us who have always been a little different from everyone else, believing in things most people don’t consider and doing things a lot of people think are hokey, I was feeling that the universe was shifting.  And it is.  Ever since I started seeing clients, I’m amazed at what people know and are getting information about concerning health and nutrition and movements against the mainstream tide.  I’m becoming not so different these days.  The majority of people I come across know about acupuncture and reiki.  Some of them use a chiropractor, and not just because of a painful back.  A lot of people are spending a little extra on organic food, and are trying herbs or alternative practices instead of taking medicine or seeing a doctor.  As absurd as it seems right now (still) with McDonald's all over the place with no sign of waning business, I do believe that one day it will be something in the history books.  Maybe not for my grandkids, but perhaps for theirs.  I just have to stay healthy enough to live that long, because, boy, do I want to see that!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Body: I'm listening . . .

I've been in a lot of pain lately. Lower back, left hip, right trapezius.  I don't sleep well, and I wake up cranky and in pain.   I think I know what's going on--at least partly.  One problem is that I'm not practicing what I preach.  I work with clients every day encouraging them to take care of themselves, yet here I am neglecting my body. Oh, the eating part is good--almost always is.  That's easy.  What's not so easy is the exercise (time) and the wellness care (money).  And so I go without, and my body talks to me through restless sleep and sore muscles.

I know I need to exercise--take walks, do my push-ups and sit-ups, garden, rake, jog once in a while.  I enjoy all of that, as long as I don't think of it as "exercise."  It's making the time.  And I can do that pretty easily if I just make it part of my schedule.   I also know that it will relieve most of my pain and restless sleep.  So, you say, JUST DO IT!

And so I will.  Because I need to walk the talk.  Especially now that I made it public.

I read a poem recently in The Sun magazine written by Sybil Smith titled "I'm Going To Quit Smoking."  One stanza really spoke to me:

Like a faithful friend, the body went on
hoping the mind would come to its senses.
And it did, finally.
And, lo and behold, there was still a body,
a strong body there to do the work of life.
And so I discovered God was not in my mind,
but had been hidden in my body all along.
God was in the cells that healed themselves,
and in the neurons and in the muscles,
the heart, especially the heart,
that beat and beat though not instructed to do so,
that beats now without prayers or offerings,
through every sin and misgiving.

I often think about our miraculous body--how it trudges on despite the trespasses, despite us taking it for granted.  We poison it, we abuse it, we try to stop its natural functions (plucking, waxing, smothering, dyeing, medicating, relentlessly cleaning).  And still, it faithfully tries to keep the homeostasis--an impossible task considering the aforementioned.  And when it finally breaks down or causes us pain, we get angry, as if it's betraying us.

So, I dedicate this writing to my beautiful, faithful body, and I vow to take better care of it, so it can do its job in taking care of me.  And with that vow, I will now get up off my chair, step away from my computer, and stretch my tight, sore muscles and send them gratitude.  Namaste.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

My Thoughts on Exercise (for me)

I have a confession.  I haven't exercised in quite a while.  Oh, I know that's no big deal to you.  Perhaps you can top me.  Maybe you never exercise, or haven't in a year.  But, part of my job is to inspire people to be healthy, and part of healthy is exercising.

But this is good, you see, because I FEEL it.  I definitely feel worse for depriving my body of regular activity.  I won't go into details, but let's just say I'm feeling closer to my 40 years than ever, and I pride myself in feeling 28 usually.

So, this morning as I turned the page of the calendar to organize my March, I noticed that it starts on Monday.  How appropriate.  And since it's a Monday, which begins the work and school week, and since March is when the earth moves into spring, I thought, let's get back to exercising.

I don't believe (for me) that exercising means working out every day, making sure to get every muscle in my body stretched and worked.  I don't believe (for me) that exercising means I have to sweat and make my heart feel like it's going to leap out of my chest.  I don't believe (for me) that exercise means I need to do it five days a week for at least 45 minutes.  What I do believe (for me) is that I need to get my heart rate up a bit every day, that I need to stretch and breathe, and, most importantly,  that I need to enjoy myself.

I often tell my clients that our exercise should mimic what our activity was like 10,000 years ago.  That 10,000 year thing comes up a lot in my discussions.  And though I'm no scientist, I've read enough on the topic to say confidently that our bodies have evolved little if any since then.  We have prehistoric bodies doing very modern activities or not doing any activity at all.  So, what was it like 10,000 years ago?  I don't  really know, but I can guess that humans didn't work out vigorously and continuously every single day, exercising every single muscle.  They hunted and gathered.  They carried things, pulled things, pushed things, reached for things, ran, walked (a lot) and jumped.  Some days more than others.

I just read yesterday in the newspaper that "Short intense exercise gains experts' support."  That only justified my assumption of our hunter gatherer type exercise being what our bodies are designed to do.

So, Monday will start my spring exercise plan.  I will start by going for a brisk walk and then I'll do some cleaning around the house.  I'll probably throw in some jumping jacks, pushups and stretching just for fun.  I'm actually looking forward to it!  And having written this will give me that extra bit of motivation, just knowing  people have read about my plan.  If you did, be sure to ask me how it's going.