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.