"Food Is Love (But Don’t Eat Too Much)"—Why This Mixed Message Hurts

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This is Part 1 of an excerpt from the Introduction of Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self, by Heidi Schauster, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, soon-to-be published March 2018.

When most of us were newborn infants, food was indeed Love. We simply asked for what we needed. We cried. If our caregivers were tuned in, we got fed. You may have noticed that it’s hard to feed a baby--breast or bottle--without a comforting embrace. When conditions are right, feeding is one of the first times our needs are expressed and met as human beings. If you currently eat or withhold food to comfort yourself, you are not alone. You probably learned at a very young age that comfort and food are connected. In fact, food and love and caregiving are rather entwined. In its purest form, eating is a pleasure and feels good.

When we stray with food, we often long to feel cared for but don’t have the skills to ask for what we want. We’d like to be that little baby who cries when hungry and feeds until she has enough, drifting off to a sweet, satisfied sleep. As adults, we have to take breaks to attend to our bodies, nourish them with food, and then return to our activities refreshed, fueled, and with new appreciation because we’ve paused to take the time to care for ourselves.

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This self-care is not easy when eating becomes a mind-driven activity. And, yes, the very health and nutrition fields of which I am a part are at least partly to blame for us straying from that natural way of eating. We ask our minds instead of our bodies what they need. “What should I eat? What has the most nutrition? The least calories? The least carbs?” If you’ve ever stood agonizing over a menu, not knowing what the “right” choice is, you are not alone.

Part of the problem is that we have so many food choices and so much health and nutrition information—often contradictory. We tend to use our minds to make food choices and leave our bodies out of the decision. Doing so takes us away from our innate capacity to feed ourselves well. We were born with that ability, but the diet and health industry—and all the other things in life pulling for our attention—steer us away from listening to that inner wisdom.

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I fortunately stumbled upon Ellyn Satter’s work in 1992. She blew me away with her message: Your body knows what to eat. I grew up in the Diet Pepsi 1970s, with almost daily ballet classes and the message that I should be careful not to eat too much or my stomach wouldn’t be so “dancer-ly.” I was unused to making food decisions based on my body’s requests. The more I tried to eat less, the more I encouraged binge-eating. Satter inspired me to learn about the psychology of eating along with nutrition. I discovered the role that my food struggles had in my adult transition. I relearned how to feed myself well. Eventually, I developed a more loving relationship with my body and emerging self.

For twenty years, I have assisted clients who have also lost sight of the natural connection that food has to take care of body and self. Whether through over- or under-eating—or cycling between the two—so many of us lose the ability to trust our bodies to tell us what and how much to eat. 

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Often a new acquaintance or client will ask, “Heidi, will you recommend a good basic book on nutrition for me to read?” I feel repeatedly stumped by that question. There are thousands of health and nutrition books out there. I often, in good faith, can’t recommend them. Why? Because so many health and nutrition books are diet books in disguise—or they have messages that encourage dieting or controlling your food intake to achieve the desired outcome. There is no “basic” book that I can find that explains nutrition the way my colleagues and I do in practice—and does so in a way that I found so healing when I was recovering from disordered eating myself.

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How do we get back to this connected, embodied way of eating? My hope is that my book Nourish will assist you in re-learning to tune in—to your body, as well as your feelings, needs, and wants—so that you can make choices with food and other areas of self-care that are life-sustaining and supportive of your goals, dreams, and core values. Often, when our relationship to food and body feels out of alignment, other areas in our lives feel that way, too.

Nourish was born out of a deep desire to integrate work that I’ve done both personally and professionally. After witnessing so many people’s journeys, I believe that healing our relationships with food and our bodies brings us to richer, fuller, and more meaningful lives. Care for yourself by consciously eating, mindfully moving your body, and building sustaining self-care practices and connections; it truly does set you free.

But it doesn’t happen overnight, especially if you’re out of practice or never actually learned to do this self-care in the first place. Nourish will give you a road map to finding that freedom. My hope is that the book reads like a conversation with someone you can trust to help you tune in to your own body’s wisdom.

No one knows more about what you need than you do.

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If you liked this passage, please nourish yourself with the whole book. Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self is available here on my website, on Amazon, and on Barnes and Noble

Feeding the Soul

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Have you ever gone on a vacation but found that you had a hard time slowing down…? 

I have. And I noticed it a few times this summer. 

We can sometimes be so task-oriented in our lives, trying to cram so many things into a short day or week — even if they are rich, meaningful experiences — that we can suffer from a lack of spaciousness. 

Spaciousness is that luscious time that unfolds naturally. In the unfolding, we have room to breathe, to create, to reflect, to have insights, and to really connect with whomever is nearby. I consider spacious moments to encourage creative and spiritual growth spurts. I connect with my truest self, and I and grow more deeply with family and friends when we have some lazy, unstructured time together. 

I also notice that the active, productive, movement-oriented part of me struggles with unstructured time. I get a little restless. I need a balance of doing, being, and creating, and I am appreciating and trying to listen to this more and more as I get older. 

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I talk with clients often about how those mini food breaks during the day (you know, the ones where you aren’t really hungry, but find yourself foraging) may sometimes be the sensory part of us yearning for some downtime. Something rich to eat might give us a 5-minute moment of bliss (goddess forbid we stop for more than 5 minutes!), but is that really what we are looking for? Perhaps what we really want is the richer taste of spacious time to do or be or make whatever it is that calls to us. We might not feel that we deserve those regenerative moments, but maybe we do deserve a bit of chocolate. 

What would it be like to fill up space with whatever calls to us in the moment — with what we really want to do, not what we feel obligated to do? Perhaps a few moments to sit meditatively under a tree, or look at the stars, or putter around the house, or write a letter or poem, or maybe even begin to prepare a more spacious and delicious, health-filled meal. There are other things that call to us besides something to eat. I have heard my clients and those in my groups talk quite a lot recently about the spiritual food and connection that we all really long for. 

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As I said, I’m not so good at this practice of spaciousness, but I am striving for it in my busy life of juggling family and work responsibilities. The summer is a fitting time to practice being a bit more spontaneous and slow. I recently visited North Carolina and wrote a poem, as a result of taking a few quiet moments with a (now dead) tree in the forest. I’m doing something I’ve never done before in this blog: I’m sharing a deeply personal bit of writing that I never meant for public consumption. The poem came to me in the spacious moments that followed my tree encounter. It was rattling about in my head for a bit until I took the time to write it down. I asked my family and travel companions specifically for time and space, both in the forest and later when I wrote the poem. That’s not generally something I’m great at doing, but I learned how important it can be to ask for quiet and creative space when it’s needed.

A couple of people that I trust told me that my blog readers might appreciate the poem. I hope you do, and I hope you allow yourself some spacious, open, creative moments this summer.

 

AWAKENING

There are many ways to kiss the ground, says Rumi. 

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I choose lying in the palm of the hand of Nature. 

So much more than a felled tree, 

I am cradled and filled with comfort that never came easily. 

Amid the clear spring water, the moss, the turk’s cap lilies, 

I took a breath,

then another,

And connected with my soul

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Because my soul is

the clear spring water, the moss, the lilies, 

the smooth bark of the supportive tree. 

 

After kissing the ground, I kissed a man. 

A bee stung me mid-kiss, as if to say, 

“No, my dear, not back to this world yet. 

Stay with us in the woods, 

stay with your soul. 

You need more work before you are ready to merge with another.” 

I must embrace my wise,

earthy, 

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watery, 

fiery, 

airy

Self

and feel that Self solidly connected with everything

like I did when the palm of the hand of Nature

cradled me close. 

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I became a tiny child and my wisest oldest self

and the smooth, supportive tree

At the very same time. 

 

When I feel the nudge of a bee, 

I respond by picking some plantain,

chewing it up, 

and drawing out the sting. 

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When I feel the sting of his words, 

I can turn to the plants and

not let the words hurt me. 

For the sting is not really about me. 

That little bee just wanted my attention. 

To share his not-so-sweetness.

That little bee just gave me his message, 

the repeat of a message I’d received in other ways. 

It’s time to forgive.  

It’s time to write. 

It’s time to let things bounce off and back. 

It’s time to sit in the palm of the hand of Nature, 

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Alone but not lonely. 

Then, 

only then, 

I will be ready for

kisses. 

 

Blessings on your summer, 

Heidi

 

Acceptance in Recovery: Important Lessons from April

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April in New England this year has been particularly extreme. First it snowed, just as the crocus began to bloom. The snow melted, then it snowed again, knocking down the daffodils. Despite the intermittent frost and cold white blanket in these first weeks of April, the blossoms are still coming. The fragrant little grape hyacinths are dotting my yard this morning. The tomato and basil seedlings on my porch are stretching out to the sun. 

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I was thinking today that this year’s Spring is a little like recovery. My clients struggle with disordered eating, so that’s my frame of reference, but I suppose recovery from anything can feel like the fits and starts of this season. 

One of my Non-Diet Book Clubs is reading Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. Acceptance is one of those harder parts of recovery work, but it’s essential. When we bring mindful acceptance to our experience, we notice our feelings and thoughts without judgement or without trying to push them away. Easier said than done. I personally find it hard to notice unpleasant feelings without judging, analyzing, or trying to explain them away. This is a challenging concept to grasp, never mind to practice. 

Many of you have heard about one framework from which I work with my clients: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). In some ways, acceptance is not the best word to use. Clients often mistakenly think it means putting up with, giving in to, or tolerating things that are difficult or challenging. Acceptance is not about complacency, and it’s certainly not an excuse to do nothing on the path to our goals. Instead of putting up with or giving in to our negative thoughts or feelings, we can accept them by dropping the struggle with them — simply giving space for the thoughts and feelings to arise. We notice our feelings and thoughts, but we don’t need to react to them. ACT terms for acceptance work include “expand around it,” “make room for it,” “let it freely flow through you,” “breathe into it,” or in the words of the Beatles, “let it be.” 

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We don’t need to sit on a meditation cushion or yoga mat in order to practice acceptance. Acceptance happens any moment that you bring your attention to your thoughts and feelings, really notice them, and open up to the fact that you are a human being with those thoughts and feelings. You can choose to respond to them or not. You can choose to express them or not. But you don’t try to judge them or push them away. 

So many of us use food — either the withholding of it or the overindulging on it — to manage feelings that we think we can’t handle. 

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Instead, can we notice our hunger sensations, notice our cravings, and notice how full we are in any given moment? Can we accept these as our experience, even if the feelings in our bodies and minds are occasionally unpleasant? 

Can we notice that we feel angry at someone, but we’re choosing to take it out on ourselves by not eating instead of confronting that person? 

Can we notice how much we crave a certain food, and how much of this is about mouth hunger or emotional hunger and not stomach hunger? 

Can we notice feeling numb when we come home from work and just start eating, and admit that we’d rather eat and feel numb than ruminate over and over the stress from the day? Can we just notice this, without judgement? 

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These are just some of the questions that can take some time to explore and form the foundation for the profound work done by my clients. This is not about an external diet or person telling them how to eat; this is deep listening to oneself and opening to experience so that clear choices can be made. 

One important addition: noticing without judgement does not mean that we don’t also want to change our behaviors!  Maybe we don’t like that after-work, mind-numbing eating. Maybe we don’t like what food restriction in the service of avoiding anger is doing to our health and energy. Can we non-judgmentally notice these behaviors and acknowledge them as doing our best to deal with painful thoughts and feelings in the moment? Yes, we want to learn new strategies for dealing with stress, anger, frustration, loneliness. 

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There’s one very important concept here. (If you take only one thing home from this blog post, I secretly hope it’s this…) Finding new ways to cope and deal with difficult thoughts and feelings will not happen by trying to avoid or push them away. Just ask yourself if this has worked for you in the past…? Avoidance and automatic pilot go hand in hand. Acceptance of what is really happening inside in the present moment is the anecdote. When you can really drop into what is being felt or thought and observe it — and this takes a lot of practice! — you open up the freedom to make choices. You can choose to call a friend when you are feeling lonely, express feelings through writing, choose a snack that makes you feel satisfied and vital when desiring some food, and make other choices that move you towards recovery and the person that you want to be. 

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Recovery from disordered or dysregulated eating — and coming to peace with your body and self — is an ever-evolving process, and it doesn’t stop when you find yourself eating better. Like a flowering bush that needs pruning each year to realize it’s fullest bloom, we are constantly welcoming in the new discoveries about ourselves, as we let old patterns and habits that don’t serve us go. We can appreciate both our petals and our protective thorns. We are human and not perfect, and each of us are one of a kind.

What are the seeds that you are sowing this Spring? What is blossoming within you? What kind of flower are you growing into? What kind of life and person are you wanting to be? Every day, despite the frost, darkness, and other challenging conditions, we strive to blossom and become who we are. In fact, those challenging conditions are part of what makes us like a strong, resilient plant. This Spring, nurture and feed your soul and senses. Provide fertile, nutritious soil and plenty of water. Take good care of the seedling parts of you that long for the sun. 

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One of my favorite quotes is from Georgia O’Keefe, also a favorite artist. “Nobody sees a flower, really -- it's so small -- we haven't time, and to see takes time…” Take time to fully recover and develop a healthy relationship with food, your body, and your self. Get to know yourself and your uniqueness. Get to know what makes you feel alive and bring that aliveness out into the world. Allow yourself a full range of feelings and notice them all. Take time. Slow down whenever you can to check in with yourself and bring awareness to those feelings, even the hard ones— the ones that we tend to want to avoid or pretend aren’t a part of our experience. 

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I have to accept that April in New England is a little back and forth. I arm myself with a good warm scarf, lots of layers that I can peel off, and plant little sprouts on my sun porch to remind me that the sunnier side of Spring is coming. I emerge from the in-breath of winter, and breath out a blog post for the first time in awhile. My winter writing is more introspective and I don’t share so much of it. Today I accept and publish for you the imperfect combination of words here to describe this human’s experience of Spring and my work in it. I am grateful for the work with all of you — in person and on-line — that helps me feel the connectedness of all things. 

As I tend to my little seedlings, taking them inside when the porch gets below freezing at night, I imagine all the seeds being sown in the hearts and minds of humans all over, in all kinds of conditions, this Spring. I accept the cold temperatures, even though I don’t particularly like them.  I accept that I have to wait until the soil is warmer to put my plants into the ground. It’s another cold April in New England. The hard stuff in life is part of it all. 

Asking for What We Really Want is Harder than Saying “Pass the Dessert”

 In loving memory of Bud-Bud, who always had a good appetite.    

In loving memory of Bud-Bud, who always had a good appetite. 

 

Do you find yourself munching when you are not really hungry? 

Do you find yourself using snacks as reasons to take a break from work? 

Do you reward yourself with a treat when you finish a task — or use a treat to get you through it? 

When you get upset about something, do you find yourself in the fridge or pantry to console yourself? 

If so, you are experiencing emotional eating. 

And we all do it sometimes. 

Who hasn’t overeaten over the holidays because those favorite foods bring back good feelings? Who hasn’t mindlessly eaten to get themselves through a tough assignment? We all do this once in awhile, sometimes without even realizing it. We can’t always eat mindfully and with focus, savoring our food and stopping when we are perfectly satisfied. But for some of us, this overeating happens all too often, causing distress — and sometimes health problems. 

When I see a client in my nutrition therapy practice, I often look at whether she or he is eating a balanced diet. These days, many clients are not eating enough carbohydrates. So many people are afraid to eat too many of them. Not eating enough carbohydrates, proteins, and fats — as well as not eating enough total food energy or calories — can be a set up. An imbalanced or inadequate diet may lead to low energy, cravings, thinking about food too much, and overeating. However, sometimes the foods clients eat seem to be in alignment with their nutritional needs, but they still find themselves binge eating or eating beyond comfortable fullness regularly. It’s frustrating and it really has nothing to do with their food choices much of the time. This is pure emotional eating. And it’s a growing epidemic, so to speak. 

And why not? 

Food is legal and readily available. It’s grounding, sensual, and only takes a few minutes out of our to-do list to engage in. But is that snack really what we are hungry for? Do our bodies need food at this moment — or are we really looking for downtime, stimulation, sensory pleasure, or soothing? Food can provide all of those things for us, but at what cost? Tuning in to what it is that we really want and need — in any given moment — is a practice. It is not easy — particularly if we are someone that is oriented towards serving or taking care of others. (I am all too familiar with this myself.) 

I’d like to propose that the more we ask specifically for what we want and need — of ourselves and from others — the less we will feel the pull to put food in our mouths when we are truly not hungry. And the more we will feed ourselves nourishing food when we are indeed hungry, too.

One of the exercises that I encourage clients to do is to have them set an alert on their phones.  (We carry them everywhere, so we might as well use them for personal growth, right?) The alert should go off at random times several times per day. When that alert sounds, the client has to stop what she is doing and tune in. She should ask: What is going on in my body? What am I feeling? Am I hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Bored? Do I have to pee? Do I feel lonely? Cold? In an uncomfortable position? etc… 

For many of my clients, these alerts may be the only times that they truly check in with themselves during the day. Some begin to notice when they are hungry earlier than when they are ravenous and just about ready to eat their best friend. It’s hard not to overeat when we get that over-hungry.  

Some clients realize that as they work, play, connect, and engage in life, they forget to eat. After a full day, they find themselves starving — literally and figuratively. They may race off into more adventures in search of fulfillment, while denying themselves the food and reflective connection with themselves that they actually need for sustenance. 

Some people do the random alerts exercise and discover that they are frequently in discomfort, but were never aware of it. This prompts them to get help for some physical injuries or digestive issues. 

Some people realize that they want something, but they are afraid to ask for it. It’s easier to just plow ahead and take care of everyone else’s needs rather than tune in to their own.

When clients are helping professionals or parents, they often find it hard to stop and turn their focus on themselves. Eventually, they discover that when they take the time to check in and and take care of themselves (with a bathroom break, snack, short walk outside, stretch, deep breath, or whatever they need in that moment), they are actually better able to be generous and helpful to those around them.

Sometimes our little mindless snacks throughout the day serve that purpose. We’re trying to take care of ourselves some, but not too much. We don’t really take the time to think about what we really need in those moments — connection, touch, warmth, beauty, movement, fresh air — sometimes because we are afraid that we can’t get it or that we don’t have time to get it. But a nibble here will do… 

I’d like to argue that we don’t have time to ignore our needs and desires! 

If we do, it can create stress, exhaustion, resentment, an unfulfilling life… oh, and, yes, overeating and any of the health-oriented “perks” that come from that…  

This week I worked with a client who reflected that she was binging or eating mindlessly after work on a regular basis. When we dug deeper about it, we found that she was using food as a way to “take off the day.” Food helped her get out of her head and into her body, transitioning her from work to home after a stressful day. There was a part of her that was so used to using unhealthy ways to cope with stress and transition, she didn’t really feel like she deserved more than a binge. When we did some imagining about what it would be like if she didn’t hold the belief that she doesn’t deserve the self-care, she was able to come up with an alternative to binging. 

She is indeed hungry when she gets home from work around 4pm, so having an appealing, satisfying snack that could hold her until dinner was the first order of self-care. Then, taking a walk so that she could do something physical seemed like a good way for her to shift gears. She wanted to literally pound the pavement after a challenging work day. Walking helps her breathe deeply, slow down, clear her head, and transition from a day of taking care of others. She realized that thinking of physical activity this way was nurturing and would support her mental transition from work to home, as well as take good care of her body. The positive effects of exercise on our brains and bodies are well documented and she knows this. But it worked better for her to think of exercise as a “want” instead of a “should.” 

It was hard for my client to ask herself for a healthy yummy snack, physical movement,  and some self-care and transition time between work and home. It was easier for her to be careless with herself and operate the way she always has. Once she identified what she really wanted during that binge-filled afternoon time and was able to ask herself for it, she could come up with a plan for how to take care of herself. The challenge will be bringing consciousness to that time of day so that she can really make the change.

She still might need to contend with the part of her that feels undeserving of good self-care, but she has a plan and some compassionate, curious language to use with herself when that comes up. Having me to check in with around her progress helps her to take it seriously, and hopefully I’m modeling non-judgmental processing of her progress on these new afternoon practices. I’m seriously rooting for her and she knows it.

If you find that you aim to make food and self-care changes, but you just keep getting stuck, don’t underestimate the power of connecting with a nutrition therapist or other professional experienced in disordered eating that can help you non-judgmentally explore your resistance to change. Often our own self-judgement gets in the way of helping us make the changes that we want. It may also help to talk to friends or family about your new practices — or connect with a higher power or nature and ask for help. A little compassionate support often goes a long way. 

The next time that you find yourself trolling for sweets or gobbling mindlessly when you aren’t really hungry, ask yourself, “What do I really want? What am I really hungry for right now?” Even if you can’t stop the eating, keep asking this question and stay curious instead of critical. Knowing your desires and needs is an important part of healing from compulsive eating. In fact, it’s an important part of healing from any disordered eating, even restrictive under-eating. When you know what you want, you can ask for it — of yourself or of others around you — and you can stop using food as an inadequate (albeit yummy and soothing) substitute. It takes courage to ask for what you really want and desire, as well as time to reflect and really get to know what’s inside. But it’s worth doing, no matter how long it takes. There may be many bumps along the way, but the result is not only freedom from disordered eating but a more passionate, heart-centered, satisfying life.

Eating Disorder Blogger Slowly Returns to Writing and Learns a Thing or Two about Self-Care

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I’m going to be really honest here. I’ve been quiet on this blog for awhile and some of you have asked me what’s up. Well, here it is… 

It’s been too long since I’ve done any significant writing. It started with the fullness of life taking priority, and then I just got out of rhythm with the regular writing practice that I once had. 

And I haven’t danced enough lately.

And I’m not checking in with myself much or feeling rather clear about my needs and desires.

In fact, sometimes (like today) I feel like I’m just going through the motions. A bit on automatic pilot. Not fully present. A little lost. Not fully connected to my thoughts, my body, my true core self.

But …

I’m not using food — either the consumption of it or the withholding of it — to deal with this feeling. I haven’t done that in any significant way in decades. Food can be a way to soothe, reward, and even self-medicate when things get challenging, but in the end, it’s not really the food — or the control that comes from eating “perfectly” — that is really what I’m looking for in the first place. It’s not really what I’m hungry for or what I crave.

So what am I doing instead…?

I’m going to my journal to write and figure out what’s “eating” me.

I’m making conscious strides to find real connection with the people that I love and that care about me.

I’m checking in with myself and my “support team,” which includes friends and helping professionals, to help me remember my values and my needs.

I’m dancing, which is a way that I connect with all of the emotions that are inside.

It’s been a major transition time. My family has been going through a lot of changes. Really positive transitions have their stress, too. Let’s take the example of my partner moving in and becoming a part of our family. It’s a really good event, but it’s still a transition for all of us, bringing up the ghosts of past relationships as well as uncertainties about the future. Then there’s the new school year, which always seems to bring about a strong feeling of change and newness, amid the adjustment of schedules.

Something that I’ve learned about myself over the years is that transitions are challenging and I need spaciousness to take them in. At the same time, I can also be a “dive right in” kind of girl when the creative energy strikes me. Finding balance during transitions and creative breakthroughs may be part of my life’s work, but it feels worth it.

About twenty-five-plus years ago, when I struggled with an eating disorder, it was a big transition that I was anticipating and passing through: adolescence and the eventual moving away from my childhood home. In the past, I might have used food (either with too much control or out of control) to help me bridge the challenges of transitions, but eventually I learned other ways to cope and take care of myself. Now, decades later as a nutrition therapist who works with others struggling with disordered eating, I hope to help my clients move through their transitions and learn to nourish and feed themselves with care as they settle into their true selves.

I’m reminded, with this funky, automatic pilot, oh-my-goodness-what-a-busy-time, knocked-off-center feeling that I have today that we are all really just trying to find balance in a world that often doesn’t give us enough space and time to catch our breath.

Let’s take a moment together to just catch our breath…

And another moment…

Let’s make it three conscious, slow, spacious, deep breaths together…

(Big sigh)…

Taking a breath or two or three allows me to slow down, let go of the busy schedule and to-do list in my head and just live — really live through my breath — in the moment. When I do that, it’s easier to tap into what I really need or desire in any given moment. It's easier for me to listen better to what the the moment is asking of me. 

As I reflect and slow down, I realize that I need to write more. (This keeps me from driving my family crazy with all the things I have to say.)

I need to find time to dance more. (Dishwashing dance party, anyone?)

I need to hug my family more. (Those of you that have followed the blog, I’m sorry to report that guinea pig Boo is no longer with us. Although sad, her passing gave my daughters a chance to learn something about love and death. We recently added a few other critters to the household…)

 Bud-bud stands alone.

Bud-bud stands alone.

And I need to honor my center, even as I get knocked off of it, again and again and again. After all, we’re all human beings here together on this planet, trying to find our way.

I don’t use food to negotiate transitions any more, but I still feel the challenges to my sense of self and value when I start to feel a little “off” during them. I’m so grateful for the reflection and skills and open-heartedness that my recovery has offered me. I’m so grateful to be supporting the recoveries of many wonderful individuals as they discover the best way to nurture and feed themselves on many levels.

Writing this blog post today was both a gift to you, my ever-patient readers who I have been out of touch with, and a bit of my own self-care. How amazing when giving and receiving flow so simultaneously, particularly when they come out of a funky, disconnected-from-self place. And it worked! On this end, I feel better already. Thank you for reading. I hope that I can be a small part of your journey toward balance today as I find my own footing this September. How good it is to be doing this living and breathing, eating and growing, doing and being — together.

Day by day.

 Bobert the Beta Fish

Bobert the Beta Fish

Moment to moment.

One

deep 

breath 

at a time.

Today, can you make a commitment to slow down, breathe, and check in with those self-care practices that nourish you? Food is nourishing, but it shouldn’t take the place of other forms of self-care. What or who are your supports when you feel less than your stellar self? 

I commit to not letting it be too long before I connect here with you and myself in writing again. What can you commit to today? How can you commit to your Self today…? 


 Bubbles the Gerbil

Bubbles the Gerbil





Eat Clean? Detox? Lose that Winter Weight? Beware of the Nutritionist (or Anyone) Who Tells You What To Eat

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I have not been a regular blog writer this winter, and I am happy to say that I'm back. 

Spring Detox Nutrition Weight Loss

My writing practice inhabited a more internal, quiet space this winter, as New England got deeply pummeled with snow. In my hiatus, I discovered something about myself. It was something I already knew, but I experienced this knowing more deeply: family and relationships are incredibly important to me. My energies went in the direction of my smaller soul community, while outreach to my larger community got put on hold. I happily welcomed guest bloggers’ unique perspectives (see past articles by Deanna D’Amore and Rachel Zimmerman). It felt good to decide to take a blogging break. But I also feel equally good about getting back to the writing practice that I love and that provides no-cost resources and inspiration to those of you who have been my regular readers.

Spring is unfolding, and the trend to hyper-focus on health and nutrition scares me almost as much as some of the discussion about the “obesity epidemic.” There is so much information out there, especially now with on-line channels, that it is staggeringly hard to make decisions about our health. The information on nutrition alone is incredible. It seems that everyone has something to say about what we should eat, even those that don't have any background in nutrition science or have any understanding of human physiology. And while my own work has become more and more holistic and creative over the years, my nutrition therapy practices stay grounded in common sense, compassion, research in behavior, and knowledge of how the body works to process and assimilate food. 

Spring Detox Nutrition Weight Loss

Recently, one of my clients said, “One of the things I really like about working with you, Heidi, is that you never say that you know something about how to eat. In fact, you mostly say that you don't know.” She went on to highlight one of the pieces of our work that I think is most critical: I absolutely don't have the answers about what you should eat. I don't have the answers about what anyone should eat. And I'm not going to pretend that I do, no matter how much training I've had in nutrition. In fact, the one person who really does know what what's best for you to eat is YOU. If you listen, your body actually tells you. In my work with clients, I strive to help each individual find the style of eating that really works for them. And that often takes a lot of trial and error, listening, challenging, and practice.  

Now, if somebody has a serious eating disorder and they're either under- or over- feeding themselves significantly, there's no question that the relationship with food is out of balance. We also know that eating disorders are not just about food. Regardless, the ultimate goal, no matter how we need to move forward to get there, is about finding the style of eating that really works for one's individual body. No two bodies are like, and no two people likely need the same types and amounts of food at any given time.

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Please be wary of anyone who tells you that they have the answer for how to eat, particularly if that answer means eliminating whole types of food. Sure, allergies and intolerances are very real and worth sorting out. But the one-size-fits-all method of health and nutrition advice is just incorrect. The idea that we need to fine tune our diet (“clean” it up) so that it's perfect is also really incorrect and dangerous. Doing so  — worrying about every morsel that comes into our bodies and whether it is clean or not — can create stress and a sense of over-control that itself is rather toxic to our bodies and minds.

Yes, we are what we eat and it's important to eat health-giving food. I believe we should grow food that is full of the nutrients that our bodies need to thrive. I believe in making food choices that connect us to greater health because we are listening to what our bodies are telling us about how to care for them. However, the idea that we have to monitor, scrutinize, and perfect every morsel of food that goes into our bodies is the other end of the pendulum; it’s just as damaging as being mindless, disconnected, processed food eaters.

Spring Detox Nutrition Weight Loss

Take care of yourself. Take care of your wonderful body. Give it good nourishing food. Sit quietly with that nourishing food and feel it go down. Feel it sink into your tissues. Really savor and enjoy it. But don't run around and analyze every morsel you put into your body. Don’t (for a minute!) believe that one way of eating is going to be the answer to all your problems. Don't (for a minute!) believe that one way of eating is going to keep you disease-free. There are so many factors that can trigger illness —  stress and over-control included. Enjoy your days while you have them. The plain reality is that we are all going to die of something sometime. All over the world people eat in so many different ways and thrive. Find the way to eat that makes YOU thrive right now and helps you feel your best.

Find a way to really relax and enjoy food and the pleasure of eating. If you need help, I'm happy to assist you in this process, and so are many nutrition therapists oriented away from diets and towards more intuitive, mindful eating. We all need help with things that don't come naturally,  especially if we didn't learn how to tune in to our bodies from an early age.

As spring unfolds (and, wow, is it ever a big deal here in Boston after all the snow!), turn your faces up to the sunshine. Trust yourself and sink into that feeling of well-being that comes over you when you eat something that tastes and feels amazing. As the flurry of advice on how to detox, clean up, and drop that winter weight piles as high as the melting snow, I recommend instead that you listen to your own feelings and intuition about what to eat. No body knows better about what your body needs than your body.  



Zen and the Art of Chopping Vegetables

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Themes in my work these past few weeks have been about self-care and self-compassion. Couldn’t we all use a little bit more of these…?

Self-care can be a challenge in our busy lives. We spend so much time attending to our work, our children, our friends, our homes, our communities — and all of that is wonderful and rewarding. But does care of our Selves often get squeezed out of the day? Yes, indeed.

I believe that so many of our chronic diseases, our mental illnesses, and our growing fatigues may be related to deficits in self-care. This might mean simply failing to check in with ourselves, appreciating what we are feeling, and knowing when enough is enough. Sometimes we realize, at the end of the day, that we are depleted. We eat as a reward or treat — or to give ourselves something good when the day has left us little energy for anything else. Or, conversely, we restrict or obsess about our food as a way to feel better about and feel more in control of our lives.

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We all want lives that are our own, full of joy-filled activities and meaningful moments. We really do want to learn and grow from our mistakes and challenges in life, but we often punish ourselves instead. Sometimes with over- or under-indulgence of food or other pleasures.

Why do we do this…?!

We do this because food is tied so closely to expressing our larger needs and hungers — and it has been so since the time that we cried for our mother’s care and feeding on our first day as a human being. Whether we want it to be or not, food will always be associated with love and care and asking for what we need. Our brains are wired that way. So, no wonder the disregulated eaters are many, and I’ve been busy doing this work for nearly 20 years!  Now that I am blogging, my aim is to discuss what it takes to heal from this over- or under-eating and to give hope to those on this path.

Mindfulness is one of the most helpful practices for healing from disregulated (a kinder, broader term than “disordered”) eating and for cultivating more intuitive eating. The dictionary defines mindfulness as “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something” or “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” It sounds rather simple, but, in practice, mindfulness can be challenging — particularly in our fast-paced, multi-tasking world.

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When I work with clients to cultivate mindfulness in their eating experiences, amazing things happen (but, sorry, not overnight). Gradually, and with practice, disregulated eaters begin to identify the triggers to their un-attuned food choices and behaviors, question whether those choices and behaviors are in their best interest, and begin to make choices that are more aligned with self-care.

One of my favorite mindfulness techniques that I will share with you all today is what I call “The Zen of Chopping Vegetables.” I use this particularly with clients who overeat compulsively, but anyone who eats mindlessly at times could benefit. And it need not be done with just vegetables. It’s really about taking in the sensory environment of whatever foods are being prepared. It’s just that veggies are so colorful and make such a satisfying sound when they are cut. (So much so that when I cut something on a wooden cutting board, the sound makes our pet guinea pigs in the other room squeak in Pavlovian excitement.)

I’m sure many of you — perhaps all of you reading — have chopped vegetables. But have you really chopped vegetables…? I’m talking clear the clutter from your heads, examine that juicy carrot in it’s fullness of color and crispness, and chop away. Notice the sound, the texture, the rhythm of the knife on the cutting board. Now take a vegetable of a different color and texture. Notice the different sound the knife makes on the board, the change in juiciness, the feel of the experience. Notice the patterns on the inside of the vegetable. This exercise is exposing what prep-chefs in restaurant kitchens know already: preparing food is relaxing, transporting, sensual.

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When you get bored of being so in-tune with what you are doing (and you will, it’s the nature of the mind), then imagine where the food comes from, how it was grown, who tended it, and how it got to your kitchen — all the many steps. Acknowledge the miracle that is our nourishment. Now, chop some more. Tune in to the other parts of the meal with the same mindful attention, as if this was going to be your last meal and you really want to savor the experience. You may notice that the process of preparing food can be almost as nourishing as eating it. Almost.

Now, I’m hearing you say, “When in the world do I have time to chop vegetables like this? I only have a half-hour to get dinner on the table for a family of four!” I hear you. Most of the time, I can’t zen-out in the kitchen either. But, I guarantee that if you commit to mindful food preparation practice at least once per week (and ideally more in small doses here and there), you will enjoy those less-mindful times more. You will have slowly, but surely re-wired your brain to relax and nourish yourself more in the act of feeding yourself and others. Instead of a “should” or a “chore,” food preparation can feel like taking good care of your body and soul. It can be a peaceful respite from life’s more stressful thoughts, feelings, and activities.

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And, again, this won’t happen overnight. But by cultivating awareness of, nonjudgmental attention to, and gratitude for the foods that you are preparing, you will slowly appreciate the act of feeding yourself differently. There is little room for obsession, judgement, and mindless binging in the purest form of this sort of practice. If you notice judgement, emotions, thoughts come up; then do notice them, but return your focus to self-care, gratitude, and the sounds and smells that are before you. In the present moment. Right now.

Try it and see what it does for your eating and self-care. It’s just one of many mindfulness practices that clients have found helpful on the path toward healthful, balanced, more self- and body-attuned eating. The act of taking food preparation slowly — the way it used to be done out of necessity — can be healing and relaxing and kind of meditative. But you really want to allow yourself the space and the self-compassion to know that it won’t be easy at first. The simple act of preparing a colorful vegetable or fruit salad — or any baked good or main dish, for that matter — really can be nourishing on so many sensory levels. Allow yourself the time and attention and spaciousness to really notice.


“The grass is always greener where you water it.”

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“The grass is always greener where you water it.”  This seems like an appropriate quote for the Spring, coming a bit later than usual here in New England. (If any of you know who said this, please let me know. I saw it printed with "unknown" after it.) In any case, it seems rather obvious that the grass is greener where it’s tended. One of my clients repeatedly says that she thinks that my work is to point out the obvious that she somehow forgets. Yes, when we take good care of ourselves — when we water that grass — it grows. We grow. Instead of gazing at our neighbor’s green grass (or our neighbor’s body, possessions, partner, whatever…) we can cultivate a greener lawn within ourselves by practicing good self-care.

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Some of us are afraid to practice self-care for fear of being seen as selfish or self-serving or self-absorbed. But these are different states than true care of the Self. Care of the Self fills you up and allows you to be more generous in the world, to give of your own unique gifts, and to give without feeling resentful and depleted on the other end.

But this is no easy task for some of us. It’s a real dance…

So how do we practice good self-care — when it comes to food or anything else? How do we know when we’ve eaten enough or the right things for our unique bodies? How do we know how much physical activity is enough to make us feel good and increase our health without taxing our immune system and making us feel exhausted? How do we really know when enough is enough in our work, relationships, sleep, socializing, or other habits that take time and energy in our lives…?

My Nondiet Book Club is reading Karen Koenig’s book Starting Monday, a terrific read that really lays out the issues underneath disordered and (I like her term better) “disregulated” eating. It’s a challenging book to read, as she asks so many really right-on questions. Chapter 8 is titled “Know What’s Enough,” and I wholeheartedly recommend this chapter (ideally while reading the rest of the book) to anyone who feels that they have trouble with eating. If you go back and forth between under-eating and over-eating — or if you just can’t seem to find a balanced eating style that works for you — this chapter might resonate.

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My favorite thing about Karen Koenig is that she cuts to the chase, exposes our vulnerabilities, but doesn’t just leave us hanging. She generally talks about concrete steps to take, once she points out the issues that get us stuck. Trial and Error is one of the strategies that she writes about in order to figure out how much is enough for you — with food, exercise, work, and in negotiating your needs in relationships. This is one of those (like, duh) really obvious strategies, but yet we are often afraid to employ it. We have to really experiment with how much is enough to know what works for us. Searching out other people’s green grass (“she looks so great, so I want to eat like her”) won’t cut it when you are trying to figure out the way to eat that works for you. There is no one-size-fits-all eating or exercise plan, just like there is no one-size fits-all-amount of work that is right for everyone. Everyone has different thresholds for movement, intimacy, exploration in nature, need for quiet, and need for stimulation.

We are all such wacky, interesting, unique beings, but we often look to others to decide what is best for us.  Other people’s green grass might be nice to look at, for sure, but if we don’t play around in our own gardens, then we miss out on the lushness of a fully lived life.

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Trial and Error, as Karen Koenig writes, means trying different foods and really noticing what tastes and feels good. This takes some time and attention. It means cultivating trust in yourself by having an idea and not being too afraid to test it out and see how it feels, even if it’s something that no one else around you has considered. Just a few examples of what you might come up with as you apply Trial and Error to self-care include:

  • I need to have a solid breakfast in order to have balanced eating the rest of the day.
  • I need at least 7 hours of sleep in order to feel focused and alert.
  • Working out 4 times per week is just right for me.
  • Getting together with friends in person a couple of times per week helps me feel connected.

Create your own set of theories around what you need to feel balanced and test them out. How do you feel? Was your idea too much, too little, or just enough? When I started blogging I heard someone say that I had to blog every week. Someone else said to just blog when the mood hit me. I finally settled on every other week (with exceptions like two weeks ago when I had other priorities), as that helped me stay with my writing practice in a way that fit with my current life. It also gave me a sense of discipline and consistency that helps me stay on track. If I tried to blog more often, it felt like a chore that I didn’t have quite enough time for; less often and I lost momentum and missed it. I found my “enough” and it feels right. For now.

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Practice listening to your own sense of enoughness with food each day — and notice that sometimes a whole sandwich is just right, sometimes a half. Notice what types of foods make your body and mind feel good. Practice listening to your sense of enoughness with other things in life, too. Just because everyone in your office works 50+ hours each week doesn’t mean that this lifestyle is healthiest for you. As you pay attention to your own needs and limits and gradually learn to trust yourself more, you will develop the ability to take good care of yourself.  Karen Koenig writes, “Trust produces confidence, which produces more trust, and each reinforces the other.”

I find this work on “enough” is one of the last frontiers of eating disorders recovery, and it’s often something that has to be revisited even by those of us who are quite far along in recovery. The issues come up more often around other things than food — and food is no longer used as a way to deal with challenges of enoughness. Through the process of recovering from disregulated eating, one’s sense of being enough, doing enough, and saying “enough-is-enough” generally gets easier over time. At a certain point in recovery, we stop choosing to eat (or starve) to make us feel better. Instead, we ask for what we really need and soothe our own disregulated emotions. By directly honoring our needs and emotions, we learn how to take good care of ourselves.

As you tend to your own growth this Spring, notice that green grass of your neighbor, but please don’t forget to water and care for your very own garden.

Care of the Athlete (and the Self) Creates a Winning Team

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The recent Winter Olympics buzz inspired me to write about something that troubles me about athletics and sports today: the focus on winning and being there for the team at the expense of the individual athlete. Even in individual athletic pursuits, there is often a focus on competition. The outcome becomes more important than the process. While setting goals can be motivating, I also wonder if so many people lose the joy of moving the body by focusing on the finish and not on the race.

I work with many athletes and former athletes in my nutrition therapy practice. It’s astounding how many of them have challenging relationships with food. You would think that athletes, whose bodies are their instruments, would have increased reverence for food as their fuel. Many of them do, but I am always amazed at just how many also have a lot of conflict and struggle around food.

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Athletic people should ideally be the most in-tune with their bodies. Their bodies are highly capable, and sometimes they depend on these well-trained bodies for a major part of their livelihood. But, more often than I’d like to see, athletes can become quite disconnected from their bodies. They often ignore pain, strain, and fatigue because they don’t want to let the team down. The focus is on winning or finishing or getting the best time or lifting more than they did yesterday... And if a coach has told them that they need to stay thin or lose weight to be top at their sport, then they often engage in dieting behaviors — and sometimes even develop eating disorders — in an attempt to perform their best. Ironically, the dieting and disordered eating often shortens their career or leads to debilitating injuries that last for decades. Some athletes, like football players, are even encouraged to overeat, which can have a lasting impact on their relationship to food and later health.

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It made me think about the way in which all of us “perform” in our lives. Do we operate from our own desires, dreams, appetites — or are we trying to please our “coaches” or “teams?” Are we enjoying the moments of our lives — or are we chasing some goal, some “should” that keeps getting bigger and bigger the more we practice?

Let’s think about this…

  • When you exercise, are you doing it because it makes you feel great and it’s loads of fun — or are you trying to look a certain way for a certain someone or have a certain image? Do you listen to your body when it says it’s time to rest, or do you have a set amount of exercise that you must do in order to feel good about your workouts?
  • When you make a choice about what to eat, do you choose from what you really want to eat and what you know feels best for your body and palate — or do you eat what you think you should, based on someone else's assessment of what is best for you?
  • Are you living your life on your terms, making your own choices? Do you consult with your “team” of loved ones or advice-givers around you, considering their needs and ideas along with your own — or do you give up your own needs for the team, doing what you think you should do?
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My last blog post was a reprint of Sondra Kronberg’s article about eating disorders recovery called “Listening Inward.” She wrote about the importance of operating from a frame of reference that is inside ourselves, honoring our own truths and hungers and preferences instead of those of the people around us. If an athlete is doing that, she is more likely to notice that twinge in her knee and stop, instead of pushing on through pain and hurting herself. If a coworker recognizes that her body wants warm, grounding food and choses the hearty soup, she will feel centered and soothed all afternoon — instead of grabbing the salad, like everyone else around her and feeling hungry, distracted, and unsatisfied afterwards. If we all listen to our hearts and work to create a life that holds meaning and enjoyment for us, then we can say “no” to the things that don’t resonate with the life that we want. We can also say “yes” to the things and people that line up with our values and dreams.

Maybe you didn’t beat your best time, but you ran the race with your friends beside you for a good cause. Maybe you didn’t win the game, but you took many wonderful deep breaths under a clear blue sky. Maybe you didn’t lift as much weight or swim as many laps as you did when you used to go to the gym regularly, but you recommitted to your health and well-being by starting to exercise again. Maybe you didn’t dance as long or as hard as the people around you, but you shook your thang and you loved it.

 Bud-Bud and Boo try out snowboarding.

Bud-Bud and Boo try out snowboarding.

Enjoy moving — even if you don’t win the gold medal. Enjoy eating — even if you didn’t create the perfect meal. Listen to your body and its wisdom before you jump on the next diet and nutrition fad. In my experience, healing our relationships with food is comprised of the slow, hard work of changing habits and thought patterns, and no quick-fix nutrition solution will do it. Trust yourself above all else. Don’t forget yourself, when trying to be part of a community, family, or workplace. Feed yourself well so that you can move through life the way you want to: with strength, courage, and not overly influenced by your “team.” Life can be a challenging journey. Appreciate your growth, your unique gifts, and the way that taking good care of yourself helps you move through your unique life with grace. You will truly be a better “team player” if you are taking good care of your Self first.

Self-Care in a Selfie-Absorbed World

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That wasn’t a typo. I wrote selfie-absorbed because it seems that, as a culture, we are all so focused on our images. Wikipedia defines the selfie as “a type of self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone.” Time magazine wrote that the selfie was among its "top 10 buzzwords" of 2012. In November 2013, the word selfie was announced as being the "word of the year" by the Oxford English Dictionary.

Today’s blog post is not a sociological look at why we love to take pictures of ourselves and post them on Facebook. But it struck me today that so many of us find taking good care of ourselves challenging. In this world where information and communication happen at lightning speed, our brief screen images often seem more important than how we are really feeling.

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As a nutrition therapist who treats many clients with disordered and emotional eating, I’m frequently encouraging good self-care: eating well, sleeping well, moving the body in ways that feel good without overdoing it, etc… I’d be dishonest, though, if I said that I never have trouble with self-care myself. I have worked on my relationship with food and I’m two decades recovered from my own eating disorder, but I still occasionally find myself eating in front of the computer to save time or eating on the fly in the car. I know that giving myself good, nurturing, focused experiences with food feels better physically and emotionally, but I don’t always do it. Sometimes it’s a conscious choice because I have a deadline that feels more important in the moment, but sometimes I’m putting my own needs too low on the to-do list. When I don’t really taste my food because my mind is on something else, I might feel disappointed. I might find myself distracted and foraging for a snack later, even if I’m not hungry. Taking the time to honor my need for food, and the sensory enjoyment that an eating break provides, makes me feel like a more grounded, giving, and less distracted clinician/parent/partner/friend. When our cup is filled, we tend to be better equipped to help others in need.

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Sleep is another self-care item that so many of us struggle with. Just one more email, just one more chore, just one more sweet conversation with a friend or partner… And before we know it, we’ve squeezed our required seven hours of sleep (or however many you need to feel your best) out of the picture. The instant gratification of getting things done or connecting with a friend might have been wonderful, but we didn’t take the long view. How much can we really get accomplished the next day? How grumpy will we be with the people that we encounter as we get more and more tired over the week? I also find that when I “binge” on sleep after a week where I haven’t quite had enough, I feel groggy and worse after over-sleeping. It didn’t really produce the effect that consistent good sleep would have to begin with.

We do this failing-to-consider-the-long-view dance with food, of course. That [insert comfort food here] might have felt really good to eat. After all, you’re entitled to eat whatever you want, right, especially after all the work you’ve done to be “good” today? In the short view, that comfort eating might have felt great. In the long view, you may have felt overfull and groggy all afternoon. If you’ve struggled with disordered eating and self-judgement, you may have also felt bad about yourself for eating what you know doesn’t make you feel good.

One of my clients today said that her eating disorder and constant focus on food makes her feel like she is only living a “half life.” She’s so focused on what she is and isn’t eating and working her life around her eating disorder, that she finds it hard to be in touch with what she really wants to do. She goes back and forth between being overly accommodating of others and hoarding time and food and space to herself. She is working on a more balanced stance where she is able to take care of herself and, in doing so, has the space and energy to be generous and open and clear with others.

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Isn’t that what we are all working on as we try to negotiate our needs and others’ needs? It’s no mistake that this gets played out with food. We sometimes just can’t find that middle ground. We go back and forth between restricting or eating pristinely (and feeling virtuous about it) and binging or eating beyond our needs because, damn it, we just deserve a cupcake. Note, that I have nothing against cupcakes (love them), but we often use these rewarding-types of foods as a way to make up for the fact that we haven’t done much of anything for ourselves all day. In this case, a cupcake is our only self-care. But is that what we are really craving? Would we rather have a moment to leave work and walk around the block, clearing our heads? Would we rather have a hug after a long day, but we’re too afraid to ask for it for fear of rejection? Would we rather spend a bit of quiet time being reflective and compassionate toward ourselves or in some rejuvenating spiritual or physical practice? Would we rather connect with a human being instead of a computer screen full of selfies?

I still have to remind myself to practice what I preach to my clients regularly: we become more giving when we first give to ourselves. (In fact, us helping/healer types are particularly good at forgetting self-care at times.) When we nourish ourselves with good food, sleep, down-time, connection with people who energize us and don’t deplete us, and generally value and honor our own needs, we become more capable of living the lives that we are meant to lead. We naturally give more to the world and the people around us.

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How do I start to do this when I have believed all my life that my needs aren’t important? How do I fit self-care in with all the obligations and priorities and to-do list items…?

One bite at a time.
One hour of sleep at a time.
One breath at a time.
One dishwashing dance party at a time.

It’s better to commit to eating one mindful, slow meal than to expect your eating style to change overnight. It’s better to do five minutes of meditation in the morning, if that’s all you have time for, then to leave it out when you know that it centers you and helps you through your day. It’s great to commit to getting a little more sleep than usual and work slowly up to the amount that your body lets you know it needs. It’s better to move a little — and just commit to it — than to say that you are going to go to the gym five days a week (and beat yourself up if you can only make it twice). All that energy that goes towards not feeling “good enough” is energy that you could be putting out into the world, doing the great things that only you can contribute. We each have our own unique gifts, but we often get in our own way and fail to let our lights shine.

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Today, make a commitment to yourself and your very own needs for self-care. Make a small but (this is important) do-able decision to change something about the way you live your days, be it about eating, movement, sleep, or other self-care. Try that small change out and get that new habit nicely locked in before you try something else. Be patient with yourself; change is hard and there is often resistance. Look that resistance in the face and keep trying. One healthy, self-caring habit carried out often makes the next one a little easier. Self-care, like self-neglect, is contagious and grows. If you find that negative, self-loathing feelings get in the way of change, get some help from a therapist or therapy group. Sometimes working with people who can give you some of the unconditional compassion that you need (but find hard to give yourself) is helpful and healing.

Remember that you are a whole being and not just your screen image. What will you do today to take better care of yourself — and, therefore, your world, as the self-care extends out in ripples of giving to those around you…?

(Feel free to comment below and share your own thoughts and journey… We are all in this together.)

Resolutions Schmesolutions!

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Have your New Year’s Resolutions started to go south yet…? I’ve noticed that it’s kind of trendy this year to not create resolutions. Like it or not, though, there is an energy of change and renewal that comes with January. It’s hard to deny. So we ride it, and think about breathing out the things that we’d rather leave in 2013 and breathing in the new…

So many of us set New Year’s resolutions or goals about weight loss or change in diet or exercise. I know this because clients have told me that the gyms are packed and the weight-loss commercials have increased. It’s a January phenomenon. Then, by March (if not before), the gyms are less crowded and many resolutions are forgotten. We sort of forget about them until next January. This can leave us feeling rather demoralized and ashamed, as if we have somehow failed or don’t have enough willpower or strength.

As a nutrition therapist, my work is all about assisting in behavior change. My clients want to eat more wisely, or move more freely and confidently in their bodies, or discover the freedom that life without disordered eating can bring. I believe in setting goals (realistic ones) and being patient with and honoring the process to get there. So, how can we look at those new year’s wishes in a new light so that we don’t run out of steam by March…?

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First, I propose New Year’s Explorations (instead of resolutions). Yes, we want to eat healthfully, in a way that makes us feel vital and energized, but how to we get to that place? Over the last 16 years that I have been doing this work, I have discovered that the majority of my clients actually know how to eat well. I don’t mean perfectly, as I don’t believe there really is one perfect way to eat. In fact, our bodies are all so different — and people all over the world live and thrive on so many different kinds of diets —  that I just don’t believe that our food choices deserve the scrutiny and obsessiveness that we have developed here in the U.S. With practice, I have seen many people figure out the way of eating that best suits their lifestyle and values. But what if you know the way that you want to eat, and you already know a lot about nutrition, but you just can’t stop eating patterns that sabotage this? For example, you want a diet that is balanced and moderate when it comes to sweets, but you find yourself binging on the foods that you are trying to moderate. Or maybe you don't want to be obsessed with what you eat, but you are so afraid of eating too many carbohydrates or calories that you find yourself restricting your food and feeling famished and focused on food all day.

We often use food — either over- or under-eating — as a way to deal with (or not deal with) challenging feelings or thoughts. Eventually, it can just become a habit. Compulsive overeating is something almost all of us do at times (particularly around the holidays) and is sometimes a way of self-soothing when our physical and emotional needs aren’t being met. Find yourself eating those holiday cookies in order to keep yourself awake to wrap gifts — or during holiday obligations that weren’t all that fun? Maybe you really wanted sleep or different company, but you treated yourself to food instead. You took care of the part of you that enjoys yumminess in your mouth, but not the other part of you that needed sleep or connection.

A client I met with this morning had the wonderful experience of being at a social gathering with friends that felt so nourishing. She was so “fed” by the company and the activity of the evening that she really had little interest in all the wonderful food that was present. She ate when she needed to, but she mostly had little interest in eating as her spirits were being nourished elsewhere. Another client today talked about the way in which she could be more flexible with her food choices, allowing herself to eat in a less rigid way, if only other parts of her life felt more fulfilling. Her elaborate food preparation rituals and the pleasure that she takes in eating her highly-planned meals is “all I’ve got” for self-care and pleasure in the day. She was able to imagine, though, that she could think about food a lot less and eat a quicker, less time-consuming meal if she had other pursuits in her day that were engaging her passions. She is trapped by her disordered eating, but her disordered eating also takes so much time that she has little space to think about how she might go about cultivating more of what she really wants in her life.

In the Non-Diet Book Club this morning, we also talked about the ways that we can be so afraid in our culture to sit still and ask ourselves what really fills us up. What nourishes our hearts and souls? We compulsively eat, drink, shop, exercise, text, clean, play games. We are — all of us, and I am far from perfect here — sometimes afraid to just sit still and simply be. We don’t often check in with our hearts. We are sometimes afraid of what we might find. We are afraid that we don’t know what our heart’s desire really is. Or if we do know what it is, we don’t know the first thing about connecting to it or bringing it into our lives. So many clients say that it’s so much easier to just keep [insert food behavior, whether it be binging, restricting, or eating carelessly] than to change and do something else, even if that something else might be good for them. Some of us are so conditioned to feel lousy, criticize ourselves, and live in our heads instead of our hearts, that it is hard to imagine operating otherwise. Change is hard. We need support and strength in order to do things differently.

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I know that clients are moving towards full recovery from disordered eating (no matter their path to get there) when they begin to truly cultivate the things in their life that help them to feel connected to themselves — and their unique values and purpose. Do you feel that groundedness and that sense that all is well in the world when you do something that you are passionate about? Doesn’t your life just flow better when you are feeding your spirit and senses — and when you find moments of being in the present? It can be simply spending time in nature or with a trusted friend or meditating or being lost in a project that you are passionate about. Not thinking endlessly about things that already happened or worrying about things in the future that are beyond our control, but just being in the present. Doesn’t life just flow better for you? Do you feel a little relief from that thinking, analyzing part of your brain? Do you not even think about food then, at least until your body gives you the clear signal that it’s time to refuel? Some of us find these moments of just being present more easily than others. Be patient with your very own journey.  

In 2014, I wish more of those moments of presence and deep heartfulness for you. And how do we all get there? Not by making resolutions, but by making explorations and finding out — in the quiet space that you give yourself — what it is that really “feeds” you. When you spend more time nourishing your spirit and soul, the power that food has over you becomes weaker -- and you are able to use your psychotherapy, nutrition therapy, and individual soul work more effectively.

Ask yourself these two big questions in 2014:

  • What fills ME up? What nourishes my soul and spirit and keeps me grounded in the present?

Some examples from my clients this week: listening to music, praying or meditating, walking in nature, taking care of someone that you love or your home, hanging out with a friend, playing with a pet. In fact, animals are particularly helpful for keeping us in the present. They don’t know any better.

  • What form of movement nourishes and feels good to my body and soul? Do I like to move my body alone or with others? Does vigorous or more gentle movement really ground me?
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I don’t know about you, but the right music can transform dish-washing into a satisfying dance party in my kitchen. Movement comes in all shapes and sizes. Think outside the gym.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to eat or exercise differently in the new year and setting goals to do so. But don’t forget that the reason that you might be overindulging in food, drink, or sedentary living just might be that you are starving for what matters most to you and trying to fill up or reward yourself with something else. Explore this in the new year… Check in with yourself (or, if you are a planner, your calendar) every month this year. Are you filling your life with the things that matter most? If not, make appointments with yourself to do so. Build that nourishment right into your life the way that you schedule all your other priorities. (Most busy people have to do this.)

Explore and discover what makes you feel happy, present, and full this year. You may find that eating becomes less of a battle and big deal when your soul is being adequately fed. And the really cool thing about the eating binge or the exercise resistance creeping back in here and there… Well, I recommend trying to dispense with the self-criticism and recognize this as a sign that your soul and spirit needs more nourishment. Don’t be afraid to sit quietly and ask your heart what it really needs if you find yourself hanging out with food you don’t want to eat. Be gentle with yourself and explore what you hunger for in 2014.

Feeding Yourself (and Your Family) Seasonally and Sanely

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Are you trying to eat mindfully, eat seasonally, and enjoy the pleasures of eating, but you just don’t have a lot of time to be creative in the kitchen? If so, I hear you... I love to cook, but I’m a single working mom and the reality is that I often have a half-hour to prepare dinner for myself and my family. Making nourishing, health-giving meals is important to me, but the realities of life mean that I’m not exactly able to ride the slow food train as much as I’d like to.

Over the years, I’ve collected some ideas for seasonal meals that work in my kitchen and the kitchens of my clients. When I say “seasonal” in November, I’m thinking autumnally, using fall harvest ingredients. Seasonal eating for us here in New England means warming our bodies with soups, stews, squashes, greens, warm grains, root vegetables like carrots and parsnips. Curling up on the couch with a bowl of warm soup and a soft blanket provides a sensory environment that feeds both our bodies and souls during the shorter, darker days of autumn and winter.

I don’t have true recipes to offer you with measurements and clear instructions (sorry to folks who like standard recipes) because I rarely cook with recipes when I’m busy... which is... uh, like, almost always! It’s wonderful to cook and enjoy the process of cooking. That in itself can be an act of mindfully caring for ourselves. But when you have a family to both feed and interact with -- and a small time in which to do that -- keeping it simple leaves room for the meal to be more relaxing, connective, and fun. Even if you are feeding just yourself, keeping food preparation simple and easy may just give you more time to eat slowly -- and to savor the downtime that meals provide with good, health-giving food.

Let’s start by exploring some of my favorite time-saving kitchen devices...

First, the pressure cooker. OMG, I can’t say enough about how I depend on this pot! I think every house should have at least one. In Switzerland, I believe that the average house has three. A pressure cooker allows you to cook brown rice in 20 minutes, white rice in 5 minutes, dried beans/legumes (previously soaked) in 10 minutes, squashes in 10 minutes, potatoes in 15 minutes. Need I say more...? If you want to make a stew, you can place raw ingredients and soup broth into the pot and cut your cooking time down considerably. I can’t say enough about how helpful this pot is. Well worth the expense of a good one that will last...

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Second, the slow cooker. I’m not a crock pot whiz like some of my mama friends. I tend to use this for two things: first, to cook whole chickens -- and then boil down the bones to make soup broth. The bones contain beneficial minerals, and studies have shown that good old-fashioned chicken soup is better for soothing and improving the symptoms of the common cold than any herbal remedy. The second thing I use the slow cooker for is to make oatmeal . Put in one cup of rolled oats (not the quick kind) to 4 cups of water in the evening before you go to bed. Add nuts, fruit (I like chopped apples), flaxseed, and other add-ins at night or in the morning -- depending on what floats your oats -- and you wake up with a warm, delicious breakfast all ready to eat. How wonderful is that?! I also know many busy working parents who toss ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning, head out the door, and have a warm home-cooked meal ready when the workday is done. Feel free to share some of your favorite recipes in the comments section below this post...

Now let’s talk about my Easy-To-Make Soup Template. You can make hundreds of different kinds of soup with a fairly simple formula and different ingredients.  If you’ve made some bone broth (see above) or have some prepared broth of any type in your kitchen, you can make a quick, delicious soup in no time. The key is having fresh, colorful ingredients around.

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Start by sauteeing some garlic and onions in a large soup pot with an oil of your choosing (I like olive oil for soup), add chopped carrots, parsnips, and/or celery and sautee further. I’m not going to tell you how much oil or onions or garlic to add, since part of the fun of cooking is figuring out just how much interests you. Depending on how much soup you want to make, dump in some broth and add a protein source to round out the meal: beans/legumes, tofu, pieces of cooked meat (which you have cooked in the slow cooker during the day or another time and have all ready in the fridge). Next, add any seasonal vegetables of your choosing and/or a can of diced tomatoes. I like to keep a bit of cooked squash and potatoes in the fridge so that I can use them during the week quickly. If you want to put uncooked squash or potatoes into your soup, then you will need to cut them up in small cubes and boil them in the soup for a bit. Greens like kale, chard, or collards, however, can be put in for a very short time, just prior to serving your soup. Don’t forget to add fresh or dried herbs and spices to your taste. (I like using curry and ginger and pepper in my soups.) Experiment and find out what works for you.

So many clients say that making soup feels too complicated. Once you try the “formula” above, make a mental note of what you liked and didn’t like about your soup. When you are pressed for time, a vegetable or two and a protein might be enough; when you have more food prep time or you are in the cooking “zone,” play around with different ingredients. Because I never use a recipe, my soups never come out the same twice. That keeps it interesting for my family and me. One of my favorite simple soups involves simply cooking French green lentils with onions, carrots, celery, coconut milk, curry and broth. Yum!

And don’t forget the grounding food with all that protein and vegetable. Serve soups with a cooked grain like rice or quinoa -- or add noodles, pour on top of a baked potato, or serve with a sweet potato or crusty bread. Now you have a yummy, warm, balanced meal. If you have the ingredients on hand, and you get the hang of it, you can make this meal up in about a half-hour.

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And how can I talk about autumn food without mentioning my favorite lesser-known secret about squash? Did you ever look at that big butternut squash and just not have the heart to take an ax to it? Well, you can cook any squash whole! Just poke a few holes in the squash with a sharp knife. Then, bake it whole at 375 degrees for about an hour, depending on the size of the squash. This is actually the best way to maintain all the nutrients in the squash as it cooks. Just cut through the soft cooked squash when it’s done (test it first with a skewer to make sure it’s really soft and cooked) and scoop out the seeds. Voila! Another easy meal can be made by stuffing squashes, once cooked and cut into halves, with whatever you have in your kitchen that can be warmed up and mixed together. Use cooked rice, cooked quinoa, chickpeas, walnuts or pecans, pieces of cooked chicken or turkey, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, or other seasonal vegetables. If you have children, they generally will like eating these “squash boats.” My daughters like getting down to the sweet acorn squash at the bottom of our boats.

I hope this gives you some seasonal inspiration for those short, dark, busy days of autumn and winter. Many of my clients are on the road to recovery from challenges with food. Creating nourishing, delicious meals helps all of us take good care of our bodies and souls. This doesn’t have to be elaborate or complicated or fancy. Warmth, seasonal produce, and a little dose of self-love go a very long way...

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Mindful Movement: How to Exercise So That You Never Burn Out or Lose Interest

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 I counsel and write frequently about mindful eating. This week, it struck me that a lot of my clients have been looking for help with exercising mindfully. They don’t call it that, but I hear things like:

“I feel bad if I don’t run six miles; but after I do that, I am completely wiped out and exhausted the rest of the day”

or “I know I should be exercising more, but I feel demoralized going into the gym”

or “I walked three miles today, but that doesn’t feel like enough.”

In each of these cases, my clients want to move, but they are moving according to some prescription that they hold in their heads -- or that was handed to them by another well-meaning health professional or parent or friend. What they aren’t doing is listening to their own bodies’ wisdom about how much activity is enough or right for them.

Let’s take the example of the runner who feels compelled to run so many miles per day, but whose body is not recovering well from it. Marathon runners know that training requires lots of miles, but it also requires lots of calories from food. If you are running your planned number of miles, but feeling more exhausted than energized, then you are probably running more than your own self-care will allow. Are you eating enough food to sustain and support that level of running, particularly if it’s daily? You may be surprised by just how many calories runners need in order to repair all the muscle fibers and tissues that break down and build up with regular running. In fact, if we don’t eat enough calories, we can’t build muscle doing any kind of physical activity. Muscle building is anabolic, which means that it requires extra food above and beyond the food that our bodies need to survive and function well.

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If your body is getting enough food (particularly enough carbohydrates and protein), enough sleep, and you are not training beyond your body’s capacities, you should be able to recover from your physical activity and feel good (albeit a little sore) the next day. If your exercise routine is wiping you out, then it’s time to take a look at your eating and other habits. Maybe your busy lifestyle is tiring enough, and exercising every other day would be more sustainable than daily workouts. Maybe two times per week is really enough for you right now. Just because the Surgeon General makes particular recommendations doesn’t mean that the advice is right for every person under every circumstance. Take a look at what level of exertion and frequency your lifestyle can handle. Try eating more if you feel like you aren’t recovering well between workouts. Many clients are surprised that just adding more food (often carbohydrates) gives them more energy and helps their bodies recover better from physical activity.

High-intensity exercise like running is certainly not for every body. Nor is going to a gym. The person I mentioned above who felt humiliation and shame going to a gym may not be choosing the right form of movement. Often when I interview someone about their exercise habits, I ask them to name ways of moving their body that feel good. If going to the gym and taking the stairs-to-nowhere feels good, so be it. For many, however, gym exercises become boring, repetitive, and something to dread. Often working with a sensitive trainer to mix things up and make movement interesting helps. Finding forms of movement that feel more motivating and fun helps sustain interest. Walking outside -- particularly now while the New England weather is mild and the trees are gorgeous -- will often feed the senses (and fulfill our hunger for nature) much more than staring at a TV in a gym. Clients of mine have discovered dancing, yoga, kayaking, swimming, martial arts, gardening, and other forms of movement that help them feel more connected to their bodies and to the joy of movement. One of my clients recently joined a women’s hockey league and finds it exhilarating and fun; the treadmill wasn’t doing it for her anymore.

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I once had an injury and needed to do some strength training to help me get stronger as my knee and hip healed. I hate traditional strength training, even though I know that it is good for my body. I find it boring and it feels pointless to me in the moment, so I have no interest in sustaining it, even though I want to have a strong, able body as I continue to age. Put me in a kayak or on my bike, but don’t make me lift a dumbbell or ride a bicycle that’s nailed to the ground! During my injury recovery, Peter Benjamin, the practitioner who helped me with my healing, made strength work fun. He taught me exercises that I could do with my daughters around the house, threw heavy balls back and forth with me (playing ball is way more fun than lifting weights!), and generally made the experience of strengthening and healing fun and interactive. I’m so grateful for that experience and for what it taught me about what I personally need in order to keep making movement a joy and a part of my life.

Lastly, I frequently hear clients say that they did some walking, or they worked an 8-hour shift on their feet, or they did some stretching and yoga -- but “it’s not enough.” Enough for whom, I ask? Often my clients have Schwarzenegger-like expectations. Our bodies benefit when we ride our bikes to the store, walk from the subway station to work, wait on tables or patients, and dance around in the yard with a toddler. You might get up from your desk if you sit a lot (set an alert on your computer if you need to) and stretch and move in the way that your body tells you it needs. If you tune in, your body will likely tell you how to move. Find ways to be creative and move spontaneously in your life, so that scheduling exercise doesn’t have to be a chore or another to-do list item. And let it be enough.

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I just ran a few errands outside on this gorgeous day. I walked for maybe 20 minutes total, and since I saw clients all morning and sat a lot, I unrolled the yoga mat that I keep in my office and stretched my back and hamstrings. I also remembered some of the strengthening exercises that Peter gave me long ago to prevent re-injury and spent a few minutes taking care of my slightly tired, slightly stiff forty-something body. It was probably a total of 35 minutes of “exercise.” This was not Schwarzenegger-level aerobic, strength, or flexibility work, but it was just right for Heidi Schauster on a day when she had already worked a fair amount. I felt good in my body afterwards -- energized, rejuvenated, and not wiped out. I enjoyed the autumn leaves and the fluffy clouds on my errands and out my window. After a short meditative rest (shavasana) to close my movement activities, I went back to my chair. After this bit of movement and mind-clearing, I was able to sit down, feel creative, and write the blog post for this week that wanted to be written.

Keys to Mindful Movement: (Schausten-egger style)

  • Find activities that you love and that really energize you. Do you like to move alone, with a friend, or in groups? Do you like high-intensity sweating, gentle yoga, or some of both?

 

  • Listen to your body. If you feel too sore, tired, and spent after exercising, you may be doing too much at a level that is not sustainable -- or your daily activities plate may be too full for that level of physical activity.

 

  • Never ignore injuries. Soreness when you use new muscles is normal, but pain is a message from your body. What is it trying to tell you...?
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  • Throw out all the “shoulds” that you have about exercise. How do you like to move? How often does movement work with your level of fitness and lifestyle? You can always do more when your body asks for it or your schedule allows, but working out hard and not getting enough sleep, for example, is a recipe for burnout.

 

  • Think outside the box (or gym). Find ways to move in your daily life. And, yes, taking the stairs and walking or biking downtown does count!

Our bodies were designed for movement, yet we sit and stare at screens more and more these days. We need to move more than ever, but if we mindlessly exercise -- not listening to our bodies and what they are telling us about what feels good (and what feels lousy), then we can develop a challenging relationship to physical activity that is not unlike the struggles with food that are so common among us today.

Get out and play...   Smell the roses or the crisp autumn air...   Shake your thang...

Movement, like eating, is a pleasure that sustains us and should remind us that being in a body is not so bad. Honor you body’s wisdom.

What kind of movement are you hungry for?  Today... In this moment...

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Ten Perfect Foods You Can’t Live Without and Why This is Garbage

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I think that if I see another article about the Top Ten Foods that You Must Eat in order to have Perfect Health, I might just implode. Not really. But it does drive me nuts to see foods categorized into “good” and “bad,” as this perpetuates the myth that there is one more virtuous way to eat than another.

Yes, I am a registered dietitian, and a couple of decades ago I studied a lot of chemistry and anatomy and physiology. I know that some foods have more vitamins, minerals, and beneficial phytochemicals than others. I know that the more colorful plate of food is generally the most nutrient-dense. I’m not going to argue that encouraging us to get more fruits and veggies in our diets is wrong. However, encouraging people to believe that drinking a green smoothie each day makes up for erratic and unbalanced eating the rest of the week is a grave mistake. I have seen too many very intelligent people skip meals and feel low blood sugar crashes because they believed that drinking a smoothie was a substitute for listening to their body’s needs and preferences and hunger.

So, I really hate to burst your bubble, but here is the real deal about smoothies -- and quinoa -- and kale. They aren’t perfect foods. In fact, NO one food is perfect. Please please please give up that view. Our bodies need lots of different nutrients in order to be healthy.

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So, full disclosure. I actually like quinoa -- and kale -- and frequently make smoothies of many types. My favorite has fresh grated ginger, chocolate (cacao), and almond milk in it. My children will catch me sneaking some spinach into their fruit smoothies, and they don’t even mind any more because they like the taste, if there are also plenty of sweet berries in there, too. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, coconut, whole grains, avocados.... Yes, these are all health-giving foods that may have disease-preventative qualities. What I worry about is the way that health-improving foods are given such rock star status that they start showing up all over the place.

For instance, we used to think that coconut oil was on the “bad” list and clogged our arteries. Then, a more recent bit of research indicated that coconut may be good for us. Now it’s showing up in everything from yogurt to bottled coconut water drinks. None of those foods are probably bad for us by themselves, but we don’t know what the effect of eating many coconut derivatives in one day might be.  Many of these products are not coconut-the-way-nature-intended-it. I once did a diet assessment of a vegetarian client years ago and found out that she was eating seven different products with derivatives of soy in them in one day. (This is pretty easy to do with all of the soybean oil and added soy protein in many products.) Everything that she’d read was telling her that soy was super healthy, but I still cautioned her against so much processed soy.

We take nutritional advice to the extreme because moderation is not sexy. And because eating virtuously is one way we can feel better about ourselves -- and feel in control of our lives in an increasingly complex world.

But whenever we listen to the Top Ten Foods You Can’t Do Without and stop listening to our inner wisdom about what our bodies most need to eat in any given moment, we create a big disconnect between our bodies and the act of eating. We trust someone else’s advice for how we should eat over our own -- and we believe, erroneously, that there is a food prescription out there that everyone should follow.

Studies have shown that young children, over the course of a week and month (though not daily) will naturally choose a diet that is varied and complete nutritionally. When I ask my 8-year-old daughter why she didn’t eat a particular meal or snack, she says, “Because I didn’t like it,” looking at me like I must be crazy if I think that she’s going to eat anything that she doesn’t really like. She will also sometimes say, “I don’t like this, but I’m really hungry, so I’m eating it.” Her logic is pretty simple around food and it hasn’t been tainted by the “shoulds” and “should-nots” out there.

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Somewhere along the line, though, we stop listening to the wisdom in our bodies that tells us things like, “I’m really in the mood for that soup,” “I feel like I need some grounding food,” or “I have a real taste for squash, but not tomatoes.” Sometimes our bodies crave unusual foods, like the pregnant semi-vegetarian who suddenly wants to eat meat much more often. (This is not unusual when she needs extra protein and iron to grow a baby.) Sometimes our bodies want to eat more food when we have been more active, especially if we are using new muscles. Women usually want to eat more at the end of their menstrual cycles when metabolism increases and they do actually require a bit more food. Ever wonder why you suddenly feel like you want to eat some fish? Or why a sandwich is more appealing than a salad some days, but not others?

Our bodies have lots of wisdom about what we need, as long as we listen. Setting up foods as “good” or “bad” -- or always choosing the “healthy” or “low-calorie” option overrides the body’s good judgement about what to eat. But maybe you are so out of practice with really listening to your body. Maybe you aren’t used to listening to hunger and don’t even know what your real food preferences are these days. You think you like a particular food, but you aren’t sure that you feel very good after eating it.

My first suggestion is to s...l...o...w... d...o...w...n... the process of eating. This is what eating mindfully looks like and many of us rarely eat this way. (I mindlessly eat lunch while I check email more than I’d like to admit.) Try this some time when you are alone and undistracted. That, in and of itself, could be a challenge!

  • Pause before you prepare yourself a meal (if you have the choice) and ask yourself what you really want to eat. What textures, flavors, temperatures would be appealing? Try not to let your ideas about nutrition dictate your choices. You may have to get really quiet and still, if you aren’t used to this, in order to read your body’s signals here.

 

  • Take in the visual appeal of the food and the smell before even taking a bite.

 

  • Ask yourself how hungry you are for this food. Is it stomach hunger or is your mouth or mind hungry for it mainly?

 

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  • Think about where the food came from and all the people, animals, plants, sunshine, and rain that made the meal possible. Don’t just wolf down this miraculous dish! Try to cultivate and feel real gratitude for the food.

 

  • Take a few slow bites and notice the flavor and texture and feel of the food in your mouth. Savor the pleasure of eating each bite.

 

  • After several slow, enjoyable bites, ask yourself how hungry you still are for this food. Repeat the process above.

 

  • Notice when you are getting full. What does that feel like in your body? How do you know when to stop? Notice the sensations.

This all may sound rather simplistic because it is. Regardless, many of us have lost the ability to eat this way -- in a way that is really in tune with our bodies. Eating feeds our souls and hearts more if done in this careful, nurturing way. Try it even with a few bites each day. You will see a difference in your relationship with food start to emerge. Many of my clients who practice mindfulness in their eating report that their souls and hearts feel more fed when they eat this way; they feel cared for. And if they are finding other ways to nourish themselves outside of meals -- with activities, people, and time to re-energize -- then food takes its place as just one of the many pleasures in their lives. Sometimes this can be a long process of healing, but it starts with trusting yourself -- and not the next Top Ten Perfect Foods list.

We are all perfectly imperfect. So is our food. Eat what you like. Eat what makes you feel good. In each very different moment. Pay careful attention to the wisdom of your very own body.

If you liked this passage, please nourish yourself with the whole book. Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self is available here on my website, on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Also, sign up for free seasonal inspiration below. 

Low Carbohydrates Lead to Big Cravings

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I sat around the table at a restaurant with several other parents. Sometimes when I go out, I like to pose as an insurance agent so that I can really have a break from my work, but this group knew that I was a nutritionist. My colleagues in nutrition often commiserate about being stalked in the grocery store. Someone even followed one of my dietitian friends around a buffet table, saying that she was going to take exactly what my friend was putting on her plate (as if we nutritionists somehow have the answers to what all bodies should have to eat at any given moment!). Well, all eyes were on me at the restaurant as I ordered the seasonal root vegetable stew and enjoyed a homemade roll. Every other person at the table ordered a salad with some sort of meat and didn’t touch the bread. I saw more than one person look longingly at my plate and felt sad for them.

I remembered the time, early in my career, when everyone was so afraid of the fat in foods. I’m dating myself when I talk about Snackwells Cookies, where the fat (and taste) was taken out and replaced by more sugar. Those cookies would probably not sell today because, collectively, we are more afraid of carbohydrates than fats this decade. I have an old handout from the 90s about the reasons why fat is essential in the diet; it sits in my file cabinet like a relic of nutritional history. Today, the number one food component that my clients are avoiding is carbohydrate.

While I’m delighted that we are not starving our brains of fats any more, I’m equally disturbed by the elimination of yet another macronutrient. Macronutrients in foods include carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and water. These differ from food’s micronutrients -- the vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals -- that we hear about so frequently as having health-giving properties. Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats contain calories, units of energy that are the true fuel that our body can use for everything that it does. If macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and fats) are our gasoline, then micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are the spark plugs -- important to make sure the engine runs smoothly, but not the major fuel source.

The body needs a certain amount of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in order to function optimally, and there is some debate as to just how much we need of each. In my experience -- and I have 15+ years of nutrition counseling behind this -- taking in too much or too little of any food component causes problems. Too little fat makes us preoccupied with food and contributes to reproductive system decline. Too little protein makes us tired, weak, and hungry constantly. And, because this is a post about carbohydrate avoidance, I’m going to spend a little more time on this one...

When a client comes to me and complains about intermittent binge eating or over-eating at night, there is often an emotional or stress-related trigger. But, along with this, there is frequently a diet that is too low in carbohydrates. The cravings for high-sugar, high-starch foods (the cookies and chips and other baked goods) that accompany the compulsive eating are often encouraged by the fact that the client is not eating enough grain-based foods during the day. This is particularly easy to do with  low-carb, gluten-free eating trends today, as restaurants are trying to accommodate consumers’ desires to eat less carbohydrates.

"Aren’t we eating too many carbs, though?" many clients ask. It’s not good to eat up the whole bread basket before eating a meal, right? Of course. Moderation, while not a very sexy term in the nutritional lexicon, is always advised with any eating. In fact, if one tunes in and eats mindfully, moderation is what will keep coming up. The public health message that we need to decrease our carbohydrate intake comes from the fact that, in America, our muffins are gigantic, our intake of sugary soda is excessive, and the super-sizing of everything from ice cream cones to sandwiches is significant. Over the last several decades, typical portion sizes of high-carbohydrate foods have increased, and this makes it increasingly hard to eat moderately and trust our instincts. Large portions becoming commonplace has made it hard for us to decide when we are full and have had enough to eat.

That said, restricting carbohydrates is NOT the answer! One of the members of my Non-diet Book Club said this morning, “Any time there is a suggestion of deprivation, I go crazy.” As many weight-loss-diet veterans will agree, taking away foods creates a state of deprivation, which often leads to cravings and overeating of the “bad” foods. This is particularly the case when someone greatly decreases their carbohydrate foods -- especially grain products, like rice, whole grains (oats, quinoa, millet, etc.) breads, cereals, and pastas. In fact, I find that when someone eats less of these foods per day than their body needs, they often crave sugar, the simplest form of carbohydrate.

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So how much carbohydrate does one need to eat in a day? That depends a lot on your body size, activity level, metabolism, and the overall composition of your diet. If you are really lost here, seek out a registered dietitian to give you a reality check around how much carbohydrate and grain-based food is typical and minimal. Ultimately, you have at your disposal the ability to modulate your food intake quite well, if you are willing to slow down and listen to your body. Young children do it quite easily. My daughters’ guinea pigs do it well. But somewhere along the lines, we learn not to trust ourselves. We learn that someone else -- some expert or diet book author or nutritional guru -- knows better about what we need to eat. We choose what to eat from influences outside our bodies versus the knowledge that we have within. Again, if you feel really out of touch with your internal cues around food choices, as well as hunger and fullness, a registered dietitian/nutritional therapist, particularly one who has a specialty in disordered eating, may be able to steer you back to the path of intuitive eating.

Carbohydrates also supply glycogen to muscles. Carbs help active bodies recover from physical exertion, so it is particularly problematic for active people and athletes to eat too little carbohydrates. Fortunately, I find that most active people find themselves picking or binge-eating to make up for a diet low in carbohydrate -- and preoccupied with hunger. The body hates to be starved of major nutrients.

This cycle of restricting carbs (whether it’s intentional or not) and then overeating or binge-eating as a rebound is certainly distressing, and it can often be avoided if enough carbohydrate is eaten in the first place. I’m not minimizing the use of food for soothing, comforting, or other emotional coping, but there is often a nutritional reason for the compulsive eating along with the emotional ones.

To find out if you might be eating too little carbohydrates, check in with yourself. Does this sound like you...?

  • You find yourself binging or compulsively eating high-starch or sugar foods, particularly in the evening.

 

  • You feel weak, tired, and have less energy for physical activity than you used to.

 

  • You find that it’s harder to physically exert yourself two days in a row, as if your muscles take longer to recover than they used to.

 

  • You have cravings for sugar or sweet-grainy foods (like cookies, muffins, breads) that don’t just show up as part of pre-menstrual syndrome.

 

  • You find yourself drooling over your neighbors’ plate of pasta or root-vegetable stew and unable to enjoy your own more moderately-carb dish. (There’s nothing wrong with your lower-carb dish, by the way.  If you were eating enough carbs regularly, then you might not feel so deprived and just enjoy it.)

While the above conditions could be caused by other lifestyle or nutritional factors, these are the things that I find many of my clients complaining about when they are eating too little carbohydrate, particularly grain/starch-based foods like rice, potatoes, and grains.

Julia Child was a famous chef who lived here in Cambridge, Massachusetts for much of her life and lived to be 92.  Anyone who encountered her or watched her very popular cooking show would not deny that she celebrated the pleasures of food. She said, "Because of the media hype and woefully inadequate information, too many people nowadays are deathly afraid of their food, and what does fear of food do to the digestive system? I am sure that an unhappy or suspicious stomach, constricted and uneasy with worry, cannot digest properly. And if digestion is poor, the whole body politic suffers.”

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Life is too short to spend it afraid of noodles!  One of my great joys in this work is seeing clients find joy and peace in eating again, no matter what their individual path is to do so. “Bon Appetit!”

How to Love Yourself (Even in a Swimsuit)

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I feel compelled to write again about the hardest part of many of my clients’ work: improving their body image. They may have a better relationship with food and have done a lot of work on recovering from an eating disorder, but many of my clients still don’t feel good about their bodies. This is what I sometimes call the “last frontier” of eating disorder recovery. And, once in a better place with body image, I often think that persons who have fully recovered from eating disorders have a more body-positive viewpoint than the general public. After all, what person (particularly a woman) wakes up and looks in the mirror and says, “Ahh.... I love my body!”

In New England, when we shed our layers and finally show some skin in June and July, I swear the body hatred barometer rises along with the summer temperatures. I hear women and men everywhere talking about how they need to lose a few pounds or saying how much they loathe their thighs or their bellies. It sometimes takes me by surprise when I hear this, especially if I was not at all focusing on their bodies in our conversation. It’s hard to respond to these body-bashing statements. Mostly, I try to gently remind them that I like them for more than their thighs.

We are indeed a body-obsessed culture. Some of us are particularly oriented towards seeing the body as the self, instead of just one part of the self. We all know that a pretty house is delightful, but that alone doesn’t make a happy home.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of being a part of a dear friend’s 40th birthday celebration. This friend was strong enough to ask for what she wanted: a day of fun in the water with family and friends; followed by an evening with a small group of her favorite women gathering together to dance, play, and celebrate her milestone; followed by a late-night dance party that brought together a wider circle of friends and community. During the middle of this joyous celebration, when there was this smaller circle of friends, we gave the birthday babe a community rose-oil massage and two words apiece that described what we loved about her. We then talked about what prompted us to choose those words. The ritual finished with an “angel shower,” in which we dumped large quantities of rose petals over her body while we sent her blessings and talked about how much we valued her as a friend and human being.

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Needless to say, my friend is still sailing on this love -- and you can imagine the heartful energy that eased us into the dance party that night...

I wish that we had more rituals like this to honor passages in our lives -- particularly the aging of women. Birthdays are often seen as a negative thing, particularly the ones that end in zero. They are markers of decline and punctuate the loss of youthful energy, which we over-value. We don’t celebrate the wisdom that we gain; we prefer to talk about the force of gravity that works against us.

What I loved about the ritual of this weekend was the way in which we honored and cared for the body of our 40-year-old friend. We massaged it, covered it with fragrant and cool rose petals, hugged it (a lot!), and danced with it. But, more importantly, we celebrated my friends’ wisdom, spritely energy, warmth, and heart. We talked more about how blessed we were by her friendship and spirit than by how fabulous she looks at 40 (even though she does). And how can a woman not glow with all that love and honoring...?

I thought about the way that my clients talk about the dread of swimsuit season. I thought about how one client last week -- on a particularly sweltering day -- said that she’d rather sweat in pants than show her legs in shorts. Where is the self inside that body? Could she come out and be heard? (She’s hot in there and she wants to be taken care of!)

It was a turning point in another client’s recovery when she finally gave me the skinny jeans that she had been trying on daily as a gauge of how she was doing. If she fit into them, it was a “good day” and she could eat in a more relaxed way; if she didn’t, it was a “bad day” and she needed to restrict her food more. This created a roller coaster of under- and over-eating and kept her obsessed with food. It also meant that those jeans were determining many of her daily moves and feelings. She was no longer wearing the pants in her life; the pants were wearing her (and wearing her out).

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My birthday friend takes belly dancing classes and, at one point in this past weekend's event, she broke out her belly dancing clothes and twirled and radiated like the goddess that she is. She used her body to celebrate her self and her passage into a new decade. She celebrated her womanly curves and the spirit that was embodied in her dancing. My client with the skinny jeans is not quite there, but she is no longer measuring her worth with a piece of fabric or a scale. She is freed up to live the life that she wants to lead -- and to figure out what that is, in fact -- now that the body obsession is not such a large part of it.

Celebrate this miracle that is your body! Dance, swim, jump for joy -- and, by all means, feed yourself enough to have the energy to do so with abandon! But, please, remember that your body is just one facet of your Self. There is a spirit and soul within you that is your truest nature. Your body (or the way you choose to adorn your body) may reflect your values and spirit, but your body is not who you are. When my clients become more whole-self-focused and less body-focused, they eat in a way that is aligned with self-care (whatever that is for them) and they move in a way that feels good and feeds their souls.

Think about the reasons that your friends and loved ones like being around you. If you really can’t come up with anything, then boldly ask them. Make a list of the qualities that make you a good friend, sister, partner, parent, employee, pet owner, etc... Maybe it’s your ability to make people laugh and feel at ease, the way that you keep a secret, the wonderful hugs that you give. Maybe it’s your quiet determination, your strong will, your individuality...

Make a list. When you are having one of those “bad body days,” take out this list. Shower yourself with these rose petals of worth and remember that you are unique and divine, despite the parts of your body that you’d rather trade in. Take care of that body and feed it well, as it takes you where you need to go in life, but recognize that it is just one juicy part of the whole that is You.

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Putting Your Own Needs First is Radical and Healing

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I liked this recent article by Geneen Roth so much, I got her permission to reprint it here. I thought it would resonate with so many of my readers. If you would like to see more of her writing, please find out more at www.GeneenRoth.com.

 

There are some things in life you take for granted: Your children will outlive you. No matter how tough it gets, you won't poison your spouse with arsenic-laced toothpaste. And if you have a best friend, you will attend her wedding. 

But life sometimes upsets our most basic assumptions. And although I haven't resorted to the arsenic (yet), I did have this surprise: When my best friend from college got married, I wasn't there. Never in a million years did I think I would miss her wedding. We'd been talking about it since we were 18. And yet, when it came down to deciding about making the trip from California to New York, I did something radical, something I rarely do: I took my own needs into account.

I stepped away from my notions of what a good person would do, what any loyal friend would do, and considered the facts: I'd just returned from teaching an exhilarating but exhausting week long retreat; I had a broken ankle and a sprained back and could barely walk; my friend decided to get married rather suddenly and told me she wasn't expecting me to come. And I realized that although I would miss seeing her walk down the aisle if I didn't go, I would be a hobbling, exhausted wreck if I did. So I stayed home, sent champagne, and wrote my friend and her new husband a wedding story. It was an agonizing decision but not nearly as painful as the tale I told myself about it: If I don't go to my best friend's wedding — the very friend who held my hair back the night I drank a bottle of Cold Duck and threw up on the sidewalk — people will finally discover how selfish I am and I will lose every friend I have. I will spend my dying days alone, dribbling Diet Coke on my chin with no friends or family around. As soon as I realized I'd made a leap from taking care of myself to visions of dying alone, dribbling and friendless, I understood that I considered looking out for my own needs a radical concept — so radical that it scared me to (a pathetic, lonely, and potentially sticky) death.

I should know better. In working with tens of thousands of women over the past two decades, I've found that there is a whole set of beliefs called "the bad things that will happen if I take care of myself." I've heard things such as, "My son will choke on a fish bone the minute I leave him alone and take some time for myself." "My husband won't be able to make friends without me if I stay home from this party and rest." "My friend will hate me if I don't make brownies for her bake sale."

Think about this: Do you feel it is right to put yourself at the center of your own life, or is your secret fear that if you consider your own needs, you'll alienate the people you love and end up homeless, rifling through old chicken bones in a dark alley? Are you afraid that a "me first" attitude will get you drummed out of the "good people" club?

Most of us secretly believe that good people, especially women, take care of others first. They wait until everyone else has a plateful and then take what's left. Unfortunately, most of us make decisions based on our ideas of who we think we should be, not on who we actually are. The problem is, when we make choices based on an ideal image of ourselves — what a good friend would do, what a good mother would do, what a good wife would do — we end up having to take care of ourselves in another way.

Enter food. When you don't consider your real needs, you will likely fill the leftover emotional hunger with food. (Or another abused substance. Or shopping. But most of us opt for food.) You eat in secret. You eat treats whenever you can, because food is the one way, the only way, you nourish yourself. You eat on the run because you believe that you shouldn't take time for lunch; there's too much work to do. You eat the éclair, the doughnut, the cake, all the while knowing this isn't really taking care of yourself. But to really take care of yourself, you have to think of yourself first.

"Is that possible?" you ask. "What about my children? I'd die for them." Have you ever considered why, on an airplane, the flight attendant tells you to put on your own oxygen mask first, before you help your children? It's because your kids' well-being depends on it. If you aren't grounded, present, calm, and able to breathe, there is no one to take care of them.

What would your life look like if you acknowledged the truth that working nonstop for 10 hours, taking care of other people, leaves you so spent and weary that there really isn't much left of you for your kids, let alone yourself? What would your life look like if you realized that you need to set aside time every day to fill yourself up — even if it's only by taking a few 15-minute breaks during which you stare at nothing or go outside or lie down? What would the pace of your life be if you went on "soul time" instead of clock time, even just a little?

It's possible. A few days ago, I spoke with a first-time mother. Her baby son had colic, and she was completely exhausted. She was so afraid she wouldn't be there when he needed her that she couldn't sleep even when he was napping or with her husband. And she was turning to food to calm herself down. I asked her what it would be like to do something very simple for herself: to sit down and breathe. That's all. No big deal. Nothing to achieve. Just let the body do what it was already doing and give herself a break. She said she could try that. She just breathed.

At the end of five minutes, I asked her how she felt. She said she was relieved, immediately calmer. She said that since she'd had her baby, she had forgotten all about herself and her needs, and while some of that was natural ("I'm so in love with him," she said; "I've never known love like this before"), she was not serving him best by exhausting herself. She said that caring for herself was doable — maybe not in the same ways she did before she was a mother, but in new ways. Taking small rests. Eating well. Going outside for even five minutes while he naps. "I can do this," she said. "I can treat myself with the same kind of care that I give him."

"Now you're talking," I said. "And the better you take care of yourself, the more he will know as he grows up that it's fine for him to take care of himself, too."

If you operate on what you believe a good mother/partner/friendwould do and you leave yourself — what you need, how you feel — out of the equation, your relationships will suffer.

I'm here to tell you that cherishing yourself by making yourself a priority in your own life is possible. You can take care of your needs and your relationships with family and friends can thrive. I know, because I am making this my daily practice, and I am confident I will not go out either alone or dribbling.
 

This article was reprinted with permission from the author, Geneen Roth.  Sometimes even those who love to blog need to take a self-care break and let other good writers do the talking for a change. Let me know your thoughts and tell me about ways you cherish yourself by leaving a comment below...

 

From Binge Eating to Balance

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My client Jessica* walked into her session saying that she imagined herself lying face down on the rug in my office pounding her fists. I told her that she was certainly welcome to embody her feelings. Although she chose not to hit the floor, she did cry more forcefully than usual this session.

Jessica has been feeling very frustrated with her eating. She has been eating lots of things that she considers “non-food,” like cheez-its. She has been preparing and cooking food that she considers healthy, but then she chooses not to eat it while at work, going out to get other “less healthy” takeout food. The other day she ended up eating a whole pizza.

Her tears came with feelings of hopelessness: “I am not strong enough to do what I need to do to take care of my health, and I’m going to kill myself with my bad habits” (something like this). I tried to reframe this for her. Could she observe her eating habits less judgmentally, so that she has more room to problem-solve?

For example, Monday came and she was exhausted from all the housecleaning she did over the weekend. Instead of beating herself up and saying that she can’t get her eating right, she could say with curiosity (instead of criticism): “Hmmm…? I am really exhausted today after the weekend, which is supposed to be a rest from work. This doesn’t seem to be working for me. I know I “treated myself” to that food partly because I wanted to take care of myself in some way or soothe myself because I was exhausted. Maybe I need more help, or to lower my standards about cleaning on the weekend, or something else...”

Jessica’s work in high-tech is stressful and demanding -- and the standard in this industry is perfection-or-you-may-lose-your-job --  so this contributed to her negative self-talk, too. She ate something that didn't feel “right” for her to eat. In her own view, she’d failed at taking care of herself, even though she had really just been doing her best to cope. Binge-eating may have consequences that don’t feel so good, but it’s a very effective coping strategy that many of us use when we want soothing. We also often use food when we want to get out of our heads and into our bodies to experience some sensory pleasure for awhile.

Jessica wants to eat a vegan, plant-based, no-unnatural-oils, very low-fat diet, but she can’t seem to do it. We discussed the way that eating food that tastes good is important to her. However, this “clean” way of eating ends up feeling like a diet, and it doesn’t leave her fully satisfied. When she feels deprived, she rebels and seeks out highly-palatable, filling foods. The cycle starts again when she feels guilty about eating in an “un-clean” way and she goes back to her “virtuous” eating. The overeating and regaining control and overeating cycle continues...

I suggested that when Jessica is faced with a craving or desire for cheese, she think about a way that she can honor her craving for cheese and still create a healthy meal with it. Instead of being black and white (she either won’t eat cheese at all or she will eat a whole cheese pizza), she could have a sandwich with hummus and tomatoes and melted cheese. Yummy and healthful. The part of her that is rigidly clinging to the strict vegan plan will not see this as healthy, but it is still a better choice for her body than the large cheese pizza that ends up not making her feel very well afterwards. This was an example that made sense to my client. She thought she could try this concept of listening to -- instead of denying -- her cravings and working with them to find a balanced food choice. (This is not to say, by the way, that pizza is not a viable option, too. For Jessica, however, this was not the kind of meal that she really wanted to eat in the middle of her work day.) 

I suspect that she will struggle with finding this balance, as the grey is always more of a challenge for Jessica than the black and white. I also suspect that while her work and home life is very stressful and she’s not getting enough sleep, it is hard for her to take care of herself with food and find this balance. She also admits that she uses her struggles around food as a way to avoid harder things and to feel like she has some control over her life. I love the way she called her binge-eating  "lubrication" (something that helps her through tough times), but acknowledged that it has "grit" in it (consequences that make it less helpful to her body, mind, and spirit).

Since the session where she wanted to pound her fists into my floor, Jessica has been gradually embracing the “middle road” in her eating. She is not eating in the most virtuous way that she has always wanted to eat, but she tried it for decades and it didn’t work. She is letting it go. As a result, she is not doing as much binge eating -- particularly when she is being mindful and present and slows down enough to make her self-care a priority. It’s been quite a journey, and I am honored to be a supportive witness to her growth and determination as she improves her relationship with food.

So... how do you find balance in your eating so that you eat in a healthful way that doesn’t deprive you of the sensory pleasure of eating...? (Please share your Comments below.)

* Client’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

How Do I Eat Intuitively and Mindfully When I Still Want to Lose Weight?

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I’m a fan of intuitive and mindful eating, in case you didn’t know that already. I work with my clients to honor their hungers and to figure out the ways of eating that work best for their individual and unique bodies. Many feel elated when their relationship with food seems to flow more easily and they are feeling tuned in to their bodies’ needs.

Recently, a member of my No Diet Book Club asked the billion dollar question: How do I eat intuitively when I still want to lose weight? (I say that it’s a billion dollar question because the diet industry that profits from a focus on losing weight is, in fact, a billion dollar industry.)  In my 20 years of experience working with people who are renegotiating their relationship with food, I have discovered that holding onto a primary goal of weight loss just gets in the way.

I firmly believe that in letting go of the focus on weight loss, and prioritizing one’s relationship with food first, we will best take care of our bodies. In doing so, we eat in the way that supports the healthy weight that our bodies are meant to be. Do we choose the food option that makes us feel our best, or choose the lowest calorie option possible just to meet weight loss goals?  The former uses our bodies to make the decision, while the latter comes only from the head.  

This is not to say that we don’t use our minds or our knowledge about nutrition to make decisions about eating when we eat intuitively.  For example, you can say, “Eating that full bag of Cheetos last time made me feel sick.  I don’t want to do that again.”  Here you are using your mind and your past experience to make a food choice, not just your body’s present state.

Let’s look at this more closely...

If you hate your body right now and focus on how it will look in the future (once you theoretically lose the weight), are you able to really be in the present, listening to what food choices really appeal to you and will satisfy you right now?

Isn’t it easier to make a commitment to take the best care of your body possible when you accept your body where it is?

When you see your body as the living, breathing, miracle that it is (extra pounds and all) and focus on nurturing and caring for that body with life-giving, healthful food, there is a very different focus. There is no deprivation. There are no shoulds or shouldn’ts. There are no mistakes -- only opportunities to learn what foods feel best. There is no criticism and guilt. There are only choices.

We can choose to eat the light and fresh salad greens or the more grounding sandwich or the ice cream cone because it’s a hot summer day and that’s what we feel like. We can choose the entree that speaks to our palates, and seems interesting and aligned with our values and preferences, without second guessing ourselves.

We can slow down and savor every bite because the food is so delicious and worth savoring. We aren’t eating a certain amount of calories or carbs or points. We are eating life-giving, pleasure-providing food -- and we will eat just enough of it because we are staying present with the eating experience, paying enough attention to the food and our bodies as we eat it. We take in the sensory enjoyment of the food, the texture, the warmth or coolness, the feelings of hunger and satiety. We are in our bodies when we eat. We are not just in our heads.

Does this seem like pie in the sky?  In today’s world, this is not easy to do. It might involve learning to distinguish between emotional hungers, diet thinking, the effects certain foods can have on our brain, and healthy body wisdom, for example. It might involve reprogramming everything that you learned about food as you grew up, bringing you back to how you ate when you were a toddler and you knew that a few bites of a cookie are enough when there are other pleasures in life to explore. This is why many of my clients appreciate some coaching and support along the way.

Once practiced regularly, mindful eating is liberating, freeing, and truly brings people into their healthiest bodies. That body might not be the “ideal body” that we envision, but it will be a respected, honored, and well nourished one. And isn’t that what is really important...? It’s not how we look in that bikini, really; it’s the fact that we are out enjoying the sunshine. Don’t let anyone -- the diet industry, well-meaning relatives, your partner, your own inner critic -- tell you that you should look different. (If they do, it may be because they have their own body image insecurities.) Don’t let anyone trick you into thinking that weight loss is more important than feeding yourself well, in a way that is aligned with your own body’s needs.

Despite all the news coverage of the “war on obesity,” the Centers for Disease Control in 2005 determined that only when the BMI reaches 35+ is there a meaningful decrease in mortality. People in the “overweight” (BMI 25-30) category actually have the lowest mortality rate. Why are we calling these people “overweight" anyway...?

So, the answer to the question at the top of this post is that some people (but not all) lose weight while they work on eating intuitively and mindfully, but I recommend they not make weight loss a primary goal. In my many years of experience, I have seen that when clients fall back into that trap of focusing on weight loss, they do something that undermines their ability to deeply and accurately listen to their bodies. They shift their focus from self-care to trying-to-please, from inner wisdom to outer judgement about what to eat. And then they understandably push back against the deprivation that they feel and find themselves overeating. They want to lose weight, but feel like a failure. This is all on top of what the initial under-eating did to slow down metabolism.

Many studies have shown that 95% of all people who go on diets will gain the weight back (often plus more). Letting go of dieting and restricting and coming into harmony with what the body is really asking for does take some work, but it’s so worth it. And it is the only way that I have seen my clients grow to feel better about their bodies -- no matter what their size or shape. How can you take care of something that you loathe? So.... love that wonderful shape of yours and all your unique curves, angles, bumps, and smooth spots. Give your body wonderful food, energizing movement, and fresh air. You have a unique bodily form that makes you You.

Focus on what you have to gain in the process of learning to eat more mindfully and intuitively and joyfully -- not on what you have to lose!

If you liked this passage, please nourish yourself with the whole book. Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self is available here on my website, on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Also, sign up for free seasonal inspiration below. 

Lose the Diet for Swimsuit Season (why diets don't work)

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As the Spring unfolds around us here in the East (and a mighty long awaited one, I might add), I keep hearing women around me talking about how summer is coming and they need to get in shape or lose some weight to look better in a bathing suit. It makes me sad when the next statement after that is usually about some new diet they are on or some major food group they are eliminating or reducing -- usually flour, sugar, gluten or carbohydrates in general.

Now, some people do indeed have gluten intolerance, wheat and other allergies, or celiac disease and need to avoid some forms of carbohydrate for their health and well-being, but there are more and more people reducing carbohydrates with the goal of weight loss. There is no question that many people eat more grain-based and sugary foods than their body might need. However, the recent fad to lower carbohydrates across the board is reminiscent of the low-fat, no-fat craze in the 80s and 90s that I remember when I started my work in nutrition. (Those of you as old as I am, do you remember Snackwell Cookies? They were fat-free, and we somehow felt like we could eat whole sleeves of them, even though they replaced all the fat with sugar.)

The diet industry is a billion dollar industry, so the diet pushers will not tell you the facts.  Research shows that 95% of people who go on a diet will gain all the weight back (and often more) in the end. In fact, studies have shown that going on a diet is actually a predictor for having an increased body weight, particularly if you went on a diet during your child or teen years.

LDet's take a look at why dieting is particularly nasty...

Some physical risks of repeated dieting include:

 

  • Inadequate nutrition
  • Decreased metabolism
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Alterations in fat deposition
  • Hypertension
  • Increased risk of cardiac and cardiovascular problems
  • Premature aging with weight cycling and nutrient deficiencies
  • Gallstones

Some psychological risks of repeated dieting include: 

  • Obsession with weight
  • Heightened responsiveness to external food cues
  • Decreased enjoyment of food
  • Disordered eating patterns
  • Disordered lifestyle (excessive or inadequate exercise, social life affected by avoiding certain eating occasions, etc.)
  • Increased incidence of eating disorders
  • Increased pressure to conform to society's standards of beauty
  • Increased sense of failure
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Financial burden

So, if dieting doesn't work (remember, the 95% chance you'll gain the weight back is just not good odds), then what is the alternative if you want to feel good in your body at the beach this summer?

First and foremost, remember to view yourself as a whole person (body, mind, and spirit -- not just body) and take care of all of you. See my prior post on body image for more information about loving our amazing, miraculous bodies. Many of my clients have troubled relationships with their bodies and with food, and finding a way to nourish the body with balance and care is a struggle.

So, what is a non-diet way of maintaining a healthy body weight, no matter what body type you were born with?

Non-diet eating involves:

  • Listening to what the body needs
  • Responding to internal cues of hunger instead of external cues (sight, smell, the power of suggestion) most of the time
  • Not turning to food to deal with stress
  • Being personally in control of food choices instead of being controlled by the diet prescription
  • Realizing that feeling healthy and taking good care of your body will make you more attractive than a diet will
  • Abandoning short-term weight loss for long-term and lasting self-confidence, health, and wellness
  • Having space for more nourishing pursuits and for what really matters in life

So... you choose. And remember that it's not that you don't have willpower. Don't let the wealthy diet industry convince you of that. You have the power and control and choice to take the best care of your body that you can. It's the dieting that is making you feel like a failure. Restrictive eating is not sustainable. Our bodies and minds protect us against it by making us want to eat. And eat more.

Do your body and spirit a favor and ditch the diet (and maybe even the string bikini that you wore when you were 18 and you swear that you will get into again some day). Respect your body where it's at and help it ease into the healthiest shape that it can be by vowing never to diet again. And if you need help with a troubled relationship with food, my colleagues and I in nutrition therapy would be happy to help you practice tuning in, listening, and respecting that inner wisdom that we all have within us. Most of us used to eat intuitively and according to our bodies' needs when we were young -- until the diet industry and other well-meaning persons told us that they think they know better.

Learn to trust your own inner wisdom again instead.