glow notes

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Offline

Obviously, I haven't been posting much. Just thought I'd officially let readers know that I'll be on hiatus until I've finished up some other projects. Like building a new life!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Limitless

I have a colleague who is pleasant to interact with, but you get the sense she’s got an electromagnetic field surrounding her at about four feet. She is a beautiful woman, tall and elegant, and a sophisticated dresser, (especially given our “I took a job in academia so that I wouldn’t have to wear pantyhose and shoes that hurt” dress code). Should it chance that a mere mortal dare criticize her to her face, I sincerely doubt that it would register.

I am in awe of this colleague’s seemingly boundless ability to deflect expectations. How does she do it? In short, she has a sense of entitlement.

We often use the word ‘entitlement’ to refer to somebody who believes that their {time/feelings/whatever} are more important than everybody else’s. This is not a particularly estimable character trait. But could one have this sense of privilege without the negative flip side? You could call this self-esteem or confidence, but those words fall short for me. They don’t imply the same sense of claiming one’s birthright.

When I look up the word ‘entitle’ in the Oxford English Dictionary, I found this definition (among others):


To furnish (a person) with a ‘title’ to an estate. Hence gen. to give (a person or thing) a rightful claim to a possession, privilege, designation, mode of treatment, etc.


I often joke that my dog thinks she has a fan club, and refer to going for a walk as ‘greeting her fans.’ She is gracious in her notoriety, greeting all of her public with equal delight. Some people don’t meet her joy with matching enthusiasm, or even avoid her. This doesn’t bother her for a moment. Neither does it inhibit her passion.

Why? Because she knows that she is entitled to affection. If a particular individual happens not to give it to her, well, they must just be misinformed. 'Poor things,' I imagine she thinks, 'they’re living life in a deluded state. It must be hard for them, not getting cuddles. Hey, is that a fireman over there? I love men in uniform!'

How does this relate to the topic of health and fitness? I’m not the only person who has struggled with the diet versus not-diet dichotomy. It’s pretty common and it’s a sneaky bugger. I’ve spent a long time finding a balance between eating 'healthy' and indulging every whim, and I've been largely successful. I’ve been able to balance my desire for the occasional piece of chocolate cake with the understanding that too much chocolate cake isn’t good for me.

But when I’m under stress, I have to focus pretty hard in order not to lose my footing. And sometimes I slip and fall. Because balance is still about walking a tightrope between two contradictory alternatives.

Recently I realized something. It’s sort of an obvious something, but it took awhile to travel from my head to my heart. I’m entitled to be healthy; to choose my own goals; to eat foods that nourish both my body and my appetites; to move in ways that are both health-enhancing and enjoyable. Or not to. It is only my own delusion that places buttered sourdough on one side of the tightrope and broccoli on the other.

Clearly the laws of physics still apply – or at least, I haven’t figured out how to get around them. My body likely becomes a better calorie-burning machine when I feel good (probably because of hormonal changes), but cause and effect doesn’t disappear.

My actual food and fitness behaviors have not changed much. I have a very good set of behaviors in place. The difference is that I don’t feel that I’m putting out so much effort to maintain them.

Sometimes I think of developing healthy habits as a process of parenting myself. While I was once a stern and unyielding presence, I've softened. I don't allow myself eat only candy and watch cartoons all day, but neither do I label having a serving of cake or watching a favorite television show ‘bad’ or even harmful behavior.

I’ve seen the consequences of people believing that one's only options are to make themselves miserable through food restriction and wretched bouts of exhausting and/or boring exercise; or to live it up, consequences be damned. I see people with Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease because of this. And I've seen others make make themselves miserable in the struggle. I've been miserable, and it's . . . well, miserable.

I don’t mean to make it sound easy. A lot lead up to me grasping this insight at a gut level. But it’s there, and it makes all of the suffering unnecessary. Here's what I wish I could share:

It is your birthright to feel really, really good. Not for 20 or 30 years, but for the whole of your time on the planet. You are entitled to all the support it takes, and all the time it takes, and all the opportunities that you need to begin again. You are entitled to pleasure. You are entitled to enjoy your life, and that includes caring for your physical body. You are worth all of this, and more.

And if anybody says otherwise, including the voices in your own head, well, they must just be misinformed.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

more lessons from the trail

B. and I dusted off our mountain bikes for the first time this year yesterday and took them up to a trail in the Cuyamaca State Forest. It was beautiful - the rains this season have yeilded to wild flowers and green. We saw a bunch of wild turkeys (the males really DO say 'gobble gobble!') and burned a few hundred calories on the way up - then got to say WEEEEEEEE all the way down.

I've written about this before. I am a really bad mountain biker. This is a good thing. Because pushing my boundaries in this way teaches me a lot that is applicable to my life. Here's what came to me yesterday.

One. Things that seem like a pain in the a&& get easier. It took us an hour to get ready to go and have about 90 minutes worth of fun. We had to get the bikes out, be sure they worked, fill the tires, locate our helmets and gloves, pack up water and snacks, etc. But next time it'll take 30 minutes. And pretty soon it'll take 10 minutes, because we'll have it wired. Life application: I look back on when I started getting fit and eating right, and it's the same thing - what comes like breathing to me now was a lot of work at first.

Two. There is a big different between prudence and fear. Prudence is what kept me from getting injured by going so fast that I could not avoid upcoming rocks and such. Fear is what could make me fall off my bike because I hesitate in front of a rock that I could get over if I powered it. Or what could keep me from ever getting on my bike. Life application: there are reasonable and unreasonable risks, and I should choose wisely based on prudent calcuation, not irrational gut reaction.

Three. Even on an easy ride like this one, there are rocks, ruts, and other obstacles. Part of success it to pick a line and stick to it, and part is to make fine adjustments along the way. That requires a balance between scanning the trail ahead and looking at the ground right in front of my wheel. But I'm outdoors on a gorgeous mountain instead of in a spinning class for a reason, so it's also important also to enjoy the scenery. Life application: I need to pick goals and stick to them, but may need to shift my methods along the way due to unforseen obstacles. And I need to enjoy myself along the way, too!

Four. If I choose a ride that's too hard, I'll spend all my time pushing my bike and won't have fun. If I choose a ride that's too easy, I won't get a workout or learn anything. Life application: doing things that I'm not comfortable with is good for me. But if I push my limits too far, I'll either be miserable and avoid that activity and/or won't get anything out of it anyhow.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Choosing

I work at a University that always makes the Playboy 'hot chicks' top 10. These girls know that they're babes. Husband (with whom I work) often mentions that the view from his office window appears to be a casting call for a porno.

I get my exercise at a mostly student fitness center on campus. Afterwards, I shower up and change in the locker room.

Which is to say that I am often standing near some of the best butts and bellies and boobs in the free world. Sometimes my jaw drops open at the sheer perfect-ness of some of these rear ends.

Not that I'm staring, mind you.

Does this make me feel insecure about my body?

Aw hell. These are 18, 19, and 20 year old girls. I'm 35. We're talking apples and mangoes here - they're both delicious, but how can you compare them?

But it's not just an age thing. I also work out at another gym, and me living in Southern California, the 30-, 40-, and 50+ year-old bodies in that gym are also very well cared for, genetically gifted, and sometimes surgically enhanced.

OK, jump back. I'm throwing around some words like 'best' and 'perfect' that have no place in describing the body. The fact that each of us in that locker room is standing there is a miracle of the highest order. I'm just plain lucky to be alive and able to enjoy my body and move and be free.

So, if I am treating myself with care, I feel great about my body, no matter the outside messages coming at me. Age, gravity - eh, these things happen. I am a beautiful 35-year old woman with a body that is nothing short of astonishing - I pick something up, I get stronger! I stretch, I get more flexible! I eat well and run hard, my jeans fit better! Wheee!

If, however, I am not caring for myself - then, yeah, these bodies become a harsh reflection of lost potential. Here's the thing: I get each day to live, each breath to take, each choice to make exactly once.

Once. No excuses. That's a lot of responsibility. And a lot of power.

What will I do with it?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

on the moment between here and now

OK, the Kripalu Yoga Center catalog came today, and at the end a short bit of this book was printed. The chapter is linked from there, but it keeps crashing my browser when I try to open the pdf file. Does it crash yours?

Anyhow, it describes a woman with a binge eating problem, and how one evening she finds herself in the parking lot of a grocery store with a full basket of pastries. The author, who is a therapist and yogi and doesn't appear to have a particular food problem, talks about earlier in the week having found himself eating banana muffins even though he was "off" sugar.

Apparently I'm not alone in the experience of moving from craving to action without even quite being aware of the feelings that brought me there. I suspect it's a pretty universal human experience, getting tied into confusing knots that lead us to unfavorable conclusions - over and over and over, until we finally get them loosened up or (hopefully, eventually) untangled.

I'm not a 'good' yogi these days. I spend more time pushing iron and pounding pavement than practicing asana. My day job is very cerebral, and I need a very yang physical practice to bring me back into my body. And in my experience there are more effective ways than yoga to access and heal physical aches and pains. But this piece made me consider the benefits of yoga.

What yoga can do is create space.

You know those scenes in action movies where the hero/ine is fighting off an enemy and the action slows down so you see every kick, jab, and dodge?

Yoga (meditation, grounding work, prayer, journaling, etc.) can create a few moments of slow motion; enough time to get a good close-up of what's really going on. Time to work that knot. Time to get a few threads unraveled.

I think I'll go do some Savasana now : )

Friday, February 24, 2006

In the head of an Ellie

OK OK, I'm writing, already.

Wednesday was leg day at the gym. Leg day makes both me and Husband hungry. Leg day burns a lot of calories - quads, hams, and glutes are big strong powerful muscles. Plus I was on my period.

So, we were on our way home, and it was dinner time-ish, and I looked at husband and said "I want a hamburger." And he knew just where to go. There's this place near our house that has high quality food, reasonable prices, and you order and pay up front, which I like because it doesn't waste time. And they have good sides - steamed veggies with no butter, mashed butternut squash, baked beans. It all tastes like real food to me, the way I'd cook it, not like restaurant food made with extra fat and salt to get you hooked.

So, we went there and I stood in the line to order while Husband grabbed a table. The people behind me, a couple in maybe their late-50's/early-60's, were looking at the menu and mentioned that they had not eaten there before. I turned around and smiled, and said that the ribs are good, but I pretty much liked everything. They thanked me, and the man asked some questions about the ribs.

When I got to the counter, I ordered a burger for me, a cheeseburger for Husband, and fries all around. As I waited so sign my credit card receipt, I heard the couple behind me ordering. The man was having ribs with garlic mashed potatoes and baked beans. (mmm . . . baked beans . . . )The woman was having a small house salad. "Why don't you have some of that tomato soup," the man said (with concern in his voice?) and she agreed.

Now, I don't know this lady from Eve, and it's not my job to get in her head. So I'll state up front that what I have to say is all about me, not her. But this all brought up a landslide of thoughts and feelings for me. Here's what the voices in my head said, over the course of the next few minutes.

  1. Man, she's skinny.
  2. Man, she's really not too happy looking.
  3. She's about my Mom's age.
  4. My Mom was always on a diet.
  5. Are all women that age on a diet?
  6. No, clearly not.
  7. But lots are.
  8. Are they happy?
  9. How can they be happy if they don't get to eat?
  10. Mmmm . . . food.
  11. Shoot, that makes me angry - this generation ruined it for women of my generation, teaching them messed up things about food and their bodies.
  12. It took me -years- to get from dieting; to reacting against dieting - and gaining weight, feeling like hell, and being in pain; to come to a point where I love my body, and love caring for it. And it can still be a struggle at times. Damnit, what a waste of time.
  13. But they didn't mean to do it. They learned this somewhere and passed it on.
  14. Is that what "sins of the father" means? That these messed up patterns are passed on?
  15. Ha ha, bible scholar Ellie!
  16. Where did it start? Why do so many women fear their own appetites and not enjoy their bellies, hips, and thighs?
  17. But being overweight doesn't feel good either. Nor does overeating or not exercising. Being strong feels good. Being fast feels good. Feeding myself feels good.
  18. Why do many women want to be thinner than is normal (i.e. rasonable to maintain without going hungry)? What do they get out of it?
  19. I remember getting more positive feedback when I was a teenager and lost some weight than I had ever gotten in my life for anything else. Anything. And I wasn't fat before I lost weight.
  20. What was that about?
  21. How do we reclaim our bodies?
  22. Oh, look, our burgers are here!
  23. Pass the catsup!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

giving thanks

My philosophy on holiday eating is as follows.

Enjoy your feast! Try to keep it to one meal, not a whole day/weekend/week, but if you do, don't feel BAD about it or anything, just move on. Don't stuff yourself, it feels gross. If you do stuff yourself, go for a walk or take a nap, then move on. Remember, there's more where that came from. Slow down and enjoy your food. Feast on love. If you are disappointed in family/the day/whatever, that's a normal holiday thing - see if you can count your blessings and focus on where there is love in your life. Try to get a moment or three of alone-ness and silence each day. Try to work out regularly throughout the holidays even if for a short time. Remember that fitness is a marathon, not a sprint - just 'cause you may not be going all-out with food or exercise over the holiday doesn't mean you have to go into couch-potato mode. Feast on art. Call your best friend and tell him/her you love him/her. Eat a vegetable. Eat a fruit. Make something cool for gifts rather than shopping. Enjoy the conversation over meals. If you have a difficult family, challenge yourself to find ways of creating interesting conversations - consider it an art project. Take some pictures. Write something. Read something. Draw something. Go for a bike ride. Wear outfits you love. Be kind to yourself.

Be thankful.