glow notes

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Stopping a binge

It happens to the best of us. You were doing so well with food, and suddenly you find yourself face down in a pint of ice cream, or at the tail end of an entire pizza, or driving down the street with a bag of Kettle Chips in your lap and a large chocolate bar in your hand. Your stomach hurts, you feel puffy, and your brain is fit to explode. Part of you wants to quit, to feel good again; part of you wants breakfast at a greasy spoon. What to do now? Here's a plan of action that works for me, I hope that it can help you, too:

  1. Hit the "reset" button
    In some ways, I think, our brains are like really complicated computers and, at times, we need to just hit "control/alt/delete" and don't save the damned file. Something small and symbolic can help. Like brushing your teeth or doing the dishes or slowly drinking a cup of herbal tea. Exercise, especially outdoor exercise, can help me a lot. Doing something with friends can be a great reset. Remember, this isn't about punishing yourself or making yourself clean, it's about slowing down for a minute and breaking out of binge mode.
  2. Watch out for Big Round Numbers
    If you feel like "Oh, I may as well keep eating until the day/the week/the month is over, I've screwed up now," that's the binge itself talking, not your higher self. You can stop right this second, at 2:04pm on a Tuesday. It doesn't need to wait until a certain time (such as, ahem, Monday or midnight or the first of the month).
  3. Don't be mean to yourself
    Dude, you don't need to be punished, so quit telling yourself that you're bad. Even if you did need punishment - you've already paid. Do you feel good right now? No, I didn't think so.

    There's a concept in the spiritual path I practice that you aren't punished for your sins, you're punished by them. Think about it. I look at sin as being off target, or not in line with our highest good as opposed to being bad. It's not clear to me that the binge wasn't for your highest good - maybe it taught you a valuable lesson or in some way made you a more empathetic/kinder person, or whatever. But let's say for the purposes of this discussion that it wasn't for your highest good. You've paid for that sin in stomach pain, you've paid in feeling tired and crappy, you've paid in actual money for the food and perhaps new clothing. You've paid enough. Now move on to step 4.
  4. Be nice to yourself
    The flip side of not being mean is being actively nice. Put on an outfit you like (one that doesn't feel tight, for God's sake!). Make sure that you feed yourself next time you feel hungry, and that it's a meal you really enjoy (no punishing yourself with HUGE salads and unseasoned chicken breast unless that's what you really WANT, and I doubt it). Take a nice hot bath. Go buy a good book or go to the library. Call a friend you love if you want company. Take a yoga class if you like that kind of thing. Go target shooting if you're a gun nut like my husband. Whatever you enjoy.
  5. Get some support
    This can mean going to some kind of meeting (such as Overeaters Anonymous or Smart Recovery) or seeing a therapist of some kind (your insurance may cover this). It may also mean just being with friends, even if you don't talk about what just happened. Or, it may mean buying a book written by somebody who understands. There are lots of them.
  6. Give it some light
    Secrets have power. If you feel safe, you can make the binge No Big Deal by talking about it openly. For instance, I might say to a friendly colleague "Yeah, I'm skipping the office Christmas party because I have had a problem with binge eating and food events really trigger the problem. I've been doing really well for a few years, but work parties scare me" or I may say to a good friend "Wow, I totally pigged out last night and it frightened me because it felt like a binge. I used to weigh 175 because of binges and don't want to go there again" or "man, cherry danishes and other sugary pastries are a total binge trigger for me, I wonder if it's psychological or physiological or both. You ever have that problem?" The friend may know how you feel or not (though you may be surprised what people will tell you), but in being open, you just opened all the windows and rolled back the ceiling and said to the monsters in your soul "Yoohoo! I see you! Want a cup of tea?."

    If this doesn't feel safe, honor that. Consider trying it in small ways, just with certain friends who you know love and support you. You can even say "it feels weird to say this, but . . ." Or you can go back to step 6 and try a group or a therapist, since you are safer in those contexts. Or, you can write in your journal - even being open and honest with yourself is like opening the curtains and letting some light in.
  7. Get real
    Once you feel a bit more stable, it's time to analyze what happened. You had a good reason for bingeing, so what was it? Did you get too hungry? Tired? Fill up your schedule with more events that you could handle? Did you do too much for other people and not enough for yourself? Are you lonely? Do you need a vacation? Were you force feeding yourself immense cabbage and radish-sprout salads and ignoring your appetite for chocolate ice cream? Did you feel bad about something else? Maybe an event at work or in a relationship?
  8. More deep thoughts
    If you'd like, try this exercise. Draw a line down a piece of paper to create to columns. On one side, write down everything you got out of this binge, other binges, and bingeing in general.

    For instance:
    -the food tasted good
    -I didn't have to think about my weight and diet and man am I tired of thinking about it
    -I got comfort about not saying what I thought to that friend who made a hurtful comment (whoa, you might think, I didn't even realize I felt bad!)

    If you keep going with this list, you may discover some interesting stuff!

    In the other column, write down the costs of regular bingeing.

    For instance:
    -weight gain
    -lethargy and puffiness
    -stomach pain
    -expensive to eat out
    -expensive to buy new clothes
    -feel bad about myself
    -myriad potential health problems
    -keeps me from dealing with issues directly, and they just keep coming back

    Be as specific as you can. For instance, list each health problem you are having (or might develop) as a result of overeating. This isn't about punishment, it's about getting real about the consequences of your behavior.

    Look at the list of what you got out of bingeing. Did the binge solve those problems permanently, or do you still have to deal with those things?

    Consider (and list, if you'd like) whether there are any alternatives to bingeing. For instance, if the food tasted good, can you consider eating more foods you like on a regular basis? If you were sick of thinking about your diet, maybe you should have a free day once a week to give yourself a break from dieting. Can you do that without bingeing? (I'll write more on the difference been a free day and bingeing in another post). Or can you modify your eating plan to be less complex? If you felt bad about a conversation with a friend, could you have either talked to that friend OR written in your journal OR spoke to another supportive person about your feelings? Would that have worked? What would have?

    You don't have to find all the answers or, really, do anything with these lists, but you may want to come back to them and see how the costs may outweigh the benefits and/or what benefits you are getting out of bingeing (which means you aren't crazy, you're just in need of something!) and how maybe, just maybe, you can get those benefits in other ways that don't have so many costs.

    [This exercise was adapted from a really wonderful book called Sex, drugs, gambling, and chocolate: a workbook for overcoming addictions by Tom Horvath, a cognitive behavioral therapist. I recommend the book to everybody, not just people with "addictions."]
  9. Embrace your humanity
    We like, as a society, to pathologize stuff. "Oh," we might say under our breath to a friend "her dad's an alcoholic, so she's a codependent and that's why her marriage is messed up" or "her sister beat her, so now she's fat because she doesn't want to deal with her feelings" or even something as simple as "I've got an addiction."

    Here's the deal. We all have our "stuff." If life were easy, self help books wouldn't be right up there with diet books on the best seller lists. Life is supposed to be a journey. Your "stuff" may not look like mine or his, or hers, but rest assured, we all have it. The people that you most admire have it, too.

    Some of us have overcome some stuff that you haven't yet, and therefore have something to teach. You have overcome some stuff that others haven't yet, and have some stuff to teach. You'll have more to teach as you continue on your journey of life.

    This is what makes life gorgeous, multi-hued, full of texture. This is not a tragedy, it is a glorious saga. Each time you fall, you get up again (perhaps each time a little sooner). You are the hero of your own story. You deserve that story in all its ragged splendor and juicy magnificence.

    Don't sell yourself short by slapping a label on your story. Milk it for every lesson you can. Then move on to your next lesson.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The space we take up

My yoga teacher is a babe. She's got curly dark hair and big brown eyes. Her eyelashes and eyebrows are thick and dark. Her features are lush and her skin is inc-redible: dewey, unlined, and fresh. Her age is hard to determine, probably between 35 and 45. Her figure is soft and curvy. She glows. She moves in her body with comfort and ease. She is obviously flexible and strong.

According to BMI charts, she's probably 30 or 40 pounds over her ideal weight.

Is she unhealthy? I doubt it.

According to those same charts, most of the NFL is obese. Now, there are some big boys playing football, but are they obese? They seem purdy nimble on their feet, and they're not keeling over from heart attacks. At 5"1' and 165 pounds, the Olympic Gold Medalist for weightlifting, Pawina Thongsuk is considered severely overweight. I could go on.

There are two things going on here. One is that BMI doesn't account for body composition (i.e. muscle mass). Two is that not everybody was born to be small. While being much over your ideal weight clearly isn't healthy, I don't think that there is a formula for weight health that can be codified and applied across the board. Same as what you eat. How can the American Dietetic Association know that 45-65% carbohydrates is good for me? For some people, that's a recipe for a blood sugar disaster. For others, it may be low.

I'm digressing. My point is that health is individual. Little about it can be stated in sweeping terms.

Further, I have a concern, which is that women have been taught, in various subtle and overt ways, that they aren't allowed to take up space. I know that trying to be something you aren't causes all sorts of problems (some people were not meant to be size 6's, and trying to be one will cause illness and obsession). That has caused me more than a moment of pause as I carefully watch my own intake and weight, and in my role as a coach who specializes in fitness and food.

Here's what I think. You, woman or man, have a right to your body and to all decisions about it. If you want to be a size 2 because it makes you feel the best, more power to you. If that makes you unhealthy or unhappy or hungry all the time, I'd strongly advise you to reconsider, but I wouldn't stop you. If you love your size 16 body but want to learn to love exercise, that's great, too. If you don't have any idea what it would feel like to be really radiantly healthy, and simply want to concentrate on figuring that out, with no focus on size at all, hallelujah!

So make some noise for all the gorgeous women in the world! Yeah for all the space we take up on the planet!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Big Click

I've been thinking a lot about how being on a fitness/nutrition program can either be relatively easy or freaking impossible. It feels to me like a train track - if I'm on the rails I'm great, chugging away. If I fall off the tracks, getting that locomotive going again is gonna take some heavy machinery!

Hiking around this weekend with The Husband, we had a conversation that led to this theory, which is not yet fully formed:

Imagine that you are on a path. On one end is an image of Who You Are. On the other is Who You Want To Be.

Imagine that you are, in fact, dreaming. When you are awake, Who You Are is Unlimited Potential. But since you're dreaming, you instead have a picture of yourself, which we'll call Who You Imagine Yourself To Be.

OK, so you're standing on this path, trying to take small steps (i.e. meet goals) to get from Who You Imagine Yourself To Be to Who you Want To Be.

Imagine that these two images are magnetic, and you're a magnet. So, you're being pulled towards each of the images, but more strongly by the image that you're closer to, and moreso sometimes than others (as the magnetic force is variable depending on circumstances).

Ok, so, for one person, Who You Imagine Yourself To Be may look something like this:
  • Size 12/14
  • Professional, career aspirations
  • Wears black
  • Likes cats
  • Drives a Ford Taurus
  • Tends to overeat, loves pizza, ice cream, cheese and crackers
  • Hates exercise, not athletic
  • Loves to read mystery novels and watch movies

I'm writing kind of silly details because that's the stuff that makes up Who You Imagine Yourself To Be. There are so many of these silly details that you've created quite a complex imaginary world!

OK, so you're on the path, and moving toward Who You Want To Be, but it's tough because Who You Imagine Yourself To Be is still the stronger magnet, since you're closer to it. At times it may be easier because you recalibrate the magnets by getting help, setting goals, etc., but in general each step is tough.

But, at some point you reach the center of the path and the magnet of Who You Want To Be starts to pull on you more. Each step becomes easier. You don't have to engage so much willpower to get to the gym or eat well.

But then your Who You Imagine Yourself To Be magnet goes ballistic, gets super ultra strong, and yanks you back towards the old habits or just somewhat off course. Or perhaps there are other magnets on the path that do this, I'm not sure. Anyhow.

The point is it got easier, but then sometimes it's hard again or feels impossible.

BUT sometimes magic can happen.

What happens?

You revise your image of Who You Imagine Yourself To Be to be closer to the truth of your unlimited potential and closer to the image of Who You Want To Be. When the image matches your goals, it gets super easy. It's like these images are holograms, and a new data load can revise them.

For instance. That description up there? That was me 5 years ago. It's not who I am now. At all. I've spent a lot of time and energy moving towards Who I Want To Be, but it wasn't until I installed new data in the Who I Imagine Myself To Be image that I went easily from a size 10/12 to a size 4/6, from being stuck at 140-150 pounds to 128 and shrinking, from pushing myself to work out to begging for my workouts so that I would be strong for my outdoor activities.

I'm focusing on fitness goals because that's my particular obsession. I believe that this applies elsewhere.

Who do I imagine myself to be now?

  • Size 4, naturally athletic, strong, and lean
  • Creative, free individual with many irons in the fire, many of which earn good money
  • Wears bright colors
  • Total dog person, though cats are ok too
  • Drives a Subaru wagon covered in mud, would love a sports car for the weekend
  • Talented healthy chef who loves finding ways to make healthy food taste good
  • Loves to move, dance, hike, swim, run, play! Can hardly stand to sit still long enough to read all the interesting books out there!
  • A badass - the only chick in my gym working on her clean and jerk

And so, this being my image of myself, there aren't two forces pulling on me all of the time (not, of course, that there isn't data that still needs or will need replacing). How much easier if I had figured that out from the beginning!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

I have a body, yet I am not my body

We've said that as a contemplation in yoga class. Is it true? At some point in my life I sort of started feeling like a brain with a body attached. Now I feel like my body is more foundationally me than my brain is, sometimes. At what level is my consciousness integrated with my very cellular structure, and at what level does it exist even as my body changes and eventually dies? I don't know right now.

I can say this, the physical body, MY physical body, is a powerful tool for consciousness. I know this when I do yoga and release all sorts of gook and tension. I know this when I make choices that are good for myself (e.g. exercise, eat well, rest) and see these changes mirrored in my work, my relationships, etc.

Steve Pavlina has a great post on starting with your body to change your life. His style is very direct, and I like the way he breaks it down. Your thinking is clearer when you take care of your body. Your relationships, concentration, focus, ambition, will improve. The physical results will rebound into your self-esteem, your life.

Plus, if your back doesn't hurt, you'll have more energy for other things.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Incredible life challenge

Today my very small Pit Bull, Raisin, and I competed in a silly media event for the Incredible Dog Challenge. It was a swim race with teams of dogs and owners in the bay near our San Diego home. There were seven dog/owner teams, most of them male humans with large Labrador retriever dogs. The event was all in good fun, and footage will be used pretty much to advertise Purina pet foods. The event may make the footage of the IDC that will come out some time this summer, and I'll get a video. I was invited because of Raisin's Dock Jumping experiences.

So, we were to run towards the bay, jump in, swim about 150 feet around two buoys, then jump out and run over a finish line. OK, sounds like fun.

Imagine my surprise when I got competitive. I jumped in with the dog and we started to book. I could see by Raisin's determined little face that she knew this was a race, confirmed by the fact that she ignored her toy, which I had thrown ahead to entice her, and concentrated on swimming after me as fast as she could, deltoids and traps bulging as she dog paddled her little heart out. I stayed toward the inside and was pushing Labradors out of my way as I swim sprinted toward that finish line. I was panting - I'm not a swimmer, and cardio training is somewhat sport specific. When I got to land, the sand was soft and running was hard because my muscles were cold from the 62 degree water. I slogged to the finish line and Raisin was close behind me.

We came in second! Wowza!

Nobody cared who won. It was an event designed to get some footage for an advertisement, an adjunct to the main event. But man it felt good to use my body for a challenge and have it confirmed to me that what I am doing is working. I am strong, I am fast, I am tough, and I can prove it.

Maybe that's not a revelation to anybody who has played competitive sports or even been involved in music or drama or what have you. But it's something of a revelation to me, who never believed until recently that I was athletic, much less a competitor. Much less a winner. Or almost a winner, anyhow.

This got me thinking about metrics - the measurements of change that we use to determine our progress. So many women use only one or, at most, three metrics to determine progress in a fitness program: weight, perhaps inches (or clothing size), and perhaps body fat. Weight, especially, is easy to measure. It's a useful tool, but it doesn't tell the whole story, even when combined with inches and body fat. What if I were very muscular and lean but threw my back out when I tried to carry a 5 gallon bottle of water in from the car? What if I were very thin but couldn't run to save my dog from getting hit by a car?

My thinking is that the reason I chose to lose weight and get fit is so that I can live life more fully, more functionally, more freely, and with more joy. So, while weighing myself once a week is fine, and while the number does tell me that I'm making progress, it's a passive metric. I think that it would be more useful to have active goals, goals that are related to me in motion, not just to the space I take up on the planet.

Active goals for me could look like:
* be able to do five pull-ups and ten chin-ups without assistance
* run three days a week for three miles without hip pain
* run a 5k!
* be able to do 45 minutes on the Jacobs Ladder at 70-80 rotations per minute
* mountain bike the entire trail at Lake Hodges without getting off of my bike on purpose (falling is ok)

There are a ton more possible active goals for now and the future, and I could probably categorize them into categories, but this is a start. It would be a good idea to look at my life goals and see how my active fitness goals feed those.

These active goals, especially when related to my life goals, have more meat than "weigh 120." They are more personal, more mine. They matter to me even when I've had a bad day. They feed my spirit, not just my body.

What are your active goals?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

An easy recipe for black bean soup

I'm short on time today, so I'll tell you what I made for lunch. I modified this from a recipe from the RealAge cookbook.

Easy Black Bean Soup
serves 4
calories - approximately 250 nutrient packed, fiber rich little nuggets of energy per serving.

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2+ cloves of garlic, chopped
cumin and coriander to taste (I used about a teaspoon each)
1 big can of tomatoes, chopped or whole, undrained
1 box of chicken broth (or veggie broth)
2 carrots, chopped
2 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tub of fresh salsa or 1 small jar of cooked salsa

Heat oil, cook onion for a couple of minutes. Add garlic and spices and cook 1 more minute.

Add the tomatoes and chicken broth, bring to a boil, add carrots, beans, and salsa. Bring down to a simmer, let cook for 15+ minutes or to desired consistency.

Serve with corn tortillas, whole grain crusty rolls, or over baked tortilla chips.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Willpower: your last line of defense

I, like a lot of people, began my weight loss journey by using a lot of willpower. I used willpower to eat right, I used willpower to get my lethargic booty to the gym.

It was incredibly tiring. And there were many times that it failed.

What I've since learned is that willpower is a valuable tool, but it's my last line of defense in the battle to get healthy.

I'm going to use a military metaphor for a bit. Forgive me if it's a bit mangled, I'm not a military kind of a girl.

Willpower is like a sentry at the inner gates, waiting with a big sword to fight off the bad guys. He's a big tough dude, but Willpower is just one guy, and if he has to fight off whole armies, he's gonna get really tired. You need front line forces to keep back the bad guys so that Willpower doesn't have to do all of the work.

So what are your front line forces? Here are a few:

1) Habit
You already have a lot of healthy habits. For instance, you probably brush your teeth a couple of times a day and shower once in awhile. Building even more good habits is just a matter of setting small goals and integrating them into your life.

I habitually go to the gym and/or run each day, whether I feel like it or not. If I am fatigued, I do a lighter workout. If I need a rest day or days, I plan for it, I don't just say "nay" to the gym.

I habitually eat a certain ways that support my health, and I habitually eat every 2-3 hours (except after dinner). If I feel hungry or have the munchies between my mini-meals, I can just fall back on the habit of waiting till my feeding time.

That's just a couple of healthy habits I've developed. There are bunches of others. Habits take awhile to take hold, so at first it's willpower keeping them in place. Once they lock in, they are a great support structure.

2) Planning
I will plan this evening what to eat tomorrow. I will have my breakfast and lunch packed up and ready to go. I have a grocery list by the fridge so that I always have a talley of what healthy, easy foods I need to buy.

Before I go to bed in the evening, my gym bag is packed and sitting by the door, waiting to go. I don't have to renew my commitment, consider my options, or make any effort at all in the morning, I just grab my food and my gym bag and go.

I also plan for the week. Monday, Friday, and Saturday I do gym cardio and work out with weights (push, pull, and legs respectively). Wednesday I do a yoga class. Tuesday and Thursday I run outside and do physical therapy exercises. Sunday I rest or, if I feel energetic, do something fun like hike or mountain bike.

My planning is rough planning. If something comes up such as, say, an impromptu meal out, or a day when my shins hurt so I shouldn't run, or the opportunity to mountain bike for six hours, after which I can't possibly do a leg day at the gym, I simply adjust my plan. Flexibility needs to go hand in hand with planning or it can fall apart.

3) Realism
I know that I have a weakness for crackers. I like them with cheese, I like them with peanut butter, I like them plain. I love the little salt crystals on my tongue and the crunch in my mouth. I love their crunchy salty carby goodness. I will not get full quickly and will not stop when I get full. Thus, I don't buy crackers. I just walk on by that section of the store.

Now, some foods can be a problem but, as you grow, cease to be a problem. I have two pints of ice cream and a package of dark chocolate chips in my freezer right now, and I know that I can eat small servings of them as planned. Didn't used to be the case. So, I will check back on crackers again one day and see how it goes.

More realism. If I'm starving, I'm not going to an event where there are munchy little foods. I will eat something first, or skip the event. If I am feeling more appetite than usual, the movies, which smell like that wicked buttery popcorn, are not the place for me. If I travel, I bring food with me on the road so that I don't need to eat every meal out.

4) Attitude
I am constantly giving myself little pep talks. Or I'll ask my husband for a pep talk. I keep little quotations around my office and home that give me a lift. I have a list of heroes in my journal, people that I admire for one reason or another. I have a list of things I can do rather than eat. Thus, when I am weak or frustrated, I have a toolkit of places to turn.

If I "screw up" in some way, I don't beat myself up for it, I give myself compassion and ask myself how I want to feel - better? yeah, probably. What's that going to take? Usually it's being nice to myself and getting back on plan.

5) Self awareness
Often I feel like eating, but what I actually need is one of the following:
-time alone
-to admit that I am not happy about something
-to feel an uncomfortable feeling
-some sort of treat such as a massage or a new outfit

So, if I feel like eating or overeating and I don't have clear physical signals of hunger, I stop and check to see if I need one of those things or something else. It really works, even if I am unable to have that particular thing immediately, because I know that food isn't going to help.

Once in awhile, my front lines allow some temptation to get by, and Willpower saves the day. But, I try to give Willpower enough rest so that he doesn't have to wear himself out a dozen times a day.

As I said, this is just a few of your front line soldiers, fighting the good fight. There are many, many others. What are your front lines of defense?

Dr. Phil's seven keys to weight loss freedom

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Three things I never thought I could do

  1. Run
    I ran as a teenager and loved it. Then I went to college, majored in English, and sat on my butt a lot reading and typing papers. When I was 22, I took a running class and -youch!- my hips started hurting and never stopped, even once I quit running. I thought I could never run again. Every time I tried, it caused huge problems. I felt crippled and old.

    Over the years I've seen various practitioners to work on this problem, done a lot of yoga and PT exercises, all with varying degrees of success. I got to the point where I didn't hurt too badly if I didn't run and I did stretch a lot.

    This year, I started seeing an amazing physical therapist, who trained with the incredible Gary Gray, inventor of the "functional" training concept.

    Lo and behold, I can run. I just needed to retrain my body. On Saturday I ran 3.26 miles in 32 minutes, peaking at 7 miles per hour (or about an 8:32 minute mile). Not a world record, but it's a gold fricking medal for me.

  2. Stop overeating for real
    I've never been obese, but that is a testament to my metabolism, not my habits. I've never woken up in the middle of the night to down tubs of ice cream, a whole pizza, and a boatload of cookies like the people you see on PBS specials about binge eating disorder. But I have empathy for that behavior.

    Food is immensely comforting. Eating is pleasurable. Eating certain foods releases chemicals in your brain that ease depression and anxiety, and perhaps in my brain more than yours. This is both a psychological and physiological process. Cravings can be overwhelming, and compulsions terrifying because they create the illusion of powerlessness.

    You can't just quit eating the way you can quit drugs, so I went through a whole process of retraining my relationship to eating and feeling and life, as well as resetting my body chemistry with exercise and supplements. Recovering from the habit of overeating has been a long, hard (but immensely rewarding) road.

    I call this a habit, not an addiction. Why is that? Because I believe that addictions of all sorts are simply very ingrained habits that have negative consequences. These habits can cause chemical changes in the body, of course.

    I truly never believed I could do this, but I never gave up trying. And I never gave up asking for help. And here I am.

  3. Mountain bike
    My first experience with mountain biking was on a trail above my ability level, in the mud, with a bike that was too big, with a group of experienced bikers. Needless to say, I spent most of the time walking my bike. When I did try a downhill stretch, I fell on my head and hurt my neck badly.

    I didn't try again for 16 years. When I did, I bought a bike that fit me. I chose a novice trail.

    I loved it. I love it. I want to go every weekend. I want to go pro. I am a mountain biking fool.

    I'm still bad at it, but I'm learning. I am now comfortable with various surfaces including sand, rocks, water, and dirt. I can go uphill and downhill very slowly. I do not yet like ledges, but I'll get there.

This is just a few things I've done, indicative of deeper transformations. There's not much I don't believe I can do now, it's a just a matter of choosing what to do next.

What have you accomplished that you never thought you could?

Monday, April 18, 2005

Change, your friend.

Many people that talk to me about my weight loss/getting fit experience either a) attribute it to something special about me or b) attribute their failure to something wrong with themselves.

For example, a colleague recently told me I looked great, then said "but you're young, I'll check back in 5 years." That sounds kind of cutting, but she was just trying to make herself feel better for gaining 20 pounds over the last few years.

Another colleague asked how I ate for weight loss and I explained my program to her. She had about a million excuses why she couldn't do that. For instance: when I buy almonds, I eat the whole bag; I tried logging my food, but it got too complicated; I never have time to pack my lunch.

Other excuses I often hear: I hate exercise, I love food too much to diet, I have a chocolate problem, etc.

OK, jump back.

You don't have to want to lose weight or get in shape right now. There are a lot of good reasons to do so, but if you don't want to, don't. Just say it. Making excuses robs you of your power.

The most helpful thing that anybody ever said to me was a couple of weeks before my wedding. I was stressed out, binge eating, and gaining back some weight. This person said "Don't worry about it. You have a wedding to be present for. Lose the weight after if you want."

So, you may not want this health and fitness thing right now, but check back in once in awhile, why don't you?

However, if you do and think you just can't, I'll tell you this:

If I can lose 40 pounds and get in shape, anybody can reach their (reasonable) goal weight and get in shape.

I don't do hunger well. I have a history of compulsive overeating. I used to be a sedentary bookworm who didn't like to exercise. I love chocolate. I've had various sorts of chronic pain and bizarre injuries for all of my adult life. I crave sugar.

What does it take to change? Funny you should ask.

1. You do have to want to.
Really want to. That means all of you, even the deep dark corners of you. I spoke about this a bit in my last post. Resolving this could mean getting some professional help, or it could mean just noticing what's going on for you emotionally when you give up on your goals.

2. Get help if you need it.
If you are in pain (physical or emotional), find help. It costs money, yes, but your body is a precious tool and it won't last if you don't care for it.

3. Set reasonable goals.
I didn't change all of my habits at once. Lord, no.

A reasonable goal set for the first month for a person who is sedentary and overweight would be something like:

- Exercise 30 minutes 3 times per week for one month.
- Log your food intake and write down how you feel while and after you eat. Don't worry about calories or amounts, just write it down.

When your goal deadlines are over, decide what your next step is. If you have met your goals, pat yourself on the back (or even set up a series of non-food rewards). If you have not, stop and think about what went wrong. Go back through the steps if necessary: Do you really want it right now? Do you need some help? Were your goals reasonable? For God's sake, don't beat yourself up, just take an honest look at your behavior. Then set a new set of goals, with a timeline.

4. Tweak your program.
It's good to stick with a program for three weeks, because it takes that long for habits to shift. After that time, assess how it's going. Do you really like that exercise class? Would you rather be walking than be in a stuffy gym? How's the food thing going? Do you want to shift the number of meals you're eating per day, or maybe add in a free day? Are you having a hard time with packing lunch? How about a frozen meal (though it isn't ideal, it beats giving up)? Can you find simpler foods to eat that you enjoy?

You're in this for the long haul, so you'll want to switch things up every so often.

5. Stick with it.
I don't know if you've seen the Nike ad where Michael Jordan says "the reason that I succeed is that I've failed over and over and over and over again." Well, I don't know about Mike, but it's true for me. Each failure was a step towards success, as painful as those failures could be. The point is not to give up on yourself.

6. Have faith.
You may not believe you will ever meet your Goals-with-a-capital-G (the big goals underlying all the little achievable ones).

That's ok. Just keep at it, have faith that you will slowly change. Reach those attainable goals one at a time, which will give you a sense of empowerment.

Most of all, be nice to yourself. Treat yourself like a precious friend, or a little kid who may be confused and need guidance, but certainly isn't bad.

What's your goal this week?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

You are already perfect

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I can change.
Carl Rogers

I am sort of obsessed with goal setting and attainment, growth, busting through comfort zones, empowerment. And, obviously, I am interested in fitness, weight loss, nutrition, and health. But I want to take a step back for a minute.

When I weighed 175, I was no less a wonderful woman than I am at 130. The fact that I can bench press 35 pound dumbells makes me proud in a "yeah, I'm a badass and I worked hard for it" kind of way, but I'm not a better human being for it. I am proud that I have set tough goals - in all sorts of arenas, not just the physical - and met them. But that doesn't change that I am just a human being, with strengths, weaknesses, things to learn, and a lot to give.

I believe that taking care of your body is like taking care of a Ferrari that your parents were nice enough to loan you. It's an expensive, complex piece of machinery, and a gift that should be treated with care. I think that growing as a human is what we're on this planet for, and I am driven to share that with people.


Anything you do has to be for you. And out of love for yourself.

My husband, innocently, said the other day that he wished I wanted to learn to surf. He wanted to share his love of surfing with me.


Truth is, I love ocean swimming, body surfing, even boogie boarding, but surfing doesn't do anything for me. I have this boney rib that sticks out and bruises on the board, I get in everybody's way, and by the time I paddle through the chop, I'm freaking tired and want a carne asada burrito and a warm bath. Plus I've never successfully stood up. Surfing is HARD, people. You have to be DRIVEN to keep at it. It has to come from inside.

I will put that kind of effort into learning to be a good mountain biker, even though I keep falling down and cutting myself up and generally being slow, because something about that sport drives me. I will go to three hours a week of physical therapy and endure hip pain so that I can run, because running makes me feel like a kid again, free and breathless and light. I will put huge amounts of effort and force of will into any number of things, some of them quite difficult, but I have to really want to.

Same with other kinds of goals, except it can be a bit less clear, even to ourselves.

When I was binge eating regularly, alternated with taking good care of myself, the problem was that part of me wanted to take care of my body and part of me was pissed as hell that other people were telling me what to do and what size to be. Who? Oh, you know, the usual suspects: parents, society, magazine images, etc. But the funny thing is, my parents haven't told me what to do in over 16 years, and I'm way past wanting to look like a magazine model, for goodness sake.

But some of that past stuff had stuck in my psyche - and in my body - and was sabotaging my goals. I had to find it all, let it go, and figure out how to do it for me.

AND, I had to come to a place where taking care of my own body was an act of love, not an act of anger at myself (for being bad, eating too much, being fat, lazy, whatever). Because when I was beating myself up, my poor wounded self wanted the comfort of food, of course!

Now when I move, it's out of joy and love of life. When I choose to eat or not eat, it's because I know it'll make me feel good.

It's not always easy to know that you are already perfect. You ferret out one place where you don't believe it, fix it, think you're all set, then some other issue pops up, darnit.

Hmm. This week I am going to give myself a gift for being such a glorious expression of life. I am going to do restorative yoga each night for a few minutes to release the tension in my hips and back. I'll do this even if there are dirty dishes or laundry or groceries that need attending to.

How can you express your love for yourself this week?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Hunger and weight loss or, what do I eat and how much?

Because I've lost a lot of weight over the last few years, I answer a lot of questions from people about how I did it. And I hear the same misconceptions that I used to have about getting fit and healthy. One belief that I've seen is that you have to go hungry to lose weight. While this was true in the 80's when we weren't eating any fat, we're past that now, aren't we?

You don't get to lose weight and pig out. But if you're really, truly, hungry (my test: does an apple sound as good as a snickers bar? OK, you're really hungry), you need food. If you're getting hungry but eating all the food you should be, maybe you're not getting the right macronutrient profile for your body. For many people, each meal should include protein, fat, and complex carbs. Also, I've played with various meal configurations and find that five mini-meals works best for me - I'm almost always eating so I never get very hungry. What does a day's food look like? Here's yesterday:

7am - coffee, sprouted grain toast with almond butter (200)
10:00 - zone bar (210)
1:00 - big salad with jumbo shrimp, low fat dressing, 1 ounce tortilla chips (350)
3:30 - chocolate whey protein drink with big old crunchy green apple (200)
6:00 - turkey meatballs with marinara, 1/2 serving whole wheat pasta, cooked spinach, mixed berries blended with yogurt and 50 grams soy ice cream. (500)
Total calories: 1460

I never felt hungry for more than 1/2 hour, and never very hungry. If I did, I would have eaten a bit more. Notice that each meal includes fat and protein as well as carbs. I'm not a perfect eater by any means. Ideally I'd eat a smaller dinner and a larger lunch, and Zone bars aren't as healthy as real food, but they're chocolate-y and easy and give me protein. And ice cream isn't in the diet of most body builders. The point is, this plan works for me. It works for my body and it works for my brain.

In determining how much I should eat in a day, I calculate my caloric need for my goal weight and use that as a top number. The basic formula is 14-16 calories per pound of body weight for an active woman. Ok, so at my goal weight of 120, I should be eating 1680-1920 calories per day (depending on whether I got a lot of activity that day). Cool, I'll make a number in between - say 1800 - my high number. If I'm well and truly hungry, and not fooling myself, I can have that much food energy in a day. My low intake threshold is my current weight times 10. I need at least 1300 calories a day right now. Less would be risking muscle loss and really ugly hunger. I set my target in between the two numbers at 1600 and adjust up or down as activity and hunger dictate.

I have a free meal every week or two. The calories of one meal won't hurt you, and some experts believe that it can help your body lose fat, plus it can help keep you from quitting. One note on that is that free meals used to send me into binges, so I avoided them. It's only the last year or so that I'm able to set up the boundaries necessary to enjoy a great meal, then go right back to planning my food intake. So, play with it and see what works for you.

If this seems like a lot of planning, it is. I am a planner. On the other hand, my husband plays it by ear. He's using the same basic outline, but he loosely adds the numbers up in his head rather than counting and logging. It works for him.

Here's the basic road map for this plan:

1. Do the calculations above, decide on your target, then break the number of calories into five small meals. For a 1500 calorie day, your mini-meals should average 300 calories. (For a more specific estimate of caloric needs, use this caloric needs calculator).

2. Eat a small meal every 2-3 hours. Each small meal should contain protein, fat, and carbs.

3. Eat whole grains, lean protein, nuts, legumes, fruits, and veggies as the bulk of your food, but allow yourself foods you enjoy within your calorie guidelines. I eat a small serving of ice cream or soy cream almost every evening, and I often eat chocolate. You're looking for a ratio of about 80% super healthy, 20% yummy.

4. Remember to drink lots of water, sometimes dehydration mimics hunger.

5. If you choose to have a free meal, decide on a day and really enjoy that free meal. Have something you well and truly want, not something you think you should want. If you want fast food, go for it. Ditto a steak dinner with a potato, beer and dessert. Ditto a huge plate of pasta with butter and cheese. But stick to that ONE meal.

This is not a formula. Everybody is different. Don't hesitate to experiment. If you don't like this plan, research options and work with some other models. Some people work well with the model of learning to recognize true (not emotional) hunger and eating exactly what they truly want. Others do well by using a higher protein, lower carb diet plan. Some people like to use a list of foods that they can eat to satiety, while avoiding other foods that are more nutrient dense. There are many many ways to make this work for you. There are personality variables as well as biological ones, so a bit of tweaking may be necessary to find the perfect fit.

A final note: don't hesitate to get help if you need it. If you feel that you are hungrier than you should be or you are having trouble with bingeing or you are eating the right amounts but not losing weight, find a medical or mental health professional that you trust and ask for help! I did, and it has transformed my life in ways that go WAY beyond food.

Also, what's not working isn't a failure, it's a clue, so don't beat yourself up. More on that later.

What's working or not working for you?

Mistress Krista on food (click on "eating" and then "dieting 101.")
Geneen Roth, author of many books on recovering from compulsive eating

Friday, April 15, 2005

Complexity theory

My husband has a population biology degree. This morning he explained to me how ecosystems have multiple points of equilibrium. For example, a pond with X number of fish will tend toward X number of fish even if something upsets the equilibrium, but that number may change. That sounded more confusing that I meant it to. OK: a pond hosts 1500 fish. A predator eats 200. The pond will bounce back to 1500. Or, there is a good season for fly larva and the population bounces up to 2000 - it will bounce back down to 1500 over a time. BUT, if the predator eats 300, the new equilibrium might be 1000. OR, if there is a really good season, the new equilibrium may go up to 2200. That's because it's a complex system.

So, that got us talking about our body/mind/spirits as a complex system. In terms of weight (one metric, arguably not the most important one, but easy to measure). I have a set point at 165. When I went up to 172, it was relatively easy to get back down to 165, but getting below it was rough. My next set point is about 148. Again, once I got below 165, getting to 148 was relatively easy. My next set point is 135 . . . Etc. Now that I'm below 130, I suspect my next set point will be around 125, at which point I'll have to push a little harder to get to my goal weight of 120.

The converse is that if I creep back up a pound or two, my body will reach for the higher set point. I've seen this more than once with weight re-gain. I stabilize at, say, 138, relax for awhile, and WHOMP, I'm suddenly 148 again.

It's like a hilly running course - the downhills are easy, but the up hill sections are tough. The places in between are set points, or equilibrium points.

Why is this? Well, we're theorizing it's because we're complex systems. A lot goes into weight loss and fitness, some of it psychological, some of it hormonal, some of it physical. Food tastes change. Muscle mass changes, and thus basal metabolic rate changes. Who you spend time with changes. Your level of activity changes.

Wow! What this means, if true, is that, when weight loss is hard, you can a) understand that if you're doing the right things to meet your goals, you may just be at one of those set points and you'll see change soon and b) if you change some variables, you will likely get through the hilly sections faster. Variables to change can be all sorts of things, from getting a massage to eating more for a day (then getting right back on target), to switching up your macronutrient profile (e.g. more protein, more carbs). It's a matter of experimentation.

More thinking on this will surely be posted soon.

I'd love to hear what you have to say. Do you see this in your body?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

What the bleep does "release" mean?

Is it just me, living in Southern California, or is there a lot of use of the word "release" as in "release old patterns" in our jargon lately? Sounds lovely, and I use it too, but what does it mean?

I am certainly not at the end of my training on this one, but I see it this way. When you make a change in your life, you work hard to change habits and you create the results you want and it's good. But, without releasing the cause of the problem, that problem bubbles up somewhere else. Like pushing down on a bubble under plastic, the pressure of pushing down causes another bubble to rise.

Solving the underlying cause, I think, is a matter of several things. One, finding it. Two, exploring it. Three, feeling it. Four, releasing it. Something simple could take all of a day or two, something complex may take years and a psychotherapist. No shame in that.

For me, somatic therapies have worked well with the last (release) step. Which is to say, working through things with my actual body. Yelling, punching, even screaming. Also more sedate forms of somatic release such as yoga, massage, bioenergetic exercises.

Release is that part of the process after which, when you think about the situation or pattern that used to cause pain, you go "oh, that doesn't really hurt anymore" or "oh, I haven't done that thing in months and I don't miss it!"

I'll write on examples in future posts.

What's your take on what "release" means?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

As if

Jacob Glass, a fabulous spiritual coach and speaker, writes this week about Acting As If . That's also something that Barbara Sher talks about in her fabulous career book I Could Do Anything if Only I Knew What it Was. In part, Acting As If is about deciding what you want, then acting as if you have it. How would I dress if I had my ideal career? How and what would I eat if I were a naturally thin person? What would I do today if I had all the energy I wish I had? What would a constitutionally happy Ellie do in this situation?

I see a balance here between denying feelings that are painful or hard and focusing awareness of what I want. On the one hand, there is a time to say "I'm tired and I need a nap today," "that pissed me off and I'm not over it," or "sheezus, I hate my job and I want out." On the other, when we act as if we already have what we want, we invite it into our lives. It's a way of getting unstuck, out of ruts. Or, as my boxing teacher used to yell at us as we sweated through bag drills: your body doesn't give up on you, your mind does! (That's not quite true, sometimes my body does give out on me, but you get the point).

Yesterday I walked up a flight of stairs and could feel my hips ache (note to self: I need to stretch every day) and a creeping fatigue. I quickly made two decisions. One, I needed to be kind to my body, stretch it out, do some restorative yoga, eat some extra carbs, and give it a light cardio day, maybe a day off. Two, I wasn't going to give in to the part of the fatigue that was in my head.

What does that mean? Just that part of my fatigue wasn't about my body being tired, it was about a pattern of overwork, expectations of perfection, and collapse that I set up a long, long time ago and that isn't useful in my life today. I need not push myself so hard that I need a week off. I can take steps to feel great right now! It's an ongoing process, detangling these things, and a perpetually fascinating one!

But wait! Where's the acting As If? Hmmm . . . well, it's like holding two ideas in my heart at once. The one idea is being kind to myself, being in dialogue with myself, giving myself what I need. The other one is living as if I already have all the energy that I need, of not giving in to brain waves that are stuck in a low energy state.

What patterns can you let go of today?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Mama got a big ol' bag

My gym bag is a black backpack. In the smallest compartment is my lock and gym membership card. The other small compartment has an emergency packet of Speed Gel and my Mp3 player. The big compartment has clothes, shoes, a towel, a JumpStretch band and my cosmetics bag.

My cosmetics bag is one of those amazing multi-pocketed yet compact things that opens up to hang on the shower pole. It contains bottles of my favorite shampoo and conditioner. A wide-toothed comb. A tiny bottle of spray gel. A razor. Deodorant. Moisturizer for my face. Moisturizer for my body. Makeup.

When I get home from work in the evening, the first thing I do (after dumping off the lunch leftovers in the kitchen, dropping my purse on the table, and saying HI to the dog) is remove the sweaty gym clothes from my gym bag, repack it, and put it next to my purse to take with me the next day. It takes all of about 3 minutes.

I didn't used to be this organized. I used to shuffle around in the morning yawning and swearing, trying to pull together everything I would need for a trip to the gym. I didn't want to have multiples of things, so I would grab my shampoo from the shower or go without face moisturizer. I occasionally forgot something important like underwear or a hairbrush.

Guess what? I didn't get to the gym nearly as often, and it was a lot more effort. My gym bag system works for me for two reasons: it's an organized, habitual system and I love the stuff in it. I enjoy my showers at the gym when I know I have my favorite shampoo and moisturizer. It's a little treat.

One of the first steps towards meeting any goal is to organize your life so that your habits and routines support that goal. Getting organized is a huge transformational tool.

What's in your gym bag?

On French women and my bag of tricks

There's been a lot of talk in the fitness blog world and traditional media about the latest rash of books on the French diet. It sounds like it basically amounts to eating smaller portions of high quality, delicious foods and structuring meals rather than snacking.

Makes a lot of sense. Seems to me we're biologically designed to eat just about anytime we want, to put on weight, and then to deal with hard endurance workouts, times when we have less food, and (in the case of women), pregnancy. I know there are people who don't have this issue, but without some structure, I personally would be inclined to eat all day.

This morning I got up at 6 and had a cup of coffee (mmmmm . . . coffee) with a slice of sprouted grain toast spread with 1 T cashew/macadamia butter. At 10am I had a 1 ounce of crunchy whole grain cereal with 1/2 ounce of dry roasted almonds and about 2/3 ounce of really really really good bittersweet chocolate chips. And a cup of green tea. I moved away from my computer and any reading material while I ate, and when I bit into a chocolate chip, I actually closed my eyes to shut off any sensory input other than the taste and texture of that chocolate in my mouth. Mmmmmmmmm.

There was a time when I was either eating boring "diet" foods or I was bingeing on things like peanut butter toast and almonds and chocolate. I didn't realize that a) yummy food is OK and in fact can be good for you and b) structuring the amounts and the times is a way to, in fact, increase enjoyment. Nothing is good when you feel bad about it. Nothing is good when you don't even notice that you ate it. Nothing is good when you feel sort of queasy because you're stuffed to the gills.

I log my food intake and exercise output not in order to deprive myself, but so that I can eat chocolate and almonds and steak without feeling like I'm cheating myself. I know how much fat and saturated fat I've taken in today and how much I plan to take in. I know I need a protein drink later, and some fruit, and some veggies. I structure what time I eat so that I don't need to think about it in between times (but am flexible enough to eat in between if I'm truly hungry). And I build non-food treats into my day so that I'm not looking forward to JUST my next meal.

Everybody who has successfully lost weight or gotten fit has their own bag of tricks. What works for me right now is to log my macronutrient intake, exercise often, eat meals at structured times unless I'm truly hungry, eat foods I love, and focus on non-food treats.

What's in your bag of tricks?

Friday, April 08, 2005

Introduction and setting the intention

Hi, my name is Ellie and I'm a life balance coach. I help people change things that they don't like about their lives into things that they do like. I specialize in changes relating to fitness, food, and health, as well as generally getting the bits and pieces of life into a good balance. This blog is a place for me to share thoughts and notes on this process.

I trained as a life coach with the inimatable Martha Beck and did foundational work at New Ventures West. Between these two formal trainings and other experiences, classes, workshops, etc., I have a pretty nifty bag of tricks for helping people find their right path.

When my life is in balance, I feel like I'm glowing: I jump out of bed before the alarm goes off (or else I sleep deeply and wake to the alarm refreshed), I look forward to my workouts and my work, I have an active social life and a deeply rewarding solitary life. Heck, my skin looks great and my eyes shine! Thus the name of this blog: glow notes.

What makes you glow?