glow notes

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Mantras

At the most basic level, mantras are repeated syllables, often used in meditation. Sometimes they are chanted, which is to repeat them aloud. You may have used them in a yoga class. You've probably heard the famous one "Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare" sung by people with shaved heads at airports.

The Wikipedia talks about a mantra being akin to a spell, which is to say that the syllables themselves have power. I don't know about that, though I'm open to the idea that language has power.

What I do know is that consciousness has power. And a mantra brings your consciousness to a particular focal point.

I would argue that we're using mantras all the danged time. Even when we don't mean to, want to, or know any Sanskrit or Tibetan. Even when we aren't aware of them.

For instance:
  • I'm fat, I'd better diet
  • I'm so bad, I can't stop eating chocolate
  • Asshole! Beeeeeeeeeeeeep! Vroom Vroom!
  • He's going to leave me, they all do
  • I hate to work out
  • I never have enough money

Or, alternately:

  • My body is strong and healthy
  • I deserve, am nourished by, and enjoy good food
  • Wow, that was close, I sure am lucky on the Freeway
  • I have such a great husband, I think I'll buy him flowers today
  • I love to move my body
  • Look at all this prosperity in so many areas of my life!

The thing is, and I've seen this over and over and over again, we'll keep seeing more of whatever we're focused on.

This concept is obvious and not woo woo when it comes to prejudices small and large. If we expect, for instance, pit bulls to be big mean menacing dogs, we'll notice all the articles about viscous pit bull attacks. If we expect them to be bundles of wiggly loyal love, we'll notice the one article about a pit bull saving a woman from being mauled by two large dogs. If we expect women to be irrational, we'll see the lady at the grocery store yelling at her kids as confirmation of that fact.

Works for other things, too.

If you've struggled with your weight, you've probably felt fat. Ever notice that how fat you feel may not have anything to do with how fat you actually ARE? In fact, I can feel fat at the start of a workout and like a lean mean iron pumping machine by the end. My body didn't change that fast, folks. My brain did.

Ever notice that repeating to yourself that you are a fat, ugly lump, it doesn't exactly fix the problem? Indeed, it often drives me right to the store and proceeds to purchase potato chips and chocolate ice cream.

That's not just because I eat when I feel bad. Because there are many times that I feel bad (in other ways) that I don't overeat. It's also because I've repeated the mantra "I'm fat I'm fat I'm fat" so often that consciousness says "OK, fine, you're fat" and makes sure that's the case.

If I repeatedly tell myself that I hate to work out, I'm ignoring evidence of all of the glorious ways that I can move my body pleasurably. I'm cutting myself off from the potential joy of having a human body. If I'm "being good," I repeatedly force myself onto the treadmill in a stuffy gym on a gorgeous day and huff my way through a workout, which pretty soon leads to burnout, a confirmation that I hate to exercise, and more time spent on the couch with chips and ice cream and a mystery novel.

Conversely, when I tell myself that I'm an athlete who needs and deserves nourishment, I choose foods that I love and that my body loves. I eat the right amounts effortlessly. When I remind myself with each breath of my love of movement, I notice and allow myself ways to move that feel great, like hiking up a mountain or taking a modern dance class or pumping iron. If I don't feel like doing the elliptical trainer, that doesn't mean I hate exercise, it means I don't want to do the elliptical trainer today.

This is spiritual stuff in the sense that we're talking about your spirit. But it's also simple human psychology, simple cause and effect.

The cool thing is that it only takes a bit of energy to turn it around. Just consciously changing that mantra from "I'm fat" to "I'm uniquely sexy and probably deserve to be memorialized in marble" created a rapid shift both in mood and behavior, if done sincerely and repeatedly.

Really, it does.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

spiritbody

Over the last visit with my mom, which was during the tour de France, I mentioned something about how amazing Lance Armstrong was. My mom made a little face and said "yeah, but what's the point?"

The point, for me, is that the man has sure as heck found his North Star. He's discovered the one thing that God made him to do and boy, does he do it! Or, if you aren't into the Big G, just call it talent. Whatever. The point is, we all have a North Star and our only job on earth is to do it for all it's worth. (It's not always one thing, of course. It may be a whole way of life.)

A colleague the other day said something about Southern California (where we live) being body and fitness obsessed. OK, there are arguments for that. But is taking care of your body a bad thing?

These conversations got me thinking about the disconnect we have in our society with our bodies. Like they're somehow separate from the rest of our beings.

Sometimes I almost feel like apologizing for my deltoids, biceps, and pectorals. Explaining that I lift weights and run and eat well because I love it. Because it's a treatment for years of debilitating anxiety and depression and insomnia. Because I seem to have an on/off switch for taking care of myself, and I'd rather it be on. Not because I'm shallow.

More than that, exercise and eating right are spiritual practices for me. It is about choosing life. Of choosing to live fully. Of being embodied: living in my body. That may sound silly, but most of us run around living in our heads most of the time and forget all about how we really feel down there at ground zero. How do you feel right now? Warm? Cool? How's your tummy doing? Your left foot? What feels good in your body right now? What hurts? Is your jaw clenched? Exercise and conscious eating bring me back to my body.

One of the other blogs I read talks about a article on exercise as spiritual play. It's a really cool, thought-provoking little article, written from a Unitarian perspective, but not really religious in tone. Her first point is that exercise is a treat. It's being a kid and going out for recess. It's the joy of moving, sweating, breathing hard. It's the joy of being on the planet for this fleeting time, of being flesh and salt and blood and nerves.

And that, for me, is a big old golden key.

Friday, May 06, 2005

What's in my kitchen?

A lot of our health-conscious friends complain that they are short on time, and therefore eat out a lot. Most of them indeed are short on time. Some are running businesses, many have young kids, etc. I've been there. It's hard to fit food planning and eating right into your schedule.

However, restaurant food is incredibly fattening, even if you eat portion sizes that are reasonable, which is hard to do given that your plate usually has enough for three bodybuilders on it. I've taken cooking classes taught by chefs that work at fancy places, and they all say the same thing: if you knew how much butter, cream, olive oil, truffle oil, etc. goes into restaurant food, you'd stay home. Why is this? Mostly because they're cooking fast and in volume - they don't have time to make food taste great without the fat.

However, there are foods you can have in your cupboard/freezer/fridge that can make staying home faster than eating out. Some of them are not the ideal health foods, but they're a whole lot better than the alternative of restaurant/fast food eating. They're a whole lot easier on the budget, too.

Here's what's in my kitchen right now:

Fridge
  • Bagged salads and precut veggies
  • Cheese: string cheese, a good sharp cheddar, Romano or Parmesan
  • Turkey or chicken sausage, the spicy kind
  • Precooked shredded bbq chicken
  • Premade pizza dough and pizza fixings (sauce, Canadian bacon, Romano cheese to sprinkle on top).
  • Eggs and a carton of egg whites
  • Sprouted grain bread
  • Nut butters: peanut, almond, macademia/cashew
  • Condiments: salsas, hot sauces, a mean mole base, teriyaki marinade, ketchup, mustard, low-fat mayo, low-fat salad dressing, and other basics
  • Corn tortillas
  • Fat free cream (remarkably good!) or Silk soy creamer
  • Little yogurt's (watch out for sugar) or soy yogurt's

Cupboard/larder

  • Fruit: oranges, apples, bananas
  • Nuts: almonds, walnuts, peanuts, roasted soybeans
  • Boxed soups: tomato, butternut squash, and tomato-roasted pepper, boxed chicken broth
  • Marinara sauce
  • Whole wheat rotini noodles
  • Whole grain cereal
  • Canned tuna in water
  • Canned beans of various sorts
  • Trader Joe's soy and flax seed spicy tortilla chips
  • About three thousand Zone bars and a handful of Detour bars
  • Whey protein mix
  • Soy protein mix
  • Oatmeal
  • Soy crisps - I love the salt and vinegar flavor, but barbeque and ranch are good, too
  • Coffee!
  • A variety of wine for cooking and drinking

Freezer

  • Chicken breasts
  • Turkey meatballs
  • Precooked jumbo shrimp
  • Two grassfed hamburger patties
  • Veggies: broccoli, spinach, asparagus, green beans, corn
  • Fruit: mixed berries, cherry berry blend, mango, blueberries
  • Pad Thai mix
  • Mushroom rissoto mix
  • Frozen soups: french onion and cream of mushroom
  • A few high quality frozen meals
  • Cracked wheat sourdough rolls
  • Whole wheat hamburger buns
  • Precooked brown rice in 2-serving packets
  • 70% cocoa chocolate chips
  • Overripe bananas, to use for baking
  • Soy cream

OK, so what can you make with the food currently in my fridge? Here are a few samples that take less than 5 minutes of hands-on time to prepare:

Breakfast

  • I almost always eat a piece of sprouted grain toast with nut butter and a piece of fruit
  • Another option is oatmeal with frozen berries mixed in while cooking and a spoonful of protein powder and maybe a few almonds or other nuts

Lunch

  • Tuna fish with lowfat mayo salad with dressing, and a cracked wheat roll (or used thawed shrimp or stir-fried chicken in place of tuna)
  • A frozen meal and a salad
  • Leftovers from dinner
  • Chicken breast, cut into pieces and stir-fried with spices. When it's almost cooked, toss in chopped broccoli (fresh or frozen) and/or other veggies and cook for another couple of minutes. Mix with brown rice and 1/2 ounce of cheddar cheese.

Snacks

  • Protein shake and a piece of fruit
  • Yogurt and cereal with nuts
  • String cheese and a piece of fruit
  • Protein bar

Dinner

  • Chicken breast or turkey meatballs cooked in marinara sauce and red wine, served with whole wheat pasta and a vegetable
  • Sausage with a cracked wheat roll, corn, and green beans
  • Chicken breast + pad Thai mix or mushroom rissotto mix
  • Soup (with some shredded cheese maybe), cracked wheat roll, a vegetable
  • Pizza made with whole grain crust, marinara or pizza sauce, Canadian bacon. Served with Parmesan cheese and a vegetable
  • Brown rice and beans with cut-up sausage and/or cheese

Dessert

  • Soy ice cream
  • Soy ice cream put in the food processor with frozen berries, served with nuts or whole grain cereal (yum!)
  • Yogurt put in the food processor with frozen berries and vanilla whey protein (better than it sounds)

Those are just a few samples. Your kitchen will be a reflection of your tastes. But it IS possible to create good, healthy meals faster than you can possible eat out.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

On food

For most of us, it takes a conscious effort to eat less than or as much as we need. A situation the other day made me think of this.

One day, a friend (we'll call her Anna) tells me that she's gaining some weight and it's hard to take off, even though she has started exercising. "I don't eat very much," she tells me.

A few days later, we ate our sack lunches together. She ate two Trader Joe's tamales with sauce. I ate a big mixed salad with dressing and tuna fish. After, we walked to Starbucks. She ordered that yummy sounding Chantico drinking chocolate. I had green tea.

Being as I'm obsessed with nutrition, I did some quick calculations. Anna ate approximately 1200 calories in that meal (400 for each tamale, 400 for the chocolate - I looked that one up, yowza!). My meal was approximately 300 calories.

I'm not picking on Anna. If I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about this topic, I never would have expected that meal to be so calorie dense. It seems like a reasonable meal. And Anna is right, she's not eating that much food. In fact, she eats much less than I do, in volume and in number of meals per day. But the food she is eating is very energy dense. If she eats two meals like this a day and nothing else, she'll probably pack on about a pound every 8 1/2 days, and that's if she's exercising quite a bit.

The thing is, exercise is great and healthy and will do wonderful things for your body, but it doesn't burn that many calories.

Other important things: I'll bet my meal kept me full for longer. Plus, I'll eat another 300 calories in about three hours, so my blood sugar will stay stable, I'll have more energy, and my metabolism will be higher. I'm completely ignoring macronutrients for the most part, but Chantico? It has 20 grams of fat (not the good kind) and 10 grams of saturated fat. A ton of gylcemic-index-raising sugar. And very few redeeming qualities other than some antioxidants in the chocolate (though there are probably way more antioxidants in a 1-ounce Scharffenberger 70% bittersweet bar and only 170 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 7 grams of saturated fat).

The point is, it is sosososososososo easy to pack away over 1000 calories in one meal, when your body only needs maybe 1700-2400 per day (depending on your sex, age, level of exercise).

But that doesn't mean you have to go hungry or deprive yourself. You just have to budget. That means looking at each thing you eat, calculating relative worth, and being aware. It means eating 200-400 calories of high quality nutritious food every few hours, or an energy bar/shake if you can't get a good meal. It means educating yourself. It means that you can choose to drink Chantico, but account for it in your plan. And decide if it's worth it. After all, for that price you could have had two servings of ice cream, several cookies, a piece of chocolate cake, two pieces of peanut butter toast . . . or two bars of Scharffenberger.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Pit bull lessons, part 1

I have learned more from my dog, Raisin, than I can express. Most of what she has taught me has been positive - seize the day; run like you may not get to run again; relax whenever you can, you never know when a beach trip might pop up; snuggles are as crucial as food and water; your body is like a smoking hot race car just waiting for you to turn on the engine and go; open your heart wide up and ignore the occasional fool that rejects you, etc.

This latest lesson is sort of heart rending. My little 4-legged companion is injured. She started walking without her rear right foot a week ago Sunday. On Tuesday we took her to the vet, who took x-rays and saw a displaced kneecap and some minor hip imbalances. Since then she's been laid up, doped up, and bored. We know that she will heal quickly and completely, but it is hard to explain this to her.

Now, this is a dog who is used to going to either the park or the beach every day. We moved closer to the off-leash park in large part because of her. Taking her out to play is part of our routine, and I look forward to getting some fresh air and down time, to seeing other people and their dogs. It's a nice after work activity.

But anyhow.

Raisin has never loved her dog food. It's ok, she says, but she prefers peanut butter, tuna fish, salmon, any-fish-will-do-really, steak, and treats. Especially those really nasty smelling fake bacon treats. She has always had a full bowl of food sitting out, which she munched on whenever she got good and hungry.

A week after her injury, I noticed that she was putting on a little weight. Then I noticed that she seemed to be eating more dry food than usual. So, I started rationing her food.

Her new tendency to overeat may be a side effect of her pain medication or the sedative we're giving her to keep her from going nuts (perhaps it is related to marinol?), but it may also be that she is eating out of boredom because she is, for the moment, unable to do what she was born to do which is, in short, to be free, to play, to romp and wiggle.

This got me to thinking about us humans. How many of us have even discovered what we were born to do, much less feel truly free to do it? I have one friend who was clearly born to write (among other things), and she does this quite often and admirably well. She also has a day job to pay the mortgage. She's a leg up on many of us, in terms of finding her North Star (this is what I call your calling, the path that you were born to walk - more on this later - from Martha Beck's Finding Your Own North Star, definitely worth reading).

If we humans either aren't aware of our calling OR aren't free to do it all the damned time, what does that do to us? Do we tend to overeat? Under-move? Smoke weed and watch B movies? Sure, our particular vices/coping mechanisms vary, but we do something to make up for that aching feeling that we aren't living our lives fully.

So, my tiny Bodhisattva comes through again with a life lesson. Now, on to following my North Star!