Better & Bolder, the Blog

Goals


The start of a new school year is actually a great time to start new, good habits. While in the US we generally perceive the start of the new year as our resolution time, the end of summer is a better time to get going on our goals. 

First, we’re happy and healthy after we’ve had some vacation or play during summer (you did get in some play, didn’t you?). Even if we’re not in school, we spent years cycling through a school schedule, so we perceive this late summer/early fall time as one for a fresh start. Finally, winter is a good time to rest and to dream. What I set up now can take me through that time of year and carry me into spring.

According to MJ Ryan, author of This Year I Will…, "We need goals that are close in and easy to reach as well as goals that are further out and requiring more time and effort. Ryan says, “Big dreams give you something high to aim toward, so you’re pulled far into the future” (O Magazine August 2012).

I’ve always thought of goals in practical terms: we set a goal to accomplish something. Ryan presents a spiritual side to this process. 

Our dreams connect us to our future selves. 

Our goals give us a reason to go into our future. They allow us to imagine a future in which we are our better selves.

Ryan says we need short-term goals that we accomplish so that we can prove to ourselves that we are capable. This is the fuel, she says, to accomplishing the long-term goals. The long-term goals are the ones in which we are transformed; we have accomplished or changed in the ways that are meaningful to us.

Metabolic Meltdown

This is horrible. This is schadenfreude -- you know, where we take some pleasure in someone else’s misfortune. 

I mean, where I take pleasure.

Here’s the link to a blog on the Sweaty Betties, “Metabolic Damage and Why I’m Pissed Off!” I’m gonna tell you about what she says, and tell you why I’m pissed off, too, and tell you about my terrible pleasure. 

The writer, Danny Johnson, describes how she was a fitness model. I look at these women and think, sheesh, how do they do that? I know how much I work out, and I get it’s their full-time job, and we all have different genetics, but still, visible abs? totally lean? Am I just not working out enough? Am I just a miserable overeater?

Danny J decided to return to competition and got herself a coach to help her win. The coach put her on an extreme diet. She admits that as a trainer, she’d never give this kind of diet to her clients. She also says she looked the best she ever had. 

Here’s where I start getting pissed off. She presents herself to her clients as if her body is attainable with hard work and good nutrition. But it’s not. It’s attainable by putting herself on a diet so extreme she can’t even recommend it to others.

Good thing she doesn’t recommend it. After 7 months on the diet, she tanks. She has no energy to work out. She’s gaining weight, no matter how little she eats or how much less she works out. She writes, “So I tried to crash diet, took all carbs away again, did 2 hours of cardio a day for 4 days and I GAINED 2 lbs. I didn’t understand. Why was I doing everything I did before and gaining???” Her body is fighting back. Her body wants her to be healthy again. 

She’s not listening. She spends a year trying to crash diet. She wants to look good, compete, be the gorgeous trainer. If she gains weight, she’s afraid her clients won’t want to train with her. That’s freaking ironic. If they knew she was thin because she was starving herself, would they want to train with her? 

There’s a happy ending. In a follow up blog, she explains that after two years, she’s done chasing her competition figure. She realized that she had to nurture her body with real food and work out well but not too much. She’s letting go of her fears (I’ll be fat! I’ll be gross! Getting compliments for being thin is really important!) and choosing health.

Some of the comments from others empathize with her. They, too, are experiencing crazy hormones, fluctuating weight, and messed up metabolism due to dieting and overexercise. They also are experiencing the craziness of believing they must somehow maintain a slim weight. One poster describes feeling devastated and broken when she gained eight pounds. Another is embarrassed and ashamed she has gained weight, but not, from what I read, ashamed to have abused her body into competition shape in the first place. A third person posts, “To work my ass off, eat right yet get bigger and grosser is making me absolutely crazy.” I don’t know when and where she decided that bigger = grosser, but I wish she’d stop. Just stop.

There are some exceptional athletes who have exceptional bodies and treat their bodies right. There are athletes, Olympians even, who starve themselves, who purge, who have eating disorders and body image disorders. I have no schadenfraude there. I am just so so sorry that gorgeous, gifted women cannot feel gorgeous and blessed. Instead, they feel not good enough.

I’ve been there. I am there. I constantly question whether I eat well enough. Maybe if I ate just a bit less, I would be a bit thinner. Maybe everyone looks at me and thinks, hey, she works out a lot and she’s not super thin so she must eat like a fat pig. Ooooh, yeah, that’s just me in my head. Nobody out there is thinking that.

A few weeks ago, I met a yoga teacher and fitness trainer outside of Lululemon -- friend of a friend, say hello, nice to meet you, the 30 second greeting. She looked me up and down. She appraised me. I thought I could hear her thinking that I wasn’t really a fitness teacher because I wasn’t bone thin. But you know what? Maybe she was thinking, “damn, I wish I was in her field and didn’t have to starve myself.”

These are stories, all of them. Some people truly are naturally thin and no dieting is required. Perhaps the skinny trainer I met was checking out my clothes, not my body. Perhaps she’s happy with her body and how she feeds herself. 

None of it matters. I could weigh five pounds less or five pounds more, and nothing in my life changes. I could look thinner, and that doesn’t mean I would look or feel any better. Nobody cares anyway. Why do I care? Why do I look at fitness models and then whip myself just a bit for not looking like that? 

I’m lucky in this way. I’ve got two kids and I’m rounding on menopause. I know my body wants to hang onto weight. I know my metabolism has been changing. I know my cycles are wacky and that my cycle affects my appetite, my sleep, my workout, and my mood. I have to roll with it because when I fight it, my body wins every time. I’m lucky because I don’t truly believe I can look like those fitness models, no matter what I did, even if I starved myself and worked out 4 hours a day. 

I also know it’s so not worth it. Now do some of these women. I think nyeah nyeah nyah. You have tortured us with your photos. Then magazines photoshop them further. We look in the mirror and poke at our waists or thighs, criticizing ourselves for not being totally fat-free. Enjoy your year, dieting fitness model. After that, your body will fight you to become human again.

So, listen. The chatter in my head that says I’m supposed to be thinner? That’s nobody’s fault but my own and totally 100% my responsibility. It’s not the media or advertising. It’s not Photoshop or fitness models. It’s also not inevitable. 

I can enjoy my body and enjoy exactly how I am today without having to compare myself to anyone else, including my previous or future selves. I hereby take my schadenfraude, crumple it up, throw it in the trash, and hit delete. Dear sisters in movement, please love your bodies well. Enjoy your muscles. Enjoy your flesh. Enjoy your food. Enjoy your rest. Love it all. 

Run

When my father was in his early 40s, he drank a lot, ate a lot, smoked a lot, and worked a lot. Kind of a typical businessman. His doctor told him to get in shape or be ready for a heart attack. 

My father quit his cigars and joined a gym. He brought me a few times, and I must have liked it enough because after high school, I lifted weights for a while, using the round robin approach he'd taught me (move fast, from one machine to the next, no waiting around). 

Then he was diagnosed with cancer. The doctors said, well, say goodbye and wrap things up because you've got maybe 6 months. Instead, my father started chemotherapy along with twice daily visualizations. He started running. He said the cows and the pigs and the chickens would pass him, but he was running.

Jogging was popular then, and I suppose he was a jogger. Some sources say that a ten minute mile makes someone a jogger. Get it under that, and there's the runner. Speed is the difference, though intent may be the difference as well.  

I went out jogging with my father. He taught me to shuffle along and just keep going. To set my sites on a tree or something ahead of me and run to that. Just keep going. 

After my father recovered from this bout of cancer (there would be two more), he spent more time working out at the gym and swimming. I never asked him about this, but I'm guessing it was for the reason most people switch as they get older: jogging hurts more than swimming. 

For reasons I don't remember and can't even fathom, in high school I joined the cross country team. I do not remember how far we ran. I remember running on my own and using that time to memorize lines in a play I was acting in. I remember being hassled sometimes by guys driving by the golf course where I ran. I remember how toned my thighs became. I don't remember the coach's name in part because I'm not sure he ever talked to me. He gave his time to the Varsity team. I was the only one on JV. I stunk. I was jogging, not running. When I got tired, I'd slow down. I had no idea how to push myself, or why, or that one day I would love the sensation of pushing myself. 

Years later, more than 20, my father's cancer returned and once again he beat it back. By then, he'd switched to yoga. 

In those 20 years, I had cycled through a variety of exercises, sometimes biking, sometimes weights, sometimes running, sometimes aerobics classes. I found Aikido and did that for five years. I had kids, and I'd strap them into a double stroller, put on roller blades, and head down the bosque trails. I don't know why I didn't keep up with running except that I'd always had trouble with shin splints, which are painful.

My father's third time with cancer was his final. It took -or the treatments for it took away all his exercise. No gym, no pool, no yoga, no jogging. Sitting up in bed could take 30 minutes and all his effort.

By then, I'd started Nia. Dancing was so much more fun than the very serious and structured martial arts. I loved Aikido, and, hey, I met my husband there. But I'm thankful beyond reckoning that I've left the dojo. Nia has taught me so much. And, yet -- I needed something more. I need something that's mine. 

When I run, I'm alone. I'm not leading or following. I'm outside. It's glorious. I finally found the right shoes and form so that I'm running without shin splints and hip pain. I have to manage my schedule scrupulously - not too many days running, work in rest periods, do lots of stretches and spend time on the foam roller.

I have my father to thank for leading me to all this movement. He even taught me to love dance. 

On Friday, I went for a run. I know it was a run because it was 5 miles with an average pace of 9 miles per hour.  That doesn't seem all that fast or all that far. Real runners, of course, are out there for 15, 20 miles and they run at 7 miles per hour. Right?

I'm not ready to call myself a runner. I don't identify that way. I love it (okay and sometimes hate it) and right now I picture myself doing this all year long, all the way up to my 50th birthday. I wonder what it will be like to run at 60 or 70. 

I push myself when I run. I never used to do that. I’m huffing and puffing and my legs are tight, and I think, well, I could just stop and walk. I make bargains with myself. Walk for ten paces and then run again. Or I say to myself, you can do this. I think of that Olympic sprinter who ran on a broken leg for the US Men’s relay, and I figure, well, it’s not like I’ve got a broken leg; just run. Sometimes it’s a slow start. Sometimes I’m almost done before it’s more fun than difficult. Sometimes when I’m done I feel proud. Sometimes I feel beaten down, like, wow, that’s the best I could do? I’m not in any better shape than that? 

I want to go faster and I want to go farther, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps that’s human nature to set goals and see progress. I could hang out where I am, running 4 - 5 miles three times a week and jogging along, walking when I get tired. It’s still too intriguing to see what I can do. On Sunday I ran 6.6 miles. I can go at least that far. How fast can I go?  How much can I push myself? I’m not pushing into injury or pain, just into discomfort and effort, just far enough that I finish and think, wow, I kicked my butt out there. I like to go enough that at the end I know that’s all I had. Unless a mountain lion were after me, I really couldn’t get myself to run any more. 

I want to go far enough and fast enough that some days I say, whatever, let’s do an easy 30 minutes. I want to build up that base and know what I can do so that I feel okay about easing back. So what if the pigs and cows and chickens pass me? Just -- not yet. Right now, I want to see who I can pass. It's not that I want to identify as a runner. I want to identify as someone who kicks butt.

Younger Next year


A Nia student recently recommended to me the book Younger Next Year for Women by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge, MD. This student told me the book had changed her life and her friend’s life. I figured I had to at least take a look. 

Lodge supplies the medical background and Crowley, a retired man in his 70s, functions as his side kick and guinea pig, showing that if a person follows Henry’s rules, that person will feel and act younger.  

The book is written in a warm, personable style. Every now and then the style veers into tough love, as in Chris’s admonition that some people think their exercise habits -- talking a walk, doing some gardening -- are enough to keep them healthy: “Quit lying to yourself! You are not doing anywhere near enough if you’re fat as butter. If you’re short of breath. If you look like hell. Do not lie! You are getting in your own way.” So much for warm and personable, though that may be just the type of line that changes someone’s life. 

The author’s point is that we’ve got to work out hard and often to become truly fit and healthy. This is at odds with recommendations that we need 20 minutes of exercise a day or that walking is good enough to keep us healthy. These recommendations are designed to encourage those who aren’t doing much to start doing something and convince them that something is better than nothing. And it is! There is strong evidence that those 20 minute walks improve mood and alleviate depression, enhance our immune system, lower bad cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and increase our cardiovascular fitness. This Mayo Clinic article suggests everyone starts off easy, but it also says these benefits come from taking a “brisk” walk. Just how brisk? 

That may be where Crowley and Lodge come back in. Lodge explains the differences we experience with light exercise and harder exercise and argues we need that harder exercise. Low intensity aerobic exercise (think foraging, or in modern terms, walking and gardening) burns fat while harder exercise (think hunting, which means running, lifting weights) burns glucose. Burning glucose triggers different metabolic processes than burning fat, and we were meant, argues Lodge, to do both. The authors suggest we use a heart rate monitor so we have an objective measure of just how hard we’re working. The monitor doesn’t lie. 

Younger Next Year advises we need a base of slow, steady, long exercise. “Several months of long, slow exercise will turn you into a happy, Zen-like powerhouse of aerobic activity,” they write, because “long, slow exercise builds your muscles, heart and circulation, mobilizes your fat stores and then goes beyond that to let your body heal.” This means an hour, maybe two, and not twenty minutes, though we all agree -- every fitness trainer, every doctor, every mom -- that twenty minutes is better than no minutes. Their point is that we may not get all the benefits we can until we’re willing to go longer. We’re designed for endurance. We’re designed to go all day long.

We also need to add in going harder. Pushing your heart rate to 65 percent of its maximum brings us into the glucose-burning stage and “brings out our best biology: strong, fast, energetic and optimistic all day long.” 

Exercise, or get old -- that’s the point the authors make again and again. Invest in a regular program of steady aerobic exercise and add in a few days of vigorous, heart-pounding exercise, such as running, biking, or a fitness class. 

Here’s where I think the power of the book lies. It says there is a way to be more vibrant and fit and healthy as we age. It’s more work now than it was, and our bodies cannot do what they did in our 20s and 30s. But our bodies can do a heckuva lot more than we think if we invest in an exercise program, 6 days a week, in which we build a steady base and then push ourselves to our edge with harder workouts and weights. If the kids are grown and out of the house, if we’re retired or in a nice groove at work where we don’t have to push so hard, we have a lot more time and energy to invest in our fitness.

I turned 49 this year and I have the usual backlash (oh my gosh oh my gosh I’m almost 50 oh no oh no). Along with that has come a desire to maximize. Just how healthy can I get? In the past year I’ve changed my diet, increased my exercise, lost weight, and discovered that I’m actually looking forward to the second half of life. 

The first half is so much work! Education and careers, finding a partner, raising a family - - so much energy is poured into things we have to do. Yesterday, for the first time ever, I thought maybe I do have another 50 years ahead, and maybe they can be pretty darn vibrant and expansive. I’m aware that as we age, all sorts of sneaky sicknesses and aches and pains creep in. We also have wisdom, patience, experience and self-knowledge we didn’t have before. Just yesterday was the first time I considered that maybe it just keeps getting better. 

I really like their perspective on aging. Chris admits we get saggy and our skin gets thin and we wobble, even when we’re in great shape. Our hair gets thin and grey, and our temperaments can turn grumpy as we become less patient in a noisy, busy world. Embrace it, he says, instead of trying to hide our age or cover up these signs of aging. In a book that claims we can feel and act young until we die, it’s refreshing to be reminded that we’re still going to be older and look older and sound older. 

Importantly, we don’t have enough role models for aging. What does a vibrant and exciting life in our 70s look like? In our 80s and 90s? Few of us have an optimistic view of aging. We expect it to be one, big drag. We want to stay young and even the book title promises that. What if we changed our expectations? What if we changed what we do and how we act as if we expected our second adulthood to be as rich and healthy and fun as the first half?

Our bodies are designed either to grow or to decay. The minute we stop investing in growing is the minute we’ve chosen to decay. We can continue to grow our bodies, brains, hearts, and spirits throughout our lives. We can’t stop all decay, but we certainly do not need to decline in our love of life and our ability to be active, connected, and involved. 

Part 2

Taking care of ourselves in our 50s and beyond, according to authors Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge, is our job. We need to show up for this job each day of the week.

The authors discuss 7 areas, 3 of which are about exercise.

Here are their rules:

1. Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life.

2. Do serious aerobic exercise four days a week for the rest of your life.

3. Do serious strength training, with weights, two days a week for the rest of your life.

4. Spend less than you make.

5. Quit eating crap!

6. Care.

7. Connect and commit.

I won’t go into details about most of these, which I think may be covered in other books with more depth. I do want to talk about what the authors say about food and how that relates to their first three points on exercise.

The authors take the same tone in discussing food as they do in talking about exercise, which is they know we lie. We don’t mean to lie, though we often are fooling ourselves. We think our diet is much better than it is and we eat more junk than we think we do. 

Their point about food is not so much portion control as that exercise will help us regulate our hunger signals. Exercise powers our metabolism so we burn fuel more efficiently. 

Do not go on a diet, the authors emphasize, but do stop eating crap. Cut out starch and sugar and eat a bunch of fruits and vegetables instead. Exercise a lot, and you can eat a lot and your blood sugar levels stay steady. 

I have exercised well for years. Recently, I amped it up by adding running. I’m enjoying myself a lot, and I realize that my body can do more than I thought it could. I thought I had been in pretty good shape and was doing all I needed to do. Once I added running, I discovered that my blood sugar levels feel more stable. There was a whole layer of health and wellness I hadn’t reached yet, and I just didn’t know it. If exercise hasn’t helped you to eat less or to feel better, maybe you haven’t done enough yet.

I used to eat gluten-free with very little white (cane) sugar in my diet. I ate vegetables regularly. It was a very good diet, just as I had a very good exercise program. It wasn’t enough for me. I was gaining weight, and I kept sliding into poor eating habits. So I stopped eating anything made into a flour and cut out dairy products, and now it’s much easier to maintain a diet in which I avoid cane sugar too. Really, it just got easier, and I dropped about 10 pounds. I didn’t go on a diet. I just cut out foods that were crappy for my body at this stage in my life.  If you don’t feel vibrant and healthy on your diet, or you’re gaining weight, maybe you are still eating foods that are crap.

The book refutes the idea that menopause causes weight gain. They say that “decay is slower in women than in men up until menopause. After that, the increase in bone loss, and the dramatic acceleration in heart disease, cancer, arthritis, fatigue, obesity, and depression is like being on a bobsled run. But it’s all just decay, and decay is optional.” Furthermore, after all the studies about hormones and alternative treatments, “exercise remains the foundation for reduced menopausal symptoms.” 

I notice it says “reduced,” not disappeared. That’s basically what I’m sensing in my body. With acupuncture, a thoughtful diet, and lots of exercise, my symptoms are noticeable and also do not interfere with my life. There are no guarantees this always will be so for me. Exercise and nutrition along with a good attitude are crucial to good health but they aren’t a guarantee of it. 

I notice I’m aging. I know that after I run, I need to lay on the foam roller and work my feet on the tennis ball and take a roller stick to my shoulders and ribs, and maybe get a massage, and go to the rolfer once a month instead of twice a year. It’s more work and more attention. I may need a nap, which irks me because I think if I were truly in great shape, I wouldn’t get tired from exercising (yes, think about that; let it sink in). 

As I spend this next year preparing to turn 50, I’m going to have to let go of old definitions and expectations and embrace new ones. I get to choose the vision of me being older that I want. That vision better include naps. It’s also going to include running ten miles, which is about twice as far as I’ve run this summer. I don’t think I’ve ever run 10 miles, which is part of what makes it so fun to imagine that that’s ahead of me. 

I understand it’s not all that easy to exercise a whole lot, and exercise hard, and to eat just the foods that fuel our bodies and spirits. The authors’ point isn’t that it’s easy but that it’s worthwhile. It’s our job. 

Some of us are fortunate that the challenge of it is fun for us. So here are some questions for you. How do you know you wouldn’t enjoy working out hard? If in the past, you’ve always stopped at light exercise, are you positive that after three or four months, you might not fall in love with working out hard enough to pant and sweat?  I know: you didn’t used to like it. Now you’re older. Everything hurts more and you’re tired. You might also be pretty busy. I get that. I’m just saying that no matter what is your age, you can keep choosing how you live and what is your vision of yourself. You can create a path from today to that vision.

Smarter


How can you not love this? 

Exercise isn't just this thing we do for our bodies or to live longer or because someone said it's good for us. It makes us smarter

At the University of Illinois, researchers concluded that "New brain cells created during exercise were found to connect to existing neural networks in the hippocampus -- the brain's learning and memory center -- potentially increasing the brain's ability to to absorb and incorporate all kinds of new information," according to Yoga Journal September 2012. 

New brain cells. We don't just save the ones we have. We create new ones. We don't just stop the decay of hippocampus, which, I'm sorry to tell you, begins in our late 20s. It makes a bigger, better hippocampus. Our brain cells do a better job of talking with each other and making connections. 

Gretchen Reynolds writes about health and wellness for the New York Times. In her recent book The First Twenty Minutes and in an April NYT article, Reynolds explains how "How Exercise Could Lead to a Better Brain." It turns out, they could give mice the most stimulating environment with all sorts of fun mice toys, but it was the mice with the exercise wheel who got smart. 

Even moderate exercise, such as walking, makes for a bigger hippocampus. 

Mothering and the Authentic Self



I'm doing a lot of writing about exercise and nutrition as part of my plan for the next 365 days. 

I'd love to keep up the intensity of my exercise practice. I don't know if I'll have the energy to do it, though, throughout the year.  I may have to live with an ebb and flow. I'd like to just keep getting stronger and doing more. I may have to dial it down when it gets busy. It could be a busy year.

While exercise is very important to my health and well-being, keeping up this particular level of movement, which feels great, is not the most important thing for me this year.

I love that the changes I made to what I eat have made me feel better. I'm pretty sure I could use additional refinements, and my first thought was well, okay, that's what I'll do this year. But if I can just keep doing in year 2 what I did in year 1, I'll be really happy. 

I have these other issues around food, particularly that I keep eating past when I'm full, and I have issues with consumption in general. What I buy, what I put in my mouth, and how much time I spend on each of those things is a concern for me. So I thought, okay, in this next 365 days, I'm going in deeper and I'm going to see how I can shift some of that. But now I'm thinking, I don't know that I want to devote my energy to that.

I want to love my body unconditionally. I kind of hoped I'd get further along on that one in the past 365 days. I thought maybe this would magically transform in the next 365 days if I just went deep enough.

You know what I want to do in the next 365 days? 

Sleep well and stress less. I want to do that so I can keep active, for sure. My real goal is this: Be a great guide and support to my kids without being a controlling, nervous nag. That's a really tricky balance. The older they get, the trickier it is to provide just enough support and push. 

When I stress out, everyone around me feels it. I share it, even when I don't want to do so. My kids have their own transformations to make, and my anxiety over whether I'm helping them and they're doing it right -- well, it doesn't help. So I've got to curtail that. 

The best way to stress less is to sleep more. This is not so easy. It could be it requires as much of my focus and will-power and planning power as I've got available.

My 365 day plan 2.0. means I continue doing exactly what I've been doing around food and exercise, except maybe each month consider if I'm still having fun, being creative, and receiving joy from my choices. My areas to create change: Get good sleep. Be compassionate. Meditate or at least be quiet and unworking for part of each day. And do all that because my real 365 day goal is to keep me vibrant and healthy and learning and growing so I can do my best as a parent.

Here's my secret weapon. It's a question. The question is "What do you need to do to return to your authentic self?"

It's so easy to get caught up and to get pulled off center. I don't have that kind of time and energy to waste this year. This mid-life mama has got to stay powered up, in part by being able to power down and rest, too. I crave time alone yet I have to be available and attentive to my family. I can get there as long as I'm getting what I really really need in body, mind, emotions, and spirit. So I ask this question, "What do I need to return to my authentic self?" 

Alone


Truth: I like to be alone. A lot. My husband spent a week back East with family while my daughter was in Austin for her yoga training. I was very happy. I guess I missed them. I mean, yes, I'm glad they're back and I adore them. I love them so so much. We had family time together last night, and it was so satisfying and perfect just to hang out together, eat food, watch Olympics.

But that week alone was pretty wonderful, too. My son was home, but he's more of an introvert than I am. He loves hanging with his friends, but he can spend hours --  no, days -- in his room alone (in the dark, with his iPhone). So we didn't say much to each other that week. And we really really liked it.

For that week, if I wanted to go out, I did. I didn't wonder if anyone needed me. I didn't worry I should spend time connecting. I got to be really selfish, and it was fabulous. Fab-u-lous. 

Recently, I've noticed I want to spend less time writing and sharing this blog. I do feel a bit exposed sometimes as I write all this, and perhaps I'm also feeling shy. It's safer to be quiet. I'm pressing forward with writing in part because writing helps me clarify (a lot) what's going on with me. It serves as a record, which is nice. It's also my work. It's what I do. So, I do it. What I feel, though, is that it would be kind of nice not to write all this. It would be kind of nice not to hang out with my friends and share what's going on with my life. It would be kind of nice to spend more time alone and quiet. 

I'll get lonely. I know it. Strangely, part of what seems to be driving me is a desire for deeper connection. If I'm going to invest in talking with someone, let's be really real. Let's not only say meaningful stuff, but then let's pause, take it in, and be present fully. My favorite way to spend time with friends is to go walk together on the bosque. But then I miss so much. Am I paying attention to my body? to my friend? to the beautiful bosque? Do I stop or do we just go, one foot in front of the other, chatting and sharing? That's good, too, really. It's just I -- now, sit down before you read this in case this is too much of a shock -- feel as if I'd like to say less, say it more slowly, and then rest. And hear one or two important things from my friend, and then just sit, not respond, give advice, add empathy, whatever. This is one step away from "We gazed into each other's eyes and the spirit in me honored the spirit in her" or something like that. I don't quite mean that. I'm not sure what I mean. I sense a slight dissatisfaction with how I'm talking and listening. There's something more.

I like that! I like that what's worked before is passing away and something new is forming.

Transformation, Part 2


What's your all time favorite makeover?

What would you love to transform?

What would you never change?

What's the one thing that makes everything better?

What is nature's most magical transformation?

These are 4 questions that O Magazine asked its writers for its September 2012 issue.

Those are great questions. I don't know what is my favorite makeover. 

I have a friend who lost 100 pounds this past year. Radical change in diet, world view, exercise program, body, relationships. I'm fascinated by what works for someone when others can't make that shift. Why now, for him? What is the constellation of factors that create the field for this kind of powerful change?

Each term, as an instructor, I see my students transform. My favorites, always, are those who've been in prison, who've been told since forever that they were dumb, who come in kicking and resisting, and then they learn they're smart, they're capable, and they can show up and perform with the best. That  transformation brings me to tears. 

I get to see my kids transform each year. How cool is that? 

My 365 days was quite a makeover for me. I shed more than 10 pounds, got into better shape by exercising more ferociously, and ate radically better throughout the year. Hey, that's big. A full year - that's something. It feels big, not like, oh, yeah, I was on a diet, but oh, yeah, I made a huge shift in how I fuel and move myself. I made a huge shift in how I see myself and what I think is possible for me. I feel like a different person, and it's not just physical. I feel more centered, and that's in the midst of the continuing hormonal and other changes of perimenopause. I feel, and this was one of my goals, more hopeful.

What didn't transform wholly was my self-view. My goal also has been to love my body unconditionally. My love right now is still conditional. I love being strong. I love running and doing push ups. I love being 15 pounds lighter than I was in high school. I still push and prod at my body, and I still wonder if I should be thinner. But, really, would I love my body if I'm hurt and can't move, if I weigh more, if the estrogen lags and everything sags -- will I love my body then? 

That's what I want to transform: my love for my body. I want to transform my relationship with my body so that I don't just care for it but I have compassion for it. 

So in this 365 days, I add these goals.

I want to get to bed earlier. That means getting off technology earlier and not eating big at 9 pm, even if I don't get home from teaching Nia until 8:30 pm. 

I want to be more compassionate. With others. With myself. It just feels so much nicer.

I'd like to have a meditation practice, and I don't care if it's 30 seconds long. I want something that isn't about focus and doesn't rely on movement to get me to a different reality. 

That's it. I think if I sleep, I'm compassionate, and I have a place to go in my mind that's not so stressed and cluttered, there will be more room for me to love my body unconditionally. 

I've put some of these on my Important To Do list before. And failed. Miserably. Repeatedly. I'm not sure yet how to figure out my 365 days so that I build new habits, ones that aren't easily upset, ones that come automatically and joyfully. Those two things-- in bed earlier and a brief meditation -- have confounded me before. Then again, in the past, so has sugar. I will bring some hope to this, then, and trust that I can make important changes as I need. Why not? Why not be hopeful and trust that I can do this better than I've been able to do in the past?

My eating habits, and my thoughts and feelings around eating, remain complicated. Winter continues to drag my energy down. I stress out at being so busy once my term begins. It's a lot to track -- staying calm and compassionate and building new, bold, good habits. 

What would you never change? My family.

What's the one thing that makes everything better? Connection.

What is nature's most magical transformation? The one it inspires in me.


Transformation

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This was scary. Perhaps it was a wake up call. 

This is not the type of transformation we want, though sometimes it's what we get. One day, a car is running, and the next it's totaled. Gone.

My teenage, newly driving son ran the 97 Accord into a short post and knocked through a fence. The air bags deployed. We got the call, his dad and I, and our first thought was, boy, he was in trouble this time. But we got there and, of course, there's the car and the window was shattered by the air bag, and fear replaced any anger.

He and his friend are fine. I took Ailin for a rolfing session, and 45 minutes later, she said he was done and didn't need to return unless he had symptoms. Ah, youth. 

The neighbors were so kind. Instead of screaming that we'd ruined their fence, they said, oh, thank goodness no one was hurt. They understood: yep, teenage boys, new drivers, these kinds of accidents happen. I was very touched by their concern. 

The next day, fear fueled anger. This is what happened 1/2 mile from home on slow, short, narrow road. What happens in traffic? On the freeway? 

It also shook me up to send the car off for scrap. That car had been my father's car. He died some 7 years ago, and we've had the car since. It was well beaten up. It needed lots of work, maybe $1500 worth, possibly more, to keep it going. I didn't like the car. But it was hard to see it go. The day Ailin crashed it was my father's birthday. 

I spent several days after the accident shaky and cold, fearful and angry, unsure. On Friday morning, I was set to meet a friend early for a walk. I got tied up in some business, and I was trying to rush through business and couldn't. Then I wanted to rush through breakfast, but I wasn't hungry and resented rushing. Everything was wrong. So I put the food back in the fridge. I called my friend, told her I couldn't come and would check in later, and headed out for a run. A glorious, painful, long run. 

There's a bridge adjacent to 1-40 heading to Coors, the new Gail Ryba bridge. It's quite beautiful to go to the middle of this bridge and look out at the Rio Grande. The bridge has lovely details in the rails and in the cement, and the bright red is dramatic and happy. 

It also has a steady incline. So running up the whole way is hard work for me. By the time I got to the top on this Friday morning, I was hurting. My chest hurt. I tapped the top post of the bridge, which is what I do every time I get to the top, and then turned to descend, still grimacing, still hurting, and hurting enough finally to cry.

I cried because my father has died. I cried because he's not around to take care of my mother and because he's not around to enjoy his grandchildren. I cried for the mistakes he made in his life and I cried because I miss him. I cried because I'm worried about my mother. I cried because I'm selfish and I get overwhelmed sometimes taking care of others. I cried because my son crashed a car and that's terrifying. Because any time my kids get in the car to drive, it's terrifying. I cried because I don't know if I'm doing the right things as a parent. I cried because I was afraid. 

I was so thankful for that run and that bridge for helping me to transform. To move from fear and confusion into this moment of being with my fears, running with my fears instead of being chased by them. 

I feel readier to make choices now. I feel less afraid. I feel more able to just do the work that needs to be done. 

I sat the family down today and said, listen, we gotta talk about driving and the cost of insurance and college coming up and savings and how much income we have and what's been happening in the economy that makes dad and I afraid that we'll slip further and further behind or that a crash is coming up or that maybe we aren't being quite as careful as we need to be. 

I don't think my parents ever did that with me. I don't think I ever knew how much money we had or where our money went. I didn't know how much car insurance cost (a lot! We pay almost as much for car insurance for 3 cars and 4 drivers as we do for our health insurance -- though now it's 2 cars…). 

I don't know if this means we'll talk more. I don't know if the kids really will be better at weekly clean up or whether they will be motivated to get jobs or do well in school so we get the good student insurance discount.  

I know I transformed. Instead of being the One who makes the decisions or knows what's going on, I said, hey, we gotta share this. My teens aren't adults, but they drive and they use resources and they should know the impact of that. 

I don't know when or if we'll replace that car. But when a decision is made, it won't be mine. 

As mom, I do a lot of pushing and nudging. That wears on me, and I also feel a failure if I haven't done enough. I feel a failure when a decision isn't a good one. I'm good at pushing things through. Let's see if I can be good at not pushing so much. Aaaah, I don't know. That's quite a transformation.


Eat Me


As I came up on my 365 days, I wasn't sure yet what I wanted to plan for the next 365. Some pieces are coming clearer to me this week.

It's good for me to stay away from anything that's made into a flour. That's the message that I got from my body. Once rice or beans or nuts are refined into flour, there's something about it that doesn't work so well in my system. Perhaps it's the volume. I don't eat one muffin. I eat the whole batch. 

Yes, muffins are glorious. Noodles make for a very fun meal. There's nothing in those foods, though, that I absolutely need. I can live well without flours.

Diversity nourishes the spirit. Creativity can get me that diversity. In Austin, at the Mother Ship of Whole Foods, I had a spectacular raw foods meal. The noodles were strips of zuchinni and the sauce was rich and creamy. I don't need noodles to eat a meal that gives me a noodle-like treat.  I don't know if I can make a zuchinni strip dish that is as awesome. It's a lot more work that boiling up some rice noodles (Tinkyada, by the way, has the most wonderful gluten-free noodles).  It's important for me not to return something to my diet for convenience or because sometimes I really crave corn chips. If those foods don't nourish me -- and they don't, really -- then perhaps there are better options for me.

So, anything made into a flour stays out. That means: creativity must be nurtured this year. If I'm going another 365 without anything made into a flour, there will be times I want chips or pancakes or muffins or noodles. What dishes can I create that satisfy my cravings and nourish me as well? 

I like keeping certain foods out of my diet. It's easy. I don't make choices; I just follow my rules. Do I want chips? Yeah, whatever. They're on my No list so I just don't buy them or eat them. Really, there's incredible power in this. Here's a secret, though. I don't say, "I can't have that." It's "I don't want that." I don't choose that. I just don't eat that. It's a choice I made so long before the craving and so long before the opportunity to eat it that I'm not fighting temptation. I'm just following my choice. There's a ton of research backing this up, too. Limit the decision-making you have to do. Every decision taxes your willpower, which is limited. Also, changing our language from "can't" to the empowering "I choose not" makes it far easier to live out that choice every day.

Sugar, of course, stays out of my diet. That's like crack for me. I can handle the amount of sugar that restaurants put into their sauces since I don't eat out all that often. (I love you, Fan Tang at Carlisle and Central, and I hope there isn't too much sugar in your incredible Coconut Curry sauce.) Certain sugars tax me more than others. A bit of agave? I seem to do okay. How much can I handle? I'm not certain. I often don't know until, oops, I've had too much. Same for coconut sugar. So this next 365, I want to keep paying attention to how much I can eat without paying too much later (rushes, headaches, cravings, spaciness, shakiness -- really, it's uncomfortable). I'm not certain yet how this will play out for me in the next 365, whether agave stays in or out of my life, whether coconut sugar is okay in small amounts or has to go on the No, so I'm leaving that fluid for a short while. 

I am amazed at how little I've craved cheese. Aren't green chile cheese enchiladas delectable? Since I'm not eating anything made with a flour, I don't eat corn tortillas. No enchiladas. Instead, I go straight for the chile and pour it on whatever veggies I've cooked up. There's a soy-based cheese, Daiya, that melts fairly well, adds a bit of salt and creaminess, and satisfies my desire for melted cheese with my chile. Often, when I want cheese, I really want salt. There's nothing quite like a slice of sharp cheddar. But it's on my No list. I eat a bunch of nuts instead. I eat veggies with a great tahini sauce from Trader Joe's. Cheese is a habit. I just put in some new ones.

I do miss yoghurt sometimes, mostly because I eat soy yoghurt daily. I like diversity in food (and movement and everything that nourishes us in life -- except sleep -- sleep should be solid and same). I might see if my body enjoys lactose-free yoghurt on an occasional basis. It's on my "try it out and see what I think" list. 

So, basically, I've signed up for another 365. I thought I might get more lax. I thought I might say, well, something made into a flour once a month. You know, a special treat as long as it's not enough. However, that doesn't feel right. My gut says no.

Go with the gut. 

365



A year ago, just at the end of July, I flipped a switch. I want to bottle and market it, and I can't. There isn't a formula for switch-flipping.

I had been aging. I was getting older and gaining weight. I was eating more and moving less. I wasn't terribly happy with that and I also was fairly stuck in those patterns. 

Until I wasn't.

I decided to take a month to get healthier. I had 30 days before my teaching term at CNM began. I knew if I waited until I was that much busier, my health wouldn't be a priority. I gave myself 30 days to focus on creating a healthier life.

At the end of each day, I wrote down 5 things I'd done that day to nurture myself. It could be getting  a hug or taking a nap or making an especially luscious salad for lunch. I would not eat after 6 pm so that by 9 pm I'd be tired and ready for bed instead of still fueled and active late at night.

I ate whole foods, nothing processed except tofu, almond milk, and soy yoghurt.  I stopped chewing gum or ingesting anything made with an artificial sugar. 

I started juicing and I found that this was so nurturing and fulfilling that my sugar cravings diminished.

Two days into my 30 days, the flip switched. It wasn't so much that it was easy to do all these things: it was just natural. I just did them. I enjoyed them. 

When I got to the end of 30 days, I signed up for 365. I relaxed some of the rules. I chew gum now and I eat whenever. I still avoid anything that's been ground into a flour but I enjoy rice cakes and potato chips. I avoid cane sugar, but I've had agave, honey, coconut sugar, and rice syrup. I eat a ton of veggies and more fruit than before. 

This summer, I amped up my physical activity. I often move my body into a sweat twice a day. An average week is 5 Nia classes, 3 runs, and 2 Elliptigo rides. Plus walking the dog. I like it a lot. It also means planning my day around when I do some of this and it means a lot of my energy goes to movement. I wonder how I'll adjust this once my teaching term begins again, soon. 

So here I am, 365 days later, pretty darn healthy and very happy to have sustained good habits through the year. What now?

I've been wondering if any of my food rules can change. What if instead of eating no dairy at all, I have some lactose-free yoghurt sometimes? What if I sometimes ate gluten-free flour if I wanted to bake something? 

More importantly, much more importantly, what if I could take my relationship with food to the next level. For instance, I'm a fan of dessert. I believe every meal should be followed by dessert. Often, this is goji berries, cacao nibs, and soy yoghurt. "Often" means after every meal. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this compulsion. I'm not sure, either, whether it's something I need to tackle now.

I also eat a lot sometimes. It's all healthy stuff. One time in these past 365 days, I binged on salad. I ate until I hurt. One week, I couldn't get enough of rice cakes, consuming half a dozen at a time -- after I'd eaten a meal.  Last night, I taught Nia and then went to Trader Joe's. I really really wanted potato chips and I saw 8 servings at 160 calories a serving and I thought: "I will go through an entire bag in a night. It will make me feel very sick. Don't do it." And I didn't! I was proud of myself. I got home and went for a short Elliptigo ride, which was fun. I got back from that and got pulled into phone calls and taking care of business. By 8pm, I hadn't eaten dinner and I was so hungry that I was grabbing at food. I started eating and I kept eating and I kept eating. 

I don't like that. I don't like eating late, and I don't like eating more than my body needs for fuel. I don't like relying on dessert too much. I wonder just how refined my eating habits can be. There has to be some room for our quirkiness, doesn't there? This is fuel and it's also pleasure. It's pleasure, and it's also habit. It's habit and habit is comforting, sometimes sustaining. How much irritation, difference, and challenge do I want in my daily meals? Is there another switch waiting to flip? Or could I inadvertently flip the switch back?

So I've been pondering. What do I want to do for the next 365? Do I want to sign up for the same thing, which is working pretty well, or do I want to continue to refine to see what else to add or delete from my daily nutrition? Limits work well for me. I like having foods on my No list. It's so easy. I want something, realize it's just No, and I move on. Putting foods on a Sometimes list may not work so well for me, and I have a busy year ahead; I might be better just going for round two and not messing with what's been working. 

I'm going to ponder this week. That's what's on my To Do list. I'm going to get to that collage I've said I'd do all summer, the one with images that inspire or trigger me, and play around more with my ideas and stories about my body. Maybe I'll sit down with the Tarot cards and howl at the moon and see what comes up. I'm going to stop thinking about it and see what other ways I can relate to it. 

Here's the thing: I feel as if in the past year I accomplished something I didn't know I'd ever be able to do. I nurtured myself with good food and stayed away from the stuff that makes me feel like yuck. All year. I kept going back to my focus, which is loving my body unconditionally. I'm just kind of basking in that for a few days, knowing that I set a goal and achieved that goal and that I'm moving even further and deeper into radically good health, God willing. I'm letting myself feel proud of myself. 

Then, it's back to work. Better and bolder.