Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I haven't written in so long but not for lack of desire but lack of time...life seems to squeeze together one demand after another until there are no minutes left in a day.

I recognized when starting this blog that it would be a challenge to find the time and that other things may take priority over sitting down and writing. However, I wanted to take a stab at it and hoped that things may miraculously work out...I considered it an experiment. Sadly...more things have been added to my plate lately and I realize that I wont be able to continue blogging.

Although it was short-lived and prematurely ended I did thoroughly enjoy blogging and am hopeful that in the future when life evens out I can resume writing. I do appreciate the comments and support I received from all of you.

Take care,

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Body Contentment...

This summer I was at a local aquatic center with the kids and had given my appearance really no though prior because I was scrambling to slather sunscreen, pack and get three young bodies suited and ready to go. So… I find myself in the middle of the busyness realizing that I am going to strip my shorts and t-shirt off (swimsuit underneath) and reveal unshaven legs, nerdy tan-lines and grubby toenails not to mention the body that has not participated in any formal exercise in many months. The grand unveiling commenced and sort of anticlimactically…no one seemed to care.

I scurried after my daughter with very little self-consciousness despite circumstances and sat with her in the shallow end and played. Although I wasn’t uncomfortable, it is the nature of my mind to continue analyzing things…turning them this way and that. One of the things I thought was that the freedom and contentment with my body that I had always longed and prayed for had finally been realized. I could walk amongst strangers and friends in a fairly skimpy bathing suit and not really care. I used to yearn for this ease and thought that it would only come when I had reached a certain perfectionistic place with my body….but all efforts in that direction never got me to the place that I found myself in sitting with my daughter that afternoon. Could it be that contentment and freedom with your body is not a matter of exercise and controlling your food but has more to do with other less obvious factors? I believe the answer is an emphatic, “yes”!

I believe the constant striving toward changing your body to conform to some ideal that is different from your reality sends a message to yourself that basically says, “you are not acceptable or admirable the way you are.” There is nothing wrong with exercise and living a healthy lifestyle if done for the right reasons….to move you closer to your full potential in terms of the quality of your life (not the cultural ideal). However, most of us approach exercise as something that will help us realize our dreams of attaining a more perfect body or at the very least undo the damage we have done through our eating so that we can avoid moving farther away from the ideal. In the past I was an exercise convict….I loved it, was great at it and relied on it to make me feel good about myself and the day. If I missed exercising I felt just sort of off for the day and sometimes guilty. All of that exercise worship for 25 years, as I mentioned above, never got me to that comfortable place with my body that I was that afternoon at the aquatic center. So…what are the less obvious factors that influence body satisfaction? I think that would take pages and pages to answer, and likely varies a bit from one person to the next, but I will mention just a few.

I think having something greater than yourself in your life that you are responsible for and invested in is essential. It pulls us out of the hyper-sensitive self assessments that we tend to engage in perpetually. An example…I was at a recent event again in my swimsuit, reflecting in a non-harsh but more inquisitive way about my thighs, when along side of me came a young girl in a wheelchair. She had a puffy pale face and a shaved head that revealed many scars. I could see her body was frail as her father lifted her from the chair and carried her slowly into the pool. I could only guess what devastating childhood illness had encamped in her body but I can tell you one thing…I forgot entirely about my thighs and started praying for that little girl and her family and thanked God for my health and the health of my children. When you realize the awesomeness and fragility of life and all that is in it then you naturally are drawn toward an investment in that rather than the superficial.

I think that along with investment in something greater than yourself, it is important to stay busy. Not the sort of frenetic busy that accomplishes very little but the steady marching forward while engaging in worthwhile, healthy or altruistic endeavors. To put it simply…when you have less time to “contemplate your navel”…your navel just seems less important.

Of course there are many other variables that have moved me toward body contentment… which leads me to my assignment for you. What are some things (other than exercise and controlling your food) that have provided you greater body satisfaction? Reflect on the times you have felt just great about yourself and explore what factors contributed. If you are willing…please share these in comment-form here on this blog so that we can all benefit.

All for now…

Thursday, October 9, 2008

To Eat or Not to Eat?...That is the Question...

I was thoroughly enjoying a piece of warm apple pie last night in bed (doesn’t that sound decadent?) while watching “Dancing with the Stars.” I ate it slowly savoring how the buttery crust and syrupy fruit combined in my mouth. I felt lucky to have such a treat and relished how good it tasted. After I finished the last gooey bite I felt very satisfied and since it was so delicious I really wanted some more. Then I reflected on how that second dessert wouldn’t be nearly as fulfilling as the first since I was getting a bit full and I reminded myself I could always have another piece tomorrow. With that decided I got up and brushed my teeth, got back in bed and finished the “quick step” with the Stars. This must sound like a fairly mundane internal dialogue but to me it feels only slightly short of miraculous.

I have been an emotional over-eater pretty much all my life and as those who share my affliction know...it is a nightmare. I would say that starting about 10 years ago I slowly started conquering this aspect of my relationship with food. It has been a hard-fought battle but I am now getting to a place where I control food and it doesn’t control me. Notice I didn’t say “over control” food…I still eat a variety of foods (including junk food) and sometimes I eat too much and sometimes too little…that’s just normal.

First, let’s define emotional eating; this is when we reach for food as a way to distract from certain uncomfortable feelings, soothe ourselves, or even to celebrate or reward ourselves. We use our emotions as cues to trigger eating rather than legitimate hunger.
Does this sound familiar?

I want to share some of the things I’ve learned along the way to help those of you who may still be slogging in the trenches of emotional eating. One of the best ways I can do this is by “replaying” the pie incident that occurred last night, but tell it as it would have played-out in the past when emotional eating was my bedmate.

There would have been a debate murmuring in the back of my mind much of the evening discussing whether I should have pie or not…and when I eventually gave in I would have felt like I was doing something shameful or wrong. As I was serving up the pie I would make my piece extra big…because I would have felt like I had already crossed the line so might as well go all the way. I would likely have eaten the pie much faster and less mindfully and when I did touch on my thoughts they would be incriminating and lecturing. Just as the last bite was finished I would have been awash with guilt about what I had just done and likely I would have returned for more because, “might as well I already messed up.” Then I would vow to myself that I would do better tomorrow. Of course…tomorrow looked just like the rest of the days because I would wake up feeling like I needed to pay some sort of penance. So, I would get back in good graces by slightly restricting my food intake….which would likely lead to preoccupation with food and eventually I would give in and overeat. The cycle continues…

When you read through the above paragraph you can see that feelings of guilt and self abasement are the cornerstone for emotional eating….as opposed to normal eating where the cornerstones are healthy desire and physiological appetite. The primary thing I did to free myself from emotional eating is give myself permission to eat without reproach. I realized that a normal eater eats a variety of foods, sometimes too much and sometimes too little…that is just life. I also became mindful of what I was eating and why. I really ask myself… “What am I hungry for?” and I usually am very mindful of how I am feeling before, during and after I eat in terms of my fullness level. Another important aspect of emotional eating is the self perpetuating cycle:

Under eating >>> Food preoccupation>>> Over eating>>> Guilt

Around and around it goes…one leading to the other and back again. It is important to attack the cycle at a number of points. The first is…never intentionally under eat, it will always lead you to the next stages in the cycle. You may be able to grit it out and not over eat for awhile but eventually it will come. The other point is to “take your thoughts captive” after you have over eaten or engaged in emotional eating. Do not start berating yourself but be compassionate. Talk to yourself as you would a beloved friend. If you vow to do these two things it really takes the wind out of the sail of emotional eating.

And finally…make sure that you are taking time to ponder your thoughts and feelings so that you do not have to act-out your feelings/thoughts through food but can deal with things directly. Do a daily self-check…I call it the “internal and external check-in.”

The internal check-in explores how you are feeling physically and emotionally. Ask yourself questions like the following:

How am I feeling in terms of my physical health and body today? Any headaches, fatigue, PMS, injuries or pain?...to name a few examples

How am I feeling emotionally? Am I feeling a bit blue, anxious, uncomfortable, preoccupied or avoidant?

What are my thoughts like? Am I dwelling on supportive and compassionate things? Am I being self critical and mean?

The external check-in has to do with what is going on in your environment…ask yourself questions like the following:

How has my self care been?

Am I overscheduled or under scheduled?

Is there anything I am dreading or avoiding?

Are my surroundings safe and comfortable?

Am I plugged in, in terms of my spiritual, social and family life?

If you come across any area that is problematic then address it directly. If there is a project you are procrastinating then go directly to it and not food as a way to avoid. If you are feeling socially disconnected then start making plans of how to directly address this issue by calling/emailing friends, set up a coffee date or address the underlying issues that caused the disconnect rather than find company in food. You get the idea…be bold and confrontative with what ails you rather than passive-aggressive toward yourself with the weapon of choice…a fork!

This only scratches the surface on emotional eating and likely I will return to this topic but I wanted to put this out there since it is an area that is near and dear to my heart or should I say waistline!

All for now…Lisa

Saturday, October 4, 2008

What Type of Dog are You?...

I promised some of you that I would write about how we are like dogs…wuff!

Some of you know me and how I like to use children and animals as examples to help reveal some of the convoluted rules and expectations we have placed on ourselves as adult women.

We all recognize that dogs come in different shapes and sizes…right? We have Bulldogs and Poodles…we have Chihuahua and Saint Bernards…to name a few extremes. We understand that a dog’s pedigree (meaning genetics) will determine what it will look like. We often will take a look at the parents of the puppy we want to buy to determine how that puppy will look as an adult. We would never attempt to make our Greyhound more petite like a Pekinese and bind its feet or train it to slouch to appear shorter. We would never put our Bulldog on a diet in an attempt to make him as slender as a Whippet. Even if we did we would just have a sickly looking bulldog!

For the most part we appreciate the differences in the dog world…not just in body styles but in athletic ability, intelligence and personalities too. Why do we lend a dog more respect and value in this manner than we do women?

Now take a moment and think about what dog best represents you…are you softer and bigger like a Pyrenees? Are you compact and athletic like a Jack Russell? Are you girly and giggly with big hair like a Poodle? I personally am a chocolate Lab…I’m not thin but am athletically sturdy. I have good muscle tone, learn quickly and like my snacks!

Once you have figured out what dog you are (maybe invest some time and look up different dog breeds online) then imagine that dog as your pet. How would you treat this pet? Would you put it on a diet right away, force it to walk/run mile upon mile to create more athletic lines, disdain certain qualities of its body, camouflage its flaws or hide it when company comes over? I doubt you would…but these are just a few harmful and undermining things we do to ourselves.

I know this is a silly angle to approach body image discontent from but when you get into it…it really makes you think. We are deserving of the same if not more respect as we give our beloved dogs….so give yourself a pat on the head and a scratch behind your ears and start appreciating your pedigree not fighting it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Find Your Waterfall...

I was watching my young daughter the other day…I was getting her bath ready and she was running around naked… one of her favorite things. I marveled at her total lack of body awareness. She was standing on a pillow getting ready to do a “big jump” onto the carpet…her little back was swayed, her tummy relaxed and “poochy”, with pudgy knees and a dimpled bottom. She is not overweight for a toddler…in fact she is at the 30th percentile for her weight and 80th percentile for height…so in “percentile world” she’s a string bean. All of that said…the shape and texture of her body was still not perfect if I was using the standard by which adult women are measured. Luckily enough our culture respects and honors a baby/toddler’s individuality and humanness in this area and it really is ok and cute for a baby to have a dimply bottom and tummy rolls. One of my friends and fellow therapists once asked, “when did it stop being cute to have cellulite?” That’s a good question…

I want so badly for my daughter to maintain that total lack of awareness and concern regarding her body. I ask myself…what would life be like if I was that unconcerned and unaware? Would I wear different clothing, join in on more activities, be more confident and happy? Makes me wonder what factors wake up the “sleeping giant” of body image discontent.

A thought that just popped into my mind…the “giant” originally awoke when Eve took a bite of the apple that was offered by the serpent. Prior to this the Bible says that Adam and Eve were naked and were not ashamed and instantly upon eating of the apple they ran and hid their nakedness. Interesting…huh? Maybe we were created to not consider our bodies and how they look. Certainly makes sense to me…my best, most productive and fulfilling days are the ones where I am able to completely disregard my appearance and take a “cannon ball” jump into the deep end of life.

This reminds me of an experience I had when I was in my early twenties; one of my good guy friends was getting married and his bachelor party was a two day camping trip with all his friends. I didn’t particularly want to be the only woman at an all guy event so I chose not to do the overnight but just come out for a few hours during the day. The group was staying in a beautiful location next to a lake with a spectacular waterfall nearby. Shortly after I arrived the group decided they would climb the waterfall. This boldness may have been assisted by a few beers but it still looked do-able to me and I was totally sober. However…me being in a place in my life where my body image issues were flaring the thought of crawling up a waterfall in my bathing suit with a line of guys behind me was not at all appealing. After all…how does one suck in their stomach and hide their cellulite while they are clinging to a slippery rock for dear life? Prior to this time the only way I would be in a bathing suit in front of others was when I was firmly planted on a chair or beach towel…ensuring only my “good angles” were in view. After much cajoling and peer pressure I succumbed and because I was the only girl the “ladies first” rule applied and I lead the way. I was mortified the first few lunges up the wall but then decided to just let all my concerns go and enjoy the moment. After all, how often does a person have a chance to scale a waterfall? Along the way I needed a few gingerly placed hands to boost me up on difficult patches but overall I did it all by myself. I reached the top elated and proud that I had not only conquered the waterfall but also conquered my self-made obstacle that had thus far severely limited my life. I reflected a lot on that experience and how no one seemed to notice or care I was in a bathing suit. No one laughed or jeered…no one treated me any different afterwards. I don’t know what I expected but I just thought that others would think less of me when they realized that I wasn’t perfect. I know this sounds irrational to some and to others it may sound all too familiar.

When we are able to let go of our discontent over our bodies and just live life with total abandon two things happen…first we usually have a great time and second we realize that our fears are unfounded. On a mass scale our culture preaches the need for perfection but in real life with real people…no one really cares and in fact people will often like you more when they see that you aren’t perfect because it allows them to not work so hard at concealing their flaws.

So…find yourself a waterfall to climb or, like my daughter, a pillow to jump off…whatever your style do it without attending to your body and see how it makes you feel. Once you take the plunge and do something without concern for your body’s weight/shape you will see that continuing to take perceived risks in this area becomes easier.

All for now…

Monday, September 29, 2008

Image is Everything?...

It was brought to my attention (thank you EJ) that there have been ads with content that are entirely in contradiction to what I am here to encourage and support. I’ve just bumbled my way through Adsense to filter out particular URLs. If anyone knows of a more effective way to just filter out topics rather than specific websites let me know and I’m on it.

Today has a Y2Kish feeling about it…with all of the economic unrest and the potential ramifications of the federal bailout not being approved. That last sentence is about as politically savvy on this topic as I get and I owe it to my husband who is following the scrolling “up-to-date” news. I have heard from some sources that “life will go on as normal, nothing to worry about” and from other sources “banks will close and everyone will make a run on gas stations and grocery stores.” We are being cautioned to get relatively self-sufficient so if those times do come we will be prepared. Get out the duct tape and empty milk jugs filled with (cloudy) water!

In all seriousness I do grieve for our country and the rampant gluttony I see in spending and resulting accrued debt; at the individual and federal level. I think it is a symptom of our cultural mindset...image is everything. I know there is more to the economic crisis…any pundit will tell you that…but from my little corner of the world this is what I can see and understand clearly.

The old adage applies here, “keeping up with the Jones’ “….over used but still very true. We are constantly sneaking glances around us to make sure we can at least blend in with the crowd if not be a stand-out. Over-spending is one of the primary tools by which we keep our image in place. We spend vast amounts of money on our appearance whether that is cosmetics, gym membership, exercise equipment, clothing, salon and spa services or cosmetic surgeries. And to accompany our well attended physical appearance we have a car we can’t afford and a mortgage that is beyond our means. Then there are the “things” we choose to participate in that drain our resources….vacations, eating out and entertainment of all sorts; just to name a few. I believe for the most part we are well meaning and attempt to stay within our budgets but given the choice of falling behind socially in terms of our image or putting something on our credit card…which do you think most people would choose?

My point…we are so concerned about how we look on the outside that we care very little about the means that are required to maintain that image. We verbalize that we care but our actions reveal the true condition of our hearts. We will engage in dangerous practices just to drop a pound or two, we will spend money we don’t have on that important dress for that special occasion and we will obligate ourselves to a car payment that strains if not over-reaches our budget. Why do we do these things?

I am not such a naysayer that I believe everyone has fallen into this image trap. I know that there are those out there who purposefully askew engaging in this useless endeavor and there are those out there that only dabble in it for a moment or two before self-correcting. However, I would say that the majority of us are far too invested in our image. How do we know when we are too invested? When our love of image and the actions we’ll take to maintain it surpasses our concerns for our own (and other’s) physical, emotional, spiritual and fiscal health. To find the answer to this don’t just rely on your thoughts about the topic but look at your actions over the past year or so…retrospectively and collectively our actions rarely lie.

Should we delegate any attention to our image? The answer…"no, not really.” I think our image is a natural outcome of who we are. It’s a lot like our reflection in the mirror…it doesn’t have to be manipulated or worked at….it just is. That is unless we want our reflection in the mirror to reflect something other than reality…then things become tricky, expensive and time consuming. If we allow our image to represent who we really are then it seems like it will be effortlessly maintained. Maybe we should be putting our efforts toward becoming more content with ourselves rather than investing so much in becoming someone or something we are not.

Your assignment (besides stock piling food, stashing some cash at home and filling your gas tank to the brim) is to ask yourself…If I am just “me”…am I at peace with the image I portray? If not, why not?

All for now…

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Take Your Thoughts Captive...

I have a confession…one that I truly have a level of shame about…and the reason I’m going to share it is I suspect if I struggle with this, then I imagine others do also. That is one thing my career as a therapist has taught me…to quote a wise Book, “there is nothing new under the sun.” We as humans share a similar pattern of thinking…I can’t tell you how many countless times a woman sat breathlessly confessing in my office a secret she felt no one else had ever duplicated; when in fact I heard the same thing from numerous women over the years.

Ok….back to my confession (Does it seem like I’m stalling?)…I was at the mall today with my husband and daughter. We were browsing in that “Build a Bear” store when I spied a mom who sat perched on the edge of a display while her young daughter played with a bear. I secreted a head-to-toe look and noted that she was attractive, dressed nicely and wearing very high heeled, pointy toe, bright yellow shoes. Here is the shameful part…for just a second I had very critical thoughts about this woman for her choice of shoes. I won’t mince any words so that you will see how ugly it gets. I thought they looked tacky, cheap and hooker-like and I judged her for wearing them…I wondered how she could mother well while towering and teetering. These thoughts floated very quickly through my mind like a dark shadow. I did not consciously call them up and when they did catch my full attention it jerked me to my more sane and compassionate self. I quickly countered those thoughts with ones that I do truly believe with my whole heart. I applauded her for her courage and decision to make a unique and potentially risky statement with her footwear. She truly represented what I encourage and support; being real even if it doesn’t perfectly conform to expectations. And my initial response was exactly what I loathe in our world…attacking someone for looking outside of the norm.

This experience kept tickling my brain the rest of the evening and I started to think about how we all have internalized at a very deep and sometimes unconscious level the values and standards of our society…even if we don’t consciously believe in them. Continuing down that same path… these internalized values, unless brought into conscious awareness and challenged, will run rampant in our minds and influence our thoughts, feelings and sadly our actions. This reminds me that I am not always a victim to the pressures of the media, culture etc…sometime I can be the perpetrator. Admittedly, the perpetrator within came from growing up in a culture that repeated the same judgmental messages over and over again until it sings in the background unnoticed….perverse elevator music of sorts. But as an intelligent adult woman I have a choice to allow the “music” to continue or recognize when it is “playing” as I did today and replace it with lyrics and a tune that are more fitting my true beliefs.

I do believe that we as women can be very critical and competitive with each other. A good example of this that always comes to mind; I had started a women’s group years ago with members who were already existing clients of mine. When everyone assembled for the first meeting I almost did not recognize anyone even though I had been seeing them for months and some of them years. They were primped and preened…full make-up, nicely dressed etc.. Not that there is anything wrong with this but the women in question all had been showing up to their individual appointments with a pretty relaxed appearance. I had always encourage my clients to “come as you are” since the emphasis should be on more internal work rather than external representation. What was it about being around other women that spurred them to put on their armor of beauty? We seem to care deeply about the impression we make on other women. Are we afraid of their judgment or criticisms? Do you see this in yourself?

To take this further…I believe that we do not just reserve this critical thinking for other women but we often direct our barbed “thought arrows” toward ourselves. When we catch a glimpse of our reflection what do we often say? Is it something complimentary and caring or destructive?

This concept of being aware of our thoughts and challenging them to see if they are consistent with our beliefs may be new to some of you…but it is the cornerstone of cognitive behavioral therapy…the therapy of choice for what ails us these days. It is a very useful and powerful thing to have in your back pocket…because it is the whispering thoughts in our head that often influence our mood and behavior. When you realize that you can bring those thoughts into your awareness and analyze them…keeping them if you like them and replacing them if you don’t…it’s a pretty amazing thing.

Your assignment: be very mindful of your thoughts, in particular when it comes to your assessment of yourself and other women. If you find yourself engaging in negative thinking I want you to explore it and ask yourself…Is this really who I want to be? If the answer is “no”…then find other thoughts that are more compassionate and uplifting to replace those ugly ones. If you are feeling really ambitious I want you to notice how this process influences your mood and behaviors

Back to the yellow-shoe woman and another assignment that she inspired. Choose to wear something that makes you feel pretty and alive even if it is a fashion risk or outside of what you are seeing others wear.

All for now…