The Perfectionist’s Guide to Good Eating

There was a little girl,
And she had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good, she was very, very good,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

That old Mother Goose nursery rhyme comes to mind often in my work. Women sitting there telling me of all the beautiful meals they make for themselves “when I’m being good.” There’s a self-righteousness to these parts of their food day, a certain pride in the fact that they’ve learned the rules and show a sense of discipline.

These same women go on to tell me about later in the day – during that afternoon dip or once supper’s over and they’ve settled in front of the TV. That’s “when I’m being bad” and their poor food habits show up. When the office candy bowl and cookies and ice cream and the repeat visits to the fridge take over all sense of reason or strength of will.

One client recently referred to such bad habits as “sins” – insinuating that there is a moral transgression being committed, one punishable by God. Ouch.

Is that tendency a part of the perfectionist’s personality? That when you’re being good, you’re very, very good, and when you’re bad you do so with equal zeal? Which certainly translates to those sins being well worth the self-flagellation and berating you offer yourself in return. Double ouch.

 

That’s the kind of black and white thinking your inner perfectionist no-doubt craves. There ends up being no room for grey zones.

Unfortunately, nutritional advice has evolved into nothing less than one huge grey zone.

The lines get very blurry from one style of eating to the next, and even blurrier between experts on a given style.

Even so, when you decide on a specific set of rules, you will accept nothing less of yourself than following those rules to the letter as outlined by one of said experts. Sometimes to the sacrifice of your likes and dislikes. Or in ignorance of your emotional state or how active you’ve been or the fluctuations through your cycle. Sometimes cutting out any sense of celebration.

Yet, when it comes to “good” and “bad” food choices, there can be no absolutes.

I do the air-quote thing on purpose when using those words with students or clients. I want to emphasize the fact that the goodness or badness of a food or an eating habit is relative.

good and bad food choices

Here’s what I mean:

We all know sugar is “bad” for us, more so for those dealing with such conditions as Type II diabetes or cancer. Even when calming inflammation of any kind (including those 15 lbs that have set up camp on your middle), sugar will feed the issue.

In that sense, sugars from any source need to be taken into consideration, whether it’s from a candy bar or a PB&J or a carrot or a glass of wine. At the end of the day, they all contribute to how much sugar you’ve taken in. That is, the carrot has potentially become one of the “bad” guys.

That said, sugar is our cleanest energy source and getting a certain amount (up to 10% of your daily calories) makes life a heck of a lot more pleasant and your body function more efficiently. When you focus on whole foods and eliminate the added sugars, you can easily stay within those limits. At which point a carrot, full of fibre and antioxidants along with the sugar, is a “good” source.

Make sense?

In In Defense of Foods, Michael Pollan shares another great example from psychologist Paul Rozin.

From a list of foods, study participants were asked to consider which food item from a given list they would choose to have on a desert island (along with water). Participants chose bananas, spinach, corn, alfalfa sprouts or peaches over hot dogs or milk chocolate.

However, on that desert island, that hot dog might be your only source of protein for a few days, the chocolate will keep your blood sugar happy and your mind alert. Of all of the above, they would increase your chance of survival.

 

And then we get into the actual enjoyment of good food.

How well will your body take in and use the nutrients of a healthy bowl of steel-cut oats and ground flax if the texture grosses you out and you can barely swallow, let alone chew it? If you pinch your nose to get through the steamed kale, is it possible your cells will be pinched on the inside?

In Chinese tradition, when the shen (your spirit) tastes the food or herbs in your mouth, that is the first stage of your organism’s ability to take it in.

If you prefer physiological facts, think about your parasympathetic nervous system. You know the relaxation response, that is, the part of you in charge of “rest and digest.”

Call to mind the most delicious thing you’ve eaten this week. (Seriously, do it!)

Remember taking that first bite – how buttery or complex or pungent it was – what happens in your body? As you imagine the flavours expanding in your mouth, don’t your shoulders drop? Do you maybe let out a big sigh and fall back in your chair ever so slightly? You’ve relaxed –  engaged the PNS – improved your digestion by simply savouring your meal.

Now repeat the exercise with the last thing you ate out of righteousness. I’ll bet you feel a little more tense from that one.

Which brings up the question, is food “good” because of its nutrient profile or because it tastes good?

Engaging your taste buds also attunes you to the fact that tasting “bad” may mean that a food has gone bad; mouldy or rancid or rotten. It may be telling you that the food in question is actually bad for you in some other way. Try eating a fast-food burger slowly, savouring every bite. How does it actually taste?

Feeling bad – physically, mentally or emotionally – after eating a particular food is another way your body tells you to steer clear. This is your individual decision, regardless of how nutritious the actual food.

 

Do I have a solution to offer you for maintaining good eating habits?

I prefer to think that you have the solution by listening to your body through practices such as

* Mindful eating – slow, deliberate and seasoned with gratitude. This extends to mindful planning, grocery shopping and cooking. As they say, most of healthy eating is in the prep.

* Engage the relaxation response throughout your day, with breathing exercises, meditation or generally loosening the strictures on your image of what the “perfect” (yes, that one’s relative too) meal, or the “perfect” life, need be.

* Forgive yourself when you’ve been “bad”, knowing you can start again at the next meal. Beating yourself up for your less than “perfect” choices does you more harm in the long run that the junk food.

* Take responsibility for your choices. Stay away from stuff you know is “bad” for you (see above). If, however, you choose to go ahead, know that it may involve consequences on one level or another. YOU have the power of choice over the food you put in your mouth, not the other way around!

* Step back and explore your emotional state before you go back for that second helping of [insert “bad” choice].

Rather than a grey zone, I prefer to think of healthy eating habits as a full-spectrum. Not black & white, but exploding with colour. Just like all the best food.

The word “healthy” comes from the same root as “whole”. By letting your whole self be a part of the action – the “good” bits and the “bad” bits of you – you are feeding yourself from a place of fulfillment. You fill yourself with more than parcels of nutrients (or junk) and will be more satisfied and healthier for it.

 

Which part of your eating habits do you consider “bad” and what do you do to make it better? When you offer your thoughts in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Share this post with any friends struggling with getting control of their eating habits by using any (or all!) of the pretty green buttons.

The Real Reason you Need Fibre

 

As with many nutrients, people have a general, preconceived idea about their need for dietary fibre. As with many nutrients, those notions come from ad campaigns: orange juice for vitamin C, bananas for potassium and fibre to keep you regular.

True, but only part of the picture (for all those nutrients). Fibre is a key ingredient in the Magic Looking Glass for Eating Right for more reasons than pooping well.

In exploring the beautiful reflection you see in your meals through the Magic Looking Glass for Eating Right, you are also learning to reflect a deeper care of yourself. This is self-love in action. Eating a balance of nourishing food you enjoy is one of the concrete ways you express self-love – it’s a form of radical self-care. Each of the nutrients in the looking glass framework offer you an important angle for eating right AND show you how you can nourish your best self.

FIBRE PLAYS A VITAL ROLE IN THE OVERALL NOURISHMENT OF YOUR BODY AND SPEAKS VOLUMES TO HOW YOU NOURISH YOUR LIFE.

(Be sure to read right to the end to get to this essential point!)

fibre nourishes your life

Let’s start with the fibre basics:

What is dietary fibre?

Fibre is a complex carbohydrate, that is, it’s part of our plant-based nutrition.

It holds the plant upright by holding water within the plant (think flower stem or celery stalk).

It protects and preserves the seed or fruit by preventing water from getting in (a grain’s bran, the coat of a legume, rind).

It holds the water necessary for the fruit/vegetable to grow, flower and reproduce.

Fibre is either soluble – it can dissolve in water, bulking it up and making it gelatinous or even slimy (tapioca, oats, seaweed, pectin) – or it’s insoluble, like the coats & stalks mentioned above.

Because of its structure, the human digestive tract cannot break fibre apart the way it can starch, sugars, protein or fat. Some fibre is so tough we can’t eat it at all (corn husks, shells, avocado or pineapple rind). That indigestibility and its propensity to hold water are exactly how fibre provides its essential functions to the body.

 

Why you need fibre

Each type of fibre plays a specific role in your body, though fibre in general has many advantages.

In your mouth, fibre-rich food require more chewing to break it down. Cooking will also break it down to a certain extent, depending on the method (think steamed, boiled, roasted or raw carrots). The chewing and/or cooking allow you to access the other nutrients bound within the fibre’s strands. As chewing is the first stage of both digestion and immunity in your gut, I’m all for anything that encourages you do it more!

While in your stomach & small intestine, fibre contributes to satiety – that satisfied feeling of having had enough. With fibre in your meal, you feel satisfied sooner and stay that way longer, because it takes a little more work for your digestive juices to access the goods. That is, it allows for a slow, sustainable release of glucose into your blood, as opposed to the burst and peaks & valleys from more refined choices. (Read more about good carb sources here.)

Soluble fibre swells with water. This could be as part of your meal, as in chia pudding or oatmeal, or after you eat, when it soaks up moisture from your digestive juices. Note: this capacity of all fibre to hold water is why it’s always important to hydrate adequately when taking fibre supplements and why Health Canada/ FDA put limits on recommended intake (more about that shortly).

The resulting swollen jelly acts as a sponge as it moves through your intestines. Specifically, soluble fibre mops up bile containing excess cholesterol, hormone bi-products and other fat-soluble toxins released by your liver while cleaning house, and sends them out for disposal. For anyone dealing with estrogen dominance, soluble fibre is an essential part of the nutritional protocols. This is also how soluble fibre (psyllium husks) effectively improves cholesterol and blood sugar levels. (1,2)

Both types will feed your gut flora as they move through. Well-fed beneficial bacteria add to your intestinal immune system and provide you with some vitamins B & K.

Insoluble fibre adds bulk to the bolus (the mass of food moving through your GI tract). Your colon is a large muscle that serves to reabsorb water and move the garbage out. The bulk acts as resistance training for that muscle, giving it something to work against so it can function more effectively. Yes, that’s how fibre helps you poop efficiently.

When working well that efficiency contributes to detoxification and weight management.

 

fibre in foodHow much fibre do you need?

Health Canada/FDA say women need 25 g, men 38 g. As with your caloric intake, that number can vary depending on your size, lifestyle and state of health.

One good way to tell if you’re getting enough? Read your poop.

Of course, this is something to consider in the context of your entire diet, your habits and any health conditions you have, but generally, if your stool is loose or unformed, you may need more fibre; hard & dry, you may need more OR you be getting too much/need more water.

Not enough fibre intake can set you up for diseases such as diverticulitis or colon cancer.

Too much fibre

  • causes constipation and/or dehydration (also caused by lack of water);
  • prevents the absorption of other nutrients, especially if things are moving through too quickly (ideally a meal should take 24-36 hours from plate to toilet – beets help determine that transit time)
  • can interfere with medication
  • can irritate the intestinal tract.

Best to let your holistic nutrition consultant help you find the happy balance.

That’s the physical part. What about…

 

THE SOUL OF FIBRE

Let’s take a moment to look at the qualities you gain from having enough fibre in your diet… in your life. They are the qualities we glean from plants as a whole.

Think about this as you look through the food sources, which ones you eat, and where you lack in your life.

Fibre can be found in its various forms, densities and solubilities in all parts of a plant. Each part nourishes our bodies in its own way; each part teaches us a life lesson in its own way.

Do you remember grade 9 biology, when you learned about photosynthesis? That’s when the leaves make sugar by binding water and carbon dioxide with the sun’s energy. Sugar is literally cosmic energy and the building block for all other parts of the plant. Those sugar molecules link together to make starch, and that most complex polysaccharide: fibre.

lacework of fibre

Lignin molecule

Fibre is a lacework of that energy. The densest expression of heat and light. It gives strength to the plant; sometimes likened to fibreglass in its durability. Yet it can also be flexible. (Remember, too much and you will become hard and dry in your being.

As part of the leaves, it allows that primal reaction to happen by reaching up towards that sunlight. Leaves and their concentration of magnesium nourish your heart, the part of you that reaches for that which you desire, that which lights you up.

The stalk reflects your human need for social order. Have you ever looked at the patterns in the way leaves emerge on a stem? The specific shapes of leaves are part of that order in that the shape denotes its purpose. Think of the large leaves of a rhubarb that shade its heat-sensitive stalks or the spines on a thistle that protect the land from invaders.

The stalk also speaks to your moral fibre. What do you stand for? Are you capable of standing up for yourself?

Fibre holds water, the vital basis of all life. Do your ideas, words and values hold water as well? Are you living in integrity?

Fibre is the stuff of life that requires you to decide what you must absorb and keep, and what you need to release.

Fibre digs deep with the roots that ground you to reality. The formative forces of the earth draw up to nourish that plant and feed your brain.

Much subtler – no fibre, but it completes the picture as the last expressions of a plan – is the vibrational energy you receive from plants. The colours, essences and oils that nourish your subtle bodies – your chakras, your emotions and your aura.

 

YOU WANT TO HAVE MORE INTEGRITY, TO BECOME A BETTER, STRONGER, MORE ENERGIZED, MORE LOVING, CONFIDENT AND FOCUSED VERSION OF YOURSELF WITH EVERY FIBRE OF YOUR BEING.

Could it be that eating plant food more consciously and conscientiously will help enhance those qualities you seek?

 

Now that you know that fibre is so much more than the All-Bran you sprinkle on your morning yogourt, which ways will you incorporate it into your life? Which qualities do you hope to gain from that addition? When you share your thoughts in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Share your insights and get your friends in on the conversation by clicking any (or all!) of the pretty green buttons.

 

1 Anderson, J.W. et al. “Long-term cholesterol-lowering effects of psyllium as an adjunct to diet therapy in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. June 2000
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10837282, June 21, 2018

2 Gibb, Roger D. et al. “Psyllium fiber improves glycemic control proportional to loss of glycemic control: a meta-analysis of data in euglycemic subjects, patients at risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, and patients being treated for type 2 diabetes mellitus” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. November 2015
https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/102/6/1604/4555168, June 21, 2018

Should is the New Gluten

“I should eat better.”

“Great suggestion, I should try that.”

“I should be in better tune with my body at this age.”

“The weather is nice, I should get out my bike again.”

“I know what I should do, I just don’t do it.”

If there’s one word that I hear come out of every one of my clients’ mouths it’s the word should.

 

It’s not just about food and health, either. It seems to permeate all aspect of our lives.

“We should book a weekly date night… play with the kids more… ”

“I should get those investments sorted.”

“I should spend more time with friends… update my website… hire an assistant… network more.”

As one of the local business coaches says, “women are constantly shoulding all over themselves.”

 

My inner-perfectionist loves the word should, a word that we somehow imagine will move us forward and finally get us to that door we long to enter. As if it’s the driving force that will help you plan your day and inspire you to be more productive, make better food choices and show up as your best self in all ways.

In reality, all “should” does is elongate the hallway leading to that door, like in some weird dream where you can never reach the place you’re desperate to attain.

Should makes it harder to get through that door

All it really does is set you up for a sense of failure because the bar – that you set too high in the first place – is now completely out of reach, no matter how hard or try… so why bother.

You make it your responsibility to, not only look after everything and everyone, but do it gracefully, with perfectly coiffed hair, rock-hard abs and fuelled with nothing more than kale smoothies and rainbows. As my spiritual psychotherapy teacher often said, “we carry our responsibility on our should-ers”.

“Should” weighs heavily on you, it drags you down, makes it awfully hard to rise up to life’s challenges. No wonder you’re so exhausted all the time!

 

“Should” has become the new source of all that ails you in your life.

It’s the source of all your troubles in the way that gluten was tagged, about a decade ago, when it showed up as the nutrition buzz-word.

Women come to me with questions like, “should I give up gluten, should I give up dairy, should I give up red meat,…?” While it is a matter of personal exploration and reading of symptoms to decide which course of nutritional advice is right for you, the first thing that all women must to give up, across the board, is “should”.

I’ve recently started to catch myself: “should” comes out of my mouth far more than I’d like to admit. Curbing it feels a bit like trying to give up gluten.

It was hard to say goodbye to some of my favourite food – fresh baguette and croissant, pasta, French toast. With gradual shifts and letting new habits take root, my body slowly adjusted and I felt the difference. I noticed where the gluten had been doing the most damage.

 

Here’s what I’ve noticed about the damage “should” does:

“Should” comes out when I recognise that I’ve been “bad” and know it’s time to reign in and be “good” again. Foodwise, it usually that means that the sweets have snuck back into the daily for me and I need to get out of the jag…cut the addictive streak.

“Should” is the voice of the advice I’ve received over the years, when I find myself stuck in the same place for the 47th time. When I kept having gallbladder attacks over and over again, and my acupressurist reminded me at every session to eat less butter and more bitter, I nodded then promptly ignored her advice until it got so painful, I had no choice.

“Should” surfaces when I feel guilty for not being the perfect example of business owner or housekeeper or parent or wife. The perfection, of course, defined by what I see others achieving on social media.

“Should” is a word that comes from the outside.

When you look up your symptoms online or go through the latest book, there may be suggestions that work for you and there may be others that don’t. Not everyone can function as a vegan or Paleo or low-fat or on whatever diet/lifestyle is being sold as the best this month.

“Should” is all the expectations we set for ourselves based on the standards that have been set for us by society and the media. I’m paraphrasing my friend Casey Erin Wood here – that’s basically her definition of “perfection paralysis”.

Paralysis. Should doesn’t move you forward. It stops you in your tracks.

 

 

The best way to give up should? Say Yes!

There is no one-size fits all solution to eating right.

The truth for you may lie somewhere in the middle of several rules. You need to experiment, explore, try out and listen to what works.

In tuning into your body, and noticing its sensations & symptoms, in feeling the emotions that move through it, you learn what feels good at a deeper level. Listen to your body and get to know how it says “No” and how it says “Yes!”

 

Yes is a commitment.

Yes opens the door to possibility.

In the dance of emotion, Yes is linked to desire, the drive to step towards something new.

Yes is an action.

You get to Yes one step at a time.

 

This solution is not a quick and easy fix. Like giving up gluten (or sugar, or dairy, or avoiding your taxes, or…) there will be trial and error. There will be days when you can do it, and days when you want to give it all up and dive into the fresh aroma wafting from the nearest bakery.

Slowly, gradually, with baby steps and support, you move away from the perfection required by “should” and come home to the comfort of being good to your body. Yes!

 

Want help taking that action?

You’ve got 2 choices:

Through the spring, I’ve been going Live to talk about some baby steps – pick one that appeals to you and give it a whirl.

OR,

You can find support for these types of changes in The Eating Better Conversation, a closed Facebook group where we talk about the challenges that hold us back and celebrate the little wins that move us forward in our quest to eating better.

 

Where do you should on yourself? How do you define your “Yes!”? When you share your thoughts in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

 

Oh, and you should really click the pretty green buttons and share this post to all your friends, telling them they should read it too!

 

The Magic Wand for Eating Right

 

“I want to eat right, but I want it to happen like magic.”

OK, maybe the request isn’t spelled in such blatant terms, but the message is there. Clients arrive in my office with the apparent hope that I will have the magic wand to turn their belly fat, their fatigue, their achy joints and all their troubles into happy endings.

In a sense I do, though, like Cinderella’s fairy godmother, I’ll make her work for it. Have her gather all the necessary pieces so that I can help her turn them into what she wants.

Being the diverse mosaic of humans that we are, there’s obviously no one-size-fits-all solution to the quandary of eating right. The map for your healing journey will be different from anyone else’s.

And yet, there is a common ground to that human-ness, to the nourishment it takes to feed a vibrant woman. So, that the answer to that question of “How do I eat better?” really is as simple as the wave of a magic wand. It’s a guideline that goes like this:

Reduce any food that causes you trouble and increase those that nourish you.

Bibbity-bobbity-boo!

Very general, yes. Think of it as a forest path with several possible routes to get you to that garden of health you long for.

 

Explore the possible paths by listening to your body.

Eat less of anything you know you are, or to which you even suspect you are, sensitive. This could mean a full-on allergy (walnuts give you hives), an intolerance (lactose gives you cramps), or just some random item that makes you feel “wrong” (raw cabbage makes your eyes itch, grapes make you sleepy, oats turn you into a screaming banshee).

Logical or not, common or not, if you react to it in an adverse way, your body is saying “No” …at least for now.

Periodically avoid the items that are generally hard to digest or make your body work harder in other ways. These include such items as dairy, gluten, red meat, sugar, alcohol, poor quality fats, chemical additives. You don’t necessarily need to give these up permanently (ok maybe the additives and the poor fats), but give yourself a periodic break.

Whether you notice that they cause distress or not, they do add to your stress load.

Holistic nutritionist Jessica Sherman sees our capacity to deal with stress like a glass: the more you add to it, the more likely things will spill over into an inability to function or disease or irritability or weight gain or any of the myriad reactions we experience when our energy is drained under stress.

Staying away from foods that cause you stress, physical or otherwise, will allow you to keep enough room in that glass for the stuff you can’t avoid (the jerk at the office) or for when the rug gets pulled out from under you (your husband says it’s over) and you need the reserve.

Eat more nutrient dense food. Food that gives you more nutritious bang for your caloric buck.

Whole food. (Not sure what that means, or think you do? Read more here.)

Here’s a fairy godmother trick for you to ensure nutrient density.  Think of it as the Magic Looking Glass through which you can consider everything you eat.

magic of eating right

Make sure every meal and every snack contains some amount of protein, fat and fibre. Bonus points if you include something green.

Here’s why:

Protein: Needed to make all the functional molecules in your body and to maintain all of your structure. It’s easier to access when consumed in small amounts with other foods through the day. Get details on how much protein you need daily and food sources here. Get the deep story on why we need protein here.

Fat: Slows your digestion to help level out blood sugar; needed for your hormone balance, efficient metabolism and to help you absorb minerals and fat-soluble vitamins. Get the skinny on fat here.

Fibre: Will help you feel satisfied (and stay that way longer); feeds the friendly flora in your gut; gives your digestive tract a good workout and grabs all the garbage for removal. Here’s the real reason you need fibre AND this one outlines the benefits of whole carbohydrates (where you find fibre).

Green (plant) food contains magnesium. Of the 500+ jobs that magnesium does in your body, it is key to your hormone balance (in men that magic mineral is zinc); it helps your body release energy from food; it gets depleted under stress and yet it helps your body recover from the effects of stress.

Ex. Apple with nut butter (pumpkin seed butter)
Eggs with sweet potato and leafy greens
Chicken & vegetables (at least one green)
Rice cakes (or other whole grain/seed cracker) & black bean dip, drizzle with olive oil (add a pinch of arugula or cilantro)

Red beans & brown rice with avocado (really yummy with steamed broccoli)

What about all the other vitamins and minerals?

I’m glad you asked.

When you choose nutrient dense food, whole food that is naturally nutrient dense, you are choosing food that already contains the vitamins and minerals needed to digest, assimilate and metabolise that food.

And here’s my little secret: when you feed your body such nourishing food on a regular basis, then, having felt the difference, your body will start to crave those very things!

Like in the fairy tales, this magic mirror reflects something more than the beauty of your meals. It is showing you a way that you can up your self-care. It shows you one of the ways that you express self-love.

How’s that for a magic wand?

 

Think about the last 3 meals you ate through that filter, and let us know how they fared. Any improvements may be one small step away and sharing these tweaks opens the possibilities for others.

 

Let all your friends know about this simple trick by clicking any (or all!) of the pretty green buttons.

Curbing your Attitude of Apology

A few weeks back I received an email from my yoga teacher offering a 5-minute practice while she was away. It revolved around the mantra “I’m allowed to take up space.”

This affirmation immediately brought to mind how I often act with an attitude of apology, that is, not actually saying I’m sorry, but feeling like I’m imposing on others by requesting to have my needs met.

Ouch.

How many times have I clammed up because I might upset someone or be an inconvenience to them?

It’s not just me. I don’t even think it’s just us overly-polite Canadians. How many women do you know who apologize at every turn?

  • I bump into a lady at the grocery story, and she says sorry.
  • Delayed email replies come in with the story that defends or hopes to excuse its tardiness.
  • A colleague who just finished the flu apologizes for needing to cough.
  • I decline the salad filled with nuts at a neighbour’s house and she apologizes profusely for not knowing about my allergy – how could she have known when I didn’t tell her? (There was no way I was going to starve without it, either.)
  • Women all over the internet are offering and taking courses about how to request the fees that reflect their goods’ & services’ value, or how to be visible for the sake of their business.

Some days it feels like the women around me are apologizing for their very existence. Double ouch.

At the same time, there’s a huge paradigm shift happening, with women standing up and speaking the truth despite the risk of backlash and shame.

The very energies make that kind of shift at this time every year, as the sap begins to flow and buds prepare to appear. Nature is burgeoning out of its winter shell. Seeds are decaying in the warming ground so that new life can feed on the remains.

To paraphrase Leonard Cohen, cracks are appearing in everything so that the light can get in.

In fact, I’ve come to learn that shame doesn’t happen when the truth is let out into the light. Shame is the stagnant stew that keeps the thing festering in the dark. Shame is what makes us want to apologize for just being here.

Which gets me back to the idea of taking up space.

In the dance of emotion, anger’s purpose is to take up space. It’s the sweeping arms and roar of a mama bear protecting her den. It’s the kicking and punching that fend off an attacker. It’s the premenstrual fury that makes everyone else take a step back from you, giving you the space you need at that vulnerable time.

Anger is the energy that pushes you out of the stagnating funk or disappointment or fear and makes you take that first step forward.

 

In a couple of weeks, we’ll be making the transition into spring – the season of wood, according to Chinese energetics – a time of blossoming green and all of life pushing out into new growth.

Spring is the time of the liver, what many people now know as the seat of anger. It is, however, also the seat of creativity. Just think how frustration leads to new ideas when you back off with a little patience. That creativity is what gets expressed when you step out of your shell and into the light of day.

The wood element also looks after your tendons. The sinew that, like the reawakening limbs of trees, are ready to be lubricated for movement, as you uncurl from the cold.

Spring is the time to throw off the detritus of winter, when your energy returns with the growing light, when you want to be outside more and be more active and start new projects.

The big trend at this time of year is to detox: clean that liver of all the junk and too much “comfort food” through the winter. This is a great practice, though for anyone who’s not used to it, I caution you to go gently; start simply in your first go-round. Overdoing it can deplete rather than recharge you, if you’re doing too much too soon (i.e. before winter is fully over) and it can also be like poking that mama bear when she’s been brewing over old slights for years.

Think of your liver like a pressure cooker: you want to let the steam off gently and gradually so it won’t explode in your face.

 

Other than cutting out the sugar etc., and eating more greens (if it grows naturally at this time of year, eat it!), there are other practices that can support your liver and your rejuvenation as you sprout into the next iteration of the wholly healthy vision of who you’re becoming.

 

  • Hydrate well: get all the juices flowing to keep you limber and flexible (physically and otherwise).
  • Get outside and move (walk, run, skate if it’s still cold enough, bike if it’s dry enough, play street hockey with your kids).
  • Look up to the clear blue sky; let it recharge your energy (your pineal gland loves that particular colour!).
  • Until the trees pop in the coming weeks, notice the patterns and shapes in their lacework of possibility.
  • Put on your favourite music and sing your heart out. Dance too!
  • Write out what pisses you off, cry about it – let those tears wash you clean – then take the steps to change what you can and release what you can’t.
  • When you hit frustration or irritation or any other brick wall that makes you want to rage or give up in despair, take a step back into the buffer zone of patience.

These gestures don’t need to be large or earth-shattering (that’s part of the patience piece again).

The day I got that email, I consciously made a couple of clear requests of those around me. No one was offended by my call for help – I was home with a very sick boy and needed a few groceries – or by my asking to reorganize schedules to better suit my priorities. The next day, I got up the gumption to quit something that wasn’t working for me, rather than stick with it out of obligation.

In staying present to what I needed that day, I opened my capacity to be present for myself and others…I gave myself the room to grow into that new space.

In opening the door to who you are, even just a tiny crack, allows the tiniest tendril of your being to peak out; to gather some sunlight, to feel the kiss of a few raindrops and grow that much more.

Which door are you ready to crack open; where does your being need a little more light? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.