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 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.

Where Are You on your Healing Journey?

In an email she wrote me last week, a client referred to her health as “an ongoing project”.

I could easily have read a defeatist attitude in that descriptive, and certainly, there have been times with that client when the relentless energy it sometimes takes to manage her health has gotten the best of her. However, considering the beauty she shared in the rest of this particular email, I read those words as coming from someone who understands and accepts that what she’s going through is as much a part of her life as the family and friends who surround her, as the work she does, as the food she cooks & eats.

Which isn’t to say that she’s given up on getting better. I have also seen that same person, experiencing the same symptoms, embody the hope of growth and self-discovery as she strives to overcomes the very issues and realities of a chronic condition that threatens to drag her down.

As much as you want to find that miracle solution to cure all that ails you… ever… for the rest of your life, there’s no getting around the ups & downs of healing.

Healing is a journey. There’s no doubt about that. The concept of a healing journey isn’t some new-agey, airy-fairy or lofty notion. It’s a fact.

Like any journey, there are easy steps and rough patches, there are days when you want to call it quits and others when you feel ready to take on the world.

Where you find yourself on that journey speaks about where you’ve been, but more importantly, it offers the map of how to uncover your next steps.

 

Health & the Healing Journey Demystified

In the linear, Newtonian thinking of our conventional world – the mindset and belief-systems we’ve been steeped in for generations – our ideas of health get caught in the realm of those straight lines, of cause and effect. When you have condition B, take steps 1, 2 and 3 to get you back to healthy state A, by the removal of B altogether.

Some things work like that, with the ease of a light-switch.

Break your leg, set the bone, and it knits back together.

Get a cold, rest and drink clear fluids, and the cold goes. (I want to argue here that a generally healthy body will get through the cold regardless of what you do or don’t do.)

Get a headache, take a Tylenol, and it’s gone. Gain 10 pounds, eat fewer calories, and you’re back to normal.

Which gets into the question of what constitutes the illness. Is the pain in your head a condition? Is your coughing and sneezing the cold? Is your bulging belly the problem?

No.

Those are the signs & symptoms of your condition, illness or problem. They are the outward proof and inner experience that let you know something is wrong. Their progress and decline might even inform you about how much better or worse you’re getting. They are not the disease.

Health itself is a balance. The word stems from the same root as the word whole. It insinuates a completeness – which might be where we get the idea that there’s a final Point A to which we can return.

The fact is it’s a continuum.

Maybe continuum is not the best choice of word to use in relation to healing. It again insinuates a linear journey, a sliding back & forth along one track.

What most people forget is that health runs along several tracks at once. You’ve got the 4 major lines of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, with a few intersections for ease of movement, and occasional expansion outward – kind of like the map of the Montreal Metro system.

The healing journey map however, is more like the map of London’s Underground. Besides the routes that allow you to go east/west and north/south across the expanse of the sprawling city and its suburbs, there are also circular lines that bring you around to the same spot an hour later. There are those that cut diagonally, getting you where you need to go more efficiently. Some have several tangents so that, depending which train you’re on, you’ll end up at a different destination altogether. The number of intersections create countless possibilities – some more direct, some busier at rush hour, some not running on weekends – for getting you where you want to go.

Far from a straight line, the state of your health swings you around the loops of the lemniscate – sideways 8 –  the infinity symbol that reminds you that it’s endless.

Your health is a dance that sways to the tune of your life.

Your health can sit steadily like when you and your best friend found the sweet spot between your weights on the see-saw, or it can tip over and crash-land you on your butt.

I can keep going with these metaphors, but I think you get the picture.

 

To add to that more expansive picture of health, understand that the narrow range of movement which you call “healthy” can shift. The point you aim to regain won’t necessarily be the same place you started.

Your definition of health will change – it should change. If it’s not, you might want to start with examining and exploring your personal definition of health. As you age, as chronic conditions crop up, as the bumps and scrapes of life leave their scars on your body, point A looses its clarity, is no longer one fixed point.

From this perspective, Quantum thinking, the concept of whether energy is a particle or a wave (spoiler: it’s both) takes concrete form in your body. Your ideal health wriggles and dances its way through your life.

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say that your vision of ideal health can only decline over time. On the contrary! It’s quite possible to seek a state of health that’s an improvement on where you started, or where you’ve always considered “normal” to lie.

 

All that to say that your healing can be about being on the one little trip that will get you from being congested or overweight or in pain, back to the point of departure. Yet it’s so much more.

Your healing journey is an adventure that takes you around the world and back, only to have you decide to pack up and try again.

Your healing journey offers routes to ease the pains that crop up over and over again, until you find one you walk comfortably,…then until you discover yet another option.

Your healing journey derails your plans, leading you down dark alleyways of terror, or turning you around a corner into the most beautiful meadow you’ve ever seen.

Your healing journey takes you to the mountaintop you always dreamt of reaching, and from that vantage point, you see the possibility of how many more places you could go.

Your healing journey happens on the outside with lifestyle choices and professional help and new modalities and a changing body.

Your healing journey happens of the inside with deeper self-knowledge and growing courage and emotional roller coasters and shifting energy.

Your life is a healing journey. What an absolutely exhilarating thought to ponder!

The 3 Stages of the Healing Journey

How exciting, and yet how daunting to imagine so many possibilities for yourself and your health!

Even trying to decide how to eat these days gets overly complicated and overwhelming, with endless experts trying to convert you to their magic formula. Search for one thing, like how to cook Brussels sprouts, and you get thousands of recipes. (1,420,000 actually, I just checked.)

Now that we’ve created a complex image in your mind that resembles a spider’s web, all sticky with places to get snagged, it might be helpful to think about which stage of the journey you’re on.

Are you dealing with an acute condition that needs immediate and focused attention? Have you come out of those woods and are working to stay well away from them? Or have you turned your gaze to new horizons?

While the map for each of those areas of healing might look just as complex as the other, remind yourself that a map is something you observe from above. Imagine instead that the complexity comes from the fact that you’ve got 3 different levels of journeys laid on top of each other. Have you ever seen the transparent layers that make up the details of an animated movie still or a cartoon strip? The big picture emerges when different elements come into play.

Same with your health. Let’s rotate that map of your healing journey so you’re looking from the side, at 3 layers, like a cake. Much easier to swallow!

 

The first layer, or the first stage of your healing journey, gets back to the basics of that conventional approach to medicine. It’s damage control, the place where you’re trying to overcome or survive an acute issue.

Symptoms → find the cause → take the remedy/undergo the procedure → return to normal

My own healing of different conditions and states have gone through these stages. I can turn any one of my experiences on their side to see how they’ve played out.  To make these concepts easier for you to understand, we’ll look at the cross-section of how I’ve been dealing with gallbladder attacks in recent years.

My digestion has often been a weak point in my physical health. About 4 years ago, things were getting worse. One night, what felt like indigestion progressed through the night until I was awake with cramping pain so bad, I half hoped there would be a baby at the end of it. The second time it happened, I realised it must be a gallbladder attack. The 3rd time, in as many months, I cut out certain foods, and started to see a practitioner for acupressure and Chinese herbs. When it happened again, after a perfectly “healthy” vegan meal, the pain settled in for the long haul – dull, thank goodness, but very present – and I knew I had to get more help in case of any complications.

After 24 hours of being poked and scanned and observed and soaked in fear-mongering in the ER, I was sent home with prescriptions for 2 heavy-duty antibiotics and a referral for a surgeon to remove the offending gallbladder as soon as the inflammation subsided. I understood the potential gravity of the state I was in, however, I also knew that removing my gallbladder would open me to a whole gamut of other long-term issues down the road.

Which is when I made the leap to the next level.

 

The second stage of the healing journey focuses on prevention, in which the impetus for your care becomes about thriving and getting past the issue.

Through psychology, we’ve come to learn that people are motivated by the need to move away from, or towards, something they don’t want, or desire. Preventative medicine and preventative self-care stem from avoiding certain risks. This approach can be as superficial as not eating fried foods to not get a zit, or as extreme as having a full mastectomy to avoid breast cancer.

Up until the time I found myself in the hospital, I was simply using bandaids: staying away from food that clearly triggered the issue, while taking Chinese herbs and going for acupressure when things got out of hand.

The fear-driven intensity of the ER doctor and his conviction that surgery was the only option, as well as antibiotics that did not agree with me at all, galvanized my resolve to never get back to that place again.

While in the first stage of dealing with this, I was merely trying to get past the pain when it hit; now I had become prepared to do whatever it took to avoid having to go to the ER and to keep my gallbladder without putting myself at risk of dangerous complications.

Under the guidance of my acupressurist, I systematically removed any foods that might put my liver into undue stress – for me, that meant all dairy, gluten, sugar, alcohol, red meat, fatty foods, and chocolate. Without the context, it would have been pretty dire and depressing to drop all those at once. Newly motivated by the deep need to avoid a repeat performance made the decision easier. It was a simple question of, did I prefer to have the piece of cake and glass of wine, or to put myself in danger again?

My self-care routine expanded to include regular appointments for acupressure and emotional/spiritual sessions, to maintain the better flow of energy through my digestive tract and in my life.

These steps worked wonders. Not only did my symptoms subside, I started feeling more energized than I had in a while. I was sleeping better. My usual nasal congestion had all but disappeared. My digestion flowed, so I was able to enjoy food more freely again, even while sticking to some restrictions. I had everything under control.

When things slackened so much that the subtle symptoms cropped up again, I recognised that it was time to refocus that resolve.

Recently, my habits slipped further still and I felt things block up like they hadn’t done in a couple of years. Problem was, I couldn’t muster what it took to get fully back on the wagon of those good habits anymore.

This approach worked until it stopped working.

Slowly, gradually, I found my way into the 3rd stage of this process.

The last level of the healing journey looks at the same problem from the other side of the motivational coin. The difference can be subtle, but extremely powerful.

 

The 3rd stage of the journey – the icing on the cake – is when you start creating the health that you want, and blossom into your full healing potential, by moving in the direction of what you desire.

Looking after yourself from this angle means that you’re making decisions from the point of view of the person you want to become, how you want to eventually feel.

How would “Ideal Me” eat? What would She do for exercise? How does Ideal Me want me to deal with that relationship issue? How does She pray?

Where the act of preventing illness has a huge element of control, creating what you want requires a large dose of surrender, as you open yourself up to the possibilities that come your way. It requires you to trust the answers that arise to the questions you pose, because there’s no concrete proof that your intuition – yes, this is your intuition working in its full glory – is steering you right.

I wish I could say there was some defining moment that sparked the shift in mindset for me. With so many huge transitions in my life over the last 2 years, it’s difficult to pinpoint, but the fact is that this has been a gradual shift – more a whimper than a bang.

Sometimes the knowing is crystal clear and I make choices with absolute ease. Other times, there’s a struggle as fear and doubt creep in again.

Ironically, many of the decisions I make now, especially when it comes to food, are exactly what I had done under the guise of prevention. The difference is that where I had been making those choices to avoid a gallbladder attack, now I am trying solutions that might possibly dissolve the stones altogether.

As the paradigm flipped from one side to the other, the conscious feeling and movement of my emotions started to become a regular habit – or maybe it was that emotional play and release which allowed the tide to turn.

The more deeply I settled into the vision of where/how/who I wanted to end up, the more I noticed the breadcrumbs of synchronicity showing up to lead my way. Unless, it was the light I shone on those breadcrumbs that guided me to this new awareness.

In this part of the world, it doesn’t matter which is the cause and which the effect. The upshot is that I am letting the possibility of yes take me where it might, when before I was guided by the limitations of a no.

The most remarkable thing about being in this place is the strong sense that I am healing, regardless of whether those gallstones go away or not. Perhaps one day I will need surgery to remove the physical residue and eliminate dangerous risks, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t healed in the meantime.

I am constantly healing. This is a journey, after all – one that constitutes many trips and adventures. Some longer than others, some that end and some that never will.

 

Healing is as unpredictable as life itself. How you approach it depends on who you are in a given moment as much as the severity of what you need.

The healing journey, that convoluted map, has as many intersections connecting the layers, as it does along each plane. You will find yourself travelling it up & down as well as back & forth and all around.

Though I’ve laid this out in a linear story for ease of telling, the journey itself isn’t linear. In this particular experience, I move up & down through the stages as time goes on. Though I spend a lot less time in damage control than before, it doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally find myself back on that station platform.

Like life, healing is not a 1-2-3 experience. You might start with prevention and move into creation with a certain issue without ever having to do any damage control. Chronic issues might have you swimming from one to the other and back again in a seemingly endless cycle of flare-ups and remission.

And remember, you can go through these phases with your mental, your emotional, your spiritual health as much as your physical.

How daunting, how terrifying and how exciting. Yes, it’s a process. Are you up for the ride?

The client I mentioned earlier is someone who has poured a good dose of creativity on this project that is her healing journey. She has grown to explore it in a way that allows her to shine fully as one of the most warm, generous and beautiful souls I know.

She has proven what I believe at my core: Your healing journey is self-love in action, and the straightest path to a better life.

The divine Amanda Marshall sums it all up so beautifully in her song “The Gypsy”:

“The finest tapestry takes patience and the ability to wait
For each thread to support the bigger picture and the larger purpose
And in the fearless, reckless pursuit of intimate love
It is not the destination it’s the journey.”

Where are you on your healing journey? Where do you get snagged in that complicated web? When you share your thoughts and questions in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

When Every Setback Feels Like a Failure

 

Raise your hand if you start emails with apologies.

“Sorry it took me so long to reply…”
“I’m sorry your email got lost in the pile…”
“I’m sorry to have missed your thing…”

I’m resisting that urge big-time today. Something happened to offset my commitment to put my thoughts to paper (screen) every other week and I desperately feel the need to apologise for it – like I’ve failed.

I can logically see that yes, life happened in a way that focused my attention away from my plans: I was in a small car accident – no injuries other than my car, but it still turned my world upside down if even briefly.

To be honest, my thoughts were mostly focused on self-indulgent musings about why such a thing happened (the awkward part of believing that we create our own reality) and wracking my brain for the lesson so that I could move on. (As you can imagine, that part hasn’t quite sorted itself out yet.)

Now that I’m back to the land of the living, I find I’m beating myself up for not having done all the shoulds I let fall to the wayside for a few weeks.

Do you ever feel that way?

Like when you set out every morning with the best of intentions for how you’ll eat well and meditate and exercise, only to find yourself at the bottom of a bag of chips by the mid-afternoon.

Or when you write out the agenda of what you’re determined to accomplish in a day and get lost on Facebook for an hour before you even get started.

Or when you decide to recharge the love in your marriage only to be triggered by that thing he says as he walks in the door.

So you feel like you failed, and why do you even try, and you’ll be stuck here forever.

Where did that come from, the belief that a setback is a failure? More importantly, what can you do to get over it?

Two words: perfection paralysis

To loosely quote my friend Casey, that’s the way we freeze our lives to maintain the high standards we set for ourselves in response to high standards society sets for us.

Here are 3 ways to defrost that need for those perfect standards and move forward:

1. Stop trying to do it all at once! (aka take baby steps)

Rather than revamp all your eating habits overnight, take one thing from that list the health coach gave you and do that for a few days before you attempt the next one.

Take one task you want to accomplish today and break it into the 3 steps it actually requires, and let that be your agenda.

Rather than expect rainbows and sunshine, avoid going down the rabbit hole of negativity by giving your man a smile and offer him a fun little piece from your day.

2. Get in touch with your own perfection

Sit quietly, breathe into your belly and open yourself up to the light and love waiting in there (possibly hiding quite deeply) for you to feel it.

This may take a few tries to get…this stuff can be subtle and quiet, especially as compared to the loud and persistent voice of your inner critic and whip-slinger who is always ready to lynch you for the slightest transgression.

Put on a timer for 10 minutes to keep you from getting frustrated or trying too hard. Do it again tomorrow and the next day and the next.

3. Set the bar from the inside

Again, get in touch with that perfect you.

Listen to your body for clues as to what you need, as to what standards you want to adhere, as to what the first next step is.

And here’s the key…possibly even the hardest part: when you’ve got your answer about that step? Take it!

 

How to Overcome Resistance Before It Overpowers You

 

Many of the health-based conversations I have lately revolve around motivation. Actually, it’s not just with health. We’ve got so many reasons why we can’t find the energy to improve our eating habits or our self-care routines or our parenting or our relationships or our work.

Excuses run rampant through your head and stuff happens in your life which stops you from moving forward with your best intentions.

Like when you make a conscious decision to eat more vegetables, cut out the sugar and take a proper break for lunch. Then the usual reasons come flooding in, “reminding” you why you need eat at your desk, and grab a slice of banana bread every afternoon.

You have too much to do and there’s a bonus attached to finishing that contract…it takes time to actually cook the squash and beets and greens you finally remembered to buy…your kid’s hockey schedule changes at the last minute…an email alerts you to a crisis that needs your immediate attention,…

How many times do you blame your boss or a colleague for the amount of stress at work, or your husband for the lack of intimacy in your marriage?

Even in my woo-woo circles, people seem to love hearing that Mercury Retrograde is in full swing, because it offers a cosmic reason why every type of communication and forward motion they attempt gets derailed for days or weeks at a time.

When you weed through the tangle of every possible reason you can’t or don’t move forward, it usually filters down to some form of resistance.

Resistance is the current catchword that practically gives us permission to stay stuck where we are.

We post about it in our favourite groups, so our friends can nod knowingly and send us a virtual hug and some sympathy – “Yeah, been there, know what you’re going through, sister!”

Now you feel heard and understood, but you’re no further ahead in the face of your frustrations.

What if resistance weren’t a bad thing? What if it had a purpose other than making you feel that the Universe is conspiring against every effort you try to make?

What is resistance anyway?

Let’s start by doing a little physics lesson.

A resistor is a passive component in an electrical circuit that converts electricity into heat, which dissipates into the air. A resistor impacts how easily electricity can flow, depending what it’s made of; a metal tube has little resistance, a piece of plastic, a lot. When passing through a material with high resistance, the current has to work much harder to get through it. (The technical definition of resistance is the voltage needed for 1 amp of current to flow through a circuit.)

Electrical resistance is valuable. You actually make practical use of it; without it, the appliances in your house wouldn’t work.

It takes so much energy for the flow to get through the little filament in a standard lightbulb, that the wire heats up and gives off light. The element in your kettle and oven work the same way. The volume control on your TV has a variable resistor that lets more or less sound out when a little or a lot of resistance is applied.

What does that mean for you?

Apply the same principles to the flow of movement you want to create in your life, like when you’re trying to eat better.

First and very important point to repeat: a resistor is a passive component. Like the rain, it’s neither good nor bad, it’s not the Universe’s way of trying to derail your efforts. It’s just there. It’s the nature of the resistor and your level of opposition to it that causes the issues, and determine how hard you have to work to get around it.

So, you’ve decided to cut out sugar. Inevitable circumstances happen (as described above) which make it harder to plan and get around the shortcuts.

* The self-denigrating voices start in your head, “I can’t do this…I don’t know what to eat…I hate kale…it’s too much work…I’ll never look like Kate Moss no matter what I try…”

* Your mother’s voice nags in there too, “Just eat smaller portions and you’ll be fine…have you seen all the weight Betty lost on her diet…”

* The associations start to surface: the need for a cookie or a big plate of pasta after an argument, the need for a drink after a hard day at work.

Those parts of life come up. They just are.

You can choose to fight those facts and listen to the voices, you can let them derail you – not to mention increase the pain of the pressure they inflict by beating yourself up about it. Like with the electrical resistor, the energy you use to let these circumstances antagonize you will only get dissipated.

All the effort you would have put into the doing of the improvement gets diverted in any number of ways.

Functionally an electrical resistor will

  • slow the flow of current, that is, make it seem like no progress is being made, like when your pants still don’t fit;
  • adjust levels, or make the goal harder to meet, like when the excuses for why you can’t accomplish this simple goal get the better of you, “I don’t have time…I’m too tired…it’ll never work…”;
  • divide voltages, that is, distract you from your original intention and/or split your focus, like when you finally decide to go ahead and eat Paleo, only to come across a great article about the virtues of veganism and your best friend raves how the Mediterranean diet changed her life;
  • terminate transmission lines, in other words, stop you in your efforts altogether, like when you cheat on the second day and give up completely.

Great for the electrician who places a particular component into his circuit to achieve one of those specific electrical effects, but how can this have a purpose for you?

Could it be that the Universe places those resistors in your life for a specific reason as well?

Going back to the cosmic example will make this point easier to understand. As frustrating as it can be, Mercury Retrograde has a purpose in your soul’s journey. It forces you to stop what you’re doing, take stock and re-evaluate whether those are in fact the steps you want to be taking. Its energy could even make you look backwards and force you to see (and shed!) some of the baggage that’s still dragging you down around this particular movement.

What if, like with Mercury Retrograde, you could look at those circumstances as a need to slow down and re-evaluate?

Is your time worth more that the overall quality of the food you eat?

How can you set yourself up to weather sudden changes in the day?

Do you need to recognize the voices in your head as your ego trying to steer you clear of failure?

Is it time that you released your mother’s “helpful” comments into the compost of no-longer-serve-you items?

If you can’t avoid stopping for food as you rush from A to B, is there a wiser choice you can make? If not, can you swallow a side order of compassion with the chicken nuggets?

 

The other term that comes to mind as I let the word dance around in my head is resistance training, AKA strength training. This is the practice – with weights, machines, straps and certain yoga poses – whereby you contract a muscle against an external force to improve strength, tone and endurance.

What if you use the resistance that shows in your life up as the means to strengthen your resolve and your efforts? That is, sometimes we need to be reminded that life changes, big projects, enriched relationships take a certain amount of effort and work.

The pride you feel from saying no to the fries or the cookie on offer provides an energy boost to your stamina for doing better yet again tomorrow. The more you exercise the buy-&-cook-more-vegetables muscle this week, the more efficiently you’ll flex it next. The relief of saying No, that is when the pressure to say to say Yes is lifted from your shoulders, you’ll be able to stand that much taller in your resolve and your needs.

Strength training also improves bone density, your circulation, blood sugar balance and coordination – it impacts more than just the muscles doing the direct work. Using your energy to lean into, work through or push past the hindrances that show up in your life will have an overall benefit to your entire being. Balance, flow and peace of mind can only follow when you move with life as it happens rather than fighting it.

 

Slowing down to work with the resistance that shows up in your life gives you the energy necessary to shine brightly and speak loud & clear through the flow of your personal current.

Let me put this another way: the root of the word resist is sistere, Latin for “to take a stand”.

When faced with resistance, you are being called to (again) take a stand for who you are, your values, your priorities, and how you want to move through life.

 

Stop fighting it!

Go with the flow!

 

Need more concrete help moving through the many faces of resistance in your life? Here are some suggestion to help you withstand a few of them:

 

How do you get past the resistance that blocks your efforts? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Don’t hold this idea back – let it flow to your friends so they can shine more brightly too:
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I credit Wikipedia and explainthatstuff.com for a bit of a physics refresher.
Thanks to emedicine.com and nerdfitness.com for details about strength training.