Are You Your Body’s Worst Enemy?

Ever get hit with a smack-in-your-face reality check and wonder why it took you so long to figure this out? The kind that makes you wonder how you could be so stupid…how could you have let it happen when you clearly know better?

A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling terrific. I was emerging more & more from the shell of safety I’d built around myself during the big move. My thoughts were much more clear than they had been since the car accident, and though my belly was giving me occasional grief, my body was reacquainting me with the strength and resilience I thought I’d lost to the downhill slide of middle age.

I took a little trip home to Montreal to visit friends and such. At an acupressure session, I was reawakened to the deep healing you get from going for tune-up support rather than damage control. I walked out feeling like a million bucks!

That night, I went out for the first in a series of overly permissive meals, all in the name of my birthday. I proceeded to indulge, at one point or other over the next 2 days, in ALL the things I usually avoid out of concern for my health… at times, all at once.

I mean, come on, this was a time to be celebrating, a time to let myself go and enjoy.

While I’d just had all this lovely energetic work done on my digestive system, and was fully aware that taking it easy was important – in the same way a big workout after a massage or chiropractic adjustment is to be avoided – I still let my elbow be twisted about sharing a bottle of wine, I ordered the veggies smothered in sour cream. I didn’t refuse the invitation to share a slice of chocolate cheesecake.*

Little wonder that I felt like crap warmed over on the train home, sipping lemon water and swearing to eat nothing but vegetables and broth for the next week.

My logical brain wanted to pin the hangover on some particular culprit: too many late nights, one glass of wine too many, the chocolate, the pasta, the ice cream.*

The fact is, this had nothing to do with the dairy or the gluten or the chocolate or the sugar or the alcohol – they were incidental to this story.

The worst offender in all of it was myself.

 

Yes, there are certain foods and habits that you are best to avoid. If you’re trying to fit back into your favourite dress, if your arthritis prevents you from opening the pickle jar, if your gassy gut makes it too embarrassing to go out, there are definitely foods you know to stay away from, there are habits that help you feel better, that prevent things from getting worse.

It’s so easy on those days that you feel bad to stick to the tried & true routine. Once you start to feel good again, your resolve slips. The better you feel, the more exceptions you allow.

If you’re listening closely to your body, you will be aware of the subtle whispers when she hints that it’s time to ease up and be “good” again.

 

Then there are the times when you feel great, when you’re so high on yourself, you feel invincible, and you somehow believe that nothing could harm you. These are the days you understand what you want your new normal to be. This is how you dream of feeling every day.

Integrate that sensation when it comes; sit with it, get to know the edges of this newly expanded container around you, seek its wisdom. Settle into it.

If you don’t you’re liable to crash as I did.

The Hendricks’ call this the Upper Limits Problem – when you get to a state of more positive energy than you’re used to, and you (subconsciously) find a way to knock yourself back down a few pegs.

 

Is there a fine line, though, where the knocking down isn’t quite so subconscious, when celebrating becomes damage?

 

This may be harsh to say, but that’s what I call abusive.

What I did to myself the other day – ignoring the pleas from my inner knowing and ingesting things I ought not, and in large quantities; hurting my system more because it was extra sensitive, then back-tracking with promises to do better next time. Sounds like abuse to me.

bound in self abuseThe Bach Flower Essence for abuse/self-abuse is Vine. Think of the plant itself: perfect tool for self-flagellation. Even after you do the thing that hurts you, that was so stupid, you continue to beat yourself up about it for days and weeks to come. A vine is the perfect plant for tying yourself up in a knot.

Then it hardens, so that you end up being fully bound in old growth.

Thinking about vines reminds me of the princess in the tower, locked there by a nasty old witch, the character we’ve come to associate with evil personified. Could it be that witch is the part of you that keeps you locked inside the perceived limitations of your issues?

The witch is selfish in the way that she prevents the princess from sharing her beauty with the rest of the kingdom. In squandering your good feelings, in hoarding this better version of you by keeping her hidden or small, you deprive others of the opportunity to love you. You deprive yourself of an opportunity to love you.

The witch cares for the princess so much that she hides her away out of fear for her innocence, not wanting her to get hurt. Are you caring for yourself when you don’t give yourself the chance to heal, or is that a form of cruelty? It’s true: the more open you are, the more you stand up for what you value, the more vulnerable you are to ridicule and attack from the world around you. Yet, the more open you are, the more space you have to grow and blossom into that million dollar version you usually only glimpse.

All that to say that, as much as some of your back-sliding may be subconscious, there are times when perhaps you’re more aware than you’re willing to admit. There are times when you ignore your better judgment, your inner voice and the advice of your health-care practitioner in favour of the momentary freedom of not having to care.

There are times when your fears of stepping out of the familiar shell that is your life and state of health keep you bound in inertia.

 

The good news is that making mistakes is all a part of learning.

Deliberate or not, every time I overstretch the current limits of my body, I’m brought back to a place where I can regroup with compassion, and find a new route by which I can find my way out of the familiar in comfort.

 

I will say this again because I want to be sure you heard it:

When you get to that place of feeling better that you have in ages, of having shifted into a gorgeous expansion (albeit unfamiliar):

Integrate that sensation when it comes; sit with it, get to know the edges of this newly expanded container around you, seek its wisdom. Settle into it.

 

Do you abuse your body with misplaced care? When you share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

* Note: none of the food items I mention in this anecdote are bad for you in and of themselves. They represent the worst culprits in this particular phase of my healing journey. We’ll talk more about permission and concepts such as 80/20 in an upcoming post.

 

I’m Good All Day, then I Lose It after Supper

 

If I had a dime for every time I hear that one… clients and friends who start each day fresh, with new resolve to eat better and take better care of themselves, only to find themselves at the bottom of a cookie bag by bedtime.

I know the drill: you just want a little something sweet. One cookie turns to 3…plus a square of chocolate. Maybe a handful of chips, …may as well get a bowl…

Raise your hand if you’ve caught yourself in front of the fridge looking for something to do.

My mind also likes another type of rationale when I’ve eaten one of my no-nos (dairy & gluten), because that’s what was on offer or because there was a particularly fabulous version I didn’t want to pass up. Since I’ve already “cheated”, I may as well keep going.

I know perfectly well that one croissant or grilled cheese sandwich, once in a blue moon, won’t do me much harm, but, I definitely suffer when I overdo it.

Sure, there’s the 80/20 rule and cutting yourself some slack, and being forgiving rather than beating yourself up. What’s going on when things shift to 20/80 or the premenstrual grazing becomes a daily habit?

When the exception becomes the rule, it’s a sign there’s something more going on.

It may be a physical addiction to sugar or to an allergen. Yes, you can get addicted to things you’re mildly allergic to because it sets you up for a cascade of adrenaline and other stimulating biochemicals which give you a certain satisfaction beyond the taste of the food. Anything that tickles the ol’ brain chemistry is going to have your body calling out for more.

Certain aspects of addiction are about associations, so, we also start looking for the psychological need for a certain food.

Yes, it means digging around in the stories of your past yet again to discover the source of the issue. Once you shed light on it, though, you can more easily dust out the corners and then let its significance fade into the background.

A single woman came to me with headaches and other discomforts. Going through her eating habits, she admitted that she often ate a large bag of chips for supper. As we sifted through that fact, she remembered her alcoholic father, cruel and abusive most of the time, would occasionally come home on a bender, lavishing joyful attention on the kids, and declare it a party, complete with pop and chips. In her childhood mind, chips became indelibly linked with love. What more obvious food choice to make when the adult arrives home, stressed and lonely at the end of the day?

The fact is, under all of your grazing there’s an emotional need for something more.

A divorced man needed my help him with weight loss; a mother of a difficult teenager wanted my support to stick to her anti-inflammatory diet. Both were the epitome of the mindful eater who loses it after supper. One struggled with anger management and feared he’d never have someone in his life again; the other couldn’t get over the way her husband walked out the year before and left her to deal with the child alone. Both were clearly using the snacks as a way of burying the huge and overwhelming feelings that were never far from the surface – rage, grief and self-hatred and a basic desire to be loved. Scary stuff – the kind that you fear will take over and never leave if you let them in.

Without the junk-food as a crutch and a hiding place, they were each forced to come face-to-face with what they were feeling, experience it and move through it.

Maybe you don’t have any overt drama in your past and you’re not suppressing any big emotions, thank you very much. Maybe it’s just a few snacks in front of the TV.

How to get through the evening without snacks

 

Nothing wrong with that on occasion. If, however, that’s the norm; if you can’t face the evening without numbing out with TV & snacks, then it’s time to address what’s going on underneath.

  • Compensating for a lack of love,
  • Hiding from grief or anger or loneliness;
  • Craving something in your life but can’t put your finger on it;
  • Knowing what you want, but can’t sort out how to get it.

Until you sit with those thoughts & feelings, say hello to them, let them expand so you can explore what they need from you, you will stay stuck in that vicious cycle of grazing.

 

Offer yourself the white space for your thoughts and feelings to emerge.

It might will get messy and uncomfortable; let it be so.

Take some flower essences.

Call on your support system when you need them.

 

The peace you find on the other side with be well worth it.

 

What happens to you, inside, when you choose to stay away from the evening snacks? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

 

Send this post to a friend who’s stuck on this wheel, and let her know that you’ve got her back while she works through whatever comes up.

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I Know What to Do, I Just Don’t Do It.

 

I get it.

There are only so many hours in a day. You only have so much creative energy and only so much will power. You’re keeping the family happy, you’re effective at work; how can you be expected to be consistent with positive food changes?

You know perfectly well that to lose the weight, heal your digestive woes, calm the allergies, you’ll have to cut out an entire grocery list of foods & additives, squash a lifetime of bad eating habits, and probably eat more vegetables.

The theory’s all mapped out in your head, but you just can’t seem to put those good intentions into action.

Instead, you use what precious little energy you have left at the end of the day to beat yourself up about everything you should be doing while mindlessly inhaling a pint of cherry chocolate with a salt & vinegar chaser.

It’s a slippery slope, isn’t it? You start by taking stabs at your poor food choices, until your mind inevitably points out how you haven’t been feeding the kids so well lately, not to mention all the other bad parenting moments you’ve had this week, …how did you think you can be an effective parent with everything else you’re dealing with? What were you thinking? Did you really think you could manage it all?…Is this boat you’re in all your fault because you chose the wrong man in the first place?…And now you’re going to be a fat, lonely slob for the rest of your life!

How stupid are you?!?

STOP THAT!

Right now. Just stop. Take a breath.

We’ll look at the mindless junk food habit next time; for now, let’s talk about the self-flagellation.

Would you talk to anyone else that way? Would you tell a friend what an idiot she is for eating ice cream or getting divorced? I’d wager not.

It’s time to stop being so tough on yourself and try a bit of tough love instead. You know, set yourself straight in the kind way you would with a small child you care about.

Another good theory, but it’s where you get stuck in the follow-through.

It comes down to perfection. That habit you have whereby, if you’re not going to do something to the letter, the way the experts and the health nuts do it, you’re not even going to bother.

Tell me, if the boss handed you a list of what she expects you to accomplish over the next 6 months, and told you to get it all figured out tomorrow, you’d freak out, right? You’d quit your job, or report it to the higher-ups. If, however, she explained the big picture of the goals she wants to reach by the end of the year, then gave you the first pieces to start on, it would be simple, doable.

Same goes with how you nourish yourself.

Consistent, positive food changes require awareness, small steps and a hint of tough love.

 

If you’ve given even half the thought to all the possible solutions you’ve googled, there are likely a few options that stand out, whether you want to admit it or not. Trust that wisdom. Chances are there’s a reason you zoned in on them.

 

Of all the things you know you need to do to get your body back to its happy place, pick one.

Just one. It will likely be complex in and of itself.

For example, giving up dairy is one thing you know might help your digestion.

 

Break it down further:

Become aware of when and how you eat it: notice through the course of a few days and/or write down all the foods you normally eat that contain some form of dairy – milk, cream, ice cream, yogourt, cheese, whey powder, butter,…

Now choose ONE of those, and replace it: instead of the milk/cream you use in a day, put almond milk in your coffee, coconut milk in your porridge or your soup, have tomato/vegetable sauce on your pasta… after a few days, even a week, move onto to replacing the cheese, and so on…

In the same way you would track the metrics and such of how your work project is progressing, you can understand how well these changes are helping (or not) by observing your body, your energy, your moods.

Notice how you feel after a meal without the usual ingredient.

Notice if any of your symptoms calm. Maybe nothing happens after a week of no milk, but eliminating the cheese then makes a difference, …does it improve more when you reduce your dairy sources even further?

What happens to your appetite, your hunger and your satiety?

What happens to your cravings?

Has your sleep improved? Your energy?

Notice where you still get stuck.

Have you run out of ideas? Do you lack motivation? Would you kill for a piece of cheese?

Get help if you need it.

 

Every journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Same applies to self-care habits.

Pick a habit to change.
Trust yourself to stick with it.
Notice what happens.

 

What do you KNOW you have to change and where do you get stuck? When you share your thoughts in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Know someone who’s been lacking consistency in her food habits? Send her this post using any (or all!) of these buttons.

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Choosing Toxicity

 

Powerful words hit home at just the right time.

Clearing through my desk drawers, I came across “Your Metabolic Journey”, a sublime excerpt from Marc David’s Slow Food. Like any truly wise piece, it strikes a different chord each time I read it.

Going through once again, I paused at this part: “If you invite toxicity into the body then you are asking it into your personal world.” True. Could apply to me. The full impact of how deeply these words were meant for me didn’t show up until a few days later.

A Bad Habit Revealed

I hate to admit this out loud, but I tend to be the shoemaker’s child when it comes to my eating habits. Using the turmoil of a big move as an excuse, that tendency took over and became the beast I’d worked so hard to tame. My food intake was less than exemplary, less than nourishing.

I was eating stuff that I clearly know is bad for me (because of asthma and gallstones and other issues that seem to be cropping up like weeds as I age). I am a much happier girl if I stay away from gluten, dairy, sugar, dark chocolate (I know!), greasy food and alcohol. Yet, I was eating bread and pasta and baked goods constantly. I was adding cheese and creamy sauces to everything.

A Nagging Belief

As part of my inner journey, I recently came face-to-face with a belief I held around punishment necessarily following reward. Call it the Upper Limits Problem (à la Gay & Kathleen Hendricks), or a fear that something bad must follow the good, a loss after a win. I started living in dread that some mysterious shoe would drop because of many positive changes in my life, to the point that I was lying awake, imagining the possibilities in all sorts of permutations from identity theft to brain tumours to multiple forms of destitution.

I’m always on the lookout for when and how certain conditions start in body and mind, so I wracked my brain for the story or memory that would have set that belief in motion. Yet, it didn’t seem to resonate with any of the childhood stuff I’ve rehashed for other juicy info.

How Habits Create Beliefs

A few days later, I woke up to the fact that I was nursing a glass of port while nibbling a bowl of chips into which I’d dumped a pack of Reese’s Pieces.

This wasn’t a party or a special occasion or a rare occurrence. I was having them, the worst foods for my digestive and adrenal health – for the 3rd day in a row – as I supervised homework and got supper started. To be perfectly honest, I’d been eating chips and drinking alcohol more regularly than is good for me these past months, along with my other transgressions.

You see, I’d had a good day, was feeling carefree and I figured, “Why not?” knowing full well I’d likely be suffering in the days to come. This is a pattern with me. Nothing new.

And that’s when Marc David’s words hit me full force. The belief in punishment is not a result of some trauma that happened when I was 3. It’s the result of a current habit I’d let slip into daily routine.

How crazy is that? I’ve been punishing my body as a means of celebration.

How to Turn Awareness into Action

The lesson I’d received went one step deeper the next day when I, yet again, chose a glass of port over herbal tea for my mid-afternoon treat… because it was there.

It seems that becoming aware of the pattern wasn’t enough to get me to stop. It took a much harsher reality to snap me out of it completely.

The 8-year-old daughter of a dear friend has a usually benign condition that, in her case, causes intestinal bleeding. It’s been stable for several years, but has recently come back with a vengeance. The day after my big Aha, she was in surgery for the 2nd time in as many weeks, as 5 doctors performed innovative techniques to stop it once and for all.

This girl was fighting for her life, yet I continued to take my own digestive & healing capacity for granted by clogging them up with the very elements that cause me the most harm.

My good intentions took on a whole other meaning when they weren’t just about me. I needed a cause greater than myself – a Why – to jump-start the humility it took to step fully into the shift.

I’d been praying and sending healing light to my friend, her family, the doctors. It was time I put my prayers into action. …Maybe create a new belief in the process.

The only way I can build trust in the Universe’s inherent goodness, to trust the powers at be to keep me safe when things go well, is to build trust in myself to do the same.

Regardless of how magical the intention behind your thoughts and words, there comes a time when you need to set the wheels in motion with concrete action. If I want to free myself from unnecessary punishment, I need to stop punishing myself unnecessarily.

If I want to enjoy vibrant health, I need to stop the practices which dull that vibration.

A Belief is a Choice

Another thought lands as these realizations swirl through me, mind, body and soul: holding onto a belief or a habit is a choice.

And so I choose to detoxify. Not a full-on diet change, I simply reduce the ways in which I “invite toxicity” into my body.

I choose instead to “invite the sacred into [my] personal world, [so I] will find it inhabiting [my] metabolic world.” (Marc David)

I choose reward over punishment, health over setbacks.

I choose to feed my body, my thoughts, my beliefs according to the person I want to be.

I choose to show myself the Love I want to radiate to the world.

And you know what? Like magic, there’s been no question or struggle about nourishing vs harmful foods ever since.

What about you? Which of your habits perpetuate beliefs you’d rather clear? What awareness have you recently had which now needs action to alter your metabolism and your life?

When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

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The Health Benefits of Sisterhood

 

People laugh at me sometimes, with how obsessed I am with book club. More than guiding my current reading habits and being an outlet for intellectual curiosity, it takes up priority space in my calendar. Some would say I’m almost religious about it. Could be.

One thing I know for sure: that one night each month feeds my soul.

I used to have a similar take on a choir I’d joined for a time. About the art school office I worked in for 10 years. About natural health school. About hanging with my friends – girls’ night dinner parties being the cherry on the cake.

The common denominator in all these enriching scenarios? Female community.

(Maybe my need for such circles is a bit religious. Being part of a value-based collective certainly adds appeal to any religion. Having stepped away from the Catholic Church I was raised in, my need might be greater than someone who’s stayed more fully connected to a specific faith.)

My girlfriends, and the other clutches of women I mention above, were key to my survival post-divorce. Over 5 tumultuous years, I first learned how a non-judgmental circle of women (& a few special men) grants me

  • the courage to surrender the masks/labels and be myself;
  • the safe space in which to pour my hopes and fears;
  • shoulders to cry on, buddies to dance with;
  • the permission to put myself first (not that we women need it, but we think we do).

I learned that a strong group makes each individual woman stronger.

Being immersed in a community of like-minded, supportive women is the most direct route to knowing and loving yourself.

This solid container works for anything you want to improve really, however, in terms of health, the support of a group is proven to speed recovery and reduce risks of recurrence.

As part of a community, you have a built-in buddy system – someone to hold you accountable, to cheer you on, to hold your hand when things get rough, and to celebrate with you when they go well.

Knowing someone has your back in that way makes it easier to step out of your comfort zone.

On my own, I doubt I’d have had the energy to find another man, let alone explore the world of online dating. Without the love of friends and colleagues, jumping full-tilt into a new line of study might not have been so effortless, and I may never have discovered a new career – one that continues to stretch and fulfill me 14 years later.

A healthy relationship and enriching work serve to nourish you in mind and soul – essential pieces of your health picture.

More than just having a body free of disease, health literally means to be whole. To have balance in the lifestyle choices you make, so you can enjoy balance in your life.

That “being healthy” umbrella covers every part of your life – relationships, heart & soul, mind, work, money, society. It’s not just about the perfect body or a body free of disease. In fact (this is a discussion to explore further another day), it’s possible to be healthy even with a disease.

Every part of your life stands to improve with the health-giving support of a collective.

Community also means a place to ask questions and learn from the experience of others.

In recent years, I’ve discovered pockets of loving circles online. Some of the small Facebook groups I belong to hold the same magic as I’ve experienced in person. They might be a network of colleagues and other alternative health practitioners; financial advice; business support for solopreneurs; accountability and cheerleading through a challenge or a course. I’m also a part of deep spiritual circles through the internet.

I have connected with like-minded women all over the globe who I now consider good friends.

No matter the area of life, my book club, my friends, these online groups all prove to me yet again that it takes a village to raise a healthy woman.

Which is precisely why I have opened a community of my own. The Whole Health Dinner Party is a closed Facebook group for members of my community. It’s a place to talk about food and body and soul and life. For asking niggling questions and sharing thoughts. A place for conversation about health in all its shapes and forms.

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