Recently, a friend told me this story. He had gotten a call from a friend, but not one with whom he was particularly close. This friend confided that he had been drinking too much and was trying to get clean. He also relayed that he had had a dream that he was tempted to drink again and my friend’s wife appeared to him and declared that he didn’t need alcohol anymore. She even offered him a special medicinal tea to help him heal and to stay clean. He was so moved by the dream that he felt compelled to share; to have my friend witness what seemed like a turning point in his recovery.
I was so struck by the obvious notion that my friend’s wife had appeared to this man as an angel of healing. But it also occurred to me that she was only an aspect of himself that he had conjured in his sleep. That he was, in fact, his own angel, but only having taken my friend’s wife’s form.
So, why was the dream so impactful? This visitor had indeed inspired him in his effort, but had also provided a powerful sense that he was not alone with his troubles.
He was seemingly on his way to get clean on his own, but this visitation had offered him comfort and encouragement that he may not have been able to muster on his own in a conscious state. Additionally, this angel might be this man’s true essence emerging like an omniscient sage. And to further enhance the feeling of connection, he decided to share this experience with someone else. What a miraculous phenomenon? A remarkably powerful dream figure appears and offers companionship and guidance even if when that figure was imagined.
It makes one wonder about the piece of scripture in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.” He had conjured his own meeting of spiritual souls and such warmth permeated.
I am reminded, too, of an endearing scene in the final pages of the Harry Potter book series. (SPOILER ALERT: Skip this paragraph if you wish to read the books or watch the movies.) If you know this scene, let me continue! Harry has just been struck down by his nemesis, Voldemort; a blow that is suppose to kill Harry once and for all. Instead, Harry enters into this dream-like, limbo stage where he meets up with a ghost-like image of his mentor, Professor Dumbledore. By this time in the story, Dumbledore, himself, has been killed suddenly and prematurely. In this culminating conversation where he reconnects with his beloved mentor, Harry is able to resolve the central, unanswered questions of his life. One senses Harry’s profound relief having had this cathartic exchange with Dumbledore and finally asks:
“Professor? Is this all real? Or is it just happening inside my head?”
Professor Dumbledore replies, “Of course it's happening inside your head, Harry. Why should that mean that it's not real?”
I often suggest to my health coach clients that they imagine the voice in their heads that beckons them to follow their health journey to take the form of a benevolent and loving figure. One that selflessly has their deepest well-being in mind. Often these voices are judgmental or we chafe against them in rebellion. If allowed to remain nasty in nature, these voices can sabotage our good efforts. But if we can conjure goodness, why not use such powerful imagining to provide our own encouragement and companionship. We know we have it in us!
There is a pervasive idea in our culture - and I think we largely buy into it - that, in order to lose weight and be healthy, one needs to simply “take charge” and “get it done.” Be the opposite of lazy. If you want it, will it to happen. That message is evident in many popular nutrition and diet books. Just check out some of these tag lines.
“A Plan to Power Your Health”
“Optimize Your Health”
“Easy Plans to Beat Sugar”
It’s all so aggressive. Evokes images of the battlefield. Suggests that we need to assert ourselves in fighter mode.
Then they like to say how easy it is. Terms like “quick-fix,” “easy plans,” and “fast & easy” litter many of the covers.
And, lastly, it can all be done in 10 days. Or is it 7 days? Oh, wait, 21 days.
This tag has it all.
“A Powerful New Plan To Blast Fat And Reignite Your Energy in Just 21 Days.”
Frankly, this all makes me feel that I’m not doing enough, I’m not willful enough, not doing it fast enough, and that I am missing out on some secret, silver bullet.
It is very true that, in order to lose weight and be healthy, one has to assert themselves and actively participate in their own healing. There is no way around that. I’m sure many of these books offer legitimate paths towards good health. However, I don’t know if willful determination is really all we need. I think there is an approach that is more interesting and subtle. Namely that, in addition to determination, we could develop a quality of acceptance, resignation, and obedience, as well. We must employ the usefulness of both contrasting energies - assertiveness and obedience - as interdependent and inseparable. By “resignation,” I don’t mean to give up and accept defeat. Rather, I mean the acceptance of certain truths about our situation and doing something we may not want to do.
I know that “obedience” is not a popular idea. We all have complicated feelings about that. Memories of punitive, domineering authority figures pop up immediately. We prefer to be free, autonomous, and in charge of our own lives. Nevertheless, I observe in those who struggle with their weight that they struggle as much with being willing to let go of intrenched habits and allow themselves to be brought along on the unpredictable journey of change. This is where our “willfulness” can actually hinder us from allowing change to take place.
We are not so unfamiliar with being obedient creatures. For many efforts in life, we follow some kind of process to manifest change. If we make a meal, we follow a recipe. If we want a graduate degree, we take requisite classes. If we want to buy something at a store, we stand in line. All these actions require discipline, focus, and a willingness to follow a process. They may involve rules we impose on ourselves or rules we invite in from the external world. All aspects of resigning to the way things get done.
From a logical standpoint, we, first, accept that we have an issue to address. Secondly, we come upon a solution. Thirdly, we actively take up that solution. And, lastly, we obediently work our solution daily. In this flow, we see how elements of both acceptance and assertiveness are interwoven and benefit the same cause.
It is crucial to understand that, when resigning ourselves obediently to a process, we aren’t relinquishing our personal freedom. We actually do so in service of manifesting a more profound freedom. Accepting small sacrifices in exchange for a greater reward.
It’s OK, there’s really nothing to be afraid. When our hearts are fearlessly open and resigned to the full nature of our problem, we can assertively embrace a solution. Live in honesty, live in the solution, and move towards the light.
I have found in my own experience and with the clients I work with that it is all too easy to drift away from a daily, healthy eating routine. Since it can take a prolonged period of sustained effort to experience certain benefits of a healthy lifestyle, there are umpteen opportunities to lose one’s focus along the journey.
The story of Little Red Riding Hood comes to mind as she wanders through the forest to grandma’s house and gets deceived and sidetracked by the crafty wolf. We, too, have wolves in our forest that draw us off course. May it be unexpected invitations to eat out, parties, cravings, temptations, stress, time pressures, or exhaustion all weaken our resolve.
Our wily, impulsive minds can reason ourselves out of doing anything unpleasant and convince us to succumb to our desires. “I just exercised so it’s OK for me to eat dessert.” “I’ve been so good all week , I can take a break.” And, especially, when we are stressed, hungry, and tired with no plan, we often find ourselves in reactive mode; making snap food decisions without consideration.
A way to, perhaps, protect ourselves from the power of our whimsical, reactive mind is to develop what I like to describe as the deliberate mind. A state of mind that makes meal plans, finds recipes, and prepares grocery lists. It carves out time for shopping and food prep.
At the core of this plan-making is a loving impulse to do well for oneself. Our deliberate minds are considerate and reasonable. Unlike our reactive minds that can flare up in anger, frustration, and resentment. When we are angered, we often think, “I was wronged and I deserve a treat.” Our lives would do well to be guided by the nurturing voice of kindness and encouragement.
I like to think of the deliberate mind as an architect who draws up blueprints. Undoubtably, the architect’s motivation is to make beautiful structures that are safe, practical, and sound.
Once our deliberate mind has set a plan in place, we no longer have to worry about it. At that point, all we need to do is be the humble follower of our well-laid plan. Or, to extend the analogy of the architect, we become the contractor who follows the blueprints and builds the house.
In our role as humble follower, we no longer have to decide what we will eat. In the moment of coming home from work, a bit tired, a bit hungry, we don’t have to make decisions in this state of mild duress. Decisions have been made. We’ve defined our “work” and all we need to do is follow the plan.
In the story of Little Red, deception and fear are the star players. In contrast, the star players of the architect meets builder theme are harmony and accomplishment. Admittedly, it is about as entertaining as “Bob, The Builder,” but it is a story for the real world.
We all have a a complicated take on the idea of “being supported” with the things we have to do in our lives. Whatever it may be: moving an apartment, grieving a loss, figuring out how to parent a teenager, finding a new job, losing weight, etc, etc. All too often, we prefer to “get it done ourselves” and not ask for help as a matter of pride. Erroneously, we learned that we might get rewarded for self-sufficiency; the reward usually being some type of nebulous strength badge. At the heart of this resistance is a desire not to become reliant on other people and, in the process, diminish our much coveted sense of power.
In addition, though, and beyond the people we may call in for help, we have a myriad of forces and circumstances that offer us support and help us accomplish life’s goals.
Let’s take, for instance, the idea of losing weight. There are oodles of tools that help us in this effort. Here are just a few random ones to consider:
PAPER AND PENS! Yes, paper and pens offer great support in our weight loss effort. Paper is such a patient listener! We can write down the food we need to eat, the stresses that cause us to snack uncontrollably, or affirmations and prayers that keep us focused on staying devoted to our goals.
AVOIDANCE! Yes, avoidance can be a HUGELY important and supportive tool. Avoiding certain people who like to make judgmental comments about our bodies or our food choices. Avoiding convenience stores and the shelves of processed junk food. Avoiding the same patterns of behavior that result in the same stresses that result in the same snack binging!
HAPPY DISTRACTIONS! Reading books, paddling on the water, calling a sick loved one, meditating, cleaning a closet, or playing volleyball with your child are things we can do that aren’t unwanted eating.
ALARM CLOCKS! When we set our alarms, we can give ourselves a little extra time in our day to make a healthy breakfast and prepare a lunch for work. Or, if we don’t work and we plan to be out and about, we can make a lunch to put in a cooler for later. Perhaps, we claim some morning time for a joyful distraction like spiritual reading, meditation, yoga, or exercise.
What could you add to this list? By design, these tools offer us a calm sense of support and empowerment. When we get acquainted with what and who offers safe, reliable support, we can build an ecosystem…a habitat…that help us grow healthfully. Like ecosystems in nature, our own ecosystem can shift and change and grow with us.
And lastly, let’s not discount the importance of having good PEOPLE around us to help us stay focused. Guidance, friendship, accountability, redirection, and partnership.
If you are interested in exploring these and other tools to being healthy, please consider joining me for an 8-week Fall Weight Loss Group through Cape Elizabeth Community Services. Here you can find your own tools and the people that can help you achieve your weight loss goals.
The other day, someone asked my advice on how to lose some weight. She readily admitted that she ate too much ice cream and drank too much beer. It was the very first thing she ‘confessed’ as a possible culprit to her weight concerns. I asked if she thought that cutting back on ice cream and beer might be a good place to start. After a long pause, she said, “Should I try intermittent fasting?” I chuckled to myself and offered up my brief thoughts about intermittent fasting.
What has happened here? My friend knows that tempering the ice cream and beer habit was the right course - the beginnings anyway - and, yet, she ignored her own intuition and sought another way.
Don’t we all do this, though? When our intuition leads us in one direction, we seek to dodge such revelation knowing that it will invariably present an unpleasant reality, require hard sacrifices, hurt someone’s feelings, or require that we admit wrongdoing. If we know that a relationship is over, to act on that will cause emotional pain. If we have to leave a miserable job, the transition may cause hardship and stress. And, yet, when we duck addressing the real problem, clearly the problem persists. Perhaps, my friend’s weight would go down with some intermittent fasting, but it would likely creep back not having confronted the real issues with her eating behavior.
The blessing is that when we do decide to act upon our intuition, there is a bittersweet relief and the promise of salvation that reassures us that we are on the right path. Imagine the alcoholic who succumbs to the safety of a detox center? Pain, shame, grief, relief. No? We all know that relief when we no longer hold onto a lie, when we surrender to a truth and follow it’s lead. Interesting to note that “revelation” comes from the Latin word “revelare” which means ‘to lay bare’ and related to the word “reveal.” When we live in this honesty - come out from hiding behind pretense - we are living righteously, nakedly, as we are. There is a rightness and an ease to this living…not easy living…but ease, fluidity.
Similarly, we must acknowledge that truth and revelation are forces more powerful than our own will. We don’t contrive them. They just exist. They live in us and we can only discover them. We must be humble to the magnanimity of these forces and surrender to their wisdom. We must be humble to the fallibility of our bodies; bodies that can sometimes suffer from too much ice cream and beer.
All too often, the dialogue around “dieting” is reduced to clunky concepts like willpower and food restriction. Exerting our will suggests that we are in control. In fact, it was the result of willful (ness) power that led my friend to decide that intermittent fasting was her path. She used her will to avoid the magnetism of the rightful path. However, I suggest that what we really can be doing is respond humbly - devotedly - to the force of honesty presenting itself in a time of our questioning. We become followers of that force as our guide towards light and resolution.
This notion of following is the essence of the effortless ease. Being in a state of grace. We take away decision making, exerting effort, making things happen, making weight loss happen. Weight loss will happen on its own if only we get out of our body’s way. And I trust we all know - as my friend so readily did by her immediate admission - in what way we stand in our body’s way.
Feeling bloated or constipated? This effervescent morning drink was inspired by one of my fabulous clients and is a powerful way to aid digestion.
1) Simply put two tablespoons of Strawberry Vinegar in a glass. (Experiment with Apple Cider Vinegar, too.)
2) Add 8 ounces of your favorite flavored, zero-calorie seltzer. (Any flavor readily complements the vinegar.)
3) Optional: Add a dash of Stevia extract if the flavor is too bitter.
Drink before morning coffee or breakfast.
Are you anxious about the inevitable holiday eating? The desserts, the overeating, and the drinking? Do you fear that the good work you’ve done thus far will be forever compromised? And will the parties, the shopping, the mailing of gift boxes, the decorating, the family visits, and the ensuing expenditures cause even more stress and exhaustion?
Such times can certainly weaken our resolve and erode our sense of calm equilibrium.
Think of your healthy lifestyle as a house and the entire holiday rigamarole as the ‘Big Bad Wolf’ ready to blow your house down. This, then, begs the question, how sturdy is your house? Can it withstand the ferocious wolf ready to blow?
There are many facets that buttress your nutritional ‘home,’ but let’s just focus on the basics. Healthy, whole, natural foods are the ‘building blocks’ and your healthy habits such as regular grocery shopping and home cooking are akin to your ‘foundation.’ Take stock in these simple aspects of your daily life and recommit yourself to their importance. They will keep you safe in times of instability.
Give yourself the permission to protect your ‘home’ during this stressful time even more fiercely than normal. The adversity is ramping up so you’ll want to respond with commensurate fortitude.
But remember that it is okay to enjoy and embrace the cookies and eggnog, too. Unless you need to abstain from sugar, flour, and alcohol entirely, there’s no need to completely avoid holiday eating. One thing to do is establish limits and ‘insulate’ the few days of treating with healthy days and healthy meals. It is really a matter of percentages. If you are healthy 90% of the time, you can relax and know you are offering reasonable control over your behavior. This way, you are consistently returning ‘home’ after short sojourns.
When I was a little kid, my favorite pastime was fantasizing about what my life would be like when I grew up. I’d be skinny, my jeans would fit perfectly, I’d be dancing on the Michael Jackson Tour, and dating whatever girl was the object of my fascination at the time. The reality was that I was chubby, my jeans were so wrong, hardly even talking to the object of my fascinations, and stuck dancing alone in my living room. I regret - to some degree - those hours I spent wallowing in that state of illusion and not directing that energy towards action. But I forgive that sweet boy for coping as best he could; copying with my own inability to see any of those fantasies as obtainable realities and having the wherewithal to do the simple actions that may lead me towards that place.
Even now, as an adult, I find myself passing the time daydreaming about doing something and, yet, not do it. Usually it’s fear of judgement or a lack of belief in myself that stops me from taking action. Often, it is the stark reality that my first action towards a sexy, lofty goal may be painfully mundane, boring, or almost so simple that it doesn’t even seem possible that it could lead me in the right direction. And, sometimes, it is simply the lack of knowing what the first step should be. While these obstacles play out in my adulthood, they were entirely at play in my youth, as well.
I see clearly now that there can be a chasm between the “idea” of my life and and the “actuality.” So, here’s how I’ve been able to bridge that chasm.
I acknowledge the painful thoughts and feelings that emerge.
Set them aside.
Acknowledge that my spirit will diminish three sizes too small if I don’t take action.
Take a deep breath, muster some patience, and pick one tiny, mundane, simple action in response to my dream.
Do it once, do it again, do it 3,000 more times. Slow, steady, faithful, and patient.
And while the time has passed for me to join Michael Jackson’s Tour as a back up dancer, I can have my aunt teach me how to salsa dance.
Tell me about what you are daydreaming about today?
My mother use to make homemade blue cheese dressing. Her base was homemade mayonnaise and I thought it was the most amazing cooking feat that she could make something that, I thought, only Hellmanns could make. That taught me that we don’t have to be held captive by corporate food. We can do it ourselves. Save money and avoid the incomprehensible list of ingredients standard in store bought brands.
Here’s my own version of this classic dressing. A blend of Joy of Cooking, my mother’s recipe, and some personal adaptations.
1 1/4 cup Avocado Oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon of ground mustard
Dash of cayenne
2 teaspoons of honey
Juice from 1/2 lemon
4 oz of Blue Cheese (Gorgonzola Cheese is a great substitute)
1-2 cloves of garlic
1 large spoonful of plain yogurt
1/2 cup of dairy (optional)
Place 1/4 cup of oil, egg, salt, mustard, cayenne, and honey in a blender. Thoroughly mix. Add 1/2 cup oil and blend. Add lemon juice and blend thoroughly. Add the last 1/2 cup oil and blend. This is essentially your mayonnaise base. Then add whole garlic (no need to chop, YEAH), the cheese, and yogurt and send through the blender one last time. At this point, you can judge the consistency. If too thick, add a little dairy. If too soupy, add a little more yogurt to thicken it up.
Whether you just started a get healthy, get fit journey or if you are maintaining a healthy body weight, it is always challenging to not over-indulge during the holidays. The potential weight gain is one challenge, but the anxiety rooted in the possibility of falling off track is a whole other force to face down. Here are 10 tips centered around the idea of discipline, flexibility, practicality, and forgiveness that may be an aid during the coming weeks.
Go ahead and accept that you will occasionally partake in foods and beverages that are “off” your healthy plan. It’s OK. In fact, being in an allowing, relaxed state of mind around your food is healthy and preferable. Yes, be firm and devoted to good choices, but being too rigid and stingy with yourself is not the point. In fact, accepting yourself in mind, body, and spirit is, ultimately, the profound and worthy effort.
2. Keep Your Perspective
When you really get down to it, how many dinner parties and holiday events will you actually attend during the holidays? Maybe three, maybe four? Perhaps the office party, one neighborhood party, a family holiday meal, and the second meal at the in-laws? That’s only 4 out of approximately 90 meals between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. That’s 86 opportunities to eat a healthy meal that supports a centered, healthy state of mind, body, and spirit. If you had 90 questions on a test and got 86 correct, you are still earning a 95% average!
3. Stick To Your Normal Good Habits
I know it’s easy to let go of your good habits amidst the chaos and rigmarole, but do your best to maintain your exercise rituals and healthy meal prep. Be the calm, quiet center of the storm. Use this opportunity to experience what it is like to remain calm, deliberate, and virtuous in the face of a disrupted routine. You’ll be surprised and delighted with your success.
4. Remember Your Core Commitments
Before you enter the doors to an event, think about the goals you set for yourself
way back when your health journey started. Wasn’t your goal to be your best self, find renewal and joy in getting your body and mind to a new and better place? This remembrance brings you back to your core, your center, where your best self resides. It is like looking up and seeing a trusted, loved one give you that nod of approval which helps to settle your anxious mind. That look tells you that you are OK. You may even enlist a friend who would be available on the other end of a text to help you to remember your commitments. Once armored with that reinforcement, it may help you to not over-indulge once you enter the party.
5. Be Deliberate In Your Choices
This concept is about making the conscious choice to set aside certain moments of your holiday month to let yourself enjoy yummy foods and drinks…to a degree and not to excess. Many of us know a few weeks in advance when those occasions will be. The office party lands on such and such date. Your own party is on this date and then we all know what happens on December 24th and 25th! These can be your target dates to allow sweets and other fun foods. Otherwise, you can remain devoted to a healthy lifestyle. This is also about making realistic expectations for yourself. From repeated personal experience, let me share a pitfall of not having a realistic, predetermined plan. We can get into stinkin’ thinkin’ and nasty self-judgement if we’ve impulsively broken a vow to be 100% healthy at a gathering. It is the act of letting ourselves down when we thought we were “stronger” that is toxic to a beautiful state of mind. Our soul droops from the weight of the judgement and, hence, our body will follow that downward trajectory. So, know yourself and plan accordingly.
6. Embrace The Fun
Again, don’t rule your actions like a stingy, school principal with extreme expectations. Be disciplined, but don’t punish yourself with being overly ascetic. Enjoy your neighbor’s signature lobster stew. He is proud of his dish and wants to express his love for you by sharing it. Accept that love.
7. Bring The Healthy Options
You can always add a healthy dish to the potluck table. The grab and go fruit or veggie platter. Or a platter of olives, nuts, and nice cheese. Don't forget the satiating properties of healthy fats.
8. Start With The Healthy Options
And you can start by enjoying that fruit platter you just brought or dive into other healthy platters before you move on to the other foods. Your appetite for the less healthful food may be lessened if you fill up on healthy stuff first.
9. Get Out If The Water Is Too Hot
You don’t have to stand right next to the buffet table all night long. Go elsewhere in the house and get it out of your mind. The sweets or the chips may be your junk food trigger calling your name. Get out of earshot and move to another spot. And you don’t have to stay at the party for as long as you think you do. If you’ve stayed for two hours and the food temptation is getting really uncomfortable, go ahead and graciously say your goodbyes. This is a delicate balance between engaging in lovely company and taking care of yourself especially for those who are overly attached to foods or afflicted with a food addiction. I speak from personal experience on this one!
10. Pay Attention To Something Else
And as a follow up to the previous suggestion, this is the time in our year that we reconnect with friends and family to reaffirm our love. As you drift away from the buffet table to take your mind off indulgences, reinvest that attention into connecting with a friend or your favorite cousin with joy and complete presence. Sometimes we focus too much on food to deal with social anxieties and other concerns. It’s OK to feel overwhelmed in group settings. Focusing your attention on one person at a time helps to minimize that anxiety.
In the end, remember the power of renewal. Each new moment is an opportunity to recalibrate, redirect, and refresh your course in alignment with your health goals and your higher purpose.
What strategy helps you during the holidays? Much love, Nick