Intuitive Eating

On Tuesday I did a post about “Disordered Eating.” This is a follow up, so if you’re bored with this topic, check back in next week. If not, please keep reading.

1515intuitiveeatingThere were interesting discussion threads on Facebook and Instagram in response to my post on Tuesday—thank you! This is obviously a topic of importance to many people. One person left a comment on Tuesday’s post asking for a recommendation for an in-patient therapy program for her morbid obesity, and I’ve put her in touch with two people in her city who might have suggestions. And two different people who live in two different cities both mentioned the book INTUITIVE EATING by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.  These two women are both seeing nutrition experts for help with their eating disorders. I got the book on Wednesday and read most of it in two days. (And yes, I finished off another bag of Hershey’s kisses in the process.)

It’s a complex book and program, so I’m not going to try and do a full review here. I will respond to the book’s 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating and a few other excerpts from the book.

First let me introduce the authors. Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietician with a nutrition counseling practice in Newport Beach, California, specializing in eating disorders. Elyse Resche, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A., C.E.D.R.D, has been in private practice in Beverly Hills, California, as a nutrition therapist for thirty years, specializing in eating disorders, Intuitive Eating, and preventative nutrition. . (C.E.D.R.D. stands for Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietician—yes, there actually is such a thing!)

twiggyAnd before I go any further, I’d like to share a link to a blog post I found while clicking around this morning: “Why Intuitive Eating is Making Me Sad.” I think this short post is important because the author is simply making the observation that this program or principle, which claims to be “revolutionary,” is really a return to the way people used to eat before the diet craze took over our world. I think her words are a good addition to this conversation. For me personally, I barely remember that pre-diet-craze time…. only a few years in the 1950s when I happily ate my grandmother’s homemade rolls, fried corn, and homemade ice cream without guilt. My grandfather who molested me when I was 4-5 died around 1956, and it would take several decades for me to make the connection between those acts and my disordered drinking and eating. By the time I was a teenager, my mother had already started in on me with the “fat talk” (this is explained in the book) and shaming, and my eating disorder was in full force in the 1960s. Just when Twiggy came on the scene and I wanted to be her. Thankfully my eating disorder never became as life-threatening as anorexia, although there were times when I wished I could be anorexic so I could be skinny. Yes.

So back to the book. I read 10 of the 17 chapters, and skimmed the other 7. It’s not that those chapters aren’t important. It’s just that they address things that I had already learned in my 67 years and didn’t need to revisit. FULL DISCLOSURE: I must say up front that I don’t embrace a major tenet of this approach, which is that the patient/client must put weight-loss on the back burner as they work through this program. I have lost almost 20 pounds in the past two years, but I’d like to lose at least 10 more, so I’m not willing to put this “on the back burner.” This isn’t a one-size-fits-all issue, and in Chapter 2: “What Kind of Eater Are You?” I didn’t fit any of the descriptions. The one that came closest for me was the “Emotional Unconscious Eater,” although I’m very conscious of my eating. This type:

“uses food to cope with emotions, especially uncomfortable emotions such as stress, anger, and loneliness. While Emotional Eaters view their eating as the problem, it’s often a symptom of a deeper issue. Eating behaviors of the Emotional Eater can range from grabbing a candy bar in stressful times to chronic compulsive binges of vast quantities of food”

So, Chapter 11 was possibly the most helpful chapter for me:

PRINCIPLE 7: Cope With Your Emotions Without Using Food

This chapter is summarized in the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating I mentioned earlier:

Find ways to comfort , nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you into a food hangover. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.

The chapter goes into detail about various emotional triggers and the ways we use food for comfort, distraction, sedation, and even punishment, although that last one hasn’t been my experience. While there wasn’t anything “new” for me in this chapter—I kept waiting for the magic answer—the easy ways to find comfort without using food—it was reaffirming:

Becoming an Intuitive Eater means learning to be gentle with yourself about how you use food to cope, and letting go of the guilt. As odd as this may sound, eating may have been the only coping mechanism you had to get through difficult times in your life.

I identified with that statement, with one really big caveat: for years I used alcohol as my coping drug of choice. But one year ago tomorrow (yes!) I quit drinking, so food has moved back into the forefront of my struggles, with renewed vigor.

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The main things about Intuitive Eating that make sense to me are things that I already embrace. I am a mindful eater and am aware of when I am full and can often stop eating at that point. Like yesterday when I had lunch with a friend and only ate half of the two sushi rolls I ordered. I was full and comfortable with that amount. It wasn’t hard to stop eating because the food, which was delicious, made me happy. I was also enjoying the company of a friend, so I wasn’t lonely. The day before, I had buttered two halves of a blueberry bagel and toasted them for breakfast. My husband walked in and said, “something smells good,” and I realized that I was full after eating one half, so I gave him the other half. (I had also eaten a peach.) All this to say that I already get the mindful eating thing, and I actually practice it fairly regularly, where meals are concerned. And thankfully the binge eating has almost gone away during this year that I’ve not been drinking, so that’s interesting. I haven’t had a bulimic episode in many months. It’s the trigger foods (like Hershey’s kisses) that I’m struggling with controlling, and I don’t really see how this book addresses those issues directly. Maybe they will resolve themselves as I get healthier in general. If I ever reach the point, as page 163 in the book describes, “When Food is No Longer Important” (when a person reaches the point where they’re no longer using food to cope with their emotions):

You no longer have the “benefits” of using food…. One client noted that on tough days she knew she could always go home to her chocolate. Now, instead, she’s “stuck” with experiencing her feelings. You might even need to go through a grieving period for the loss of food as comforter and companion.

This is probably the most important paragraph in the whole book for me. This describes exactly what I’ve been able to do with alcohol for the past year. Almost every day (at least for the few first months) there’s a time when something triggers me and I want vodka so badly I can hear the martini shaker going in my mind and I can taste the magic on my lips. But since I made the decision not to drink, this is no longer an option for me. I have GRIEVED the loss of this comfort, but like grief over the death of a loved one, it’s getting easier with time. I’m thinking that I will need to make similar choices about certain foods (like Hershey’s kisses) that I can’t seem to limit. I already do this in some ways—like not buying kettle-cooked potato chips very often because I will eat the whole bag at once. But I do choose to buy those chips at times, maybe about once or twice a month. Maybe intuitive eating for me will mean making these hard choices more frequently, and allowing myself to “experience my feelings in a deeper, stronger way” as the book says. I used alcohol to numb those feelings for so many years, and now I’m trying to learn to quit using food in the same way.

The chapter of the book about respecting your body also hit a strong note with me. I already do the “nice things” the book suggests, like getting massages and regular visits to the nail and hair salon. And I’m embracing moderate exercise, which is discussed in another chapter in the book. I was an exercise “addict” in the 1980s when I ran an aerobic dance business. On days that I didn’t work out, I often didn’t eat. When we traveled I looked for an aerobic class to attend, and if I couldn’t find one I would panic. When I quit teaching aerobics at age 40, I began to gain weight again, and the struggle has intensified over the years. But I’ve finally made peace with exercising moderately on our elliptical machine in my office, and at the swimming pool in the summer. I’m not “driven” to exercise, nor do I feel guilty if I skip but it makes me feel so much better to MOVE my body, that I’m drawn to it fairly naturally.

I’ve also been learning to really enjoy food at times by eating mindfully, eating foods I really love in a nice setting. So I think I’ve been on the road to “intuitive eating” for a while, but I’ve got a ways to go with the trigger foods. And I would love to some day be free of my obsession with food and body image. You would think that being 67 years old would help, and in some ways it does. Also, surviving a life-threatening wreck five years ago (when I broke my neck, leg and ankle) has helped, because I have become more THANKFUL for my body and the life it provides for me, when I could have died or become paralyzed. The pain I’m left with does trigger unhealthy eating (as it once triggered the alcohol) but I’m learning to use other means to help deal with the pain.

Chapter 14 was helpful: PRINCIPLE 10: Honor Your Health With Gentle Nutrition. Again, it didn’t have a lot of information that was NEW to me, but it confirmed a number of things that I’ve been learning over the years that make me think I’m moving in a good direction. I think that for me, right now, today, focusing on how eating certain foods and certain amounts of food makes me FEEL is key.
The bottom line is, I’m tired. I’m tired of food and weight and appearance taking up so much of my life. One of the clients described in the book talked about her obsession with clothes and body image while preparing for upcoming social events. I do that when preparing for speaking engagements on my book tours. Like this weekend, when I’m flying to South Carolina to speak on a panel sponsored by the Pat Conroy Literary Center. It’s an honor and I’m excited about it, but of course I’m also keenly aware that the other women on the panel are thinner than me (two are quite a bit younger as well) and I worry about what to wear and I compare myself to these other women. I’m sure that the people in the audience are just there to hear about our books and our lives as southern writers, but I can’t help but worry about how I will look.

I’m hopeful that I’m moving towards making peace with these issues, and while I don’t think this book is a magic bullet, I do appreciate some of the wisdom its authors have shared. I’ll close with an excerpt from Chapter 16: The Ultimate Path Towards Healing From Eating Disorders:

The vision of a future, free of obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviors is very powerful. This hope can facilitate the patience it will take to get through the period of time that is needed for healing.

Thanks, always, for reading and please join the discussion here or on Facebook or Instagram.

Disordered Eating Revisited

eating-disorderAccording to an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry (2009):

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

And yet, this mental illness was left out of the Mental Health First Aid training course I took last weekend, sponsored by the Church Health Center here in Memphis. They used to include Eating Disorders, but the course took longer than one day, so they cut it out. The mental disorders they included in the eight-hour course were: anxiety disorders, major depressive disorder, substance use disorder, bipolar disorders, and schizophrenia. I can see why they chose these disorders for the course, as each of them have specific things a person can do to help—mental health first aid—when they see someone struggling with an anxiety or panic attack, severe depression, substance abuse, and behavior that is dangerous to themselves or others. For someone with an eating disorder, the symptoms don’t always present in such obvious forms. And “mental first aid” for persons with this disorder is a bit more complicated.

Thankfully there’s a whole chapter devoted to eating disorders in the Mental Health First Aid USA manual they gave us at the training, and I came home and read it right away. If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you know that my interest in this disorder is very personal, as I’ve suffered from eating disorders for most of my life. I don’t believe that my level of disordered eating has placed me in a life-threatening situation—the way that anorexia can, on the one extreme, or morbid obesity, on the other. And for many people like me, it would be difficult for someone to know how to reach out to us with any kind of mental first aid. By the time a person’s eating disorder has become life-threatening, it seems that treatment has a diminishing chance of success.

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Aerobic dance instructors at Phidippides Sports in Jackson, Mississippi, 1984. That’s me in the black tights, middle row on the left. Even at 116 pounds, I often wore black to make my thighs look skinnier. I was 33 years old.

 

With so much emphasis on body image in our culture, it’s not surprising that many people (especially women and girls) suffer from body image distortion and resultant eating disorders in an effort to live up to society’s standards for a thin body. This started for me when I was a young teenager and gained 35 pounds in one year as a result of hormone therapy I received following surgery when I was 16. I went from a skinny 95-pound bundle of energy (who could eat as much as I wanted and not gain weight) to a 130-pound late-blooming adolescent. (I also grew three inches taller.)  By the time I got married at age 19, I weighed 140 and was depressed. My bulimic habits, which began as a teenager, continued into  adulthood. I would eat in secret and lie about what I was eating. I tried various forms of exercise, and finally in 1982, I found something that “worked.” I began teaching aerobic dancing at my parents’ athletic store in Jackson, Mississippi (Bill Johnson’s Phidippides Sports) and dropped to 116 pounds pretty quickly. But my disordered eating and body image distortion only increased. Standing in front of a wall of mirrors in spandex, teaching my students, I still thought I was fat. On any day that I couldn’t work out, I wouldn’t eat. Bulimia was still part of my life, but less so with al the exercise.

kissesWhen I read the chapter on eating disorders in the Mental Health First Aid manual, I recognized immediately which category I fit into. I don’t have anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa (since bulimia isn’t a regular activity for me) so the third category, “Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified or EDNOS” includes Binge-Eating Disorder, which is the main thing I’ve struggled with most of my life. Whenever I post images—like this one of the Hersheys Kisses I ate on a recent binge—on social media, I get lots of responses from others with similar issues, so I know it’s fairly common. According to an article in Biological Psychiatry (2007):

A national survey of adults found that 1.2 percent had binge-eating disorder in the previous year and 2.8 percent had had it some time in their life. Approximately 28 percent of people with binge-eating disorder received treatment for mental health problems.

I think that last statistic is important, because in order to get healed from an eating disorder, I think a person needs help with the underlying cause. Again, according to the Mental Health First Aid manual (and an article in Lancet in 2003):

A range of biological, psychological, and social factors may be contributing factors. The following factors increase a person’s risk of developing an eating disorder:

Life Experiences
Conflict in the home, parents who have little contact with or high expectation of their children.

Sexual abuse.

Family history of dieting.

Critical comment from others about eating, weight or body shape.

Pressure to be slim because of occupation (model, jockey) or recreation (ballet, gymnastics)

Mom circle 1963. She was 35 years old and thought she was fat.

Mom circle 1963. She was 35 years old and thought she was fat.

I checked “yes” for ALL of these. I could never live up to my mother’s expectations, and experienced relentless verbal abuse from her, especially her criticism of my weight, hair, and clothes. She was always dieting and talking about weight (hers and others) although she remained slim all of her life. As a cheerleader in my teenage years and an aerobic dance instructor in my 30s, I was often in situations where I felt pressure to be slim. The year I spent as a coed on the Ole Miss campus added to that pressure. I kept comparing myself to the beauty queens my boyfriend had dated before me.

The manual also says that mental disorders in family members can contribute to someone having an eating disorder. My mother definitely exhibited substance use disorder (drinking) and I have reason to believe that she was sexually abused by her father, my grandfather, who molested me when I was a little girl.

So, what’s the Mental Health First Aid Action Plan for helping someone with an eating disorder? It’s tricky, to say the least. It requires that a person wanting to reach out and help someone must learn as much as possible about the disorder first, by reading books and articles, or talking with a health professional. Then they should choose a time to approach the person they are concerned about and do so in a way that is non-judgmental and compassionate. Some tips in the manual:

Initially, focus on conveying empathy and not on changing the person or their perspective… try not to focus solely on weight or food. Rather, focus on the eating behaviors that concern you. Allow the person to discuss other concerns that are not about food, weight, or exercise. Make sure you give the person plenty of time to discuss their feelings, and reassure them it’s safe to be open and honest about how they feel.

I think this is great advice. Some things NOT to do (that I’ve experienced personally and found not to be helpful) are: (these come from me, not from the manual)

Suggest a specific diet or nutrition plan that has “worked for them.” (Unless the person is ASKING for one.)

Use words or a tone of voice that is patronizing, even in an attempt to flatter the person with phrases like, “Oh but you are beautiful just the way you are.” This is fine if you are close friends with the person, but not helpful in mental health first aid.

Like the other mental health first aid approaches, this one has guidelines for assessing the person for crisis including:

 The person has serious health consequences (disorientation, vomiting, fainting, chest pain or trouble breathing, blood in their bowels, urine, or vomit, or cold or clammy skin and a body temperature of less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

eating_disorders_imageIf you come across someone with these symptoms, mental health first aid is important, and you should apply similar techniques as for other crises (the

ALGEE action plan I explained in my previous post.) But there are suggestions specifically for helping someone with an eating disorder who seems to be in a crisis. There’s too much information for me to share here, but I hope you will get the manual and read about this yourself.

I know this was a long post, and as always, thanks for reading. And of course I love to hear from you, either here or on the Facebook thread.

Here’s a post from a few years ago that has an excerpt from my essay “Eat, Drink, Repeat”:

“Eat Drink Repeat: Day 1 of a 3-Day Binge” (2015)

Southern Festival of Books: Saturday Schedule

SFB Final Update RESIZED FOR WEBThe 29th annual Southern Festival of Books kicked off in Nashville today! I’m heading over early tomorrow morning (sad to miss some great panels today, including my friend Beth Ann Fennelly talking about her new book Heating and Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs at 1 p.m. today) where I’ll be on a panel for my novel CHERRY BOMB, and also hope to make it to several others. It’s been five years since my first panel at the Festival, back in 2012, for Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, with Wendy Reed, Jennifer Horne, Marshall Chapman, and Rheta Grimsley Johnson. Can’t wait to get back there!

Here’s my tentative schedule for Saturday afternoon and evening: (full schedule for the festival on Saturday is HERE)

12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. – “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat” (Basquiat is featured briefly in an MTV video I reference in my novel CHERRY BOMB, since my protag is a graffiti artist). I’d love to hear this panel and buy the book….

1:30 p.m. – Conroy Center Porch Talk – live podcast taping with Wiley Cash

3:00 p.m. – Youth in Search of Hope: Two Middle Grade Novels features my fellow highschool friend (from Jackson, Mississippi) Corabel Shofner and her book, Almost Paradise. I’m hoping to be there for the first half of the panel, before heading to my panel:

4:00 p.m. – The Path to Publishing: Tennessee Debut Novelists (Susan Cushman and  James E. Cherry) where I’ll be talking about my novel CHERRY BOMB, as well as my journey to publishing three books in one year, with three different indie publishers. We’ll be in the Special Collections Room of the Nashville Public Library.

5:00 p.m. – I’ll be signing copies of CHERRY BOMB at the signing venue.

6:30 p.m. – Authors’ reception!

8:30 p.m. – Literary Death Match (Beth Ann Fennelly is a contestant!)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

The Afternoon of Life

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In Monday’s post I wrote about three seasons of life as I saw them in Petula Clark’s song, “Fill the World With Love,”—the morning, noon, and evening. Yesterday I was talking about this with a friend (who is in her eighties) over coffee at her kitchen table and I said, “You know, I think I may be in the afternoon of my life. Surely I am past the noontime and not yet to the evening.” She agreed and encouraged me that the afternoon of our life holds much that is wonderful.

At home later in the day I found an email from her with a quote from Jung, so I Googled the topic and found this article which reflects on Jung’s wisdom about this season, “Enjoying the Afternoon of Life: Jung on Aging.” There is much wisdom in this article, but I especially like this part:

Jung called the elder years—those from c. age 56 to c. 83—the “afternoon of life,” using the analogy of the passage of the Sun through the sky from morning to night. Youth was “morning,” noon corresponded to mid-life, and night was old age, while the sixth and seventh decades see life energy wane, much as the Sun’s warmth declines as it sinks lower in the sky. Just as we need the full cycle of the Sun to support life, so we are meant to live out the full cycle of human existence, and Jung recognized this. More than just living, Jung urged us to enjoy the “afternoon” of life….

So how are we to enjoy these years, where so many of us “Baby Boomers” find ourselves? I see many people trying to stay young—those with money chasing the elusive fountain of youth with personal trainers, expansive wardrobes, makeup routines (and plastic surgery), and behavior which denies aging. While I want to remain active, I don’t want to compete with younger generations. My body won’t let me, and I want to be content, to actually enjoy the afternoon of my life. But the article at the Jungian site describes a lifestyle I’m not ready to completely embrace:

The interval between age 60 and age 80 is the time most people retire from full-time participation in the work world. Generally in this interval children have grown up, gone off to college and set up their own families. This means there is more leisure, fewer family demands, and minimal restrictions in daily life due to the demands of work. Ambitions and desires tend to decrease, and oldsters often feel relief as they “downsize” into smaller homes, condos or collective living arrangements. There may be relief also in the realization of no longer having to keep up with new technologies.

Since I never had a “career” (I was a stay-at-home mom most of my life, other than running an aerobic dance business and doing some freelance writing) I’m not “retiring” at age 65…. I just had two books published and have two more in the works. I’m just getting started! And yet, I’m doing these things without the restraints of a mother with children still at home, and yes, with more leisure. I can choose what to do with my time, which is a great gift for which I try to remember to thank God daily.
I guess my main “complaint” in the afternoon of my life is the limitations placed on me by my body—although those limitations are mostly my own fault for not taking better care of it. The weight gain, the daily aches and pains (many from the car wreck three years ago), the sagging chin and drooping eyelids, all scream at me and make me yearn for my youth. But do I really want it back, with all its anxieties? No!

Today I will move forward, learning to enjoy the afternoon of my life. I will even allow myself to take a nap when I need one, or read a book or watch a movie in the middle of the day. But I also realize that my privileged leisure comes with a responsibility to others. No longer my mother’s caregiver, and with my grandchildren 2000 miles away, it’s easy to become lazy about reaching out to others. And to feel guilty that I’m not doing more volunteer work. I talked with my octogenerarian friend about these things yesterday, and she encouraged me that I have a gift to offer—my writing—and that in order to do my art, I will need to go inward and not spread myself too thin doing multiple “good deeds.” I’m still thinking about that, and trying to consider my writing as a full time job. That and taking care of my body. I’m so lazy when it comes to exercise, which will greatly help the aches and pains and weight management.  So how do I move forward?

Jung felt the older person had the opportunity to re-imagine him or herself. Approaching life with a new sense of freedom and individuality, the oldster can improvise more, with less need for perfection and more boldness in affirming his/her uniqueness. No longer feeling the need to honor the past, no longer needing to honor dysfunctional family patterns, the oldster can even dare to be outrageous, to adopt the persona that feels right, rather than conform to what society expects.

I love what this says about no longer needing to “honor dysfunctional family patterns.” I’ve struggled with issues from the past for 65 years. Many of those issues have fueled my writing, but as I begin a new novel (yes!) I want to move on, to leave those issues in the past, and to “dare to be outrageous,” whatever that might mean for this season of my life. Hopefully I can tell a new story (one that has been percolating for only a few weeks) without those shackles. Here’s to the afternoon of life!

My Body

33025569I’m reading my fourth and fifth books of 2017 simultaneously, as I often do. Especially when they’re so different. That way I have choices: which book to read with my morning coffee? What am I in the mood for with a cocktail in the evening? Which one will I take to bed with me?

One of my current reads is Angela Doll Carlson’s Garden in the East: the Spiritual Life of the Body. Two years ago I reviewed another of Carlson’s books, Nearly Orthodox: On Being a Modern Woman in an Ancient Tradition. There was so much I could relate to in that book, so I was excited to see her book on the body. See, I’m a bit obsessed with my body. Always have been. Maybe because of my childhood sexual abuse. Maybe because my mother always told me I was fat. Maybe because I couldn’t stop comparing myself to the beauty queens on the Ole Miss campus when I was a student there in 1969-70. If you’ve been reading my blog very much, you know that I always struggle with weight. I worked so hard to lose 17 pounds in the last few months of 2015 and early months of 2016, only to gain back most of it last summer. I’ve been stuck with it ever since, and it sends me into bouts of depression and self-loathing on a regular basis. Not to mention the discomfort of my clothes not fitting. I don’t know what I’d do without my extra large yoga pants.

This morning I went to my annual physical exam—my first since turning 65. I am so grateful for my wonderful internist. She’s (1) smart, (2) communicative, (3) energetic, and (4) non-judgmental. I bubbled over with an apology for the weight gain before she could even bring it up, and she made no comment at all. No lecture. She knows that I will do something about it when I can. Or I won’t. But her words won’t make a difference.
But Angela Carlson’s might. Using the metaphor of our body as a garden, she writes about the importance—and the joy—of tending that garden. Of loving it. These words remind me of how I feel when I remember that I could be dead or paralyzed after my wreck in 2013, which left me with pretty continuous aches and pains (broken neck, leg, and ankle, all full of permanent hardware):

In my best moments, I am grateful to be walking around, upright and active. In those moments, I am not noticing the forward jut of my head, misaligned form age and bad postural habits built up over time. I am not worried about the creaking of my knees or my elbows. In my best moments, I am thinking about deep issues like world peace and schoolyard bullies and what’s for dinner.

Oh how I love those moments when I am not obsessing over my body! For me, those “best moments” usually involve writing, editing, reading, or watching an excellent movie or television drama. Sometimes they involve music. Or taking in the beauty of a spectacular sunset, at the Mississippi River (three blocks from my house) or a beach on the Gulf of Mexico. I can easily pour out my love and appreciation for these things and places that bring me joy. So why can’t I express that same love for my body, my garden I’ve been given to tend? Carlson says:

This body is a garden and it is mine. I am responsible for its care. I am responsible for the words I use when I describe it, even to myself, even when I’m alone.

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Carlson continues the garden metaphor, even laying out for us parallels involving loving and caring for both, which includes the way we speak to our garden. I’ve never been much into growing things, and I’ve certainly never spoken to my plants. But I used to talk to my cat all the time. And the tone in my voice told her she was loved, just as the tone in our voices sends a positive message to our children, our spouses, our friends. So how should we speak to our bodies? Carlson says we should tell our body that we love it. That it is good and strong and beautiful—an amazing mystery created by God and given to us to cradle our spirits and allow our souls to grow and be happy and at peace.

Maybe if I learn to talk to my body, I’ll eventually learn to love it. Or at least not to hate it.

It’s Always Going to Be About the Weight

Kate and TobyI’ve been watching the new show, “This is Us,” on NBC. It follows a family with triplets (well, two triplets, since the third died in childbirth, and the parents adopted a third baby who had been abandoned at the hospital) and the daughter has a weight problem. Shown as a girl of around eight, she was already a little chubby, and her mother was encouraging her to eat fruit when her brothers were eating sugary cereal for breakfast. Then there’s a discussion between the two of them where the mother says, “You know I love you. I’m just trying to help.”

Those scenes take me back to my own childhood—well, actually my adolescence—when I gained weight too quickly and my mother started in on me. But she wasn’t as gentle as the mother in the TV show (played by Mandy Moore). So I’m watching to see how their relationship changes as the daughter gets older. (The show goes back and forth between decades, showing their childhood and later the kids as adults.)

2016-0818-ThisIsUs-ChrissyMetz-1050x1050-CVIn the scenes where the “triplets” are adults, “Kate” (played by Chrissy Metz) is seriously overweight. In one scene in Episode 2, Kate meets “Toby” (played by Chris Sullivan) at a therapy group for people with weight/food issues. Toby is attracted to Kate and convinces her to go on a few dates, but as he pushes for intimacy, she is obviously afraid. There’s this one scene that tells it all for me, when Toby asks her to go somewhere with him where they can just be themselves and not think or talk about food and weight issues. He says something like, “Life is not just about being fat.” She replies, “For me, it’s always going to be about the weight.” As Avery Thompson says in Hollywood Life:

It invades every aspect of her life, and she just can’t change what she feels in her core. Her confession is an honest one. Not many people have the guts to talk about what really troubles them deep down in inside so openly.

I felt her pain in my gut a she said this. And I understand that it’s “what she feels in her core.”

There’s a slim young woman in Kate’s overeating therapy group who has body-image distortion issues. I also identified with her, from back when I was running an aerobic dance business in the 1980s and weighed 116 pounds. I would look in the mirror—in my spandex tights and leg warmers—and still believe that my thighs were too fat. (Of course I’d give anything to weigh 116 again.)

So when Kate says it’s always going to be about the weight, I worry that I’ll never be free of this obsession. I worked so hard to lose that 15 pounds last fall, winter, and spring, and then so easily gained back 10 of it this summer, and now I’m ready to start losing it again. But the prospect of having to focus on everything I eat (again) isn’t a happy one. I’m tired of this lifelong battle. Of course when I share this with people, I get lots of suggestions about different diets and lifestyle eating choices. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate people trying to help, but I’m pretty well informed. But “knowing” is only half the battle, if even half. For me, it’s about waking up every morning and as part of my morning prayers asking God (and Mary of Egypt, my patron saint, and my guardian angel and Mary the Mother of God) to help me that day to be disciplined in my eating and exercise habits, and to please help me lose weight.

I’ve been praying that prayer almost every day since I was a teenager. I’m sixty-five years old. And now I’d really like to lose 25 pounds, which sounds like moving a mountain.

Anne Lamott said (in an article for Oprah Magazine in 2009) that one thing she did to become the person she was meant to be was “…whenever I could, for as long as I could, I threw away the scales and the sugar.” She makes it sound so simple… to quit caring about her weight, but also to quit eating sugar. Neither is something simple.

And so I begin again. Today. I’m going to try to talk to myself as a kind, sweet, supportive, non-judgmental mother would talk to her daughter. As I know my own mother thought she was doing, God rest her soul. I’m going to try to quit blaming her. I’ve already forgiven her, which is a big step, but taking responsibility for my own actions and leaving her out of it is much harder. Today I’m going to focus on my writing projects (three!) which I love—proof-reading galleys for one book; working with an editor on the manuscript for another; and honing marketing plans for a third—and hopefully the joy this work brings me will flow over into a more positive focus on food and exercise. Deep breath. Here goes….

Mental Health Monday: The Summer of My Discontent

The Summer of My Discontent by Melissa Pynn http://www.elfwood.com/u/lissapynn/image/fcf50b10-254b-11e4-8293-7393fb7fed06/the-summer-of-my-discontent

The Summer of My Discontent by Melissa Pynn

Today I am declaring the summer of my discontent as officially over. Three long, hot, hard months of weight gain, depression, grief, sloth, lack of exercise, over-eating, over-drinking, and over-thinking are OVER today. Labor Day seems like a good time to turn this ship around.

Of course it helps that I’ve got such exciting news on the publishing front and plenty of work to be done to get those two (and maybe three) books birthed in 2017. There’s definitely a correlation between my depression lifting and those emails and phone calls and meetings with publishers the past couple of weeks.

Today’s post might seem to be as much about physical as mental health—and it definitely is—but for me, the battle is always as much mental. After watching the Olympics in August, and now the U.S. (tennis) Open, I’m reminded over and over again how much success in athletics is a mental thing. My two favorite sports to watch are tennis and golf, and I’ve seen many a seasoned athlete lose, not so much to other players as to himself. We beat ourselves when we let stress and negativity overwhelm our efforts at success, in any area of our lives. So today, I’m focusing on one of those areas I’ve neglected this summer—exercise.

Aerobic Dance Instructors at Phidippides Sports, Jackson, Mississippi, 1985

Aerobic Dance Instructors at Phidippides Sports, Jackson, Mississippi, 1985

During my years as an aerobic dance instructor (1982-1991) I worked out regularly and never really thought of it as exercise, because it was fun. I love to dance, and I love to teach. (And yes, I even loved the cute outfits with the leg warmers and headbands back in the 1980s.) But when I quit teaching in 1991—twenty-five years ago—my battle with exercise began. I tried taking aerobics classes, but found it hard to motivate myself when I wasn’t the instructor. I had temporary success with Curves (circuit training) in 2001 (when I was recovering from surgery for cervical cancer) but that was the last time I participated in any kind of organized exercise program.

Breaking my neck, leg and ankle in 2013 greatly hindered my efforts at exercise. Walking on hard surfaces (outdoors) hurts. I can’t do yoga. Pilates hurt my back. Swimming takes too much time (okay that’s my excuse, though I may have to get over that one day). And so I’ve pretty much been limited to the elliptical machine for the past four and a half years. And it’s right here in my office, with a view of my flat screen TV. In the air-conditioning. How difficult can that be, right? (I’m trying to take inspiration from Venus Williams, who is ranked #6 in the world at age 36, in spite of having Sjogren’s syndrome. Makes my arthritis and other aches and pains seem insignificant by comparison.)

Older-woman-holding-weightsWith new information encouraging us that 150 minutes a week is good enough, and that those minutes can even be broken up into 10-minute intervals, I should have no problem hopping on the elliptical once or twice a day and logging those minutes. Which I plan to start doing again. Today. (And I’m trying to remember that exercise isn’t just about weight-loss.)

I’ve gained back 5 of the 15 pounds I worked so hard to lose over the past year, so I want to lose it again and another 10 or 15 more. I know it won’t be quick, and I know success will depend upon overcoming my eating disorders and committing to exercise. And not just for weight loss—I realize I also need to start doing some strength training to build muscle and bone. Haven’t figured out a plan for that yet. Today, I’m all about getting back to the diet and exercise.

Happy Labor Day!

Mental Health Monday: Mind, Heart, Body

So, after almost nine years of posting on my blog three times a week, this morning I forgot about it. First. Time. Ever. Hope this isn’t a preview of coming distractions. I was about to leave the house on errands around 11 a.m. when my son sent me the new banner he and his wife designed for my web site, and when I went to the site to see it, I remembered that I hadn’t written a post for Mental Health Monday.

Maybe the best thing I can do for my mental health is not overreact. I did other good things this morning: I exercised 20 minutes on the elliptical. I ate ¼ cantaloupe. After splurging a bit this weekend, my weight was back up a pound. I was so hoping to lose another 5 pounds before our trip to Paris (May 6) but at this rate it’s not happening. Trying to think like a French woman of a certain age and eat tiny, tiny servings, even of really delicious food. But here’s what happens:

MIND: I know what to do.

HEART: I want to do the right ting.

BODY: I ignore my brain and heart and eat more than I should.

Okay, Body, today we are going to listen to our mind and heart. Let’s go.

And thanks for the new banner, Jason and See!

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Mental Health Monday: Joie de vivre!

Susu beachA number of years ago I discovered the wonderful book French Women Don’t Get Fat (published in 2004). The author’s simple but revolutionary (for Americans, anyway) approach to eating—and to life—is something I find myself returning to over and over, at each stage of my life in which I find myself needing a radical return to a mindful lifestyle. It inspired my efforts when starting a 1000-1200-calorie “budget” last fall. Basically it encourages us to enjoy excellent food in very small amounts (tiny, for those of us over sixty) and to exercise regularly and drink lots of water. Simple to understand. Very difficult to execute, at least for me it is.

And so now I find myself six months into this new attempt, having lost 17 pounds and gained back 2 of them, “stuck” as Winnie-the-Pooh was when he ate too much honey and couldn’t get his fanny out of the hole in the tree. My “goal” was to lose 33 pounds (or more—I’ll know when I get there) so I reached the half-way point and hit several walls. Family emergencies. Travel. Holidays. Boredom. Anxiety. All things that can easily derail a diet or any healthy initiative.

Forever Chic coverEnter Tish Jett’s book Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style and Substance, which jumped off the shelves of The Hidden Lantern Bookstore in Rosemary Beach, Florida, when I was there last week. My husband and I are going to Paris in May (bucket list item) and I’ve been doing some related reading. A few weeks ago we went out to dinner with our good friends who are going on the trip with us. Tim asked each of us what we were most looking forward to during our ten-day immersion trip in Paris. Some of the answers from the others included art museums and galleries, food, local markets, and the must-see tourist attractions. My answer? French women. I want to sit at a sidewalk café and observe them—their bodies, their hair, their skin, their clothing, the way they walk. This book confirms my interest, and I’m taking in the wisdom from the American author who learned it as she lived in Paris for years and became herself a femme d’un certain age.

I’ll share more from the book in future posts, but for now I’m focusing on some words of wisdom from the first chapter, especially because of my “stuckness” with weight loss right now. And while I want that je ne sais quoi that French women seem to have, losing fifteen to twenty more pounds is in the forefront of that dream for me. Jett reminds us in this first chapter that “discipline will set us free”… and that need for discipline increases with age:

… the difficulty factor has amped up as the forces of the elements, our hormones, and life in general throw additional challenges at us. One of the nutritionists I interviewed noted that menopause requires cutting two hundred fifty calories from daily intake just to keep weight stable.

But French women aren’t thrown by reality—they are pragmatists. As Jett says, “Frenchwomen eat well, drink little, and take the time necessary to perform their serious daily toilette, the ritual ablutions of skin, hair, and body care” (more on some of that in future posts).

So how do French women deal with binge-eating, backsliding from their healthy routines? It seems that American women tend to get depressed and go into self-loathing and more weight-gain when this happens. I find those wolves at my door right now as I have grown a bit weary of my low-calorie routine. I gained another pound while at the beach last week. So how should I look at my situation? Jett says:

And no, discipline does not preclude the occasional flight of fancy. Even the most disciplined Frenchwoman wanders off course from time to time. It’s part of enjoying life to the fullest. Remember that other famous French expression, joie de vivre? How could one possibly have joy in her life if she didn’t allow herself chocolate cake and champagne Exactement.

chocolate fonduExactement! My friend and I walked an hour to an hour and a half each day at the beach, so we got our exercise, and we enjoyed excellent meals and drinks every day, often sitting outdoors at lovely cafes along 30-A, the Gulf coast’s Champs-Elysées, soaking in the fresh air and sunshine along with the martinis, wine, seafood, and yes—chocolate fondue at La Crema, an amazing tapas and chocolate bar in Rosemary Beach. And that was after brunch on the porch overlooking the green at The Pearl—a lovely boutique hotel just across the street. The weight gain wasn’t because of the excellence of the food, but the amount. We were on a four-day vacation, enjoying a month’s worth of food and fun! Now that I’ve returned home (and, interesting timing, entered into the season of Great Lent with its prescribed fasting regimen) I should be able to get back on track, right? And yet I’ve been eating junk—potato chips and Cokes especially—and not enjoying it at all. Jett’s book is reminding me that discipline will free me from this plight. Discipline and joie de vivre!

And so I begin again. With more advice from Jett:

The smallest effort has major rewards, everything from setting a dining table with care—every day—to getting up, getting dressed, and getting out there to see what adventures the new day holds.

When I read those words with my morning coffee, still in my gown and robe, I got up and got dressed and came to the computer to write this post. Next up? Elliptical. Then I’m getting “out there” to run a few errands before driving down to Oxford this afternoon for a 5 p.m. reading at Square Books. My first cousin, Johnny Jones, is editor of a new book about forced integration in our high school in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early seventies. Watch for a future post about Lines Were Drawn, and read this interview with some of the editors. Meanwhile, I’m going to see what adventures the new day holds!

Mental Health Monday: Oh Crap, She’s Up!

backsliding-580x400Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today, “Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Backward,” was just what I needed to read this morning. Although his writings are more of a spiritual than mental health nature, I don’t think we should separate these two important elements of our selves. In fact, I believe our mental, spiritual and physical health are tightly intertwined. So today I’m writing about two steps backward in my ongoing weight-loss journey.

After losing 17 ½ pounds over a period of five and a half months (and wanting to lose at least 15 more) I’ve come to see my “diet” as a new lifestyle. As my metabolism slows (and sometimes seems to come to a halt!) I need to learn ways to care for my aging body so that it will serve me in what I hope will be a couple more active decades.

This morning the scales showed that for the first time since I began this journey, I had gained weight. Two pounds. This didn’t surprise me—I’ve slipped back into old habits of mindless eating for the past few days. But thankfully I’m not letting it plummet me into depression and despair, as I once would have done. Instead I’m trying to learn from these “two steps backward.” Why/how did I let this happen? And how does Rohr’s lesson—which is really about how Holy Scriptures help us in our spiritual journey—apply to my backsliding experience?

Rohr says that three steps forward are like “moving forward toward the mercy, humility, and inclusivity of Jesus” whereas our steps backward are like “regressing into arrogance, exclusion, and legalism.” I can see God’s mercy in the weight-loss success I’ve had so far, especially given my history of sexual abuse and eating disorders. And I’m learning humility as I struggle to submit myself to a calorie budget on a long-term basis. And yes, when I slide backwards into mindless eating, I can feel the legalism clipping at my heels. The voices saying “bad girl, you broke the rules” or “see, you can’t really do this.”

crap shes upAnd so I begin again today, my spirits lifted by the reminder that it’s all grace, and that God wants me to succeed in this endeavor. To take care of the temple which is my physical body. And in the process—or maybe an important part of the process—to care for my mental and spiritual health. I’m actually looking forward to eating less and exercising more today. I feel better already. (This quote is taped to the lamp by my computer.)

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