It’s About TIME (with Doc Oz)

Parade Doc OzI’ve recently done a couple of posts about eating and eating disorders. If you haven’t read them, here they are:

Intuitive Eating

Disordered Eating Revisited

And a little more background, from 2015:
Eat, Drink, Repeat: Day 1 of a 3-Day Binge

I’m back again today with something I read this week from the September 9 issue of Parade Magazine:

 

“Secrets From Dr Oz: Why He’s Fasting and Using the Clock to Slow Dementia and Fight Disease.”

For those who are already embracing the “intuitive eating” approach, this might not appeal to you, since that program de-emphasizes a focus on weight loss. But I like that Dr. Oz is talking about weight loss, dementia, and other diseases in this piece.  And it’s all about TIME:

“New studies suggest that WHEN you eat matters for your health, longevity and even weight loss,” Oz says. . . . Before drive-thrus, microwaves and refrigerators, the human body evolved to go for long stretches without food. During these breaks, vital things happen. Insulin levels drop which makes stored body fat more accessible for us. Human growth hormone goes up, to help burn fat and build muscle. Damaged cell material is shed faster. All this may help us to:

Lose weight (or stick to a healthy weight.)

Slow Alzheimer’s.
Grow a healthier gut.

For more details about each of these, read the article here. (There’s also a short video with Dr. Oz included in the link.)

I was encouraged by his discussion of “intermittent fasting” because this is something that I had already embraced, with some degree of success with weight loss as a result. He promotes sleeping 8 hours (which I often do) and then fasting for 4 hours–preferably two of those before going to bed, which I also have embraced to help with my GERD (gastro-enterstinal reflux disease). I actually do better with a longer fasting time, like from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m., but most night we don’t have supper until around 7. When I’m being more focused on dieting, I often have my “supper” in the middle of the afternoon and then feed my husband at 7, after he exercises after work. When I do that, I find I lose weight and feel better. But it’s hard not to snack around 8-10 p.m., which can undo the benefits of eating earlier! If I snack after 9 p.m. I often don’t eat the next day until mid morning or even noon.

Of course this doesn’t “cure” my eating disorder (I’m struggling to give up Hershey’s kisses because I can’t seem to moderate them) but I’m healthier today, weighing almost 20 pounds less than I did three years ago, and I really want to keep going to get to an even healthier weight.

Anyway, I thought I’d share the link to this article for those who are interested. To continue the discussion about various approaches to dieting (or not dieting) please leave a comment here or on the Facebook thread. Thanks, always, for reading!

 

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.

Sept1984Color

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)

How Jackie Kennedy Stayed Slim; Managing Cravings

indexKathy McKeon, who served as Jackie Kennedy’s live-in assistant and sometimes nanny to her children from 1964 to 1977, has written a memoir, Jackie’s Girl: My Life With the Kennedy Family. In an excerpt published in People Magazine, McKeon reveals (among other things) Jackie’s secret for staying thin. A typical daily diet for her would look something like this: A boiled egg and tea in the morning, cottage cheese with fresh fruit at lunch, and a poached chicken breast or fish with a salad or steamed vegetables for dinner.

The memoir excerpt also reveals that Jackie often sneaked into the kitchen at night for ice cream… “just one spoonful… but a big spoon.”

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you know that I struggle with eating disorders, weight gain and loss, up and down up and down for all of my life. Finally just over a year ago I managed to lost 17 pounds by maintaining a 1000-calorie diet for about six months and working out on the elliptical 2-3 times a week, but then I gained most of it back last summer when I got depressed after my mother died.

article-1370573-014E7F3300000578-65_468x405So… A couple of months ago my husband and I both decided to try again. He wanted to lose at least 20 pounds, and I wanted to lose 30 or more. We started out on this together during Great Lent, which is a time of fairly serious fasting for Orthodox Christians, but also just a good time for self-discipline. I’m pretty sure he’s lost at least 15 pounds, and I’ve lost 12, and we’re still going. We laughed one day when I said we should publish a book with our weight-loss secret. It would be a short book. Only two words: DON’T EAT. Seriously. He would eat one TINY meal a day, and I would eat 2-3 TINY snacks a day. I didn’t count calories, but I’m sure I’ve been staying under 1000 most days. I’m still at it… considering it a long-term lifestyle change, not a “diet.”
But I also allow that BIG SPOON of ice cream (or other treat) whenever I have a craving. Just not a big BOWL. It’s all about eating TINY amounts of food when you’re in your sixties and your metabolism has screeched to a halt.

Susan B. Roberts, coauthor of a Tufts University study on cravings, says that people who manage their weight best give in to cravings at times, and do it happily. I’m finding that works for me, too. No more guilt. And these “legal” binges can prevent the “illegal” ones that can end up in the consumption of hundreds of unwanted calories. (I’m still working on chips—which are super hard to eat in moderation.)

I’ll probably blog about my journey again as it continues, so please stay tuned. It’s helpful to know I’m not alone!

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: The Twelve-Minute Impulse, Decisions and Apples

food-temptation-craving-sweetsEvidently there are two (French) secrets to getting and staying slim: “the decision and apples.”
That’s what Tish Jett’s internist told her. Jett is the author of Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style and Substance. I’m devouring this book in preparation for our trip to Paris in a few weeks, but also because I’ve always admired French women-the way they dress, their natural-looking complexions, their slim and youthful bodies.

Six months after starting my weight-loss program, I hit a wall—emotionally and physically. I had lost 17 pounds, but I keep gaining back 2 pounds, then losing them again, then gaining them back. I feel stuck. I’m tired of counting calories and I’ve had a few emotional struggles that sent me on binges. Not the really big, bad binges I used to indulge in, but off the track and up the scales, for sure.

So this morning as I continued reading in Jett’s book, I found some strength to carry on. Part of Jett’s research for the book included interviews with friends. (She lived in France for ten years.) All of them slim. None of them ever diet. But their whole approach to food is based on a mindset I’m trying to adopt. Like her friend, Alexander Fourcade, an internist and mother of three daughters between the ages of sixteen and twenty-six, who has never been on a diet:

Diets are passé…. They are too mentally time-consuming. I don’t even think about eating anymore. I know what’s good for me and what isn’t. My body tells me. I’m attuned to how I feel when I eat well, or less well. When I make exceptions for wine, champagne, or a dessert, it’s a conscious decision and I enjoy every second.

I was right there with her for a while, but lately some of those exceptions haven’t been completely “conscious decisions,” and I end up depressed.

So what’s a “woman of a certain age” to do when dieting isn’t working? Again, Jett’s internist says:

There are two secrets: “the decision” and “apples.”

He keeps several apples in his car for those times when he’s hungry or just having a craving. And Jett’s friend Francoise never leaves home without hard-boiled eggs  when she isn’t sure healthy food will be available to her. Another friend, Anne Francoise, always keeps a bag of almonds in her handbag. Apples. Boiled eggs. Almonds. Not Reece’s pieces or potato chips or Cokes.

I remember going on a road trip with a friend who successfully lost 30 pounds and kept it off. She kept small containers of tuna in her car—the pop-top kind—so she could pop one open for a quick protein snack. She carried bottled water, and instead of stopping at gas stations (unless she actually needed gas) she stopped at state park type rest stops, which were less likely to have lots of tempting fried foods and sweets.

These ideas sounds good, except that they seem to only apply to people who actually get hungry. In her book Jett says that people eat for two reasons: hunger and pleasure. I rarely eat because I’m hungry. In fact, I love the way I feel when my body gets physically hungry, and I often do my best mindful eating in that state. It’s when I’m bored or anxious that I look to food to replace those unpleasant feelings with pleasant ones.

Another physician Jett interviewed talked about another important issue for those of us who struggle with food cravings:

An impulse lasts for twelve minutes…. She suggested that we can overcome an impulse by immediately doing something for twelve minutes, like polishing our nails, for example, or making a phone call. Mindfulness helps us identify the menace and keeps us in the moment; then we decide.

Of course I’ve been trying to practice mindfulness for some time now, but this twelve-minute impulse thing is intriguing. I often get cravings when I’m out shopping. I want to hit up a drive-thru for something really “bad” like ice cream or French fries and Coke. Or going through the checkout line at the grocery—after purchasing all healthy foods—I’ll pick up a package of mini Reece’s. Other times cravings hit when I’m alone at home and struggling about something emotionally. I try not to keep potato chips and other “trigger carbs” in the pantry for this reason.

There’s lots of other specific, helpful information in the book, but these are the gems I wanted to share today.  Forever Chic also has lots of information about skin care, hair care, and wardrobe choices, all of which I’m enjoying and some of which I’m applying. I was already on track with good hair care (and spending a fair amount of money on good hair cuts and color) but my skin care regiment needed revamping. Thanks to Jett’s wisdom, I’m making some changes that I hope will result in healthier skin.

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from the chapter on healthy eating:

With few exceptions, my friends and the women I met while writing this book told me they are gourmands at heart. Translation: they love to eat and might fleetingly consider larger portions of their favorite foods if they didn’t love some of their favorite clothes even more.

Most of those women can still wear clothes they purchased ten or twenty years ago, because of impulse control and good choices. And so I continue the journey with renewed enthusiasm… less than a month before we leave for Paris!

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.)

Mental Health Monday: Nothing is Really Wrong

karen_carpenter_christmasinterview_NESGZUx.sizedOn this rainy Monday just before Christmas, I’ve got a song on my mind that isn’t exactly a Christmas carol.

Last week I watched a TV special about Karen and Richard Carpenter. I loved their music back in the late sixties and seventies, and was devastated by Karen’s death from anorexia at age 32. As Richard said on the special last week, little was known about eating disorders back then, and by the time Karen went in for treatment, it was too late and she died. I’ve never known what drove her to anorexia—there were only vague references on the show about the stress she was under with her career. But I found myself weeping as I watched her sing “Rainy Days and Mondays,” one of my favorite of their songs. Especially when she sang this verse:

What I’ve got they used to call the blues.

Nothing is really wrong.

Feeling like I don’t belong.

Walking around, some kind of lonely clown,

Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.

My mother used to say she was “blue.” I think it was her generation’s term for depression. Or maybe for feelings that could grow into depression or just sit there on the soul like a mild sadness. Sadness as an emotion doesn’t have to become malignant. But sometimes it overpowers us. And for some of us it’s often there. As Karen sings:

What I’ve got has come and gone before.

No need to talk it out,

We know what it’s all about….

 Did she? Did she know what it was all about?

imagesI remember a time in my thirties when I wished I had anorexia. Yes. It was becoming prevalent in the news and although I struggled with bulimia and body image distortion and exercise addiction for many years, most of all I wanted to be skinny. And free of my food and body issues. I became severely depressed on and off during that time, and to this day those feelings can overwhelm me at a moment’s notice. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to deal with my emotions better—and my food cravings.

Anorexia is about control. I’ve always had control issues, and since control is pretty much an illusion (how many of us really have control over our lives?) those of us who crave it look for ways to tamp down that craving. Or we look for areas in our out-of-control lives where we can create order. Controlling what we eat is one of the ways that we sometimes seek out. Even as I continue the 1000-1200-calorie diet I’ve been on for three and a half months (and I’ve lost 15 pounds!) I recognize the high I get when I punch my calories into my LoseIt! app on my iPhone and stay under my limit for the day. And the euphoria when the scales register even another half pound loss is greater than the pleasure of a favorite food or drink. Most of the time.

What a journey I’ve been on most of my sixty-four years. I’m thankful for my spiritual life, which helps moderate my tendency towards emotional and behavioral imbalance. I still go over my calorie budget occasionally, and some days I give in to that martini that tips the balance a bit too far. But the good days are becoming more frequent than the bad ones, and for that I am thankful.
Even on rainy days and Mondays.

Mental Health Monday: Intermittent Fasting and Alcohol

de1219_445370bd0288459a94e4bd1c5491f175I’ve been on this 1,000-1,200-calorie diet for about three and a half months now. Still holding at a loss of 13 ½ pounds. (I got kinda “stuck” this past week while making home made fudge and taking it to a cookie swap.) But I press on, even with the holidays in full swing. It kind of helped that we missed two Christmas parties Saturday night due to my husband’s illness. I was so sad to miss the chance to celebrate with my husband’s work colleagues and then with neighbors, but I took advantage of our situation and stayed on track with my calories.

This past weekend I read two articles that address different elements of my situation. The first one was excerpted in Spry Living, from a longer piece by Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, which I found online here:

“Intermittent Fasting Has Benefits Beyond Weight Loss.”

I was especially interested in Kirkpatrick’s article because of my church’s tradition of fasting—on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year, and for longer periods of time during Advent and Lent and before other major feasts of the (Orthodox) Church. It’s interesting that this intermittent fasting recommends reducing calorie intake for two days each week. On those days, you eat two meals of about 500 calories each, which is actually about what I’m eating every day on my current weight-loss diet. The article says that this calorie-cutting can reduce cravings, which I’ve definitely noticed these past three months. But I’ve been wondering what I’ll do once I reach my goal, and this sounds like a healthy idea. And it can be nicely woven into the spiritual fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.

The link to this second article was sent to me by a friend on Saturday:

549ba7ec5ca53_-_alcohol-and-calories-does-drinking-cause-weight-gain-1-lg“6 Reasons to Drink When You’re on a Diet”

This friend was aware that I’m allowing myself a vodka martini (210 calories) most days, which amounts to 20% of my daily caloric intake. Doesn’t sound very healthy, does it? And yet, this article cited studies done at Harvard—involving 20,000 women, which found that those who drank two glasses of wine a day had a 70% reduced risk of obesity compared to non-drinkers—and another long-term study by the National Center for Disease Control looked at more than 7,000 people over 10 years and found that alcohol consumption didn’t increase the risk of obesity. You can read the article to get more details, but for now, I’m not beating up on myself on the days I include a drink in my calorie budget. And as long as I work out on the elliptical, I can have 1200 rather than 1000 calories. Perfect—30 minutes of exercise=one Kettle One martini. Works for me!

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