Monday, July 25, 2016

Learning to Enjoy Being Bored

(Lifted from somewhere on Facebook)

You're standing in line at the store, waiting your turn. You feel a slight tick. Your hand reaches in your pocket for your phone, and you turn it on. You scroll through, do your rounds... email, social media, etc. Five minutes later, you're still in line, and the cycle repeats...

I recently heard a podcast by movement expert Katy Bowman in which she likened doing "her rounds" on her smartphone to the well worn path a cheetah in the zoo takes between sleeping pad and feeding trough; there's a wide play area with a mini jungle right there for him, but he chooses the same grooved route over and over every day.

We've all done it. With the infinitely reachable technology of smartphones and apps, people have developed a bad habit of reaching for their phones and burying their heads in the little blue light when they're waiting in line, at stoplights (!), at any glimpse of downtime, etc. Why do we do this? Instead of being present with a moment of stillness, we feel compelled to fill it. Busy is the new normal, and we don't want to miss out. We don't want to be bored.

There now exist many tools to counteract the myriad of inputs that bombard us on a daily basis. Longitudinal meditation programs, apps for the phone designed to discourage phone use (The irony!), sleep induction mats, sleep optimization apps, and what Mark Sisson calls "extreme forms of sensory deprivation" (float tank sessions, silent monk-like retreats, etc. Rather than fall prey to the cult of busyness, requiring the use of such counteracting methods, I have recently been trying to just live with some downtime. Every morning when I drive to work (or the first morning drive on a non-workday), I turn off the radio and do a box-breathing meditation. After dinner, I try to leave my phone untouched on the charger and focus on my family. I use the Private Time feature in the settings, which only allows calls from Favorites, and I turn the text volume to silent. I never use Badge App Icons.

Boredom comes with benefits. Daydreaming can lead to a break in creativity; you just might solve that problem you've been ruminating on at work. According to ScreenFreeMom (blogging on MinimalistMom), periods of boredom (like what used to happen during summer break before the advent of the myriad camps and activities of today) are also excellent for children in that they foster creative play, enhance relaxation, and cultivate emotional intelligence. All things we should encourage and work toward as an example for our kids.

What about you? Can you stand to be bored? How do you deal with periods of downtime? Share with us here!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Bittersweet: 21 Day Sugar Detox Results

From now on this is the only kind of cupcake I really want (there's a "cherry" on top of that hat)!

As a result of what I felt was an out of control craving for sugar and sweet foods, I decided to embark on a 21 Day Sugar Detox (read the whole post here). And I survived without my chocolate and candy! Amazing. Here are my observations:

- The first 2-3 days were the hardest. I was used to having sweet flavors all day, and the abrupt change (starting with my morning coffee) was like a slap in the face. At first, I craved a sweet taste constantly. But that feeling subsided, and my tastes did start to change. A green apple began to taste quite sweet, for example. I wouldn't say that I now love coffee without my vanilla stevia drops, but it isn't bad. Now that I've done it, I can vouch for what others have said: curbing your intake of sweet foods definitely decreases your cravings for them. After a while, I just didn't even think about sweets, and if I saw them lying around (like at work or on the sample table at Costco), I just walked on by without hesitation. In that sense, I feel liberated.

- I saw some physical changes, first negative but then positive. I started out feeling fairly low-energy, like my muscles were heavy. Some people describe headaches or fogginess, but I didn't have these. The fatigue subsided after 5-7 days, and I was still able to climb, boulder, hike, and do yoga while eating this way. I ended up eating less carbohydrates and more fat overall, but I did still have carbs in the form of potatoes, squash, and limited fruits such as green apples, apricots, and bananas. While I did not do the 21 DSD to lose weight, I did lose about 2 pounds. My stomach feels flatter, and I feel "lighter".

- I still needed to eat fairly frequently. I was kind of hoping that decreasing my penchant for sweets would change the frequency with which I feel I need to eat, but it didn't. I still seem to need at least one snack per day and sometimes two. This may have something to do with my adrenal insufficiency, which makes my blood sugar and pressure run low. Some people (including my husband) do well eating only 2-3 times per day, but I just don't think I'm one of those people. And while it means making more food choices and allocating for more prep time on my already busy days, that's fine. So what did I snack on? Most often raw unsalted nuts. They are satisfying and filling in relatively small quantities (as long as they are truly raw and unsalted as opposed to highly palatable and "poundable" roasted and salted nuts!). I seem to be able to moderate my intake of them without going overboard. My faves are almonds, walnuts, and pistachios. And I treated myself at night after dinner with a spoonful of coconut butter. If you've never tried it, you're missing out! Speaking of moderation...

- Maybe I'm not a moderator... I realized as I was going through this detox that I was basically "playing an abstainer" for 21 days. It wasn't so bad. Flat-out abstaining from something frees you from making decisions about food, which can lead to a fatigue of willpower over time. However, I do plan to re-expand my sweet food choices to include any fruit of my choosing and things sweetened with stevia. But now I'm going to try adding some rules to my moderation. Mark's Daily Apple recently published a post about the idea of defining moderation, and it made sense to me. In reality, we all moderate some things and abstain from others, blending the two concepts together to create a lifestyle that is both enjoyable and amenable to achieving specific goals. My new rules: no added sugars in the house, no free treats at work, and keep sweet foods to later in the day. We'll see how well it works!

All in all, I found this to be a very positive experience. I feel more confident and in control of my hunger/cravings, and I have a renewed commitment to eating healthier foods. However, I realized through this process that I turn to sweet foods in times of stress. And moderating or abstaining from sweets is not going to make my feelings of stress disappear. Part of long-term success for me is going to come in the form of being mindful about my stress level when I feel I need to have sweet treats.

If you're interested in cutting back or eliminating sugar from your diet, I'd definitely recommend the 21 DSD. You can find the book explaining the whole program at your local library or on Amazon, but Diane also offers online E-book content with support groups if you like that kind of thing. Some other good resources: the Shameless Mom Academy recently put out a good podcast about sugar cravings and "bad food days" with some quick and easy tactics, and Barry Friedman recently wrote a book (although somewhat skewed towards vegetarianism) describing his own 30-day sugar-free experiment called I Love Me More Than Sugar. Love that title!

Monday, June 20, 2016

I Need A Detox


Pregnancy and breastfeeding are not times to run self-improvement experiments. Any very stressful period in your life, whether that stress is psychological or physiological, is better handled by getting back to the basics of self-care as opposed to engaging in 30-day challenges. That said, at almost seven months postpartum and with no breastfeeding for me, it's time to make some big changes. Why? Because my sugar cravings have gotten OUT. OF. CONTROL.

I have always been a moderator as opposed to an abstainer. When it comes to treats and treat-like behavior, I do better including these at a reasonable level in my life instead of setting bright line rules about not ever eating certain foods, etc. Some people, like me, stress more about the idea of missing out on something when they do that. However, this comes with the responsibility of actually moderating the food or activity in question.

When I was pregnant, I honored my (frequent) hunger and gave into most of my cravings in moderation. I wasn't devouring bags of chips and pints of ice cream, but let's just say I ate more than my fair share of dark chocolate almonds and the like. I definitely craved chocolate and fruit and other sweet things, while proteins and some rich foods left me nauseated. After my girl was born, I continued with these same eating patterns and choices under the guise of stress management as above. But it has gone on long enough, and it has morphed into something I don't like. I now need sweet at every meal (even breakfast), sweet in every drink, sweet when I'm bored, sweet when I'm stressed, sweet when I'm being social, etc etc. I have gotten into a habit of eating sweet things that before I would normally refuse, to the point where I was recently forcing myself to replace those foods with protein bars. Then I was eating 2-3 protein bars per day, trading one bad habit for a just slightly less bad one. Not a good cycle.

So I decided to start Diane San Filippo's 21 Day Sugar Detox. Before you roll your eyes, this is not your typical Hollywood cayenne pepper/vinegar detox. The program, similar to the popular Whole 30, is a whole foods eating plan designed not as a weight loss diet but more as a vehicle for habit change and mindful eating. It nixes any processed/packaged food, added sugars, artificial or natural sweeteners (stevia is a staple for me), and limits fruits, starches, or other non-vegetable carbs like those found in grains. Why not Whole 30 for me? I decided on the 21 DSD because 1) it's 21 days instead of 30 days and 2) it allows for whole dairy products, which I love (esp half & half in coffee) and didn't think I could practically stop eating right now without being too stressed about the whole thing.

While I'm not out to eliminate all sweet foods from my diet long term, I'm hoping this will help me reset my palate and change my habits. As I have learned from following Gretchen Rubin's work, habit change is quite complex and individualized. Different personalities respond better to different types of habit reinforcements. Some tactics I'm trying so far are to tell people about my plan and to journal (one of my favorite ways to beat stress). Not only am I quickly jotting down all the foods I eat, but I am also journaling about my WHYS. Why do I want to do this?
  • To set a good example for my daughter
  • To not lead a "double life" in terms of health, where I spend so much time and energy exercising and talking about balance/self-care all the negating my healthy habits with poor food choices
  • To be free from the highs and lows of sugar and sweet flavor dependence
  • To prevent downstream health consequences of constant sugar/sweet consumption, such as diabetes and weight gain.
Have you ever done or wanted to do something like this? Share your experience with us here! I'll be following up with a post on my results later this summer.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Lessons From My Daughter: Love Your Thighs

This picture does not do justice to the rolls

She's growing like gangbusters, stretching out the fabric of her footed onesies until her little toes are curled up and ready to bust out the bottom. So grow her thighs. I examine them in all their glory - soft, buttery skin with rolls of fat, they look like croissants. They are so voluminous that they get stuck in the leg holes of her little Bumbo chair!

I constantly want to kiss them, touch them. She's only getting taller, and her thighs will of course continue to change shape. When she becomes a teen, they'll change shape again. And again when she is a mom herself someday.

I never want her to be ashamed of them, and I never want her to notice me being ashamed of mine. This article gives great tips on how to talk to your children about body image and how to appropriately react if they bring up the topic. The process of course starts with being honest about your own insecurities and being careful about how you talk about yourself, in addition to being proactive and possibly using media to create teaching moments.

I've had my periods of body insecurity, as do many women who have been pregnant and/or who engage in athletic activities (especially those that involve an optimum strength to weight ratio such as climbing). But becoming a mom against many odds has made me proud of my body's power. If you'd like more inspiration, check out this article entitled You Are More Than Your Body(Fat), in which the author transformed her personal body-image demons via five key mindset shifts. From here on out, I vow to refrain from body shaming, publicly or privately. We should all do the same!

In love with this face