There is More to Life Than Avoiding Death

IMG_0307I was sitting on my balcony, enjoying the warm air and how the twilight deepens the colours and ushers in a peace that used to precede sleep in those days before lighting, when a clutch of little girls walked by. One of the girls said, “My mother won’t let me sit in front of the television for very long, no screen, she’ll say after about an hour.

“I’m a televisonaholic and a chocoholic,….” and then they were out of the range of where I could hear them.

Pity that. We’ve taken our preoccupation with trying to perfect ourselves so far that our children have picked up the lingo. The translation, for any of you that don’t know already is, “If I do anything at all that I enjoy, it is bad for me.” This has become couched in the language of addiction, because if we do it and we know that it is bad for us, it must be an addiction.

We have turned into a society of self-restriction and guilt. We have bought into all of the external messages about how we should look, how we should feel, how much we should eat, exercise and sleep and even how long we should brush our teeth, for heavens sake. This generation of North Americans is the unhealthiest and the unhappiest, regardless of whom you measure us against.

Part of the problem is that we look outside of ourselves for answers when they are, in fact, within us. We believe that our big brains know it all and that they can keep us health and happy and from growing old; possibly–even from dying. If we just follow all of the rules about how we should act, no harm will come to us. This is wrong. Eat well, exercise, restrict your alcohol intake and die anyhow.

It would be revolutionary to actually learn to listen to ourselves. Our bodies communicate a wealth of knowledge to us every moment, but we have learned to ignore it. If something tastes good it must be bad for us. If we sleep too much we are either depressed, and in need of medication; or we are lazy. Couldn’t it be that we simply need more rest?

The pity here is that in pursuit of a media generated standard, we are trying to follow all of these external rules. We spend an inordinate amount of our time trying to avoid death to the point that we are missing our lives. How many people do you know that have been so preoccupied with restricting themselves that they have not enjoyed themselves at a party or social gathering; people that constantly can’t or won’t do something they enjoy because they feel so much guilt about it? So often, we define ourselves by what we will not do rather than what we will do.

There is more to life than avoiding death.

What would happen if all of our preoccupation with diet, exercise, self-improvement, self grooming (well, we would need some self grooming!) went into things we were passionate about? What if we took the intelligence and drive that we use to punish ourselves and put it out into the world? Redirecting that amount of energy and passion could create quite a shift! How would your life change if you accepted your desires as an affirmation that you are alive and enjoying yourself instead of something to feel guilty about? What would your life look like if you stopped worrying about how many rules you were breaking and started to think about things that you would like to accomplish?

What if the little girl from above wasn’t caught up in the guilt of how her appetites were out of control? What if she was dreaming about something wonderful, and discussing that with her friends? How differently would she feel in the world if she could just love chocolate and enjoy watching television?

When people are asked what they are passionate about, many cannot answer. Their wants may or may not be something that they are aware of, but they know that they are not OK. Why? What is the point of living if you cannot enjoy yourself? I cannot believe that with all of the possible answers to the question, “Why are we here?” the right answer becomes, “To suffer and restrict ourselves as much as possible.” There is simply too much evidence of the opposite. Enjoy something you love today, without the guilt…..

 

Stress Eating?

IMG_0057You are on your way to check out the new fish that are arriving today at the pet store and a car rear ends you at a stop sign. Then, you get there to find out that they haven’t arrived yet and you see your lover petting kittens with someone that you don’t know. You rush out of the store and run into an old nemesis and exchange comments and then you rush home and dive into the refrigerator and eat until you enter a coma. Stress eating? Maybe…..

Stress eating is often confused with other types of over eating because the situations that bring on these bouts of uncontrolled eating are often very similar. The actual underlying cause may not be.

Stress eating can be defined, in broad terms, as any time that you eat when you really don’t need to eat. The eating is in response to stress and usually involves eating way past the point of being full and may include favourite, high calorie foods.

Let me back up a little. Our society is focused on a few very superficial things. These include symbols of wealth that are expressed as possessions, youth and beauty. Beauty is fairly narrowly defined and always includes being underweight. I purposefully do not use the word thin here, because the models that we see on runways, the way that women are airbrushed in magazines and the “beauty” image is one of being underweight.

The average model is 5’8″ tall and weighs 110 pounds. This gives a whopping BMI (body mass index) of 16.7. If your BMI is less than 18.5 you are considered underweight. So our standard of beauty, for a woman at least, is a body type that is underweight.

For the purposes of this explanation, lets divide ourselves into two parts. There is the biological part, your body, that focuses on keeping us alive, meeting our needs and finding things to take pleasure in. The other part is our brain. It too will find things to take pleasure in but it is also the “trainable” part that learns all of the rules. The brain is worried about what other people think and has learned the proper way to behave. The biological part cares less about that and just wants to protect and enjoy itself.

If you are feeling a lot of pressure to approach the weight of a supermodel, your brain will tell you how to do this. There is no shortage of information about diets, pills, surgeries, elastic bands, exercise clubs and juice fasts to help you lose weight. We have been convinced that if we just follow an eating plan and make a few life style adjustments, we too can look like a cover girl.

The problem arises when the biological part becomes fearful for its life. In any situation where the body is in fear of dying, it will do everything that it can to stay alive. If you doubt this, try to hold your breath for three minutes. It’s OK, I’ll wait.

How did that work out for you? Were you able to hold your breath that long or did your body just decide that it was going to breath anyway? The same thing happens when we try to reduce our body weight below what our bodies are comfortable with. Our biological part is not comfortable with the weight of the supermodels, remember they are actually underweight.

We go on a diet, or a “lifestyle” change or a “cleanse”–the meanings are the same the names have just been changed–and our brains are firmly in control. Then we find out that we can’t buy any new fish for our aquarium and that our lover may not be faithful to us and our brains lose control for just a moment. Our brains become preoccupied with the drama that is going on in our lives and WHAM, our bodies take over and try to replace all of that essential body weight that we have been trying to remove. This is not emotional eating, even though it has the same triggers.

Emotional eating occurs when you are feeding yourself properly and the above happens and you are in so much pain that you don’t know how to make the pain go away. You have learned that eating can take your mind off of it and so you start to eat so that you can focus on the food instead of feeling the emotions.

So, if you think that you may be an emotional eater, first ask yourself if you feed yourself properly most of the time. If you are constantly trying to lose weight, you may not be an emotional eater at all; it is just the body taking over to avoid starvation. Can you blame it for trying to keep itself alive?

Step away from dieting and try something new. Develop a new relationship with yourself. Here are some resources.

Big Boys Don’t Cry

IMG_3598Whether it is expediency in parenting or preparing us for the reality of our world, we all learn before we are too old that it is not OK to express all emotions in public, if at all. The phrase, “If you cry I’ll give you something to cry about,” was commonly used when I was a little girl. It was understood that boys were not allowed to cry at all, because, “Big boys don’t cry.”

Anger and rage are treated the same way. A woman that gets angry is summarily dismissed as a bitch and a man that explodes is often seen as violent and out of control. The immediate death of a politician is any show of uncontrolled emotion, except of course, passion.

There is an excepted amount of emotion that can be shown in public. Excitement, laughter and contentment are all commonly seen. But our society is very uncomfortable with someone crying in the grocery store for instance, or a couple having an actual argument in public. If you showed true anger in a store, you would be gently escorted out. Don’t even try it on a plane!

Unfortunately for many of us, it is difficult to recreate the feeling and express the emotion later. It might have been terribly frustrating at the time and you may have been furious, but it was not OK to scream at the idiot, but now, it is over and it is not always possible to recreate the response.

A similar thing has been said about our stress level. Our bodies were designed to respond to a threat. There is a whole series of events that occur when the threat is perceived and then we relax. Unfortunately, the stresses in our society are often things like sitting in traffic, waiting in line ups, forcing ourselves to spend our days doing jobs in unnatural situations, like sitting in front of a computer for most of the day or serving customers that come in all shapes and sizes. These stresses don’t have the sudden hit of a lion jumping out at you or the immediacy of slipping on the edge of a cliff.

The result of all of this is that we go through our days feeling things that we cannot act on. We feel emotions that we cannot express and we feel stress that does not have a definite beginning or end. When the traffic finally moves, we do not have the same relief as having the tiger walk away or getting purchase on a cliff. Instead, we often enter a building that has poor air quality and a chair for us to sit in.

So many of us have learned to ignore the emotions in the first place. We are no longer aware of the stress hormones in our blood and we no longer even recognize that something made us angry or sad.

The funny thing with emotions is that if we don’t express them, they park themselves in our bodies and stay there. In order for an emotion to move through us we have to feel it completely. We have to let the energy build and escape, as it would have naturally if we had not been taught to repress it.

When these emotions get trapped in our bodies they continually try to break out. Many people have experienced a disproportionate emotional response to something minor. You forget something and really let yourself have it on the way to work. Or, you drop something and become furious. This does not mean that you are going insane or losing your mind, it is just these pent up emotions are trying to be expressed and when they see a little crack in your veneer, they try to get out.

People that expertly contain all of their emotions often end up with sicknesses. Trapping pain in your body causes your body stress and you become ill. Many a cancer survivor has realized, only after becoming sick, that they were terribly unhappy in their lives and did not allow themselves to express, or acknowledge their own pain.

So what to do, what to do? You need to express the emotions that are in you. This does not mean that when the cashier gives you the wrong change you yell at them in public, or that when someone cuts you off in traffic you get out and confront them on the street. We are still responsible for our behaviours regardless of how we are feeling.

What I am suggesting is that you take the time to feel the emotions that you do not allow yourself to feel while you are in public. If you need to cry, wrap a blanket around yourself and put on some sad music and cry. If you need to rage, get a pillow, some time alone and yell and scream into it. If you are glad or proud honour it through creating art or music or indulging in movement that works to fully allow yourself to express the emotion and celebrate it.

It is probably worthwhile to point out that worry is not an actual emotion. Worry is a form of thinking. It might be attached to an emotion, but it is not a true emotion. I am not recommending that you take time out to worry. If you are worrying, you need to identify the thoughts that are causing the worry and write them down. When you see them on paper it is easier to recognize them for the thoughts that they are.

Worry is either about changing something in the past and wishing that it did not happen or being concerned about something that has not happened yet. You can spend all of your life arguing with your past and it will never change. Byron Katie likes to make the point that you will lose, but only all of the time.

Worrying about the future is just as futile. Worrying does not stop bad things from happening. It does nothing to prepare you for the bad things that might happen. If you need to think about what you can do if a certain eventuality occurs, think about it, make a plan and then stop worrying.

So here is your assignment. Find some time when you can misbehave. Get the appropriate supplies and indulge in actually feeling some of the emotions that you have not allowed yourself to express. This can be painful. This can make you feel “out of control” but that is the point. The pain that you will feel while expressing your emotions is a fraction of the amount of pain that you cause by trying to suppress the emotions, but it does occur all at once. The eventual result is often a feeling of lightness. You may find that you feel happier than you have in a very long time and that is an emotion that you can express, even in public.

 

Back in 1994, psychologist Thomas Moore wrote that your living space is a three-dimensional self-portrait. Its less-than-pristine places mirror tangles in your mind and energy, and you can’t clean up one without cleaning up the other.

 

Some of the bits that were edited out of Martha Beck’s column for Oprah magazine.

Aren’t they irritating?

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If you ever notice yourself in a situation where you find someone’s behaviour irritating, stop and write it down. We all know the feeling of being rubbed the wrong way. The person acts in a way that gets under our skin and we dislike them because of it. If you experience this you’ve struck gold.

There are, for purposes of this discussion, two parts to the way you experience the world. One is through sensations in your body and the other is through how we explain our world to ourselves using words. The sensations part does not have direct access to the word generating part of our brain and must communicate through body signals. It is more difficult to hear and understand messages that are communicated this way, but that is where the irritation comes in. You experience the other person as irritating because you are trying to tell yourself something that you have noticed about them.

Sometimes a person can be irritating because they allow themselves to do things that you don’t allow yourself to do. They aren’t following the rules, as you understand them. It may be that you are trying to tell yourself that you are too strict about the rules, not allowing spontaneity and joy to enter your own life. The body  is trying to tell you this  and the emotion of irritation is how it is delivering the message.

Another friend found people that were preoccupied with how busy they were irritating. Then she discovered that she had entered a part of her life that was causing her to be too busy. The message may be subtle and easy to shrug off like any unpleasant encounter, but it is worth listening to.

Take a moment when you have a chance to reflect, and read what you have written. Try to write down, as well as you can, what irritated you about this person. Why was that irritating? Why do you feel it is unacceptable? How do these judgements relate to your own decisions? This irritating person may be just what you need to understand yourself a little better.

The Art of Decision Making

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As she got into the car, her entire face lit up. As a mom, I had seen this before and knew that she loved what she saw and how she felt sitting in the car. Her brain, the left side of her brain, that is, had told her to buy the other car. So, we went and drove the other car and well, three other models. If you’re making a decision you might as well be as informed as possible — no arguing that!

It had come down to the Mazda 3 or the Honda Civic. A spread sheet was constructed to carefully balance the money that each would cost, insurance, differences in gas consumption and the ratings of each. Now it was decision time. Money, reviews and reports have a way of making us all feel secure. We are comfortable dealing in defensible facts. The truth is that even if we make the most recommended selection, there is still the possibility of choosing a lemon, having bad luck or simply regretting our choice. Logic does not necessarily guarantee the desired outcome, especially when it is a choice based on enjoyment of a product.

So, when the facts are balanced how do you make the best choice? Stop thinking about it. The art of making a choice occurrs when you cannot make the choice based on facts. You see, the left side of your brain, the part that talks to you all day, commenting on your surroundings, reminding you of appointments, saying things verbally, loves logic. It can compare and contrast, balance and negotiate. But in this situation it was not helpful.

The right side of your brain can be more difficult to pay attention to because it does not speak in words. It speaks in body sensations, “gut feelings” and intuition. The best way to connect with the knowledge that is stored here is to meditate. Never one to sit still and think about nothing for long, I didn’t even bother to suggest meditation to my daughter. So, I tried to help her access this “knowing” of what she actually wanted in other ways. I suggested asking herself first thing in the morning, before she had completely awoken. I tried to get her to pay attention to the reaction her body was having to each choice. In general if you feel loose, relaxed and open your body “agrees” with your decision.

At one point, I flipped a coin. The decision was that the Mazda would be heads. The idea is not to go with the coin, it is to access how you feel in that moment when the decision has been made for you. Are you elated or do you regret the coin toss? These can be subtle reactions or more pronounced but the exercise helps you access what you truly want by letting chance make the decision and allowing you to observe how it makes you feel.

I would love to say that all of my ministrations put her in alignment with her true feelings and she went on to buy the car that I knew she loved. But, the truth is that she picked it because her fella thought it was “ball’n”. What’s a mother to do?

 

Right Brain/Left Brain — Chapter 7

I am in my office again. I just finished a pretty easy week at work. I was only covering my own desk, which meant that I had a reasonable amount to do. There are definitely ebbs and flows of work and this was a particularly light flow.

It is 6:00 p.m. EDT and it is pitch black outside. I wish that they would recognize that there has not been justification for Daylight savings time for over a hundred years and remove it. It is such a great example of how we deny the fact that we are animals in praise of our “greater knowledge,” from our logical brains. Daylight savings time throws entire populations into jet lag without even a change in sun patterns to help them adjust.

I first experienced an understanding of this disconnect in grade four when I had a crush on my classmate. It was during this time that I decided that my brain would be in charge instead of my natural inclinations. I had to take control of how I was acting. By nine years of age I had already learned that what my logical brain wanted should take precedence. Now I am spending more time trying to reconnect with what I actually want, not what I “should” want. I find this interesting.

It has long been known that the brain has two hemispheres. These look almost identical and it can appear as though they would do the same thing but they do not. There is a great video by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor during which she explains her experience after having a stroke that knocked her left-brain “off-line” so to speak. She explained that her right brain is connected to a greater knowing, a connection to the energy that is all around us.

At the risk of over simplifying this, the left-brain is the logical, thought producing hemisphere. It spends its entire day generating words that form thoughts. These repeating messages occur over and over again until we believe them. This is the part of the brain that says things like, “You shouldn’t do that”. The right side is more of the artistic side, but I like to call it the animal side. It is the part of the brain that knows how to survive and what it enjoys.

So we get ourselves into situations where the two sides of our brains are arguing. I was already having this argument at nine years of age. It occurred again when I was trying to decide whether or not to resume my marriage. Funny thing. The right side always won. This is true in other aspects of my life. The vision disturbances and the crying were both my body, or my animal side telling me that I was not OK despite the fact that my logical brain could come up with all kinds of quantifiable arguments about the logistics of leaving.

Stop for a moment and consider the fact that you are reading this sentence. To most people, this is experienced as “hearing the words” in your mind. As you read this, you hear the words, “As you read this” in your mind. Is this true for you? Is this how you experience reading to yourself? If it is, I have a question. Who is listening? Let me propose a possibility. It is not our bodies, our animal side or our right brain that is in control. It is also not our thoughts, the words that we tell ourselves or our left-brain that is in control, it is you, the one listening to your brain read the words.

One of the ways that this conflict plays out in our society is through all of the rules that are shared about how we should live that if followed, take us further away from the knowledge that we instinctively have about how to take care of ourselves. The media goes crazy condemning foods and then exonerating them. Telling us how much sleep, exercise, food and television we should indulge in. It does not take a genius to see that this is not working. It might be time to get back into our bodies and begin to listen to what they are saying.

Our bodies need to be cared for, not tortured. The food restriction, the belief in things like, “no pain, no gain” and our crazy schedules do not respect the fact that our bodies are where we live. We need to learn to listen to the messages that they are sending us about play and rest; enjoyment and focus; hunger and movement. Reconnecting is the key, not learning the newest fad.

All bodies will want to move. It may not be “exercise” but they are designed to be doing things. Our bodies know what they want to eat and when they are full. Also, we know how much sleep we need. In our overbooked lives, it is easy to let our left brains convince us that what we need to do is more important than taking care of ourselves. These brain over body arguments all need to be reexamined.

Recognize that the part of you that is listening to this as you read it to yourself, can see both sides. You can hear the left brain spewing rules about how you should behave and the right brain desiring more freedom. You know what you actually want and taking time to be quiet in wordlessness will help you connect to this knowing more and more.

This is an excerpt from my book, “I Woke Up In Paradise”.

Read the entire book.
Read the entire book.

Big Boys Don’t Cry

IMG_3598Whether it is expediency in parenting or preparing us for the reality of our world, we all learn before we are too old that it is not OK to express all emotions in public, if at all. The phrase, “If you cry I’ll give you something to cry about,” was commonly used when I was a little girl. It was understood that boys were not allowed to cry at all, because, “Big boys don’t cry.”

Anger and rage are treated the same way. A woman that gets angry is summarily dismissed as a bitch and a man that explodes is often seen as violent and out of control. The immediate death of a politician is any show of uncontrolled emotion, except of course, passion.

There is an excepted amount of emotion that can be shown in public. Excitement, laughter and contentment are all commonly seen. But our society is very uncomfortable with someone crying in the grocery store for instance, or a couple having an actual argument in public. If you showed true anger in a store, you would be gently escorted out. Don’t even try it on a plane!

Unfortunately for many of us, it is difficult to recreate the feeling and express the emotion later. It might have been terribly frustrating at the time and you may have been furious, but it was not OK to scream at the idiot, but now, it is over and it is not always possible to recreate the response.

A similar thing has been said about our stress level. Our bodies were designed to respond to a threat. There is a whole series of events that occur when the threat is perceived and then we relax. Unfortunately, the stresses in our society are often things like sitting in traffic, waiting in line ups, forcing ourselves to spend our days doing jobs in unnatural situations, like sitting in front of a computer for most of the day or serving customers that come in all shapes and sizes. These stresses don’t have the sudden hit of a lion jumping out at you or the immediacy of slipping on the edge of a cliff.

The result of all of this is that we go through our days feeling things that we cannot act on. We feel emotions that we cannot express and we feel stress that does not have a definite beginning or end. When the traffic finally moves, we do not have the same relief as having the tiger walk away or getting purchase on a cliff. Instead, we often enter a building that has poor air quality and a chair for us to sit in.

So many of us have learned to ignore the emotions in the first place. We are no longer aware of the stress hormones in our blood and we no longer even recognize that something made us angry or sad.

The funny thing with emotions is that if we don’t express them, they park themselves in our bodies and stay there. In order for an emotion to move through us we have to feel it completely. We have to let the energy build and escape, as it would have naturally if we had not been taught to repress it.

When these emotions get trapped in our bodies they continually try to break out. Many people have experienced a disproportionate emotional response to something minor. You forget something and really let yourself have it on the way to work. Or, you drop something and become furious. This does not mean that you are going insane or losing your mind, it is just these pent up emotions are trying to be expressed and when they see a little crack in your veneer, they try to get out.

People that expertly contain all of their emotions often end up with sicknesses. Trapping pain in your body causes your body stress and you become ill. Many a cancer survivor has realized, only after becoming sick, that they were terribly unhappy in their lives and did not allow themselves to express, or acknowledge their own pain.

So what to do, what to do? You need to express the emotions that are in you. This does not mean that when the cashier gives you the wrong change you yell at them in public, or that when someone cuts you off in traffic you get out and confront them on the street. We are still responsible for our behaviours regardless of how we are feeling.

What I am suggesting is that you take the time to feel the emotions that you do not allow yourself to feel while you are in public. If you need to cry, wrap a blanket around yourself and put on some sad music and cry. If you need to rage, get a pillow, some time alone and yell and scream into it. If you are glad or proud honour it through creating art or music or indulging in movement that works to fully allow yourself to express the emotion and celebrate it.

It is probably worthwhile to point out that worry is not an actual emotion. Worry is a form of thinking. It might be attached to an emotion, but it is not a true emotion. I am not recommending that you take time out to worry. If you are worrying, you need to identify the thoughts that are causing the worry and write them down. When you see them on paper it is easier to recognize them for the thoughts that they are.

Worry is either about changing something in the past and wishing that it did not happen or being concerned about something that has not happened yet. You can spend all of your life arguing with your past and it will never change. Byron Katie likes to make the point that you will lose, but only all of the time.

Worrying about the future is just as futile. Worrying does not stop bad things from happening. It does nothing to prepare you for the bad things that might happen. If you need to think about what you can do if a certain eventuality occurs, think about it, make a plan and then stop worrying.

So here is your assignment. Find some time when you can misbehave. Get the appropriate supplies and indulge in actually feeling some of the emotions that you have not allowed yourself to express. This can be painful. This can make you feel “out of control” but that is the point. The pain that you will feel while expressing your emotions is a fraction of the amount of pain that you cause by trying to suppress the emotions, but it does occur all at once. The eventual result is often a feeling of lightness. You may find that you feel happier than you have in a very long time and that is an emotion that you can express, even in public.

 

Back in 1994, psychologist Thomas Moore wrote that your living space is a three-dimensional self-portrait. Its less-than-pristine places mirror tangles in your mind and energy, and you can’t clean up one without cleaning up the other.

 

Some of the bits that were edited out of Martha Beck’s column for Oprah magazine.

No Pain, No Gain

We have been told repeatedly that we must fight against time; fight against our appetites and fight against our bodies. Actually, wouldn’t it be nice to just stop struggling?

How many people do you know that have themselves scheduled so tight that they barely have time for their family or friends? What are they told? You need to schedule time for yourself. Make dates with your partner so that you don’t forget to stop and talk to each other.
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Think of the programs that are recommended for people that want to lose weight. You manage everything that goes into your mouth. Let’s not forget that you are supposed to exercise every other day for 35 minutes, before breakfast if possible. You should be doing three sets of 15 repetitions at a weight that causes you to drop the barbell on your foot. No that’s not right, but there is a truth there. The same can be said for the advice we are given about every other thing in our lives.

We have been told that our brains can figure out exactly the best way to live. We think that if we just design the right program, the right schedule, and the most efficient way to get things done that some magical outcome will reign.

The message is that we need to be pushing ourselves all of the time. Why? When you look around it is clear that we are not a society that is “managing its time” well. We are very unhealthy despite realms of advice about what to eat and how much to exercise and billions of dollars being spent in these industries.

Here’s a thought. What would happen if we stopped listening to this advice? Would we really become slovenly coach potatoes staring at screens and only moving when absolutely necessary? Would anyone notice a difference if we did?

You see the funny thing about forcing these external rules on ourselves is that it does not respect our own bodies and our own needs. We all know athletes that have trained so hard that they have caused fatigue injuries. We all know dieters that are so strict with themselves that they don’t eat enough to be healthy. We all know people that take on every project that comes their way and end up not doing anything very well.

Let me say something radical. I know that this goes against everything that you have been brought up to believe, but just indulge me for a moment. How would you feel if you stopped working when you were tired, ate only when you were hungry and exercised for enjoyment?

I recognize that many of us need to go to work on a 9-5, or some other, schedule and we don’t have much choice about that without jeopardizing our jobs, but what about all of the other work you are doing? There is no gold star at the end of your life if you are going full out working as much as possible until you die.

Your body has a huge amount of knowledge. Just stop for a moment and appreciate how many things it is doing as you read this. First, it is aware of your entire environment, location and the date and time, but in addition to that, your heart is circulating your blood, your lungs are oxygenating that blood, your digestive system is processing your last meal and your brain is understanding these little squiggly characters on this page, all without any effort.

There are a multitude of cells making proteins, repairing themselves, dividing to provide new cells to replace the old ones; your hair is growing and you are keeping your mouth moist with saliva. Isn’t it amazing that your body can do all of this without you paying attention to it, setting up a schedule, defining goals, allotting times and thinking it through?

I would like you to consider another possibility, even if it seems way out there. Your body also knows when it is most efficient to get your work done, how much you should eat and move. Have you ever pushed yourself to finish something and it took you twice as long because you were tired or unfocused?

Stay with me here, there is one more, outrageous thought! Perhaps, if you paid attention to what your body was saying, or rather your intuition, you would focus on the things that you should be paying attention to instead of what your brain is telling you you should be doing. That opens up a whole new opportunity to just pay attention to your life. Do you feel like talking to your partner, friend or child? Don’t schedule an appointment, talk to them. Do you feel like relaxing? You may even find that if you allowed yourself to relax, you would get more work done!

The most beneficial long term “lifestyle” change would be to actually respect your body as intelligent and knowledgeable. Try it for four days. Check in with yourself about once an hour and see if you can understand the messages that your body is sending you. Tape reminders on the fridge, the dashboard of your car, inside your wallet, on the edge of your computer screen. Stop and do a full body scan.

What did you notice each hour? Is there any pain? Are you hungry? Overfull? Do you feel restless? Is your mind focused or wandering? I think that you would be amazed at how much better you feel if you paid attention to what your body was saying. You never know, you might actually be compelled to listen to what it was telling you and possibly,…..take it’s advice. Or, you could continue to listen to the “experts”. How is that working out for you?

Stress Eating?

IMG_0057You are on your way to check out the new fish that are arriving today at the pet store and a car rear ends you at a stop sign. Then, you get there to find out that they haven’t arrived yet and you see your lover petting kittens with someone that you don’t know. You rush out of the store and run into an old nemesis and exchange comments and then you rush home and dive into the refrigerator and eat until you enter a coma. Stress eating? Maybe…..

Stress eating is often confused with other types of over eating because the situations that bring on these bouts of uncontrolled eating are often very similar. The actual underlying cause may not be.

Stress eating can be defined, in broad terms, as any time that you eat when you really don’t need to eat. The eating is in response to stress and usually involves eating way past the point of being full and may include favourite, high calorie foods.

Let me back up a little. Our society is focused on a few very superficial things. These include symbols of wealth that are expressed as possessions, youth and beauty. Beauty is fairly narrowly defined and always includes being underweight. I purposefully do not use the word thin here, because the models that we see on runways, the way that women are airbrushed in magazines and the “beauty” image is one of being underweight.

The average model is 5’8″ tall and weighs 110 pounds. This gives a whopping BMI (body mass index) of 16.7. If your BMI is less than 18.5 you are considered underweight. So our standard of beauty, for a woman at least, is a body type that is underweight.

For the purposes of this explanation, lets divide ourselves into two parts. There is the biological part, your body, that focuses on keeping us alive, meeting our needs and finding things to take pleasure in. The other part is our brain. It too will find things to take pleasure in but it is also the “trainable” part that learns all of the rules. The brain is worried about what other people think and has learned the proper way to behave. The biological part cares less about that and just wants to protect and enjoy itself.

If you are feeling a lot of pressure to approach the weight of a supermodel, your brain will tell you how to do this. There is no shortage of information about diets, pills, surgeries, elastic bands, exercise clubs and juice fasts to help you lose weight. We have been convinced that if we just follow an eating plan and make a few life style adjustments, we too can look like a cover girl.

The problem arises when the biological part becomes fearful for its life. In any situation where the body is in fear of dying, it will do everything that it can to stay alive. If you doubt this, try to hold your breath for three minutes. It’s OK, I’ll wait.

How did that work out for you? Were you able to hold your breath that long or did your body just decide that it was going to breath anyway? The same thing happens when we try to reduce our body weight below what our bodies are comfortable with. Our biological part is not comfortable with the weight of the supermodels, remember they are actually underweight.

We go on a diet, or a “lifestyle” change or a “cleanse”–the meanings are the same the names have just been changed–and our brains are firmly in control. Then we find out that we can’t buy any new fish for our aquarium and that our lover may not be faithful to us and our brains lose control for just a moment. Our brains become preoccupied with the drama that is going on in our lives and WHAM, our bodies take over and try to replace all of that essential body weight that we have been trying to remove. This is not emotional eating, even though it has the same triggers.

Emotional eating occurs when you are feeding yourself properly and the above happens and you are in so much pain that you don’t know how to make the pain go away. You have learned that eating can take your mind off of it and so you start to eat so that you can focus on the food instead of feeling the emotions.

So, if you think that you may be an emotional eater, first ask yourself if you feed yourself properly most of the time. If you are constantly trying to lose weight, you may not be an emotional eater at all; it is just the body taking over to avoid starvation. Can you blame it for trying to keep itself alive?

 

Step away from dieting and try something new. Develop a new relationship with yourself. Here are some resources.

 

There is More to Life Than Avoiding Death

IMG_0307I was sitting on my balcony, enjoying the warm air and how the twilight deepens the colours and ushers in a peace that used to precede sleep in those days before lighting, when a clutch of little girls walked by. One of the girls said, “My mother won’t let me sit in front of the television for very long, no screen, she’ll say after about an hour.

“I’m a televisonaholic and a chocoholic,….” and then they were out of the range of where I could hear them.

Pity that. We’ve taken our preoccupation with trying to perfect ourselves so far that our children have picked up the lingo. The translation, for any of you that don’t know already is, “If I do anything at all that I enjoy, it is bad for me.” This has become couched in the language of addiction, because if we do it and we know that it is bad for us, it must be an addiction.

We have turned into a society of self-restriction and guilt. We have bought into all of the external messages about how we should look, how we should feel, how much we should eat, exercise and sleep and even how long we should brush our teeth, for heavens sake. This generation of North Americans is the unhealthiest and the unhappiest, regardless of whom you measure us against.

Part of the problem is that we look outside of ourselves for answers when they are, in fact, within us. We believe that our big brains know it all and that they can keep us health and happy and from growing old; possibly–even from dying. If we just follow all of the rules about how we should act, no harm will come to us. This is wrong. Eat well, exercise, restrict your alcohol intake and die anyhow.

It would be revolutionary to actually learn to listen to ourselves. Our bodies communicate a wealth of knowledge to us every moment, but we have learned to ignore it. If something tastes good it must be bad for us. If we sleep too much we are either depressed, and in need of medication; or we are lazy. Couldn’t it be that we simply need more rest?

The pity here is that in pursuit of a media generated standard, we are trying to follow all of these external rules. We spend an inordinate amount of our time trying to avoid death to the point that we are missing our lives. How many people do you know that have been so preoccupied with restricting themselves that they have not enjoyed themselves at a party or social gathering; people that constantly can’t or won’t do something they enjoy because they feel so much guilt about it? So often, we define ourselves by what we will not do rather than what we will do.

There is more to life than avoiding death.

What would happen if all of our preoccupation with diet, exercise, self-improvement, self grooming (well, we would need some self grooming!) went into things we were passionate about? What if we took the intelligence and drive that we use to punish ourselves and put it out into the world? Redirecting that amount of energy and passion could create quite a shift! How would your life change if you accepted your desires as an affirmation that you are alive and enjoying yourself instead of something to feel guilty about? What would your life look like if you stopped worrying about how many rules you were breaking and started to think about things that you would like to accomplish?

What if the little girl from above wasn’t caught up in the guilt of how her appetites were out of control? What if she was dreaming about something wonderful, and discussing that with her friends? How differently would she feel in the world if she could just love chocolate and enjoy watching television?

When people are asked what they are passionate about, many cannot answer. Their wants may or may not be something that they are aware of, but they know that they are not OK. Why? What is the point of living if you cannot enjoy yourself? I cannot believe that with all of the possible answers to the question, “Why are we here?” the right answer becomes, “To suffer and restrict ourselves as much as possible.” There is simply too much evidence of the opposite. Enjoy something you love today, without the guilt…..