Monday, June 29, 2009

The Law of Karma

When I was a little girl (waaaaaay back in the early ‘70s), I watched “The Doris Day Show” and Doris sang the theme song “Que Sera, Sera” in such a breezy, lilting way that I believed every word of it:

When I was just a little girlI asked my mother, what will I beWill I be pretty, will I be richHere's what she said to me.Que Sera, Sera,Whatever will be, will beThe future's not ours, to seeQue Sera, SeraWhat will be, will be.

Life was destiny and fate and a big jar of peanut butter. But as I got older, particularly since I turned 40 almost six years ago, I began to understand that there’s a lot about life I am responsible for, separate from “que sera, sera,” the things I cannot change or prevent.

The word “karma” is often (mis)understood in our culture as “what goes around, comes around,” and we hear it most often used to explain someone’s ill fate or as future punishment for wrong doing, a “karma’s gonna bite him in the ass” kind of thing.

But karma isn’t schadenfreude, which means to delight in another's misfortune, nor should it be seen as destiny or fate. Karma isn’t positive or negative. It doesn’t have a conscience or the mind of a deity. We create it. To an extent it is “what goes around, comes around,” but it’s so much more.

I had a helluva time last week dealing with things within my control and things outside my control. So it was like a drink of water in the desert (or “fate,” perhaps?) that I read this teaching by Buddhist nun Pema Chodron:

“According to the law of karma, every action has a result. If you stay in bed all day with the covers over your head, if you overeat for the millionth time in your life, if you get drunk, if you get stoned, you know that’s going to depress you and make you more discouraged, if it’s just this habitual thing that you think is going to make you feel better. The older you get, the more you know how it just makes you feel more wretched. The law of karma says, ‘Well, how do you want to feel tomorrow, next week, next year, five years from now, ten years from now?’”

Now here’s the kicker:

It’s up to you how to use your life. It doesn’t mean you have to be the best one at cheering up, or that your habitual tendencies never get the better of you. It just has to do with this sense of reminding yourself. The law of karma is that we sow the seeds and reap the fruit…So when you find yourself in a dark place where you’ve been countless, countless times, you can think, ‘Maybe it’s time to get a little golden spade and dig myself out of this place.’”

So I found my little spade (it’s in the garage next to my bound-and-gagged fat chick and Negative Nelly) and dug in the ground until I could say again for the MILLIONTH time, “I’m the one, ME, Lynn Haraldson-Bering, who controls what goes in my mouth, how I move my legs and arms, and what I see in the mirror. I’m the only one who can either allow what someone else says to turn me upside down or to see that their words are their truth, not mine, and to see the beauty in differing points of view.”

Guaranteed there will be a next time and a next time and a 2,000,000th time that I’ll have to find that spade and dig myself out of that space. But each time I do, it gets a little easier.

If there’s one thing the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson can teach us it’s that we don’t know if we’ll be here tomorrow. So as long as we’re here, we can use the time to made amends with our bodies – to learn and to grow and to heal, to NOT put that food in our mouths and to GET on that treadmill or elliptical, and to LOOK in the mirror and SEE beauty simply because we are who we are with all of our stretch marks and flab, because there is also lovely skin and cute freckles and sparkly eyes and a good hair day once in awhile.

“Que sera, sera” only works for things beyond our control. To help me remember this, I bought a piece of wood carved with the saying “What will be is up to me” and I keep it on the shelf in my office that holds other important reminders: photos of my children and grandchildren, and a card from my husband that says, “Do you know what I love most about us? You.”

Today I choose to stay present and to stay on course for where I want to be tomorrow, five years from now and ten years from now. Today I will remember the rule of karma.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Learning (Again) To Just Say "No!"

So I was at Target yesterday with Claire. She was in the cart, pointing at and wanting everything on every shelf. Finally, I dug out a box of raisins from my purse, thinking eating them would keep her happily distracted.

“Claire, do you want some raisins?” I asked and held out the box.

“No!” she replied emphatically (emphasis on emphatic) and pushed my hand away.

'Damn,' I thought. 'I wish food was that easy for me to refuse.'

Back at my daughter’s house, Claire and I sat on the deck and blew bubbles and colored and she put Hello Kitty stickers up and down my arm and on my face. It was getting close to lunchtime so I asked her, “Do you want applesauce?” Claire nodded her head yes.

I loved those summer afternoons when my mom would make my brother and me peanut butter sandwiches, fruit cocktail (making sure each serving had the same number of cherries), and Kool-Aid and we’d eat at the picnic table. Usually we had lunch at the kitchen table and watched Casey Jones and Wonderdog cartoons, which was fun, too, but eating outside was always a treat.

In the spirit of my outdoor childhood lunches, I made Claire a peanut butter sandwich and poured Juicy Juice in her sippy cup. I fed her pieces of sandwich instead of letting her feed herself because: A) she was being a monkey and tipping herself upside down in the chair and laughing; and B) peanut butter is difficult to clean off crayons. What I didn’t do, and am very proud of myself for, is lick the peanut butter off my fingers or take “just a bite” of the white bread/peanutty goodness that I love so much. I forced myself to be content to live with the memories of my outdoor picnics.

I thought my resolve was all “I can handle any food temptation today!” until Cassie came home and brought out the homemade chocolate chip cookies she made on Father’s Day. Oy. They looked so good. I know, I know…food is fun and eating the things we love once in awhile is OK. That’s not where I’m going with this. I’m not opposed to a chocolate chip cookie once in awhile, just not when my food mood is “Go ahead…eat whatever…” I’ve been in this food mood all week and it’s been hell to fight, thanks to what I call the “unholy trinity”: stress, pain and hormones.

I’ve done well, for the most part, but an extra carb here and Hershey Kiss there have found their way into my mouth more than once, and all the determination and positive self-talk wasn’t going to stop them until finally yesterday, I found my “stop” button. It’s always there, I just lose sight of it sometimes.

As I drove home from Pittsburgh, I separated the food mood from the emotional mood and waded through the muck. The unholy trinity is still here today, but remembering for the 1 millionth time that I am in control of what I put in my mouth, I’ve got a cleaner playing field on which to live. My strategy is this: when I think about food and I’m not hungry, I think more deeply and try to pinpoint the source of that desire. What I’ve come up with so far is mostly fear and uncertainty spurred by very specific life events and self-expectations as of late. I put a lot of pressure on myself sometimes and instead of see when I’ve gone too far, I see chocolate chip cookies in my head. Go figure.

So here’s to hoping the next time I hear, “Lynn, do you want to eat ________?” I’ll be like Claire and say, emphatically, “No!”

Best stress reliever ever? Holding Baby Luca.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

“Before” Photos Are Still “Now” Photos

When Hanlie posted a comment on my last entry on Father’s Day about how she’d not seen a “before” photo of me, I started thinking about what “before” implies.

When you lose weight, it’s natural for people to want to compare what you looked like before and what you look like now. Heck, I love seeing how people have transformed physically. In this context, “before” is about what’s changed and “now” is about what’s different. But when I looked at some of my “before” photos, I realized that there’s much more going on in them than just me being fat. There’s a lot of “now” in the “before”s.

This was taken the night my daughter Carlene (now 26) made dinner for my husband Larry and her grandmother and me. She was going to college, living in our basement apartment, and learning how to cook. She made chicken and crescent rolls and a salad, all of which turned out great. Gave her a lot of confidence. I no longer have all that weight on my bones, just as we no longer have that table and those chairs, Carlene has different dishes, and I’m sure she no longer owns that shirt. My husband had a lot more hair then and he wears different glasses. But we’re all four still around, still family, still cooking and laughing together.

This photo’s very difficult for me to take in because…well…there’s so much of me to take in! It was taken Christmas Eve 2003, and I remember seeing my dad out of the corner of my eye standing up to take a photo and thinking, ‘Crap, I hate when he does this. Can’t he see how fat I am? I hate having photos taken!’ all the while trying to concentrate on playing my flute.

Looking at is as a “now” photo, I see my beautiful flute and think about how much I still love music and still love to play. I see Larry playing his guitar and think about much he still loves to play. There’s nothing “before” about that.

It was raining buckets when this photo was taken. It was the night of daughter Cassie’s last marching band performance at the last football game of the season. All seniors and their parents were recognized in a little ceremony on the football field. I remember, again, hating having a photo taken of me in my size 3X coat, but being so happy for and proud of my daughter. Now, while I don’t wear a 3X coat anymore, I’m still happy for and proud of my daughter (I think we still have that umbrella somewhere, too.).

Playing backgammon with my dad. And Dad, if you’re reading this, practice up because I’ll be home in August!

Hanging out after making lefse with my Aunt Shirley. Still make lefse, still love hanging with my aunt.

Four years separate these photos. What makes the one on the left different from the one on the right is the hair, the weight and the fact that we now have two grandchildren and a son-in-law, we live in a different home, we drive different cars, and we exercise regularly.

What makes them the same is the love and respect we had for each other then is the same that we have now. My weight changed nothing about Larry’s feelings toward me or our relationship.

I’m sure most of us still cringe a little when we see “before” photos. But when you look beyond the physical and see the constants in the photos, they become easier to digest.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Move Over Weight Blog, It's Father's Day

Today marks the 99th time this country has observed Father’s Day. Not quite the sentimental darling as its counterpart Mother’s Day, but we’ll still spend millions of dollars on millions of cards and red-meat dinners to celebrate fatherhood.

But who are we really buying all those ties for?

Many men have fathered many children in this country since 1910, but how many of these “fathers” are deserving of a holiday? “Any man can be a father,” reads a famous bumper sticker. “Not all fathers can be a dad.”

My dad was just 6 years old when his father died. But as hard as it was to lose his father, he grew up, married, and when he and Mom started having my four brothers and sisters and me, he knew how to be a good dad.

Whether he was getting up with us at night when we were 6-weeks-old or offering his arm to lay on during a thunderstorm when we were 6-years-old, my dad didn’t rely on the way he was parented to be the best dad he could.

He knew children needed to be taught the details of life while under the watchful eye of love and protection, even though he wasn’t raised by his father. He read us books and made up stories to tell us before we went to bed. He listened to our prayers, sang silly songs, and bought us chocolate donuts and let us wear paisleys with plaids on Saturday mornings.

He taught us how to paint a house, buy a lawnmower, check the oil in our cars, hang a picture, read a map, and love our spouses. I still call him when a pipe is frozen or my car has overheated. I love my husband and think he’s really smart, but that still small voice inside me always says, “Call Dad” when bad things happen.

My dad never called me “fat” or treated me in a way that would cause me to feel self-conscious.

I know I’m one of the lucky ones because as a mother, my experience with fathers since I grew up and moved away from home hasn’t been as positive as it was when I grew up with my dad. While it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to become a “father,” I’ve learned biology is no guarantee a man will be a good dad. And promises of non-biological fathers mean absolutely nothing to a kid unless it’s backed by a lot of action.

Real dads are the men who actually want to be with the children entrusted to their care and who show them through their words and deeds.
Real dads keep their promises.

They never discipline with violence.

When they tell their children “I love you” it isn’t fraught with conditions.

They say, “Hello, how are you?” when their children walk in the room instead of grunt at them from the couch, their eyes glued to the TV.

They eat Popsicles with their daughters on the front stoop.

They are the men who choose to be foster fathers to show children there’s another way of living other than with neglect and abuse.

They are the grandfathers who shower their grandchildren with love and kindness, or the uncles who take their nieces and nephews on family vacations.

Real dads are also the men who rise above their fears instead of bolting out the door claiming they’re not “ready” when confronted with those three little words: “I am pregnant.”

A real dad loves the children his new wife had before they met.

He keeps his child support commitment despite a disagreement with his child’s mother.

He sees his children every chance he gets no matter how far away he lives.

Good dads raise their children well even if their partner dies.

Real dads balance work and family the same way real moms do.

Real dads are there for a lifetime, even during the teenage years.

To the men who can’t do these things I beg you, stay away from children. Just because you can, don’t father children if you’re not capable of raising them. Don’t fall in love with a woman who has children. Recognize your inability to be a real dad and move on. You’ll be a better man for it.

To my dad and to all the men in this country who play catch and field grounders, mend knees and broken hearts, teach compassion and empathy, work hard and still manage to love children, have a very happy “Real Dad’s” Day this Sunday.

The world is growing up a better place because of you.

My dad and mom with my stepsons. They couldn't be any more their grandsons than if I had them myself.

Dad meeting Claire the first time last year.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Get Closer

Driving to Pittsburgh yesterday, I heard the song “Get Closer” by Seals and Crofts. “Darling, if you want me to be closer to you, get closer to me.” In light of the online class I’m taking on the Five Hindrances, I thought about that song as if I were talking to myself about being happy and content in light of the way I engage in and respond to the current hindrance of study: sensual desire (or desire in general).

Teacher Gil Fronsdal wrote in a recent daily meditation, “Often, the desire for sensual pleasure is a surface manifestation of desiring something else…Many times it is not the object of desire we want, it is the ideas we have about the desired object.”

There are many things I desire. The one I chose to examine more closely in this course is my desire to stay thin. Like other desires – eating, sleeping, having sex, shopping, etc. – the desire to stay thin can be a helpful and skillful tool, but like food and sleep and sex and shopping, the desire to stay thin can also become that “surface manifestation of desiring something else.”

Some people eat because they’re depressed. Some people have sex in order to not be alone. Some people shop to fill a void. Some people, like…oh…say…ME, stay thin for reasons beyond staying healthy (reasons ones I’m not comfortable confessing just yet). Yuck. This is not a comfortable thing to examine. But if I want to be “closer” to understanding this desire, I need to get “closer” to it, I guess.

I’d rather just have sex or something.

Because my main (and most helpful) reason for staying thin is to be as healthy as I can, NOT staying thin, while an option, is not something I desire or will actively pursue. However, in my desire to stay thin, I’ve noticed that sometimes I get grumpy and discontented when making food choices or exercising. An instruction I found helpful was today’s meditation from Buddhist teacher Ines Freedman, who used taxes as her example, but I inserted “exercise” to illustrate my point.

Freedman wrote, “…We are not our moods, no matter how prevalent. If every time you sit down to exercise, you are unhappy, maybe you have a choice. What would you rather do? You have to exercise in order to stay thin, would you rather exercise happily or angrily? Is it any more authentic to exercise in a bad mood?”

Just as it’s easier to gain weight than lose weight, it’s often easier to feel or react to negative feelings than bad. We dwell on them and personalize them and let them hinder our desire to be happy and content. For instance, I hear from people all the time who tell me they feel stuck and can’t start losing weight because they’re afraid of failure. They don’t feel they have any choice except to lose weight, but they don’t know how to take that first step.

What I’m learning is that we have choices within our choices, like a family tree of choices. I can choose to stay thin, and within that choice, choose to do it with a more positive attitude. You can choose to lose weight or you can choose to not lose weight. From that choice, you can choose to do it in fear or with hope. Within those choices you can choose to be passive or assertive. Our choices are endless. The point is to be mindful of your choices and mindful of why you choose what you choose.

I desire to stay thin. I desire to understand why I want to stay thin and to work through and dismantle the reasons that are not so helpful or skillful. Difficult work, to be sure, but in the end, I’ll be free from that clinging and I can cross one more desire off my laundry list of unskillful desires.

So, my question to you is the same one Gil asked of his students: “What are the root desires that may be the cause and fuel for your sense desires?” Because darling, if you want to be closer to yourself, get closer to your desires.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Shoes And Veal….Yes, There IS A Connection

If there’s such a thing as the perfect shoe, I found it last weekend at Famous Footwear.

I’m a Skechers whore. Before my latest find, I owned four different pairs and I love them. But the pair I bought last weekend are better than any shoe I’ve ever owned, including my workout shoes. These fit my feet like a glove and give great arch support. If my husband wouldn’t mind, I’d wear them to bed.

After two foot surgeries and advancing arthritis, I gave up heels. And forget flip-flops and open-toed sandals. Without the support of my orthotics, it’s like I’m walking on thumb tacks. So finding the right shoe always makes me do a little happy dance.

For me, shoes are like food. Both have to be just right or I will be terribly uncomfortable. In my post “Hindering My Hindrances,” Karen left a comment and question about how I deal with bringing food to someone else’s house.

She wrote, “About your food planning - I also think that is the secret of weight maintenance. I have kept my weight loss off almost 2 years now and am (like you) very diligent about planning my meals.

“What I haven't gotten past though, is bringing my own food to someone else's house. I know that most of the people we gather with wouldn't like what I eat, but my Midwest politeness won't let me bring my own. I feel like it would be an insult to the hostess. I would really appreciate any suggestions on how you overcame that.”

Here’s how I came to not give a damn what other people think about how and what I eat. I call it “The Veal Experience.”

I moved to Podunkville, Pennsylvania, in 1991 from Minnesota, so I know of this “Midwest politeness” Karen speaks of. I cut beef out of my diet in 1986 after my father had two heart attacks. I was obese then and was afraid I, too, would have a heart attack young, and so I stopped eating most meat. The one time I ate beef was in a homemade taco salad in 1990 (it was almost 100 percent lean, the leanest ground meat I could find) and I spent the rest of the evening in the bathroom. ‘Nuf said. Haven’t touched the stuff since.

Anyway, I moved here to PA with my (now ex) husband who got a job as a professor at our local college. (For those of you keeping track, yes, my current – and last – husband is also a prof at the same school, different department. I have a thing for men with letters after their names, apparently). As part of the orientation for new faculty, ex and I were invited to a faculty member’s home for dinner with other faculty members. (The academia with nauseatingly thick in the room that night, my friends.)

When we sat down for dinner, Hostess began by serving a shrimp salad swimming in a creamy white dressing. I wasn’t watching my weight at the time, although I should have been. I weighed 139 pounds and it would have behooved me to stay there, but I digress. I’ve had high blood pressure since I was 18 and so I watch my sodium intake, and I knew that salad Hostess was passing was afloat in sodium. To be polite, I scooped a miniscule amount. Hostess said, and I’m not kidding, “Is that all you’re going to eat?” Let’s just say she wasn’t the most tactful woman I’d ever met.

I smiled and stood my ground. “Yes, thank you. I have to watch my sodium intake.” Why lie?

I took a rolls, but passed on the butter and the olives and the pickles and the cheese sauce that I think had potatoes floating somewhere in the grease. But the catalyst that guaranteed I was never being invited back and that Hostess and I were not going to be BFF was when Hostess personally walked around the table with a platter of veal.

I don’t eat beef, we’ve established that. I made that decision for health reasons. But I do not and have not and will not ever eat veal. I made that decision for animal rights reasons (a decision I made long before corporate farming and the abhorrent ways in which animals are treated today…a subject for another day and perhaps a different blog format).

Veal? Was she kidding me? Who serves veal to guests she’s never met before? I wanted to walk out in protest, but I was there as the Good Wife and so I politely said no. Again, she berated me. “You don’t eat meat, either? What are you? A vegetarian?” She said “vegetarian” like it was a four-letter word. And I wasn’t even a vegetarian at the time!

“No,” I explained as my husband kicked me under the table. “I haven’t eaten beef in several years.”

I wish now that I’d have launched into my political banter, but I was only 28 and Hostess was 60 and scary. However, she taught me two very important lessons that night. 1) I always, ALWAYS ask my guests if they have a dietary restriction or request before they dine at my house; and 2) I always ALWAYS ask my host/hostess what they are serving and to let them know that they do NOT have to prepare something separate for me, and I am happy to bring along my own food. If they have a problem with that, then they are not worthy of my presence at their dinner table. Word.

Weight loss has made me a bit militant. But it’s my body I’m defending, and I do it in the nicest possible way. What I eat isn’t anyone’s business other than my own since it is MY body the food is passing through and it is ME who has to deal with its repercussions the next day.

So Karen, I don’t know how comfortable you are becoming your own little army, but like a good pair of shoes, if you don’t serve yourself the right food, you will be uncomfortable in some way, shape, or form. And you, not your host or hostess, has to live with that.

And I say all that in the nicest possible way because, well, I’m a nice person. LOL!

On a side note, I know a lot of you have foot issues and can empathize with my feet issues, so I’d love to hear about your favorite shoes. And even if you don’t have foot issues, give us your shoe reviews. If there’s another perfect shoe beyond the Skechers I’ve got on my feet right now, I’d love to know.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Egg Rolls Are BACK On The Menu...Hurrah!

I don’t personally know Melanie Scott of Amarillo, TX, but for a few moments during dinner last night, she was my BFF.

During these last four years of weight loss and maintenance, I’ve chosen to stop eating several kinds of food including one of my favorites: egg rolls. I always thought egg rolls had to be deep-fat fried, and deep-fat fried anything sits like a lump in my stomach. Despite my love for egg rolls (and funnel cakes, Burger King French fries, and the fish ‘n chips they serve up at a great little basement pub in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, the name of which escapes me), digesting them would not be worth the pleasure of eating them.

I’d made a difficult peace with the fact that I’d never eat egg rolls again and my life went on as usual, albeit a little emptier. Enter Melanie Scott and her recipe for Spinach & Black Bean Egg Rolls in a recent edition of Simple & Delicious, one of my favorite food magazines. Not only is Melanie’s recipe one for low-fat eggs rolls, but low-fat vegetarian egg rolls. They sounded almost too good to be true. But let me tell you, my friends, they are true and they are good. Very good.

Spinach & Black Bean Egg Rolls

2 C frozen corn, thawed
1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 pkg (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 C (4 oz) shredded reduced-fat Mexican cheese blend (I used Cabot 75% Fat-Free cheddar)
1 can (4 oz) chopped green chilies, drained
4 green onions, chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. chili powder
½ tsp. pepper
20 egg roll wrappers

In a large bowl, combine everything except the egg roll wrappers. Place ¼ cup mixture in the center of one egg roll wrapper. Fold bottom corner over filling. Fold sides toward center over filling. Moisten remaining corner with water; roll up tightly to seal. Repeat.

Place seam side down on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Spray tops of egg rolls with cooking spray. Bake at 425 degrees for 10-15 minutes until lightly brown (I flipped them halfway through cooking).

Serve warm with salsa and/or light ranch dressing.

If using reduced-fat Mexican cheese, each egg roll has 147 calories, 2 grams fat, 26 grams carbs, 2 grams fiber, and 7 grams protein. Using a lower-fat cheese like Cabot or a fat-free cheese, each egg roll is 1 Point; two egg rolls are 3 Points.

Now I can have my egg rolls and eat them, too. However, I’m sure I’m behind the times, and several of you will write to me with “I’ve been eating baked egg rolls for 20 years!” to which I say, bring it on! My only stipulation? Include a recipe.

So Melanie Scott of Amarillo, TX, thank you for your awesome recipe, but mostly for restoring a beloved food back to my repertoire. One that doesn’t sit like a lump in my stomach. Now if I could just find low-fat Burger King fries and funnel cake…

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hindering My Hindrances

Buddhism identifies five hindrances that hinder our ability to see clearly or become concentrated, not just in meditation, but in our everyday lives. I’m currently taking a 10-week online course that examines these five hindrances, and have to tell you, a few hindrances are hindering me from wanting to examine my hindrances! LOL

The five hindrances are: sensual desire or greed; ill-will or aversion; sloth and torpor; restlessness, anxiety and remorse; doubt.

While I’ve listened to teachings on these hindrances before, I’ve not thought about them the way I have the last few weeks. It’s quite disconcerting to purposely think about and feel – physically and emotionally – the things I do to avoid pain or to fulfill a desire or craving. Sometimes I get frustrated and tired of the self-examination and wonder if ignorance wasn’t a better state in which to live my life. If I don’t examine anger, I can just let anger do my talking and acting. If I don’t examine anxiety, I can just take a pill or avoid it with exercise or some other distraction. If I don’t examine feelings of ill-will, I can go on hating and feeling justified.

When I examine the five hindrances from a weight-maintenance perspective, I see that restlessness/ anxiety, anger and doubt hinder me most from learning to trust that I have the ability to not gain weight again.

As I told you in my last entry, my weight was up two pounds this week from my most comfortable weight, and the first word that came into my mind when I saw 130 on the scale was “failure,” a word steeped in anxiety, anger and doubt. However, by using the RAIN formula to examine this hindrance, I am uncomfortably able to see where this is coming from and, for now, accept it is there and use it as a focus of meditation.

The RAIN formula is (from Insight Meditation Center’s Audio Dharma course):

R: Recognize it.
A: Accept it.
I: Investigate it, be curious. What is it like?
Physically (How does it feel in the body? Is it pleasant? Unpleasant? Does it change?)Emotionally (What emotions are present?)
Energetically (such as feelings of rushing, sinking or lifting)
Cognitively (What beliefs or stories do we tell ourselves?)Motivationally (Is there an urge to act or cling?)
N: Not personal. Non-attachment. This is just a passing process that comes and goes, not who we are.

Yesterday I went to Pittsburgh to spend the day with both of my girls and my grandkids. Whenever I travel, be it for a few hours, days or weeks, I plan my food strategy. And as I plan my food strategy (sometimes the process begins the night before), always in the back of my mind is some anxiety and a little anger. I didn’t realize I felt this way until I consciously stopped in the middle of packing my food yesterday to examine these feelings more closely. Yes, I was feeling anxiety and anger, but why?

I felt anger because I hate planning my food. It makes me feel like a freak. I can’t eat like “normal” people. I can’t just eat whatever I feel like eating. I can’t do what I used to do because I’ll gain weight again. Ah…that’s right. That’s where I failed every other time I got to a weight goal. I stopped paying attention to my food intake and went back to eating whatever I wanted to. Hmm…so maybe all this planning has merit and shouldn’t warrant anger. Something to investigate.

I felt anxious because I worry I’ll gain weight if I stray even slightly from my daily food plan. I especially spend a lot of time in this anxious state when I plan my food for going out of town.

Here was yesterday’s plan:

Smoothie (½ C ff Greek yogurt, ½ C light soy milk, 1 C frozen fruit, 1/3 t stevia)
Omelet (¼ C Egg Beaters, 2 egg whites, fresh chives, slice of low-fat Swiss cheese, 1 C mushrooms sautéed in Pam spray)
Iced Good Earth herbal tea

Lunch and afternoon snacks:
2 T PB2 (dried peanut butter) and an Arnold’s Sandwich Thin
2 small plums and 1 C sliced strawberries
1½ C vegetable stew (which included textured vegetable protein)
1 bunch asparagus, roasted with 2 T parmesan cheese
3 large carrots, roasted
String cheese
1 No-Pudge brownie

Salad made with homemade refried beans, spinach, salsa, low-fat sour cream, olives, onions, homemade corn chips, tomatoes
2 glasses of white wine and one Werther’s hard candy

Having at least recognized these two hindrances, I packed my breakfast and lunch and drove to Pittsburgh. (And yes, I ate a smoothie and an omelet in the car. I’ve gotten very good at it.)

When I got to my daughter Cassie’s house, she and Carlene were just finishing up getting ready. They said we were going downtown for a walk and eating lunch outdoors at one of their favorite restaurants. How fun!

Um...yeah…I panicked. I have my food plan all set! I can’t eat out today! I’ll eat something stupid and I’ll gain weight! Oh no oh no oh no!

Then I stopped. Good lord, my mind is noisy. Is it always this noisy when I face a “food trial”? and I realized that yes, it is that noisy. Yes, I do play doom and gloom tapes over and over in my head.

Hunh, I thought. Just by recognizing my noisy mind and accepting it, the anxious feelings didn’t seem as harsh.

After a lovely walk across the 6th Ave. bridge and playing in the fountain with Claire, we went to the restaurant. I ordered a small salad with light Italian dressing on the side, a baked potato with butter on the side, and a side of steamed vegetables. I left feeling in control and happy about my choices and only felt a little sidelined.

We went back to Cassie’s and I ate the brownie and the strawberries and decided to not eat the plums. As I drove home, I ate the string cheese and peanut butter sandwich. I had the veggie soup and asparagus and carrots for dinner instead of the salad, and I drank the wine and ate the Werther and all was well with the world. Well, OK, so I was still a little anxious. Hindrances don’t go away overnight. But when I got up this morning and weighed myself I was 129.3.


I guess what I’m learning to accept is that planning is key to my success. I don’t like it, maybe I never will, but it is the most important thing I do to stay on track. So instead of feeling angry about it, I’m going to work toward accepting it and appreciating it.

As for the anxiety, walking the path of maintenance is like walking on a tightrope. It’s been scary and paralyzing and obviously makes me anxious. But what I didn’t realize until I examined my underlying discomfort is that I’m not walking a tightrope high in the air, and that I have a safety net to catch me if I fall. I HAVE learned how to eat and think more healthy than I did back in my gain-lose-gain-lose-gain days, so now I need to trust that I can utilize those tools whenever I meet a weight-maintenance hindrance.

My hindrances are not who I am. They are part of the process.

Here's a little photo of g-baby Luca awake. What a little man.

Monday, June 8, 2009

What Have I Done For Me Lately?

Some old negative thoughts have crept back into my mind the last few days because the scale is up a few pounds. For three days, I’ve weighed 130, up from my preferred 128. I know, I know, two pounds is no big deal, and if it were only for a day, maybe two, I’d agree. But this is day three and I’m ticked. Not worried. Ticked. I’m not worried because I know I’ll figure out what’s going on (and I’m pretty sure I’ll discover it’s nothing I’m doing, rather it’s biological and related to the warm, humid weather).

So if I’m not worried, why am I ticked?

Because I feel like I’ve failed. Yup, just three days of two measly pounds over my preferred weight and I’m a failure. THAT, my friends, is how my mind works. And THAT is what I’m working to improve: to stop the negative thoughts and cultivate a more peaceful, curious mind.

Aside from excess skin questions, the two questions I get asked most are “What do you eat?” and “What is your exercise regimen?” Valid questions, but the further along this weight journey I travel, it’s becoming more clear that the best question to ask might be, “How do you take care of your mind?” Without understanding our goals and committing to achieving them, and more importantly, understanding how we view ourselves as a human being, what we eat and how we move is almost moot.

In a recent Tricycle Community newsletter, Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron wrote an excellent piece on gossip called “The Truth About Gossip.” She writes:

“I’ve found that the best antidote to gossip is deliberately and consistently meditating on the kindness of others and cultivating lovingkindness toward them. Sit down sometime and reflect on everything others have done for you since you were born…It’s truly amazing how much others have done for us.

“When our minds become convinced that we’ve been the recipients of a tremendous amount of kindness in our lives, the wish to speak ill of others vanishes. Instead, we become happy to talk about others’ good qualities, virtuous activities, accomplishments, and good fortune.”

When I tell myself I’ve failed, it’s like I’m gossiping about myself: “What does she know about losing weight or maintaining weight? She just gained two pounds! She doesn’t know her ass from a hole in the ground.”

When I read Chodron’s piece, I turned the meditation towards myself. What kindnesses have I shown MYSELF since I was born and how can I cultivate lovingkindness towards me?

I’m still working my way through this meditation – probably will for many days, months and years – but it’s clear I’ve done many more good things for myself than bad. I've accomplished a lot of good things, beyond losing weight and getting fit. My hope is that soon I’ll be happy to talk to myself more about my good qualities and stop this internal gossip.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Staying Focused For The Long Haul (and some vehicle news)

My new used Jeep and I bonded on our maiden voyage to P’burgh today.

I bought an ’07 Jeep Liberty, and she has 15,000 miles, a sunroof, 6-cylinder/3.7L engine, heated leather seats, 6-disc CD player, Sirius, tinted windows, theft protection, and my favorite: keyless entry. I know that sounds silly to be my favorite, but with the kind of wrist arthritis I have, keyless entry is a godsend. Old Paint the Cherokee had very difficult locks and I cringed every time I had to lock her up and open her back up. Now it’s a breeze.

This new Jeep has a little different temperament than Old Paint, and she’s definitely more high falutin’ and bitchy (in a good diva way) due to her very cool heated leather seats. What cracks me up is that we paid less for her than we did for no-bells-and-whistles-just-straight-up-Jeep Old Paint in 1998. Go figure. She’s got power and style and I’m sure we’ll be BFF in a few hundred miles.

Thanks everyone for your kind comments about Old Paint, and especially for sharing your own car stories. I know a car is just an object, technically, but really? Cars are so much more. They are a big part of our lives, like our beds or favorite kitchen utensils. We spend a LOT of time in our cars (and beds and using kitchen utensils) and they are an intricate part of our existence.

Kinda like our bodies. Which leads me to my real blog and weight loss/maintenance and my answer to reader Lee’s questions from a few weeks ago.

Lee wrote: “Did you just make your mind up to lose the weight and stick to it and never struggle with it again? Or do you still struggle? When you were losing the weight, did you ever wonder if you would make it? Did you ever lose focus and have to mentally re-program yourself again?”

There are several layers underpinning these questions, so I’ll try to answer them separately.

I did just make up my mind to lose weight this last time (god knows I’d made up my mind many times before). But it was a decision culled from a long, thought-out mental process.

When I began losing weight this last time, I knew it had to be the last time or I would die young. But I didn’t approach it as physically as I do now. That unfolding came later. Here’s what I mean (and you might recognize this as part of the piece I wrote for CNN):

I had so many feelings floating around in my head when I weighed 300 pounds – inadequacy, anger, and overall helplessness. I vacillated for months between accepting my body as it was and choosing to lose weight. I journaled tough questions: How did I feel about my body. How much did I love myself? Was I worth changing for? It was difficult and often uncomfortable work, I won’t lie, but once I was honest with myself and became better acquainted with the emotions that bothered me most, I was ready to lose weight.

Working through those issues, or at least confronting them, left me better prepared for the “tough love” it took to discipline that weak voice inside that said, “This is hard. I want chocolate (or fries or animal crackers or any other simple carb you can imagine). Feed me.” I learned to say no to myself and I committed to learning new behaviors that helped me change “I can’t” to “I will.” This is what helped me stick to it.

Many of us have decided at some point in our lives to change something – jobs, relationships, residences, and weight – only to get part of the way in and get bored or find the process hard or dull. It’s easy to forget our original intention and lose momentum. Other feelings and experiences get in the way and time erodes the original excitement or motivation. How do you recapture that initial “thing” that pushed you over the edge to say, “I can do it! I WILL do it!”

For me, it was always keeping one very important aspect in mind: my health.

Yes, I struggled with weight loss sometimes. I still struggle to maintain once in awhile. But it’s mostly a mental fight, not a physical one. I’ve developed tools – mostly mindfulness and meditation – to help me step back, breathe, and recognize those times I was in a position to jeopardize my health goals.

Around the time Lee asked me her questions, Debby posted in her blog, Debby Weighs In, how she sometimes finds herself comparing her body to people who are years younger than she is. She wrote, “…on my way out to the car after work, I had a thought that was more than a thought – it was like a deep feeling. And it was, ‘Who do you think you are? You are a 54-year-OLD woman. It’s ridiculous for you to be trying to work out and build muscles. You will never look like those young firm girls. You look like a fool.’”

I posted this comment: “I think those same things, too, sometimes, particularly when I work out in the gym. My gym is the student rec center at our local university so I'm surrounded by nubile 20-year-olds for 90 minutes. What I've done is changed my way of looking at my workouts and what I want from them. I will never have the body of a 20-year-old, but I can have the strongest, most healthy 45-year-old body. Right now, at our age, it's so important to build muscle and strong bones so we're not falling down when we're 80 and breaking our hips. The body I have right here, right now, is the one I'm taking into old age, and by god I'm going to do everything I can to insure I'm the healthiest old lady I can be.”

If you don’t have any physical ailments right now and are in the process of losing weight, I can see how it would be hard to use health as a stimulus or motivation to continue your journey. However, I would challenge you to see into the future. Where do you want to be 5, 10 or 20 years from now? Will you have grandchildren you want to keep up with? Is there travelling you’d like to do without having to worry about your weight? A future health goal can be just as motivating as a current health goal.

For me, getting to and staying the size I am gives me the best possible health advantage. Keeping my wrists strong through strength training helps me open doors and jars of pickles and that impossible plastic packaging on electronic devices. Keeping my legs strong insures I won’t have to have both of my knees replaced next week. Keeping my shoulders strong insures that despite rotator cuff tears and biceps tendon tears, my arms can lift and toss and cuddle my grandchildren without fear of dropping them.

As for my heart and arteries and all those other internal organs, getting to and staying at the weight I am reduces my chance of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other diseases.

In those times when I could have given in to some food that would derail me, I kept my liver and kidneys and heart and knees and shoulders in mind and said no….MOST of the time. I am NOT perfect in any way, shape or form. But it is always my original intention – health – that I keep in the forefront of my thinking and decision making process. Why am I doing this? What do I hope to accomplish?

Fall in love with your intention, burn it in your brain. Love it and believe in it even when you’re tired and bored and unsure. It’s the only way I’ve found to struggle less and to stay focused.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

“Goodbye, Old Paint, I’m A-Leavin’ Cheyenne”

She was a good friend. Reliable and tough. But I cleaned her out and sent her off to that great auto parts yard in the sky.

I’ve driven my 1995 Jeep Cherokee longer than I’ve been married. We bought her in July 1998, three months before the wedding.

It was a leap of faith, buying her. I drove an ’87 POS Chevy Cavalier, but it was MY POS – the only thing I owned and could afford on my journalist’s salary. We needed a trade-in to buy the Cherokee, but I was reluctant to give up my POS for a car that would be in my not-yet-husband’s name. (FYI: Banks laughed hysterically when they saw my social security number on loan applications.) What if we broke up? Didn’t get married? Larry promised me I could keep the new car if that happened, but I’d been promised many things in the past by seemingly trustworthy men only to be faked out and left empty-handed.

Against my better judgment (not that I had a lot of better judgment in the first place), I signed away my little POS for $500 and we drove home in the Cherokee.

And what a ride it’s been.

Both of my girls learned how to drive in the Jeep. She’s been across the country a few times and gotten me out of more snow and mud than any car could have. She got me to Pittsburgh safely in the middle of a rainy night when Cassie was in labor with Claire. She’s been thrown up in (not by me, but by our four-legged creatures), spilled on (OK, that would be by me…she had no cup holders), dinged up, scratched, peed on (again, the four-legged creatures PLUS a few two-legged college students), bumped, dented and welded back together. She’s seen me through some tough times, let me cry in her, beat her steering wheel and crank her sound system. It’s a good thing she can’t talk. (To read a more about Old Paint, see my blog posts: The Tale of the Flat Tire and There’s Nothing Like A Good Jeep.)

Old Paint was also part of my decision to lose weight and was a gauge for how much I’d lost. I was seriously considering a seatbelt extension at 300 pounds, and my stomach rubbed the steering wheel. As I lost weight, I watched my belly inch further and further away from the steering wheel, and I required less and less seatbelt. It was as exciting as buying smaller clothes!
Old Paint’s sitting in our mechanic’s parking lot. Underbelly rust finally got the best of her. Our mechanic said if we tried to drive her again, something major – like, oh, say, the transmission – would fall out the minute we went over a bump. It would cost thousands to fix her up, so like a good old dog in pain, it’s time to put her down. We’ll get $150 for her parts, but to me, she’s still priceless.

Cleaning her out, I found remnants of the past buried in the glove box: Carlene’s broken Fugee’s CD, buttons from Cassie’s softball and cheerleading days, the receipt from when we bought her, and the service record from her previous owner, a lady named Margaret from Millville, NJ. I also found my Neil Young “Decade” CD – yay! – and three pairs of sunglasses.

We’re going shopping today for another vehicle. I’ve got my eye on another Jeep. A blue one, actually. We’ll see if she feels as good as Old Paint, although it would be unfair of me to compare. She was one of a kind and I miss her already. I hope this new vehicle has soul, though. I don’t mind driving my husband’s Subaru, but it’s his car and I have no real connection to it. This new one (well, actually, we’re buying used again) will be mine. I hope we are still friends in 11 years.