Many of us are fully immersed in the holiday madness and mayhem, and how we are feeling right now has much to do with how much of our ” to do list” has been checked off :shopping, wrapping, cooking, baking, decorating and more shopping. For many, this time of the year also brings forth nostalgic feelings, sentiments and memories of years gone by. Buried deep in the psyche most every other day of the year, are the stark reminders of the empty seat at the table; those we have loved so deeply that are now only with us in spirit, children that have grown and moved away, memories that surge to our consciousness and beg for attention despite the ‘busyness’ of the season. For anyone that deals with a chronic illness, this can be a particularly difficult time of the year.
Why is it that around this hectic and stress filled time of the year when we most need to care for ourselves, physically, mentally and emotionally, instead,we are most prone to self neglect? Neglect, that is, of healthy eating, exercise routines, or tending to our own emotional needs. While, we are surrounded with seemingly limitless opportunities to indulge our appetites with cookies, pie, stuffing, mashed potatoes and other comforting foods, at the same time we have literally no time to exercise, take a yoga class or even take a deep breath! If I can point out the obvious, this is not a good combination of events but quite frankly, a recipe for disaster!
While this may be a chaotic time on many levels, and certainly a catastrophic time for our diet and weight goals, it doesn’t have to be. I would like to share some thoughts on caring for yourself during a time when it is most valuable and necessary!
1.Everything is Exactly as it should be: This is the first premise and the foundation of all others. In essence, acceptance of how things are, right here and right now, unloads a tremendous burden from our vigilant, over active mind or “ego” that wants to be in constant control. The difficult part of acceptance is that many times, things don’t look the way we think they ‘should.’ It’s that curse of expectation, and sometimes we have to recognize that while we may not understand everything, or even like what’s happening, that it will all be fine in the end. The solution: to fully surrender to what is. This is really an act of self love. A gift you can give yourself, moment by moment, one day at a time, starting now. This takes rehearsal and practice and for many of us, LOTS of rehearsal and practice! OK, now that we have that one out of the way..
2 You are What you Eat. We have all heard some variation of this. Most recently I read a quote from an unknown author that stated: “You are what you eat, so don’t be fast, cheap, easy or fake!” All kidding aside, while we all realize that this is true on some level, as a student of nutrition, I now have facts to back this up! It may seem pointless to bring up healthy eating at this time of the year, while we are in the midst of numerous, taste bud pleasing items at every turn. In fact, the majority of people will deal with the 10-15 pounds that will accrue between Thanksgiving and Christmas with a new list of diet and exercise resolutions for the New Year. Does this sound vaguely familiar?
I will bring up just 2 major points: The first point: You will eventually get good at whatever you practice the most. Practice makes perfect, and what we practice most, become our habits. Our habits determine our destiny. What habits are you practicing right now? Indulging in foods you know are unhealthy will reinforce the habit of eating unhealthy. This will certainly make for a challenge after the New Year when you, once again, swear off or otherwise deprive yourself of anything ‘fattening’. We all know that will power isn’t very powerful, after all, and in the long run doesn’t work. Willpower is a relatively new concept, designed for the world in which we currently live. Cavemen and women did not have will power. They hunted and gathered day and night on foot, and then indulged in satisfying fare and robust flavors of fresh meat and produce. As you can clearly see, if you are eating natural, real, whole foods there is no need for will power. They were not tempted by the endless array of Krispy Kreme, McDonalds or Grande Mocha lattes available on nearly every block.. Food manufacturers now know which combinations of foods will ‘hook’ our taste buds creating a cycle of cravings that never end. Our taste buds have been sensitized and hijacked to crave food-like substances that are sweet, salty, and chemically flavor enhanced. These foods create a real biological demand that clamors for satisfaction. Therefore, soon after eating these types of foods you will be craving your next ‘hit’. The pleasure centers of the brain respond in typical addictive fashion. So as you can see, will power was never meant to be an effective tool against the fabricated, factory created, highly palatable, pseudo foods of today. Hence, one of the many reasons why diets that are very restrictive and that rely on will power so often fail.
So, what is the best option, when we are surrounded by endless temptation? For some it might be extra long and intense work outs at the gym, after a day of ‘poor eating’. This is only half the solution. Unfortunately, as Dr. Mark Hyman, MD director of the Cleveland Clinic for Functional Medicine has said: ” You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet.”
Studies have confirmed that a refined carbohydrate, high sugar diet is associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety. This is due in part, to stress on our adrenal glands and other endocrine glands. In addition, sugar is considered an “anti-nutrient”, meaning it depletes other valuable nutrients from our bodies. For example, for every molecule of sugar you consume, it takes 54 molecules of calming magnesium for your body to process it. Sugar and unhealthy fats are also inflammatory and can increase pain in the body. Sugar also damages are brain and memory, is associated with irritability and fatigue. Clearly, not something we need this time of the year, or any time for that matter! We already recognize that sugar is the culprit for elevated triglycerides, and higher rates of heart disease, insulin resistance and diabetes. These diseases of lifestyle and diet are on the rise.Sugar and unhealthy fats in processed foods also change your healthy gut bacteria to unhealthy. These unhealthy, pathogenic bacteria prefer and demand more sugar and processed foods, creating sugar and junk food cravings. If this sounds like a viscous cycle, you would be correct. So the message is clear, practice choosing healthier options now, avoidance or complete abstinence is not always necessary but conscious, present moment awareness is. If you make the choice to have pie, make a decision in advance to have pumpkin OR apple, but not both. Moderation is really the key to all things, and you are solely responsible for the choices you make and ultimately how you will feel mentally and physically. We have eaten our way into this conundrum, so we need to eat our way out! Start practicing better habits now for a better and healthier life in 2016.
The second point: The most limiting and detrimental emotion when it comes to establishing and practicing better habits, is self recrimination. You will never motivate yourself to form healthier habits from a mental state of guilt, fear, anger or any other negative emotion. If you are a stress eater, worry eater, anxiety eater or anger eater, you will understand this concept. These feelings will often lead to over eating when the underlying issue is not acknowledged, accepted or expressed. If you can make an honest assessment of what you are feeling and why, bringing yourself back into the present, you will often make discoveries and be rewarded with clarification, insight and the impetus to make better choices. The only real lasting change will come from a place of self love, self acceptance and compassion. Pledge to free yourself at last of the negative tape that replays in your own mind, and understand there are no mistakes or failures, only learning opportunities. The battle is won or lost in your own mind. Learn to use the delete button, and use in relentlessly.
3 Distractions lead to Disappointment: We are bombarded with so many stimuli simultaneously we can not appropriately or effectively mentally or emotionally process it all leading to feelings of being overwhelmed, derailed and disappointed.
We need to continually remind ourselves why we are here, (what is our purpose and intention) and why we are doing what we do. ( MOTIVATION). Again, some time away from the commotions of life for self connection, might be in order. This time of the year we should be reminded that our single greatest purpose ( always) is to serve others, love unconditionally and be a blessing when we can. At the end of another year, and as a new year approaches, we should be reflecting on personal growth. What one or two things would you desire to see positive changes in for the New year?Your desired goal may be to lose 20 pounds, learn specific exercises you can perform to manage or eliminate knee or back pain. Once you decide what you would like to change, create a “willingness to change” statement of intent with small step by step goals to guide your transformation. This will serve as your GPS. What will you need to do beginning today to see your vision come to fruition? When you encounter obstacles or setbacks, and you undoubtedly will, do not judge yourself harshly. Instead, similar to your car’s GPS which states in a very pleasant sounding voice: “In 500 feet, make a legal U -Turn”, make a course correction. Develop a focus so sharp that will guide your choices, not permitting anything into your force field that will move you away from your desired goal. Lastly, release your tight grip on the reins and you will enjoy the ride and journey much better!
Most importantly, we would be wise to reflect on the hope, love and peace that entered the world on a dark December day over 2,000 years ago and allow this light to sink down into our heart and spirit.
Right now, as you are reading this, make a decision to experience this season of peace however it feels right to you. Chaos, and commotion may certainly be all around you, but you have a choice whether or not you let it on the inside.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A BLESSED NEW YEAR!
Mary Dicaro, PT, CSCS,CHN
Please visit my website: http://www.mdtherapyandwellness.com or attend an upcoming seminar. I would be happy to help you on your wellness journey!