Here we are on the cusp of another holiday season and the beginning of the Winter solstice. Many of us are fully immersed in the holiday madness and mayhem, and what we are feeling right now, has much to do with how much of our ” to do list” has been checked off: that is, the shopping, wrapping, cooking, baking, decorating and more shopping. For many, this time of the year also excavates 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 that 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, or maybe an illness that has challenged our way of life. It can be any Memories that surge to our consciousness and beg for attention despite the ‘busyness’ of the season. For anyone that deals with a chronic illness, or has lost a loved one, 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 and self sabotage? Neglect, that is, of healthy eating, exercise routines, or tending to our own emotional and spiritual 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 needed and necessary!
1.Everything is Exactly as it should be: This is the first premise and the foundation of all others. This of course, is most relevant when we are in the midst of a personal struggle or difficult time. 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, demanding an explanation for the events we can’t seem to 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 only solution that will bring peace at times like these is to fully surrender to what is. This is not an act of passivity but of faith and wisdom. Most importantly, 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 saying. 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! With every single food choice we make, we are either creating health or creating disease. 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. Remember practicing shooting baskets on the basketball court or spending hours at the piano? Our choices become our habits and 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 fast food world in which we currently live. Cave men and cave women did not have or need 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 Starbucks Mocha Frappaccinos available on nearly every block. Food manufacturers employ food scientists who have figured out which combinations of foods will ‘hook’ our taste buds creating a cycle of cravings that virtually never ends. 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 physiological need and 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, and studies have indicated that the combination of sugar , salt and fat are most addictive, as much as 8x more addictive than cocaine! 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 should already recognize that sugar is the culprit for elevated triglycerides, and higher rates of heart disease, and the epidemics of 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 in favor of unhealthy. These unhealthy, pathogenic bacteria begin to outnumber the healthy bacteria and they prefer and demand more sugar and processed foods, creating sugar and junk food cravings. If this sounds like a damaging and 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, in advance, to have pie, make a decision to have pumpkin OR pecan, but not both. You can not wait until you are facing the tempting array of goodies and hope that “will power” will win the war. You will lose this battle 100% of the time.
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 by choice, so we need to eat our way out! Get better at making choices from a place of strength and power and self love, knowing that we are creating our lives, one simple choice at a time. I encourage you to start practicing better habits now for a better and healthier life in 2018 and beyond.
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, shame, 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 on your thoughts, 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, therefore, leading to feelings of being confused, overwhelmed, derailed and disappointed. These distractions can cause disconnection from self, and will lead you astray, away from your purpose and passions, if you choose to let them.
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). Although it may seem impossible this time of the year, spending time away from the commotions of life for self connection, might be in order. During a time of reflection, We should be reminded that our single greatest purpose (always) is to serve others, love unconditionally and be a blessing when we can. To be the light that the world so desperately needs.
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, take control of your mental and physical health, nurture the important relationships in our lives or maybe eliminate the drama or negativity. There is no shortage of issues that any one of us is facing at any given time. Once you decide what you would like to see transformed, create a “statement of intent” with small step by step goals to guide your transformation. Enlist a friend or accountability buddy, to tell about your plans to transform this area of your life. These steps will act as your GPS and keep you from sliding back into more familiar ,but less than favorable habits. Take some time right now, even amidst the hustle and bustle of the season and tune in to what you most desire to see in your life. 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 but instead, make the necessary course correction, similar to your car’s GPS which states in the most pleasant sounding voice: “In 500 feet, make a legal U -Turn”, . 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!
Another important point to reflect upon, the message of love and peace that entered the world on a dark December day over 2,000 years ago. We can allow this light to sink down into our heart and spirit, giving us a peace that the world can not give.
Right now, as you are reading this, make a decision to experience this season of hope and peace however it feels right to you. Chaos, and commotion may certainly be all around you, but you alone have the choice whether or not you let it on the inside.
“I Bring you Tidings of Great Joy, which will be for All People.” – Luke 2:10
A VERY 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 in February. I would be happy to help you on your wellness journey!