My way or the highway.

I am a serious fan of perspectives. I had a high school history teacher who was fond of saying that “truth is increasing complexity”, and in both my personal and professional lives, I have found this to be, well, true.

When a client presents me with a truth, about themselves, about an experience, we work to increase complexity. Are you sure that’s true? Has it always been true? What else might be true? What do others in your life believe to be true? Often, in this way, we are able to triangulate, and to move in the direction of deeper knowing, of more true, but also to open space for subjectivity, and breathe some light or humor or next questions into that space.

It is in the spirit of that kind of inquiry that I offer the following blog post by Holly Glenn Whitaker: http://www.hipsobriety.com/home/2015/2/18/why-aa-didnt-work-for-me-my-story-part-1

This is not a prescription. This is not an indictment of AA. It is also not an endorsement of Holly’s sobriety coaching program. It is, however, a perspective. There’s this Buddhist expression, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” It speaks to the dangers of making something or someone your god, which is easy to do when you feel as though you have been saved, but the reification of any one concept or any one guru or organization can be fraught with peril.

I work with a lot of clients who struggle with substance abuse because when the world offers you its misogyny, its transphobia, its racisim and its fat phobia (amongst others) to internalize, numbness and escape often sound like the loveliest of sirens. I have folks who come to my office who have found a sober life working an AA program, and it’s glorious. I also work with clients who have found that the language of powerlessness and surrender was inaccessible to them in the context of a history of sexual trauma or internalized hatred and disempowerment, and who echo Holly’s statement that in fact, making the choice to let go of alcohol because you can’t use it and be well is profoundly powerful, and profoundly empowering.

You can’t get sober by yourself, but you’re also the only one who can get you sober. The rooms of AA are one available community within which to do that work, but they are not the only one: could this be a truth?

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Health At Every Size

ASDAH: HAES® Principles.

The above is a link to the Health at Every Size website, and details the principles of that movement. It’s important to me professionally to ensure that folks know that I’m not in the business of telling people to lose weight, although I sometimes reference weight management or body composition changes because those are things I support clients with when it’s medically or personally warranted. For example, if my client loves to kayak, and her body size is interfering with her ability to participate in that activity, and she wants to take a look at food choices, sleep, exercise and stress management (all of which impact body size), we’re going to do that. Another example would be if my client has a lifestyle related disease such as diabetes or chronic joint problems. If, however, she’s eating well, sleeping well, managing stress well and functioning well in her professional and personal life, but just doesn’t like the the way she looks, we’re going to have a very different conversation and a very different set of goals related to acceptance and body image.

If you’re living in a body that’s larger than some theoretical image of how you think you “should” look, ask yourself:

Is my body healthy, in terms of how systems function, my energy levels etc? Is my mind healthy? Do the thoughts I think support my well being and ability to move through the world with ease?

Because health truly is possible at every size, and to be frank, it’s far more common for me to encounter folks who are unhealthy and unhappy because they are trying to force their bodies to remain (even slightly) underweight by making impoverished nutritional choices and overexercising.

On a related note, try this. If you’re hungry, go eat something. You’ll feel better. If you’re sad, food’s not really a related phenomenon (unless you’re actually sad because you’re not eating enough dietary fat which does a number on the brain and tends to give rise to feelings of depression and anxiety) and a snack probably isn’t what you need. Just saying.

 

Perfect.

This may very well be my last blog post before I head off on maternity leave, so I thought I’d address something I need to be reminded of myself – the absolute fallacy of perfectionism, which is a trap many people who struggle with disordered eating fall into (as well as many mothers).

When we approach our lives from the perfectionist perspective, anything that is not “perfect” is a failure. This eliminates the vast majority of how most people function from day to day from the success category. For example, it’s an important goal of mine not to snap at my son. If he’s having a very mischievous morning, and I make it through almost the whole thing using the kind of measured tone I’m aiming for, but eventually get so exasperated that I bark at him about putting his boots on, what kind of mother am I? Perfectionism suggests I have failed. A more balanced perspective notes that if I said 100 things to him, and 99 of them were on target, I’ve just gotten a very good Mama grade.

This isn’t just semantics – our emotional health and efficacy as people in the world are at stake when we choose the perspective from which to view and experience our actions. In the above example, if I take the perfectionist route and castigate myself for failing as a mother that morning, a number of nasty things will happen. First, my self esteem will tank, and so then I’ll be in a lousy mood, which means my temper will be rubbish and I’ll actually be far more vulnerable to engaging in exactly the sort of behavior I’m trying to avoid – snapping at my son.

When perfectionism is a part of disordered eating, it often plays strongly into a vicious cycle of restricting and binge eating. “I don’t know what happened, I was doing so well” is a phrase I hear often, and it usually comes from an individual who has set themselves up with an unrealistic and/or inflexible eating plan. If I’m “supposed” to eat only whole grains, and at a work breakfast, the only options are more processed, and I function best when I don’t skip breakfast, and have a bagel with cream cheese, how am I doing? Perfectionism says I’ve failed (and if you’re a failure today, you might as well go ahead and have a muffin and a Danish and…), but a more balanced perspective means I can pat myself on the back for making the best of the choices in front of me and move the heck on with my self esteem and motivation intact, far more likely to continue to be successful-ish for the rest of my day.

This is the important part, which is why it is in capital letters: YOU WILL ACTUALLY BE MORE COMPLIANT AND CONSISTENT IF YOU’RE NOT TRYING TO BE PERFECT.

Perfectionism is the enemy of success because it is demoralizing and leaves no room for learning from mistakes, or even making them. I’m not suggesting you adopt a sloppy, anything goes attitude. Goals and setting expectations for oneself are very useful tools, but only if wielded with some sanity. If my goal is to exercise 4 times a week, and I exercise 3 times, have I failed? (Hint: NO.) No. How can that be a failure if 3/4 of the time I did what I set out to do? If I reject this as a failure, I also lose the opportunity to celebrate and reflect on what made my success happen the 3/4 of the time that I did meet my goal, or to explore what the obstacles were on the day when I wasn’t as successful.

This stands out in the article I linked to above: “Wouldn’t it be good if your surgeon, or your lawyer or financial advisor, is a perfectionist?” said Thomas S. Greenspon, a psychologist and author of a recent paper on an “antidote to perfectionism,” published in Psychology in the Schools. “Actually, no. Research confirms that the most successful people in any given field are less likely to be perfectionistic, because the anxiety about making mistakes gets in your way,” he continued. “Waiting for the surgeon to be absolutely sure the correct decision is being made could allow me to bleed to death.”

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a baby. She’ll probably be perfect.

We’re clean eating our way to new eating disorders – Salon.com

“Because overdoing it is the American way, we’ve now managed to warp even healthy habits into a new form of eating disorders. Welcome to the era of orthorexia.

As Heather Hansman notes this week in Fast Company, orthorexia differs from other forms of disorders in that the obsessive focus is not on how much or how little one consumes, but the perceived virtue of the food itself. As she reports, “Nutritionists and psychologists say that they’re seeing it more often, especially in the face of restrictive food trends, like gluten-free, and growing information about where food comes from, and how it’s grown and processed.” Though the term has been in use since Dr. Steven Bratman coined it in 1997, the uptick in cases is leading to a new push to formally include it in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – aka the DSM 5.

Along with “gluten-free,” “juice fast” and other phrases, you may have been hearing “orthorexia” a lot more lately. Last summer, popular health and food blogger Jordan Younger made headlines – and faced intense criticism – when she announced that she was “transitioning away from veganism” as she realized that she had “started fearing a LOT of things when it came to food,” and had been struggling with orthorexia.”

via We’re clean eating our way to new eating disorders – Salon.com.

All or Nothing.

In case my clients hadn’t mentioned it enough this month, an excellent article about “All or Nothing” thinking showed up in my inbox a few days ago that sealed the deal on me writing about this topic.

For the uninitiated, All or Nothing thinking goes something like this: “I just ate x, which was not on my strict list of safe foods for my special and restrictive New Year’s resolution diet, and therefore I have ruined my day and I’m going to eat several more servings of x, as well as anything else I happen to encounter that is off-limits.” Other variants include the belief that an A minus is a bad grade, and since you just got one, you’re never going to do your homework again because what’s the point if you’re just going to fail, or that because you did not get this particular job, you are clearly unemployable and are never putting yourself through the humiliation of sending out a resume again.

There are a lot of problems with this kind of thinking. As my handy-dandy examples suggest, one of the most significant is that it tends to lead to quitting, inertia, anxiety, depressive thoughts and other totally fun experiences. The actions that flow from All or Nothing thinking are usually the opposite of effective. Otherwise known as ineffective.

Let’s take our poor sad friend on the All or Nothing diet who has “cheated” or “failed”: she’s really extra screwed because the rules of her diet were written by All or Nothing thinkers to start with, but beyond that, if the goal of the diet was to, for example, eat fewer treats, then responding to eating a treat by deciding she has failed and eating a whole bunch more treats is pretty counter-productive.

Here’s an alternative. (And for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s reasonable that the dieter has decided her health or self esteem or chronic headaches or whatever it is would be ameliorated if she ate fewer treats.) Rather than taking the All or Nothing path of deciding that all treats are off limits at all times forever (and therefore if she has one, she is a failure, and off the diet, and should “take advantage” of already having “ruined the day” and squash in as many treats as possible), she could think a more helpful, more effective thought. Something like “I’m going to pick one treat per day to really savor and enjoy to support myself in eating fewer treats overall. If I have a moment or day where I eat more treats, I’ll use that as a learning experience to see if there are any ways my plan needs to be adjusted.”

Now, if she eats an extra treat, she hasn’t failed, she has stumbled upon a piece of data that is a total gem because it’s going to help her figure out a more effective plan e.g. “Oh, I see that it’s not a good idea to eat my special treat when I’m distracted by paperwork because I won’t really savor it and I’ll be more likely to want more. Excellent! Good to know.” (Her therapist might have had to support her in re-framing things that way, but hey, it’s cool to ask for help.)

Similarly, with the A minus, and the job that doesn’t pan out, if the goals are academic success and employment, and the disappointment is a perception that these outcomes might not work out, quitting all together is only going to take our All or Nothing thinkers farther away from their goals. (Also, an A minus is a really good grade, and perfectionism is very All or Nothing.)

All or Nothing thinking isn’t logical by it’s nature because it’s usually driven by a strong emotion (shame, fear, remorse, despair, euphoria), which is the primary way to identify that you might be in the throes of it. Any action that you’re drawn to while experiencing a strong emotion is suspect, and worth putting through the All or Nothing test. And wouldn’t you know it: Mindfulness helps here. Holding awareness of your emotional state provides the opportunity to catch yourself in those heightened moments when you’re vulnerable to distorted thinking, which provides you with the opportunity to review your thoughts and action plans before tumbling down the All or Nothing rabbit hole.

Like so much of what I recommend to folks, this is hard work, but it’s a way easier path than holding yourself hostage to a cycle of unrealistic standards and constant feelings of failure. At least, I think so.

Everyone is TOTALLY FREAKING OUT ABOUT HOLIDAY COOKIES.

This morning, I got an email from one of my favorite nutrition writers, John Berardi of Precision Nutrition, which sounded an awful lot like what I’ve been saying to clients for the last few weeks when they come to me TOTALLY FREAKING OUT ABOUT HOLIDAY COOKIES. These are stressed people. Seriously unhappy people. Not exactly holiday cheerful. Because COOKIES. I had people TOTALLY FREAKING OUT ABOUT HOLIDAY COOKIES starting in early November, and I will continue to hear about COOKIES well into January. I’ve shared Dr. Berardi’s words below, but first, my take on this state of affairs.

As evidenced by my egregious use of capital letters, these are high volume, high intensity, high anxiety, high angst concerns. And I’m not trying to be mean about it: people are seriously suffering, and it’s very real. The problem is that we’re talking about cookies. In my mental landscape, a cookie is a palm-sized (or smaller, like those little round ones with the nuts inside and the powdered sugar – I love those) baked good that takes one to three minutes to eat depending on the size. However, for my friends of the freaking out, COOKIES are stomping through their mental landscapes crushing hopes and dreams like Godzilla having a very bad hair day.

The fear is real. It’s real, but it’s also a construction and a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a person starts thinking in November about how hard it’s going to be not to eat a certain food item in two months, and keeps thinking about how “bad” that food item is, and how she can’t control herself around that food item, it gives the damn thing an enormous amount of power. (It also ruins her November.) COOKIES are going to destroy her, she’s sure of it, and ensuring it. And of course, when late December rolls around, she’s going to eat them. How could you not eat something you’ve been debating about for two months? Will she enjoy the cookie? Survey says no. Because the minute it reaches her mouth, she’ll already be berating herself for how weak and bad and lazy and gross she is to have been subjugated by a COOKIE, rather than savoring its tasty flavor, reflecting on the family heritage the recipe represents or something else, you know, nice.

Because holiday cookies are nice. That’s about it. Some are tastier than others, some have memories associated with them, and some are kinda lame and taste like their cardboard box. But they really, really are a pretty minor, albeit pleasant, occurrence if you treat them as such.

Try this mindset on for size: Imagine yourself not thinking about holiday cookies until you’re actually faced with a plate of holiday cookies, perhaps at a party, perhaps on the table in the break room at work. Like, how you don’t think much about getting an oil change until it’s time to get an oil change. Now, assess the plate of cookies. Do you like this kind? Were they prepared by someone special? Are they appealing? Now, assess your level of hunger and your emotional state. Are you fairly full because you just ate a satisfying meal? Are you starting to feel that little nudge in the tummy that suggests it might be snack time soon? Are you bummed out and overwhelmed, or perhaps feeling a little festive? If you’re not too full, and not in an unpleasant emotional state where you’re more likely to be self-medicating than enjoying a treat, and there are cookies on the plate that are truly appealing to you, select the cookie that looks the best and eat it.  Feel free to take a bow.

Then walk away. Because you are not the cookie you just ate. You’re a mature adult human who, on occasion, when the moment is right, chooses to eat foods from the “treat” category because they are fun and nourishing in their own way. You’re not going to get fat. You’re going to get awesome. Because when COOKIES become just cookies, you get the power back, and you get to spend a lot more of your life thinking about other things that are a lot more interesting. Like, what to get your mother-in-law for Christmas. Or world peace. Or really anything.

(And, as a side note, if you are maybe still a little worried about the cookies: you’re much more likely to overeat the things if you treat them as a diet smashing super power, rather than a moderately enjoyable sometimes treat, because that’s how the restrict, binge, rinse, repeat cycle works. I promise, promise, promise you that you will eat fewer cookies if you allow yourself to enjoy them now and again than if you try to avoid all baked goods for two months and then go to your Nana’s house on December 25th.)

Now for the other guy’s take on things:

“My three little ones have been helping my wife and I with the usual chores: decorating the tree, creating cards with construction paper, preparing canned food donations for the local food pantry, and…making delicious cookies. But before you ask for my killer “healthy” cookie recipe, I have a confession: We’re not making not some low-fat, gluten-free, protein-packed, artificially sweetened, possibly-hiding-beets, “healthy” version of a cookie. Nope, we’re making the REAL THING. The kind of cookie that contains butter, sugar, and flour. The kind of cookie where you want a tall glass of milk to help wash it down. The kind of cookie most “nutrition experts” will tell you to avoid completely this year… Just dip some kale leaves into lemon juice with a splash of stevia and it’s exactly the same thing.

Anyway, when people learn that my family and I sometimes make treats like cookies…or go out for ice cream…or don’t eat 100% protein and vegetables all the time…they get a little confused. “But isn’t Precision Nutrition all about eating good foods and avoiding bad foods?” The answer, I’m proud to say, is no. Precision Nutrition is NOT all about eating “good” foods and avoiding “bad” foods. (I don’t even like those labels.) In a minute, I’ll share what Precision Nutrition is really about. But first I’m going to encourage you to enjoy some sort of cookie, cake, or cocktail this holiday season, too. In addition to songs, and friendship, and holiday cheer…

You see, every time you choose to eat one thing over another, you’re voting for what’s really important to you right now. Of course, you may not realize you’re doing that. But every decision IS a calculation. Of what really matters to you, in that moment. So, with the holidays here for most of us, what DOES matter to you right now?Is it… Feeling good? Connecting with loved ones? Truly nourishing your body? Feeding your soul? Remembering your heritage or family traditions? No judgement here. YOU get to decide your priorities. And  sometimes other things SHOULD win out over “nutrition”.

So I’m not here to tell you what to do, think, or feel. Or to make you feel guilty, ashamed, anxious, or deprived. Instead, I’m here to help you think through the question. To help you choose more consciously, with awareness and intention… Because shortbread and latkes taste great when made with love and shared with friends and family. They just do. And, while some people in fitness have a hard time with this notion, I think that feeling good is part of enjoying life and being healthy…

Here’s my first prescription: Enjoy a real cookie or two this holiday season! Or some other thing you enjoy but think is “off limits”. Just do it consciously, mindfully, and – as we teach in our coaching programs – slowly. Instead of scarfing it down and waiting for the guilt, taste what you enjoy. With intention. Then move on…

But even if you’re not ready to embrace this mindset yet because restricting is your only way to feel in control… Because you can’t believe that enjoying certain foods guilt-free is possible… Because you’re stuck in the middle of a nasty cycle of restrict, collapse, guilt, repeat… My family and I will still share some laughs, shed some tears, and nosh a few cookies this holiday season. We might even raise a glass of egg nog in your honor. Because, around here, we know that connection, love, and enjoyment CAN exist while working toward better health together. And we’re hoping that somewhere along they way you’ll discover the same thing.”