Monthly Archives: December 2013

Set New Holiday Traditions

Look at this wonderful veggie medley!  Doesn't this deserve to go front and center?!

Look at this wonderful veggie medley! Doesn’t this deserve to go front and center?!

So the holidays are here and it’s time to gain 5 pounds, right?  There are the temptations of peanut butter balls, sugar cookies, gingerbread, cheese balls, and chex mix.  And of course there are all the special breakfast breads, fruit cake, candied popcorn, eggnog and special drinks that have to be made, “gifted” and eaten.

Or does it have to happen this way?  A tradition is a way of thinking, doing or behaving that has been done by a group or organization for a long time.  What is the point of your holiday traditions?  Is the emphasis on getting all the family together to have some hugs, laughs and catch up time?  Or is it really just about the favorite foods and consuming so many goodies that you feel stuffed, nauseated and regretful?  Is the fear of disappointing a friend or family member over food really that important?  This can be an opportunity to reevaluate and think about the holiday traditions differently. Make just a few of the holiday favorites and put more emphasis on being together, playing games and just having fun.  Isn’t this a better way to make the holidays merrier and with less work and gluttony?

How about approaching the holiday more mindfully and with a plan.  When you go to a party decide ahead of time how you will negotiate the appetizers, and what your dinner and dessert plate will look like.  Deciding this ahead of time is like making a promise to yourself and provides the self talk you will use to block out the impulsive self.  Without a plan the impulsive self says, “I want this and this and this because it’s a special occasion and I’m justified”.  With a plan our manager self says, “Look at all the appetizers, dinner choices, desserts and drinks and choose just some of them.  That is all you will really enjoy and eat it with awareness and full engagement.”

When you prepare your holiday meal why not include a pretty vegetable tray with the colors of Christmas – red radishes and peppers, green scallions and asparagus and white celery and cauliflower?  Have some of the cheese ball, but fill half of your plate with the colors of the vegetables.  For dinner, have the roast beef, ham or turkey but find some new recipes for vegetables.  How often do we think of vegetables in the same light as the meat in our dinner?  Why not try some roasted veggies, sautéed chopped green cabbage, Brussel sprouts and onion or some steamed broccoli tossed in olive oil and a touch of salt?  Why do the vegetables get second billing all the time?  Bring them front and center.

Instead of gobbling down your dinner in  minutes and going for seconds before any indications of fullness can register, eat your meal with awareness. Make the meal an event taking inventory of all your senses – the smell of the food, the visual appearance, the sounds as your cut and chew each bite, and the taste and texture of your food choices.  Be mindful as you take each bite, chew slowly and savor all the flavors.  Make just one dessert but make it a really wonderful family favorite, have a smaller piece than usual and savor it!

The holidays are a time of joy and celebration.  Let it be more about the people, conversations and enjoying some of the favorite family food traditions without all the gorging, gluttony, and guilt.

It’s In Your Mind

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Do you cultivate weeds or flowers in your mind?

So why is it so important to be mindful and to see the butterflies in life?  What do these things have to do with health and weight? In a nutshell they help us to manage our stress better and to keep our perspective positive.  These actions are mind fertilizer.  Just like enriching the garden soil with compost yields a better tomato crop, being mindful and choosing to see the butterflies in our life enriches our thoughts and keeps us from feeling unbalanced and stressed.  Stress occurs when people perceive that the demands placed on them exceed their ability to cope.  Notice the word “perceive”.  It’s our perceptions of  a situation that create our emotions.  And emotions drive our behavior.

The Unhealthy Mind Cycle

Sally is a client who is in her early 50’s and works in the accounting department of a large firm.  She has a boss who is not easily approachable and demands too much of her.  She often works through lunch.  She is a mother of two teenage boys who are involved in basketball and with that comes expectations of parental volunteer work to raise money for the team.  Her husband has a job that requires travel and long hours.  Sally feels she has too much to do and not enough time to get it done.  Lately it has caused her to wake up in the middle of the night with anxious feelings and she has difficulty falling back to sleep.  She has gained thirty pounds over the past couple years and is frustrated with how her clothes fit.  She also notices her energy level is not what it used to be.  She gets sick more often and she often times feels lonely and depressed. She has food cravings in the evening and often eats a whole bag of potato chips, then feels guilty and frustrated that she can not break out of this habit.

Sounds like Sally is horribly trapped, doesn’t it?  Although Sally is fictitious, she is characteristic of many people I have worked with.  There are many areas of opportunity for the Sallies of the world to break this kind of pattern.  In Sally’s situation, eating chips at night is an escape from the daily stress and grind. Often times people aren’t even aware of how they are feeling, let alone whether or not they are hungry.  The TV is on; they are multitasking doing email or computer games and before they know it, the chip bag is all gone.  It starts with the bag of chips being a source of escape and temporary pleasure but over a period of time this form of escape leads to weight gain, a loss of energy, mood cycles of pleasure, frustration, guilt and a feeling of loss of control. How do you stop the cycle and fertilize the mind?

The Get Healthy Mind Cycle

First acknowledge the feelings you are having. It’s very easy when feeling overwhelmed and stressed to ruminate and have negative self talk, “my boss is unreasonable”, “no lunch break again”, “I can’t believe they are asking me to help with the basketball fundraiser this Friday”, “my husband is never around to help me”, or “my boys don’t appreciate how hard I work.”  I encourage people to take inventory of their lives and prioritize.  Address time management by being assertive where you can, delegate where you can and plan as much as possible on your days off for the week.  After that I encourage people to take two minutes every few hours when they are this busy to just breathe – shut their eyes, focus on their breath and visualize a pleasant place.  I also encourage them to get up every hour and scope their environment with all their senses looking for the butterflies, or what is going well in that moment.  Take inventory of what is going well and acknowledge that with self praise. Our self talk can influence our emotions which can then influence our behaviors.  We have a choice in every moment to look at things from a positive angle or a negative angle.  Taking the time to breathe and notice the butterflies stops automatic thinking, breaks the unhealthy behavior cycle and puts us back in control of our lives.  Pausing in the midst of the craziness allows us to separate our feelings and emotions from our problems and worries.  Instead of reaching for the bag of chips at the end of the day, we can stop the impulse or at least delay it by going to a quiet room, and just breathe.  Slow down the breath and count to ten with each inhale and exhale.  Do this for ten minutes regulary and you will fertilize your thoughts, crowd out the weeds of negative self talk and cultivate a positive perspective full of possibilities.

Notice The Butterflies In Life

There is a very poignant scene in the science fiction adventure film, Hunger Games, where lead actress Katniss Everdeen takes a moment to notice a butterfly next to her in the forest while trying to hide from her killers. She is part of a televised annual event in the post-apocaliptic future nation of Panem competing in the mandatory annual games where twenty 12 to 18 year olds are selected, trained and then forced to kill until there is only one victor left.  Katniss is sitting behind a tree after being chased by several kids who have ganged up to go after her.  She pauses quiebutterflytly while catching her breath and notices a beautiful blue butterfly sitting on a leaf next to her.  She takes a moment to have it nest on her fingers and brings it closer to her in awe of its beauty.  A few seconds later the butterfly flies away and she gets back to her harrowing reality.

Although this story is fictitious, it makes me wonder how many people when faced with adversity could take a few minutes out of the moment of stress to notice the beauty and calm admidst the storm.  How often do we focus with great angst on all the things we have to do in the future  and forget to notice the beauty at the moment?  What was Katniss’ frame of mind at that moment?  Was she resigned to her death and decided to look around her one more time?  Or perhaps was she not thinking at all about the peril she was in and truly just witnessing the beautiful butterfly?  It makes me think back to times in my past when there was too much to be done, not enough time and I longed for the days to be over. What if I had been more cognizant and grateful for the things that were going well at that same time?

We have a choice in every moment.  Jenni Ogden, PhD, in an article in Psychology Today, writes about a woman who had an amputation in her 20’s from a car accident and was plagued with debilitating phantom pain in her leg that caused her to lose her job, her marriage and her mental well being.  She went to a pain clinic where she was trained using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to reappraise her brain’s interpretation of her pain and reprogram her thoughts.  She learned that instead of telling herself “I can’t bear these painful cramps any longer” to reappraise her pain to more positive and beneficial thoughts: “My cramps are bearable; I can get rid of this pain because it is in my brain, not in my missing leg; I can reprogram my brain.” She had a choice in each moment to see a situation as debilitating or as bearable.

Although Katniss was fighting for her actual life, there are moments when many of us may feel we are fighting through the responsibilities of life.  Do we go through these days with despair, worry, and a sense of being overwhelmed or do we decide to notice the moments of peace, calm and beauty?  In every moment there is a choice to notice the butterfly.