Category Archives: Managing Stress

Hungry? What Kind Are You?

The tough part of trying to lose some pounds is that you still have to eat.  At least with quitting smoking, excessive drinking, drug abuse, or gambling, you don’t need to do them even a little bit to stay alive.  Furthermore, so much of our culture includes celebrating holidays and special occasions with excessive tasty foods that can make you feel like a party-pooper if you don’t indulge in them along with everyone else.  Moderating food choices can feel a bit like paddling up stream while everyone else is floating with the current.  Being aware of your hunger type will put you in charge of your health destination instead of letting life direct your course.

Hungry Types

Real Hunger

We have all experienced that stomach growling hunger that gnaws at the belly and clears the head of any other thoughts other than the need to GET FOOD NOW.  This kind of hunger happens after going more than 4-5 hours without eating, when ghrelin levels, our hungry hormone, are high and blood sugars are low.  If blood sugars are low enough then people may experience shakiness as the nervous system is stimulated to get the body to release its stores of sugar for the brain.  People may feel irritable as a result of the low blood sugar which makes them want to fix the problem as fast as possible.  If that candy bowl or the leftover donuts from the morning meeting are visible you can bet that those foods will be scarfed.

Solution:  Keep healthy foods like packaged almonds, a nut granola bar, an orange or some whole grain crackers that are not too tempting (like WASA or Rykrisps) near by and eat if it’s been about 4-5 hours since you last ate, before you experience this kind of hunger.  These foods are high in fiber and will take the edge off your hunger until you can eat a real meal.

Two Hours After A Meal Hunger

This hunger is a physiological hunger caused from eating too many simple carbs like donuts, candy, sweet cereal, white rice or pasta in a meal that results in an initial rise in blood sugar making you feel good, followed by a sharp plummet in blood sugar, leaving you with food cravings.

Solution:   What keeps you fuller longer, avoids the sugar spike and prevents weight gain is when you eat meals that have fiber, some healthy fat and lean protein.  Meals should include foods made with lots of whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, steel cut oatmeal, nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables, and lean protein sources like chicken, plain Greek fat-free yogurt (put your own fruit in), lean cuts of meat and fish.   Click here for a Sample Menu.

Afternoon Hunger

This hunger happens around 3-4 pm when the end of the day is in sight, dinner is still a ways off and there’s a hint of dread at having to finish up a few more things.  This is not physiological hunger, this is get-me-through-the-day hunger.

Solution:  If possible, do the things you dislike the first half of the day when you have more energy and are refreshed.   Make sure you are staying hydrated.  Thirst is often times disguised as hunger.   If your urine is not light yellow, then you are not drinking enough water.  Take a few to talk to a coworker or friend.  What you really need is a break, not a mouth deposit.

Visual Hunger

This is probably the easiest hunger to control.  This happens when you are not even hungry but you have the visual cue that stimulates desire and leads to mindless eating, losing track of all the calories consumed because it happens out side of meal time.  And people don’t realize how much they eat when these treats readily available.  Those little Dove chocolates come at a calorie and health cost with 5 pieces containing 205 calories and 7 gms of saturated fat, that’s almost a third of your daily allowance of saturated fat for a 2000 calorie diet.

Solution:  Clear all visual cues.  Plain and simple.  Keep them off the counter and get rid of candy dishes.  Get coworkers to agree on healthier desk top foods like nuts, fresh fruit, or even air-popped popcorn.

Stress Hunger

This hunger happens when you feel you have too much to do and you are not feeling in control.  Your pulse rate may be elevated, stress hormones are circulating and you want this feeling to go away.  The quick fix is to enjoy the sweet tasty morsel of candy, or the crunch of a chip or cracker, or the soft melting sensation of a warm cookie or cool ice cream.  Ummm, now doesn’t that feel better?  Yeah, for as long as you are eating it.  But then when your splurge is over, not only is the stress still there but you are now feeling guilty on top of it!

Solution:  First, identify all the components that are making you feel stressed.  Then, separate the areas you need to address immediately and shelve the areas that can wait.  Separate the emotion from the action.  You may feel stressed but tell yourself that you are doing the best you can and doing your best is all you can do.  Literally, put them out of your mind and focus just on the present.  Then address the physiological symptoms of stress.  Stress causes the release of cortisol which raises blood pressure and increases heart rate.  Both these symptoms can make someone feel anxious.  Take a few minutes and do some slow deep breaths.  Deep breathing increases oxygen to the brain and has a calming effect.  When you are calmer, you feel more in control, you get more done.

TV Hunger

This is probably the most common of hungers and can develop within an hour of eating!  All those visual cues of food commercials just make the kitchen call out loudly!  And even if there are no visual cues, you know if you have ice cream, cookies, chips, candy or crackers around.  That is one thing our minds just never seem to forget!

Solution:  This is where you do some environmental control.  You make your home environmently safe.  You keep tempting foods out of the house.  You find substitutes like low fat popcorn, fruit or even herbal teas to get you through.  You keep your hands busy with a puzzle, knitting or some other handy work.  I have one client who takes his Synthroid after dinner which means he can not eat for two hours afterwards.  This prevents him from splurging.  You could even try turning off the TV during commercials, change stations or even just go to bed early and read.

Are You Floating or Paddling with Purpose to Your Health Destination?

What do you want for your health?  Do you have a plan to get where you want or are you just floating along not taking charge of your destination?  If you are trying to lose weight, then you need to know your types of hunger and have a plan in place for all of them if you want to reach your health destination.  Otherwise, you are just floating and you’ll never be prepared for the rocks and waves up ahead.

Pain and Pleasure Drive Our Actions

hawthorn branch

The Hawthorn tree has lovely flowers but also has thorns – even nature combines pain and pleasure

During my last week’s yoga class my instructor brought up the Buddhist concepts of aversion and attraction, or pain and pleasure.   Yin yoga lends itself naturally to these buddhist principles as certain held postures push us to our limits of pain and are then released in waves of sensational pleasure.  These concepts can be applied to other aspects of our lives.

Buddhism views human nature as being mostly driven by these two impulses – aversion and attraction.  These two areas represent pain and pleasure and it is our human nature to run away from pain and towards pleasure.  In Buddhism there is no “good” or “bad”, just that some things give us greater pleasure and other things give us greater pain.  Furthermore, our emotions distort reality, so our assessment of pain and pleasure is filtered through our emotions.  For example, I might decide based on a few conversations that I do not like someone because of a series of events that skew my reality.  If I had a conversation with a gentleman, and he had a similar morning to mine – too rushed and feeling overwhelmed with the day responsibilities, I might decide that I don’t like that person because of my  negative emotions.  Similarly, I might go to a buffet starved and feeling deprived because I have been on a diet, see all the desserts and look past the vegetables as my urges for the tasty morsels dominate my thoughts.  It’s not that I don’t like vegetables, but I LOVE desserts and I haven’t had one in a long time.

Liberating Ourselves From Pain and Pleasure

Buddhism believes that when we can liberate ourselves from attraction and aversion we can become more spontaneous and authentic.  We will no longer be controlled by our habitual perception of things.  A person who is ruled by pleasure or desire is not free to express his own creative nature.  Desires interfere with our happiness.  The goal is to decrease our selfishness of our desires, stop those things that may harm ourselves or others, in order to find true happiness.  In other words, giving in to our desires causes suffering which keeps us from finding authentic happiness.

Letting Go of Pain and Pleasure

The desire to let go of our impulses is the first step.  By shedding light on what drives our behavior we become aware and enlightened.  While holding a yoga pose I notice that my body starts to shake, some of my muscles begin to ache and my brain tells me to let go.  I also am aware of how my shoulders tend to tense and my face grimaces when I’m uncomfortable, so I try to soften them.  Even though I still have pain during the pose I begin to shift my thoughts on what does not have any pain.

So how can I can I extend my yoga experience into other aspects of my life?  When I notice my negative filter while talking to someone, I tell myself to let go of these thoughts and to just focus on the words spoken and seek clarity where there may be confusion.  When I have a craving, I notice it briefly and then I try to think about something else.  I notice that cravings pass after a few seconds.  I put another thought in my head.   Furthermore, I try to keep my home environment safe – meaning I keep things that cause suffering like potato chips, cookies, and candy, out of the house.  I realize that they may cause short-term pleasure but it is far more outweighed by the negative thoughts of undermining all the good work I have done.  My actions are far from perfect, but I like to gain insight by what drives my behavior so that I can be a more authentic, happy person.  I know that is where lasting happiness lies.

 

 

What About Those Areas We Can Control?

We hear about the power of letting go of the things we can’t control.  sailBut what about the things that are difficult and are still within our power to control or influence?  How do we decide how much effort to put into something we feel passionate about, yet may be overwhelming to change?  Most of us in our lifetime have had to come to terms with difficult people, family issues or some other area of pain, unfairness or disappointment.  We vacillate in these situations between feelings of anger when our passion is strong, to resolution when our rational mind takes over, only to have a gathering or event spark the cycle again.

We Need Both Passion and Reason

Kahlil Gibran, an early nineteenth century philosopher wrote in The Prophet about reason and passion saying:

“Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite….

Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.  If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.  For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.  Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing; and let it direct your passion with reason…”

First we need to embrace the fact that we have such strong emotions and that these feelings are what move us forward in personal growth.  Passion can bring light to dark areas.  Reason can bring calm to a storm.  We need both, but we also need to be wise about the power of both and the impact of strong emotions on ourselves and on others.

Emotions Drive Behavior

Often times my clients are awed by how much their emotions drive their actions, particularly when it comes to snacking and non-hungry eating.  If someone is angry over being mistreated their mind is on that feeling.  This often times leads to food cravings of chips, ice cream or candy.   A little pleasure before you know it becomes a whole bag and then a whole bag becomes part of the nightly routine.   This becomes a habit and the feeling never gets resolved.  Instead of coming up with a plan to resolve the feeling, it gets either buried or sparks uncontrolled anger which never gets resolved.

Gain Control With Both Passion And Reason

When trying to influence a person or a situation, consider these suggestions:

  1. Know that what happened in the past, as painful or frustrating as it may be, can not be changed.  You can only impact the actions of the present.
  2. If an individual caused you unjustified pain, first try to look at it from their perspective.  Consider what happened to them in their lifetime to make them act that way.
  3. Talk to the individual or group when you are calm using “I” statements.  “When this happens, it makes me feel…”   “You” statements don’t usually accomplish what you want in the end and tend to make people feel attacked.  We can’t always have guaranteed results, but in the end you will know that you gave it your best shot.
  4. Life is not always fair so sometimes we have to learn to accept a situation.  If you have tried addressing it in a calm, rational matter and it has not yielded the end result you were hoping for, then at least you know you tried.
  5. That is when you know the next step is to accept the things that at that point you are unable to change.  We cannot change a person if they do not want to change.  If you have made an earnest attempt in a sound, rational approach then be at peace and let it go.

We hear about the importance of “letting go” of the things beyond our control.  But from my experience, the more difficult task is to know how much to try before getting to the point of letting go.  This is a personal discovery that depends on the situation and how much it is impacting one’s health and well-being.  It takes energy to confront painful, unfair or disappointing situations or people, but using our passion and reason in a rational way can help us grow and help our ship sail to beautiful sights!

 

 

 

Uncomfortable With Discomfort?

In the last post I talked about the benefits of intermittent fasting.  adaptThis style of eating has demonstrated success in achieving lasting weight loss and improved blood sugars, blood pressure and blood cholesterol.  It involves reducing caloric intake to 500 calories for women and 600 calories for men for two days a week by eating a small breakfast and dinner.  I have been practicing this lifestyle for 6 months and enjoy this way of eating for more than just the physical benefits.  I have found the sense of control I get from disciplining my mind to get through the brief waves of hunger a challenge for my mind over my body.  The ephemeral waves of discomfort make me the master of my thoughts.

Discomfort

The Merriam-Webster definition of the noun discomfort is simply “an uncomfortable or painful feeling in the body” or “a feeling of being somewhat worried or unhappy”.  Discomfort can mean both physical or mental unease.  How often do we try to run away from things that make us uncomfortable and search for an escape from worry or unease?  My initial automatic response to the wave of hunger is to grab something to eat.  But then my mind takes over and it responds analytically telling myself that this will pass in a few minutes and to go drink some tea or water, which immediately calms the pang.  Sometimes I’ll go for a walk which also arrests the stomach emptiness.

Physical and Mental Unease Can Be Controlled

Sometimes I have a hard time falling back asleep at night.  My mind will fixate on different things depending on the stresses of the day.  I might plan the next day if it’s really busy, or worry about a family member or situation.  I might lay awake for over an hour until my mind takes control of my thoughts and makes the decision to STOP thinking!  During those times I get back to sleep saying the loving kindness meditation that puts my mind at ease:

My I be filled with loving kindness,
May I be well,
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be happy.

Discomfort Is Opportunity In Disguise

If we can change our assessment of discomfort and look at it as a positive force that drives change then there is less fear and angst around the feeling.  My intermittent fasting may cause brief moments of physical unease but it is an opportunity for me strengthen my mind and to bring self-discipline into my daily life.  It gives me confidence that in this small aspect of my life I am the master.  I am in charge.  Each successful passing of hunger waves or putting myself back to sleep makes me stronger, more at ease with what life throws my way and more able to let go of the things I can’t control.

Remote Control

TVWe all know the routine.  The alarm sounds, our eyes open but our brain tells us, please just a little more sleep.  It’s too early to get up. You tell yourself you shouldn’t have stayed up so late to catch the end of the show or the game.  Then there is the adrenaline rush as you remember you have to get to work for an early meeting.  You jump into the shower as you start to put on your mental armor for the day.  You only have time to grab a coffee without spending a second of time thinking about what you will eat the rest of the day.  You get through work picking at office temptations, grab a take out meal somewhere and plow through the rest of the day. You come home tired, forage through the cabinets and frig to scrape together a meal and plunk yourself down on the couch to just “veg out”, unwind and munch.  And thus starts the cycle.  Yes, the cycle starts with the evening of TV.  I have just one question to ask.  Do you control the Remote or does the Remote control you?

The TV Glaze Causing a Daze

The average person watches between 4-5 hours of TV a day.  Most of the hours are watched during the evening with 63% of Americans waking up on weekdays not feeling rested.  But what are the ramifications on the body?  There are many.

1.  If you come home and eat dinner around 6 or 7 pm and then watch TV until 11 or midnight, it is natural to feel hunger pangs 4 hours after a meal.  And food choices that time of night are not going to be for a bunch of crunchy broccoli or celery.  No, it’s going to be most likely chips of some sort, crackers, ice cream or a sleeve of cookies.  Before you know it that bag, box or carton is empty and you’ve consumed over 500 calories or more.  And were you even fully aware of the mindless munching?  Do this seven times a week and that amounts to a pound of junk weight.

How many servings are in this small bag - there was a bigger bag of Stacy's chips!

How many servings are in this small 8 oz bag?

2.  Now, after consuming this hefty serving of salty crispy, sweet crunchy or creamy sweet delight you head to bed and lie down….  Imagine what that does to your esophageal sphincter.  The contents in your stomach knock on the upper doorway of your stomach, not the doorway nature intended, and some of those acidic contents ooze into your lower esophagus, perhaps even getting as close to your trachea and cause inflammation where there should be none.

There are 8 servings here.  If you ate the whole bag that would amount to 1040 calories!

There are 8 servings here. If you ate the whole bag that would amount to 1040 calories!

Over time this can lead to Barrett’s esophagus, a complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), that is a precursor to esophageal cancer.  And if the contents are climbing to your airway, the acidity can exacerbate asthma symptoms.

3.  The National Sleep Foundation states that artificial light from the TV stimulates alertness by keeping the body from making the sleep promoting hormone, melatonin, interrupting ones natural sleep cycle.  People who stay up late wake up exhausted and feel tired during the day because they’ve interrupted their circadian rhythm and have not had the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep that 99% of people need to maintain concentration during the day.  So not only are they tired but they are less productive.

Why Not Remove The Remote Control For Some of the Week Nights?

Think about shifting this cycle.  Why not come home, sit down for 5 minutes and just breathe some deep cleansing breaths and center your thoughts.  Go out to your kitchen with the purpose of really fueling your body with what it truly needs for peak performance:  some lean meat or fish, a hefty portion of veggies (how about some broccoli now?), and a nutrient filled starch with some real purpose.  One that has natural fiber, perhaps some potassium, and other nutrients, like a sweet potato, some whole wheat pasta or some quinoa.  Keep the TV off, find some delightful, soulful music, perhaps some Aretha Franklin or Buddy Guy, light some candles and experience your dinner.  If you live alone then have a friend come over and join you.  Have some nice conversation, connect with the people at your table.  Then after you’ve cleaned up dinner go out to your den and either play a game, read a book, perhaps do a hobby like knitting or a puzzle and truly relax.  Enjoy a cup of herbal tea to avoid that desire for something more.  When it’s nine or ten, and if you notice you want that little “something, something” GO TO BED!  Yes, retire to your bedroom, and hopefully there is not a TV in there, and read in bed or lie there and focus on your breath.  Perhaps repeat the loving kindness meditation:

May I be filled with loving kindness,
May I be well
May I be peaceful and at ease,  
May I be happy

And then notice how you feel when that alarm goes off in the morning and how much more productive you will be during the day.  It is worth making the remote control remote, at least some days during the week.

 

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.

Being Present, Living In The Now

Living in the now is very difficult when we are constantly distracted by email, text messages, phone calls, meetings and deadlines.  But truly, we can only impact this moment and decide how we will spend it.  What happened in the past, no matter how horrible it was, how ashamed or hurt you may feel, is gone.  There is nothing you can do to change it.  You could try to vindicate yourself, inflict pain back or be angry but that only brings the discomfort from the past into the present, this very moment you can control.  Similarly, you can worry about the future but all the planning and fretting in the world isn’t going to have an impact on that because the future has not happened yet.  We can take steps now to make things happen as we would like, but after that, life will unfold and not always as exactly planned.

Sounds absolutely profound, huh?  But really, how much time are your thoughts on the past, perhaps justifying your actions today, or on the future, preparing for an event or time that has not happened yet.  How much time are you spending on living now?  Now is the only moment you can impact. How about experiencing an activity while really being present, in this moment. Experience this event as if for the first time. Restrain from being judgmental.

Being Present While You Eat An Apple

appleTake the act of eating an apple. Do you eat it quickly, starting the second bite before you finished the first?  How about really experiencing the act of eating an apple?  Be fully present while you take each bite.  Make this an event and try to take 10 minutes to eat it.  Chew each bite 12 times.  Notice the redness, firmness and shine of the apple.  Hear the crunch as you bite into it.  Does it spray you as you bite it?  Does the bite break away from the apple as soon as your teeth break into the skin or do your teeth have to come together to tear the flesh away?  Are you feeling the coolness of the flesh in your mouth?  Do you notice how the taste of the apple changes with each chew?  Notice the whiteness of the flesh of the apple.  Is it really white or does it have some yellow to it?  Is your mind wondering on other thoughts?  Come back to eating your apple and notice if you ate your apple any differently when your mind wondered off.  It’s ok to have your mind wonder off, but bring your thoughts back to eating the apple.

Are you feeling the sweetness or tartness in your mouth?  Are you feeling the coolness of the flesh as it goes down your throat?  Notice how the shape of the apple changes after each bite.  As you come to the end of eating the apple, notice the apple core.  Notice its shape.  When you are done, notice how your mouth feels.  Notice how your stomach feels.  Did your hunger level change?  Are you satisfied?  What are your thoughts around this activity?  Did your mind wonder most of the time or were you able to stay  focused on the apple?  Are you able to come back to your day more relaxed and with greater clarity?

Stop The Spinning In Your Life – Being Present

Our lives can be like a gyroscope, spinning around, shape blurred, moving aimlessly around the floor.  But take a finger to stop the spinning and the shape becomes apparent and the movement stops.  We all need to stop the spinning in our lives in order to gain clarity.  Just the act of eating can be an experience in the now that stops the spinning so that we can gain clarity.  Now go take an apple to lunch and make eating it an activity, engaging with the “now-ness” of eating it.  You might gain some insight and answers to a difficult situation just by not thinking about it and living now while also keeping the doctors away!