Knowledge is not a substitute for action

I’ve been an on-and-on meditator and practitioner of other forms of mindfulness (paying attention to the present moment and accepting whatever arises through practices like meditation) for almost 40 years – my mom was an early adapter of eastern practices and shared them with us as children.  But, I’ve been a FULL ON knowledge gourmand for over 50 years. I LOVE amassing knowledge just for the sheer joy of it but I don’t necessarily put into personal practice what I am learning.

Currently, I’m working my way through the Palouse Mindfulness training course. It’s a free 8 course that anyone can participate in. Why the Palouse training has been so valuable is that there is an imparting of knowledge in terms of instruction on the value of and the scientific research behind mindfulness but also, as part of the program, you are asked to do daily mindfulness practices like meditation. And, being the good student that I am, I am doing what I am instructed to do.

Here’s what I’ve found with (almost) daily practice

With an almost daily practice of mindfulness, my anxiety is less, my stress level is lowered and I’m much more patient with others.  No amount of knowledge alone has ever brought me this much emotional relief. I find too that my understanding of the knowledge I have gained has come alive and become richer and deeper with the addition of regular practice.

Knowledge is AMAZING and important but you must take action to make your dreams come true

We all know that eating “healthy” and exercising are beneficial to our health. We may even know a lot about what makes a healthy diet or the benefits of certain types of exercise but if we do not eat that way or exercise regularly we will not get results.  We know these things just like someone with diabetes knows that candy could make her diabetes worse but still keeps eating it. We often use excuses like I don’t have the time or it’s too hard. But, knowledge is a hollow endeavor without action.

Are you getting the results you desire?

If not…ask yourself, am I REALLY putting all of my knowledge into action?

It might be hard to do this on your own…find some resources and then take action every day

If you are looking to improve mindfulness, I highly recommend finding a meditation teacher or enrolling in a meditation course online or downloading an app (I particularly like the CALM app) but there are plenty of free resources out there as well. And, you can get some basic mindfulness and meditation practice ideas on my previous blogs here, here and here.

Did you know your mind wanders almost 50% of the time?

But…the good news is that there are techniques your can use to learn mindfulness – to train the brain to be present. Last week I talked about practicing mindfulness in your daily life.  Today, I want to introduce you to a type of meditation that is an easy and simple way to practice mindfulness.

Now, a lot of clients tell me that they don’t meditate because they can’t stop their mind from wandering. But…

The wandering mind is the NORMAL mind

It impossible to stop your mind from wandering. This is what your brain does and it is totally NORMAL for the brain to stray while meditation. This is actually a PART of the practice. Over time, there will be less wandering and and you will be less hard on yourself when your mind does wander.

Train your brain to focus with a breath count meditation

This simple technique can really help support this idea of being present in every moment by helping you develop your powers of intentional mindfulness and concentration.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Find  a comfortable seat in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed
  2. Set a timer for 10 minutes or more (most smartphones have timers built in)
  3. Take one deep breath in and out and close your eyes
  4. Take an inhale and exhale. At the end of your exhale silently count “one”
  5. Take an inhale and exhale. At the end of your exhale silently count “two”
  6. Take an inhale and exhale. At the end of your exhale silently count “three”
  7. Take an inhale and exhale. At the end of your exhale silently count “four”
  8. Take an inhale and exhale. At the end of your exhale silently count “five”
  9. Now do the same practice counting down from five to one
  10. Start over again with one

If you find yourself getting distracted, losing count or counting higher than five, just start over again with one.

If counting forward and back is too challenging, just count forward. If that is too much, try counting to two or three and then starting at one again. Once counting to five gets easier, start counting to ten and back again.

Remember: this isn’t about perfection it’s about practice and what you practice grows stronger.

Do you find yourself rushing from place to place? Me too!

Today I missed an exit – an exit I have turned off about 500 times. Why? Because my mind was on…the next thing…then the next thing…then the next thing after that. Despite preaching (and practicing) mindfulness, I still find myself rushing around and not being present in the moment. On any given day, I might have entire conversations with my husband or children where I am not attentive to what they are saying because I’m so preoccupied with something in my own life. Many of us talk about how precious our time is with our friends and family. But often we aren’t even enjoying our moments with them because our thoughts are elsewhere. In fact, even as I write this blog, I catch myself thinking about what I have to do next, how people will react to this article and what I’m going to write about next week. When I go to these mental places, I must remind myself that not staying present is NOT HELPFUL and that it is not a substitute for careful planning and intentional action.

Getting yourself to the present moment

In an early blog post, I wrote about taking one bite at a time. This is a form of eating that focuses you on the present moment.  Have you been working on that? If not…START NOW. It is really amazing. And, what about doing this with your other tasks – taking one MOMENT at time, savoring each moment in the present rather than focusing on what’s next or on the end result.

How to do it

  1. Pick something you do each day (like driving, brushing your teeth, reading the paper, conversing with someone)
  2. Take a deep breath and decide to PURPOSELY give full attention to whatever you are doing for entire time you are doing it
  3. If you get off track just catch yourself and gently re-set your mind to the present moment

Let me know how it goes.

Are you eating (or drinking) to please others?

A subject that comes up time and again with clients is feeling pressured to eat (or drink alcohol) because they are at a social event and either don’t want to offend their host or stick out like a sore thumb OR they don’t want to explain that they are on a diet.

I believe this is all coming from a fear of rejection and our desperate need to fit in

Most of us are terrified of rejection and being ostracized because we are different. As humans we are wired to fit in with the herd and it can be very scary to do something different than others. But if you are afraid of rejection you cannot succeed.

When you eat to please others you are putting their (perceived) needs ahead of yours

I say “perceived” because most people don’t really care what you eat or drink. Most people are focused on THEMSELVES most of the time. Would you take a drug or a cigarette (assuming you are a non-smoker) if offered not to offend someone?

In fact when you assume that others will be offended you are practicing MIND READING.

You are assuming that this person will be SO OFFENDED and SO DISAPPOINTED that they will hold it against you for some indeterminate amount of time. So, ask yourself, what evidence do I have that this person is going to be offended? And, even if they are momentarily offended do I want to put their need for me to eat ahead of my weight loss goals?

But…others aren’t looking for clones who imitate them they are looking for AUTHENTICITY

And you can’t be authentic if you pretending to be something else than you are.

So…what to do?

Simply say “no thank you.” It is totally fine. And, in certain circumstances you may need to repeat it several times.

A new trick I’ve learned to manage anxiety in less than 1 minute

Like so many of my clients, I feel the nag of anxiety more times during the day than I can keep track of. Anxiety, I have come to realize, is mainly (for me) about that which I can’t control AND the feeling of anxiety itself is also nearly impossible to control. It just comes on and gets me in its grips and I just want to ESCAPE desperately.

Does this happen to you?

Do you feel anxious and just want to escape? Do you try to push down those feelings or do you try to buffer those feelings with food or alcohol? This might work for a short time but in the long run, you will be sabotaging both your desire to manage your anxiety AND your desire to feel healthy and in control of your diet and your weight. I’ve recently stumbled upon the most simple, portable method to help with those sometimes overwhelming feelings of anxiety.

So,  here’s what to do:

Step 1: Come to the awareness that you are experiencing anxiety

Different people experience anxiety in different ways. Do you know what your symptoms are? They can be subtle like a repeating worrisome thought, shakiness or feeling of overwhelm or not-so-subtle like heart palpitations or difficulty breathing. This is the most important first step. In my opinion, It doesn’t matter WHAT you are anxious about, just notice that you are FEELING anxiety.

Step 2: BREATHE. Take 2 slow breaths

Step 3: Use the 54321 technique:  Look around and identify 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch (this can be anything from the feeling of your clothing against your skin, the ring on your finger or your hands on your lap), 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste (this can simply be the taste in your mouth).

You may have to do this exercise multiple times during the day but, over time, you may find that your anxiety lessens. Let me know how it goes.

I was recently discussing this technique with my friend Sue who is an amazing healer and I asked her why she thought this works so well (which it really does). She wisely pointed out that by using your five senses in this way you are quickly brought into the present moment and you really can’t be anxious if you are in the present moment.

 

There are 3 reasons we eat. Do you know which one is motivating you?

News flash: before you even take a bite there is always a thought in your head that tells you what to eat and when to eat. Have you ever stopped and paid attention to the messages your brain is sending you before you take that bite?

The 3 reasons we eat

  1. Fuel eating: eating fueling foods when you are physically hungry (how do I know?) to make the fuel you need to run your body. Fuel is made out of carbs, fats or proteins.
  2. Fun eating: A treat you have planned.
  3. “Something else” eating: spontaneous eating for ANY other reason the fuel or (planned) fun (ex. boredom, loneliness, feelings of social obligation, anxiety, fatigue)

Remember: it’s usually the “something else” eating that gets us into trouble.

So, next time you get the urge to eat:

  1. Ask yourself: what am I thinking?
  2. Ask yourself: what am I feeling (e.g. hungry, tired, bored, anxious, snacky, craving)
  3. As yourself: why am I eating?
  4. If the answer is anything other than eating for fuel or for a strategic treat, take a moment and find out what you REALLY need (hint, it’s not the brownie). Because I PROMISE YOU that whatever problem you are trying to solve with the brownie will NOT be fixed with the brownie and is probably making my problems WORSE.

Are you sitting down for this one?

I have a rule for my clients while eating: sit down NO MATTER WHAT. Practicing eating while sitting and using my one bite at a time technique are key mindfulness habits that help my clients develop the skills they need to lose weight AND maintain weight loss.

Once you start paying attention, you will be surprised how often you eat while standing. Here are some examples:

  • prepping foods for dinner and throwing some in your mouth as you chop or prep
  • prepping dinner for your kids before your own dinner and tasting a little of their meal while standing in the kitchen serving them
  • eating your kids leftover dinner while clearing their plates or while scraping leftover food
  • starting to eat your dinner while walking to the table
  • sampling foods at the grocery store
  • grazing in the fridge or the pantry while pulling out ingredients for a meal
  • eating foods left out on the counter
  • eating “treat” foods like cookies quickly and while standing because you feel guilty eating them

All of these types of eating are a form of mindless eating and I encourage anyone trying to lose weight to observe these behaviors and set a rule for themselves to eat ONLY when sitting down, preferably at the table. If you catch yourself eating while standing gently remind yourself that you have a new rule for yourself to only eat while sitting. Remember, it can take days or weeks to learn a new habit.

How many food choices do you think you make each day (hint…it’s probably way more than that)

Every day you make loads of food-related decisions. As you as you get up, you decide what to eat for breakfast and how much, what type of plate or bowl you are going to serve it on, if you are going to include condiments, etc. And that’s just breakfast. In study by Dr. Brian Wansink et al. (I’m totally loving his book “Mindless Eating”) study subjects were asked approximately how many food decisions they believed they made each day. The average response was 15 but when probed, the researchers found that the subjects actually made over 200 food-related decisions each day! Complicating this data is our constant exposure to the sites and smells of food via radio, print and TV ads as well as giant billboards showing mouth-watering foods and drinks.

Too much choice can cause overeating and overdrinking

One of the reason for overeat (the major cause of overweight and obesity) is the dizzying amount of food choices we must make every day. Our bodies have not evolved much in the past 10,000 years yet we are confronted daily by foods that our ill-equipped bodies and brains have to deal with. Our human brains just can’t handle all of this “free” choice and we end up eating and drinking more than we need to fuel our bodies.

What to do? Give yourself NO CHOICE

The key to dealing with the sometimes overwhelming (and often sabotaging) effects of the hundreds of food choices we are confronted with each day is to simply ELIMINATE CHOICE. Decide ahead of time and then commit 100%. I often tell myself when confronted by the dessert cart or a huge party platter “no choice.” I’ve decided ahead of time this week what I eating and I’m sticking to it 100%.

I suggest jotting down a food plan (nothing too fancy – it should only take you 3-5 minutes) for the week on Sunday night and then for the weekend on Friday and then commit 100% to your plan. Make sure to plan in some scheduled treats as well. If you are going to a party, out to a restaurant or going on vacation, plan ahead for that too.

Why I say 100% commitment (and the problem with the 80/20 rule)

Have you heard of the 80/20 rule? The notion of 80/20 is that you eat healthy foods 80% of the time and allow yourself to indulge in your treat foods 20% of the time, you will be healthy. This can cause problems because – what is 80% anyway? Unless you are constantly tallying your macros and calories I don’t think most of us can accurately rely on this and I don’t think we are terribly skilled at applying this rule when confronted by over 200 food choices per day.  I say: why not commit to 100%? This doesn’t mean that you can never indulge in a treat (I myself am partial to coal oven pizza, sweet potato fries and frozen yogurt) but those treats are PLANNED, they are not spontaneous eats. Why not commit 100% to planning your foods? You make a mistake, so be it, just get back on track at your next meal.

Does milk really do a body good?

As far back as I can remember, milk has been billed as a staple in the American diet. When I was growing up, milk was served at snack time in school and we were all expected to drink it. Very few of us questioned why or if it was even beneficial. I want to be clear about the type of dairy products I am talking about in this article. I am referring to processed (pasteurized, homogenized) non-raw, non-fermented cow milk and cow milk products that you find in your grocery store’s cooler.

Often when I question a client about their dairy intake I am often met with surprise that I should even question the value of this American staple. I often get the response “but how will I get my calcium?” And, clients often tell me that they LOVE milk and cheese almost to the point of addiction (more on that later) and could not imagine giving those foods up.

So, why is dairy hard to give up?

It’s hard to give up because it is actually addictive. Dairy contains a protein called casein which forms casomorphin (sounds like morphine right?) in our stomachs. Casomorphins are a kind of opiate (like heroin or oxycodone) and are therefore addictive. For those of you who can’t “live” without your dairy products you might want to consider that this may be a reason why. Mother’s milk, by the way, also contains these opiates but in much lower quantities. And, like codeine, heroin or oxycodone casomophins slow down digestion which can cause constipation. Yes, the lactose in milk can cause diarrhea but this hardly an effective way to manage your digestive system.

And, here are some other issues to consider:

  • Dairy, even in small amounts, is highly inflammatory. A study published in 2015 in the The Journal of Nutrition found that eating dairy foods increased low-grade inflammation. Chronic low-grade inflammation is associated with numerous diseases and not something that we want to cultivate.
  • Over 60% of individuals are on the spectrum of lactose (the sugar found in milk) sensitivity. You might be one of them and not even realize it.
  • Besides its addictive qualities,  casein has other issues associated with it  – many people are sensitive to casein and, casein intake has been linked to cancer.
  • Dairy is linked to hormonal illnesses like acne, breast cancer and prostate cancer.
  • Most cow’s milk and cow’s milk products like cheese, ice cream and yogurt has measurable quantities of herbicides, pesticides, dioxins (up to 200 times the safe levels), up to 52 powerful antibiotics…even organic.

What about calcium?

Many of us grew up with the idea that we need milk to build strong bones because of the calcium found in milk. This notion is now being highly debunked. In fact, we don’t absorb much of the calcium in our dairy products and, to add insult to injury, dairy products can actually contribute to bone loss. This spells trouble for all of us but especially those prone to osteoporosis (bone loss) or osteopenia (a precursor for osteoporosis).

If you are concerned about calcium intake, there are many foods rich in calcium like almonds, basil, leafy greens (like collards, broccoli, watercress, bok choy and kale), sardines (with bone), lentils and white beans. One cup of cooked kale has 266 mg of calcium (almost as much as milk with 305 mg without all of the issues associated with milk). Spinach is often touted as a great source and it does has calcium but spinach is also very high in oxalates which actually binds calcium and may make it unavailable for use by your body.

Why not try avoiding dairy for a few days and see what happens?

I hear stories from clients on a regular basis who say that removing dairy from their diet made a huge difference in their skin, their energy and their mood. Why not try it for a week and see what happens?

Does this mean you should never enjoy dairy again?

I don’t believe so (unless it causes you major gastric suffering). I’ve been known to indulge in some frozen yogurt or good aged cheddar cheese on occasion. Like anything else, it’s about educating yourself and making intelligent choices.

Have you gained and lost weight so many times that you’ve lost count?

Well, join the club. 97% of people gain all the weight they lost (and more) through dieting back within 1-3 years. But why?

I considered this question recently. I have been relatively stable with my weight for a long time but recently gained a few pounds and I found myself back in those old familiar places – namely panic and worry.  Then the negative body talk started “I am a weight loss coach, I need to set a good example,” “I’m getting too old to lose weight,” “those pants/shirt/dress looked better on me before,”  “is my (insert any body part here) looking fatter?” I had the desire to run and hide from myself and the world (yes, 3 pounds really did cause all this drama). Then, I remembered the words that I tell my clients every day – what helps you lose weight is what keeps it off and, I realize that I had relapsed because I had gotten a little looser with my eating and with my habits and I did a quick behavior audit and then reminded myself to re-start the basic habits that helped me in the first place.

Here’s what I did first: STOPPED THE NEGATIVE SELF-TALK and worry. I realized how many times a day I was hating on my body and criticizing myself. Negative self-talk causes stress and stress causes weight gain through the stress hormone itself and through overeating as a mechanism for dealing with stress. Then I looked closely at my eating habits and tightened up where I needed to.

Is this you?

Have you noticed that the weight has seemingly magically started coming back on? DON’T PANIC. Try these things first:

  1. Notice the negative self-talk and body criticism. You can’t control your mind because its job is to create thoughts. But, you can NOTICE how many times per day you are putting yourself down or worrying about your body.
  2. Weigh yourself every day (I get a lot of pushback on this from clients but weight is just a way to keep track of progress). Here’s how to deal with the drama of the scale.
  3. Write down everything you are eating
  4. Plan your meals ahead of time (this doesn’t have to be a big fancy plan, you can do it in 5 minutes)
  5. Commit 100% to eating only what is on your plan
  6. Plan ahead what you are going to eat and drink on vacation, at parties and in restaurants (it helps to review menus ahead of time)
  7. Slow down your eating by using the one bite at a time technique 
  8. Only allow yourself to eat while sitting (this will eliminate grazing) and never eat in the car