Sunday, June 17, 2012
"When he worked, he really worked. But when he played, he really PLAYED."
Jeff. As my boyfriend said when he posted this, "I wish you could hear this picture."
I had been thinking about quitting my sax lessons. I hadn't been putting in the practice time, yet have been getting frustrated that I am not improving a lot. I convinced myself that I didn't like my teacher Jeff all that much, but oddly enough, that feeling only came when I wasn't putting in the work and he had the audacity to point it out. While Jeff can seem like a bit of a hard-ass, I realize I have blown off every compliment he has ever given me. Jeff is not a guy who gives compliments without merit, but he does praise a lot of my playing. I have been so down on myself about my sax playing that all I have heard are the critiques. I concentrate so hard on every mistake I make while playing that I hardly hear any semblance of a song.
Last Sunday, my boyfriend and I went to see my teacher Jeff's blues/rock band (Kurt Jorgensen Band) play. I had never seen Jeff perform before. It was great show. When Jeff started his part in the song, all eyes turned to him. When he played his solos, the crowd roared, hooted, and hollered. One might look at Jeff and think, "Wow, what a naturally-talented guy!" He makes it look so easy. The truth is, Jeff was not naturally talented. Jeff started playing in his teens, and he was told that he stunk. He drove his teachers nuts. He was not someone who picked up a sax and heard, "Wow, you should pursue this!" What one hears in listening to Jeff play is the result of someone who outright refused to give up. He was going to be a professional saxophonist, and that was that. It didn't matter how treacherous the journey, come hell or high water, he was going to be good.
I knew bits of Jeff's story, but I never really appreciated what his story meant until I really saw Jeff play. Seeing and hearing the passion in his playing was intense. It was like listening to his soul. Seeing him play made me want to work harder. The next time I practiced, I psyched myself up to have more fun. I wanted to let go of criticism so I could more objectively hear what I was doing well and what needed work. "Just do what Jeff does...c'mon, loosen up...man, all this trying to loosen up is making me a little tense...bah, stop it, PLAY!" So, I played. And it sounded like someone else was playing. Sometimes the noises I make sound vaguely like music, but it was not until I listened to a recording of a duet I played that I realized how "tense" I sound. I'm not sure if it was so much that I was playing different sounds, but rather that I was hearing with different ears.
So, needless to say, I am not going to quit. I am going to stop whining and carve out more practice time. I made an effort to practice every day. I dropped the, "Man, this is haaaaaaard..." attitude and remembered that we are not all naturally talented. Deep down, I have just expected the music to come to me, not for me to make the music. Like anything else (changing habits, making music, playing a sport...whatever), a pro makes it look easy. But behind that "easy," there are thousands of mistakes. There were doubts from within and doubts from others. That "easy" required countless hours of hard work. Even the "easy" part continues to be challenging. I have made playing more difficult than it needs to be because I haven't been putting forth enough effort. I know how "easy" things can be once I get into a rhythm, whether it be playing, working out, or eating right. So, I just need to get in a groove of practicing more, while also not being so hard on myself about my playing.
Kurt Jorgensen Band.
Listen to songs at www.myspace.com/kurtjorgensen/music
"Luck is what you have leftover after you give 100 percent."
Onto other stuff...this week was an okay workout week, but I only did Jiu Jitsu twice. On Wednesday, some new guy landed on my spine and then started bending me backwards. I yelled at him to stop. My friend who was a few feet away heard my spine crack. Needless to say, I was not very happy. This guy really laid into me and was unnecessarily rough. I have been getting that a lot recently and my coach Nate does not say anything to these guys. Actually, he kind of pokes fun at me for not being tough enough. Since I did not know better at first, I did try to "toughen up." Some of my closer Jiu Jitsu pals have commented on how rough some of the guys are with me and that they probably have an ego problem about rolling with a women and not wanting to get submitted. Luckily this time I just have a slightly sore back, but I am worried enough about permanent injury that I am going to check out another Jiu Jitsu school. Admittedly, I became a little gun-shy and I skipped Friday. I don't want to worry about permanent debilitating injuries from martial arts.
I will be checking out the Gracie Barra Jiu Jitsu program. Gracie Barra is renowned and has locations all over the place. I am planning to move to the Seattle area over the next few years, and I could simply switch to the Gracie Barra school there. I thought about giving my current gym more time, but I have repeatedly pointed out overly-rough situations and nothing is done about it. I will miss my Muay Thai coach Eric, but I have been so intensely focused on Jiu Jitsu that I haven't even been doing much Muay Thai. The Gracie Barra school does have Muay Thai classes, so if I really want to, I can check that out. I have 2 Jiu Jitsu teachers at my current gym; I am usually in Nate's classes (the one who doesn't react to potential serious injuries) simply due to the class times. My other teacher is Tim, and he is an excellent coach. I try to make it to his classes when I can, but I don't work with him nearly enough. Fortunately, he is one of the teachers at the Gracie Barra school that I will be checking out. I am going to talk to him this week about the pros and cons and make a decision from there.
I do need to up the workouts a bit this upcoming week. I need to get in some running time and do some strength training. It has been about 2 weeks since I have done a formal strength training session. I am somewhat okay with this because Jiu Jitsu really doubles as strength training--I will go from holding a side plank while squeezing somebody with my legs to pretty much bench pressing them. Still, I should be doing some power lifting and hypertrophy workouts to assist in my training.
I had planned on registering for belly dance this week, but unfortunately I just can't afford it right now. I will still be doing some classes with Cassandra, as you can pay a per-class fee. I know I won't progress as much, but I will be doing some dance. Hopefully I can work regular classes into my budget soon.
I have been good about food tracking, although I overate some on a couple of days. I am more okay with overeating when I am actually following my workout plan (actually, I NEED the extra fuel), but I feel a bit puffy right now. I have some foods ready to prepare some batches so I have healthy meals readily available.
I am excited because the time has started where I can forage in my yard for food! Right now I have an abundance of cherries and raspberries. I thought the raspberries were blackberries because they were so dark, but it turns out they are actually black raspberries. In any case, they are delicious! I have been eating a bowlful every day. My cherries are very tart and are probably better suited for cooking, but I still like to eat them as is. My veggies are looking good and I have some peppers ripening and lots of flowers on my tomato and pepper plants. I also cooked with some fresh basil and oregano this week. I have a large chocolate mint plant and have been adding the mint to my green tea--delicious! There is just nothing like having the food that comes from your own yard.
The cherry tree.
Cherries and black raspberries.
Hope everyone has a great week!
"Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce." -Vivian Komori
Friday, June 15, 2012
"Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both firmly under your belt, that's real power."
This post is Part II to a previous blog entry, "The Impossible": www.sparkpeople.com/mypage_public_jo
When I was 11 years old, my mother took us to Michigan to visit a friend of hers. We were eating dinner one night and he commented on how much I was able to eat. "Aren't you full?" he asked me.
"I never feel full."
I remember that answer to this day. At the time, I did not know that was abnormal. I guess I just assumed that everyone ate as much as possible when they could, snuck food from the fridge and from cupboards, and even resorting to stealing food from stores. Nothing stopped me from overeating. The hunger gnawed at me constantly and was never satisfied. Eating rich foods only made things worse; I wanted more and more. Even feeling physically sick did not stop me from continuing to eat. My body and mind were always in a food crisis and I thought about food at virtually every waking moment.
I could not just change my "diet," I had to really ask myself, "Why?" Why do I overeat? The question may have wisped across my brain at times, but I never really thought about it. The simplistic answer was that I overate because I was sad. I was sad because I overate. The vicious cycle ruled my life. I finally realized that I had to become a different person. I did not want to fake being a changed person (kind of like what I did when I lost weight on WeightWatchers a few years ago), but I needed to become a different person who was true to myself. I would never be able to change as long as food ruled my life, so I had to break my addiction to food.
It is possible to overcome food addiction. I am about 80 pounds from my goal weight, but I have achieved the most important part of the journey: breaking food addiction. I never thought I would break free of my food addiction. It was a long road and the road ahead will undoubtedly prove challenging. I ended up (somewhat inadvertently) doing the opposite of what most people do. I had tried the road of mustering willpower to eat more healthfully, then lose weight, and THEN expect to feel better about myself. That backfired. This time, I concentrated less on food at first and more on stress, my emotional reactions to food, and the physical sensations in my body created by food. These steps helped to create a body-mind connection from which I could start to eat more healthfully. Of course there is some discipline involved, but the self-discipline came more naturally with learning about myself.
Of course, I have always liked (if not been obsessed with) food, but I don't think something can be truly enjoyed if it is such a major cause of stress. Eating almost never used to have anything to do with hunger. I would say food also did not have a lot to do with actual pleasure. I did not find binges to be pleasant. My body was so numb to the food that I barely tasted the food my brain was demanding. When my appetite started to change, I started to have actual pleasure from food. After a hard workout, a hearty and balanced meal actually tasted satisfying. I am able to eat a square of dark chocolate and be satisfied with it. My brain now knows why I'm eating and whether it is for fuel, for pure pleasure, or a little bit of both.
Denial was at the root of my food addiction. Primarily, I denied my feelings, focusing instead on food. With food, I could always tell myself I would "start over" again tomorrow. I was never sure when I would actually feel okay again, though. I could not grasp control of my emotions, but because eating was a physical manifestation of my feelings I could feign control. I had to break the deep emotional connection to food. This blog is about some of the steps I took to do that. It is hard to write separately about food, exercise, stress management, etc., as no part of our lives is isolated from the other. Diet cannot be isolated from everything else, which is why I believe that most people have difficulty losing weight and maintaining weight loss. The root of any successful dietary change leading to weight loss is to learn why we eat the way we do. I really don't think weight loss can last in most cases if this is not explored. Here, I share part of the journey of breaking food addiction and offer some advice that hopefully proves useful to some.
First and foremost, don't fight yourself; work with yourself. As soon as I stopped viewing myself as the enemy, I was able to stop using food as a drug. Food is not the enemy. YOU are not the enemy. Don't confuse overeating with being a bad person. You are not bad if you overeat. The mistake is easy to make. For many of us, food has become a part of our identity, therefore feeling out of control with eating makes us believe that we are a failure. Nor does eating within a planned calorie range make you a good person. Your food choices have absolutely nothing to do with being a good or bad person. This was the first thing I had to accept in changing my relationship with food. It is okay to associate eating healthy foods and eating reasonably with feeling good, but I think it is as important to understand why that makes us feel good as it is to understand why overeating can make us feel so bad. I think it goes beyond the fact that eating a certain number of calories will help us lose weight and eating over that amount will prevent weight loss or cause weight gain. Plenty of lean people have struggles with food, too. Healthy and lean people can also know the difference between what it feels like to eat the way that is right for the body and how it feels to veer from that. It sounds odd, but I had to disconnect my food from weight loss to learn to eat normally. I had to develop the mindset of how I wanted to eat on a permanent basis, not just to lose weight. At first, changing the way I ate in order to lose weight would have just traded one neurosis (obsessing over food by binging) for another (obsessing over food by trying to avoid overeating). I had to learn the basis of my emotional eating or I would never break free from the prison of food obsession.
"Tell me what you eat, I'll tell you who you are."
From there, I started to work on separating food from "good" or "bad" feelings. We all know what it is like to experience a certain feeling (whether related to happiness or sadness) and to have an automatic craving for particular foods. I think we tend to associate certain foods with positive emotions and some with negative emotions. These foods will be very different for everyone and both will include some "healthy" foods and "unhealthy" foods. Because foods are unconsciously divided into "good" and "bad" emotional categories, we associate ourselves and our moods with those foods. I think this is why people feel bad if they eat foods that they associate with "bad" feelings, even once they are eating them in appropriate portions. I started to pay attention to what foods I was craving at particular times so that I could start to separate that food from the emotion I was feeling at the time.
Another thing I had to accept is that I would still overeat sometimes. Why would someone plan for that? Well, because that is how someone who has never had a dysfunctional relationship with food eats. I have lean friends who have never had a weight problem nor a dysfunctional relationship with food eating a meal, saying, "I want to stop, it's just too good!" and then giggling at how full they are afterwards. Sometimes overeating may be planned, and sometimes it will still be stress-induced. I made an effort to avoid planned overeating at first. My first goal had to be identifying and reducing emotional eating. Once I started to link particular emotions to wanting particular foods, I made a point to a neutral response to the craving. I tried to react by saying in my mind, "I do not have to react to this craving." This is a principle I learned from meditation.
At first, I just did my best to avoid binging, but of course there were still very frequent binges. I was still running from something. The emotional connection between food and myself was so deep-seated, I needed to figure out exactly what this "drug" was doing to my body. I started paying attention to the feelings in my body that came from eating. Not the emotions, but the physical sensations in my body. How did my stomach feel? How did my head feel? How was my heart beat? How did it affect my breathing? How did it feel to walk around? I tried to ask myself these questions every time I ate, whether it was a snack, a healthy meal, or a binge. How did each eating situation make my body feel? Over time, even though I would still binge, they became much less frequent and I could not (physically could not) eat as much as I used to. My brain was now aware of what I was putting in my mouth and the physical sensations in my body connected to my mind. Whereas I used to be able to finish off a large pizza, a pasta dish, a bag of chips, a pound of chocolate, and then some, I could eat maybe half of what I used to be able to eat. The amount eaten during binges eventually (over the course of about 2 years) lessened significantly. One day I almost heard a whisper in my brain during a binge: "Enough..." I looked down at the unfinished pizza. I went in the kitchen and put the rest away. I had never not finished a pizza once I got started. It used to feel physically impossible to stop. Now it is physically impossible for me to finish.
I also tried to pay attention to the sensations in my body when I actually felt hungry. How did I feel after a workout? How did I feel when I first woke up? Right before eating? Immediately after eating? I then started working on identifying what emotions seemed to be connected to those physical sensations. From there, I became better at identifying why I wanted to eat and if it was hunger or emotions. Don't get me wrong, sometimes, especially after a hard workout, I am famished and can't wait to stuff my face with a meal. But, that type of hunger is true hunger, hunger because my body needs some fuel. The other difference is that even though I may feel famished in my body, I don't have an emotional reaction to the feeling of being hungry. I know I will eat again soon, it's not a big deal.
The other thing I had to learn was how to actually taste food and slow down a bit. No, I'm not talking about the slow eating where you chew food methodically while staring at the rest of the food on the plate, wanting to finish it off right then and there. I actually started this process by learning to smell my food. Food and taste are intricately related. We already know this; the smell of some foods makes us salivate and others make us gag. Aromatherapy is used for physical and emotional healing. Our sense of smell works in ways that we cannot even begin to understand, even without having the keen sense of smell like a dog. I wondered if I could use the relationship between smell and taste to my advantage. I would inhale deeply while cooking, trying to identify individual odors as well as try to figure out how the odors interacted with each other. Rather than paying attention to the feeling of wanting to eat, I changed my focus to identifying how the smells made me feel. What sensations arose in my body? Was the smell of the food energizing or relaxing? What memories did the smells evoke? What emotions surfaced?
Smelling my food really made me pay attention to it. I had to be aware of the food because my body was already interacting with it before I ever put a bite in my mouth. I started to pay attention to how the smell and taste interacted. I paid attention to how the food felt in my mouth and the sensations created by swallowing it. Was it warm in my stomach? Did it send a cool sensation through my body? When did I start to feel full? Because I was focused on the sensations created by the food, the tastes became stronger. Food became more satisfying because I was aware of what I was eating.
I know that focusing on smell may sound funny, but I think it was pivotal in learning to eat conscientiously. It also had the unintended side effect of being able to learn to actually enjoy food. I figured if I ever was able to break my addiction to food, I was in for a lifelong struggle, an argument in my head at all times over whether or not I wanted to eat or whether I should eat this or that. Now, I actually enjoy my food. Most of the time I enjoy my food in appropriate portions. Even if I do overeat at a meal, I tend to even it out throughout the day. Before, I used to feel hungry immediately after eating. Even after a binge, I still had a desire to eat. Now, if I have a large meal earlier in the day, I may have a small snack a few hours later, then another small meal a few hours after that. On a typical day, I have 6-7 small meals that are about equally0sized. As you can see, I eat frequently and I eat well. I really love that this comes naturally now.
For example, a friend of mine and I went out for lunch last week. I got a veggie sloppy joe sandwich. We also shared some chips and salsa. They had malts, and at first that sounded really good. I thought for a moment whether I wanted one or not. I decided against it because it would have been too much food for me to finish. That is not "diet" thinking. I didn't skip it because I am trying to lose weight, I skipped it because my brain naturally told me, "Nah, you won't be able to eat that much. It won't taste good if you feel too full." There was no willpower involved. The old me would have practically been in a cold sweat deciding whether or not to get the malt, and then would have ordered it because I would have felt like I was missing out if I didn't get it, even if it made me physically ill to eat all of that food. Sure enough, I was satisfied with my meal as it was (didn't quite finish it, actually). It was a very good meal and I enjoyed every bite, but emotions did not dictate why or what I was eating. I continued to eat normally for the rest of the day, without the desire for a binge being triggered.
I will not say I don't get tempted to stress eat. However, the feelings are usually not as intense as they used to be. It amazes me that I can be having a stressful day at work and be hungry, and still avoid emotional eating most of the time. Sometimes I will be stressed and think, "Man, I want some (X) food right now." The thought is typically gone as fast as it had come. The constant obsessive thinking is gone.
Now, as you can see, this took some time--about two years. Two years of trial and error. Two years of soul-searching. Our habits and the emotions connected to them took some time to develop and will take an equal amount of time, if not longer, to change. A habit develops because on some level our body and mind feels the habit is a necessity. We have to teach ourselves first off that the habit is not necessary, and that other healthier habits can be equally pleasurable. It takes time for hunger signals on the neural and hormonal level to change. It takes time for our body to physically adjust to the new habit. The powers of patience and forgiveness have fueled my ability to overcome food addiction. I have no special super powers, though. If I can break a 30-year habit, you can, too.
I wrote about my food addiction for the second part of this five-part blog series, because it has been a lifelong issue. The next "The Impossible" blog post will be about my journey with exercise, including some basics on the exercise physiology of weight loss.
"In yourself right now is all the place you've got."
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
I was given the honor of being voted a SparkPeople Motivator this week...I had to read and reread the notification e-mail. I was shocked. Then I realized that I do deserve such an honor for sharing my journey in an open and honest way. I have lost 50 of the 136 pounds I have set out to lose. It has taken me a year and a half to lose those 50 pounds. While some may consider that a "slow" pace, I am happy with it. I haven't been very specifically focused on weight loss. The weight doesn't mean everything to me. Don't get me wrong, it feels good to hit weight milestones, but my happiness from the weight loss is that the mental changes are working. I am now more satisfied with myself and my life, so now the weight can come off. This did require a massive attitude and outlook overhaul.
I found out that my "category" of motivation is "Positive Attitude." Anyone who knew me 2 years ago probably would not have thought of me as a positive thinker. I saw doom and gloom in every moment. Sure, I had some hard knocks, I was a survivor...but surviving was all I was doing. I saw an impending disaster in every venture and I sabotaged myself at every turn. As long as I avoided succeeding at anything, I proved to myself that success is impossible. I have struggled with depression throughout most of my life, but a lot of that was wallowing in misery I created for myself. I did not know how to find the "bright side" until a couple of years ago.
Being elected a Motivator got me thinking, "What does it mean to be someone who has a positive attitude?" I tried to think about the first word that jumped to mind with having a positive attitude, and that word was "objectivity." Objective thinking has been the root of my success in changing myself and my way of thinking. Being objective means that I have learned to avoid the all-or-nothing thinking, not just about diet, but about life. When it comes to weight loss specifically, I do not believe that our "diet" can change without really deeply changing our overall thinking about everything. Sure, we may be able to muster the "willpower" to go on a strict diet and lose weight, only for it to all come back.
"Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose."
I lost 95 pounds with WeightWatchers in 2005. It took me about 6 months to lose that amount and the weight just melted off. I wasn't intentionally crash-dieting, but knowing what I know now, I was not eating enough. WeightWatchers changed my "diet" and started changing my "lifestyle," but that lifestyle was not truly my life. There was too much disconnect between my mind and body. Because I did not really have objective thinking, I still fell into disaster mode when the slightest thing went wrong and euphoria mode when something good happened. What is wrong with being euphoric, you ask? Well, nothing. Not when something really IS a big deal. But constantly seeking that "high" is exhausting. Once I started struggling, I felt I had "failed" and did not implement the proper tools to pick myself back up. Hence, the weight crept back on. I stayed at almost 300 pounds until I started using SparkPeople about 2 years ago. I knew the first thing that needed to change was my outlook. I was at rock bottom. I was in physical pain because of my weight. My life spiraled into chaos. The first thing I decided to acknowledge was that struggling was not going to stop just because I decided I wanted to change. Actually, I realized that I would probably have increased struggling in the course of changing, so I decided to arm myself with a more positive attitude.
To me, positive thinking does not mean never struggling. It does not mean telling myself, "WOOT, everything's fine!" and stuffing my struggles down without addressing them. Positive thinking means that I approach struggles without the disastrous thinking. If a challenge arises, I try to look at it objectively and without thinking it reflects on me as a person. It means approaching and solving problems without turning to unhealthy options like binging, exercising too much, or berating myself. Positive thinking is being able to find the learning experience in the struggle. Positive thinking means having enough self-esteem to not let people trample over me and to have the strength to set strict boundaries with toxic people. Positive thinking means embracing that I am not perfect and being able to find joy anyways. I am not looking for happiness; I decided to open my eyes and see that it is already there. For me, that has been the power of objectivity. I have realistic expectations of what it means to have a happy life, only to finally find that my happy life existed all along.
I'm just going to say it: having some negative thoughts does not mean that you have failed at positive thinking. It is the REACTION to the negative thoughts that reflect how "negative" they really are. If the negative thoughts lead to self-defeat and giving up, then some more objective positive thinking is in order. If after reflecting about the thoughts you realize they are not true and work through them, then you are succeeding. Having a positive attitude means knowing that you can achieve the goals that are realistic to achieve (like weight loss, becoming more active, achieving fitness goals, improving diet, managing money, dealing with stress). A "can-do" attitude is great...as long as it is something we can do. A large part of success is simply not setting ourselves up for failure.
Since embarking on this journey, I have never said that I am "starting over." This is my one life and my one journey. If I made a mistake, I did not start over. The lessons I learned from the mistakes fed into future successes. I have treated weight loss as something that comes once other things in my life have fallen into place, including food, exercise, stress management, finances...everything. If we don't work on ourselves as a whole, then we are treating our weight as something that is separate from ourselves, something that can be isolated from the rest of our being. At whatever weight, we are who we are, and we may as well make an effort to find love for ourselves so our life can be richer. Losing weight in and of itself does not make life better. It may provide a temporary thrill, and some of the physical changes will certainly make us feel better, but as I experienced, it is unlikely to last without deep-seated changes in our very being.
There are several tools that I have used to change my way of thinking. I have done a lot of writing and blogging. Writing has been a tool that helps me sort through challenges and provide insight. Meditation has provided methods for me to stay level-headed in most situations. I take a lot of chances and try new things whenever possible, especially if it scares me. I have learned the anticipation is the most scary part. If I didn't take a chance, I never would have picked up my saxophone again, walked into a new kickboxing gym at 250+ pounds, tried Jiu Jitsu (a sport for which I seem to have a talent), work on writing a novel, or found the nerve to stand up for myself.
Most of all, I decided to have a sense of humor about the whole process of change. I have always been a humorous person, but a lot of my dark humor worked against me. I still have a dark sense of humor, but I have used it as a tool to get over fears rather than create them.
"I was going to buy a copy of 'The Power of Positive Thinking', and then I thought: What the hell good would that do?"
-Ronnie Shakes, comedian
Positive does not mean perfection. Overall, having a positive attitude means having the power to forgive. Forgive myself for not eating perfectly, or for accidentally letting someone down, or for not working out like I mean to. Forgiving myself for not fulfilling all of the "shoulds" for the day. Forgiving others for their wrong-doings, while being able to decide how much that person should be let into my life. If we overeat for a day, week, or month, we need to find the power to forgive ourselves and move on. Approach the little mistakes with objectivity, and forgiveness will quickly come easily. Having a positive attitude may not be pleasant 100% of the time, but it certainly provides the tools to pick yourself up and press on. Hopefully most of the time that will happen with a grin.
"If you don't like something, change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it."
Monday, June 11, 2012
“Life is the dancer and you are the dance.”
- Eckhart Tolle
Cassandra Shore of Jawaahir Dance Company.
I talked about the impact of belly dance in my blog "The Impossible" that I posted last Thursday. This art proved to be life-changing for me and was the gateway to everything I now do fitness-wise. Belly dance provided the first glimpse of the person I was meant to become. I have been out of practice for the past few years, although sometimes I turn on music and just dance. Sometimes I shimmy across the room. Belly dance has remained with me. I will be returning to classes this week for the first time on about 4 years.
Last Sunday, I kicked off this week with a class with the fabulous dancer Cassandra Shore. Minneapolis is fortunate to be home to this world-famous dancer who has deeply influenced the art of belly dance. She started dancing professionally in the 70s and is the head of Jawaahir Dance Company. Cassandra is one of those women who exudes joy and beauty. All of the teachers at the school are great, but I am fortunate this time that Cassandra herself is teaching my level and I will get to take some classes with her. I am so looking forward to reconnecting with the art if belly dance and learning from one of the best in the world.
One thing that is so wonderful about belly dance is that there is no "best" body type. All you have to do is be a woman (sorry, guys!). Women of all shapes and sizes (really!) go to classes. They all look beautiful. If you feel self-conscious about your body, then get over it and get your ass to a dance studio pronto. If I am pouring my soul into the movement, then I am as beautiful as I can get.
To get myself off on the right foot, I bought some new belly dance pants. I was surprised to find that I fit into a Large; I thought I was going to be squeezing into 3XLs. The pants really accentuate curves, but they accentuate everything. That's okay; I am who I am, and the pants will look cool while dancing. I can either battle myself or I can work with myself. I choose to love myself, including my tummy. Stretch marks, spare tire, and all.
New belly dance pants!
The truth is, I feel better about myself now than I did when I had lost 95 pounds on WeightWatchers. I feel more beautiful now than I ever have before. I never would have considered getting real dance clothes a few years ago. I now know that beauty is all in my head. Cassandra's dance school provided the first glimpses of the woman I have become.
This past week has been a bit stressful. My mother had knee replacement surgery last Monday. To add to the mix, it was incidentally found that she has pulmonary hypertension. I don't know a lot about what is going on because she won't talk about the complications and she won't discuss any work-up for the pulmonary hypertension. She was cleared to go home last Thursday. Actually, since she lives alone and needs a month of intense therapies every day, she should have gone to a rehab facility. I have been doing my best to help her and spent every free moment with her this past week, but on Friday, she made a snide remark to her best friend about what a great daughter she had and how she was so lucky that she had a daughter who "knew just what to do for her." Even my aunt looked a bit shocked. Then my mother was in my face screaming about her dog and then tried to make me look like an a-hole in front of her best friend and my aunt. Because I am 33 and I don't allow anyone--including my mother--to scream at me, I left. My poor aunt tried to diffuse the situation and seemed confused as to why my mother was acting this way. The truth is, my mother has always been a bit volatile towards me and I have always had to walk on eggshells. I can see how parental relationships become strained. She makes me out to be selfish, when the truth is, I stayed within a couple of miles of her so I could be there for her. She demands my help and then refuses it, or tells me after the fact that she had needed something, but not to worry, she found someone else (usually my brother) to help her with it. I want to be helpful, but I'm not a psychic.
In any case, I came home and needed to get ready for work. I only had 10 minutes before I had to log on, and there I was, crying. Luckily, my awesome SparkFriends jumped in with some love, and that helped greatly. After work, my boyfriend hugged me while patiently listening to me blather on about the day and about the insulting things my mom has said to me over the years. I felt much better afterwards. Before anyone comments that mother has done a lot for me throughout the years and how I should be grateful--I know that, and I am grateful for her. I know she has been to hell and back for her children. But I am also starting to see the ways she has undermined and manipulated me, and I am not going to be someone's verbal punching bag. It is one of those things that needs to be addressed to make the relationship work. I have always felt like I was inadequate as a daughter, but I now know that is not the problem. If she can't work on it with me, then I am concerned that our relationship will become truly strained.
I gave up some of my workout time this week to help my mother, and my body and mind could feel it. While I don't have trouble missing a day or two every once in a while (other than my day or two of rest), having my stress relief taken away from me while I'm trying to deal with a difficult situation was not good. I still got in a few good Jiu Jitsu sessions, but nothing else (other than the short belly dance class with Cassandra last Sunday). I am getting ready for a grappling competition on the 30th; this will be my first martial arts competition. The fights on the 16th were cancelled, so I would not have had a fight anyways. I would prefer to do a grappling competition than a Muay Thai kickboxing fight; grappling is a safer way to compete without getting seriously injured.
I lost 3 pounds this week. My eating was decent enough and I was diligent about tracking. I need to make sure I have more time to grocery shop, as I really skimped on produce on several days. This week was unusual, though; I usually have plenty of healthy foods stocked up. I was able to get to the grocery store and now have lots of freggies. I almost feel panicky when I run low! Fortunately, my garden is starting to yield some edibles, so I won't have to worry about running low over the next few months at least.
As I was writing this blog post, I got an e-mail that I am a SparkPeople Motivator! I am stoked that others have found meaning in my journey. I hope I have touched people the same way they have touched me. My "weight loss" journey has been far from perfect, but I would not have done a lot differently. Nothing teaches us more about ourselves than the struggles. The victories just taste that much sweeter.
There was a lot of crap last week. But I made it through and even accentuated the positives. This week, I am going to move in the most joyous way I know. Whether it be dance or something else, I hope you move through this week with joy, too.
"I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing."
Thursday, June 07, 2012
Image from http://weheartit.com/animelover118
When I started using the SparkPeople website, I had a goal of losing 136 pounds. I wanted to improve my relationship with food in that process, learning to make better choices and to "fight" my constant hunger. I haven't been surprised that I have been willing to push myself with exercise (martial arts, weight lifting, running, etc.), but I kind of expected that I would always have a constant struggle with food. I thought having a normal and reasonable relationship with food was outside of the realm of possibilities.
This is one of the hugest blogs I have written. This blog is as exciting to me as posting a really major weight milestone. Now, there was not some finish line I crossed, or some exciting number on the scale I saw, or some new clothing size I can fit into. Rather, this blog is about the culmination of all of the small changes over the past 2 years on this SparkJourney that have added up to make me a new person. The weight will continue to come off, but truly changing my relationship with myself and with food were unexpected surprises. I did not realize how deeply I was changing. My good pal MUSICALLYMINDED said this, which rang so true: "Weight doesn't change your attitude, maybe your change in attitude is what causes you to lose weight." I could not have said it better myself. The past 2 years or so have been the ground work for leading a lifestyle that is permanently healthy. My weight has gone down by about 50 pounds, but I have gotten more than I could have hoped from the process of losing those pounds. My body and mind now know the difference between honest hunger and urges to eat. Better yet, my body and mind know the difference without me having to think about it. I never (literally--never) thought I would reach that point.
A couple of weeks ago, the moment I didn't even realize I was waiting for happened. It was a Thursday night, I logged off of work, padded to my living room, and watched "The Muppets" (thought of Bren!). After the movie, I went to brush my teeth. I realized that I hadn't eaten my last snack for the day. I actually forgot all about it. Normally, I spend the last couple of hours of my shift thinking about popcorn and chocolate (my nightly snack) and then eat right after I'm done. I would eat my evening snack even if I weren't all that hungry (although, oddly enough, I started skipping the chocolate more often if I didn't care too much about it). I have never forgotten about food before. Now, I am not advocating skipping meals; if I had been hungry, I would have eaten something. I had eaten enough that day, too. But to get to the point of actually not caring about eating to the point of forgetting is huge for me. Dare I say, I would have said it was impossible.
The impact of this event took a while to sink in. It was subtle--I mean, I wasn't TRYING to forget to eat. I never specifically set that goal (actually, I am still a big fan of food!). But when I was walking to my bedroom to go to bed and I realized I had forgotten to eat, but that was okay because I had eaten enough that day and wasn't hungry, I had the same reaction as seeing a milestone number on the scale. First I laughed, then I stopped and stood there...stunned. I double-checked my brain to make sure it actually felt this way, and it did.
Ever since, when the thought of food crosses my mind, my brain either immediately answers, "Yep, hungry, eat!" or "Naw, we're good," and I move on without any emotions about it. I have mostly eaten healthy for several years, but the urge to slip into overeating has been the natural tendency. If I started a pattern of overeating and/or eating junk, it was a struggle to get back to healthy eating. Now, healthy eating feels normal to my body and my body rejects overeating and junk food. Don't get me wrong, I have had streaks of eating too much over the course of several days, but my brain scream at me: "Erin! Seriously! Let's get some carrots and flaxseed oil up in here!" I realized that I have had a lot of moments of naturally choosing to eat or not eat based on honest hunger, but forgetting about food on that Thursday night was what made me really, truly know that my brain is different now.
I know a lot of SparkPeople members understand the significance of reaching this point, but I am not sure I would be able to describe the event to most of the people I know without sounding nutty. So, I am sharing with you what has lead up to me finally reaching this point. The point of no return, where I am so deeply changed that I am the person I have been striving for.
"Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing."
I have bitten by a creativity bug in a serious way (see blog from last Saturday). I have always been creatively-inclined, but my mind feels much more clear now. I think part of the reason is that I am not totally preoccupied with food. I was always thinking about food, whether I was hungry or not, whether I was doing something that had anything to do with food or not...always. My dysfunctional relationship with food started when I was 5 years old. I have written about it before, but my family was in a car accident that killed my older brother and maimed my mother and younger brother. Other than some windshield glass in my skin, I did not sustain any major physical injuries.
I started sneak binge-eating after the accident. It was not my mother's fault. I would steal food from wherever I could. I would sneak to the kitchen late at night and eat cereal or other easy snacks. She did not realize for many years that I was doing this. I was in counseling for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, but I don't think anyone realized how much I was eating. I was drugging myself. My deep-seated hatred for myself started after the accident. I always felt very misunderstood. Of course, it ended up that no one misunderstood me more than myself. I used to hate myself so much that I was depressed most of the time, to the point of not functioning very well day-to-day. I had spent years in counseling. I was bullied at school for my weight and for being "weird." I was fat, hideous, and unlovable, at least in my head. After years of thinking of ways to end my life, I had 2 suicide attempts (one when I was 16 and one when I was 23). My family and friends tried desperately to show me that I was important and loved, but I thought it was a facade. I felt I was a burden and that everyone would honestly be better of without me. Thoughts of suicide became more prevalent in my late teens and early twenties. I was actually preoccupied with wanting to be dead, to disconnect my disgusting body from my chaotic mind. Deep down, I did not really want to die, so I continued to seek counseling. I tried talk therapies and different medications. Turned out I needed to stop talking and actually get moving.
My saving grace was exercise. I cannot emphasize enough that exercise literally saved my life. Movement has taught me how my body connects to my mind. I have learned what I am really capable of by being willing to pursue physical challenges. And of course, the physiological changes that come with exercise (increased blood flow to the brain, better energy utilization, etc.) have paved the way to be able to eat better. I believe that exercise is what is managing any depressive tendencies I have had in the past. Without exaggeration, I am fairly sure I would have killed myself by now. This story of transformation actually starts about 8 years ago, when I nervously signed up for my first belly dance class. As a kid, my mom would take us to Middle Eastern restaurants and we frequently saw belly dancers perform. They were mesmerizing. They flowed through the room with grace, moving their muscles in magical ways. I really wanted to try it, but as the girl who was constantly teased about her weight, belly dance was outside the realm of possibility.
I haven't talked a whole lot about belly dance because I have been out of practice for the past couple of years. However, belly dance was the first significant influence on my mental and physical health transformation. My first belly dance class was the first group exercise-type class I had ever willingly taken. I pictured it being much like the gym classes of my grade school years: pointing and snickering, jokes about my weight, being excluded. Having always been overweight and never really having thought about how my body moves, I was sure I would fail. Something inside me let go of my trepidation enough to show up, though. I think I was at a breaking point where I thought, "What do I have to lose? How much worse could a bad experience at a dance class compare to the rest of my life?"
The first day of class, I showed up in baggy sweatpants and a t-shirt. I walked into the dance studio, which had floor-to ceiling mirrors. The hair on the back of my neck went up immediately. There were some women in real dance gear and some women dressed like me. When I walked in the room, a group of women turned to me and smiled. The teacher turned and came over to me. "Welcome!" She ushered me into the room and asked me some questions. No one seemed disgusted with me. No one behaved like I did not belong, although I still felt terribly out of place.
Class started with some breathing exercises. She asked us to close our eyes and take a deep breath while having our hands on our abdomen. I had done some breathing exercises in therapy before, as well as with playing the saxophone, but I remember this made me uncomfortable because I had never touched my body in the context of movement. I hated my stomach and felt gross touching it, feeling it move with my breathing. I didn't like the idea that it was a part of me. I followed her instructions and got through the class. I wasn't totally sure how I felt about dance yet. I felt fat and awkward, even though there were other larger women in the class, and I thought they looked great dancing. I did not want to give up, though, so I kept going.
After a few weeks of dance, I started to watch myself and the way my body moved in the mirrors. For the first time in my entire life--literally--I thought, "Maybe my body isn't so grotesque--and maybe I am not so despicable after all." I kept going to class and even started wearing a jingle belt. I started to pick up on the moves, feeling almost sexy while dancing. I still struggled intensely with depression, but dancing was the first time I saw a glimmer of hope for the future.
I realize that I am very fortunate to be one of those people who naturally enjoys exercise and that my body and mind took to physical activity immediately. I have exercised very consistently over the past 7 years. Belly dance was the gateway to giving some serious thought to losing weight. I had lost 95 pounds with WeightWatchers about 5 years ago. I learned a lot about myself and started to become more athletic. I started doing triathlons. On the other hand, I was very neurotic about both food and exercise. I would be furious at myself for overeating, I would avoid social activities to get in my workouts. I had simply traded one neurosis for another. With the weight loss, people started treating me differently...with respect...without that look of disgust in the back of their eyes. Being treated with respect for the first time in my life really pissed me off. I actually became a much more angry person. I thought I would be so happy and feel so beautiful to be at a more normal weight. Instead I felt more confused than ever before.
Although I continued to exercise and retained some of the healthy eating habits I had learned doing WeightWatchers, I was not ready to be in that body. That body was not my own. I still had serious disconnect between my body and mind. I stopped going to meetings, then stopped tracking my food. The weight crept back on, and then some. Despite the weight gain, I continued to exercise, including continuing to do Muay Thai, which I had been doing for about a year before I started gaining weight again. I sporadically did Muay Thai or kickboxing over the next few years, but I was not truly engaged in any particular physical activity. I would work out just to get in exercise, but some of the disconnect between my body and mind had returned.
Enter SparkPeople in 2009, when my friend KVARNLOV told me about it. I signed up at the time, took a look around, but wasn't active. Actually, I don't think I logged back on for nearly a year. In the summer of 2010, I looked around the site more and became better acquainted with using it. I set up my SparkPage and started to connect with others. I started tracking my food, then my exercise. I wrote my first blog entry in January 2011. It was a gradual process to become active on SparkPeople, but I am glad I gave it some time. Building up slowly on SparkPeople was the first time I learned to forgive myself for not eating or exercising "perfectly," and I have the SparkPeople community and another group of supportive online friends to thank for that. My friends and family have always been wonderful and nonjudgmental, but I have been able to pour my heart out in ways that I would not have been able to express to them.
I have been thoroughly enjoying that my good eating has been very natural. Sure, there has been some overeating, but I enjoyed that, too. When it wasn't enjoyable, my body immediately demanded better, and I obliged. I accept that I will never conquer emotional eating or avoiding all overeating. Sometimes I will have a bad day and eat comfort food. Sometimes something will just be THAT damn good that I eat it, and I will not feel guilty. Both events are perfectly natural. The difference is that my brain is no longer in food crisis mode at all times. I would go as far as to say that always expecting to eat "perfectly" can be just as dysfunctional as overeating all of the time. If the expectation to eat perfectly actually worked, then we would not be thrown into a tailspin when we get slightly off-track. I had to let go of my ideas of perfection and recognize that it is normal to overeat sometimes. I have tried not to exercise willpower against food, but rather finding the will to find myself. In getting to know myself and my body better, I learned more about what I truly need. I had always been so obsessed with food, yet I had no idea how to enjoy it. Food used to be the most important thing to me. Now I am the most important thing. What once seemed impossible is actually happening. I couldn't ask for more than that, regardless of what the scale says. I always said that I have been struggling with my weight for most of my life. In retrospect, I now know that I was really struggling with myself. The extra weight has been my alter ego for so long, I didn't know how to live without it. Now I don't just survive in my body, I thrive in it.
I am now in a good groove. My life is definitely not free of stress, but the way I approach it is very different. The woman who nervously walked into her first belly dance class never would have guessed that she would be a decent martial artist within a few years. Make that a martial artist who rolls around on the ground with sweaty guys in Jiu Jitsu, with them touching all over. That former woman did not like to put her hands on herself, let alone let others touch her. That other woman would never have guessed that she would finish a degree in exercise science and give workout advice to super-fit pro fighters. I am very thankful, though, that she got over her fears and stepped into that dance studio years ago so that I could be here today. I will be walking together back into the dance studio next Saturday, returning to my first exercise love, belly dance. The other woman was about 250 pounds, as I am now. I know something that she did not know, though, that the number on the scale means nothing. She will be with me, but she is no longer afraid.
My life, finally, is mine. It is not ruled by food. It is not ruled by trying to please or impress others. I am, for the first time, really, truly...me. The essence of my true self has always been there, but it took a lot of exploring, a lot of trial-and-error, a lot of creativity, a lot of forgiveness. But here I am, incorporating my past learning experiences, watching the sun rise on the rest of my beautiful life. I love myself. I am allowing another to really love me, another first. I'm possible, and so are you.
"So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable."
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