Saturday, December 15, 2012

Reflections on Connecticut

Like many people, I’m reeling from the events in Connecticut yesterday.  So many unnecessary deaths - it's a tragedy of epic proportions.  I think it’s a normal part of human nature to wonder why things like this happen, and to look for someone or something to blame because it helps maintain our fantasy that we have complete control over what happens in our world and in our lives.

However, there’s a fine line between wanting to figure out what happened and why, and identifying blame. It reminds me of a scene from the musical Into the Woods where all the characters are arguing with each other, trying to figure out who's to blame for the death of the baker’s wife.  You can watch that scene here:  At the end of the scene, they all decide the blame belongs to the witch, but does that really help anything?  The baker’s wife is still dead, and the giant is still coming.

By focusing on blame rather than understanding, each of us is left picking sides.  We’re attacking each others' ideas and values rather than trying to understand what happened and how we can prevent it. And by picking an idea or value to attack, we lose sight of the multidimensional nature of a problem like this one.  It becomes about “gun control” or “mental health” –  leaving no room to consider how many different factors might have intermingled in the creation of these events. The difference between blame and seeking understanding is compassion - and compassion is a very difficult thing to hold on to when we’re hurt and angry.

Compassion, in this case, needs to start with the shooter.  Don’t misunderstand me - I’m not in any way suggesting that his actions should be condoned. But in some sad and twisted way, his actions are understandable. Our job now is to learn what we can about how he ended up in the place where he did, and identify points along the way where someone could have intervened to keep him from following his path to the bitter and tragic end. And when we understand those points, we as a society can choose to band together and create a different environment than what the shooter encountered, and help the next person at risk in this way choose a different path.

We still don’t know a lot about the shooter or his journey.  The information I’ve read and heard has pointed to a couple of key areas where we as a society fall down in supporting each other.  Should there be stricter (or just different?) regulations about who can purchase guns, and what kinds of guns the average citizen can purchase? Maybe.  Should there be more support out there for folks who have mental illness, particularly to help screen for undiagnosed mental illness? Absolutely. Should we work towards de-glorifying the shooter in media coverage of events like these? Yeah, I think so.

One thing I haven’t heard anyone talk about, though, is the role that our society’s lack of community has played in these recent events.  The disconnection between people who should be connected. It used to be that we lived in small villages, communities and tribes where everyone knew each other and looked out for each other.  People didn’t get “missed” the way they do now.  There was no such thing as losing contact with someone for years at a time, only to have them resurface later. But that happens now, and that happened to the shooter.  If his community had been plugged into him, someone might have seen changes in him and might have been able to reach out to help.  The shooter might not have felt so desperately sad and alone that the only solution he felt he had was to make a big enough splash to get noticed - by killing innocent children and adults.

No matter what we do, there is no way we will be able to completely eliminate pain and human suffering.  As much as I think it’s an ideal to strive for (and I do), problems will arise.  People will make mistakes and bad choices that we can’t prevent or foresee. Rather than interpreting this as “evil”, as I’ve seen some do, understand that this is reality. We are not perfect creatures who can be in control of every aspect of life.  And we would not want to live in a world where other people tried to control every aspect of our lives.

The best we can do is mourn the losses of the innocents, and learn.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gluten - friend or foe?

There's been a lot of talk about gluten, gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergies among the people I know. In fact, two of my friends who have suffered from symptoms such as migraines, mood swings, fatigue, (one of whom with fibromyalgia) have changed over to a gluten-free diet in the past year, and have enjoyed wonderful results from the change in their diet.

I 've never been much of one to follow the trends of the day, though, so for a long time, I resisted the idea of trying a gluten free diet myself.  I didn't want to be doing it just for the sake of doing it, or to fit in with other people, and I didn't really see a need for it in my own life.

However, since going through weight loss on the shakes and then transitioning back to regular food for the past seven months, I've noticed a few important things about myself that have gotten me to thinking about what I'm eating and how it's affecting me.

Within a day of starting the shakes, I felt like a mental fog had lifted.  A fog I didn't even realize was there.  You can imagine how shocked (and slightly high) I felt when I "woke up" from the fog.  Needless to say I had no desire to go back to that feeling once I returned to regular food -- but despite my efforts to eat in a healthy and responsible manner (most of the time), I've noticed some fog creeping in around the edges.

Still thinking about my head, I have suffered headaches consistently and migraines occasionally.  But on the shakes, I hardly ever had a headache even though my stress levels were similar to where they had been the previous years.

Also, while I was on the shakes, my skin cleared up dramatically.  I have always struggled with acne, though less as an adult than as a teenager, and it has gotten better as I've learned more about proper skincare, but it was such a relief to have a year where I had few, if any, breakouts.  I also have a condition called Perioral Dermatits,a kind of inflammatory skin rash around the mouth, which is difficult to clear up and usually recurs about once a year.  Well, during the year that I was on the shakes, I didn't have a single episode of Perioral Dermatits -- but now that I'm back eating regular food, it has returned.

There are a few other things that were gone during the period I was on the shakes and have now returned... but those generally aren't mentioned in polite company, so I won't bore you with the details. :-)

Now you're thinking, what does this have to do with gluten, and trying a gluten-free diet?

I started thinking about it after realizing that my Perioral Dermatitis,which looked like it was healing, flared up again after a day when I went on a wheat bonanza.  I also started thinking about how whenever I have a wheat product, whether it's bread, pasta, or pretzels, I instantly want more of the same and can't get enough - even if I eat to the point where I feel sick.  My husband mentioned the idea of gluten possibly being a culprit in these two problems, and I started wondering...

Why was it that all these problems were gone while I was on the shakes?

You probably came to the same hypothesis I did.  I took a look at the box, and sure enough, the shakes are gluten-free.

Now, maybe gluten is the problem, and maybe it isn't.  The good news about a gluten-free diet is it doesn't hurt you to try it out for a while to see if it makes a difference.  And since the test available to detect celiac disease doesn't capture the majority of people who have gluten sensitivities, the only way to really see if it makes a difference is to give it a try.  (To cover my bases, I did have the celiac test done yesterday, but the results aren't back in yet.)

So... in a month or so, I'll be able to give you a better idea if gluten is my friend or enemy.  My mouth misses wheat bread, but the rest of me is feeling pretty good so far. :-D

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The appearance of perfection

Being public about my weight loss journey has had some interesting effects on me, effects I'm not sure I could have predicted.  One of the effects I'm really feeling lately is the desire to be "perfect" for the people who have seen me, been inspired by me (, and are cheering me on in this journey of losing (and more importantly maintaining) my weight loss.  As someone who already struggles with perfectionism, this desire hits home in a very visceral way, and the results aren't pretty.

You see, the minute I start feeling like I'm not living up to what I think other people expect of me, I feel ashamed and go into hiding.  One of the ways I have historically gone into hiding is... you guessed it... eating!  So it becomes a Catch-22: I have a bad day, I feel guilt about it for myself and for those around me who are watching, I run and hide, and have a worse day.  The pattern continues until I can do something to shake myself out of it.

It's important to me that you know that this journey is not a perfect one.  There are days that I eat more than I should.  There are days when I eat too much of foods that I know will not satisfy me nutritionally and will leave me needing to eat again after my day's calories are already spent.  There are days when I feel so hungry that I could probably eat a hippo and still feel hungry.  And, of course, there are days I eat for reasons other than hunger.

That's one of the reasons the holidays were so difficult for me.  It's ever so much easier to munch on a tasty piece of cracker spread with buttery smooth brie rather than find something to talk about with someone I don't know well.  Although I'm generally an outgoing person once I get to know you, I still feel awkward and uncomfortable in those initial stages of meet-and-greet.  And of course, there are the family dynamics that crop up around the holidays.  Everyone's got them, and each person has their own way of dealing with them.  My way just happens to show up around my waist and hips first.

Maybe you don't expect me to be perfect in this process.  I sure hope not.  In stories, no one wants to read about the happily ever after part, they just want to know there is one.  For me, the happily ever after part requires an awful lot of work.  And patience with myself on the days when things aren't working the way I want them to.  And understanding from the people around me that sometimes offering me a tasty tidbit is too much for me to handle.  And most of all, encouragement from the people around me to remind me that I can do it.  That I am doing it.  And that it's ok that the process isn't perfect.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Back to center

It's amazing how quickly time disappears when you're focused on putting one foot in front of the other - whether literally or figuratively.  In my case, a mounting caseload at work, finishing my half marathon and starting the training for my first full marathon, not to mention the holidays, made the last couple of months fly by.

I started doing Bikram Yoga as part of my marathon training; it builds strength and flexibility as well as providing much-needed mental clarity during and after 90 minutes of contortion in 100+ degree heat.  One of the amazing aspects of Bikram that I didn't anticipate, though, is how it has helped me come to a better understanding of myself, and of personal balance.

Rather than tell you what I mean, let me show you -- take a minute and stand up. Now, shift your weight to one leg and hold the other one up.  Stay there for 30 seconds, or as long as you can.  What do you notice about how you're balancing?

If you noticed what I noticed, you realized that balance isn't something you can find, and then be done with.  Your body shifts slightly and you have to constantly adjust your position to stay in the same place.

Like balancing on one foot, weight maintenance is about constantly revising, changing, shifting - just to stay in one place.  And if the ground shakes a little, sometimes you fall down and have to get back up and find a new balancing point.

The holidays were a minor earthquake for me.  Like most people, the overabundance of rich and delicious food plus the cold weather which has made it more difficult for me to motivate myself towards exercise, has resulted in about 12 extra pounds that I didn't want to be carrying and am now working to lose again.  A few of them are already gone.

Fortunately, yoga has also given me the opportunity to appreciate my body and its capabilities in a far different way than I have before.  By getting used to spending the entire class looking at my body in a mirror in various positions, I've developed a deep appreciation for how my body looks, and also how it responds when I try something new.

This is not to say there aren't things I would prefer to be different about my body's current architecture.  But I can honestly look at my entire self in the mirror and smile with satisfaction.

I have learned that my body is capable.  I know that my mind is capable.  I might struggle, and I might fall.  When that happens, I get up again and find center one more time.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sugar highs, sugar lows

Part of successful weight maintenance is learning how to manage the various foods and social situations that inevitably surface.  This weekend, my challenge was my sister-in-law's baby shower - more importantly, the cake, and ice cream, and brownies, and rice pudding (two kinds!), and cookies, and fillozes (Portuguese doughnuts) that were served at the baby shower. Portuguese folks sure know how to make some tasty sweets, and they're super hard to resist.  So I planned to have a modest amount of cake, skip the ice cream, and have small bites of everything else just to taste it.

That was a pretty good plan, and I followed through on it all right.  There are two problems for me, though, when it comes to eating sugary foods.  The first is that I'm "out of practice" of eating them, so even a small amount hits me like a ton of bricks.  Don't misunderstand me here - I have no desire to get back "into practice" of eating them!  I'm just much more aware of how they affect me now than I ever have been before.  The second problem is that sugar makes me want more sugar.  It seems to have the same disinhibitory effect on me when it comes to sugary foods as alcohol does on pretty much any kind of food.  So not only do I want more sugar, I'm much more inclined to have more sugar.

Then if you add on the fact that many of the sugary foods I had I like a lot, you can see where this is going.  I'm sunk.

So yesterday I had my cake and tasters of everything but the icing.  And then at dinner out at, I ordered dessert.  And after that, another fillozes.

My reward?  A sugar hangover this morning which made me feel like my head was packed with wool and my stomach was tied up in knots.  I felt so awful this morning that I slept two hours later than I intended to, and missed my opportunity to go running like I planned.  I realized this morning that how I felt when I woke up today was how I felt pretty much every morning before I started on the MNP program.  Every day before I began losing weight, I felt physically awful and I couldn't think clearly.  That realization was very sobering.

But not sobering enough, apparently.  Today, I brought home some cake and rice pudding that my mother-in-law gave me as a care package for my husband.  He had a piece of cake, I had a piece of cake.  And then I started obsessing about the cake - specifically the icing.  And then I caved and ate the rest of the icing that was left.

Fortunately, I realized that things were not going to get any better if the cake stayed in the house, so I put it down the sink garbage disposal before any more craziness could occur.  No, I've never gone into the trash to take out something I have thrown away, but I didn't want today to be that day.

There's a reason I don't keep sweets in the house.

In the grand scheme of things, I probably haven't done myself any lasting damage - as long as this doesn't turn into a pattern.  What's frustrating is that, once again, I need to feel the pain of these bad choices more than once in order for the lesson to sink into my thick skull.  Lots of refined sugar might taste good, but it doesn't feel good.  It makes my stomach cramp and my head light and achy, and a little buzzed right after I eat it.  Then I feel bloated and sick.  The buzz wears off quickly, and I'm left with just the discomfort.  Which lasts.

I can't decide if I'm hoping to wake up tomorrow with another sugar hangover or not.  Part of me, the part that thinks I need to be punished for my bad choices, is rooting for the sugar hangover.  The more merciful part wants me not to have the hangover but to remember how icky I've been feeling for the last day and a half.  The temporary pleasure is definitely not worth the pain and discomfort!  And it's not worth the risk of losing the health and fitness I've gained over the past year by losing all this weight.

So at my next meal (which will be breakfast tomorrow), it's back to my healthy eating plan.  Back to what I know works.  Lots of veggies and salads, lean proteins, healthy fats, and sugar free drinks.  Back to food that makes me feel energized and empowered and in control.  Back to exercising for at least an hour a day.  And back to the new life I'm building for myself.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Some thoughts on Fear*

This has been an emotional day. Not just for me, but for everyone in our country. The memorials of 9/11 have been wide and varied, and I suspect every single one has brought tears to the eyes of the viewers or participants. Even watching something as simple as a trumpet player play "Taps" on TV before the football game started this morning made me cry. Yes, I'm a notorious sap, but today has brought that to the stark forefront.

As my husband Mike and I reflected on where we were, what we were doing, and how we felt when 9/11 happened, it hit home to me how much our lives have been impacted by Fear*. Fear of outsiders, fear of being hurt, fear of not being good enough or smart enough to prevent problems from happening, fear of the unknown. And Fear can drive us to do crazy, foolhardy, vicious things - both to ourselves and others. I listened with increasing horror as Mike recounted a story about one of the customers who came into his shop shortly after the Twin Towers fell. Apparently this customer was so full of Fear and Rage he was talking about going to a nearby Muslim school and burning it down. Fortunately, Mike was able to talk the customer out of that plan by reminding the customer in no uncertain terms that he was talking about hurting innocent children who had absolutely nothing to do with the tragedy in New York, but the level of fear and anger that man felt was all-encompassing and led him to plan an action that probably never would have even crossed his mind previously.

It isn't just fears about 9/11 that impact our lives. As I was thinking about the story my husband was telling me, I began to think about all the small and seemingly inconsequential ways Fear eats into my life. Fears about managing my food intake, about whether I'm getting enough (or too much) exercise, about not being good enough in my chosen field or letting down my supervisors in some way that only I could imagine. Fear is a box that keeps me trapped when I'm not careful about how I let it affect me.

For me, weight maintenance is an exercise in managing Fear. The scale fluctuates from day to day and week to week. It varies with my monthly cycle, with what I ate, with how much and what kinds of things I drank, with how much sodium was in my food, with how recently I went to the bathroom, and a million other factors I have no idea about. I've had to learn to give myself a window of acceptability when it comes to looking at the scale, and I have to remind myself to think in terms of trends, not in terms of any one particular moment's weight. However, when I get on the scale and see it up a couple of pounds (especially if I had a less-than-stellar week of managing my food intake), the moment of Fear strikes me and I have to consciously battle it down and remind myself that it's not necessarily a problem. Yet. Then I have to decide what, if anything, I need to do differently to make sure it doesn't become a problem - without getting sucked into Fear. Because when I get sucked into Fear, I start thinking crazy, extreme thoughts about how little to let myself eat, or how much I'm going to make myself exercise in order to "make up" for my perceived failures.

At our bi-weekly coached runs, our head coach Alfonzo Jackson always starts us out by giving us a pep talk and reminding us of the reason we train the way we do. Sometimes he also highlights current events that tie into our desires to make the world a better place. Yesterday, his message was simple: remember the people whose lives were sacrificed on 9/11 not by mourning and wailing, but by bringing more love and light into the world. Not to say that we shouldn't grieve their losses, but there's more to remembering them than just sadness. He pointed out that before 9/11, there was a much lower level of "us versus them" feelings within our own country. Since then, it seems like people who could be put into a "them" category have been threatened, ostracized, wounded, and had their rights unjustly taken away. Fear, leading us to do crazy, foolhardy, vicious things.

So here's my vow, and I hope you'll consider it too: I will pay more attention to Fear. I will not let it lead me blindly into snap judgments or thoughtless actions. I will not let it use me as a vessel to unjustly hurt myself or others. I will honor it when it's real, and soothe it when it's not. And I will do my best to show love to myself and others despite Fear's strongest intentions.

* You'll notice that Fear is capitalized in many places in this post. In keeping with the Narrative Therapy tradition, it's capitalized because in those instances, I see Fear as an outside force acting on me, rather than being an integral part of me. It helps me remember that I can control the impact I let Fear have on me.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Running 9 miles today

Today's the second half of two landmark trainings for me. I will be running 9 miles, the longest distance I've ever run in my life. The last time I ran 9 miles was 5 years ago, in early August 2006, and it was on that 9-mile hill run that I injured my IT band and soon after had to drop out of the training and the race because of how slowly my IT band was healing.

The first of the two landmark trainings occurred two weeks ago, when we ran at Redwood Regional Park in Oakland. I ran 8 miles that day, and the course was essentially one big hill. Four miles up, four miles down. I knew I would need to take it easy on the hills, especially the downhills which are particularly hard on knees. With the help of my friend and running buddy Christina, we took the course on with patience and completed the 8 miles in 2 hours and 20 minutes. We ran as much as we could, walking the steepest uphills and downhills and gently jogging the less steep hills, and when we rolled back to the start line I felt tired but good. And most importantly, I felt no hint of injury.

So I managed to keep myself healthy on the long hill run - good! Whew! What a relief! I've learned a lot about how to run hills since 2006, and you can't discount the dramatic change in my weight and base level of fitness as major contributors to my success this time.

Now it's time to conquer the distance half.

My goal is to get out there today and just relax into the run. I'm not going to push my speed - no pace targets for me today. I want to stay focused and in tune with my body, keeping conscious of my footfalls, posture, and form. And most importantly, I want to make sure attend to any area of my body that hurts in any way, and to have the guts to cut my run short if I need to in order to keep myself healthy.