Thursday, January 29, 2009

Baby Steps

I know I've talked about this before, but it has become a common thread in my discussions with many people at work. American culture supports the "all or nothing" attitude at about the same level as we support eating at McDonalds and drinking diet soda (read: a lot). We work too much, put too much value on "stuff," and we really beat ourselves up when we don't meet our self-imposed standards.

Here's a typical convo for me with a client:

Me: Tell me about your wellness.

Client: Well, I'd like to work out more. I used to be in really good shape when I was 37. I went to the gym 4 times a week and ran a 10K, and it was really great. I ate healthy and just felt really good about myself. But now I don't have time---I have kids and work full time and coach basketball. So I don't know how to fit the gym into my schedule.

Do you see what I see in that?

The person has an image in his/her head regarding the definition of what it means to be well (exercise 4 times a week, be able to run a 10k, and eat healthy). Because she/he can't do exactly that right now, she/he does nothing. Saying I wish, I wish, I wish or I should, I should, I should.....doesn't do anything. It just sets the image of "what you are not" more into stone.

It's the "If I can't have what I want then I don't want anything" attitude, and that goes right along with the all or nothing mindset and desire for instant gratification. I'm not saying we do this on purpose. I believe it's generally subconscious. This week, I've talked 6 people through the process of understanding that just because an option (going to the gym once a week) does not fit your ultimate definition of what being well requires (going to the gym 4 times a week), doesn't mean it doesn't count. In fact, it counts more than if you jumped right into working out 4 times a week. If your lifestyle doesn't support having the time to be at the gym that much, you won't be able to maintain the habit. But if you can fit in once a week, you are better able to stick with it. Over time, you can add little bits of health here or there and make it a cumulative progression.

Sure, it might take longer to lose 40 pounds if you're focusing on small pieces at a time instead of going all out on a diet. But if all those healthy changes are strategically fit into your life little by little, it doesn't feel so much like work and you have the potential to make a real lifetime-lasting change.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Do the Right Thing

I had a particularly challenging email to respond to last night from a student who is doing terribly in my class. He isn't fulfilling the requirements, and he wrote me a nasty email about the way I'm doing my job, blaming me for his poor grade. I tactfully and respectfully responded, cc'd my faculty manager, and let him know that although I am perfectly willing to give him an "A" in the class if he does the work, he has to DO THE WORK. Of course, I still felt bad to call him out and "let him have it" in that way, but in reality, we do all have to take responsibility for ourselves. Blame isn't productive, and it usually just causes more problems. I emailed someone I trust to ask her opinion about the email and how I responded. Her response:

"You know, I just sat our student workers down and told them to cut the crap --- lots of people want their jobs if they don't want to be serious .... I explained that we do them no favors when we allow behavior that will not be accepted in the workforce ... so bottom line I think you did the right thing .... and as Obama is saying, every citizen has to take responsibility for him/herself --- AND as far as I am concerned the only question we have to answer with yes for EVERYTHING we do is 'was it the right thing to do?' "

So, maybe when you find yourself in one of those gray areas in life---What to say? What to do? Who to blame? Instead of pointing fingers and getting mad, look at yourself first.

Are you doing the right thing for your life, job, wellness, the world? If not, that's ok, but it's something to work on.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cheap and Easy.....and Addictive

In 2008, McDonalds boasted a net profit for the full year totaling 4.3 billion dollars, compared with 2.3 billion in 2007. In this tanking economy, the fast food giant certainly came out on top. I’m not saying I am surprised or don’t understand. In fact, I like Shamrock Shakes and cheeseburgers just as much as (or more than) the next guy. The problem is that we have enough problems making fresh produce and healthy foods available and desirable to all Americans even without the economic crisis. With the crisis, we’re sliding backwards because it is cheaper and easier to eat out than to make dinner at home.

I can tell you how many calories are in a cheeseburger, a milkshake, fries, etc. But the problem with McDonalds is that it’s not just about the calorically dense, nutritionally void foods. It’s about the bad things in the food that cause higher risk for disease. Eaten once in a while, a cheeseburger won’t kill you. Consuming this type of food on a regular basis is a different story. Pair that burger with a Diet Coke and you’re all set!

In 2003, I went through a particularly stressful time, and I often opted to drive through McDonalds instead of making dinner. I cannot describe to you how comforting this was to me. McDonalds cheeseburgers still make me temporarily happy when I’m not. I didn’t stick with this habit for too long, but I do feel slightly guilty that I got my mom started as well. She had essentially never eaten at McDonalds---but I still have visions of the two of us picnicking on Matthew’s bedroom floor with cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes (her sans the milkshake if she couldn’t dig a Lactaid pill out of her purse---although I’m not sure there’s actually dairy in a McD’s shake!). Around that time, Mom (Susan) was working two nights a week at the Lake Street Plaza Theatres, and every time she worked, she and the other girls would run across the street and get food from McDonalds.

Fast forward a year and a half---Susan was working out daily and in great shape, and also eating either a cheeseburger or a breakfast sandwich from McD’s every single day. She began to notice that if she didn’t have it by 7pm, she would have a headache. This went on for more than 6 months, and even when she scaled back, she still never lost the craving for that delicious little crack-like burger. In fact, when I asked her if I could tell this story, she said she has been trying to stay away from there, but still thinks it could be a once-a-week indulgence (and if you know Susan, you know she is more of the "eat to live" rather than "live to eat" type).

What in McDonald’s food is so addictive? Is it the “edible” grade beef parts? The plastic-y cheese food? The mold-resistant bun? I’m not really sure, but the point is that it is actually addictive. Have you seen the movie SuperSize Me? If not, I highly recommend it. It’s a documentary—but it’s not boring, I promise. Of course, it’s not natural for a person to eat only at McDonalds, but the results of Morgan Spurlock’s experiment can be viewed as a sort of fast-forward on the real-life consequences of eating this food regularly. Check it out.

True, I love the McDonalds cheeseburger in all its chemically artificial goodness. But lately, I eat one about once a year. The bottom line is that making economic decisions that sacrifice your health and well-being is widely accepted in our culture. I don’t have an answer about how to change this at a cultural level---but I know if you choose to make a difference in your own habits, you can improve your health and still not break the bank. How to do this is another story, but I’ll provide ideas for that soon.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Something's Gotta Give...

I don't really have a story to tell today. I'm taking a break from grading papers, and contemplating my plan for managing my workload over the next 6 months (have you done this lately?----It can be fun....or scary).

Time Management is a sort of generic name for how you fit things into your day and get done what you need to get done. When I was teaching at Keuka last year, we had a unit on time management that had all these great tools for students to be organized and get their work done on time. For some reason, even armed with all this strategic paraphernalia.....many kids still attempted to turn things in late (even after I told them I don't accept late work---sorry, in the real world you have to meet deadlines even if you stayed up too late playing Guitar Hero!).

That situation was not much different than in real life. Most of us have an idea about what it takes to be productive and get things done. Sometimes we still don't do it that well, and some of us don't ever do it well. I've spoken to quite a few people this week at RIT who really are that busy. They aren't making excuses--they really have too many things going on to fit everything into a day. Interestingly, when I'm talking to people about their "issues" I often find myself relating to them. My current state of busy-ness results in me doing enough work every night to keep my head above water the next day---and my semi-panic feeling now is that I need to work something out so I can still get to the gym without feeling guilty or staying up till 2am. The gym would be the easiest thing to cut out, and the most disappointing to let go (I love-hate the gym, but that's another story).

What are some things you do to manage your time (or not)? Do you make lists? Print your calendar? Sleep? Complain? Procrastinate? Procrastinating is often one of those things you can use the "do it not wanting to" strategy for. Acknowledge the things on your list that are not desirable---but then do them and cross them off (and if you do something you had forgotten to put on the list, add it and then cross it off just because it feels good!).

I don't have specific advice for how to manage your time because different things work for different people. I know there are people out there who are much busier than I am. The only thing to do when you can't change your life-load is to change your perspective on it. If you do manage your time well, you will feel better and less stressed at the end of the day. Don't obsess if you couldn't go to the gym today---just go tomorrow! Things do not change just by feeling badly about them, and feeling badly snowballs into feeling badly some more.

Back to work!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Girl Cheese

I used to babysit for two kids, Daniel (4) and Elizabeth (6), while I was living in Ithaca. These two kids were so adorable I always thought they should have been in the trendy Gap sweater ads from that era (2000). They were also very smart children. Their dad worked at Cornell and their mom worked at a local school. This family was what my friends and I called "granola crunchy" people. They weren't hippies (then), but they were conscious of healthy personal and (I'm sure) environmental choices. Daniel and Elizabeth thought organic yogurt was dessert!

One night, while babysitting, the kids had a friend (maybe a cousin?) over. He was a little wild child, and it threw my little darlings for a loop. They were normally very calm (one day I asked them what they wanted to do, and they chose to listen to a book on cd---Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh). On the evening of their visiting cousin, Daniel took on the cousin's characteristics and I let them run around and be messy boys for a bit so Elizabeth and I could chat at the kitchen table (one of my favorite pasttimes). We talked about school, and friends, and other 6-year old things.

Elizabeth told me a story about how she used to always be very confused when her mom made grilled cheese and gave it to Daniel. She said she always thought it was actually called "girl cheese" and she was worried that Daniel shouldn't have it because he was a boy. But, she reassured me, she had figured it out and knew it was ok. How did she figure it out?

She cared about her brother. She worried. Then she asked.

The part many of us don't do is ASK. We have a snippet of information (maybe misperceived), and then we begin to worry about it. So, we create a snowball effect of worst case scenarios and outcomes in our minds. Take a moment the next time you're in a situation like this. Then find out who would know the real story, and ask them.

Save the stress for something real :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Vitamin D

It's winter----freezing cold, snowy, and dark in many parts of the country. What do you do differently to maintain your health and wellness throughout the winter?

I hope you didn't say nothing :)

If you did, think about Vitamin D for a moment to demonstrate that you might need to make some adjustments at this time of year. This fat soluble vitamin is important for organ health, calcium and phospherous absorption (and re-absorption), supports healthy thyroid function, and protects against tumors.
"Vitamin D malnutrition may also be linked to an increased susceptibility to several chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, tuberculosis, cancer, periodontal disease, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, seasonal affective disorder, peripheral artery disease, and several autoimmune diseases including type 1 diabetes. There is an association between low vitamin D levels and Parkinson's disease, but whether Parkinson's causes low vitamin D levels, or whether low vitamin D levels play a role in the pathogensis of Parkinson's disease has not been established (Wikipedia)."

Did you know there are very few dietary sources of Vitamin D? It is found naturally in fatty fish, such as salmon, and mostly in fortified foods, such as milks, yogurts, and cereals. Most of our Vitamin D intake occurs through sun exposure---and at this time of year, that is almost non-existent for many of us.

What is the solution?
-You could go tanning---but if you do, it should be a recommendation from your doctor, meaning your Vit D levels are so low it's worth the risk.
-You can eat more fortified foods (check labels)
-You can take a supplement
-If your mood is negatively affected by reduced Vitamin D, you can use a Happy Light (full-spectrum)--just note that its important research the brand you buy as the industry is not closely regulated (but can be kind of expensive).

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Fear less, hope more;
Eat less, chew more;
Whine less, breathe more;
Talk less, say more;
Love more, and all good things will be yours.

- Swedish Proverb

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Have You Had Your Hot Fudge Today?

I mentioned this quote in an earlier post---my great aunt had it written on a little slate in her entry way. She died of cancer when I was 11, but my mom has kept the slate and handwriting on it intact since then.

I was really lucky to have Deedy living in my neighborhood so I could ride my bike over there whenever I wanted to. The great thing about her was that she let Jen (my sis) and me do whatever we wanted without worrying about making a mess or eating too much or staying up too late. She didn't care about what people thought of her, and she loved to make things and give things away, and she made the best bread I've ever had. We did things like hike up a gully and try and catch tadpoles out of a pond (she tried using a rake---it didn't work). We did craft and art projects---painting and gluing real crafts she herself did, not just the kid stuff. We made caramel corn and usually remembered to put the bowl under the popcorn popper before we left the room to do something else (!)
She had an organ in her house that she didn't know how to play, and for a span of time, her son left his pet tarantula on her dining room table while he was out of town---She stopped using the dining room. She had a pool, and a creek with a bridge, and fun old lady friends---except Peggy. When Peggy pulled in the driveway, we would all hide in the dark on the floor in the den so she wouldn't know we were there, and couldn't see us when she peeked in the windows. Whenever my parents left us with Deedy, she would call after them as they walked out the door, "You kids have fun!"

Why am I telling you this?
Deedy's slate----Have you had your hot fudge today?---- was perfectly aligned with the way she lived her life. She enjoyed simple pleasures, and she had such a breezy beautiful way of floating through life (except the times she forgot the garage door was still down, and backed through it!).

I was only 11 when Deedy died, but I used to walk to her house after school and see her before she became too sick. She was never negative, even when she was dying, and she was always always happy to see me and listen to me talk about my pre-teen nonsense.

When I get stressed out or sad, I try and think of my perspective on life and what is really important. If I don't make the time to do the things I enjoy or spend time with people I love, then there really isn't much point in whatever else I'm doing. Deedy was the first person to really demonstrate that message to me by just living it.

Ask yourself---what is your "hot fudge"? Do you make time for it everyday?

If not, you should.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Wait! Before You Quit............

It's January 16th today. That means most people are on their way to quitting their New Year's Resolutions (unless their resolution was to quit something, then they're starting again).

Before you quit, take a minute or two to re-evaluate. Let's just say you've not been overly successful at sticking to your plan so far. Don't give up, just change your plan. If it wasn't something you could be successful at, then it wasn't the right approach for you right now.

I've noticed that even though the gym is still busier than it was pre-New Years's slowed down some (and I'm not complaining personally---there is more space in yoga class and fewer people on the cardio equipment). So before you stop going to the gym altogether (or revert to your old habits), get out a piece of paper.

Write down:
1. The habit you want to change.
2. The way you tried to change it.
3. What about the plan didn't you stick to, and why (if you know)?
4. Make a new plan!

If you tried to do something that was too drastic or aggressive, just tone it down a little. It's not a failure, it's just a trial. Try something----it's the "thing" you tried that doesn't work for you personally, not you that has messed it up.

Then, if you're me :)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Diet Soda Will Kill You

I think most people know that soft drinks are bad for you. Refined sugar in large amounts is essentially toxic, and is the number one contributor to obesity (In my opinion, and called "white death" in the health food community). Phosphorus, sodium, and caffeine block calcium absorption, and caffeine is the most widely used drug in the United States. Soft drinks will kill you.

I've been reading a book called Skinny Bitch, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. They describe diet sodas in a no-nonsense way (similar to the rest of the book!).
Don't let yourself off the hook if you drink diet soda---it's worse than regular in many ways. True, it has no sugar, but in it's place there are chemicals. Artificial sweeteners negatively impact the signal system your body has with your brain regarding telling you when you are full and creates cravings for "sweet" foods. It's not all in your head, it's a chemical thing. Aspartame is a common one used, and this evil beast also causes arthritis, birth defects, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer's, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes. Not only that----the methyl alcohol in aspartame enters the body and turns into a cancer-causing compound called formaldehyde (yes, the same thing scientists use to disinfect things in a lab). When you consume aspartame in conjunction with carbs (in food or drink) it causes a decrease in brain production of serotonin (the happy chemical). Not to mention, if you're drinking soda, you probably are not drinking enough water.

Rory and Kim's question to you: Did you know your diet soda was making you fat, sick, and unhappy?!

Soda (regular and diet) is like cigarettes. You can smoke them today and feel pretty good---and even attribute the "good" to the cigarettes. However, you are causing your body to rot from the inside. I'm not kidding when I say you are rotting, but that's another topic for another post.

If you need soda to feel normal, you are addicted. If you can't function without it, your body is begging you to change. It's simple. Maybe you don't want to change yet---and that's your choice. I'm sure you have a justifiable reason for not doing anything differently. But when you're ready, the information is available to you.

My recommendation is to stay away from soda altogether. When I'm coaching, I don't project my opinions in an assertive way---it would make people angry, and a lot of the time, they aren't ready for the information because they are not ready to make a significant change. With soda, and anything else in wellness, you don't have to go from point A (drinking soda) to point B (not) all at once. In person, I probably wouldn't have given you all this info at once. But if you ask me, I will tell you---and someone asked me about diet soda this week. So there you go :)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It's Not Easy Being Green?

I’ve always liked Kermit the Frog. I put him right up there with Piglet, Oscar’s pet worm Slimey, and Boober from Fraggle Rock. I just don't really get what the problem is with his color. Why is it hard for a frog to be green? Isn’t blending into his surroundings good for his safety? Aren’t a lot of good things green---money, plants, etc?

I know, this is a stretch, but think about it the next time you feel badly about something in your life. Is what you’re feeling badly about really bad? Is there some other way you could think about it that wouldn’t make you feel that way?

A great wellness example of this is diet---if you view a diet as difficult and undesirable, it will be. Period.

Most of our feelings are based on our perspective. If we think being green is bad, well then, it is. If we change how we look at something, it changes, and how we feel changes too---kind of like how Kermit changes his mind by the end of the song.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Do It Not Wanting To

When I was a kid, whatever I left laying around the house, my mom would pile up on the bottom few steps--headed upstairs. If she saw me heading in that direction, she would say, "Take your stuff up when you go!"

I cannot describe to you the sinking feeling this gave me. It was awful, the worst task ever to reach down, pick up my stuff, and carry it all the way up the stairs. Most of the time, I whined and groaned something like, "I don't waaaaaaaaaant to." (Either that or I would avoid going upstairs for hours so I didn't have to do it)

My Mom's response (with a smile), "Do it Not Wanting To!"

She adopted this phrase for many things. It was infuriating, and at the same time---liberating.

Let's just say you really really don't want to go to the gym today. But if you don't go, you're not going to meet your goal for the week of going 3 times (and you really aren't doing anything else). So you have this "should" feeling at the same time as your inner whiner is begging you not to go. When you admit you don't want to, and tell yourself to do it anyway, you've relieved your "want" from having a say in the matter. Surprisingly, the dread becomes less severe when you've acknowledged you're not crazy about what you're doing next.

Chances are, if you do those pesky things you'd like yourself to do that you don't feeeeeeeeeel like doing, you'll feel better about yourself and your productivity at the end of the day.

Decisions and Stress

I teach an online course for DeVry University, and we cover all the same concepts that come up during my wellness coaching (which is great!)----but then, I also have to grade papers and discussions. I won't lie, its not fun. In fact, right now, I should be grading last week's discussion posts. But I'm debating on whether or not to go to yoga class this evening. If I do, I'll be 2 hours behind on my grading and have to go to bed much later than I want to. If I don't, I'll go to bed earlier, but I'll know I didn't work out today and I won't feel great about that. So I've just wasted 15 minutes contemplating (and writing about it), and still no decision and nothing accomplished.

For many people, decision-making leads to a higher stress level, and inability to choose---and a sort of paralysis. Have you ever felt like time keeps moving, but you're just standing still--even though you know there are LOTS of things you should be doing? That's me, now.

What can you do about it? Who knows! :)

Honest, I don't really know---its something you have to figure out on your own. Making lists works for some people. Weighing options, asking opinions, or flipping a coin might work too. The real point is to have a strategy for when these things come up. Devise a method (usually through trial and error) that works for you.

Most of the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis are inconsequential to our long-term well-being, but add them all up and they can make or break how you feel (and what you've accomplished) at the end of a day.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Don't Return a Kindness, Pass It On

I have a friend who works in a psychologist's office. Actually, I think it's a group of psychologists, and she checks in patients and deals with paperwork. According to her, there is more activity there at this time of year than any other. She said she cannot believe how depressed people are, and how awful it is to see them go through it.

It makes sense. It's dark and dreary out (in the Northeast anyway!), the holidays have come and gone (and many people don't have family or friends to celebrate with). What's next? Well, I'll tell you---months of working and being cold and having it be dark early in the evening and in the morning too.

So, we're all in the same boat on this one. Could we possibly make the next few months a little more pleasant for someone else?

Up until she moved recently, my Mom had two little slates displayed in her house. One, written by my great aunt in the '80s, said, "Have you had your hot fudge today?" The other one said, "Don't return a kindness, pass it on." It reminds me of the movie Pay It Forward----spread out the goodness to others. Could we really make a difference by doing this? I think so.

A woman at work told me about sharing her sub with a classmate one night in her evening college course---she didn't know the woman, but why not?

My sister used to hire the young son of a co-worker (who didn't have a lot of money) to do odd jobs around her house (that she could easily have done herself), and then she would feed him and take him home at the end of the day.

What can you do this week that would make someone else's life easier, and to also remind them that not everything is dark and cold in the winter?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Don't Forget to Breathe

"Keep breathing! I don't know much, but I know if you don't breathe, you won't make it to the end of class!"

My yoga instructor said this today as we were in a particularly challenging position. The concept of breathing in yoga is fundamental. Breath enhances yoga and yoga improves the breath. When you do yoga, and focus on your breath, you can be in the moment. You've probably heard the advice many times to stay in the present moment. Its great advice, but without some help and contextual information on how to do that, its not all that helpful. I've finished an entire yoga practice before and not had one relevant present-moment empty-fulfilling thought. I've also finished a class and felt like I floated through the entire thing thought-less. So the answer to how to stay in the moment is much like the answer to how to find happiness. You don't strive to achieve it, you just experience it now.

The reason I'm bringing this up is because in my world of wellness coaching, I'm switching gears a little bit to focus for the next few months on stress/depression/anxiety management. Part of some traditional approaches are going to be important, but we'll also be extending what we've already talked about. Even if you don't have issues with managing your emotions, you may still find the information useful. I think it will apply to other things too---losing weight, eating healthy, quitting smoking, exercising:
"The outer situation is always a reflection of the collective inner situation." - Peace Pilgrim

Think about what these quotes might mean in your life. In general, most people strive or search for happiness---by reaching certain milestones or by making other people happy. In all truthfulness, although goal setting is good and helpful, if you have that mindset you will just keep creating new goals for when you can reach your happiness---and you'll likely never get there.

"In order to have something, you must first be something." - Goethe

"Instead of achieving to be happy, happily achieve."-David Wolfe

In the moments when you can't relate to these statements, try focusing on your breathing for a minute. Its a great way to re-focus some wayward perspective that has crept up on you.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Naughty or Nice---It's not so black and white!

The other day when Matthew was visiting, all of a sudden he blurted out, "Damn mother f***!" Joe and I looked at each other, and then at him, and said, WHAT?! He repeated it and then giggled. We proceeded to talk to him about bad words and how even though he hears grown-ups saying them, he'll have to wait until he's a grown-up till he can decide whether he wants to talk that way or not: Kids cannot swear. Especially not in school.
At that moment, my phone buzzed and I picked it up to read a text message. Matthew asked, "Who are you calling," with a little fear in his voice.
I said, "I'm sending Santa a text message to tell him the naughty words you said."
He looked at me for a minute, contemplating what that could mean, and then moved on and we changed the subject.

The next morning when Matthew woke up, I asked him what he had dreamed about and he said, "I saw Santa, and he told me he got a text message saying I am a good boy."
I laughed for a second and then explained to him that Santa will get text messages all throughout the year telling him when Matthew is a good boy, and also when he makes some not-so-good-choices. That way at the end of the year, he can decide whether or not he should bring presents. He looked and me and said, "Yeah, I know."

I started to think about how this applies to our wellness goals, and it's really pretty much the same concept. We set a goal (to get presents, lose weight, quit smoking, decrease stress, etc.). Then we live our lives, doing things that will both lead us closer and further away from our goals. At the end of the year, we don't have to be perfect, we just have to have reached a balance that will make us comfortable living our lives and also helped us enough to reach our goals. Thinking this way is part of not having that all-or-nothing mindset I've mentioned before. It's part of not beating ourselves up for not following a plan perfectly---but also, not giving up when we fall off the wagon for a minute. We are human and make mistakes, and when we do, it's not necessarily a deal-breaker for goal accomplishment. Keep this perspective, and find your balance for thriving in life while maintaining some breathing room.

Santa never said you had to be perfect to get presents, just nice enough to balance out the naughtiness! We all have the tools (or the help and support) to figure out what that balance is.