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Better Quality Sleep

In recent months, I’ve seen numerous references and articles addressing the need for enough hours of quality sleep every night.  Every article/reference included information that we lower the quality of our sleep when we have electronic devices in the bedroom.

*insert sly wink, hehehe chuckle, snorty giggle and merry-eyed look here*

I’ll see you your entendre and double it.  I don’t mean those electronic devices, naughty-minded people.  The articles are talking about cell phones, tablets, even, televisions.  The gist of the info suggests that when these electronic gadgets are present and turned on (Okay, enough with the sexual innuendos! :-) ), they are distracting us from the full quality sleep that we need.  Even if we aren’t actually using them, they affect us.

Hmmmph, I thought the first few times I saw this mentioned.  Could this really be the case?  I mean, it’s not like I wake up every time my phone chimes because of a new email received, or that I come awake to play my turn in Words with Friends.  After all, even though my phone is plugged in and sitting on the bed-side table in close proximity to my brain, I have it switched to vibrate.  Isn’t that enough, I wondered.

Apparently not, according to all of the stuff I read.  From what I understand, if my phone is on, my subconscious is not completely resting.  It’s still, on some level, listening and registering the buzz of the vibration or, if the phone is still set to full sound, the little chimes and beeps.  Ordinarily, I would cite the articles, but I don’t have that info handy, so I’m proceeding with the less scientific, “Hey, I read about it in lots of stuff”.   Finally, after about half a dozen different references came my way, I thought, “What if?”

What if there’s something to these claims?  What if someone actually published a peer-reviewed study, obtained solid, verifiable data, and can fully support this theory?  What if, instead of logging the full throttle Zzzzzzzzzzs, I’m short changing myself.  Maybe I’m only getting Wwwwwwwwws, or, even worse, only Uuuuuuuuuus?

Above all, why am I depending on the iPhone for the time and the wake-up alarm when right there on the table next to the iPhone is a perfectly good, working clock radio?

So, last week, just for the sake of checking it out for myself, when I went to bed, I turned off my phone.  Total black screen.  Much to my surprise, when I woke up the next morning, I noticed a difference.  I felt better-rested with that lovely, content, oh-I-really-slept-well feeling.

Afraid that it was a lucky coincidence or a fluke, I tried again the following night.  Same great affects the next morning.  I’ve now done this for at least a week of sleeps and my own personal little data set says the articles and references might be right.  I’m enjoying a better, deeper, quality of sleep than I do when I sleep with the phone on next to my bed.

There are other studies that suggest good quality sleep is also important for successful weight loss.  I’m still collecting personal data on that idea, but for now the phone remains off when the lights go off at Casa Stella!

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On Not Doing What We Know Works

We humans are odd.  We want what we want when we want it.  We’re impatient and when we make an effort, we’d like the instant gratification of immediate results.

Yet, there are many times when we absolutely know what we should be doing, or at least what helps us when we do it but . . . we don’t do it.

I was reminded of this at that Tai Chi workshop.  A practitioner in his early 20s shared that he has had Type 1 diabetes since he was a child.  He needs insulin injections about eight times a day and suffers from neuropathy pain in his hands and feet.  He has balance and strength issues.  During a time when we were sitting around talking about different health benefits we’ve experienced since practicing Tai Chi, he said that on the days he does a set, he notices that he can reduce the number of insulin injections.  That’s terrific!

The instructor then asked him, “If you know that this happens when you practice, why don’t you do it every day?”

The young man replied, “I’m young.  I’m lazy.”  Credit him for honesty.

Tai Chi works for him in a very obvious, concrete, immediately-realized way.  He should do it every day and knows this, but sometimes chooses not to out of laziness.

I thought about this a lot.  I have very basic tools in my toolkit that really help me.  Sometimes I use them and my life and recovery are easier to maintain.  Sometimes I just blow them off and that gets me into trouble.

So, why don’t I always use the tools?  Beats me.  Well, no, actually there are a number of reasons and, depending on the day, any one of them could be at the forefront.  Sometimes laziness.  Sometimes emotional turmoil or I’m running late and don’t make time to plan.  I admit that there are some day when I just don’t feel like it.

To be brutally honest, there are often times when I resent the hell out of the fact that the tools are necessary.  I really, really hate having an eating disorder.

Reasons — I have a variety.  However, none of them matter.  None of them are justifiable excuses.

Bottom line – even when I feel lazy or emotionally off, even when I’m running late or fail to pre-plan, I still need to use my tools and take care of myself.  Resenting the eating disorder doesn’t make it go away.  Not doing what I know works hands the power over to the eating disorder.

So, for me, the solution is that I need to ignore all of the reasons for not doing what I know works and do it anyway.

 

 

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Binge Eating Disorder

This morning while preparing breakfast, packing lunch for work and so on, I had the television on.  All of a sudden I heard an ad about Binge Eating Disorder.  I looked up at the television in complete surprise.  There was Monica Seles, a well-known former professional tennis star, talking about having the disorder and what it meant.  The ad showed some definitions/diagnosis points and referred people to a site called bingeeatingdisorder.com and recommended discussing things with your doctor.

Watching that commercial, being in that moment, I felt intense gratitude.   For so much of my life, I suffered with this disorder without knowing what was wrong with me.  I didn’t know it even was a disorder, a disease.  I thought I was a weak, fat, eating slob with no will-power.  It destroyed my self-esteem, affected my physical health, my relationships with myself and others, led me into destructive behaviors and situations and caused me years and years of emotional misery.

I was 34 years old before I found out about binge eating and compulsive overeating and began to rebuild myself.  Recovery took many more years and remains an ongoing effort.  I will never be completely recovered or cured, but I am so much better and healthier emotionally, physically, and mentally than I was.

Putting this message out publicly will help untold numbers of people who are dealing, or attempting to deal, with this disorder on their own but who may not understand what it is, how it effects them, and how they can seek and receive help and treatment.

Thank you to whomever is driving this campaign.  Thank you, Monica Seles for sharing your story and putting yourself out there.

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The On Again Off Again Relationship

Ever hear someone talk about being in an on again/off again relationship?  When they’re on, they’re great.  The partners are in synch, nurturing each other, providing good support, a mutually beneficial give and take.  They have fun together.  Sunlight, roses, upbeat music surround them.  Joy ensues and they feel like, together, everything is better and they are invincible.

When relationships are off, whew boy.  The bloom comes off that rose.  Everything that used to be so simpatico dissolves into a morass of discontent.  The things that attracted two people to each other often become annoying.  Cute turns to cloying.  Give and take become keep and take more.  Sometimes you downright love and loathe each other at the same time and end up resenting what you most need.

This sounds a lot like my relationship with food and, by extension, with recovery.  When things are good, I’m in that sunlight and roses place.  Food is nourishment, it supports my body.  I enjoy what I eat and, when in strong recovery, I feel invincible.

When the relationship goes into “off again” mode, my viewpoint, attitude and emotions get completely skewed.  Take individual foods for example.  When in recovery, I absolutely love and savor healthy, delicious food.  I’ll get positively gleeful over a fresh salad with crisp vegetables and a melange of wonderful flavors.  Fruit is like ambrosia.  I taste and feel joy over fueling my body with yummy food and not overeating or compulsing.

When I go to the “off again” place, there’s no appeal in those same salad ingredients.  I lose my appetite for healthy food and start craving junk like sugary doughnuts and greasy french fries.

The food itself hasn’t changed.  I know that.  It’s all in my perception of it, depending on the state of my recovery.  When I’m in a good place, like I am tonight, I look at my whack perceptions and just sort of shake my head at the ridiculousness.  Living in a diseased state of binge eating or compulsive eating holds more than its share of crazy behavior, that’s for sure.

I’d like to keep my relationship with food on a more even keel, based on the simple fact that food is just food.  I don’t need to invest so much of my emotions and mental health in it.  Food can be a pleasure, when I eat it in reasonable, healthy, appropriate ways.

When I don’t, it can be the most stress-inducing, emotional turmoil producing matter in the world.

Currently, I’m in a good place.  I’m grateful and know that recovery can be fragile.  I need to shore it up, give it my proper time and attention.  Recovery needs to be tended and nurtured so that it grows healthy and strong.  That’s not all that different than an other relationship.

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Are You Balanced?

“Are you balanced?” Our instructors at last week’s Tai Chi workshops asked us that time and time again.  In the moment, it meant if we felt we were balanced in our bodies.  To properly balance requires a lot of different aspects to line up.  The first is the actual alignment, the stacking of my body over my feet.  Then there’s the notion of “equal and opposite force”.  When I stand up to kick, the intention in my hands and arms as I position them aids my balance.

Every time I practice my Tai Chai, I keep the question in mind and ask myself if I’m balanced.  It reminds me to strive for that feeling as I do the moves.  When I am balanced, I move with greater control and flow, as well as an absence of pain in my creakier joints.  I have to say that I feel wonderful in those moments.  They don’t always happen and, when necessary, it’s okay for me to use a prop foot, but I know how balanced feels and that’s the goal.

Balance infuses all of Tai Chi.  There’s a natural balance to be sought between body, mind and spirit.  Expanding out from the martial art, I seek balance in all areas of my life.  In OA, we sometimes talk about the three legged stool.  The “legs” are physical, mental, and emotional.  If those are not in balance, our foundation is uneven and doesn’t provide proper support.  We tilt and rock, spending more time adjusting or compensating for the part of our life that’s out of whack.

When I’m out of balance I am more vulnerable to my compulsive eating disease.  In those times, I most need to be aware of the which “leg” of the stool is shaky and do what I need to in order to secure it and bring myself back into balance.

Today I felt balanced all day.   I was able to sleep in a little this morning.  When I woke up, after I took care of the dogs, I went out on my porch to enjoy a beautiful day.  I did my Tai Chi foundation exercises, followed by a set.  Then I practiced a couple of moves that challenge me balance-wise.  I worked on finding my balance point in those moves so that I can remember how it feels when I do them right.  That muscle memory will help the next time.

I’d made plans to go to breakfast with a friend to celebrate her new job.  I knew that I would have the treat of a mimosa and some breakfast treats.  To compensate, instead of driving, we road our bikes.  After the meal, which was delicious, I opted to extend my bike ride a few more miles.  This balanced out the caloric intake a little, I think.  (Don’t worry, I only had one mimosa and we lingered over the meal so my cycling was not impaired.)

After an enjoyable ride, which benefited me emotionally as well as physically, I came home and addressed a variety of tasks inside and out of the house.  It’s a great feeling when I get things done instead of procrastinating.  I feel sharper mentally when I complete things and cross them off of my list.

In between, of course, there was also time for some dog cuddling and simply breathing in the fresh air while relaxing on the porch and watching boats cruise by.  These things warm and settle me emotionally.

Sunday afternoons, some of us get together at the beach to do more Tai Chi and this provided another opportunity not only for physical activity, but also relaxation and a connection to spirit.

When I got home, I prepared a nutritious and yummy dinner.  I think the act of cooking healthy food nourishes all three aspects of my balance.  I’ve discussed before that the evening hours are often challenging for me to remain with my food plan.  That’s when I most often want to eat or overeat on junk food.   Being in a balanced state freed me of the compulsion tonight.  I stuck with my plan to eat half an apple for a snack.

A few paragraphs ago I talked about paying attention so that I can feel my balance points in different moves.  Tonight, I’m looking back over the day and paying attention to how spending it in balance feels.  Hopefully, this self-awareness will make it easier for me to find this balance point again.

So, how are you doing?  Are you balanced?

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Transformation

Transformation is a big word that relates to big change.  I feel like I’ve experienced it over the last few days.  I’m not talking about my three years of post-surgery with the weight loss and regeneration of physical fitness. Here’s what took place.

After the great Taoist Tai Chi International Workshop I attended in Miami in February, I decided I wanted to do even more work toward improving my tai chi.  So, I signed up for a weekend workshop on Women and the Taoist Tai Chi Arts, followed by part of a five day workshop.  These workshops took place up on the west coast of Florida, led by top level people in the Taoist Tai Chi Society.  Top level as in they studied with Master Moy, the man who created this style of Tai Chi and the other arts connected with it.  Learning from the knowledge they shared, receiving corrections personally or observing them work with others was simply an amazing educational experience.  I am internalizing what I learned, applying it to my practice and feeling myself improve.

But why do I think the experience was transformational?  Was it really so  remarkable that I feel like I was transformed?  Yes, but not in one big, hit-by-a-lightning-bolt-from-the-blue.  I can compare it to Tai Chi itself.  We talk of doing a set which is a sequence of 108 moves arranged in a specific flowing order.  When we first start taking classes, we learn the set move by move by move.  Commencement of Tai Chi followed by left grasp bird’s tail, followed by grasp bird’s tail, followed by single whip and so forth.

Each move is important.  Each has many elements.  Even the simplest looking move incorporates complexities.  When someone watches Tai Chi, it might look simple, but it isn’t.  Trust me.  After we learn the full sequence and practice awhile, eventually we stop thinking of the whole by listing the individual parts and, hopefully, finishing each and automatically flowing into the next and the next and the next after.

In the workshop we worked on key things that are important to the overall ways in which we do Tai Chi.  We look for balance, alignment, stacking our bones, dropping down and rising up.  Those are a few.   Often, the instructor picks foundation exercises and has us work on them.  Sometimes it seems like the practice is endless on one or two exercises done over and over and over again.   They might follow that by selecting a move from the set that includes that exercise or exercises and then we do them over and over and over.  While we do so, the instructors move around, offering corrections to individual students and sometimes stopping the entire class while something is demonstrated as an example that all of us can see.

I received some individual corrections over the four and a half days that might seem simple if described, but which created great improvement in all of my Tai Chi.  The corrections might appear to be small, but oh the changes to which they can lead.   I won’t describe the corrections.  To do so would involve a lot of explanation that would easily be confusing to someone who doesn’t practice Tai Chi.    So hopefully you’ll just trust me on this.  Instead, I’d like to describe the experience of the results.

Monday night, after a 12 hour day of strenuous, repetitive practice, I returned to my hotel room and needed a warm bath, a couple of Ibuprofen and some Arnical gel on my joints.  Even with that trio of treatments, I ached.  My knees were tired, sore and, quite probably, inflammed.  I had great difficulty even falling asleep!

When I woke up, I didn’t know how on earth I’d make it through another day of Tai Chi, but I soldiered on.  That morning, we started out day by doing two complete sets from start to finish.  I focused on all the adjustments I’d learned in the previous days and did my best to include them in the way that I did the moves.

I should point out that the instructors frequently remind us to smile when doing Tai Chi.  Honestly, I think most of the time, we then rearrange our faces into grimace-like expressions meant to look like we’re smiling.  We’re uncomfortable and think that we’re faking.  Honestly, it’s not that we’re unhappy or suffering.  Our tendency is to concentrate and focus, determined to “do it perfectly”.  Conversely, the instructors want us to smile because smiling relaxes us.

During the second set that morning, the instructor again encouraged us to “let it go”, to “enjoy”, and, of course, “to smile”.  Something in the way that she said “let it go”, translated itself to my body and how I was  doing the set.  I was using all that I’d learned in my set that morning.  I was relaxed, moving with grace, finding my balance in difficult moves that I’d struggled with.  It was amazing and all of a sudden, I felt better than I ever have when doing the set.  I couldn’t contain my inner happiness, so it bubbled out of me into a broad smile.

No fake, grimace, but a true blue, genuine smile.   I continued through to the end of the set with a big grin on my face and pure joy glowing inside.  When we finished the set with a bow, I breathed my thanks to the instructors, to the man who developed this form, to all who practiced it in Florida and around the world.  I thought to myself that I always wanted my Tai Chi to feel the way that it did in that moment.  I felt forever changed.  Transformed.

Suffice it to say, my Tai Chi probably won’t always go that great.  I’ll fumble or need to check my balance with a prop foot,  but it won’t matter.  I know how it is supposed to feel, how great it can feel, and will be able to tap into that whenever I need to.

It’s a fine life-lesson, this.  Transformation doesn’t need the magic, all-at-once event.  It can be created by putting a series of small changes into place, refining the individual moments, and then opening ourselves up to the joy.

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4-7-8 Breathing

Weeks, or maybe even a couple of months ago, I first heard about 4-7-8 breathing.  An author I’m friends with talked about using the technique to help her with stress-induced insomnia.  I saw her post about it on Facebook a few times and that motivated me to investigate on the internet.

I’m not prone to insomnia when I first go to bed.  Truth be told, I’m so brain tired by 10-10:30 most nights, I fall asleep on the couch.  There are some nights when I look at the clock and wonder if 9 p.m. is too early to go to bed.

The sleep interruption affects me when I’m dealing with stressful stuff during the day, or have something bothering me and happen to wake up in the middle of the night.  Even if I just wake up for a quick trip to the restroom, if the stressful situation comes to mind, I can’t get rid of it.  I will think about it and think about it non-stop.  Sometimes the same phrase, sentence or conversation just repeats like a thought-hamster on a wheel.  I believe this might be something called “inefficient worrying”.  Honestly, when it happens, it does not accomplish anything positive.  I’m not working through the issue or resolving anything.  I’m just repeating thoughts, creating more stress, and depriving myself of much needed recuperation and sleep.

When I looked into 4-7-8 breathing, I found articles that described it as being helpful for reducing stress and anxiety.  I found a video of Dr. Andrew Weil talking about and demonstrating the technique which, if I correctly remember, originated in yoga practice.  It seemed easy enough so the very next time I experienced that middle-of-the-night hamster-thinking, I tried it for myself.  It worked!  I remember doing it three times and that’s all.

After that first night, I tried it again the next time I couldn’t fall back asleep and achieved the same result.  As I’ve whined about discussed several times, I’ve been experiencing a fair amount of extra stress in recent weeks, so I’ve had ample opportunity to demonstrate that, for me, the 4-7-8 technique isn’t a fluke.

I’ve done some additional investigation into it and have seen some suggest that it might be able to help me with some of my compulsive eating disorder.  For example, if I can be aware enough to do some 4-7-8 breathing when the urge to eat compulsively hits, or even if I’m still wound up when I sit down to a meal, the technique might help me settle before I reach for food.

Every day, I practice the technique at least twice a day, as Dr. Weil suggests. I’d like to develop it as a great and consistent tool.  It would be great if I could train myself to engage in this as a natural reflex.  Actually, I believe that with practice, I can do just that.  Any tool is a good one in this journey.

Do any of you do any kind of meditation or breathing technique?  Have you heard of 4-7-8 breathing and, if so, does it work for you?  I’d love to hear what things you’ve tried and found useful.

In the meantime, if you’d like to read more about it, this link will take you to the place on Dr. Weil’s site where it’s described.  From there you can also click a link to watch the video of his demonstration.

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Fear Is Not Good Motivation

I’ve come to understand that I cannot scare myself into losing weight or sticking to a food plan.  Being afraid of failing, of getting sick, of gaining back all of my weight, of losing the joyful life I have, heck, of dying, does not serve as great motivation.

I wish it did. If fear alone could keep me on track, I’d never veer.  Not even a millimeter off track would I step.  Unfortunately, my eating disorder doesn’t differentiate between a fear that could motivate me to stay in recovery and any other emotion-based fear.  For an emotional eater, any fear can be a trigger.

When I was a kid, occasionally out of their concern for me, my parents would try to impress on me the risk of being overweight and the potential dangerous health concerns that I faced if I didn’t diet and lose weight.  I know they hoped that being afraid of developing juvenile diabetes would get me to stop overeating, but those talks only made me want to eat more.

Right now, I’m experiencing a lot of fear and, for once, I’m trying to be rational, calm and objective about it so that I don’t overeat.  Instead, I try to spin my emotions into a more positive mindset.  It doesn’t do me any good to castigate myself and say things like, “If you mess up your food plan, you’ll gain back all of your weight; be fat and miserable.  You’ll put yourself right back on a fast track to early death or disability.”  That approach multiplies the fear and creates a mess of other negative emotions.

So, I’m really trying to focus on how I approach everything and look for the positives.  For example,when I think about preparing meals or if I’m faced with the choice whether to dive into some poor choices, it’s much healthier for me to think and say things like, “Follow your food plan and you’ll not only enjoy a delicious dinner, but you’ll be happy knowing you stuck with your program.  You’ll not only feel healthier, but you’ll be healthier.”

That’s a very simple example, but I think you get the gist.  The more I reinforce positive choices, the better.

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Identifying Trouble Times

I’m so sorry to have gone AWOL.  I dislike whining, but the last week has just been insanely busy with plenty of stress.  On the nights that I didn’t bring work home, I came home so tired that I couldn’t form coherent enough thoughts to write.

Hopefully, I can keep my thoughts gathered well enough, and long enough tonight.

I’m doing sort of so-so with my eating right now.  I am definitely a stress eater.  Stress is not an excuse, or at least not a justifiable excuse.  It just always challenges me to find ways other than eating to cope with the emotion.

What’s really interesting is that I do much better when I’m under the gun.  During the day when I am super busy — head down, powering through the projects that need to be done — I don’t obsess about the food.  I don’t have time!  Therefore, I have little issues with sticking to the planned-for food items for my mid-morning snack, lunch and mid-afternoon snack.  I can even mostly do well through dinner.

It’s after dinner that presents the biggest challenge.  I’ve had perfect days until around 7 p.m. and then morph into constantly fighting the compulsion to eat this, that or the other thing that isn’t on the plan… and then maybe eat the other thing, that, or this afterwards.  I end up feeling miserable emotionally and mentally — and sometime even physically, depending on what I ate.

I wonder why this pattern repeats.  Why is evening such a trouble time?  It’s almost as if when I’m busy and stressed, I don’t have time to act out on the stress by eating.  Then night rolls around, some of the busy-ness eases off but I’m left with the residual tension.  So I have all of that emotion, not enough to distract me from it, and I end up eating over it.

Having identified the time and the issue, I now need to devise a strategy.  Even if I’m brain weary and physically tired at night, I can find a positive action to engage me instead of reaching for food.

PACE = Positive Action Changes Everything

It will take some extra effort, particularly if I’m worn out.  Maybe I need to think of it in terms of balance and equality.  After all, if I have enough energy to boost myself off of the couch and walk to the kitchen for food, I should be able to muster enough to do something more healthy and constructive.

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Eat This Not That

Eat This Not That is the title of book(s) published awhile ago.  Yesterday was the first time I’d seen it as a magazine.  There it was at the supermarket checkout line, nestled in among several cooking magazines, a few fashion mags with impossibly slender actresses and models on the covers, and various other reading material choices.  Of course I bought it, despite the hefty $12.99 price.

Quick realization: When I wasn’t actively working on my health and weight, “diet” books always made me feel guilty and uncomfortable.  I’d buy them sometimes, determined that this would be the one.  More often, I’d ignore them, or try to, viewing them as finger-pointing, blame-casting scolds.  Amazing how much power we can give inanimate objects.

I’m not sure what giant-font-size lines drew my attention to this magazing.  It might have been the white on red top banner that said The No-Diet Weight Loss Solution, the purple on yellow 148 Smart Food Swaps or something else.  I’m not sure, but I brought the magazine home and started reading.

The magazine has a lot of terrific tips and useful recipes for preparing delicious meals that are lower in calories, fat, etc.  It has an extensive section on better choices to make at a number of restaurant chains and announced their choices for the greatest supermarket foods in a variety of categories like best bread. best energy bar, best cereal, best condiments, etc.  I like that it shows the calories, fat grams, sodium and sugar content of every choice and, where appropriate, the carb and fiber counts too.

Overall, I learned a lot and got some great, useful ideas that I can introduce into my life.

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