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My Calves Are Big

Recently a dear friend suggested that I delete the word “big” to describe my calves from an essay I’d written.    She said that I didn’t need to self-deprecate.  I deleted it, but that got me to thinking, “Wait a minute.  I was not intending to be self-deprecating.  I just wanted to describe my calves.”   They are bigger than some and smaller than others.  I will not need to ask Lloyd’s of London to insure them.  In addition to their size, they are scarred, laced with varicose veins and speckled with brown spots.

I was not using the word big in a good or bad sense.  I was simply using it to describe my calves, as compared to others’.  My granddaughter even commented that I have hefty calves and asked if I’d been working out.  She said that with a sense of amazement, not derogatively.

When I was a younger woman, I was embarrassed by my legs.  My calves were clearly larger than most of my friends.  After childbirth, the varicose veins surfaced.  I seldom went out in public in shorts, regardless of how hot it was.  If I wore a skirt or dress, I always wore stockings to camouflage my legs.  I’ve worked at getting to a place of loving, kindness and acceptance for my body.    Particularly at my age, I celebrate how my body serves me.  Those calves allow me to hike and swim.  They allow me to shop for hours with my daughters.  The support me when I pick up my great-grandchild.

Words like fat or big are only shaming when you believe that fat or big is shameful.   My boobs are large, my ass is flat, my skin is flabby and my calves are big.  Why not love all of me?  I do

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I’ve discovered the best take-action. motivator  In my younger days, I used the “cleaning the oven” technique.  If I said to myself, “I really need to clean the oven,” (This was back in ancient times when we didn’t have self-cleaning ovens.)  I would do just about any other task to avoid putting my head in the oven.

But now, I have a much more exciting motivator.  Buy New Underwear!  This Spring I was once again faced with the daunting task of spring cleaning.  At this point, heck at any point, in my life, cleaning is not high on my desire-to-do-list.  But I do like our home to be clean.  Sooooo – I procrastinated and went shopping.

At the I-won’t-mention-the-name-of-the-store outlet, I was bedazzled by the underwear on display.  I chose a variety of colors and when I returned home, I realized that the first task was to clean out my underwear drawer to make room for the new items.  So out went the panties with stretched elastic, the bras that no longer fit on the third hook and some of the ‘mold me” undergarments that are supposed to make me ten pounds slimmer but only succeed in making me take twice as long to go to the bathroom.

I folded and arranged the new lingerie and looked at the drawer with bliss.  I could find everything.  It was all in neat stacks.  This moved me to the sock drawer, then to the closet and then to the rest of the bedroom.  Even under the bed!  I dusted, vacuumed, polished and organized.

That night you could feel how much cleaner the room was.  When I closed the blinds, there weren’t any particles floating in the air.  When I set my glassed on the nightstand, I didn’t create a tsunami of dust.  When I entered the walk-in closet, I could actually see the floor.

So that’s the secret my friends.  Want to get started on a project?  Buy new underwear!  Now for the rest of the house . . . .

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It’s the second week of January, and are you are still gung-ho about your resolutions? Or maybe you didn’t make any, so you are avoiding all those people who did and go on and on about how wonderful they are. And you resist saying, “I saw you eat that candy bar.”

The number one New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight. Most of the people who make that vow abandon it by Valentine’s Day.

There are a variety of reasons why that happens:

  • Goal is too lofty – “I’m going to lose fifty pounds by March”
  • Goal isn’t maintainable – “I will eat only lettuce and drink only water for one month.”
  • Goal is constricting – “The only way to lose weight is to never eat any of the foods I love.”

There is plenty of information out there to guide you in being successful at sticking to your resolutions. And my role as a Coach would be very beneficial in that regard. But that’s not the purpose here. I want to give you some advice on what to do when you fall off the wagon, eat that brownie while hiding in the bathroom, or buy a gym membership, all the right clothes for exercise, and never use it.

If any of those or similar situations happen to you, give yourself some compassion. Practice Self-Kindness.  If your inner voice continually criticizes and berates you for making a mistake or not reaching your goal, you often end up in a negative cycle of self-sabotage.   You “throw out the baby with the bathwater” and resolve that next year will be different. Or make your mantra, “You fail at everything you try so why bother!”

If you eliminate harsh self-criticism and treat yourself as you would a good friend, you’ll come out a winner. We are usually kind to those we love when they mess up. We reassure them with respect and support and remind them that they are human. We encourage them to pick themselves up and try again. We counsel them. Yet we often deny ourselves this same compassion.

So when you find yourself in this place of self-degradation, take a self-compassion break. Here’s how:

Sit comfortably and place your hands on your heart

Breathe deeply in and out

Then speak these words or similar words in a warm and caring tone, out loud or silently. (If you are in the restroom at work, you may want to say them silently.)

This is a small detour from my goal

I will be kind to myself

I will give myself the compassion I need.

Repeat the words several times until you feel a sense of warmth and compassion emanating from you for you.

From this place, you can reevaluate your goal, rather than completely abandon it. Here are some things to think about.

Was it difficult to achieve? By breaking it down into smaller bites, it’s not as daunting.   Change one thing at a time. Use a smaller plate. Eat more slowly to recognize when you are full. Replace one unhealthy food you eat regularly with a healthy one.

Is there another variation easier to accomplish? Losing weight isn’t just about restricting what you eat. Perhaps starting to move more is a better start for you.

Is it your goal, or someone else’s?  Everywhere we turn we hear that we need to eat healthier and maintain a slim body. Any goal is more challenging if you are doing it for someone else. Your best chance of success is doing it for you. It may still benefit someone else, but you decide that you want to do this because you deserve: to be healthy, to have more money in the bank, to be happy.

Do you need additional support to achieve it? Make sure your support system includes people who will call you on your excuses. Remind you of all the reasons why you wanted to do this in the first place and all the benefit you will reap.

“I get by with a little help from a friend.”  Treat yourself as you would your best friend.

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Walking down the hallway to the pool at the YMCA, I realize I locked the key for my lock in the locker. This isn’t the first time I’ve created a lock problem for myself. Another time, I forgot the lock combination, which is why I now use a lock that opens with a key.

I’ve locked myself out of my car a few times (once, it was still running), out of my apartment (the landlord had to break in), and numerous accounts that need a password.

And while all of those situations caused me stress, what’s been most debilitating is locking myself out of fully enjoying food. It’s a self-imposed lock created as a result of our culture, the type of food I eat and not eating mindfully. I have and still do sometimes – overeat.

Growing up we didn’t have a lot of sweets. My parents didn’t allow us to eat much candy or drink soda. My mother cooked all our meals from scratch. It wasn’t until adulthood when processed foods, with that wonderful combination of sugar, fat and salt were mainstreamed, that I started to gain weight. I still remember the excitement of TV dinners! What I didn’t know, was that the processed food I ate and served to my family, was training my body and mind to want to eat more. I started mindlessly overeating.

By overeating, I mean eating all the time whether or not I am hungry and eating large quantities of food no matter how bad it might be for me. I’ve joked about how ice cream seems to call to me from the freezer. If I resist the temptation to eat it, I would think about it and think about it, until I finally give in and “to be good,” take a large spoonful of it and eat it standing in the kitchen. And then another and another. And tell myself, at least I didn’t eat a whole bowl!! This wasn’t because I am weak or lack will-power.

It’s because that ice cream triggers the reward system of my brain, stimulating it to want more and more. Eating foods that are a combination of sugar and fat, make food so powerful that it is hard to resist. Our brains become hardwired and tell us to eat as much of this stuff as we can get. Does that mean I am doomed to a life of overeating and feeling like food is the enemy? No, no, no.

Stayed tuned for part two. I will tell you how I began and am still working on reprogramming my brain so that food is now something I can enjoy without guilt or remorse. And the ice cream no longer beckons.

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The Worm Waking

The Worm Waking – RUMI

This is how a human can change:

There’s a worm addicted to eating grape leaves.
Suddenly, he wakes up, call it grace, whatever, something wakes him, and he’s no longer a worm.
He’s the entire vineyard, and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks, a growing wisdom and joy that doesn’t need to devour.

Everyone has a unique profile of factors that contribute to body weight. Learning your own personal equation is the first step in balancing and managing your body size. If you are an unhealthy weight, it’s most likely the result of years of small, unconscious decisions you make each day.

We won’t be as lucky as the worm and have a miraculous epiphany, so that with very little effort we no longer have the desire to devour. We may have an epiphany, but then it’s up to us to make the necessary changes to be in our best health. To stop eating mindlessly. To get up and move. To experience the joy of our surroundings that offers much more than just eating.

Once you receive the grace of knowing that something needs to change, it’s a journey of discovery about why, how, when and how much you eat. You can leave the desert of mindless eating and let the R.A.I.N. replenish you.

Recognize the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that impact why you eat.

Allow the thoughts, emotions, feelings or sensations you have recognized simply be there and help you choose your reaction rather than react mindlessly.

Investigate the source of your suffering with self-kindness and cultivate a compassionate heart toward yourself and others who may have contributed to your eating behaviors.

Now take the action you need to and love yourself enough to make the changes that will fill you with the joy of knowing you are taking the best care of yourself.

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Nutritious people are the people in our lives who genuinely feed our souls. They nurture the deepest part of us. They truly hear what we have to say. They reflect back to us our innermost thoughts and feelings. They listen without judging. Their eyes light up when they see us and their presence lightens our load. They love us with the fewest plans for our improvement.

Are you able to nurture yourself? Do you feed your soul with gratefulness and caring? Do you pay attention to what you really need? Do you judge yourself harshly or with kindness?

 If we want to nurture the people we love, we must nurture ourselves. And we can do that in numerous ways, but not with food. Food may satisfy a longing or emptiness of the soul for a brief moment. But its effect is not sustaining. If we nurture our souls and the deepest part of us, food becomes a pleasurable experience and not a substitute for love.

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Creativity is a way of thinking about your world and it can take many forms.  Don’t limit your thinking about creativity to only artistic endeavors like painting or writing.  We need creativity to design our best lives.  Creativity can open the doors of your mind and allow you to discover your true potential.  Want to get your creative wheels turning and unearth your talents?  Here are some ways to do just that.

Say Yes!  Be open to invitations and experiences that you may normally decline.  This lays the groundwork for forward momentum and expands the realm of possibility in your thinking. 

Be Afraid!  When you do something that scares you a little, you expand your risk taking potential.  The goal is to define yourself, not by your successes, but by your willingness to try something you fear.  Each time you do, your heart gets a little braver.

Find Inspiration!  Take advantage of the variety of resources we all have to be inspired.  Read something motivational before you get out of bed and before you go to sleep.  Hang out with people who inspire you and avoid “nay sayers.”    Keep a journal of all your inspirations.

Get Support!  Create your community of at least one person, or ideally five or six people, you can use as a sounding board for ideas.  Make sure your community is made up of people who hold you accountable and tell you the truth.  Vary the background and areas of expertise of this group for maximum creative spirit.

 Discover your true potential and let me know how it’s working out!

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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