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Jumping out of Control

I have this great memory of myself learning how to dive off of the diving board. My older sister was egging me on, fearless as she has always been. I had always been fearful, had always clutched to control like safety blankets or one of those handlebars on the interior passenger side of a car.

I stood on the edge of the diving board, toes gripping, stepping forward and back, anxiously biding my time deciding whether I should run-n-jump to expel some of the nervous fidgeting, or just-do-it off the edge like it was no big deal.

I walked to the back end of the diving board, and started my run. It didn’t last long, as my fear stopped me just short of the edge of the board, unable to commit to the jump-but-Uh-oh!Oh no!Wait!Too late!
I stumble-splashed into the deep end, embarrassed, and… realizing… that it’s not that far to fall.
Perhaps you’ve had similar experiences?
We recognize that we can’t control gravity’s pull on us, or the temperature of the water we land in. But we do have control over our own attitude towards it. We can choose to dive in with style or humor or shame.
Often when it comes to recognizing our sphere of control, we have impractical, unrealistic expectations of ourselves. This can lead to some very unsatisfying interactions.
And what’s more- sometimes I find myself controlling, not only things that are out of my control, but things that would go smoother if only I stopped interfering! I’d like to highlight this story from a mother in the “(un)schooling movement:”

“I went grocery shopping and bought some snacks for my family; chocolate cookies, sour cream & onion potato chips, rainbow sherbet, grapes and baby carrots. My 12 year old unschooler came into the kitchen and I showed her the snacks I bought. Her immediate response? “Ooooooo – grapes!!!!”.
Out of all those snacks, the grapes were the first to be finished.
What was last? The cookies.
Now I’m not saying this happens all the time…sometimes the cookies go first. And that’s okay! The point is, she chooses healthy foods on her own, without any bribery or coercion.”[source]

So rather than tightening grip of control around ourselves, or others, perhaps we can find the flexibility to open space for greater freedom, choice, and the support for healthy decisions. Rather than rules, let’s cultivate a healthy environment in which to play, and then, we can really jump right in!

Now I’m cliff-jumping on the Colorado River in Utah!
Now I’m cliff-jumping on the Colorado River in Utah!
*What will you jump into this week?*

From Amaranth to Quinoa; Meet the Grains

“Bread is life”-Noam Ben-Yossef

We often use bread as a metaphor for food in general; a symbol of nurturance and sustenance, the basis of bodily health, indeed even of spiritual life. We talk of “breaking bread” with others as a peace offering, and refer to our simple joys as our “bread and butter.”
Unfortunately, I see two dismal things that have happened to our relationship with bread.

  • Carb-o-phobia! (as defined by urban dictionary) an irrational fear of element 6 of the periodic table, from which all organic life is based. As epitomized in the oh-so-famous Atkin’s diet, and the “low-carb” touting labels that everyone and their mother buys when given the choice.

There was a bagel shop in my hometown, that was the hottest morning spot to hit before work or school, and all the workers would wear t-shirts that said, “I Love Carbs!”

  •  Wheat Monopoly! Whether it’s white, “brown,” whole, or low-carb, almost every bread on the store shelf is wheat bread (yes, I know, potato bread, I see you, too.) For those of us with European ancestry, this makes sense as wheat has been a staple crop in many European climates for centuries. However, when we make our rounds at the local market and grab the same bread we grabbed last week and last month, we are certainly missing out!

Allow me to introduce… THE GRAINS!

Amaranth
Barley
Buckwheat
Bulgar
Corn
Farro
Kamut
Millet
Oats
Quinoa
Rice
Rye
Sorghum
Spelt
Teff
Triticale

Wheat

And there are many more! All of these can be eaten as *whole grains,* meaning that consumption of the seed and the germ (aka “sex organs” of the crop) provide enormous additional benefit, and deliciousness to you!

From my own kitchen!

This last weekend, I baked a loaf of dark rye bread, and while I usually share whatever Sunday-Oven-Funday masterpiece with my housemates, I kept this one to myself over the last few days!

Here’s a spotlight on rye:

  • Rye is a cereal grain that looks like wheat but is longer and more slender and varies in color from yellowish brown to grayish green. It is generally available in its whole or cracked grain form or as flour or flakes that look similar to old-fashioned oats. Because it is difficult to separate the germ and bran from the endosperm of rye, rye flour usually retains a large quantity of nutrients, in contrast to refined wheat flour. (source)
  • Provides lots of fiber (about 1/3 of daily value, although it varies based on processing)
  • Is a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that is required for the proper functioning of more than 300 enzymes, including some of those involved in the body’s use of glucose and insulin secretion. This leads some people to believe that whole rye can lower risk for heart disease, certain cancers, and Type-II diabetes.

And the recipe that I used for my Whole Dark Rye Loaf:

http://www.tablefare.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/wpid-rye-bread-1.jpg

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp (or 1 package) active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees to 115 degrees- referred to as “Blood-Warm” by old midwives, alewives, and… witches)
  • 1/4 cup unsulphured, organic blackstrap molasses
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened (I used 3 tbsp of Flax oil, but organic butter or coconut oil would work great, too!)
  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 2 tablespoons raw cocoa powder (also a great source of magnesium!)
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds (I threw in a handful and a half)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

the lovely caraway seed!
Method

  • In the bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the molasses, butter, rye flour, cocoa powder, caraway seeds, salt and 1 cup of whole wheat flour. Mix to combine.
  • Knead until the dough is smooth, elastic and webs your fingers together. Add remaining flour only as necessary to achieve the “right” consistency. You may not need the full amount of remaining flour – this is subjective. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for a few moments then collect dough into a ball.
  • Place dough ball in greased bowl, turning once to ensure the top is greased. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size – about 2 hours.
  • Punch down dough, shape into a loaf about 10” long.
  • Place loaf onto a greased baking sheet or loaf pan, cover and let rise until doubled in size – about an hour.
  • And bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes or until bread sounds hallow when tapped. Remove from baking sheet and cool.

I will admit that I didn’t let it rise the second time, but it still turned out delicious!

**will you try a new kind of bread this week?**

Mind the Gap

In the London subway system, there are ubiquitous announcements and signs warning passengers to “Mind the Gap,” between the train platform and the train-car. I love using this reminder in other gaps that often frustrate me; for instance… the gap between expectations and reality!

I love to tell people that when I started to practice yoga, I could not touch my toes. (Now, I do every morning!) But this, of course, did not happen over night (and some mornings, it takes a whole lot longer to get there..). In so many things in life, we know that it takes time to change. Still, that gap can be frustrating, but, if we don’t give it any “mind,” we might just slip off the edge!

Practicing consistently, with good effort, and plenty of compassion is key to making the small baby-steps towards those ideals. We didn’t develop the habits we want to change overnight, and we are certainly not going to change them overnight. Balancing your diet, kicking the nail-biting habit, or touching your toes will take time, but don’t let your goals overwhelm you!

There is always this gap; and I don’t think this is a bad things, by any means! If our expectations or dreams were always met, there would be no room for growth (how boring!), however, if that gap is too wide, we may feel hopeless. The space between whatever an “ideal” diet, or the “perfect” relationship, or the “best” job, and wherever we find ourselves can often be debilitating, what with the added pressure of all the images of “ideal,” “perfect,” and “best” floating out there. So we’re not necessarily trying to close that gap, but to perhaps (1) be more realistic about the standards we hold ourselves to, (2) develop concrete steps along the way so we know we are making progress, and (3) be patient and… flexible!

“I AM…”

Try as I might (and oh, I have tried), I have not yet found my way to Peter Pan’s paradise, Never-Never land; the land of infinite childhood, safely away from the horrors of growing up.

Now, that’s not entirely fair, because along with those horrors (and yes, responsibilities), comes great freedom, great fun, and lots of potential. But like any destination worth reaching, there is (at least) one significant challenge on the journey along the way. For some, this may come earlier, and for some, of course, later. For me, and for many others, a very challenging part of that journey is in adolescence.

This ambiguous period of time of “growing up” is often defined equally vaguely as spanning “from the onset of puberty to complete maturity.” We recognize it as the pimpled skin, braces, giggling gossip, social skirmishes, loud music, and great self-discovery in youth. This time often holds the first real experiences of a sense of freedom, personal identity, and big dreams for the future.

Again, every person’s experience of this period is very individual. In fact, it is a period of development closely related to a growth spurt in the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain engaged in executive functioning, coordinating ideas and behaviors, and abstract ideas and concepts. These functions play a large role in personality formation, and are paralleled in the actual structure of the brain and it’s changes during this time.

Neurologically, we all undergo a process of “pruning” during adolescence, very similar to spring cleaning. It is a process of getting rid of neural connections that are unnecessary, allowing the brain to be more efficient.

Unfortunately, many kids aren’t getting enough of the kind of support they need throughout these neurological overhauls, social changes, and inner personal development.

We see First Lady, Michelle Obama very involved in the nutritional and physical health of our country’s youth, but we still get a huge array of mixed messages about what health exactly is for kids.
During the neural development happening in this period, it is important to get a balance of all food groups, activity, and social relationships.

Here, at HartsSpace, we’re planning an Autumn Group for kids to support this discovery process.

Contact us for more information!

 

What the “Experts” Say…

We hear a lot about the creeds of beauty given to us by “the media,” and their effects on us, but there is not much public discourse on the standards of healthy eating given to us by so many sources, most prominently, the USDA.

We started in 1916 with “Food For Young Children,” the USDA’s first food guide, which classified food into five groups: cereals, vegetables and fruits, milk and meat, fats and fatty foods and sugars and sugary foods. Then, just a year later, came a 14-page pamphlet, “How to Select Food,” (which you can read here, if you’re interested ) and was geared towards helping families balance meals for babies. Then, in 1943, we got hit with “The Basic 7” food groups: milk and milk products; meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, peas and nuts; bread, flour and cereals; leafy green and yellow vegetables; potatoes and sweet potatoes; citrus, tomato, cabbage and salad greens; butter and margarine. Sounds complicated, right? It was. It also did not include serving sizes. Then again, in 1956 the USDA simmered it down to just “The Basic Four,” which suggested servings of milk, meat, fruits and vegetables and grain products. The guide did not change significantly again for the next 20 years. In 1979, the USDA came out with “The Hassle-Free Guide to a Better Diet,” which emphasized having fats, sweets, and alcohol in moderation. Just five years later, a collaborative effort of the American Red Cross and USDA yielded “Food Wheel,” featuring three distinct calorie levels, which was the basis for the Food Guide Pyramid eight years later. This is the image I am most familiar with, and was amended in 2005, with the MyPyramid Food Guidance System intended to simplify the 1992 version and separated oils into it’s own “band,” while also showing physical activity.
Just last year, we had the “MyPlate” thrust on us. This image is even further simplified and has left out some important nutritional information. For example, Tod Datz, from Harvard Science, writes,

“MyPlate does not tell consumers that whole grains are better for health than refined grains; its protein section offers no indication that some high-protein foods — fish, poultry, beans, nuts — are healthier than red meats and processed meats; it is silent on beneficial fats; it does not distinguish between potatoes and other vegetables; it recommends dairy at every meal, even though there is little evidence that high dairy intake protects against osteoporosis but substantial evidence that high intake can be harmful; and it says nothing about sugary drinks. Finally, the Healthy Eating Plate reminds people to stay active, an important factor in weight control, while MyPlate does not mention the importance of activity.”

Harvard’s nutrition experts at the School of Public Health (HSPH) in conjunction with colleagues at Harvard Health Publications have offered their own version, “The Healthy Eating Plate,” trying to address some of these issues (source ; read more here )


There are plenty of other systems from Western science, government programs, or self-help books to Traditional Chinese Medicine, family tradition, or hypnotherapy that can help us to balance and harmonize our eating patterns, but what many of them (particularly anything that is one-size-fits-all) fail to recognize, is that we are all each unique and have different (not “good” vs. “bad,”) body chemistry, different heritage, and preferences. Perhaps the best “expert” on diet is your body!

What does your Plate of Health look like?

At The Beginning(s)

“There are two mistakes one can make along the journey… Not going all the way, and not starting at all.” -Buddha 

We must always start from exactly where we are; we have no choice to be anywhere else in that moment. So, having written two blog posts already, I suppose “starting at the very beginning,” has escaped me, but let me introduce myself.

My name is Sophia. I am an intern at HartsSpace, Mental Health and Nutrition, in Olympia, Wa. I will be your blogger, today. Here is a bit of my story:

When I was 15 years old, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. My parents dragged me to therapists and nutritionists, and I duly ignored them, until I fell to the point at which I was hospitalized. After the 6 weeks of a inpatient program, and about another month of intensive outpatient treatment, I returned home, to school, and to an outpatient treatment team. A few months after returning home, my nutritionist (the only person in my life who I really trusted at the time) suggested that I take a yoga class. I showed up to a “teen yoga class” and I hated it. It was full of pre-pubescent stick-figure bodied girls who weren’t taking it seriously. Luckily, I gave it another shot; an “adult” class. This time, it changed my life. Though, for the most part, I went to class for the only approved physical exercise I could get, something shifted in me. I began to see my body, my self, as capable, worthwhile, fun, strong, even beautiful! This was the doorway into a whole new way of being in my body, and in the world. My recovery has been far from straight and narrow, and I’ve definitely slipped further away from the kind of healthy life I know I want to live. But, I have managed to maintain a stable recovery due, at first, to my yoga practice, meditation later, mindful eating, taichi, dance, singing, writing, and now a hundred other things at this point. Yoga was my first, and continues to be my central stone in my healthy foundation. There are moments when I feel like I’ve got this down, settled, under control, and there are times when it feels like I’ll never stop hurting, never stop fighting. Relapses have come and gone, and every time I have to fight, it feels just as hard, but every time I fight, I’m stronger for it. And while I may not ever be completely “over” this, life is about doing the work, so I’ll keep working, getting better, learning and never quitting.

About 8 months ago, my sister told me that she has also been struggling with an eating disorder. She sought help from her University’s health center, and was seeing a therapist and nutritionist regularly for several months, before she reached a minimally “normal” weight, though the scale did not take into account the ratio of fat, water, and muscle, and she was not truly healthy. Several weeks later, my parents and I visited her for a holiday, and towards the end of our visit, held a conversation with her over the course of about three hours, in which we stated our concerns for her, as well as our hopes and visions for her recovery. Though she resisted fairly strongly during the conversation, she conceded to gaining weight. She resumed seeing her nutritionist, increased her meal-plan, and after a few more weeks, started seeing a new therapist.

One of the most touching aspects of seeing her in her recovery can be epitomized by the sense I got during one of our conversations. In discussing a school assignment, and her concern about the class, she said something along the lines of, “but of course, it will end up okay, because things always work themselves out.” I thought, “She’s never talked like that- with so much ease of trust!” I didn’t say anything to point it out, but I’ve noticed more and more in her, a process of replacing the controlling, and fear-based mentality, with trust, and ease, and I hear her say how her had-been-all-pervasive anxiety is lessening.

Her key, right now, is curiosity: an openness in wondering, “what does it fee like if I don’t worry so much,” or “what happens if I eat this, or that?” It’s an absolutely gorgeous thing to see.

On the other end of the physical spectrum, my mother, who has always been overweight, started in the last several months to change her eating and movement habits. In her process, which has also been non-linear, she has radically changed her relationship to food, cooking, movement, and her body as a whole. She now engages with her meals with more intentionality, and indeed, just as much (if not more) enjoyment. She admits, there have been things that have been challenging (changing her cooking oil, and then using less of it, or going to restaurants or parties), but for the most part, she’s reaped more important benefits than the sacrifices she’s made. Throughout this process of practicing eating and moving differently, she says that she is MUCH more comfortable in her body (she doesn’t hurt anymore!), she experiences less anxiety about walking longer distances, and she is more confident and assertive in her workplace: things, she says, she didn’t even think would change, just by changing her diet!

So there you have it; a few new beginnings. And, oh! Here’s another one! Every moment, is a new opportunity to begin, over and over. And, of course, we never start from scratch, always from exactly where we are!

What to Expect When You’re Reflecting

The prospect of sitting down with a stranger to investigate the innermost workings of your psyche, and of your diet can be a daunting, and intimidating idea. However, if you’re considering coming in to do this work, chances are high that you’ve identified a motivating force that is driving you in this direction; be it a specific diagnosis of anything from ADHD, Bipolar disorder, PTSD, or an auto-immune condition. Whatever your motivation for beginning this process, this list might be useful to keep in mind and keep that anxiety in check (especially if that’s why you’re coming in!)

1. There are a hundred reasons to seek guidance in healthy living, and not one of them is a better reason than any other. YOUR reason is valid, and very important. Have a general idea of your trajectory in this process of finding, gaining, or recovering health. Keep in mind: a) where you’ve been, perhaps at a very challenging point, b) where you are now, and c) where you’d like to be. If this is hard, imagine that you’re telling a story and give yourself full permission to be imaginative with the possibilities of where you could go!

2. Be your own post-it-note! Write down the things that you want to be sure to address as reminders to yourself. Details that might be forgotten, or are perhaps embarassing, use a small notebook or post-it pad to remind yourself to be honest. Therapists and nutritionists are trained to ask poignant questions, but they are not passing judgment.

3. Out-Loud! If you’re nervous about describing a problem, a very useful way to begin to build comfort around honesty, is practicing! Write down what you want to share, or what you’re afraid to share (this is a good support for #2) and read it out-loud to yourself, perhaps in front of a mirror.

4. Process: Just as you grow and change, your reflections on your health will develop. You may have a very concrete goal, or you may not, but either way, this introspection is a continual process of self-awareness and gaining health. You may not notice drastic change right away (though you may), so keep trust in the process of discovery.

5. Curiosity! When we embark on any kind of journey, curiosity is a great carry-on. Though much of the subject matter you may be diving into in this reflection process may be sensitive, frightening, or unexpected, having a sense of curiosity of your own self can help to mitigate the anxiety or self-judgment that may come up. If you notice yourself reacting strongly to something in your own history, or to suggestions or responses from the professional, bring it up with them and look at your own reaction with curiosity. There is always something to gain from having an open attitude. If nothing else, you may find yourself with less anxiety.

6. As a follow-up to #5, you may expect to be asked questions that you’ve never thought about, or are surprising. You may find yourself taking closer examination of your own habits and patterns- this is a good thing! This gives you the CHOICE to change; and that’s why you’ve come, right?

Do you have any other questions about seeing a professional for mental health and nutritional guidance? Or do you have any advice for others? Leave comments below, and we’ll be sure to address them!

Both Hands

On the one hand, the body is a physical thing; flesh, blood, muscle, bone. Turn too quickly and you twist your ankle joint, skimp on your sleep, and you’ll be snoozing at your desk. We know all too well so many of the effects of our actions on the body, particularly those things which signify to us that we’ve gotten hurt, or are unsafe. Just as you know not to put your hand in the fire, you know your limit in pie. Sometimes, however, the messages from the body may be a bit more quiet and difficult to understand. The subtlety of difference between hungry and dehydrated, or craving sugar may fly mostly under the radar until the distinction is extreme and requires overcompensation.

Similarly, we have our emotional edges, because, on the other hand, the body is an emotional thing. After a long day of lectures, meetings, working, and running errands, I would be glad to come home and just relax; though if I walk in the door and find a mess needing my attention, I lose my cool. Situations that would otherwise have not been a problem, can be the straw that broke the camel’s back under other circumstances. Recognizing our emotional boundaries, and when we begin to nudge or push those edges can be a challenge, and often require a kind of self-awareness and continual checking-in with our context to determine what may be triggering a specific emotional response. Again the subtleties of our emotional spectrum can be felt with that same self-awareness we cultivate when determining the difference between boredom and hunger, or exhaustion and anger.

Because as humman beings, we inhabit one body, both the physical and emtoional realities play out in a constant dynamic in the body that is YOUR body! My response to the mess in my home co-exists with the stress level of my meeting that day; our bodies’ physical responses do not exist in isolation of our emotional context, and vice versa. My hunger is in the context of my sadness, and my anger is in the context of my back pain; and either of those could be the context of the other.

We’ve gotten very accustomed to the determinism of modern medical science, and yet we experience on a daily basis the incredible resilience of the human body. When we cultivate that resilience by building self-awareness we build the ability to distinguish subtleties of both physical and emotional realties. We then are able to actively and healthily step into the dynamic between the physical body on the one hand, and the emotional body on the other hand. Then we can hold ourselves with both hands.

An Introduction to the Relationship Between Mood and Food: Why We’re Here

If you have ever had a moment of craving chocolate, if you can relate to that feeling in the morning (or afternoon) of needing a cup of coffee, or if you can remember a time when hearing something sad made you “lose your appetite,” then you already have a sense of some of the interactions between your food and your mood. Most of us know these experiences, and we often make choices based on what we’ve learned implicitly helps us to feel better, or to cope with something. If, for example, my childhood experiences consist of being rewarded for good behavior with a sweet snack, it is very likely that I will continue to associate sweets with my achievements; perhaps I will even look to food as a source of validating my worth in moments of self-doubt. This is where these interactions have the potential to be either mutually beneficial, or not.

For centuries, humans have followed some intuitive sense of what to eat, as a form of self-medication for what ails us. Our ancestors watched bears with a visible belly ache crawl over to the berry-bush and smash the leaves in his mouth 20 minutes before feeling better. We have allowed our perceptions and our self-awareness to guide us in getting the nourishment we’ve needed. In the case of drinking a double-shot latte just before a high-intensity business meeting, or after not getting enough sleep, we are, indeed self-medicating, and in so doing, finding some sort of balance. However, in a world as fast-paced and consistently intense as ours, between the nearly constant sensory stimulation of television, radio, billboards, and instant-communication devices like cell phones and twitter, we have lost the opportunity to re-charge, and this is crucial.

While for many of us, that self-medicating cycle of coffee in the morning, sugar in the afternoon, and alcohol at night (or whatever your particular pattern may be) is helpful, for most of us, it is more detrimental than it is adaptive. One reason for this is the drive that leads us to carry out those patterns of self-medication. For some this might be habit (“I ALWAYS have my cup of coffee with the morning paper.”), for others it might be more explicitly emotional (“I crave sweets when I’m sad.”) and for others still, it may be more implicitly detrimental (“I don’t eat when I’m lonely.”). One of the most powerful tools we all have in our toolboxes, though it may be dusty, is the gift of intuitive self-awareness. perhaps it hasn’t been used in years, and perhaps it needs some oiling in the gears, but it is there. Developing a sense of internal awareness for what your patterns are for your particular interactions between your food and your mood is a doorway into more freely living, happily, and healthily.

What do you notice when you start to pay more attention to this relationship? What is the most challenging part, and what is the easiest?

*Stay tuned for another post coming up soon on this two-way street!*