Friday, March 14, 2008

Why Gratitude is Subversive

One of the new keystones of my spiritual practice has been incorporating gratitude into my life to whatever extent I can. This started in November 2007 after I read an article in Shambala Sun by Joanna Macy. This article had a big impact on me and since then I have been including a daily gratitude into my journal. Sometimes it is very difficult to identify something because my outlook that morning is not especially positive. Other times I can barely pick from so many things to be grateful for - those moments are ones of great and joyful abundance.

This quote from the article is very powerful: "Thankfulness loosens the grip of the industrial growth society by contradicting its predominant message: that we are insufficient and inadequate. The forces of late capitalism continually tell us that we need more - more stuff, more money, more approval, more comfort, more entertainment. The dissatisfaction it breeds is profound. It infects people with a compulsion to acquire that delivers them into the cruel, humiliating bondage of debt. So gratitude is liberating. It is subversive. It helps us realize that we are sufficient, and that realization frees us."

Yes, this is a pointed analysis of society. At the same time it tells us how to break out of mindless belief in the message of inadequacy by incorporating a habit of expressing gratitude. Over the years, I had certainly bought into that message and on a fairly reliable basis considered myself inadequate on some level.
I do believe that gratitude is a choice, we can move ourselves into an attitude of gratefulness. The processes of each day writing down what I can be grateful for has helped me see the parts of life that are bigger than me. It has opened a window for joy.

Gratitude of the Day: I am grateful for breath. Breathing in, the earth. Breathing out, the sky.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

My Weight Loss Story and Philosophy

One of the most important changes I have made in my life over the last couple of years is losing 130 pounds to get to my current healthy weight. It’s been an incredible, rewarding journey with lots of ups and downs – both on and off the scale! Because my relationship to food over the years hasn’t been very good – I’ve used food as a drug – a great part of the “battle” was emotional. Right now, as I am starting to maintain my new weight, I am still keeping track of all of the calories I eat so I don’t fall into the overeating trap. There’s a great website that offers a lot of tools and support for those of us trying to achieve and maintain our weight through healthy eating: This has been a huge boon and I highly recommend it.

I started out at 278 in September 2006. The reason I started down the path was because I was scared about my blood pressure and my doctor was warning me that if my blood sugar tests got any worse I would be heading down the path to diabetes. I did not want to continue that direction.

I've had weight issues since I was a teenager. I've lost and gained a lot of weight over the years, but that fall I was at my highest yet, and I didn't feel very good. I didn't feel good physically and I didn't like myself much either. Pretty much at that point, the light went on and I made a pact with myself that I would Do Something. My doctor gave me 3 months to try a diet-based approach to reducing my blood pressure, and because I did not want to go on blood pressure medication, I decided to start there. I found a book on reducing hypertension through diet and incorporated those changes. I also knew I needed to make changes that would prevent my slide towards diabetes, so I threw out all of my cookies, candies, cakes and sweets and didn't buy any more. I hoped that what I was doing would help me lose weight too, but I didn't really start out with that as my goal.

The dietary changes I made were the same ones you hear everywhere:
  • Eat veggies. Eat a LOT of veggies. Eat a lot of different kinds of veggies. Even if you're not a big veggie fan, find ones that you like and eat them. Try new ones and if you don't like them, try something else till you find more that you do like. If you can afford it and they are readily available in your area, buy organic, buy in season and buy local. Go to the Farmer's Market if there is one near you - it's fun!
  • Eat fruit. Eat a good amount of fruit. I prefer to eat way more veggies than fruit because they are lower in calories, but eating a variety of different kinds of fruit is also important.
  • Eat whole grains. Eliminate the refined stuff to whatever extent possible. Again, aim for a variety. I had to learn to like whole wheat pasta and brown rice - now I prefer it.
  • Eat lean protein. I am a vegetarian, so for me this means tofu, beans and lentils primarily. However, most everything you eat has some protein in it, even veggies.
  • Eat healthy oils. I prefer olive oil. I also eat some raw nuts, primarily walnuts and almonds, and like to allow for avocado from time to time.
  • Eliminate as much processed food and sweets as you can.
  • Keep your sodium low.
  • Drink water or herb tea. I'm not all that great at this part of it still, but make the effort. I've found a few herb teas that I really like and that helps.

The other Very Important Part is EXERCISE. To whatever extent possible, incorporate exercise into your daily routine. When I started out, I could only walk at a very slow pace for 20 to 30 minutes at the most. Gradually I was able to increase it, and get faster. Now, although I'm not very fast and I'm no marathoner, I can jog four to five miles a day, five to six days a week. Also, again to whatever extent possible, start weight training. I wish I had started that earlier. Ladies, you won't end up looking like the Incredible Hulk, believe me. I go to the gym and lift weights 3 times a week for about 30 to 40 minutes. This made a huge difference for me and will make you appear slimmer even if you don't lose weight. Seriously.

I am an emotional eater. I have used food to soothe fear, anxiety, anger, depression, boredom and general feelings of emptiness. I also love the taste of food and I prefer to feel full after I eat. I found that the hardest part of losing weight was, well actually still is, learning to cope emotionally without turning to food as a balm. It's harder to talk about this side of the equation because we are each so different and have our own approaches and feelings and reasons for having gotten to where we are. The one thing I would say: love yourself anyway, use positive thoughts to combat any negative self-talk, and most importantly seek, and ask for help.

I also believe that we occasionally need to relax a little bit and let ourselves have a "day" off. That means that having a fancy dinner once in a while, or a small piece of birthday cake, or insert your favorite indulgence here, is OK. I truly believe that food cannot be the enemy, it is what nourishes us and keeps us well fueled. Not only that, but we must allow ourselves to feel the honest pleasure that comes from a delicious meal.