Posted in hope, motivation, tips

Resolutions?

Please, if you are going to make the effort to make a New Year’s resolution, please take some steps to make it more likely to be successful.

(If you have no intention of keeping it, don’t bother making it.)

Some steps:

Make it something in your control: “The garage will get cleaned out,” when what you mean is, “My spouse will clean out the garage.” Make it something you are going to do.

Make it one thing. You can’t focus on three or four or five things at a time.

Make it realistic. If you’re not already in pretty good shape, you’re not going to run a marathon every month.

Make it concrete. “I want to be healthier” is vague and can mean a lot of things. Weight? Sleep? Stress? Food? Drink? Interpersonal interaction? Mental health? Exercise?

Make it actionable. “I am going to cut dessert down to once a month and go to the gym three times each week” is more useful than “I’m going to lose weight.”

Put it on paper. Make a chart or use a notebook (or the electronic versions thereof). Write it down. Put it where you will see it every day.

And if you start to avoid the paper… figure out why. What guilt or shame is stopping you from actually doing this thing? It is something that someone else wanted for you? Is it tied to so much emotional baggage that changing this thing unleashes a cascade of other issues? (For example… I heard a bit on a podcast a few weeks ago where women in one particular study lost a substantial amount of weight and gained it back because they were getting male attention that they didn’t want; they liked the invisibility of being heavy.)

 

Posted in mindset, parenting, thoughtfulness

The culture in your home

I got a lot of feedback on one phrase in my post on throwing away junk food: “we have a culture of healthy food in our house.”

It has been interesting talking to people about the culture at home.

First: yes, your home has its own culture. This is why there are so many adults who say, “I never thought xyz was weird until I went to college” or “I had no idea everyone’s family didn’t do that.”

Home is the place where we have the most control. These are things we do and don’t do here. These are things we eat/drink and don’t eat/drink here. This is how we talk to people and expect to be spoken to. These are activities we do and don’t do. This is how we spend our time. This is how we spend our money. This is how we organize our stuff. This is how we take care of each other. And on and on.

These are all things that we have a large degree of control over. The more adults there are in the house, the more difficult it might be to set this if not all adults agree, or if adults have different default settings.

To mesh these things:

Sometimes it works to talk about ideals: “How would we do this if we had no obstacles?” and work from there to set standards and figure out ways around or over obstacles.

Sometimes it works to talk about goals: “This isn’t how I/we want it, but it’s something I/we want to get better at, so let’s create a culture in the home to help us get better.” (This is HUGE with eating, with screen time, with texting while conversing, etc.)

Sometimes it works to talk about kids: “This isn’t how we are but it’s how we want our kid(s) to be, so we need to change how we do it so that it’s just normal for the kid(s) (and, as a result, becomes part of us as well).”

The bigger the kids are, the more they’re going to need to be part of the conversation.

In the case of us having a culture of healthy food in our home, there was no conversation to set it up—it existed before The Kid did. We’ve had conversations about it explaining the why many times, but he’s never known anything different—it’s just how we do it—and there has never been resistance to it.

If it was something we wanted to create now, there would need to be conversations and a plan mapping out how that would go, what would change, what wouldn’t, etc.

But it applies to all aspects of living. With the three of us living together for only a year at this point—and with the adults being in independent states of flux besides—there are still aspects of family/household culture that we’re working out.

If you live alone, you can still address many aspects of all of this for daily living and interactive aspects for when you have people into your home.

Create your culture.

Posted in food, know better do better, motivation, thoughtfulness

Mindless snacking

I’ve been doing intermittent fasting (IF). That’s not what this post is about, but it’s directly relevant.

I eat all of my food for most days in a roughly 8-hour window, starting in the early afternoon.

I’m home on break.

I’m suddenly very aware of how often I wander into the kitchen looking for a snack. Or how much I pick on what I’m preparing. Because I “can’t” do it now. (More on “can’t” another day.)

I made oatmeal for the others for breakfast today. I didn’t pick off a few of any of the toppings I was adding to either. (Diced frozen mango for The Kid; dates, raisins, slivered almonds for The Climbing Daddy.)

When The Kid didn’t finish his, I didn’t finish it.

When I was chopping apple rings for another recipe for later today, I didn’t eat any of them.

Without IF, I would have eaten all of those things.

If you’re spending time in your house, make note of how much you’re wandering into the kitchen because you’re bored. Or procrastinating. Or any other reason that isn’t “hungry.”

Posted in know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation, parenting, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Voices in our heads

I saw a meme that said:

May you never be the reason why someone who loved to sing, doesn’t any more. Or why someone who dressed so differently now wears standard clothing. Or why someone who always spoke of their dreams so wildly is now silent about them.

May you never be the reason of someone giving up on a part of them because you were demotivating, non appreciative or – even worse – sarcastic about it.

There are details we could squabble about (is sarcastic worse and/or different than demotivating?), but the point is: don’t be an asshole.

Decades later, I can still hear my mom’s criticisms of how I look when I look in the mirror sometimes. (I have the skills to shut it down most of the time.)

“What makes you think you could…?”

“You know This Other Kid is really good at This Thing You Work Really Hard At.”

“Why don’t you spend your time on something worthwhile?”

In some cases, I can see where I was standing or sitting, where they were positioned in the room, where the furniture was.

Don’t be that parent. 

I’m not saying that telling your kid that they’re great at something they suck at is the answer. But the “you suck, other people are better, why bother” attitude is soul-crushing. And it’s the gift that keeps on giving. (It’s been how long since my parents have said any of these things to me??)

You’re the adult. Be the adult. Nurture the kids. Help them discover what they’re interested in, even if it’s not what you’re interested in, or what you’d like them to be interested in.

It’s your job to help them be them, not to help them be who you wish you would have been.

I have been told by dozens of people that they can’t sing, that they were told by their music or choir teacher that they can’t sing, in some cases, being told to lip sync.

People who, as kids, were explicitly told by their art teacher that they’re not good at art, and they believed it and don’t do it any more.

People who were told in school that they’re never going to be a writer, to choose something else.

Don’t be that teacher.

Your job is to teach kids and to help them the best you can given where you are in the moment. Even if you can’t help them—some circumstances make that so—don’t hurt. Don’t blame them for things that are out of their control or shame them for not being more responsible than a kid their age should be expected to be.

I remember conversations with people with regards to any of my leaps: switching from flute to trombone in college; moving across the country; starting a business; getting National Board Certification; writing a book; going back to school. It’s not always easy to find people who are supportive. (It’s not always difficult, either, though the larger the stakes are, the harder it is, from my experience.)

Don’t be that friend. 

In short: apply the campsite rule — leave people better than you found them. If it was you who was learning to dance or starting to paint or offering a new service or playing basketball for the first time or opening a store on Etsy, would you want the people closest to you to be supportive or dismissive? Would you want the people in your class or in your niche to be helpful or to snicker?

(Same rule applies as to kids: there’s a difference between “I think it’s cool/brave/amazing that you’re starting/trying this” and “Wow—you’re really good at [this thing that you’re not at all good at].” One is at least potentially sincere; the other is known by all to be insincere.)

Take care of your own baggage so that you don’t take it out on the people around you.

When you find yourself being critical, see if you can find what part of yourself is made vulnerable by their endeavor.

For example: my mom was one of the people I know of who was told she can’t sing. My mom was one of the first to make fun of how I sounded when I practiced singing for auditions. My endeavor brought up whatever hurt she endured by being put down by her choir teacher.

Easier said than done, for sure. But if we all endeavored to be a little more emotionally generous—with people we incidentally interact with, with other drivers, with people we interact with regularly, with people we like and people we don’t—then we would all be a little better off.

And if no one around you seems to be doing that, why don’t you take the lead and demonstrate how it’s done?

(And thank you to all of the people through my life who have modeled this for me, both before I was aware of it and since and still. You help me to make myself better.)

Assume you’re going to be the voice that sticks in someone’s head. What do you want to be remembered for?

Posted in food, mindset, physical health, tips

Throw it away—it’s not really food

(If you haven’t read The disclaimer post, or need a refresher, please read it here before proceeding. Thanks!)

We went to a cookie decorating party.

We hosted a Christmas Eve Eve party with sweets provided and sweets brought by guests.

We had family dinner and dessert with both daddies on Christmas Eve.

We had family brunch and dessert with the three of us Christmas Day.

The day after Christmas was wonky and we weren’t home much, and when we were home, we weren’t eating. *whew*

By today, December 27, we’re getting back into more normal health habits.

This morning, this conversation happened:

Kid: Can I have a cookie when I’m done my breakfast?

Me: No. There aren’t any.

Kid: Who ate them all?

Me: No one. I threw them away. We’ve had enough cookies.

Kid: OK.

Now, because we have a culture of healthy food in our house, it wasn’t a big deal when there weren’t any more cookies.

The holiday is over. The sweets were fun. We enjoyed making them. We enjoyed sharing them. We enjoyed eating them. But we don’t need to eat all of them. Last night, I threw the rest of the leftovers away.

It’s not wasting food, because it’s not really food.

If you’re worried about wasting food, dig the fruit and veggies out of the fridge and eat them before they rot. Or the leftovers from recent dinners gone by. Or the unmarked parcels in your freezer.

Cookies? Cake? Ice cream? Brownies? Pie? Whipped cream? Carmel corn? Chocolate? Candy?

Pitch it.

(The best stuff got eaten already anyway…)

Posted in differences, ebb & flow, meandering, storytelling

Tell me your story

I’ve heard so many stories of people’s celebrations … so many stories of Christmases not exactly as planned but still lovely … of new beginnings … of “probably the lasts” … of new traditions with old people … of old traditions with new people …

Thank you for sharing your stories with me. If you haven’t, please do, regardless of the happiness of the story. What made this year special? Or extra-happy? Or extra-sad? Or some odd combination of lots of things that maybe don’t even usually go together? With or without photos. I love to hear your stories.

Posted in about me, hope, mindset, parenting, storytelling

Finding magic through The Kid

The Kid suggested yesterday that we leave out cookies and milk for Santa.

We have always told him that Santa is a story, but he loves pretending. (This morning: “I heard Santa on the roof last night!”)

By bedtime, he had forgotten about the milk and cookies, but we left out a plate with crumbs and a glass with milk residue and a note that Santa left, complete with a hoof print from Rudolph.

He was delighted this morning.

As I’ve mentioned, Christmas has never been amazing.

Somehow, I have a kid who loves everything Christmas. He wants all the decorations, sings all the songs, loves all the stuff.

And so, our house has lights outside and lights inside. And a 4-foot tree. And a Charlie Brown tree. And a little tree in his bedroom. (The glittery wreath is at his other house…)

He wanted inflatables, but The Climbing Daddy and I agree: inflatables are No Good.

We hung stockings with little ornaments with our initials that he picked out.

And somewhere, I saw an idea to put packages in white paper and stack and decorate them to look like snowmen. And it stuck, and I had to do it.

Last night, after The Kid went to sleep in a sleeping bag on the living room floor, The Climbing Daddy and I filled stockings.

We piled white box on white box. Drew faces and buttons. Balanced hats and wrapped scarves.

Left out a plate and glass and note.

And when it was done and it was time for us to join him for sleep in the living room … I was happy.

And when he woke up (after the sun came up—hooray night owl kid!), he was excited about everything.

And I was happy.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate.

And to those who don’t, or those who wish they didn’t … there’s magic out there if you can let yourself see it, and if not … it’s almost over…

Posted in differences, gifts, hope, thoughtfulness

A different kind of Christmas

While many of us have families that are less than ideal to spend time with, a couple of things have shown up lately that put some perspective on that.

First, in my On This Day on Facebook, my post about Santa coming to school has shown up multiple times. (Different days for different years.)

I used to work at a school in a very low-income neighborhood.

Our kids were the recipients of toys from a toy drive. Each December, Santa came to our school and gave a bag of gifts to every homeroom teacher (to distribute at the end of the day, and to be opened at home). One gift for every student in the school.

Kids, as you can imagine, were excited.

For some of them, that was it. Their Christmas present.

On behalf of those kids and kids everywhere like them, thank you for your toy donation. Thank you for not grumbling that it has to be new.

Some of them had parents that fit the low-income stereotype. But most of those kids had parents who loved them dearly, who worked two or three or four jobs to try to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. (Where are the kids who eat free breakfast and lunch at school eating this week? Or over spring break? Or over the summer?) What a gift for them to receive something nice. I have always hoped they got something they wanted.

Also on Facebook the other day, the following story was shared by a woman who had been a tutor for Child Protective Services.

“I had a child once ask me if Santa was real. After much inner debate I told him the truth. He breathed a huge sigh of relief. Why? Because, as he said, ‘That’s why Santa never came to my house!’ He knew his mother was abusive and neglectful, but the thought of Santa neglecting him meant that he really was unlovable. Santa is great for healthy homes but we need to be very mindful of the homes that aren’t.”

And we can rant and rage and wave our tiny fists at the parents all we want. At the end of the day, we want physically and emotionally healthy kids, and we need to be more of a village to help that to happen.

Posted in ebb & flow, food, hope, know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation, parenting, physical health, tips

The path and the results

Yesterday, I posted more or less the transcript of my session about sugar, and I promised you that today, I would give you advice on dealing with all of that information and what you can expect as a result of your hard work.

Read labels. (Ask me if you don’t know how—I’ll teach you.)

Use a journal or an app or whatever works for you to keep track of how much sugar you’re currently taking in. All of it. Read ALL of your labels. There is sugar hiding in so many foods that aren’t sweet.  This is not to judge—it’s to know where you’re starting.

The current WHO recommendation is less than 18 grams per day of added sugars.

If you’re over that, look at where you can start shaving it down.

If you’re like me, “moderation” is bullshit and you need to just cut it until it’s under control. (I’ll write more about this thought another day.)

If you’re like me, you’re an emotional eater and you need to make a plan for what you’re going to do when you’re happy, when you’re sad, when you’re stressed, when you’re whatever state of being causes intense sugar cravings.

Overeating sugar is a SUPER COMMON PROBLEM. There is no shame in this. You are not alone, and anyone who judges you is wrestling with the same problem and can’t face it yet.

Your value as a human being has no connection to how much junk food you eat.

I’m not gonna lie—quitting sugar is hard. Partially because we have been trained to believe we deserve it (see decades of being rewarded by parents, teachers, etc. with candy, ice cream, etc.). Partially because it’s ubiquitous, so it’s difficult to avoid contact/temptation. Partially because sometimes people in our lives react badly to us trying to live better and make it harder for us. (I’ll write more about this thought another day.)

But it’s worth the work.

When you quit sugar and it loses its hold on you, you experience liberation that you didn’t even know you needed.

You stop thinking about food all the time.

You stop shaming yourself for eating crap all the time.

You save time and money by not seeking out and buying junk all the time.

You don’t spend so much time feeling guilty.

Your moods are better.

Your energy level is higher.

And eventually, you can have a sweet here or there without it becoming all-consuming.

I’m not saying it will be easy. I’m saying it will be worth it.

And I challenge you to instill eating habits in your children that will help them not to have the same struggles that you have.

Posted in cancer, food, know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation, parenting, physical health

Sugar (CUSD replay)

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present two sessions at my school district’s Wellness Expo—one on Motivation and Mindset, and one on Sugar. I’ll post here what’s essentially the transcript for each, editing for reading as needed. I was allotted an hour for each session, and while I didn’t talk that long (I leave time for questions, and I’m not going to include my introductions here), these posts will be long. Enjoy!

I introduced myself, told a little about me (including my former incarnation as a sweets junkie), encouraged folks to take what resonates and leave the rest—especially if they’re feeling overwhelmed by the information—and let them know that the space for the next hour is judgment-free: we all have strengths and weaknesses and because of factors outside of ourselves, this healthy living thing is hard.

So a bit about language…

I do my best not to refer to foods as “good” or “bad.” Those words are loaded, and I think they distract us from the task at hand. Foods either move you towards you goal or they don’t. If you have no goals involving health in any way, physical or mental, then you don’t need to spend time thinking about your eating habits, because they’re irrelevant. Aside perhaps from what’s tasty.

But you’re here because you have health goals, or maybe your goal is to have health goals. Regardless, you’re on the path, so let’s talk about which direction to point yourself.

What is sugar?

Looking at the ingredients list on your prepackaged food, sugar can show up in any of the following ways.

names for sugar

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate. Fiber and starch are the other two.

Carbohydrates are important. They give us usable energy, both to be active and also for underlying body functions. A big chunk of this is brain power. Brains use roughly 20 percent of our energy, by far the most of any organ.

We don’t specifically need sugar for these functions—any carbohydrate will do—but sugar does meet this need.

What about fruit?

In short: whole fruit is good. Partial fruit (juice, dehydrated, etc.) is a treat.

My nutrition professor told us: “Fruit is nature’s way of getting us to eat fiber.” Fruit in moderation is good!

Fruit is also sweet, if your taste buds aren’t calibrated to junk food, and makes a good snack or dessert.

As far as the not-whole-fruit goes, here are the problems.

Juice: Juicing removes the fiber, so we don’t get one of fruit’s primary benefits when we juice. That also means it doesn’t contribute much to feeling full (not any more than an equivalent glass of water). But we do get all of the sugar.

You could make a smoothie instead, using the whole fruit, and you’d have a drink that is still sweet but also retains more of the goodness of the whole fruit. (There is debate in the scientific community as to whether the insoluble fiber is made less useful/entirely useless in the blending process or not. Regardless, the soluble fiber is still there and just as useful.)

Dehydrated fruit: First, these tasty little gems have no water in them. That’s the point of dehydrating them, right? But there is a lot of water in fruit, and the water contributes to its bulk in your stomach when you eat it.

So an apple and a dehydrated apple (or grapes and an equivalent number of raisins) have the same calories and the same sugar content. But the proportion of sugar in the dried stuff is much higher, since the water is gone.

The other problem is in marketing, not inherent to the drying of fruit. Most dried fruit is sweetened. I have found only a few instances of dried fruit being only dried fruit.

Glucose vs fructose

Glucose is ready to use by your body; it’s metabolized in the small intestine.

Fructose can only be metabolized in the liver. Some of it is turned into glucose, but if there’s too much, it will be converted into free fatty acids, cholesterol, or triglycerides.

The liver can get overwhelmed by too much fructose, and, because it’s not in the stomach or intestines, consuming fructose doesn’t properly trigger hunger or satiety hormones.

This is why high fructose corn syrup and agave nectar aren’t good choices for sweetening. HFCS when tested has been shown to have far more fructose than advertised (80% vs. 55%). Agave has nearly as much.

Plain table sugar is roughly 50-50.

Free fatty acids, one of the metabolic results of too much fructose, accumulate in the liver as fat.

Which brings us to…

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Most of us know that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to fatty liver disease. But excessive sweets consumption can have the same effect.

Please let that soak in for a minute. Eating a diet high in sugar can lead to the same liver problems as being an alcoholic.

If all of our fruit consumption was via fruit, our bodies could handle it just fine; it totals roughly 15 grams per day. We’re designed for that.

But we eat between 70 and 100 grams per day, mostly in sweetened foods and sodas.

That is a path to liver disease.

(All of that sugar isn’t so nice to your pancreas, either, where you’re making insulin to deal with the onslaught.)

Type 3 diabetes

Another potential side effect of a diet high in sugar is Alzheimer’s Disease, which has, in recent years, been dubbed Type 3 diabetes.

Our brains need carbs to run. Also, our brains produce insulin.

Overdoing sugar leads to insulin resistance which reduces the body’s ability to use sugar. Most of us are familiar with this—Type 2 diabetes.

But we’ve recently come to learn that brain cells can also become insulin resistant, which makes them not function, which accumulates into Alzheimer’s.

What about mental health?

A diet high in sugar is linked (correlated) to anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.

Now, that is correlation, not causation, but…

Excess sugar causes inflammation, and recent research is seeing that inflammation is a cause (the cause?) of depression.

So if sugar causes inflammation and inflammation causes mental health issues, then it seems likely that sugar causes mental health issues.

Anecdotally, I feel much more balanced mentally when I’m off sweets. Less grumpy. Less sad. Less angry. I have had many other people tell me similar stories.

Speaking of inflammation…

What else is caused by inflammation?

Heart disease.

Most if not all cancers.

Arthritis.

If you have any of these conditions, it would serve you well to keep your sugar intake low.

Immune functioning

This is the main one that keeps me away from junk food left in the teachers’ lounge (a label perhaps left over from a time when teachers had time to lounge?).

A shot of sugar—and I don’t know what the exact amount is—makes your white blood cells lethargic. They’re the foot soldiers in your immune system.

The effect is temporary—it only lasts a few hours—but if you’re eating sweets consistently through the day, then your immune system is chronically depressed.

Reduced brain plasticity

This one is significantly alarming, given the diets so many of our children have.

A diet high in added sugars reduces brain plasticity.

Brain plasticity is what allows us to learn. It’s how we make new pathways in our brains.

How does this affect us through the life cycle?

Babies (who don’t need added sugars at all) and toddlers (who, seeing things in the world, might start to ask, even if you never offer) are learning about the world around them, basic physical skills, language. Brain plasticity is critical.

School-aged children are still learning about the world around them, are still learning language, are still (hopefully) learning physical skills, and are also learning academics.

For adults of all ages, continuing to learn new things reduces the risk of dementia.

And we already touched on increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

A bit for the ladies…

Consuming sugar leads to water retention. It contributes to mood swings. Anecdotally, it increases symptoms of PMS.

Those sugar levels also reduce calcium absorption which affects bones and teeth, but cramps are often triggered by low calcium.

Other side effects that we’re often already aware of

Diets high in added sugars also can cause weight gain, dental issues, hypoglycemia/type 2 diabetes, headaches, and ulcers.

It’s addictive!

Eating sweet things releases dopamine—the feel-good brain chemical.

In low quantities of sweets, the dopamine response wears off.

In high quantities, it doesn’t, which means you need more sweet to get the same high.

Sweets are dressed in drug language and behavior:

  • we eat it in secret (this is a running joke among parents of small children)
  • we make deals with ourselves about what, where, when, under what conditions
  • we steal (see: your children’s Halloween stash)
  • “I can’t live without it” or “I can’t stop eating sweets”
  • we say we need a sugar fix

None of this is to judge the behaviors—just to point out that they exist.

Tomorrow’s post: my advice on how to manage this beast, and what happens when you do.