Posted in about me, food, know better do better, mindset, motivation, physical health

The journey begins with a single step

When I graduated from college in 1999, I was pretty heavy — over 200 pounds on my 5-foot-4-inch frame.

Near the end of my first year living on my own, I decided that something needed to change, so I made a new rule:

I will eat ice cream no more than once per day.

If this sounds silly to you, it’s because you have no idea my love affair with ice cream. I ate it by the pint. Literally.

There was a great little place called Halo Farms right near college, and they made their own ice cream on site. Sold pints for $1. It was fantastic.

In the dorm, there wasn’t a freezer that would accommodate a pint-sized container (those little fridges have even smaller freezers) and I couldn’t waste it, could I? (Well, eventually I lived in a dorm that had a communal freezer, but I didn’t want someone else to eat my precious Halo!)

Campus dining room: soft serve in place of milk in my morning cereal. The best with Cap’n Crunch.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where the Freshman 15 (and Sophomore 15 … and Junior 15 … and Senior 15…) came from. I’m not a drinker—it wasn’t from beer.

When I lived on my own, I would keep a half gallon in the freezer. Ice cream for (or with) breakfast remained on the menu. Ice cream after dinner is what ice cream is for. And sometimes, on days when I wasn’t working, there might be a third (or fourth…) serving in between.

Once a day was no easy feat.

It caused me to be thoughtful and to plan a little. If I knew I was going out for ice cream later with a friend, I couldn’t have ice cream for breakfast. Which brought me to the realization that perhaps I shouldn’t keep it in the freezer.

It worked. In the 14 years since then, I have had ice cream twice in one day very few times, and they have been closer to now than then.

I still don’t buy it to keep at home—that helps the most—though by this point I don’t usually crave it. When I do eat ice cream, I can almost always eat a fairly small amount and be content. (Even if I eat too much now, it’s still substantially less than what used to be a serving.) It was hard for a while to stop at “content” and not at “but this is good so I’m just going to keep eating anyway.” It took time, but it worked. 

And it was worth it. Because ice cream is good, but it doesn’t taste as good as being healthy feels. (Yeah, I know that sounds hokey, but I just don’t feel as good or have as much energy when I eat sugary foods. You don’t realize it until you cut them out. False friends, all of them!)

You know what was harder than limiting consumption? Being OK with dropping the “ice cream lover” label. It was part of who I was. One of my badges. Everyone who knew me at all knew I loved ice cream.

The problem wasn’t even that people didn’t change with me. I just had to let my brain catch up to my habits. Not stand in the way of myself.

I do still enjoy ice cream, but I don’t think it would be in the top five ways friends would describe me at this point. Definitely not in my top five for myself.

So. Pick a thing and go with it. It will be hard, but it will be worth it.

Posted in audience participation, connections, ebb & flow, know better do better, mindset, motivation, parenting, physical health, thoughtfulness

Know better, do better: your dollars

The short version: my goal is to help people be educated so they can make decisions in an informed way.

I am not trying to scare people or to be a downer, though I acknowledge that these days, most of the news is bad news.

The fact is that in a capitalistic society, the main goal is to make money. The people who produce food, who create processed foods, who make cosmetics, soaps, detergents, toys, furniture, clothes are all in it to make money.

Making money is not inherently bad. We need to make money to function in society as it exists. 

But making money has become The Most Important Thing. More important than families. More important than our own or others’ health. More important than honesty or integrity.

As a result, it’s all gone to hell.

Problems in the food supply are real. Problems with the water supply are real. Problems with the chemicals in our personal care products are real. Problems with the chemicals in toys are real. Problems with the chemicals in our household goods are real.

Most of the time, the exposures are low. (Corn, soy, sweeteners including but not limited to sugar are exceptions—exposures to these are off the charts.) But when you put them all together, they’re not low at all.

Is this reality scary? Yes. Does it mean you need to live in constant paranoia? No. Does it mean you need to throw away everything and start over right now? No.

But if we all keep on living as if nothing was wrong, they’re going to keep manufacturing as if it’s OK. We pay the price with our health, our children’s health, and all aspects of the environment.

One step back from that—we can’t decide if we want to make changes or take a stand if we don’t know what’s going on.

So we need to be educated. (That’s my job! To help educate.)

Then we need to speak out with our voices. (If nothing else, online petitions take almost no time to sign.)

But even more than that, we need to speak with our dollars. Because in America, dollars speak louder than anything else.

Posted in connections, know better do better, mindset, parenting, vulnerability

Dig around for underlying reasons

The Kid was in a bad mood this weekend. Easy to inadvertently poke without any discernible reason.

Sunday night, after another large incident over a benign thing, the three of us sat down and had a conversation to try to figure out what was actually going on.

Turns out, he had read something in one of his books a few days prior that really bothered him and he had been ruminating about it all weekend.

Once we talked through the stuff in the book, he felt much better and went back to being his usual self.

(Also, the stuff in the book was in no way something that he “should” have worried about, but we had a gentle conversation instead of just telling him he shouldn’t be worried, or “I’ll give you something to cry about,” or “man up,” and on and on. It’s important for kids—for people—to know that they’re safe and they’re not going to be dismissed if they are vulnerable with you. Talking about fears is vulnerable.)

A friend and I had a conversation about an incident with her kid. The kid came home from school cranky and withdrew. It took several hours before the kid talked about it; it was concealed simply by cranky and withdrawn behavior.

Cranky and withdrawn behavior is easy to see as “that person is being a jerk.” Especially if the person is an age where sulking is expected.

We build bridges in these situations when we meet the cranky (or angry, or withdrawn) person with love.

We sat down with The Kid, first with him on The Climbing Daddy’s lap and later on mine. We talked calmly, we expressed concern, we let him write things down when he wasn’t comfortable talking. And we were patient in both his grossly unfounded fears and the amount of time it took to work through it. (And we suggested, since he agreed that talking helped, that he volunteer next time to talk about things that worry him instead of steeping in them for days.)

My friend met her kid with love. Went and snuggled. At first she was rejected, but instead of leaving, she stayed. The walls came down and the tearful story came out.

Back in the day, the first really big argument between The Climbing Daddy and I wasn’t really about what we were arguing about. The incident had strong ties to underlying things, and those were the things we needed to have a conversation about, instead of an argument about the surface stuff.

I’m 100% certain that that wasn’t the only argument for which that was true. Does it sound familiar to you?

In that case, meeting the anger with affection would have both calmed the anger and gotten to the heart of the problem. (I don’t fault him for not doing that, in part because that’s not how most people react most of the time, and in part because I was pushing his buttons just as well as he was pushing mine. But we’re getting better at it. Especially as we have more practice with The Kid.)

Anger and withdrawal are defense mechanisms, fueled by anger in return. See if you can diffuse them with love.

Posted in ebb & flow, education, motivation, parenting

Allowance, housework, and The Kid

We recently implemented a three-part economic system with The Kid.

Part 1: Allowance

He gets a weekly allowance. It’s not as a reward or payment for anything done. In our thinking, it’s a means of teaching money management, and it gives him some autonomy in a world where most of his decisions are made for him.

Each week from his allowance, he has to save $1 in the bank. That’s long-term savings for the future and is not available for anything any time soon. I keep his weekly dollars in a marked envelope; we don’t go to the bank weekly to deposit $1.

Each week from his allowance, he has to donate $1. We talked about some of the places he could give money (also not typically in $1 increments, but those dollars can be saved and donated in larger pools). He has chosen to keep his dollar in the car to give to panhandlers. Maybe not what I would have chosen, but his dollar, his choice.

The remaining dollars are his to do with as he pleases. Right now, he’s saving for a LEGO kit. (Those savings don’t go in the bank—they stay separate from long-term savings.)

Part 2: Jobs to do because you live in a house

He has jobs (chores by a less negative title) he has to do regularly just because he is part of a household. All three of us have work around the house we have to do. Many of those tasks are specifically delegated; some are “whoever gets to it.”

Right now, he is responsible to clear his dishes from the table and, if the dishwasher is dirty, rinse and put his dishes in. He needs to sweep the area under his seat after each meal as needed. He sorts his dirty clothes and folds or hangs and puts away his clean laundry. He empties or helps empty the dishwasher if he’s around when it needs to be done, and for dinner, he needs to either help with preparation, set the table, or clear the table.

Part 3: Jobs for extra money

He also has the opportunity to do extra work around the house for pay. Most jobs pay $1, though a few pay more (and a few are broken into smaller $1 pieces).

Each of these jobs is written at the top of a notecard, and the rest of the card details how to do the job. This way he can make sure he’s done all of it before asking one of us to check it.

The cards are hung on a board with a clothespin and are divided in two piles: “available” and “not available right now.” So when a job is done—regardless who completed it—it gets moved to the not available side until it comes around again.

There are things that need to get done that aren’t on any of these lists. The rule is that he helps with other tasks as requested. We will tell him ahead of time if it’s a paid job or not. No need to ask—it will be laid out.

He also can’t complete paid jobs if his “because I live here” jobs aren’t done.

The whole thing hasn’t been in place for all that long, but it’s working well so far. He can do extra work when he wants to, choose work he’d rather do (or money he’d rather make—the best-paying are often the least desirable) and I don’t need to nag.

We’ll see how long it takes for him to earn what he needs to buy his Saturn V…

Posted in connections, mindset, motivation, physical health, thoughtfulness, tips

A letter to my future self

June 15, 2000

Dear 35-year-old Heat,

I’ve finally admitted to myself something that I’ve been denying or avoiding for a long time: I’m fat, and I’m rapidly getting fatter. I’m 70 pounds heavier than I was when I graduated high school just 7 years ago.

I could blame it on genetics, Heat. Mom is fat. Dad is fat. Their siblings and parents are/were all fat. 

But blaming it on genetics only allows me to continue to live in denial. They were all slender in their youths—they just didn’t (and still don’t) take care of themselves. I’m strong enough that I can look at this face-to-face and own it.

It’s my fault I’m fat.

Heat, I decided today that I’m going to eat less ice cream. I hope this sounds ridiculous to you, but I’m going to limit myself to one serving every day. It’s going to be hard. I’m not even worried yet about how much is in one serving. But my eating habits are out of control, and this seems like a good place to start.

I’m doing this for you, Heat. In the here and now, I just want to eat. But—thanks to the generations in front of me—I see what that does. I don’t want that to be my story, too, but the only way to stop it is to start to change now. It doesn’t happen overnight.

I know you’ll appreciate this change. I hope that you’ll pay it forward to 45-year-old Heat.

Sincerely,

25-year-old Heat

You’re looking at a dessert menu, deciding whether or not to order dessert. Do you defer to yourself right now, someone you know, someone who is here right now? Or do you honor yourself in the future, someone who is a stranger, someone who’s not sitting at the table with you?

As it turns out, it’s easy to ignore our future selves because they’re strangers. And because they’re not here right now.

A few little studies have popped up—all in the realm of personal finance, but I believe they still apply.

What the studies found was that people who felt more connected to their future selves were more likely to make decisions that benefitted their future selves. People who felt disconnected from their future were more likely to give in to immediate desires.

You can read about those here and here, or watch a great TED talks about it here and here. (That second one is about how language affects future-oriented behavior. I thought it was fascinating!)

What does that have to do with health and wellness?

Everything.

What you eat has an effect on you … later.

How much you exercise, and at what intensity, and for how long, all affect you. Later.

So how can you become better-connected with your future self to help you make better decisions now?

Well, you can use the website referenced in this article (also linked above) to get a picture of yourself down the line. Or if you have a vivid imagination (or strong family resemblances), use your imagination.

Once you have a picture, either in front of you or in your mind, get to know that person a little. What do they like? What are their values? What are their struggles? What are their fears? Do you feel acquainted?

For me, it’s the struggles and fears that really motivate me now.

I’ve been through chemo, so I know what kind of toll that takes on a young, healthy body. It can only be worse on an older and/or less healthy body.

I see friends, relatives, coworkers struggle against chronic disease. I’ve seen them go through massive surgeries to try to repair themselves.

I don’t know what the life expectancy is of healthy people in my family. No one in my parents’ generation or their parents’ generation have taken care of themselves. One side of the family is littered with auto-immune disorders; the other has a solid disposition to heart disease.

My past self was ever indulgent. Fortunately, a more recent past self decided it was time to do something and did it. And most of the selves in between kept at it. (And the ones who didn’t keep at it have not done too much damage.)

I know a few people who have journals that they are going to pass onto their kids when their kids get older. They are writing down milestones, things the kids do, etc.

You could do this for your older self as well. Keep a little journal, and tell older you what you did for them today. Tell them why you did it and how it made you feel.

Connecting all of this to emotions will make the experience—and the results—more powerful.

Is the path you’re on now taking you in the direction you want to go? Is your future self at the destination you want?

Do what you can to align with Future You. You’ll be glad you did.

You’re bound to your future self. You can’t escape her. You can alter what she looks like, what she feels like, what her situation is like. What can you do to make her happy? To make YOU happy?

Are you going to try to envision your future self to instigate change? (It’s a little scary, isn’t it? All the more reason to do it!)