Friday, July 08, 2016

Diets and Life and Why I'm Going to Grad School

I've been on a bit of a crazy ride lately. Literally crazy, or, you know, craziER.

After a few years of learning everything I could learn about holistic nutrition, I had determined that I wanted to go to school, get a degree in holistic nutrition and open a practice coaching people around their relationships with food. I'd seen in my own life how a whole foods, plant-based diet had so positively impacted my life and I really wanted to share it. I read up on all the various modes/theories around eating--Paleo, Whole 30, Zone, Hormone, Intuitive Eating, Eat for Life --all of them.

And then last October, I joined a diet program that seemed like the perfect fit for me.  It was centered around research done around how the brain responds to certain foods, and it was based on a 12-step program that created "bright lines" against sugar and flour. I'd done a lot of research and had used my own body as a testing ground for how sugar and flour affect me, and this program really seemed to be speaking to me. I kind of wanted to lose a little weight, but mostly, this program promised me PEACE around food. The idea is that you automate your food so that you don't think about it anymore and suddenly, your life opens up. I was sold.

I've been searching for that peace for a long time.  From the outside, I look pretty normal, but my head was really full of The Crazy when it came to food. I'd just accepted it, the way I accepted that I have a disabled foot.  I had an eating disorder as a teen and all through my 20s, and even after I entered into recovery, I was just never free of disordered thinking around food.  It's like an alcoholic in recovery --you're never NOT an alcoholic; you're no longer drinking.

So anyway, I joined this program called Bright Line Eating. The founder, Susan Pierce Thompson, is a psychologist and a likable, articulate personality. The program has weekly video modules, and online community for support, and a very strict structure. You weigh and measure all of your food which you plan out the night before. You eat three meals, no snacking. The program is full of these pithy sayings: "Hunger is not an emergency." and "No one ever starved to death between meals."

So, I lost about ten pounds really fast and then I stopped losing weight. My body, after 17 years of abuse as a bulimic, tends to go into starvation mode at the drop of a cracker. At one point, I calculated that I was taking in about 1,100 calories per day, and this while averaging about two hours of yoga per day. It's so clear now that I was just...starving. Literally.

I kept waiting for the peace to arrive. But you know what? Peace doesn't come when you are actively undernourishing your body. I kept playing wth my food plan, restricting more and more, but I still wasn't losing weight. Finally, one day, I was making some herbal tea and I looked down at tea mixture and I was so hungry, so starved, that I started EATING it. And then I ate a lot of other things. And then I thought about purging --for the first time in almost 20 years.

Which led to a full-on panic attack. I reached out to the leadership at Bright Line eating and was told to just "stay the course." Which is not very helpful when you feel like your recovery of almost 20 years is slipping through your hands.

I withdrew from the program. I unsubscribed from the videos. I left the on-line support community. I set about recovery all over again. It was heartbreaking and it was really, really hard.

I'm still not back to where I was. It's just really hard work.

Because here's the thing about diets: they don't work.  I mean, there are always examples of a group of people who do well in each program, but long-term, diets don't work. There's all kinds of data on this. There is no one answer for everyone. And people with a history of eating disorders need to be particularly careful when choosing a weight loss plan.

I think I've figured out why diets do not work long-term. It's because weight loss is actually an inside job. It begins with understanding that, for some of us, food is just a physical manifestation of our mental health and self esteem. You can't start with the external and hope it changes you on the inside. There are a lot of people telling you to change your behavior, but I believe that, for a lot of us, behavior when it come to what we eat is just a symptom. To really address the symptom of disordered eating, you have to find the root cause.

So I'm going grad school to get my Masters of Arts in Counseling. I still am really interested in the healing properties of food and I'm hoping to find a way to dovetail the knowledge I have with the knowledge I am hoping to gain about the human psyche so that maybe I can help people find true peace around food. As always, I will share my knowledge with you and keep you posted.

So much love,
Barb

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hello? Hello? This Thing On?

Hi, hello, how are you?

It's true: I am resurrecting the blog because I am embarking on a new adventure called, "My Baby Graduated From High School and We're Both Going to College."

Well, okay, it's not really called that.  I guess it's called Life.  I'm on a new adventure called Life. With an emphasis on higher education.

So, FIRST, I must thank you.  Thank you for donating to LASA in order to update the ancient computers. We had the most successful fund raiser in the school's history! It was so successful, in fact, that I got drafted to help with the campaign again this year. (Which...I...am flattered? And stupid?)  I just couldn't say no--the school needs help and the kids are so, so worth it. So I am helping raise money even though I NO LONGER HAVE A CHILD AT THAT SCHOOL.

Because this happened:

I KNOW.

I know.

I. Know.

And honestly, I wasn't sure it was going to happen. Vega got really sick in her final semester. REALLY sick. She missed three-and-a-half months of school, spent six weeks in a wheelchair, and in general had her life torpedoed. Starting in February, she fell ill with a myriad of symptoms, including severe abdominal cramping and random fainting--which was a lot less exciting and more terrifying than I can describe here.  After an ongoing series of appointments with specialists and increasingly invasive medical procedures including a pelvic ultrasound and the wearing of a heart monitor for several weeks, we received a final diagnosis of vasovagal syncope (possibly triggered by the rupturing of an ovarian cyst.)

There are things I want to say about this, but really, suffice it to say that watching my kid be that sick with absolutely nothing I could do about it and with no reassurance that this wasn't something extremely sinister was pretty much the most terrifying and terrible time in my life. I have a different compassion for people going through catastrophic health concerns with their children. It is horrific and relentless and unbelievably stressful.

We were enormously relieved that her symptoms began to lessen and that she was able to return to school in April. I am deeply indebted to the staff at LASA for supporting Vega while she was ill, particularly Shannon Bergeron, her academic counselor, who I’m convinced is hiding angel wings under her jacket. (Ms. Bergeron just started a college counseling business.  I've already signed Jane up. I cannot say enough about her --just the wisest, calmest, most supportive and competent person you could ever hope to have in your kid's life. Go here and show her some love.)

So, Vega's not well, exactly, but she's learning to manage her symptoms and the symptoms seem to be getting better. Which is good because in about six weeks, she's off to the University of Southern California as an astronomy major.

Yeah, I didn't actually see that one coming, either.

Except, maybe I did.
The bike--er, SPACE helmet. Always necessary when eating pancakes with your grandfather.


One of many inflatable astronauts named Jeffery Hoffman.








So, yeah. She's off to college and thrilled about it. Really thrilled and so ready. 

I know what you're thinking and I'm really NOT. I'm not worried or sad or grief-stricken. She's ready and I'm so excited for her.  Plus, you know, I'll let you in on a little secret: They leave before they leave. This entire last year has been a series of small goodbyes.  It's the way things are supposed to work. I'm very close to Vega, and I'm really secure that that won't change. I love her so much. I can't wait to see what she does.

Plus, I'm sure Jane (15) would appreciate it if I didn't take to my bed for the next six months since she's learning to drive and can't wait around for me to have a breakdown.
Pretty exciting! 

And ALSO, I'm going to graduate school to get my Masters in Counseling. I KNOW, what? I'll write more about this in an upcoming post, but I've felt this calling for a long time so I'm doing it.

Okay, more, more, more soon! I promise. Meanwhile, what's new with you?


Sunday, October 04, 2015

Asking For a Favor

In my Life Before Children, I was a professional fundraiser for non-profits. I spent more than a decade of my life being woefully underpaid, doing the work of four people, and working insane hours --all fueled by a genuine passion for the people I was serving.  Since I retired from that profession, I've done a little bit of fundraising here and there for good causes, but I've really avoided going all-in on any one issue, because I was pretty burned out and tired. It's an unfortunate side effect of burning the candle at all ends that at some point, you're kind of left without a candle.

Many of you know that my older daughter, Ziggy, attends an academically advanced public magnet high school, The Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy (LASA.) It has been a good fit for her prodigious brain, as well as her creative talents. She's done really well there.

Her school is consistently ranked among the finest in the nation. In 2015, LASA is ranked as America’s 9th smartest high school by Business Insider  and as the 6th best out of 1869 Texas high schools by US News and World Report. Here, just look at the colleges that LASA students went to after graduating last year. This year, the school has 33 National Merit Semifinalists!

So, earlier this year, my friend Marcia, whom I first met while working in the non-profit world and who never lost her energy and enthusiasm for that kind of work, and who is one of the smartest and most engaged and aware people I've ever known, contacted me asking if I might help her write a letter to solicit donations for LASA. Her son attends LASA and she, get this, volunteered to be on the fundraising committee.

Because she's like that.

So, I agreed.  Because Marcia asked.

I swear I only agreed to help write a letter.

But here's the thing: the more I learned, the more I wanted to do more than just write a letter. I have long admired the amazing staff and faculty at LASA. (The Principal is just an amazing example of the exact right kind of leadership we need in our schools. I could gush here for a long time, but suffice to say, she makes ME want to go back to HIGH SCHOOL.  And if you knew me in high school, you'll recognize that this is simply... unfathomable.)

What I didn't realize about LASA, though, is that the school district does not provide any special funding for the magnet programs, and LASA, seriously, operates on the thinnest shoestring budget ever.  I cannot imagine how they consistently pull the kind of rankings they do, and have the kind of results they have.

Which brings me to the point of this blog post. This year, there is some bond money available to help replace the decrepit student computers, most of which are at least four years old, most of which are missing keys, some of which don't even boot up. A woman on the fundraising committee (on which I am now serving and I'm not even mad about it) told me that she volunteered to help raise money after proctoring two Advanced Placement tests that were delayed by as much as two HOURS because of computer issues.

LASA's student body is diverse, both in terms of ethnicity and in terms of socio-economic status.  For the most part, these are not kids who arrive on the first day of school with brand new Macbooks. These students NEED the computers provided by the high school, and the computers are just terrible. It's like asking kids to build a house with the ample raw material they have, but not giving them any tools.

So, PFLASA (the Parents and Friends of LASA, a non-profit organization that helps fund resources that the district doesn't pay for) is trying to raise money to piggyback on the bond money bulk purchasing power.  We're trying to reach a one computer per two student ratio.  More would be better, but that's the goal.

I'm asking everyone I know to help. Seriously, if you have an extra $5 or $50, or $5 million, PLEASE consider giving. And if you can't give, maybe you could share this post with your Aunt Millie, who has always had a weakness for education-related causes. Or your butcher. Or some random person you just met on the street. You know I try not to ask for you to support my causes, but I am asking you today. These kids are worth it.

Marcia and I thank you, but more importantly, our future leaders, in high school today, thank you.

We need the money by November 1st in order to utilize the district's colossal purchasing power. Your donation is fully tax deductible. Please give today at www.pflasa.org or send a check made payable to PFLASA to: 
7309 Lazy Creek Drive, Suite 225
Austin, TX 78724


Thanks for reading. Here: here's last year's LASA lip-dub.  YOU'RE WELCOME.  (Look for Ziggy at 3:38.)  


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Operation Healing: The Puppy Ministry

Eleanor, doing the Sleeping Meditation.

I've spent a lot of time this summer thinking about meditation. Doing research on meditation. Planning on meditating. Reading about meditation. But, as seems to be a constant in life, things kept happening and I rarely got on my mat to Officially Meditate.

The wise Buddhist monk, Thich Naht Hahn, has written extensively about meditation.  The sitting meditation.
Sitting meditation is very healing. We realize we can just be with whatever is within us- our pain, anger, and irritation, or our joy, love, and peace. We are with whatever is there without being carried away by it. Let it come, let it stay, then let it go. No need to push, to oppress, or to pretend our thoughts are not there. Observe the thoughts and images of our mind with an accepting and loving eye. We are free to be still and calm despite the storms that might arise in us.

The breathing meditation.
We feel the flow of air coming in and going out of our nose. We feel how light and natural, how calm and peaceful our breathing functions. At any time, while we are walking, gardening, or typing, we can return to this peaceful source of life.
We may like to recite:
“Breathing in I know that I am breathing in.
Breathing out I know that I am breathing out."

And (perhaps my favorite,) the hugging meditation 
We may practice hugging meditation with a friend, our daughter, our father, our partner or even with a tree. To practice, we first bow and recognize the presence of each other. Then we can enjoy three deep conscious breaths to bring ourselves fully there. We then may open your arms and begin hugging. Holding each other for three in-and-out breaths. With the first breath, we are aware that we are present in this very moment and we are happy. With the second breath, we are aware that the other is present in this moment and we are happy as well. With the third breath, we are aware that we are here together, right now on this earth, and we feel deep gratitude and happiness for our togetherness. We then may release the other person and bow to each other to show our thanks.

Also, the tea meditation, the walking meditation and the working meditation.  I love all of these so much.

What it all comes down to, to me, is being completely present in the moment, and noticing. Noticing. Noticing is meditation --a full and deep awareness of the blessings of the present moment, without judgment or attachment, because we understand the fleeting nature of the present.

It's made me aware of how much of my day I spend unconsciously doing things.  Like eating, or walking, or cooking, or shopping. Showering. Driving. I've been trying to do more things with mindful awareness.  I'm not consistent, but it's a transformational practice when I can do it.

Although I haven't had a lot of time to sit in dedicated meditation, I've been doing what I call the Puppy Meditation with our new (possibly) Border Collie and (possibly) Blue Heeler rescue puppy. Because mostly, I sit outside with her, without benefit of distraction of phone or Facebook or whatever. I've had a chance to really observe the way dogs are in the world. I've had a chance to really BE with her as she has doubled in size over the past six weeks, and learned that her tail is attached, and about the duality of water. (Fun in the puppy pool/less fun in baths.)


She has so much to teach me! I mean, there are things she has to learn, too, but she came into this world knowing things that I have been trying to internalize for a long time.

For one things, our dogs are completely in the present all of the time. They don't get lost in regret over having taken someone else's toy away earlier and gotten snapped at for it, or having accidentally peed on the carpet. They may feel some deep regret right at the very moment, but then they are over it and on to playing and trying their best to remember to pee outside.

They have no body image issues. I think Ellie has the most beautiful expressive face and I love her gorgeous spotted gloves. I'm pretty sure she doesn't care one way or the other.  And I've never seen her not want to get into her pool because she was having a fat day.

They never multi-task. They are always completely absorbed in what they are doing.  If, for example, the puppy is playing with Austin (our six-year-old Lab (ish)) and gets an itch, she sits down and scratches until she's done and the game can continue.

She displays instant forgiveness.  She's smart -- so she remembers if you accidentally step on her tail and tries to avoid creating a situation where that can happen again --but she forgives immediately and completely.  She's not moping in a corner, thinking about how unjust it all is and how life is haarrd.

Anyway, I developed this Puppy Meditation that I practice while watching her.  It goes something like this:
Breathing in, I stroke her soft fur.
Breathing out, I notice her beautiful markings, the weight of her silky body on my foot. 
Sitting on the stone step in the predawn light, I notice the sounds of the birds. I am not doing. I am being. Breathing in, I notice how much more peaceful I am before coffee. Breathing out, I try to do the Sitting Meditation.  (Sometimes, I notice I really wish I had a cup of coffee.) 
Breathing in, I notice her exploration of the underbrush in my yard. Breathing out, I am grateful for the white tip on her long tail that tells me where she is. 
Breathing in, I recognize that by adopting her, I rescued her.
Breathing out, I recognize that by coming into my life at this particular time, when so much is in flux and uncertain, and by offering up her unconditional love to me, she saved me.

That's a pretty good meditation. In fact, that's a pretty good ministry.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Operation Healing: The Introduction of Love

So, we've had her for a little over a month now.

We weren't actually going to get a new puppy this soon. There is a lot going on in our house, and even I will admit to you that one dog is a lot less than two dogs. Plus, you know, puppies are a lot like toddlers --they don't sleep through the night, and you can't take your eyes off of them for a second.


But in June, Coop and Jane (14) took a road trip to Alabama to visit my Father-in-law and they took our six-year-old Lab-ish, Austin, with them.  Jane came home from that trip convinced that Austin was depressed, missing his buddy Scout. She persuaded me to visit a few shelters to look for a nice puppy.  (We wanted a puppy because we have elderly cats who have never known adult canine aggression, although they have trained a puppy or two.)

We didn't find the right puppy for us at the shelters, so Jane conducted an online search for puppies available for rescue. She came across The Forgotten Friends Rescue, and there was our girl. We brought her home on July 4th.

She is practically perfect in every way, and the exact right puppy for us. (Her two brothers are still available at the rescue place if you're interested.)

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Operation Healing: The Float Test

So, I've been healing since I last wrote.  I went to New York City and communed with my yoga tribe and my Guru Sri Dharma Mittra, and came home just...profoundly changed and cracked wide open and feeling like all kinds of healing was happening--physically and spiritually and in every other way.

And then, I was in a car wreck, two days later, on May 22nd, and my back was pretty messed up.

I didn't let it faze me.  I kept teaching my classes, kept doing my thing. I added in a chiropractor into the mix.  I'd never gone to a chiropractor and was pretty skeptical --but as often happens in my blessed life, I found the exact right person with the exact right technique--something called Active Release Therapy which went a long way to healing my neck, even though my lower back was still talking to me. Sternly.

And then I fell down in my driveway.

I didn't let it faze me.  I kept... doing... my thing,

Until, you know, the Universe decided that since I hadn't received the message I was supposed to receive when it was bouncing me off of things, it was going to up the ante.

Something gave way in my lower back last week.

I could not teach my classes.  I could not do my thing.

But get this: I am not letting it faze me!

Recently, as part of my ongoing research into all things nutritional, I read this article. In it, it said,

Laboratory mice were dropped into tall, cylindrical columns of water in what is known as a forced-swim test, which measures over six minutes how long the mice swim before they realize that they can neither touch the bottom nor climb out, and instead collapse into a forlorn float. Researchers use the amount of time a mouse floats as a way to measure what they call ‘‘behavioral despair.’’ 

I started thinking about that.

[Also, as an aside, can we not stop animal testing? If you want to recreate "behavioral despair," I can think of a zillion ways to create it using humans.  Have subjects stand in the endless line at Torchy's Tacos after many unsuccessful attempts to call in a to-go order. Exactly how long will a person with low blood-sugar stand in line behind the couple who define PDA before throwing up his/her hands and leaving? That happened to me recently and seriously, the guy in front of me was rubbing his girlfriend's ear like she was a Labrador --and that was just the start of their antics. BUT I DIGRESS. (Poor mice.)]

For me, ever since the Pain Years, whenever I've had some sort of physical setback --usually injury, although sometimes the FULF flares up --I have gone directly into PANIC MODE. It's a weird kind of PTSD --the one that says if I stop moving forward, I will lose the ability to do so. Like there's some finite amount of pain-free days I have and if I stop to heal or rest, I will be back on the couch again.  See you in three years.

So, what I think happens is that I swim and swim harder, and eventually, I find a way to climb out of the cylinder or I get lifted out.  I never do reach "behavioral despair."  Because I've  been there --heck, I LIVED there for a long time.  And nothing is as bad as that.

So, that's the good news.

The bad news is the panicking part --the EXISTENTIAL Despair. I go there after about, oh, five minutes.

Except for this time.  This time, I just decided not to do that. Even though I can't do the physical practice of yoga right now, I can focus on the other seven limbs. And I received instruction from Sri Dharma Mittra himself to concentrate on my meditation and pranayama --because stress is a bigger killer than low back pain.

So.

I'm focusing on that for the next while until my back is healed.  I'm working on the whole practice, including eating an anti-inflammatory diet. And I'm trusting the Universe to handle all of the other fears that I have about losing my practice or my business.

This is all new ground for me, and is perhaps a much better test than the "Float Test." I'll keep you posted.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Seeking Balance and Health

I am really struggling right now. Yesterday was momentous --but I'm not sure if it's good or bad.

For some time (the better part of a year,) I've been fighting some undiagnosed malady. I had this really debilitating, crushing fatigue coupled with periods of intense joint and muscle pain. My mental acuity seemed compromised --I felt like I was in a weird brain fog. My food intolerances have increased --I'm kind of down to certain vegetables and nuts and seeds.

Granted, I've been under a lot of stress for reasons I can't detail here, and that's probably been a factor. I thought maybe I had some sort of adrenal fatigue or leaky gut or, my biggest fear, some kind of rheumatoid arthritis or Fibromyalgia. (I limited my visits to Dr. Google.)

But I was still battling something. I went to a lot of doctors and eventually, after a lot of research and dietary experimentation (some of which was really helpful and improved my condition,) I found a Functional Medicine doctor, who is simply amazing and brilliant and who ordered a bazillion tests trying to figure out what was going on with me. I met with her yesterday and got the results of some of those tests.

As most of you know I am vegan--I don't partake of any animal products. I try not to say too much about that, because I am as weary of the sanctimonious attitude on both sides of the vegan/non-vegan issue as you are. This is a very sensitive thing for me to talk about because every time I talk about it, somebody is offended thinking I'm judging them for eating meat. OR I get attacked by the vegans for not being vegan ENOUGH. (I eat honey. I have leather shoes.)

I'm vegan mostly because I don't want to eat anything I can't kill myself. (This leaves me with an animal protein diet of mosquitoes--haven't learned how to catch and release THOSE yet.) I'm also vegan because my guru, Sri Dharma Mittra, says that it is the first tenet of yoga --that our compassion for animals must extend beyond our pets.

But please hear me: this isn't have anything to do with anyone else but me and my choices and my path. I'm not sitting in judgment of anyone else. One of the two people I made inside my body is a total carnivore and I don't think less of her.  I LOVE her--as she is. I ate meat at various times in my life, too. I'm no longer really cooking meat for her, and she accepts that and is understanding. There will come a time when my house is meat-free --but I'm not pushing her out the door to get there.

Unfortunately, what I learned yesterday is that my body is breaking down. Some people thrive on a vegan diet. I am not one of them.

My cell membranes and mitochondria are severely compromised. I have epically low levels of Omega 3s, of Coenzyme Q10, weirdly high levels of calcium (which is not what you want --high levels of calcium in your cells means your cell membranes are weak,) super low B-12 levels. Given my growing list of food intolerances, I cannot get enough of the things I need to regain my health through my current diet.  My doctor is urging me to find an animal protein that I can eat, and to at least begin taking fish oil.

So, I'm really struggling with what to do. I am not vegan for health reasons, but if my health continues to decline, I will be of little service to humankind and I think (pray) that I have something to add to the collective good in the world. On the other hand, I do not think that I can continue to follow my Guru while knowingly ingesting animals and animal products. He is very clear on this subject. "You cannot make progress on the path to enlightenment if you are eating your animal brothers and sisters."

It's not only Sri Dharma's teachings. I don't want to eat anything that I can't kill myself and I am morally opposed to killing any sentient being. I think it would be hypocritical for me to eat animals killed by someone else. I know a lot of people who think you can honor the animal you are eating and be grateful for its nourishment of your body. I know farmers and ranchers who raise animals for slaughter and do it in the most humane way possible. I read one woman's account of her farm and in it she said, "We give them wonderful lives with lots of space and good food and then they have one very bad day." I just don't think I can do it and live with myself.

So, I guess that's the choice before me.  Either I am true to my ethical and spiritual beliefs, or I concentrate on regaining my health. I'm in a lot of pain over what to do.

Now that I've slept on the issue, and processed some of my fear and feelings, I've decided that I have to give it one more big effort to find health without eating animals. I'm going to get really scientific about my diet --learn as much as I possible can about the nutrition involved in what I'm putting in my mouth and seek as much counsel as I can to find the highest nutritional density supplements and food. I'm probably going to add fish oil as part of my diet, since the vegan version wasn't having much effect on my low Omega 3s. I know that's hypocritical --I'm trying to think of it as a compromise.  Next week, I am going to the Dharma Yoga Center in NYC for my annual immersion back into my spiritual home.  I will talk to my mentors there and seek their wisdom.

I'll keep you posted.  Please be kind in your comments, I am really struggling.