Taking a Deep Breath

Growing up in the Olden Days (that is, after malt shops faded away but while cruising Main Street held popular appeal for teens), good parenting seemed defined using very different standards. For example, I cannot remember a single time when my parents – or anyone’s parents I knew – offered praise. The most familiar comment I recall erupting from the mouths of the large gaggle of family members who showed up and interrupted my reading was “Children are to be seen and not heard.” Normally this came moments before we were all – my brother, me, our cousins – shoved out the door to play for hours where we would be neither seen nor heard.

Not complaining, but it does explain a bit about why, as one kind woman told me, I’m good at “troubleshooting.” What she meant was that I can identify what’s wrong with just about any situation if I take a look. And I did look, though I rarely wondered why, beyond insatiable curiosity, I took the time, for example, to figure out why the engine in the old Studebaker sounded off before I mentioned it to my dad. (I decided the old V-8 was missing on one of the cylinders before I reported it to my dad. He went outside, listened, nodded, and correctly identified which plug to pull.)

When it came to my own life, given all the children I knew received significant feedback related to what we did wrong and not a peep about what anything we did well, I developed a habit of avoiding negative feedback as much as possible by looking for what could go wrong. When I knew what could cause trouble, I avoided it. Blaming others after the fact, a sibling’s go-to response, offended my sense of moral outrage, so I didn’t do that. My first thought focused on my own actions and how to avoid negative reactions from adults. From triple-checking homework as a child I moved to investing one minute to writing a brief email and 15 minutes to over-thinking and editing it.

And with that perspective of staying out of trouble, I attended “lifestyle” workshop 3. The formal topic: breaking down “bad” habits and replacing them with “good” ones. Of course, introducing more moralistic judgment (who gets to decide the basis for what’s “bad” and what’s “good”?) into my life left me feeling queasy. “Bad” habits: slumping, sitting too much, shallow breathing, unplanned snacking, “unhealthy” snacks, drinking soda/pop. “Good” habits: straight posture, cardio 5 days a week for 30 minutes, planned meals and snacks. I disagreed in theory but refrained from arguing.

My positive take-aways from the class:

  • Instead of setting a 30-minute a day goal for joyful activity (without swimming I flounder to even get close to a half-hour), take 10-minute activity breaks instead, building up gradually by adding 10-minute spurts.
  • For each goal/intention in life, write down 3 reasons the goal is personally important. (I use a gratitude journaling technique that includes stating a 1 or more reasons I’m grateful as well.)
  • To avoid feeling winded when engaging in movement, breathe intentionally feeling the inhale through the nose, through the throat and chest and into the belly with the belly soft. Exhale intentionally, from the belly up, contracting muscles from the belly up to help expel the breath.
  • In any area of life, rather than focusing on what’s not-working, claim what is working and build on that instead.

To be honest, the last month of IE, focusing on gentle nutrition and not forbidding any foods, I appear (via a borrowed scale) to have lost enough weight that it’s not a one-day water-weight drop. The realization shook me because, in true style, I’m worried about falling into the negative, the Delusion of Diet Culture. Logically, I’ve avoided Diet-Driven behaviors that seem unlikely to last a lifetime (such as weighing portions, counting calories, and eliminating “bad” foods or food groups). However, I paused to take stock, worried that stepping that close to Diet-World is enough to rattle my good sense.

After a quick check-in, I think I’m okay. Activity is something I added, including some therapeutic knee exercises, a 60-minute easy (no-sweating) yoga class, and 10-minute bursts of joyful exercise 4 or 5 times a week. The short daily knee workout and the weekly yoga (soon to be 2 times a week yoga) are both about helping with specific health challenges. The activity bursts with my grandsons often occur spontaneously and involve launching short happy playlists and looking goofy while sweating, dancing, and singing along.  Gratitude journal notes also help me stay calm and on track.

My morning meditation sputters and lacks a steady routine due to the periodic late nights and the necessity of engaging with young children early in the morning. However, I wedge a minute or several minutes in for a heart-focused pause. My water intake could use a boost, the doctor says, so working to increase that modestly by paying attention, carrying around a stainless-steel refillable cup, and sipping a bit more.  

As for sleep, I know what to do but could aptly name my nighttime routine Struggle. Having a schedule works and makes sense, but sometimes while I’m studying or writing I fall into an unscheduled groove (psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would call it “flow”) during which time disappears. When I re-enter the earth’s atmosphere, I feel energized and have accomplished a lot, but realize it is hours past lights-out. Whoops. I lowered my caffeine intake, keep a sleep log, and strive to do better with sleep since it has such a big impact on my life.

What keeps me up nights? Compelling books like Stamped from the Beginning (a history of racism in the US by Ibram Kendi). And I’ve been hooked a few times by novels from authors Alice Hoffman or Barbara O’Neal. I take free and nearly-free classes or workshops to learn about a variety of topics (cooking, feng shui, and sleep are recent ones). Almost a week ago, I enrolled in a 30-Day Anti-Racist Table Challenge with lessons and journal entries to complete each day. I’ve also enjoyed classes through http://www.edx.org and www.Udemy.com, one offers classes for audit (edX) though both are low-cost. Also stay up investigating topics of interest.

One topic that bubbled up: digestive disorders (because they seem more common in my family). I’m certainly no expert and claim zero medical expertise. However, I learned some researchers have expressed concerns about the relationship between gut health/gut diseases (like GERD) and disordered eating of the sort that’s championed in diets (such as eating a lot of extra fiber or forbidding any food with sugar or eliminating groups of foods like “carbs” or “processed” foods). One study stated about 15% of the general population is considered to have digestive disorders but among people with eating disorders research shows up to 90% have digestive disorders. Fascinating! Early research seems to point to a relationship between eating disorders or disordered eating and functional gut disorders. The research also indicates a more diverse diet leads to a healthier gut/microbiome. Good to know! (For a bit of info related to the gut/microbiome, suggest the easy-to-read book Gut by Giulia Enders and episode 175 of the podcast Food Psych featuring Marci Evans: the truth about digestion and gut health (visit: https://christyharrison.com/foodpsych/6/the-truth-about-digestion-and-gut-health-with-marci-evans).)

Clearly, I haven’t climbed aboard a bullet-train toward having all the answers when it comes to eating. For me, Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size (HAES) provide the most promising path to follow. We’ll all know when the culture reaches that station, though, because the people we’ll admire and see in prominent places will come in all shapes, sizes, ages, ability-levels, sexual-identities, and hues.

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