What I Won’t Change (at all) in 2018

It’s that time: all the inspirational new year’s resolutions are popping up on all platforms. I myself spent two hours writing about my intentions for the new year, and I have some pretty great things up my sleeve.

But as I read through the myriad of reflections, revelations, and sentiments for self- and world- improvement, it occurred to me that there are many things that I don’t want to change at all, about my life or myself, in 2018. And that should have a space too.

What do you love so much you never want it to change?

I love my job. We have our moments, my job and I, and teaching kids isn’t glamorous. But I have the good fortune to be reconnected to a very important childhood community of mine. I get to do all the growing, changing, and self-improving with the knowledge that many of the people in my daily life have already seen it in me. I feel the love every day, and I don’t want that to change.

I’m obsessed with Seattle. Something about the way the mountains follow me reminds me that they have my back. I love driving over the brand-spankin’-new 520 bridge and searching out Mt. Rainier through the fog across the water. I’m grateful for the gray, drizzly, stay-inside-and-drink-coffee vibes of winter. I love the trees. I like the earthy people and the jazzy echoes of the Royal Room. I like the mud.

My school is great. No, the OTHER school. The new school. In which I’m learning how to be a more authentic human, comfortable in my own uncertainty and in sitting with the pain of others. I’m excited to have new people in my life, the kind that want to know everything and be vulnerable because that’s what makes us humans, and we’re all in this life together.

One of my best friends pointed out that this year will make four years of friendship outside college. That means my very dear friends and I will have had more relationship time out of college than in college. Our friendships have changed, but my love for them hasn’t. I love the way I feel full and inspired, comfortable saying whatever comes into my head. I am moved by how they process through their worlds, and I learn something new whenever I am with them. May this never change.

I spent most of this year without dairy, eggs, grains, coffee, sugar, corn, soy, tomatoes, legumes, and alcohol. I still have friends. I still go out and do things. I have more energy and less anxiety. I have more drive to change the world and more ideas and information racing through me. I am confident and clear-headed. I am a more authentic version of myself, connected to my purpose and aching to help others connect to their own.

I am hopeful. I believe more than ever that people have an innate ability to heal themselves and to find what is good in the world. I want 2018 to be a year of reconnecting people with their “guts.” When I listen, to myself and to others, with my ears and with my gut, I learn. May I continue to listen in this more holistic way.

This post, I hope, is a reminder:

You already have everything that you need. 

 

What I Won’t Change (at all) in 2018

How I Made Peace With the Holiday Shortbread Cookies

The holidays, for me, are the hardest time of the year to be healthy.

Last year at this time, I was at a Christmas party where a pile of those fantastically buttery delicious shortbread cookies sat in the middle of the buffet table.

I had been half-heartedly gluten free after a food sensitivity test had come back negative for gluten. However, it was also positive for dairy and eggs and sugar – all the things normally present in large quantities in delicious buttery shortbread. The cookies and I had a stare-off for a while as I circulated, aware all the while of their constant, alluring presence. Then, seemingly without any conscious decision on my part, I walked over and ate one.

I ate one more. I ate another. I ate eight after that. It was as if I had come out of  an intense period of cookie starvation, and my body was telling me how much I needed that cookie. With every one I ate, I was compelled to eat another one, on and on until the end of the night.

That’s my memory from that party last year. Isn’t that sad? It upsets me a little to think that I had more of an interaction with the cookies than with my friends. Ultimately, that night was the reason I decided to start my 2017 with a January Whole30 and never look back.

I’m proud to say that I have not had many moments like that one this year. I’m proud because it took a lot of hard work. I had to learn a lot about myself. I had to consciously become aware of my body, my feelings, my needs in each moment. I had to concede that caffeine makes my stomach hurt and sugar makes me depressed, even though I didn’t want to believe it. The whole year has been an exercise in humility and unlearning lifelong patterns. I’m creating an intentional new relationship with food, and sometimes it sucks and it’s hard.

Fast-forward to now, a new holiday season. I got just as much chocolate and just as many delicious homemade treats from my students as last year. I’m still attending holiday parties. And the cookies are calling to me.

One of the things I’ve learned this year is that deprivation is never healthy. Most fad diets, including programs like the whole30, restrict the food that you eat so drastically that it requires intense planning and forethought to follow them. Whole30 is big on the idea that you only do the program for 30 days. For a short period of time, the black and white rules make it easier to make healthy choices without reaching decision fatigue. But then what?

Back to the idea of deprivation: if I went around this holiday season saying to myself “I can’t have this,” “I can’t have that,” “sorry, kids, I can’t accept that gift because I won’t be able to resist having chocolate in my room and will eat it all in one sitting,” I would be miserable throughout the holidays. Refusing treats is sometimes refusing people’s love.

So I’ve told myself to relax. I’ve told myself that I can have a treat if I want it, but I have to really want it. I can have a chocolate on the last day of school before winter break in silent celebration of surviving a crazy quarter of work and school and personal transformation.

I’m not trapped in oscillation between the polar extremes of I can’t – I have to, like I was with those cookies.

In fact, after working so hard on my relationship with food this year, I’m more confident with treats. I know that I’ll have some if I want it, and I know that I’ll stop when it doesn’t taste or feel good. I might make some choices I regret, but I know that the choices I make tomorrow can be different.

Most of all, I know I have choices.  I’m not compelled, pulled, or unable to resist the temptation of a shortbread cookie. They’re cookies, and I can have one if I want, and I know how it will make me feel. If it’s worth it, then I go for it. If it’s not, I don’t.

It’s kind of like food freedom.

Melissa Hartwig says it best.

Food freedom also means that food is fun again. It means you feel free to play around with how much, how often, and in what quantity you can enjoy your favorite wine, a slice of birthday cake, or mom’s famous lasagna while still looking and feeling exactly as awesome as you want. You don’t obsess. You don’t get anxious. You aren’t stressed. You don’t restrict needlessly, or binge heedlessly. You make conscious, deliberate decisions around food, and sometimes you say yes, and sometimes you say no, and both are totally okay because you chose it.

You feel like you could do this for the rest of your life.

Food freedom doesn’t mean that you’re a perfect eater, however. It doesn’t mean you always make the “right” decision. It doesn’t mean you always stay on track, and never fall back into old habits. Food freedom means that when you fall off course, you don’t let it ruin your day (or your week), physically or emotionally. It means you always have a plan for returning to a place of healthy balance, gracefully. It means you recognize that life happens, but every “slip” is actually a learning experience, and your food freedom plan is that much more robust for these experiences.

Food freedom demands that you’re in this for the long haul. There is no hack for food freedom; no shortcut or quick fix. It’s you, working my 3-step program, day in and day out, every single day. There are no weeks off. There is no “Well, I’m on vacation, so I’m just not going to think about it.” You can’t disconnect from your body or your relationship with food when things get hard. Food freedom demands more attention than that.

Surviving the holidays is just like surviving every day of the rest of my life. It’s all about making conscious choices and paying attention to how I feel.

And even though, in my own words, “it sucks,” and “it’s hard,” it’s also incredibly worth it.

My life is different. I am awake, I am conscious, and I am managing my autoimmune disease. I have energy, I feel alive, and I feel free. It may be hard to believe that this all came from my food choices.

Really, it only started there, and it slowly spread to the rest of my life.

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Greenlake as sun sets in Winter ❤
How I Made Peace With the Holiday Shortbread Cookies

You Have Everything You Need

This past week, I’ve been thinking about how difficult I currently find it to dive into something without knowing what will happen. I feel like I have a million ideas that are stopped before they even have a chance to progress. And it’s entirely me that’s stopping them.

I also have persistent fears that I’m not going to be “successful” at whatever I’m trying to do. I fear that nobody will give me a chance to show who I am and how I contribute to the world. I fear that I’ll try and set foot (or my ideas) into the world and people won’t respond in a positive way.

I am a lucky one – I have no evidence for these fears, no rational argument for why I should be afraid. I even have compelling evidence that I shouldn’t fear leaping into the world with reckless abandon. Yet I do.

I was standing on the corner of two streets that I walk literally three times a week on my way to school and back. I was listening to music, and the song “Midnight City” by M83 came on. It’s not really a remarkable song, but it pulled me so hard I stopped walking – suddenly, I felt like I was back in Paris.

I noticed the color of the trees. I stood up straighter. I filled up with a magical feeling of strength and opportunity. I used to listen to that song all the time as I was strutting the streets of Paris, in a pair of black boots I wore completely through, heading to unknown new destinations and recently familiar ones. It filled me then, and now, with a sense of possibility and adventure. A sense that the world is my oyster.

Even more than that, I had the sense that I was safe in the world. It wasn’t that nothing could go wrong (many things did in Paris, and they do now), but it was a feeling that I could handle whatever went. Whatever happened.

Somehow, in the past few years, that feeling disappeared. What replaced it? Anxiety, fear, uncertainty, doubt. An obsessive focus on the future and past but not on the present. I think I had those before, too. But I also had the other stuff.

Here’s what I wrote, June 1st 2013, as I was about to head back from my first adventure abroad, tired but feeling: successful, nostalgic, sad, optimistic, strong, free, hopeful.

“What I was most worried about bringing back was Paris Anne. I thought about whether or not Paris Anne could exist in a different environment, especially one that another Anne was so comfortable in. It’s absurd to think that spending 5 months in a foreign country would not change the way I look at what once was the only thing I really knew in the world- America. Redmond. Whitman. And I want to look at these things differently. I know I’ve changed, and I want to stay changed; the confidence, the new and improved language skills, the way I think about my social relationships…all of these feel different in Paris Anne, and I think I have grown more certain of who I am through my encounters with uncertainty.

But, in the midst of worrying about whether or not I would feel frustrated about no longer being in Paris, I realized that the self I’ve formed here is actually the only thing I will be able to bring back with me. I can’t bring back the city, the French ubiquity, the freedom, and I can’t bring back the same experiences. But my more evolved processes of thinking and learning and living will always be with me, and I can use them anywhere I want to. My new goal is to approach life at home like I approached life in Paris: return with the attitude that the best experiences of my life can happen anywhere, at anytime, with anyone.

So, my conclusion (in clichĂ© form): even if you take the Anne out of Paris, you won’t be taking Paris out of the Anne.”

I think that moment on the street reminded me of something important, just at the right moment.

That thing was:

I can keep learning, I can keep growing, I can keep making sense of my experiences, but I also, always, already have everything that I need.

Certainty, predictability, more degrees, more education, experience that comes with age – all are helpful. All are comforting.

But in an uncomfortable time, I find that what I need most is what I already had. What I need most is a reminder that the world is a huge, beautiful, safe and exciting place. Opportunities are everywhere. Not being certain is what enables learning, discovery, and growth. And above all, I can’t wait for my version of “success” to happen to me – I have to try things even if I don’t feel ready, prepared, or certain, at all.

Because we never know what will happen when we dive into the world wholeheartedly and embrace the adventure.

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You Have Everything You Need

Swimming Upstream: Why It’s So Hard to “Get Healthy”

Spoiler alert: It’s not your fault that it’s hard.

I bet that most of my friends and acquaintances don’t want to be unhealthy. Nobody signs up to be pre-diabetic or chronically ill. Nobody signs up for food intolerances, gut problems, or immune system dysfunction. Nobody is dying to become depressed or anxious.

If I told you there’s a possible, potential way to heal yourself of these things through diet and lifestyle, you might say – wait, really!? If you were really struggling and ready for change, you might even try changing something one day. Maybe for a week. Maybe even for a month.

But let me tell you, all of us that are trying to be healthy are swimming upstream.

Salmon literally run themselves ragged trying to get upstream, and all they have to do when they get there is spawn and die. Being healthy is an uphill, upstream swim with no real destination and no end in sight.

Here’s a few reasons why:

We evolved in an environment of “food scarcity.”

As hunter-gatherers and cavemen, eating relied on finding food, trapping it or catching it, and cooking it – all in the great outdoors. It seems obvious that there was no “UberPrey” delivering us fresh kills for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We had to walk everywhere (and be very lucky) to find food in the first place, let alone be skilled enough to catch it. So, sometimes we went without food. It was never on-demand exactly what we wanted.

That part is obvious, but what may be less obvious is what that did to our bodies.

In my exposure to the world of nutrition, one very common piece of information I’ve picked up is that our bodies are designed to seek and binge high-reward foods. This means dense carbs (bread, pasta, cookies, cakes, pizza, etc.) and sugar (candy, ice cream, cookies, cakes, etc.), both of which were very scarce in our primal diet.

We probably almost never had access to these things in our caveman years. Dense carbs and sugars were like the dopamine hit of the year when they appeared. As a result, when we saw an apple, we would be biologically compelled to grab it and eat the whole thing. And because they were so rare, many of the mechanisms in our body are designed to store away the nutrients in these things – as fat.

Yep, they both turn into fat.

Actually, in caveman days they probably didn’t. They probably instead got used up in the highly ambulatory lifestyle of our ancestors. The occasional packet of glucose (apple), not to mention the stored fat, was probably essential and critical for survival.

So here’s our problem:

Now, at least in the city, we have UberEats. We have AmazonFresh. We have fast food restaurants, we have grocery stores with everything we could possibly want. Food scarcity is completely not a thing.*

Not only that, but we have food scientists, hired by companies to make sure that food optimally targets alllll our reward pathways. They understand that the brain is wired to seek and crave and binge certain flavors, and they use this to mix new things that leave us bingeing and craving and spending more and more $$$ to get our fix.

TL;DR: We are literally genetically programmed to crave and binge on these high-reward foods, and food companies take advantage of this to sell products. 

In order for our bodies to be adequately able to digest things like pizza, we would have to have a significant change in our mechanisms for digesting and metabolizing nutrients. Our bodies would have to become smarter waste-disposal systems to adequately filter out all of the non-nutritious (and sometimes poisonous) crap that is in our food to make it taste good and make us want more. That change simply is not going to happen unless we have another 1,000 years to evolve over generations – simply to catch up to the food environment we have today, and that’s if nothing changes in the food industry.

So, Reason #1 that it’s not our fault that it’s hard to get healthy:

Our bodies weren’t designed for the amount and types of food that we now have at our disposal. We are programmed to become slaves to high-reward foods and the people who are making them know and exploit this fact. 

It’s not your fault, it’s an unfortunate combination of social norms, capitalism, and genetics. If you’re trying to avoid these foods, you are barraged with advertisements, pizza smells lurk around every corner, and getting happy hour with friends becomes a battle of wits with the menu and the servers to find out what the heck is in your food.

I know because I’ve been there. It sucks. It’s hard.

Other things that suck and are hard: being chronically sick. Being depressed and anxious. Having no energy.

I chose the first one simply because I was so tired of feeling ill. And you have to be extremely motivated to make changes like this happen, given all the forces working against you. For everyone who just is lethargic sometimes, who has a few skin issues, who sometimes gets an upset stomach – it may feel like more work to do the food thing than it’s worth. I feel that. If you aren’t sick, why do it?

But what if you do really want to be healthier?

My future posts are going to contain things you can do that make it less hard. It’s been almost a year now since I overhauled my diet and lifestyle, and this anniversary has me reflecting on what’s been working and what’s still not where I want it to be.

I just want to acknowledge to everyone that anyone who does anything (yes, really any little thing) to be more healthy is a hero and a champion and kudos, because it’s really hard. You’re battling social norms, misinformation, capitalism, evil food scientists, your own body – even your friends and family.

I’m with you, superhero.

 

* This is disregarding socioeconomics, location, and systemic issues – food as an access/social justice issue is a beast for a different post.

Swimming Upstream: Why It’s So Hard to “Get Healthy”

WTF is Existential-Phenomenological Psychology?

I started graduate school last week. Yes, I am working too. And I am still in my online nutrition program. Life is a little crazy.

But it’s crazy in the best way. Rarely in my life have I felt so much alignment between what I’m doing and what I love to do. I thought I’d write up a little list of things that characterize an existential-phenomenological approach to psychology, for anyone who has ever asked me and will ever ask me (although it may grow as I learn more throughout this year).

An existential-phenomenological approach holds that:

Anxiety is a human condition. As beings, we are constantly aware that someday we might cease to be.

Anxiety is a necessary part of being human. Anxiety most frequently arises when we are confronted with a change in our world (as this is close to the feeling of losing ourselves).

Change is an essential part of continuing to become as we transform throughout life. Thus, anxiety will never entirely go away (and it shouldn’t, because that would mean that we stopped transforming).

Rather than objects to be analyzed, people are dynamic beings who have the infinite potential to design their worlds (while they are also being created by their worlds).

They “design” their worlds by responding to situations. Freedom to choose a response or reaction is one of the primary features of human beings.

Humans are infinitely creative, so there are countless ways to think and feel.

Someone with a “psychological disorder” is someone who has become stuck, or locked, in a world that seems without possibilities.

The goal of therapy is to illuminate those possibilities again by means of the therapeutic relationship. The therapist endeavors to shed light on the client’s world, to help them to see it clearly, so that they can begin to think of other possible worlds.

The primary tool of a therapist is presence. The therapist must be aware of themselves while being completely present for the person before them, suspending judgment and expertise in order to listen deeply and respond.

The therapist must understand that the person across from them is another human, and that they are also human themselves. In fact, the power of therapy lies in the interaction between two humans: the creation of community.

Healing requires commitment. In order to heal, a person must be committed to becoming aware of the possibilities of their life once again.

There is no list of techniques to choose from when addressing a client. Rather, the therapist’s first job is to attempt to understand the world of the client on their own terms. Only then can the therapist attempt to help the client heal.

– End of list (for now)-

I love this approach so far, because it speaks to something that I’ve always believed: every person is a universe. We are all a product of our experiences, yet we have the freedom to influence how they continue to influence our lives. We can only do that, however, by delving into our present: our patterns, our self-talk, our habits. It requires love and attention – loving attention – to what we’re doing.

Most of us do most things automatically. I eat mindlessly. I mindlessly surf social media, mindlessly drive, mindlessly walk, mindlessly prep food…everything can be mindless.

Or it can be mindful.

We can tune in to our feelings (not second-guess or repress). We can move toward anxiety (not move away via distraction or run screaming to the hills). We can assert ourselves in our relationships. We can look for the positive. The freedom. 

The countless choices that we make every day can become intentional, real choices.

It’s challenging and worthwhile, to become the very best becomers that we can be.

WTF is Existential-Phenomenological Psychology?

The Morning Pages

Every morning, I get up and write three pages.

I’ve been doing this for – maybe 6 weeks? I’ve lost count. And even if some mornings I forget or don’t have time, I keep coming back.

I started doing this because I was struggling with my inner creative spirit. I am an artist (and everyone is), and I wasn’t letting myself create.

More than that, I wasn’t letting myself out. There are many reasons why we don’t let ourselves out into the world. My personal reasons include fear, perfectionism, boredom, obligation, lack of time, lack of money, lack of energy, worry and uncertainty about “the point.”

One of the wonderful things about working with kids is relearning how to play.

All day every day:

  • I exchange jokes with them
  • I hear about something exciting
  • I listen to a long monologue about a favorite [game, sport, activity, food, restaurant, etc.]
  • I watch them learn new things
  • I see them explore and share what they’re passionate about

I have kids who are really into basketball, horses, guinea pigs, video games, books, baseball, art, and farming equipment. No matter what it is, they are really into it.

Where does all of that enthusiasm and passion and playful spirit go, as we get older? It seems like learning to be in society means learning how not to bore others with our interests, how to talk about things everybody likes, how to please the people around us. We get filters and walls and limits that we didn’t have as babies, kids, or teenagers. There’s an open minded beauty to a child’s explorations of the world, if they feel safe and welcome to explore it.

My morning pages are my space to be a child. Or maybe they’re my space to be an adult. I write down all my dreams and worries, what I’m looking forward to and what I’m dreading. When I’m finished, three pages later, I breathe a sigh of relief and let it go.

Part of my becoming process is learning how to tap into my inner child. As a kid, I used to spend hours on my favorite activities. I had an urgent need to keep doing them. I wrote stories – novels – I played with dolls, I created entire worlds in my head. And they were real and vivid and beautiful works of art.

We all did it. We all must do it again. We have an even greater capacity as adults to imagine, dream, plan, and create.

That’s what will make the world more beautiful, one person at a time.

The Morning Pages

The Secret of Happiness

I discovered the secret of true and deep and lasting happiness.

Aren’t we all looking for happiness? Aren’t there images everywhere, all around us, of ways that we could be happier? Don’t we, in almost all of our conversations, assume that happiness is the ideal state of being?

In my nutrition school last week, we had a lecture video by Gretchen Rubin, who researches habits and habit formation.

She gave us 7 keys to happiness. Here they are:

  1. Sleep 7+ hours every night.
  2. Exercise regularly.
  3. Cultivate good smells. (my favorite)
  4. Organize possessions and declutter your space.
  5. Make your bed every morning.
  6. Establish and deepen relationships.
  7. Build self-knowledge.

These are phenomenal suggestions, some of which you and I probably already knew. I have invested significant amounts of time in all of these areas since beginning my year of intention, as I’m now calling it. And, they work. If all of us do just these seven things, I think we’d see a significant improvement in happiness.

This led me to a conclusion of my very own. The secret to happiness.

Here’s my equation:

Health > Happiness

The sign in the middle is a greater than sign, maybe. It might also be an arrow. We could read this as “health is greater than happiness,” or “health leads to happiness.”

What kind of health? All kinds of health. A healthy body, a healthy brain, a healthy spirit. In R.A. training in college we called the health areas “SMELPS” – Spiritual, Mental, Emotional, Lifestyle, Physical, and Social.

News flash:

These areas of health still matter in adulthood. Maybe more than ever.

Let me pose you a question:

Is there one thing that you know, if you did it right now, it would make you healthier? At this very moment?

Maybe it’s brushing your teeth. Maybe it’s having a glass of water. Maybe it’s reading a great book before bed. Maybe it’s listening to your favorite  music, burning a favorite candle, remembering your favorite childhood bedtime story.

Do one of these things in the next 24 hours. Do one thing that makes you healthier. Maybe more than that. If you do a thing anyway, without meaning to, pause and recognize it. Like: “hey, healthy thing. Thanks for making me feel better!”

Odds are, it’s also something that makes you happier.

Both happiness and health live in the inconsequential corners of our lives. They reside in the minutia of our mundane daily rhythms. Health and happiness are both achieved by making small, intentional choices about how we spend the next moment.

Neither are things we “achieve.” Neither are permanent, nor are they a given. They take diligence and work, but not the hard or tasking or monumental kind.

Health, and therefore happiness, take the kind of work that begins with mindful attention to what we need or want, and ends with following through to get it for ourselves. Moment by moment.

Happy moments add up to make happy lives.

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The Secret of Happiness