10 Things That Are Keeping Me Healthy in Hectic Times

Prioritizing myself. This comes first because it is the prerequisite for everything else. It lies in the smallest of concrete decisions I make. Do I take an extra half hour before work to eat a nice breakfast? Do I take a water and pee break in the middle of class? Do I skip a social occasion to get some sleep? Do I skip out on some sleep to feed my friendships? I actually have many more choices than I thought. Behaving like everything is my choice is liberating.

NOT sticking to a routine. I’ve found that my “routine” has to be adaptable. Some days I wake up in the morning and I don’t feel like doing yoga; I feel like journaling. Sometimes I don’t feel like waking up and I stay in bed an extra half hour. Some days I make an on-the-go breakfast and other days I sit down with myself for a while. When I’ve tried to force myself to do the same thing every day, it has started to feel like a chore, enslaving me instead of freeing me to be myself. It’s important to remember that¬†anything you do for your health should ultimately be more reward than punishment. If you don’t enjoy it, it won’t last.

Being prepared.¬†I’ve almost forgotten what it feels like to have nothing in the fridge for dinner. I make plans, but I make my plans flexible; I’ll shop for a certain set of recipes or ideas but switch them around depending on what I feel like eating on a given day. I pack my lunches as I’m putting away my dinner leftovers. I started craving food every evening during class, so now I make myself a smoothie before I leave the house and sip on it when I feel hungry.

Snacking. I think my natural rhythm is to eat 6 small meals a day. When I eat a normal three-meals-a-day meal, I feel super bloated and uncomfortable. And, no matter how much I eat at breakfast, I am always hungry by 10:30! At first I fought this, now I listen to myself and just pack snacks that I munch on throughout the day.

(Trying to) sleep. I say trying to because I still can’t really figure out how to sleep through the night. I’ve been waking up at 2:30AM consistently, and it’s not super fun. I think the key is to cut caffeine and take all my supplements, but it’s hard to cut caffeine when I’m tired! Regardless, I go to bed around 9/9:30 every night that I can. That has helped immensely.

Mindful technology use. I don’t keep my phone in my bedroom anymore. Every night, I plug it in in the living room around 9 and go to bed. I read or chat with my boyfriend, usually, and then it’s easy to wind down. Similarly, my mornings are my sacred tech-free space. I never usually check my phone until I get to work, and the extra time has become so special that I don’t even want to spend those quiet AM hours checking InstaStories anymore.

Paying attention to my emotional state. Notice, I just pay attention; I don’t try to change my emotional states from negative to positive. I don’t really believe in this. If I try to change how I feel, it’s generally in ways that don’t actually serve me. If I feel what I feel, I’m more likely to be accepting toward myself – no need for modification, just some kind attention to my status. If I’m dwelling or unable to emerge from a negative state, I have an arsenal of things that help me feel better.

Listening to my own voice. Again, this feels vague – it’s not. I¬†concretely try to listen to my own voice. I have the voice in my head that narrates my thoughts and tries to process my days. I have the voice in my journal, who usually starts to sound very wise and grounded if I pay attention to her. I have my blog voice, my voice in class, my teacher voice, my therapist voice, my daughter voice, my sister voice, my friend voice. All of us communicate in such a huge variety of contexts. Becoming familiar with my voice has helped me navigate all of this “health” stuff from a grounded place.

Asking for support. I recently decided not to worry if I need support. My coworkers are kind, my friends are great, my boyfriend is steady and reliable, and my parents are in town. There is a large support network to be leaned on if ever I need it. Knowing that it’s okay to ask for help has actually made me need help less. I am secure in just knowing that it’s there.

Not giving up on myself. I was listening to a podcast this morning (School of Greatness by Lewis Howes, with guest Chen Lizra) and one of my favorite parts was her talking about her perseverance in dealing with her own mental illness. It took her ten years of hard, engaged work, of putting it all together and it all falling¬†apart. It reminded me of my now more than a year of trying to figure out how to feed and love myself, how to heal my physical illness. She said that it’s a tremendously hard thing to keep your vision of how things could be alive in spite of all the evidence trying to break that vision down. It would be easy for me to give up on trying to be healthy because I can’t be perfect, because sometimes things fall apart. It takes a lot of perseverance and it’s hard to get adequate support.

But, not giving up is one of the most important and hardest things I’ve done. I’m living on faith that I won’t have to try so hard one day. Or, even if I do have to try my entire life, feeling my best is worth it.

Oh, and one last thing: TREAT YOSELF! I would not be very happy without the occasional Friday night pizza delivery.

 

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Pizza: cashew basil sauce, gluten free crust, and vegan cheez.
10 Things That Are Keeping Me Healthy in Hectic Times

What is Health?

One of the ambiguities we face today is a crisis in the definition of health. What is health, anyway?

Many people describe it as the absence of disease. No germs, I’m healthy. Germs, I’m unhealthy. Concern for health is relegated to times of sickness.

Others judge health by looking. If I am overweight, I’m unhealthy. If I’m thin, I’m healthy. If my skin is breaking out: not healthy. Health is relegated to the realm of appearance.

Still others define health by movement. If I have worked out today, I’m healthy. If I haven’t worked out in a while, boo me. I’m unhealthy. Health is determined by how much I’ve¬†exercised.

There are even more ways that we can define health. There are many more factors that indicate health. Here’s what’s revolutionary:

Focusing on any¬†one¬†of these things¬†alone does not truly lead to “health.”

Health is everything. Health is how you look, but health is also¬†how you see yourself. Health is what you eat, but health is also¬†why, how and when¬†you eat. Health is about how much you exercise, but it’s also about¬†why and how¬†you exercise and even¬†whether or not you’re enjoying it.

There are so many articles coming out these days about how we define health. There are articles claiming that certain things are healthy or unhealthy. There is writing in defense of anything we want to defend and writing attacking everything that others are defending, too. It’s nearly impossible to figure out what is “objectively”¬†healthy or not.

Here’s a radical idea:

You already know.

You know what feels healthy in your own life and what doesn’t. By that I mean: you know what brings you joy, what causes you pain, what obscures and distracts from your feelings. You know, somewhere, why you do things and how you could change the way you do them to be “healthier.” What’s hardest is to¬†listen.

Some people, instead of listening, opt for control. They opt for rules that say what’s healthy and what’s not healthy so that they don’t have to think about it. I did this; the Whole30 and other programs like it are one of many ways to do this. It can be a good way to break yourself out of a rut. It is not the only way to live life in the day-to-day.

We are already our own best critics. Most of us have no end to the judgments we can place on ourselves, especially when it comes to our health. We are not, however, our own best friends or listeners. 

Maybe health is actually just….

…being friends with yourself.

Assuming our friendships are healthy, those are often the places where we shine in our treatment of others. We are willing to be there, to listen, to pick each other up when we aren’t feeling good. We encourage each other to rest when we’re tired or sick, and to cry and wallow when we break up with someone or suffer a loss.

Wouldn’t we be healthier if we treated ourselves this way, too?

 

What is Health?

How to Develop “Self-Love”

I am surrounded by people who run themselves ragged.

Sometimes, I am even one of them.

I and everyone else need the message that I’m writing about today.

One morning last week, as I was driving to school in the rain, I felt frenetically energetic. I was writing this message in my head. It is so important. It is life or death.

Be loving toward yourself.

 

There are so many reasons that this is important that I could go into a whole series of posts about it. But, here’s the main one:

You can neither serve others nor yourself unless you are able to be loving.

Let’s look at what it means to¬†take care of something or someone. We use this term for work, we use it for friendship and romantic relationships, and we use it for the things on our to-do lists. But what does it really mean? What do we need in order to be able to take care of the things and the people in our lives?

We need care.

The existentialists that I’m reading in my coursework are concerned with the fundamental question: what does it mean to be human? In an article we read recently, human beings were contrasted with animals, rocks, and objects in that we are beings that are fundamentally concerned with what it means to be. We are constantly, whether intentionally or not, trying to make sense of our lives and the things that happen to us, and we are writing narratives in our heads about the meanings of these circumstances that we encounter.

If we aren’t doing that intentionally (and no one is, 100% of the time), we are doing it automatically: we take in what we see hear, smell, taste, and experience and we incorporate it into our vast and deeply-rooted perception of ourselves. This perception of ourselves shapes what we do, feel, believe, and think.

Therefore, as humans, we¬†care about being human. Maybe not in the day-to-day, language-world that we live in, but in a deep “existential” sense. How we treat ourselves and how we interpret the world affect our way of being in everyday life: how we think and feel about ourselves MATTERS.

This philosophical idea means that we all naturally have the instinct to care, however far it is shoved down in the living out of our daily lives. Everything affects us, whether we wish it would or not. Every daily practice shapes the way we think, feel and write our own stories.

The primary person that we need to care for is ourselves. In caring for ourselves, we learn how to care. It’s difficult to care for ourselves when we’ve never learned how, or we’ve learned ways of being that actively work against this natural caring. It’s difficult when we never pause to think about our own needs.

Caring for ourselves, in practice, is self-care. Self-love.

I was watching an Instagram live last night by one of my favorite wellness coach inspirations who I don’t actually know in real life (the power of technology)*, and she said something really important. Someone had written her a hate message, saying that nobody could realistically be “healthy” like she is if they actually have a real, 9-5 job. Lauren’s response stuck with me, because it struck me as so actionable and so important. Her first point was this:

If you truly want to be healthy, you must learn to put your needs first.

Her concrete suggestion for this was what she called “take a beat.” When someone asks you if you want to do something,¬†take a moment and think/feel to yourself,¬†do I really want to do that?

When you come home after a long day, and all you want is a glass of wine and a piece of chocolate, take a moment and ask yourself, what am I really looking for right now? What do I really need? 

Even if the answer is that you don’t know, it’s worth asking. One day, you might know.

In order to do this, you must become convinced that:

You are important.

You know what you need better than anyone else does.

I’m currently taking an ethics class, in which we’re discussing Levinas and his idea that being truly ethical is to serve others. In order to serve others, we must be ready and waiting to hear what they need and to respond to their call. Responding rests on our¬†responsibility, or our ability to respond.

Now I’m thinking that the ability to respond relies on our ability to be loving.

We cannot be loving if we are preoccupied.

We cannot be loving if we are anxious.

We cannot be loving if we are mean to ourselves.

We cannot be loving if we do not recognize that there are people around us with needs, because we are so absorbed in our own unmet ones.

We cannot be loving if we are agreeing to things willy-nilly and are not saving time for ourselves.

If we are worried, preoccupied, victimized, and unloving toward ourselves, we can only be¬†obligated. It’s true that there are some things we just have to do. With a little awareness, we can decide which things are in that category and which things really aren’t. We can save room in our lives for the practice of loving, and that practice will make us more invested in our own lives and the lives of others.

Being loving is not a permanent state. We can’t expect to be our full, loving, careful selves all the time. Sometimes, we really will be anxious and preoccupied. We will have stressors come into our lives that make many things obligatory. We can still come back to loving ourselves through it all. That might look like patience. That might look like taking a tiny break. That might look like trying to imagine a life where nothing is troubling. That might look like sleeping and eating, drinking water: doing things to keep yourself alive.

Being loving is a¬†practice. We practice every day, with every small decision that we make. When we “take a beat,” what we are really doing is learning how to really look deeply into ourselves and care about our own needs.

Being loving is where true, holistic health comes from. My wellness coach “friend” was right: we can’t do anything about our health if we aren’t willing to think seriously about our needs and take seriously the fulfillment of them. It’s a serious business, being loving, and it is hard.

I’ve come up with a couple more posts about this, which I’ll release later.

The important thing to realize is that being loving does not come with the fixing of all the problems or the addressing of all the life stuff.

Being loving comes first.

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*Lauren’s website is here, her Instagram is pretty great too.

 

 

How to Develop “Self-Love”

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 Рas 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”

Optimization

That title actually made me think of something completely different than what I’m going to write about. Or is it different? One of the Roman emperors, in legitimizing his supreme authority, called himself “Optimus Augustus,” which basically means the BEST Augustus of all the Augustuses (“Augustus” being a title of a Roman emperor in the late Empire).

Why do I know this, you wonder? I’ve been taking Ancient Roman History this summer for funzies, and also for my new job as Latin teacher (which starts Monday!). I just finished up that class and another which I was teaching, and I’m officially on summer vacation….for two more days.

Anyway, the best of the best Augustuses, Optimus Augustus, relates to my post because I was going to write about this interesting tendency I’ve noticed in myself: the need to optimize.

I guess it’s both a larger societal trend and a pervasive social and cultural pressure in our nation of¬†individualistic entrepreneurs. I mean, we are constantly under pressure to compete for the coolest “Insta”posts, the best vacations, the hottest body, the best job…you name it, we want to optimize it. I guess I knew this, but I’ve been realizing that I also do it in my head, to myself. I want to be a better person, a better teacher, set new goals and challenges for myself, succeed in new and different ways. I think this drive is super important for my future success. And yet…

Sometimes, I think there should be more said for accepting people, places, and things for what they are. The problem with wanting to improve everything is that the already-great things don’t get enough appreciation or credit for how great they are. I don’t get to enjoy the small moments of gratitude for what I have, if I’m focused on where I’m going next. I don’t get to appreciate what’s in my life for what it is, if I’m thinking of how it could be better.

Furthermore, who’s to say that there will ever be an Optima Anne, the best of the best, with the best life and the best people in it. I don’t even like to think that there’s an end to self-betterment, because that makes it a linear, rigid process. With that mentality, I guess I won’t be the best until I’m nearly dead…

So in the meantime, here’s to celebrating all of the journey – meaningful or not, pleasant or not, optimal or not. It’s all worth learning.

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Optimization

An Ode to the Body

Why are so many of us so ashamed of and negative about our bodies?

Earlier this month I¬†was¬†sick, unable to leave my bed, for about twelve¬†days. I had to cancel a trip to Central Europe with friends because I wouldn’t have been able to rough it to the necessary extent. I was disappointed and frustrated, and for a while I was angry at my body for not allowing me to go.

Being sick does something to my mentality: I become totally apathetic about how I look, because all that really matters is how I feel. The sick days were a blur: hours and hours of Mad Men, sick episodes and intense pain, the dire need to take care of myself and get better, and treat my body well to do so.

The weirdest thing about inhabiting a body is that nobody really knows how it feels to be in that body. In that way, emotions are easier: we can imagine similar situations, we can conjure up and remember and articulate similar feelings to someone else’s. Don’t get me wrong, we can’t ever know how someone feels, either. But I think there’s a better chance of approximation.

Even more relevantly, emotions are totally internal. It’s a choice to externalize them, and we choose what to externalize. Bodies are external whether we like it or not. We can’t erase or change or manipulate or re-articulate them like we like to think we can do with feelings. We can’t filter them, and we can’t hide them. We try.

We look at skinny, beautiful supermodels and think they must feel skinny¬†and slender. We look at fat and ugly people and think they must feel fat and ugly. But these are not feelings. These are labels. Labels are cultural constructs, imposed by a long tradition of thinking that fat = ugly and skinny = beautiful. Guess what! In the middle ages, fat = beautiful and skinny = ugly. Pale = beautiful and tan = ugly. Tan & skinny used to mean poor and working class, now it means¬†beach babe. Labels are what “other people” (who have been influenced by these cultural constructs) think. We have also been influenced by these same cultural constructs, and we have been influenced by what people think and say about us. Double whammy.

But here’s what I think: What other people think¬†means nothing about how someone actually feels in their own skin.¬†

I have had beautiful friends tell me that they feel: bloated, pale, insecure about such and such body part, like every day is a bad hair day, that they wish they had this instead of that body type, etc. etc. etc. I have friends with chronic illnesses, with sensitive stomachs, with other health issues that affect everyday life in their body. I have had all of the above, and my concept of myself changes all the time.

My new personal rules for my treatment of my body are these:

1) Do what feels good. If it feels good to stretch, do it. If it feels good to go outside and run around, do it. If it feels like something hurts, don’t irritate it more. If it feels hungry, feed it. If it feels tired, rest it. And the most important first step to this is to pay attention to what it wants in the first place!

2) Respect and appreciate it for what is special about it, and what it can do. My personal challenge to myself is to notice one thing I love about my body every day. I write it down, as often as I can. Some days, I like my freckles. Some days, I love the way my freshly-polished fingernails look on my keyboard. Other days I appreciate my soft stomach, on still others it’s my red hair and the way it’s nearly orange in the sunlight. Every person’s body deserves a whole lot of respect for what it¬†can do and is, not negativity for what it¬†can’t do or isn’t.

3) Even if you push it, push it lovingly. Parents love you and want you to be your best self because they care so much, so they push you out of your comfort zone sometimes; be a loving parent to your body. When I push my body, it’s because I want it to feel like it is its best self. Exercise is a privilege, not a punishment. When it does something awesome that exceeds expectations, take a moment and appreciate that!

Paying attention to all of the negative thoughts and feelings is the first step. Learning to transform them is the second. Cultivating unconditional love for my body will be a process that will have its ups and downs for my entire life, because it will constantly be changing. But I think loving it unconditionally is the most important way to improve my quality of life; life is best when I feel super awesome in my own skin. And, since having a body is one of the most basic things we all have in common, everyone can help each other have less shame instead of more!

An Ode to the Body

A Mathematical Analysis of Experience

I’ve come up with a simple formula for life.

life = choices + circumstances

People disagree on what kind of ratio of choices to circumstances there should be in this equation. I think it’s all about balance, and that the difference comes out of people’s attitudes about agency.

Some people think it’s all about circumstance: nothing is ultimately under our control, all things are circumstantial, life happens to us and there’s zip to do about it.

Other people would argue that it’s all a matter of choice. I tend to be this way more than the other, because I think we all have¬†agency in our lives. However, I’m learning that sometimes it’s equally dangerous to take too much responsibility¬†as it is to take too little. Some circumstances, in fact,¬†are insurmountable.

This first few months, I’ve encountered many an insurmountable circumstance. That’s arguably one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from living abroad — shit happens, sometimes all you can do is make the best of it.

Some other times, there isn’t even a “best” of it. There was nothing positive about my ex-neighbor waking up and waking me up every morning at 3:30 AM. There’s nothing positive about having long, drawn out gaps in my teaching schedule during which I can’t go home. There isn’t anything good about confronting innumerable bureaucratic hurdles every time I want to do anything “official” here.

In light of this, it’s time for me to revisit one of my favorite quotes/ideas:

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The most consistently positive times of my life have been characterized not by extreme highs or unparalleled excitement, but by a constant feeling of profound contentment. Peace. Feeling stable and secure.

What I’m reminding myself of now, as I’m feeling unsettled and upset and uprooted, is that I can’t always control WHAT I experience, but I can control HOW I experience it. I can’t control what I feel, but I can control my response to my¬†feelings. In short, I can control how well I take care of my internal sanctuary so that I can better weather the entirely circumstantial woes.

inner peace = self-care + perspective

Why do I need an internal sanctuary? Because my internal world is the only consistent world there is. How I see the world is how the world is for me. A lot of times I think we cling so hard to objective “reality” that we forget how much power our subjective view of the world has to shape our reality.

If I think life is always going to be fun, or always going to be hard, it will be. If I have “peace in my heart,” there will be peace in my life.

A Mathematical Analysis of Experience