Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Running Bear

The day’s weather is predicted to be dreary at best today. Rainy. Cold. The fallen leaves have left our trees barren, and are still blowing around in the air, sticking to the cars and the road. It’s dark when we wake up. It’s dark when we eat dinner. It’s darker than ever just because the sun is journeying towards winter solstice - that time when light is most scarce. The house is a bit chillier than usual and we find ourselves scrambling for that winter gear that’s locked up in an attic or basement bin. “Where are those warm gloves my mom bought me last year?”
Our lips are chapping and people around us are beginning to sniffle with colds. The holidays are rushing towards us like a flood, carrying debris of cookies and cakes and pies and all things loaded with sugar and fat. We eat more than usual and want nothing more than to stay in our cozy beds like hibernating bears.
But we’re not bears and we don’t want to fatten up during these next few months! So, what’s the solution?
Winter running might seem daunting at first. Looking out the window, you might picture yourself being soaked to the bone, cold, slipping on the wet leaves or snow. And all of the above can happen and has happened to a few of us. But there are benefits to a winter run that far outweigh any of those imagined pitfalls.
A winter run is exhilarating. Being outside in the elements when everything inside of you screams, “Just lay here on the couch in this warm living room with the clicker and that bowl of popcorn!” is an indescribable feeling. You stand there thinking at first that you’re nuts, but realize quickly how easy and refreshing a winter run can be. It really is just a matter of getting out there.
So, rather than succumb to the lazy voices in your head, and millions of years of hardwiring that is telling you to fatten up during the cold months, take these tips and give your winter a new mindset. Let that drive to feel good and get out there come from something on the inside. Don’t be deterred by anything on the outside. See the weather as irrelevant.
Read the following tips on cold weather exercise and revamp your holiday wish list accordingly:
1.    Layer up. Wear clothes that can be loosened or removed to regulate temperature. For your innermost layer, choose synthetic clothing that will whisk the perspiration away from your skin.
2.    Shield your extremities. Winter shoes should have more traction. Pus, make room for warm socks. Try thin, synthetic layers underneath heavier gloves. Minimize heat loss by wearing a wind-resistant cap. Protect ears with earmuffs or thick headband.
3.   Hydrate. Even in the cold, your body loses moisture as it humidifies the cold air you inhale.
4.    Just get out there. That is by far the most challenging part of a winter run.

Be the running bear!

Tips adapted from Consumer Reports on Health Vol. 23 Num. 12

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Happy Birthday

Today is my birthday so I’m treating myself to writing in the early hours about it. It’s 3:15 AM. Coffee is brewed. It’s dark everywhere in the house except for the glow of my laptop. I hear the fan whirring upstairs, a trick we used to muffle sounds that could potentially wake the sleeping baby. Seventeen years of whirring later, the girls still like their white noise makers.

When I think of the time that has passed, I picture someone flipping through a small day calendar at a fury’s pace. Days blur into months and years. I’m 48 years old. Seriously? That adds up to a lot of hours on earth and when I grapple with how I spent that time, I get a pang of anxiety.

Has it been wasted? Have I loved enough? Have I accomplished what I set out to do? Do I even know, yet, what that was supposed to be?

The quiet of the morning forces a pause. There’s no calendar. No worries. No place to be. Just stillness. I can give thanks in this place. Here, I don’t have to peruse my mind and obsess on the rough spots in my life or try to focus on all that is good. Here, I just sit and feel thankful.

Every bruise is just as wonderful as every smile. As I get older, I appreciate the rougher moments and see them like a roaring river after a storm. The fallen branches litter its bank as the waters gush, my heart that stone being tossed around. I bump along not even realizing how smooth those rough waters have made me. People who know me know when I tossed in that river. People who don’t will wonder. That’s life, isn’t it? We can’t know every detail. But I will say that what we should know is that everyone gets tossed about. It’s part of the journey. I’m also starting to believe that no matter how much we have endured in life, the endings are all happy.

The good news for me on this day is that I realize I am still writing my life’s story. I can still make choices.

Some promises I want to keep:
1. Accept I have hot flashes AND braces and it’s OK.
2. Don't take friends for granted, ever.
3. Encourage those aching knees as they walk down the stairs, remembering they've walked me to many places in my life.
4. Take risks in the creative realm because no one really cares.
5. Dive into my heart even if it hurts.
6. Eat to nourish, but never say no to chocolate.
7. Say thank-you more than please.
8. Notice light as it dances around the world.
9. Remember sexy comes from the inside.
10. Love. Love. Love. Especially those who have to put up with me on a daily basis.

Finally... Smile no matter what because all endings are happy.

"The wrong in the world continues to exist just because people talk only of their ideals, and do not strive to put them into practice. If actions took the place of words, the world's misery would very soon be changed into comfort."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

It's Just A Face (or is it?)

Life busted my face, the one the world sees. Well, not “life,” actually, but an oral surgeon.

Either way, how can I not see that as a metaphor?

These last four weeks, watching my face transform from bruised and swollen to pale and thin from a life of pudding, I see so much more than a face. I see never-ending change with no idea how it will end.

A face is a funny thing. It is what we present to the world. We are humans with many facets, many sides. Our physical face is what we project into the world as who we are. It smiles. It cries. It contorts with pain. It expresses all of the emotion we have inside of us. It also holds the eyes that reach deep into our souls, telling our stories.

And mine is changing beyond my control. 

Although the changes I am noticing are jarring and unrecognizable to me because I’ve grown comfortable over the years with the only face I’ve ever known, I walk with faith through this thorny path of change knowing, on some level, that the face I show the world will be different in six months. How different? I don't know.

How can I not see this as a metaphor?

Right now, I still resemble Underdog’s girlfriend, Polly Purebred, with a swollen upper lip. As I brush with Colgate, the gappy teeth, punctuated with a darkened dead front tooth, smiles back at me. The stitches lining my entire jawbone sag into my not-so-pearly whites like a bad sewing job, and I scrub, hoping infection doesn’t set in.

The face I show the world is changing – literally -- and, with this change, I imagine I might show a new face -- figuratively -- as well. Perhaps a new side of me, more vulnerable or authentic, will surface.

Having one’s face disfigured and texting grotesque pictures to friends is vulnerable. There were a lot of “yucks and pity,” which might not be the response we’d like from showing our face to the world, but that's what happened. Many people thought Tim had abused me. Some people asked if I’d gotten a boob job and was distracting the world with this “jaw surgery” (more than a few!). Some quipped that they wouldn’t have had the guts to go out “looking like that” and even suggested in a joking way that I “cover up”. The structural change in my face rendered even Maybelline powerless.

I continue to lisp everywhere I go, trying to enunciate words that used to flow out with ease, and I cannot chew until June 10, which means slurping soups anytime I do go out. Of course, my face is still swollen and numb so the soup, more often than not, spills onto my morphing face and I don’t even know it.

So how has the physical change in my face changed me?

I don’t know yet.

But how can I not see this as a metaphor? 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

When Food Isn't Fun Anymore

Diet books are nothing new. They’ve been littering our bookshelves forever and, even though they’re all glitzed with different titles, they all end up giving us the same broader-stroked message, “Just stop what you’ve been doing.”

I know it’s not that simple. Having practiced nutrition for over twenty years, I am intimate with the complexities of the simple human need to eat, but I’ve had the forced experience of “stopping what I’m doing” these past couple of weeks and am now asking a new question.

What if we took the pleasure and fun out of food?

Before you pounce on me, let me explain. I was diagnosed with maxillary hypoplasia a couple of years back (fancy word for tiny upper jaw) and finally took the plunge to surgically correct it. As a result, I cannot put my teeth together for six weeks while the broken upper palate bone heals. My food intake is now limited to what can be tossed down the gullet effortlessly – creamed soups, puddings, mashed potatoes, and shakes. I am a crunchy girl at heart, detesting the bland, white and mushy food world. I prefer the textured world of salads, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Anything with crunch! I am now imprisoned in pudding hell, but can’t help but try to find a silver lining.

What is it?

Well, for one, I’m being forced to evaluate what life is like when you take pleasure and fun out of food. It’s not the same for me as it would be for others because I prefer salads to ice cream, but pleasure has been ripped away from my eating experience. It’s no fun cooking a beautiful meal for my family and then sitting down to slurp my bowl of soup. This new reality brings me back to my original question.

What if we all took the pleasure and fun out of food? Even for an imaginary moment. How would that change your life?

Don’t panic. No one is going to actually do it. Let’s just examine the concept and the basic equation of eating.

Eating  = Necessity + Pleasure

We must eat to live, no? Necessity is eating to survive and choosing those foods that will enhance survival. Necessity is food for fuel. But we also enjoy eating food, which is a good thing. It gives us the drive to eat. If the pleasure component is missing completely, we might not be compelled to eat and we would risk malnutrition. In summary, we need both necessity and pleasure, but in balance.  

I can assure you that we’re collectively out of balance, which is a big culprit in our plight with obesity and obesity-related diseases. Our scales have tipped to pleasure (and it shows), but it’s not really our fault. After all, we are wired to get pleasure from food. It’s human, natural and wonderful.

However, food addiction is at an all-time high because the dopamine-releasing ability of food is at an all-time high.

Scientists are discovering that our human brains reach a bliss point, which is when our brain’s pleasure centers get bombarded and stimulated, when we eat foods with a triple threat power of sugar, fat and salt combined. We can all picture the salted caramel flavors flooding our markets and giving us that sublime eye-roll to the backs of our heads. It’s instantaneous pleasure. Chocolate-covered bacon, anyone?

Don’t think for a second that “food” manufacturers (do I have to call Cap’n Crunch “food”?) are not fully aware of food’s addictive powers. They’re jacking up our food every day. Even Bolthouse (sorry guys), which produces “healthy” juices, has a salted caramel flavor now. When I asked the booth guy at the food show why they went in that direction, with added sweet and salt, he explained, “It’s a healthier alternative to Starbucks.”

Is cocaine a healthier alternative to crack?

I can rant. And I will. But I’ll stop now and leave you with the original question.

What if we took the pleasure and fun out of food?

First off. Most food companies would go out of business because most of the food we buy is for pleasure, not necessity. Just troll the aisles and most of what we eat isn’t even food anymore by the time it goes into a box on a grocery market shelf. We eat it because it tastes good and our brains sing with pleasure. Is it really enhancing our survival? No. It’s probably killing us, but we still buy it because it is the pleasure part of the equation driving us to eat.

Is there anything we can do to reverse it? Food addiction is serious. In addition to obesity and obesity-related diseases, it can lead to a slew of mental health problems because our brain chemicals go whacky when we eat for pleasure. It starts a vicious cycle of highs and lows that begin to drive our eating behaviors. Skittles are just sugar-coated crack. Pretty and colorful and blissful sugar-coated crack.

Perhaps America could start a national twelve-step program.

“Hi, my name is America, and I’m a food addict.”

Admitting it might be the first step.

Now -- where is that salted caramel pudding?

(Photo robbed from

Monday, April 22, 2013

So Long, Crunchy Friend

Dear Lettuce,

You have been such a dear, always there for me. I will miss you.

It’s only going to be six weeks, but I wanted to make sure I told you how I felt before saying goodbye. Honestly, the thought of living without you for six weeks is unbearable. I have perused my pantry and fridge, and felt no emotional tug with anything but you. There you sit in my crisper, so cool and versatile. Just looking at you, knowing you will not be in my life, brings a sadness I can’t explain. I’m not sure living without you can make me appreciate you any more than I do now because I am so grateful for all you have done for me, Lettuce.

I will miss you mostly as the foundation of my salads, something I eat every single day. Did I tell you how wonderful you are? I can dress you with a wide variety of flavors, nuts, seeds and crunch. I can take you anywhere – to a holiday gathering, a mourning friend or a picnic. You’re wonderful for my digestion, keeping me regular and healthy. You’re the perfect balance of crunch and water and you give me so many rich nutrients right from the ground.

Please know you will be the first I run to when I can chew again.
Forever in health and crunch,


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Why French Women Don’t Get Fat, But The American Women Who Go To France Do

OK, I’ll just speak for myself here.

Why do I get fat every time I go to France?

We know you French women, as a stereotype, are so “plus petite” (and you are) so I ask myself, "Why do I plump up every time I spend more than an hour there?"

I lived in France many years ago and just returned from a five-day sojourn in Paris. Thank God it was only five days! After two, I could feel the familiar lull take over. It goes something like this. “Baguettes and croissants must not be fattening. They’re everywhere and the French women are so thin!” Or maybe it sounds like this. “A crepe here and there won’t kill me. Look at those tiny French women!” Or this. “Butter is real food, not like all those processed trans fat spreads over in America. Can’t be bad. Slather it on! Better yet, carve out a piece the size of a slice of cheddar cheese and wrap that baguette around it!”

When I spent my year abroad in France (a long, long time ago), I gained about twenty pounds. The “year-abroad twenty” was far more shocking than the freshman fifteen. Now in midlife, I only needed five days to gain five pounds. One whiff of the boulangerie and this healthy eating, gym-going, regimented mom of three let the epicure inside of me take over. Taste, pleasure, sensation and enjoyment became the rules of the food game. “Healthy” was implied, right? After all, the food is all real and magnificent and, as we have already established, the French women are doing something right.

But what happens when you put a typical super-sized thinking American into a culture of deliciousness? Five pounds in five days. That’s what happens.

I don’t come out looking French. I come out an even fatter American because I brought my over-sized, “may I have a third café au lait?” mindset with me to the land of small delicacies.

In England, we could order the “big white Americano” coffee. They sympathize with our gross perceptions of food. In France, the demitasse should suffice. But, of course, it didn’t. I needed three to get my eyes open.

So, OK, French women. I get it. I know you're all thin and mysterious about it. But I also know that when you're sauntering around your beautiful Paris, you're not drooling at the fromagerie windows or dreaming about the pain du chocolat you'll be having the next morning. I know you have perspective and balance about your food. 

Maybe someday I will learn to drink from a smaller glass.

I know that's what you do.