How Hard It Is

My dog died. She was 11 years old. It’s a short life, even in “dog years,” by whatever formula.

Ginger was adopted from a Humane Society in Hawaii. She took her last breath in California, far from her island home. Her first two years appeared to have been rather troubled, and she wasn’t what I thought I wanted in a dog. I went seeking a pocketbook dog, the kind that snuggles quietly into a shoulder bag and looks adorable riding shotgun down country roads.

The first time she saw me, all 20 pounds of her went nuts. She barked, jumped, and executed several squirming spins: a red whirlwind. Definitely not the well-mannered teeny pal I anticipated. Her info said she was an Irish Terrier mix. Her enthusiasm convinced me of the terrier-part. Every time I visited the shelter, she would greet me, but in an increasingly well-mannered way.

In the end, after months of weekly visits seeking the right match, I selected her because she was at the top of the kill list at the shelter and because volunteers told me she had a delightful temperament. They didn’t know she got car-sick, so the fantasy of cruising around with her in the passenger seat never came to pass. But they also didn’t know she was house-broken, so she had a quick and painless transition to condo-dweller.

She loved children, without reservation, and seemed giddy in their presence. That she spent most of her life with an aging woman in a community where the neighborhood children (before we moved to the Mainland) threw rocks at her is a little sad, but she made up for it. She spent her last year chasing two boys, trying her best to unearth gophers, and sleeping in the lush grass that grew beneath the trampoline. She had a blast loving those boys up-close. Even in the days after she became ill, she would disappear when the boys were gone and I’d find her either in one of their bedrooms or stretched out in the hallway near their bedrooms, watching for them to get home. She even had an in-house cat-friend with whom she somehow negotiated a peace agreement.

The only time in 9 years that I saw her behave defensively involved a large Rottweiler. The dog got in her face while the owner chattered. I asked the person holding the leash to move the dog away from us as Ginger cowered. I explained that she didn’t like big dogs. The owner commented about him being harmless, though invasive, and when the big dog didn’t back off, Ginger let out a sharp bark and snapped at him, convincing me she had some gumption. But with the kids who threw things at her? She always watched them longingly, tail wagging, ready to join in.

Sage from the Past

For years I carried around a newspaper article. I believe it came from the San Francisco Examiner before it merged with the Chronicle. It was written by Herb Caen. Every Sunday, after Mass, we’d pick up some freshly made linguiça and a copy of the Sunday newspaper. My dad referred to San Francisco simply as The City; to him there were no others. During my teens one of the few things we shared was the love of The City and that journalist’s columns.

I know I’m not doing the piece justice. The article was about the loss of a pet. In this case, I believe a dog. The title I remember was “How Hard It Is to Care.” There had been an airline crash and the column compared and contrasted losses that are very personal with ones that are distant. Without disrespecting anyone’s loss, it pointed out the challenge, after thinking about how awful each disaster was, to feel as deeply sad about the fate of strangers while profoundly easy to fall apart over something more personal but small in the grand scheme of things, like the loss of a pet.

Ginger was an active older-girl, though she loved her naps as well, and after she became ill she seemed to disappear rather quickly – in a week. Sparing a recitation of her physical symptoms, the medications she took helped in some ways, but the side-effects left her miserable. The only thing she would take voluntarily was CBD Oil (the vet had suggested this as a possible option), water, and a little chicken broth. Within 5 days she couldn’t stand or walk, though on day 6 she still crawled on her belly to get around, turning limp by the last day.

The veterinary hospital treated her well during the few visits we made. They thought she had gotten into something toxic, but we couldn’t figure out what that might have been.

The last few days she was always nearby, so we did have a chance to tell her goodbye, thank her, and call her a good girl a lot, though the pats and strokes and words, as time passed, elicited less and less of the usual tail-wagging. Meanwhile, the weather was not pleasant, the news sucked, and from my little cocoon with all focus on my dear dog, it was very hard to care about much else. From a focus of self-compassion, I remind myself that’s human and okay.

I did learn a lot from Ginger, I realized. Now’s a good time to share.

Lessons from the Furred-4Legged-World

=Ginger spent a lot of her time chasing lizards and chickens. She never caught a single one, but never tired of trying.

Lesson: Sometimes it’s good to do things you know you won’t succeed in. Maybe doing so will sharpen your senses, or perhaps it will increase your appreciation for those who can do those things. After all, not everyone can be in the NBA, but most folks can play with a basketball.


=Ginger enjoyed rolling in the grass, even when her fur picked up leaves, dirt and sticks that she wore like jewelry.

Lesson: Sometimes cutting loose can be a beautiful thing, even if it requires a little messiness.


=Ginger liked to run, though she seemed more of a sprinter than a long-distance fan, she could keep moving when motivated (like when someone left the gate open and ran after her).

Lesson: Don’t wait until someone is chasing you to do things you enjoy, even if you can only do them for a few moments.


=Ginger got along well with cats. Even feral cats warmed up to her.

Lesson: Reaching out to others who seem very different can be difficult but spending a life close to creatures just like you can be really boring and unimpressive.


=Ginger’s topcoat was curly, and she hated getting it wet. She didn’t even like to get her paws wet so hated leaving shelter on rainy days. When forced, she’d run outside, stay as close as possible, relieve herself quickly, and rush back inside.

Lesson: It’s good to put ourselves outside our comfort zone now and then, particularly when we have the luxury of a place to return to that feels like home.

Money, Grief, and Transitions

Years ago I met a young woman, a hairstylist in a high-end salon, who told me she had one credit card. Every few years, she paid it off and then maxed it out again. For example, the previous year she and her partner quit their jobs, bought tickets to Bali, and stayed for months. They used the magic credit card, and when it reached the limit, they returned home, secured jobs, and worked hard to pay it off. As soon as they made the last payment, they would begin planning and packing for their next no-frills adventure.

At the time it seemed a bit extreme to me. I saw it as quitting jobs and flying off to another continent to roam around for a few months, leaving behind some new friends, and returning with a lot of debt and a bag full of memories. I thought, why not save for the trip?

Then I realized, despite decades of saving for retirement, all I have to show is a paltry 401k that wouldn’t pay a monthly utility bill, let alone rent. It’s scary to me that even those funds are subject to the whims of Wall Street and politicians. Having lost my retirement savings more than once in stock market meltdowns (with bailouts ironically rewarding only the failed banks with showers of our collective tax dollars), I’m not the one to give financial advice.

But I am certain that financial burdens are inherently stressful. And I know sometimes the best plans just don’t work out. For example, if I had delayed my move by one year, I would have been debt-free and that would be far less stressful for me. But doing so would have negatively impacted my son, grandsons and others. Tough choices, for me.

In the end, the decision to move was the right thing for family. Like the stylist, I always knew my priorities. It doesn’t mean it was easy for me. For some reason, though, I convinced myself it would be easy. A strong, intelligent, hard-working woman can handle little things like major life changes, right?

After nearly a year with super low income, even with a roof over my head and food in the fridge, something felt Off. I felt a little raw, too emotional, and half-blamed the weather, the physical challenge of chasing two young children around, and the lack of financial resources.

I recently realized it wasn’t any of those dragging my spirits down.

I’ve been experiencing grief. The death of my dog kicked it off, and then it hit me like an anvil. I’ve been grieving for almost a year.

Why I didn’t notice it, I could explain away (busy-ness is great camouflage). But I see it now. And it makes sense.

I lost my way of life, my island home, my job working with people who were homeless (people I respected and, in most cases, deeply admired their strength and resilience). I walked away from work-related commitments that I took seriously and coworkers I loved. That I did so voluntarily and for a good purpose (to help other family members) didn’t take the edge off as much as I thought it might.

In his book “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” Dr Gabor Mate points out that emotional pain fires up the brain in the same way physical pain does. Kicking myself while reflecting on my before- and after-lives exacerbated the pain. And I’ve done plenty of kicking in the name of Being Real.

Kicking myself for not wrapping up my work life well enough. Kicking myself for failing to be the Mary Poppins-like happy-go-lucky care provider for the grands that they deserve. For not having enough resources to assist my son more. For not having a part-time job (because my schedule remains so complex that my availability is currently limited to blocks of only a few hours now and then). For lacking the energy to do more than the basics. Even for not being able to afford things like the brand-name shoes I once took for granted that better support my feet.

Since that realization, I’ve taken more time to feel things. I’ve intentionally sat down and wrapped my attention around “negative” emotions like sadness and anger. Held them. Inspected them. Sat until they dissipated on their own.

And I asked myself what advice I would give someone I cared about in this situation.

Here’s what I would ask: (1) What have you been doing that feels healthy, healing and helpful for yourself? …and… (2) What would you like to do differently moving forward?

I’ve taken more helpful actions than I realized. Studying intuitive eating/HAES* and incorporating that framework (addressing eating, activity, rest, acceptance, and self-compassion). Expanding the tools I use, including mindfulness and sitting with difficult emotions. Reading about childhood development and learning ways to deal effectively with munchkin meltdowns and toddler dramas. Meditating most mornings and writing most days on projects. Going to the Y to engage in positive movement 3 times a week. Donating to nonprofit agencies. Enjoying free spaces and activities, like the public library and parks. Researching to understand how the culture in the USA got so far off the rails (focused on the upper-crust rather than we-the-people, and particularly ways people of color have been denied resources).

What I’d like to do more? To gratefully acknowledge all my advantages. To focus on an external priority area (climate change, voting laws, antiracism, intuitive eating/HAES). I’d like to continue time in the swimming pool but add more outdoor time and something that includes music. I’d like to increase my income and think that will be more likely when my youngest grandchild starts elementary school next fall. I’d like to continue to visit my son a few times a year but also arrange for him to visit me so I don’t do all the travel. I’d like to have more friends and an Encore Plan (for whatever comes next).

One of the lessons this recent journey has taught me is about flexibility. It hasn’t been an easy-peasy lesson and my life has not taken a path I would have imagined. Sometimes that’s scary and frustrating. That’s life. Sometimes everything appears gloriously open to change.

Another recent lesson relates to longing. I can think of a simple example. I’m here with family and missing my work life. But while I worked, I missed my family. I choose to accept that longing as a blessing. How fortunate to have had two good options that satisfied me, even when they may have been mutually exclusive.

Sometimes self-care requires we look back and acknowledge what we’ve accomplished. Even the “small” things can be big wins. Getting out of bed every day. Going to the doctor when ill. Connecting somehow with the outside world. Being there for plants, pets, friends, family, self, and/or all of those.

And sometimes self-care includes taking time to sit with uncomfortable emotions to acknowledge them. Or considering the possibilities in next steps to take us forward in this perfectly imperfect world.

*HAES=Health At Every Size

Reminder to Me: It’s a Journey

For the last three months, I’ve been studying[i] and immersing myself in Intuitive Eating (IE)/Health At Every Size (HAES) world. For me, these aren’t new and mind-boggling ideas, but the act of setting aside time, investing from my limited funds, and taking action (beyond reading, assessing, and pondering) has launched a new self-care adventure. While I thought this journey would wrap up quickly, I’ve discovered there’s so much more to learn.

Background Info

First, I appreciate that IE and HAES rely on and encourage research; these are not personal theories masquerading as science. I’m relieved to know both are inclusive and respectful of diversity in general. They focus, of course, on diversity in size: not everyone can (or should) attain or retain a body size that meets the cultural ideal. They also note that cultural ideals change. With that in mind, they encourage letting go of judgment, comparison, and competition.

IE includes 10 principles that build upon one another to guide folks along this path.  These tools, not rules, include rejecting the diet mentality, honoring hunger, making peace with food, challenging the food police, feeling fullness/satiety, making eating pleasurable, learning non-food ways to cope with emotions, respecting your body, exercising, and using nutritional guidelines thoughtfully. Mindfulness and self-compassion are part of this approach.

HAES is not quite as structured in design, but has additional resources available, including a rich website[ii]

HAES focuses on 3 components: Respect, Critical Awareness, and Compassionate Self-Care. In a follow-up book, HAES leaders pose this question: “What if we ditched the diet mentality that attaches so much importance to size and health and fitness, and focused instead on relating to ourselves and one another with understanding and compassion?”[iii] Imagine how amazing it would be to live in that world!

First, The “Bad News”

We have, it seems, allowed ourselves to be sucked in by the Wizards of Diet Culture. They’ve placed the nation in a trance and convinced us that good health is only possible for the slender, in spite of data showing overweight people outlive normal and underweight people[iv].

These sly wizards convinced us we must all forever fight the war on fat, purge our lives of “bad” (sinful, unhealthy, dangerous) foods to focus on “good” (virtuous, healthy) foods. Fat folks must wholeheartedly pursue the mythically gorgeous slender person within every fat body, and continue until we die.

These wizards, who rake in somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 Billion a year on the War, conveniently forget our bodies fight famine so efficiently that, long term[v] weight rebound is significantly more common (for 75% to 99% of dieters) than weight loss maintenance. The diet-path (conveniently rebranded as wellness plans, lifestyle adjustments, and in other promising terms) is supported by our culture, particularly for women, for many reasons, but men are also welcome.

The Alternative Approach

The alternative is relatively simple: to make peace with food and our bodies, to look forward to a diet-free life (intuitively eating what our bodies desire while attending to nutritional needs), to enjoy what we eat, and to move our bodies in fun ways regardless of size.

This approach requests giving up the idea that there’s an effective, healthy, diet-based weight-loss solution (to include food plans, programs, lifestyle solutions, and diets-by-any-other-name) for folks who don’t have special health needs (diagnosed by a doctor) or eating disorders.[vi]  We are asked to recognize size is not a measure of worth and when we feel stressed, falter along the path, or feel we’ve failed, we’re encouraged to develop self-compassion and cut ourselves some slack.

The end goal is to reestablish a cooperative relationship between our brains and bodies and to return to normal, healthy eating based on our intuitive understanding of our body’s needs. The focus remains intuitive, not emotional.  Even “healthy” people eat periodically to celebrate, just for pleasure, or for emotional reasons. However, an accomplished intuitive eater would neither continuously overeat foods to the point of feeling sick nor deprive themselves of specific foods they like based on equating some foods (sugar, for example) with moral depravity.

For IE the To-Do list is sensible: give up the forbidden food list, swear off restriction, chuck the notions about healthy/unhealthy foods developed over a lifetime of dieting, let the body decide how to define food-bliss. Give in to the body’s needs for as long as it takes for the body to trust that famine is not coming again.

Oh, and IE/HAES suggest doing so without guilt or shame.

Potential Payoffs… and the Catch

Eventually the “forbidden” loses some appeal and becomes just-another-food and not forbidden-fruit or a symbol of rebellion.

Eventually, eating becomes a pleasure, not a chore, so we quit eating food only because it’s “healthy.” Instead, we gravitate toward what our bodies are asking for.

We learn to listen to our bodies, recognizing when we’re hungry and when we’re satisfied.

The goal is for our weight to stabilize. It may happen relatively quickly or take months or years of keeping the connection open between our mind and body.

The Catch? This may not be the miracle folks hope for; any individual’s natural weight may be higher or lower than they prefer. Our bodies seek a set-point that is different (through genetics) for all of us, so we humans would naturally present some variety of body sizes and shapes. However, IE also points out that those of us who have repeated dieting and weight-gain cycles, the “yo yo dieting” most likely has changed our natural weight or “set point.” This awesome biological imperative to survive famines – whether starvation is imposed by our environment or self-imposed – slows our metabolism[vii] so we may weigh more and eat less than before. This Diet Tax leads us to the realization we must let go of and mourn the fantasy-body, and accept ourselves and others where and as they are.

Lessons Learned

Remember the thing about the forbidden foods losing power? It was not overnight, but through my own experience, I can attest to this. For example, for decades eating a particular jelly bean (I allowed myself to eat once a year) seemed to launch a scary binge worthy of an addict. Many jelly beans later, it’s just a little, sweet, flavorful bit of food-fluff that I love but rarely want to eat. I remain amazed by this transformation.

About that pleasurable eating thing: Oatmeal was one of those breakfast foods I would force myself to eat, usually when traveling (exhausted and hungry, up at 4 a.m., 6 a.m. flight, meetings starting at 8 a.m.), because it was available and seemed the only healthy choice. It always gave me heartburn. Always. Weeks into IE, I woke up one morning and wanted oatmeal. What?! My brain started spinning, but I prepared oatmeal. I enjoyed the oatmeal. Daily for two weeks. And no heartburn. I’m now opting out of oatmeal, but I know it doesn’t give me heartburn! Go figure.

Recently one of the activities involved making a list of foods I love. Not the things I’ll eat, based on what’s available in the fridge, but foods I truly love. It took me a surprising amount of time to come up with a short list of 8. The second part of the exercise was to take time to savor one or more of the foods. I completed this challenge in a sushi restaurant, by myself, mid-day. To me there is something beautiful about fresh sushi. In addition, it reminds me of people and places I love. I enjoyed the presentation, smell, taste, calm atmosphere of the restaurant. Ah, the difference between the first glorious bite and the last still-really-good bite. Wow. I vowed to do this more often.

Letting go of comparison and adopting compassion sound simple, but they’re both things I have to work at consciously. I have to stop myself from scanning a crowd to see if there’s anyone fatter than me, turn off the critic who expects certain people (fat women and elders, for example, like me) to dress a particular way (such as hiding as many curves and bumps as possible). Social media is a great antidote for me and I so admire the gorgeous fat women with their Hollywood hair and makeup and crop tops. Although it won’t be me wearing a bikini (it’s just not-me), I’m glad to see they’re so readily available in larger sizer and I moved away from the black work wardrobe I had to bright colored tops (they’re me) that don’t hang tunic-length to camouflage my round abdomen and large butt.

Simply recognizing hunger and satiety isn’t cut and dried, easy-peasy stuff for someone who dieted repeatedly. After decades of eating to a schedule or postponing eating until I reached a state of ravenous hunger, I didn’t recognize the huge variation between I-could-have-a-bite and I’m-so-hungry-I’ll-eat-anything. I do now, and I act on that info!

Silly as it sounds, surrendering my membership in The Clean Plate Club remains one of the more challenging steps for me, whether it’s throwing out food when I’m eating at home (I will do it, but I have to pause to remind myself it’s okay) or leaving food on a plate when eating out. Still, I’m so thankful I’m aware of this (can’t change what I’m blind to).

Other lessons included examining Diet Culture, learning techniques related to self-compassion, finding ways to trust my body’s messages relating to hunger and satiety, examining the roles of stigma and stress, and expanding thinking to a more inclusive world view. And there are lessons I have yet to dive into…

The Journey Continues

One day I think I’d like to take my master’s degree in counseling psychology and somehow become an expert in this area. For the present, though, as a plus-size woman I’m examining my own prejudices against super-size folks, my mindset that says everybody “should” strive for “health” (though who can define what this is?), and integrating IE into my world while respecting some food allergies and sensitivities.

Currently my tools include: reading related materials and seeking body positive messages and people, meditating and praying, devoting time to self-compassion, consciously viewing movies and print media through a realistic lens (compared to everyday people, those touched-up Hollywood folks appear plastic), and actively refusing to support folks and businesses with stigmatizing behaviors/policies.

By whatever name it’s called, food restriction to drop pounds clearly doesn’t work for most people. Reducing exercise to punishment/atonement turns something joyful into a chore. Reconnecting to our own intuition seems the logical, science-based alternative.

And this is just the beginning… I’ve got a long way to go. Can’t wait to see how it turns out!


[i] Completing a course, Intuitive Eating Fundamentals. For more information, visit https://christyharrison.com/online-courses . Using The Intuitive Eating Workbook (Tribole) as a companion to the course. Also re-reading the books Intuitive Eating (Tribole and Resch), Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight (Bacon), and Body Respect (Bacon and Aphramor). Reading Body of Truth (Brown).

[ii] http://www.haescommunity.com

[iii] From “Body Respect” (Bacon and Aphramor)

[iv] Multiple resources mention this data, including Body of Truth (Harriet Brown), The Obesity Myth/The Diet Myth (Paul Campos), Naked Statistics (Charles Whelan), and Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere (Harding and Kirby)

[v] 10 years of steady retention is quite rare and many studies rely on self-report (which is not always reliable)

[vi] Folks with known health challenges, like celiac or diabetes, and folks with eating disorders can practice IE/HAES, but other supports may be needed. For example, depending upon the individual, supports may include one or more people such as a HAES-aware registered dietician, an IE-informed therapist, a physical therapist, and their physician.

[vii] Suggest looking up info on “The Biggest Loser” to see how much difference this one valiant attempt at weight loss cost the participants. Approaching diets as a short-term solution appears illogical, given the long-term consequences.

Share Your Hotness, Fight the BIC

Folks who have been paying attention know small groups of folks often make huge decisions that impact the health and well-being of most of the people living in the USA. The key decisions spread through the media and a nationwide network of “health care professionals” (most likely your family doctor and a whole cadre of folks in supportive roles) who provide life-altering advice based on information provided to them by trusted sources.

Among these trusted sources is the BMI (Body Mass Index), for example. Did you know most of the members of the small group who came up with the rules and categories (“overweight” and “obese,” for example) have affiliations with weight-loss organizations? As such, they have a lot to gain (oh-so-many more people at the doors seeking help), as happened a few years ago, by changing details and moving people from average/healthy ranges to overweight – with bumps up the spectrum.

The folks within the multi-billion dollar (estimates range from $60B to over $100B a year) Diet Industry, intentionally or not, work diligently to convince us that only the most slender are “healthy” while the majority of the bodies occupying space in the USA (the 67% who are fat) are costing taxpayers outrageous amounts of money. They encourage focus on fatties who refuse to do what everyone is told is easy: eat less, exercise more, lose pounds, and suck it up to magically keep the pounds off forever. Amen. In short, this keeps the majority of us feeling inadequate, ashamed, distracted and ignoring that in all of nature there exist ranges of sizes, shapes, markings, and hues/colors, though most creatures know intuitively how, when, and what to eat.

Enter now the heroic characters in the form of twin sisters Emily and Amelia Nagosaki: professional women who refer to this diet culture as the “Bikini Industrial Complex (BIC)” in their new book, “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.” They point out we have options, including ignoring the marketing that tells us we all have a willowy fashion-model version of ourselves inside us waiting to be set free. Scientists have even found some genetic markers that explain size diversity, at least in part, and have me wondering why we aren’t kinder to one another and to ourselves. Is it, in the words of an old country song, “…everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on/Who they can feel better than at any time they please…”[i] or is it something else, like our own insecurities making us a little (or a lot) hard on ourselves and others?

In their book the Nagosaki sisters describe one extraordinary (to me!) way they practice self-compassion. I can see how this practice could balance those moments when we look in the mirror and don’t appreciate the reflection or someone provides feedback that does not lift us. Rather than self-deprecation, they suggest what I consider starting a revolution by letting go of the Inner Critic while grabbing the Inner-Fairy-Godmother.

It’s called the “New Hotness” game and the book states the intention is to “let go of body self-criticism and shift to self-kindness.”

It started with Amelia during a dress-shopping adventure when she found a garment that looked great on her. She texted Emily a selfie “with a caption paraphrasing Will Smith in Men in Black II: i am the new hotness.”

The term “new hotness” became their texting cue for looking fabulous without basing that on cultural beauty ideals. They found ways to share moments of New Hotness. How fun is that?! “Maybe you don’t look like you used to, or like you used to imagine you should, but how you look today is the new hotness. Even better than the old hotness.”

It truly is a revolutionary act in this age to name your own hotness terms.

What I really appreciate about this approach is that it’s not about loving your body (though it’s definitely fabulous if you do). It’s about facing the image in the mirror with compassion and accepting all the related baffling thoughts (the “yes I have good hair…but my ankles look swollen”), emotions (particularly the crushing shame we’re told to hold for our imperfect-and-awesome bodies at all ages, sizes, shapes, and shades), and desires (including those wants that we know may never manifest).

Read the book or at least a good book review![ii]

Here are some of my ideas:

Round belly replacing the 6-pack abs of yesteryear? New hotness!

Hair stylist ran amok and left you more surprised than pleased? Heads up: New Hotness!

Varicose veins from those years of stand-up jobs? New Hotness!

Gained back the weight you lost while trying the latest food plan/diet? Rock those curves: New Hotness!

Noticing doctors and police officers look like youngsters? Celebrate your experience, New Hotness!

Total stranger comments on the size of your ____ (butt, thighs, etc.)? Thanks for noticing New Hotness!

And two from the book because they’re simply well-said:

“Mastectomy following breast cancer? New hotness.”

“Amputation following combat injury? New hotness.”

“The point is, you define and redefine your body’s worth, on your own terms.”

And isn’t that the way it should be for all of us, every day?


[i] I remember this from “Jesus Was a Capricorn” by Kris Kristofferson

[ii]Visit one of my favorite websites (ted.com) and search for “new hotness” or click this link: https://ideas.ted.com/if-youre-unhappy-with-your-body-just-repeat-after-us-you-are-the-new-hotness/

Health, Culture, and Intuitive Eating


Health within our culture in the USA. How do we know what’s best for our health, our self-care?

Health experts vary from the self-proclaimed, like medical mediums, to MD’s and related professionals (dieticians, psychologists, therapists, exercise physiologists, etc.). All hold their own theories, all based on their own experiences, all with their own interpretations of science.  Most rely on external resources, from spirit-guides to information from their college days that, some estimates say, could be seriously outdated. Some scramble diligently to remain up-to-date.

Add to that our cultural interpretations of what bodies should be considered positively, the roles of mental and emotional health as well as social connections, and the popular press with their watered-down versions of nuanced scientific studies.

Then there’s the statistical confusion about Causation. For example, I remember reading that people with creases in their earlobes were more likely to develop heart disease. The article suggested checking your earlobes and visiting a cardiologist. Do earlobe creases Cause heart problems? Of course not! Likewise, lots of similar media reports highlight connections (associations and correlations) inferred as causation.

So what happens when there’s some science that shows fat doesn’t equal unhealthy and that food itself has a relatively minor impact on overall health in comparison to environment, genetics, and other factors?

How do we even clearly define “healthy” and “unhealthy” in our culture?

It’s complicated.

According to the book Body Respect, there’s “research suggesting that guilt messes with your metabolism and weight regulation system”[i] and even radical bariatric surgery results long-term (10 years or more later) show weight regain as well as ongoing other health challenges created by the surgery.

Among those who do not diet, though, weight tends to stabilize. What’s up with that? Could it be we’re all not destined to be the exact same willowy size and shape?

Of course, as soon as we start thinking folks in the USA know exactly how and what to eat, look at the French. Their diet is not seen as the healthiest (animal fat, cholesterol, alcohol, oh my!) but apparently people who ENJOY their food are healthier and by eating food they love might even eat less! Shocking!

One of the first non-diet/anti-diet books I read was The Diet Myth (it was titled The Obesity Myth at the time, I believe, but has been updated by author Paul Campos). I picked up a copy of the newer version in which, in the Afterword, Mr. Campos comments “How much longer can agencies such as the CDC announce that we are on the verge of a public health catastrophe, while at the same time releasing statistics that illustrate Americans are living longer – and are markedly healthier – than ever before? Such inconvenient data is making it more difficult for the usual suspects to broadcast their alarmist claims without fear of dissent.” [ii] It appealed to the data queen inside me, but I couldn’t quite ignore the power of our popular culture that says, essentially, what one chubby large-bellied 50-something white man in a stained white t-shirt snarled at me in the aisle of a discount store: “People like you should be ashamed. You take up too much space that’s meant for people like me.”

When that happened, it took me by surprise. Shocked, I noticed I fit behind the shopping cart (I wasn’t overflowing into his shopping-space). I recognized I most likely weighed about what he did (though he was about 4 inches taller than I am) and I felt angry about his apparent notion of moral superiority and willingness to express his opinion about our worth. I thought about responses while he stormed off, and I felt so disappointed to know I lived in a country where people hold so little value for civility or differences among us.

After that experience, I looked for body-positive/fat-positive books. I read Health at Every Size, but didn’t jump on board because it sounded scary to give up what everybody accepted as The Diet Truth (eating less, exercising more is the One True Way to Slenderville). The “health at every size” (HAES) approach seems to show a lot of promise though it appeared to draw fire from folks who insisted on fighting the War against people whose greatest crime is their size. Evidence from six randomized control trials “indicates that a HAES approach is associated with statistically and clinically relevant improvements in physiological measures (e.g. blood pressure, blood lipids), health behaviors (e.g. physical activity, eating disorder pathology) and psychosocial outcomes (e.g, mood, self-esteem, body image)”[iii] What?! Healthier, happier, well-adjusted fat people? What’s the world coming to?

I’m not sure there’s a place for those kinds of differences in our culture today, but I’m hopeful that a revolution is coming.

Through the edX.org MOOC I audited an exercise physiology class through Magee University (Canada) and a nutrition class through Wageningen University (Netherlands). Both were great experiences though my take-aways were simple: (1) all food is broken down in the body into very basic substances, (2) people who enjoy their exercise are more frequent exercisers, and (3) fat people who exercise are healthier than thin people who don’t. [iv]

In the pursuit of self-care, my newest educational foray is a class on Intuitive Eating, taught by Registered Dietician Christy Harrison[v] online. It’s based on HAES principles as well as Intuitive Eating[vi] (3rd edition). It’s giving me time to consider what works in general and what works for me in a compassionate way. So far, I’m discovering habits I’ve developed (for example, postponing eating until I’m ravenous; in theory this gives less time to eat but, in my experience, leaves me unreasonably hungry and difficult to satisfy) and learning more about ways to employ my powerful intuition for the good of all (including myself).

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the journey, still visiting the Y for classes that are fun, loving time with my grandsons, and exercising my creativity in multiple ways. Woohoo! All is well.

Here’s to a fabulous Spring (in the Northern Hemisphere) that propels us all into a great summer (and for those south of the equator, here’s to a lovely Autumn, with time to recharge during the winter months)!


[i] “Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift“ available (free) the following link:  https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9

[ii] “Afterword: Ask Your Doctor If Cultural Hysteria Is Right for You” in the book, The Diet Myth, by Paul Campos

[iii] Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight by Linda Bacon, PhD, and Lucy Aphramor, PhD, RD

[iv] As a lifelong learning fan, I can’t say enough great things about edX. My favorite course so far is The Science of Happiness (what a great opportunity!) and the most difficult was Jazz Appreciation (I didn’t know much more than I liked Louis Armstrong when I enrolled, so it was super-challenging for me but worth it because I really do appreciate jazz now!). Check it out at www.edx.org

[v] For more info visit www.christyharrison.com and PLEASE listen to her podcast, Food Psych, on Podcast Republic, Spotify, iTunes, other online channels, or her website.

[vi] Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA, CEDRD

15 Minutes to Spare?

To be honest, I tend to think in larger chunks of time than 15 minutes. I tell myself I can’t possibly engage in anything really useful, unless I make a significant time investment.

I will admit it. I was wrong about that.

Here are some of my favorite activities for days/times when I only have a few minutes:

  1. Play “Eye Found It!” – a Disney “hidden picture card game” that’s completely suitable for ages 3 and up. You do need 2 or more folks, good vision or a magnifying glass, and I suggest partnering with a 3 year old (my convenient in-house 3-year-old has eagle-eyes). The cards are beautifully illustrated (uh, Disney!) and all you do is search for items, like keys or a clock or a letter or a villain. Easy to learn, quick to play, helps with focus and attention to details, and it’s FUN!
  2. Learn a foreign language online! I grew up in a Portuguese-/Spanish-language speaking group of folks, but my great-grandparents were immigrants who didn’t want us learning foreign languages. In rebellion, I did study Spanish in school, and picked up some Portuguese accidentally along the way. On www.Udemy.com  there are several language courses that have super-short (3 minute!) daily lessons that build on one another. Udemy has sales on classes all the time, so for a $9.99 investment I’m picking up some Portuguese. For some FREE experiences with languages, try my favorite MOOC: www.edx.org where some awesome opportunities await!
  3. Work on foreign language skills during your commute! In Hawaii I fell in love with the Japanese language. Pimsleur offers less-expensive language courses on CD that teach practical words/phrases. Costco sometimes carries the language products along with many online retailers and at www.Pimsleur.com. I worked my way through the first set of Japanese CDs during my 5-minute commute to/from work last year. Now I can order basic things like beer or sake, comment on the weather, apologize, ask for directions, and say “I don’t understand.” It sounds silly, but on a recent flight a group of Japanese tourists sat in front of me and I understood some of what they were chatting about. I was so pleased! Woohoo!
  4. Turn off notifications on your email and only check it one to two or three times a day at scheduled times. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but this saved me so much time! Just because someone sent you an email doesn’t mean you’re obligated to read and respond immediately. In fact, stopping what you’re doing to read an email derails your line of thought and studies show it can take 10 minutes to get back on focus. Chunking email reading to blocks of time (I try to keep it to 15 minutes, unless I hear from a friend) helps me focus on what’s important.
  5. Okay. I read a study showing even 5 to 10 minutes of walking – even pacing in a smaller space – can help us center our minds and even energize. I tried it, focused on the walking, taking 10 steps one direction and turning around, or walking in a square. At the end of the short “pacing-break” I did feel refreshed, so I’m going to try this again.
  6. Listen to music that’s special to you. To lift my spirits on challenging days, I put together a “Happy” playlist. Although it’s an hour long, I can randomly start the list at any point and listen to 1 or 2 or 5 songs (depending on the time available) and it lifts me from Grumpy-Granny to Happy-Granny. Honestly, I usually can’t resist getting up and dancing (when I’m alone or with toddlers who can appreciate my moves 😊). Music and dancing make most days seem better!
  7. When my youngest friends (furry or child-version) seem antsy, a trip to a nearby park lifts everyone’s spirits. Even when time is limited, there are a few parks along our typical commutes, so it’s easy to pull into a parking lot, hop out to admire the trees or swings, stretch our legs, and breathe. Setting a timer on my phone as a reminder for when we have to move on helps! This was one of my favorite energy hacks in Hawaii where it was easy to find a beach with an uplifting ocean view. According to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, even taking as little as 2 minutes in nature to admire surroundings has a positive impact.
  8. Visiting www.TED.com is free (WiFi is available free near most coffee houses, McDonald’s, and public libraries, among other locations), uplifting, and informational. Some of the video talks are 20 minutes long, but many are shorter than 15 minutes. Learning new things leaves me feeling my world just expanded.
  9. As a young child, I loved visiting the public library. It was 2 blocks from my childhood home, had air conditioning in the summer, and held so many adventures. The library has changed over the years, but it’s definitely worth visiting. My new local library is open 7 days a week, has a business center where budding entrepreneurs can use office equipment for up to 3 hours, has programs for toddlers through elders, and still has games, movies, and books available to check out! Ducking into the local library for 15 minutes is challenging – there’s so much to do, including rest in a comfy chair – but it’s time well spent.
  10. Take time to really savor some special food that you normally don’t eat. Elevate the occasion to a ceremony. There’s a single-source Vietnamese dark chocolate that I love but can’t afford too often, so when I buy it, I really take time for it (in 15 minutes I may finish a square or two, really focusing on the flavors). I let my body tell me when I’ve had Enough (I find I can’t eat dark chocolate in mass quantities and, having eaten really excellent chocolate, have zero desire to stuff cheap chocolate into my precious body).
  11. Check in with a friend and make a quick coffee-chat date. I still love Starbucks (sorry, haven’t found a local coffee house with coffee I find palatable) and I’ve found local fast food places with play areas suitable for toddlers, so I meet another granny for chitchat about once a week and/or a play-date with our preschool kiddos. We keep it to 15 minutes when we have other things to do, but often it’s far longer. You get to set the boundaries.
  12. Sit. Breathe. Say out loud what you’re grateful for. Glance around. There’s so much! Some of mine right now: The colors of the sky. The roses that bloom through the winter in my neighborhood. The sounds of birds calling to one another. The covered patio where I often write. The rain that has turned the local mountains from gold and brown to flashy shades from lime to emerald and forest green. The toddlers who encourage me to keep moving. The opportunities to learn new things. The places I want to visit. And the list goes on…and on.
  13. Grab a book or an article (online, in print, newspaper, magazine). Don’t grab the one you feel you SHOULD read. Grab one that’s light and airy and maybe a bit silly. Maybe there’s a half-naked adult on the front cover. Maybe it’s about cats or gargoyles or rescue dogs. Whatever lifts you and feels like a guilty pleasure, pick that one. And savor your 15 minutes in that other world.
  14. Whip up biscuits in 15 minutes then stick them in the oven and move on to another activity. Sketch a design for jewelry to make later. Play games on the phone or tablet. Snuggling. Swimming. The list could go on. And on.

By now I hope you’re already thinking of a dozen or more ordinary and extraordinary ways to invest short amounts of time… There’s really no end when we use our creative minds, is there?

Here’s to self-care in manageable little bits!

Please let me know your favorite ways to invest short amounts of time in self-caring activities!

Careers: Making a Life vs. Making a Living

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Once upon a time, I worked as an employment counselor. As I work to restructure my life, I thought about employment counseling, the tools I used, and the people with whom I worked. Most of the people with whom I worked had fallen into unemployment. The reasons for their fall varied.

Many found themselves ambushed with a lay-off notice/being downsized (many had similar experiences to the lead character in the movie “Larry Crowne”). Others submitted retirement paperwork and discovered they’d lost their retirement savings or pension in a corporate sale (I’m reminded of the movie “Love Punch”). A few lost everything (in an accident, due to illness, or other catastrophe) (I’m thinking of “Henry Poole was Here”). A few job-hopped so much that as they aged and their charms became more dated, they were suddenly unable to recover. A few had opted for the fulltime mommy-track and when their spouse absconded with the family fortune, they came seeking the skills they needed to secure a job with a living wage…or two jobs at minimum wage.

One of the things I tried to do was encourage people to take the time to find a job that felt fulfilling to them, that gave them the sense they were doing something important and helping others. The counselors at the career center where I worked all encouraged clients to get on a career track that gave them a sense of making their life better, not just making a buck. We also advocated for living-wage jobs (jobs that paid enough to cover basic needs).

Granted, there are career surveys that have a lot of support from employment counselors. They line up the traits, character, and preferences of job-searchers with people in certain career fields. The more they match, the better it is assumed for the job seeker. However, when you consider that most workers (approximately 70% in surveys) state they are unhappy with their jobs, that route may not provide the best results.

One of the most in-depth (and time-consuming) options was presented in grad school as System for Identifying Motivated Abilities (SIMA). The newer version is described in the book The Power of Uniqueness: Why You Can’t Be Anything You Want To Be by Arthur F Miller, Jr., with William Hendricks. The technique is time-consuming, but worth the effort and I recommend it highly to anyone who is interested enough to make the time investment. In a nutshell that I’m certain sells the technique short, it’s about identifying your areas of giftedness and things that motivate you to help you identify a career that inspires your best.

A short-cut option we often used in our time-limited culture of career counseling was to ask people to consider this: most people, between ages 9 and 12, come up with an idea of a career they feel strongly attracted to. This is after the notion of being a pop star, astronaut, or perhaps a race-car driver passes. It could be inspired by a person in that profession, a random idea, a movie or book.

When I was in that age-zone, I had an amazing teacher. She was not the popular teacher. (I had the popular teacher the following year. He was, at best, condescending and emotionally abusive to the non-athletes in the class, but wildly popular among the athletic children.) Mrs. Turner was fair. Never giddy. She challenged all students to do better, behave better, live better. And one homework assignment was to imagine our grown-up lives and to describe how we made a living, including providing an example of a work product. For example, an aspiring airline pilot would describe the job in a few paragraphs and might create a flight log.

I took it seriously. I know that because many years ago, as I helped my mom sift through old papers, I found that assignment. Condensed, and to the best of my memory, here’s what it said.

Because I loved children and didn’t feel they got the respect they deserve, I wanted to be a teacher during the day.

Evenings I would work as a writer for a television show because I felt stories had the power to change lives.

Summers I would travel, explore new places, gather stories, and document my explorations to encourage others to get out to take the roads they hadn’t and to see the world. I thought it the best way to get to really learn about, and possibly understand, other cultures.

Although it was a bit ambitious – finding time to sleep and grade papers would certainly have presented challenges – the things I wanted to do as a child reflected core values that haven’t changed much.

I still believe in the importance of supporting and encouraging children. In my life and work I’ve done that by working with foster family placements; helping homeless families secure safe permanent housing; supporting youth and low-income parents as a therapist, career counselor, or educator; volunteering for Special Olympics and as a Girl Scout troop leader; and other ways.

Exercising my creativity through writing, story-telling, and other activities continues to uplift and fascinate me. As a fund-raising professional, I told stories to encourage generosity and wrote proposals for funding from many different sources. I’ve written newspaper columns, technical manuals, newsletters for multiple nonprofit agencies or programs, and I write and read nearly every day.

My dad loved to find and explore roads he’d never traveled, and travel remains a joy for me. Though most of my journeys have been on the continental US or Hawaii, my road trips have taken me to every state in the continental US except Maine, I’ve seen some amazing places. I also had the privilege of working and living in Hawaii for 10 years.

So, from someone who worked in the field of employment/career counseling, I think we all could do better when it comes to finding careers and making time for our passions. One way to do that would be to look at what was important to you as a child, the core values those desires arose from, and think about ways to incorporate those values in your work, volunteer opportunities, or daily life.

It’s another part of healthy self-care.