Pets and Poverty

New Rules…

In the U.S., it should be mandatory for prospective pet owners to open an escrow-type account devoted to pet care and to meet minimum income guidelines. Sentimentality aside, unless your household is bringing home the median income or above and you’re living below your means, you’re poor (me, too). And, I’m thinking poor/low-income people (me, again) shouldn’t own pets.

My pet came into my home during a unique time. I had recently relocated to a new community, my landlord mentioned it would be okay to have a dog, I had heard from by boss that the travel my job required was no longer necessary, my doctor suggested getting a dog as motivation to walk daily, and I realized that talking to animals is considered perfectly sane while chatting with kitchen appliances is not.

Still, I didn’t jump into pet ownership. I did some research, costed out the animal-scenario, had some extra funds in my budget, and adopted a medium-sized mixed-breed adult-dog from a local Humane Society. Instead of finding the fluffy pocketbook-pet I could carry around discreetly in department stores, I selected the dog that was at the top of the shelter’s “kill list.” She came with glowing references.

We both aged about 10 years together and still managed to maintain a peaceful co-existence. She barked at strange noises and I said “thank you.” I fed her and changed her water and hauled her to the veterinarian for annual check-ups. She chased lizards and roosters in the yard, both of us knowing full well she wouldn’t catch either. Although she knew she wasn’t allowed on the furniture, I would sometimes find her fur on the sofa and lecture her while imagining her sprawled in my spot on the sofa, Roku remote in hand, streaming old Lassie reruns while I toiled.

She was always happy to see me and required very little maintenance.

Change changes us

Then family called and I opted out of the busy world of work in order to spend more time with my son who has some mental and physical challenges and with my grandsons. The changes impacted both of us.

I underestimated the difference between the fitness level required to maintain a desk job and the herculean level required to track and maintain a non-hostile relationship with two young grandsons. (Note that this could be accomplished by allowing them to watch television or stream programs on their tablets, but I opted for the High Road of a heady mix of outdoor time, quasi-educational time, fun physical time, and goofing off. The High Road requires things like playing games, making up games, spending time in parks, supporting attendance at swimming and other lessons, and arranging periodic play-dates.)

My fur buddy adapted well, by all appearances, until she got sick. I never planned for her to get sick.

The transition in my professional life had some positive points but my income fell precipitously. And although at least one person suggested returning my adopted dog to the Humane Society, I invested a lot in shipping her from the middle of the Pacific Ocean to the western US desert. The new terrain and creatures (yay! Still lizards to chase!) entertained her and we seemed to both slowly adjust to new weather (hello coat, good-bye humidity). She loved living around the grandchildren, would run circles around them in total joy or sit in the shade and watch them on the trampoline as if she plotted to join them.

Forgot to “plan for the worst”

And then my dog got sick. Not normal sick like worms or some passing mild allergy. She got sick. Seizures sick. Barely able to walk sick. Dizzy, walking in circles. Life threatening fever. Occasionally emitting a supernatural sound that mixed a loud out-of-tune cello with a wolf’s howl and frightened my eldest grandson who, nevertheless, ran as fat as any 6-year-old could toward the noise to offer help.

The first night she felt sick, I awakened at 3 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. The next night I got no sleep at all. With my personal cash flow statement showing $400 in savings and $134 in grocery funds, I called an emergency 24 hour pet hospital and told them she was having trouble breathing, panting, periodically losing the ability to walk, urinating during episodes when she stiffened and collapsed. They said to bring her in right away. I told them I had little funds and almost no credit.

“Bring her in,” they insisted, so I carried her to the car and drove in the dark and fog to an emergency pet hospital in the wee small hours of the morning.

The emergency folks took her back and reported she had a fever and a “neurological” issue, but they weren’t sure exactly what. They had another emergency so wouldn’t be able to examine her further or do any tests for about an hour. They welcomed us to wait or offered to provide a list of local veterinarians who might be able to see her later the same day. Since dawn was approaching, we opted to leave to find a local veterinarian who might be able to help.

We had about 2 hours before local offices opened, so I napped and then started calling local daytime businesses. I took her to a popular local pet hospital that promised she would be seen though we might have to wait an hour for a walk-in appointment.

Because of her condition, they took her in quickly and reported her fever had gone up to 105.5 and required immediate care so they started an IV. The total cost of the day would have been $1,000 or more if I opted for the testing they wanted to do, but my budget remained limited, the IV and fluids to bring down her temperature seemed most pressing, and the costs of the full diagnostic work so expensive it was far out of my financial league and, short of seeking out a loan-shark, out of the question…

At the same time, I remember people I knew from my work world who were houseless and had pets. The animals gave them a focus outside themselves, unlimited affection, amusement, and sometimes a reason to live. More than one person turned down housing because the landlord wouldn’t accept animals and a few postponed their own life-saving medical treatment while seeking someone to care for their animals.

Pets are a part of our families in this culture.

And there it is. Animals provide comfort, acceptance, and appreciation with very few expectations in return.

Sitting at my desk near sunset, watching the hummers flit around the hummingbird feeder outside, I’m not sorry I adopted the sweet dog from the top of the kill list, but I wish she could have a more dignified story now and I wish I had thought to plan for the cost of her care as she aged. I wonder what she would have chosen, this sweet canine that often awakened me at night as she slept, her legs moving as if in a gallop, chasing moonbeams or mo’o.[i] She is the same sweet girl, and not the same at all. And I miss her, though she’s still here, and watching her suffer breaks my heart.


[i] A term used in Hawai`i to refer to lizards, like anole and gecko.

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.

A Surprise Visitor

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Those days. It was one of Those Days. One of those rare stretches of time without a lot scheduled and when the grandsons had other activities that didn’t require my presence.

I remember the early morning because the heat wasn’t working in the locker room after my early-morning water aerobics class, and the fan blew in the 40-degree dawn air from outside. By the time I showered and shivered into clothes, I could only think of hot coffee, so headed for the nearby Starbucks.

Morning coffee: an indulgent luxury for no-rush-days when the aroma and the first sip receive their deserved savoring. The steaming almond-milk latte did not disappoint me, so I took my time. Checked a few errands off my To-Do list.

When I returned to a 60-degree house, I grabbed my Kindle full of books and carried my laptop to the sun-blasted patio where 65 degrees of direct sunshine warmed me.

Ah, the difference between a protected spot in the sunshine and a chilly desk chair inside…

Before I could open the laptop, I thought about my grandmother. She would have loved that brilliant day.

Grandma Isabel lived with us from the time I was 5 years old, and every morning she filled a mug with coffee, lightened with 2 spoons of sugar and a large dollop of evaporated milk, and carried it to the front porch. She sat there in an Adirondack chair for an hour or two. No gaming device or cell phone on her lap. No book or newspaper.

When my cheeky 6-year-old-self asked her how she could tolerate all that boring time doing Nothing, she informed me she wasn’t doing Nothing and was never bored. She described Noticing. She suggested observing the birds stretching their wings and singing to one another, the cars zipping or crawling by on the busier streets a half-block away, the plants dancing under the weight of insects skittering about, folks pulling into the nearby church parking lot, dew on the grass, children heading to school or parents dressed for work, the wind pushing treetops back and forth. Everywhere she looked, she saw Life, and all of it seemed Special.

Ten years later, after she passed away, I would sometimes sit in one of those chairs on the porch, just noticing things. It surprised me to learn how much of what happened around me I had missed.

But that day, a few short weeks ago, I sat outside, ignoring my electronics while I watched a flock of birds as they made figure-eights toward the southwest. A raven sitting on a nearby power line made shocked noises. Aircraft passed over at high altitudes, leaving their white trails in their wake.

Suddenly, a small group of smaller birds scattered amid a lot of squawking.

From the north, a hawk swooped in, landing about 20 feet away from me on the back fence. I’d read stories about coyotes and other small creatures, displaced by human expansion into what was once their territory, wandering into neighborhoods on this rocky side of Ventura County, but the hawk was an unanticipated visitor.

Standing with it’s brilliant rust-colored chest facing toward me, I never even thought to grab my phone to try to get a photo. Somehow, I knew my time with this large hunter would pass quickly. In my limited reality, the word Awesome came to mind to describe the event. The hawk, judging by the foliage behind him, stood about 18” high. He (I’m assuming, because of the striking color of his feathers), paused for a few seconds, hopped and spread its wings, dipping over the fence and out of sight.

It took a while for me to trudge through websites to find the Red Shouldered Hawk. I almost forgot the incident.

A few days ago, though, I heard a screeching cry from above and watched smaller birds scatter. I stopped everything to look around, hoping to see the visitor again. Sadly, that didn’t happen. Still, I appreciated the pause and the reminder to savor each moment.