I Tried Keto, Part 2: I Liked It, But …

I’m finally getting back on track with this blog, as I described last week. So although it’s August 13 today, I’m now reporting on my own January challenge, which was to get into ketosis for a week and try it out for myself.

My keto shopping cart at Whole Foods. Olives! European cheeses! And chipotle lime mayonnaise (which can make even sardines taste good)

I wrote (much) earlier on this blog about the trendy “keto diet” here. Basically, ketosis is a backup system when the body runs out of its limited stores of carbohydrates.

Our immensely complex and awesome bodies are a sort of like hybrid cars — we can run either on carbohydrates or fats. (Sometimes we do both at once, for instance during endurance exercise.)

Eating a high-fat, moderate-protein, very low-carb diet causes a shift to the state of ketosis, where the body is burning primarily fat and producing ketones (rather than glucose) to fuel the brain.

This sounds quite exciting, and Google just gave me 95,900,000 results for “keto,” so clearly people are getting on board. Here is my personal report and my conclusions, in case they are of interest …

My groundrules for my keto week were:

  • A daily target of only 20 grams of net carbs (total carbohydrates minus fiber). This is really low (some other keto plans allow 50 grams per day), but I wanted to be sure to truly experience ketosis.
  • Moderate, not high levels of protein. If I consume more protein than my body needs to maintain my muscles etc., my ever-resourceful body can make sugar out of that excess protein.
  • Only healthy fats and proteins: to me, that means grass-fed, pastured or wild-caught animal products, and minimally processed or unprocessed plants such as avocado, nuts and olive oil.
  • Plenty of “vegetables that grow above the ground,” generally a great guideline for a low-carb eating plan. Looking at my food diary for that week, I see arugula, cauliflower, eggplant, kale, basil, parsley, watercress, cilantro, mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, cucumbers, sauerkraut, and bok choy.
Guideline I posted on my fridge, found online at https://ketosizeme.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Printable-List-of-the-Carbs-In-Foods.pdf

I reduced my carb intake a few days before the challenge by strictly avoiding anything made with flour or added sugar (which I try to do in general anyway, but some tends to slip through). My ketosis week started when I stopped eating on Friday evening, burning through my stored sugar during the normal overnight fast.

After having only 19 grams of carbs (by my calculation) on Saturday, I tested my urine on Sunday morning and was positive for ketones. I went to Zumba class at 9:30 a.m. and felt like I could fly through the air. Many people find that they think clearly and have lots of energy in ketosis, which seemed to be the case for me too — I’d say that I felt about 110% of normal.

Fortunately I didn’t have any problematic symptoms, known as “keto flu,” during the transition, likely because my body is already used to switching over to fat-burning, thanks to the experience I’ve built up with longer workouts and intermittent fasting.

On Wednesday I babysat a friend’s daughter at my house, and I served baked salmon with Trader Joe’s yuzu sauce (citrus-vinegar) and lots of vegetables — she loved it and didn’t seem to feel like anything was missing. Fortunately, it looked nicer than the meal pictured below 🙂

Red snapper, avocado, greens, peanuts, Spanish chorizo, avocado oil dressing … and I was pleased to learn that pure tequila has no carbs and I could include it in my week

By Thursday, though, I was starting to rebel against this way of eating. The turning point actually came at lunch on Wednesday, when I realized that I could eat only half a beet, and I still didn’t stay within my carb goal (22.5 grams that day).

Only half a beet allowed on Wednesday; is this really a healthy eating plan?

I was really craving fruit, and I was frustrated to find that even onions are carb-heavy.

I made it through Friday (sort of: 29 grams of carbs) and was relieved to stop, but also glad that I’d succeeded in my one-week challenge.

My observations/conclusions:

  • Of course an experiment of one person for one week does not mean much, if anything, but I did feel good, and I lost about 2 pounds.
  • I realized that extreme low-carb eating requires severely restricting many categories of foods that promote good health and longevity according to research: fruit in general; whole grains such as oats; root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, onions, carrots and beets; all kinds of beans; and legumes such as lentils and peas.
  • I did another keto week from August 1 – 7, with similar results. When I ended it by eating a peach, the sugar from the fruit hit me like a Starbucks nitro coffee 🙂
  • I think a keto week (or a few weeks) can be a good challenge for a healthy person without an eating disorder or any issues with fat metabolism. Learning to count carbs, staying away from starches/sugars, road-testing your alternative fuel system, and burning a little extra fat can all be beneficial.
  • On a high-fat diet like keto, I would recommend paying close attention to the quality of the fats. It just can’t be good to consume large amounts of factory-farmed animal products full of hormones and antibiotics, or highly processed commercial “keto” products.
  • After eating very low-carb for several days, even a food with a tiny bit of natural sugar, like cheese, tasted super-sweet. Once again I found it amazing how quickly my tastes can adapt and change.
  • I felt that my keto week was a good way to crank up my alternative fuel system for a while. Surely we evolved to use both systems, living off sugar and starches at harvest time, and burning fat during lean months or when only meat was available. It’s likely a very good thing to be “fat-adapted” and be able to switch back and forth easily.
  • There is some tantalizing evidence that the keto diet can be used to combat cancer . If I’m ever diagnosed with cancer, I’m definitely giving it a try.
  • But meanwhile, I’m just going to keep it in my repertoire as an occasional tool, like fasting. The research just isn’t there yet to support keto as a long-term beneficial eating plan (except for children with epilepsy, where any drawbacks are balanced by the diet’s ability to control their condition).

Have you tried a keto eating plan? Do you want to take one on as a temporary challenge (if you think it’s a healthy option for you)? Do you have any questions about my personal experiment? Let me know in the comments!

Getting Off Track, and Getting Back On

Hello dear readers! In February/March (!), I suddenly stopped posting on this blog, on Instagram and on my new-and-exciting business Facebook page.

Momentum! And then suddenly nothing :/

My life got a little more complicated than usual, and I let my online presence slide. Although I’m confident that no one here depended on me for entertainment or enlightenment :), simply disappearing was rude and unprofessional, and I apologize. I hope you will bear with me as I catch up and move forward.

It occurs to me that this experience has been very much like other ways of getting off track, like skipping an exercise class for weeks, getting out of the habit of meditating, or like one of my clients, resorting to takeout food day after day after moving and starting a new job.

Unexpected things happen in life … for me it was a time-intensive temporary assignment (translating a book about glaucoma treatment in Latin America into English, nerdy fun for me!), and then, sadly, the illness of our beloved cat Orange, who passed away on May 1.

The heat lamp seemed to help keep him comfortable as he battled cancer.

Yeah, today is August 6. I turned in the book project on April 23.

Hmmm.

The longer I’ve let something slide, the harder it is to jump back in. I have to start all over again building the habit (which feels like an unpleasant climb up a steep cliff). I’m also getting subtle failure-messages from a subconscious voice: “See, you couldn’t do it!” And finally, it’s just plain embarrassing to come back here and admit that I procrastinated for three months (I’ll give myself credit for April, when I truly had reasons to be sidetracked).

Even as I write these words, a little procrastination elf is running wild inside me, waving its arms and shouting. There’s a lot of laundry to do! The car is covered in bird poop! You need to write those thank-you notes that you’ve put off even longer than the blog! (oops)

But here I am. I’m finally doing it. And I’m doing it (rather than the so-tempting laundry) because I keep bringing my wandering mind back to my “why.”

Wash me!!

Blogging right now is worth the discomfort/embarrassment/driving a bird-poopy car for another day, because:

  • I’m excited about the topics I want to share, and I think they will be useful to others. I just counted the list I keep on my phone — 108 potential topics! (one down, 107 to go!)
  • If I provide useful content here, it not only may benefit readers directly, but also help expand my coaching practice, so I can do work I love and serve more people.

Good enough reasons to put my head down and finish this post. And seriously block off time every week to keep it going.

Have you been off track with something? If so, what is the powerful “why” that can bring you back?

With these reflections, something I have heard before makes even more sense to me now:

The best predictor of your success is not which eating plan you choose, or what kind of exercise you do, or how brilliant your business plan is.

It’s what you do when you get off track.

Do you believe the internal voice saying “I knew that wouldn’t work”? Do you procrastinate, like me, because it always seems that resuming will be easier tomorrow, or next week?

Here are some strategies to try (I’ve been off track in many ways over the years, and I find that for me, it takes ALL of them combined):

  • Focus on your positive “why” (get healthy and strong! be able to travel and hike and dance and play! send your ideas out into the world and see if they can have an impact!)
  • Practice self-compassion. Think of the understanding and encouragement you would extend to a friend whose last “weekly” blog post was on February 15 (arggh!). “Don’t worry; you can do it; jump back in; it’s OK; people will understand!”
  • Give yourself permission to start really small. This blog post is not complicated — I can publish it today. For other kinds of goals, maybe eat just one extra vegetable today, or take a 10-minute walk.
  • Make getting back on track as easy as possible. Get off-plan food out of the pantry; put your walking shoes by the door. I cleared out the whole day today for writing.
  • Link your identity to your chosen path. Who we are is not determined by our past — it evolves and changes. I can even become a Person Who Regularly Writes Thank-You Notes! I’m stubbornly clinging to my identity as a blogger. Hey, self-doubting voice: this is who I am, and this is what I do, so even if I have skipped it for longer than I did it in the first place, I have no doubt that I will eventually come back.
  • If a previous strategy just didn’t fit into your life (you didn’t enjoy it, or it didn’t seem to make a difference to your well-being or your progress), keep trying other strategies until something works. I regularly listen to the inspiring words of a certain animated gazelle, who reminds me to “Try Everything” and not give up.

I’m a health coach (fortunately, I did continue coaching wonderful and inspiring clients during all these months!). And I’m (still) a blogger.

“I won’t give up, no I won’t give in, ’til I reach the end, then I’ll start again. No, I won’t leave, I wanna try everything, I wanna try even though I could fail.”

See you next week!

I Tried Keto, Part 1: What’s it all about?

Suddenly “Keto” is everywhere. I even saw these Slim-Fast Keto bars this week at my local Giant supermarket:

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What is this new fad, and what’s the science behind it?

Quick background in case it’s helpful: Foods contain three macronutrients (substances that provide energy/calories): carbohydrates, proteins and fats.  (Interestingly, alcohol is technically a fourth macronutrient, at 7 calories per gram, compared to 9 for fat and 4 for both carbs and protein.)

The body breaks down carbohydrates (sugars and starches) into glucose, which provides energy for the body and especially for the brain.  Although the brain makes up only about 2% of body weight, it can use up to 20% of daily calories. And yes, it seems that demanding mental work does burn slightly more calories, so keep up the lifetime learning!

This summary is better than mine

For easy access, the body stores about a 1- to 2-day supply of glucose in the muscles and the liver. Note: when this storage is full, if you consume more carbohydrates, the body stores them as fat (insulin is the messenger giving this signal).

The body can also pull energy out of stored fat as needed — BUT the energy from fat isn’t in the form of glucose. The rest of the body can use it just fine, but the brain prefers glucose.

There’s even a backup system (gluconeogenesis) to produce glucose out of protein.

And there’s one more backup system in our incredibly complex and brilliant bodies (here’s where keto comes in, finally!). When we run out of glucose, our bodies can use fat to produce a different fuel for the brain: ketone bodies.

So … if we eat very little carbohydrate, and not too much protein (enough to repair and maintain our body tissues, which is the usual function of protein, and not so much that the excess is just begging to be turned into glucose), after our 1- to 2-day glucose supply runs out, the body will burn fat for energy and produce ketone bodies from fat to fuel our brains.  That’s called being in ketosis.

Clearly one way to get there is to fast for more than 1-2 days, since we aren’t replenishing our carbohydrates. You’ve likely done this before, for instance when you had a stomach bug and couldn’t eat for a couple of days. (You were in ketosis! Not so strange or revolutionary … )

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Burn this, not my muscles, please!

Question: in this situation, why doesn’t the body just reach into its protein stores and form glucose via gluconeogenesis? Answer: Protein isn’t really stored in the body — it’s in the form of functional tissues such as muscles. It would be pretty foolish for the body to eat up its own muscles when it has plenty of fat cells hanging around full of juicy 9-calorie-per-gram energy. Of course in the case of starvation, when fat stores are used up, muscle will be broken down to fuel the brain. Some muscle can also be broken down when a lot of energy is needed quickly, because extracting energy from fat is a relatively slow process.

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Oil and butter in your coffee instead of milk and sugar?

Besides fasting, another way to get into ketosis is to eat mainly fats, a very low amount of carbohydrate (less than 20-30 grams per day), and moderate protein.

This is the ketogenic diet, which has a well-accepted medical use to prevent epileptic seizures in children.

But is it good for the rest of us?

My own January challenge for myself was to get into ketosis for a week, try it out and form my own conclusions.  Find out what happened in my next blog post!

Your Fierce 2024 Self

January is a good time to think about what we want to achieve in the coming year.  (I hope your January challenges are going well!)

2019-01-24 16.35.12An even longer-term perspective can also be useful. It’s an interesting exercise to relax with a notebook and take some time to imagine the person you would like to be five years from now. What is your life like? What are you like?

I tried it this morning, and some of my answers surprised me.

I know what I hope to be doing in 2024 — still working on my health coaching practice, since it will only be six years old by then :). I imagine myself as a successful health coach, providing valuable services to help my clients achieve their goals. I’m not sure what all of these services will be (individual coaching, group coaching, personal training, online courses, exercise programs, workshops, retreats, books ??), but I know I’ll keep learning, trying different things and figuring out what people want and need, so I’m confident that I’ll be contributing something valuable in 2024, and surely my practice will be much bigger than it is now, with my seven awesome clients and 18 blog followers (thank you all!!).

That means I will be at a very different level as a businessperson. I may hire others to help me (new experience, yikes!), network in bigger circles, and generally invest more in myself and my business. In fact, I’ve got to take this leap if I want to serve more people and be more effective. Hmm …

Meanwhile, at nearly 63 years old in 2024, I’ll surely have thinner hair and more wrinkles, loose skin

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Five years from now, I’ll think this hand looks pretty young!

and age spots, but ha! I fully accept and love that vision of myself. My physical goals for myself can be summed up by saying that I would love to keep moving in the direction of the incredible Ernestine Shepherd, who was 80 years old in this 3-minute video.

Those two areas were what I expected to cover in my future-self contemplation: (1) professional success and (2) the ongoing transformation of a former computer-desk-potato into someone who can run, jump, throw, lift, bend, climb, dance and balance like a natural human.

But another topic came up during my reflection. When I took the time to vividly picture 2024-me, I realized that I wanted to be not just a successful coach and a fit older person, but also an advocate for change. In my childhood, it was normal for people to smoke in offices and on airplanes (yes, hard to believe, but we changed the culture, well done us!). Now it’s normal to be sedentary, especially as we age, and to eat highly processed foodstuffs that aren’t good for us. Somehow, 2024-me will find ways to help empower people to find fierce joy and radiant health (not deprivation) in natural movement and real foods.

What should I do with these realizations? I can map out the small steps that will get me where I want to be, make a plan and follow it. I can create a vision board and look at it every day to keep me motivated. I can hire my own coach to help propel me forward.

The best advice of all, I think, comes from always-brilliant Brooke Castillo of The Life Coach School: think about who you want to be in the future, and then figure out how you can be more like that person right now. Taking on the thoughts, beliefs, feelings and actions of the self you want to be will help you become that person (maybe even before 2024!).

Brooke talks about the struggles she went through to overcome her habit of drinking too much Chardonnay. She realized that she wanted to be someone who didn’t obsess about alcohol, either positively or negatively. Her future self would be able to go to a party or dinner and just not care about wine at all (like a non-smoker isn’t tempted to smoke). What would it take for her to become a person like that? That was the key question in her successful journey.

In my case, instead of doubting myself as I often still do, 2024-me would think “My coaching practice is successful. I can help others and make a difference.”  2024-me feels self-confident and has the courage to push herself to higher levels. Actions I can take with her in mind include promoting, expanding and investing in my health coaching practice, and thinking of myself (now!) as a creative advocate for change.

Wow — I guess I got a lot out of this exercise. What about you? I challenge you to take some time and vividly picture your best 2024 self.

If your future path isn’t clear like mine seems to be, just imagine one possible version of a self you would like to be in 2024. Or perhaps several versions if you are contemplating more than one path — they could be quite interesting to compare!

Some questions you might ask yourself as you imagine yourself in 2024:

  • What goals have you met by then (personal, professional, health)?
  • What are you doing that is meaningful to you?
  • What are you doing that you enjoy?
  • What new skills have you gained?
  • What current skills have you developed further?
  • What values are guiding your actions?
  • How are you expressing your true self more closely?
  • What role model(s) have you become more like?
  • What challenges have you overcome?
  • What personal strengths have you continued to cultivate?
  • What areas of weakness have become stronger?
  • What people are most important in your life?

A related and fun exercise is writing a letter to your future self. Here’s a website that makes it easy to create a message to  be emailed to your future self, one year or five years from now (or at a custom time). I wrote one of each this morning. 2024-me will surely smile when she gets today’s awkward message. Of course, she may turn out to be nothing like the person I’ve imagined here. But just bringing her to mind has helped me clarify what I’m doing now, and why,

So give it a try, if you find this exercise intriguing. Who is your 2024 self? What are you thinking, believing, feeling and doing then? And how can you do more of those things now?

What’s Your January Challenge?

A new year inspires us to new beginnings. Holiday feasting is over, and in the northern hemisphere, the darkest nights are behind us. Even though winter has just begun, the days are lengthening and sunlight is beginning to return.

Now is the perfect time for a fierce (or gentle) January challenge. It doesn’t have to be for the whole month — just a week-long or weekday challenge may be a perfect start.

Completing a challenge brings multiple benefits:

  1. You take control and prove to yourself that you have power over your habits.
  2. In an “N=1 experiment” (an experiment with only one study subject: you), you’ll discover how you, as a unique individual, feel after making the change. Do your joints ache less? Does your skin look better? Are you sleeping more deeply?
  3. You gain courage, confidence and self-efficacy that will help you successfully make the next change.

cropped-muscle-arm.pngHowever, this only works if you actually do it.  If you take on a challenge and don’t complete it, you’re sending yourself unfortunate messages, like “see, I’ve failed again.”

So here’s the key to a January Challenge: choose one that is a bit of a stretch for you, but you know you can accomplish it, in spite of the inevitable special events, travel or family emergencies. (Of course if you commit to 50 push-ups a day for 30 days and you get the flu, you’ve got to take a break, but you can simply extend your challenge by the same number of days at the end.)

There’s a human tendency to imagine we’ll be able to do something easily in the future, but when we actually reach the moment, it seems hard and we postpone it again. Especially if this is a pattern for you (as it is for nearly all of us!), scale back your challenge until it seems almost too easy. Completing it will give you confidence and momentum for more challenging steps!

Here are some very assorted ideas for January Challenges. Which one is right for you?

  • Dry January (no alcohol all month; I did this in October and it wasn’t easy; I’ll tell my story in a future blog post!).
  • If you are feeling super-fierce, or super-fed-up and ready for a big change, try a Whole30. You only eat nature’s healthiest foods for a whole month, and if you slip up, the clock resets for another 30 days. It can be life-changing!
  • No alcohol for a week.
  • Alcohol only on weekends.
  • Limiting alcohol to below the risk threshold if you are currently above it.
  • No added sugars all month. This means no processed foods, recipes or beverages with added sugars — it’s tough because sugar is everywhere, but you will likely feel a positive difference if you can do it! Feel free to contact me for guidance.
  • No added sugars for just a week, or on weekdays.
  • No sweetened beverages all month (I’d also suggest skipping artificial sweeteners to help conquer the sweetness habit and cravings).
  • Tapering off caffeine and then going without it for a period of your choice.
  • Getting 5 servings of vegetables every day (or 1-2 more servings than you currently consume; white potatoes don’t count!).2015-12-20 18.06.56
  • Having 2 servings of fresh fruit every day (easy, and helps drive out other sweet treats).
  • Cutting out a “trigger food” that you have trouble resisting (candy, cookies, chips, soda) for a month, a week, or during weekdays.
  • Getting off your phone and social media 1 hour or more before bedtime.
  • Closing your eating window right after dinner or at a certain time in the evening and having only non-caloric beverages (water, herb tea) until breakfast.
  • Tracking your walking steps and setting a goal for the week, maybe 50,000 steps a week.
  • Taking at least a 10-minute walk every day, even if it’s cold or raining.
  • Doing 5 minutes of exercise every morning, even just marching in place while listening to motivating music.
  • Meditating for one minute on the first day, working your way up each day by 30 seconds, so you’ll get to 15 minutes by the end of the month. Here’s a quick guide  (don’t worry that they recommend 15 minutes as a minimum, you’ll get there!) or feel free to contact me for guidance.
  • Doing one push-up on the first day, working your way up by one each day until you can do 31 on day 31. Here’s a quick tutorial (if you’re a beginner, go to 1:43 in the video where she explains how to start on your knees or with a chair)
  • Before you get up in the morning, or before you fall asleep at night, thinking of 5 things you’re grateful for. A gratitude practice is extremely simple but can have huge effects on your outlook on life.
  • Or ???  Please comment below and share your challenge!

Now that you’ve chosen your challenge, put all the tools in place to make sure it happens.

  1. Break the habit cycle. A habit involves a cue or trigger and then an automatic response. You take a break at work and have a donut. You hear the alarm and hit the snooze button. You wake up and check your email. Identify those key moments and plug in a better substitute. When you feel like taking a break at work, go on your 10-minute walk. Turn off the alarm and do your gratitude or meditation practice. When I cut out alcohol for 30 days and craved wine before dinner, I turned to grapes and blue cheese as a substitute treat, and I contacted my friend Viviana via WhatsApp for support (thanks Viviana!). Try the 5-Second Rule — when you notice yourself wavering between “I should” and “I don’t feel like it,” count down 5-4-3-2-1 and do the right thing!
  2. Track your progress. As all game designers know, getting little rewards like gold stars is motivating, as silly as it sounds. Track your progress on your calendar, a chart hanging on your mirror, or something else you will see each day. Maybe track along with a friend or even compete with each other.
  3. Find support/accountability. Reaching out every evening to my friend Viviana 2018-12-27 08.54.55was crucial for my 30-day no-alcohol challenge. I knew she was expecting to hear from me, and I could complain to her when I was feeling tempted. (It turns out that our contact every day encouraged her to start exercising again, since she’d fallen out of the habit!) If you’re my client, I am happy to provide accountability every day for whatever challenge you choose!
  4. Find your “why”: who do you want to be? Your challenge points to the healthy, bold, positive self you want to bring out. Find a statement that expresses this and remind yourself of it every day: “I’m an active person who exercises every morning.” “I’m in control over my drinking/snacking/sugar consumption/social media time.” “I eat tons of healthy vegetables.” “I practice mindfulness/gratitude.” OK, these sound a bit dull — I know you can do better! Share yours below if you’re willing!

What if you realize your challenge was a mistake? Maybe you’re feeling worse instead of better, or you realize that you simply can’t keep it up. To avoid the negative consequences of “giving up,” when you stop your original challenge, start a new challenge immediately that you know you can fulfill. It’s OK to choose something super-easy, like meditating for one minute before bedtime or thinking of three things you’re grateful for each morning. Any small step in the right direction that you stick with is a victory.

I’m looking forward to hearing about your January challenge! If you need more support, please consider working with me by phone or in person. Happy New Year!

Feasting and Fasting

Feasting and fasting seem to be a natural human rhythm. Sometimes they are part of a ritual structure (Lent, Ramadan). Feasting and fasting are also simply the logical consequence of an uncertain food supply (berries in season, successful hunt — or not).

Today, there is tempting food all around us, pretty much all the time. When we add

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Raclette feast with my wonderful neighbors!

celebratory holiday feasts, we can quickly tip into excess. Restoring the “fasting” element can put us back into balance.

By fasting I mean any kind of limitation, like “no meat on Fridays,” not necessarily water-only fasting (and definitely not going without both food and water all day, which I highly respect observant Muslims for doing, but which is not medically recommended!).

Typical holiday weight gain is sometimes exaggerated; this study suggests it is likely only one pound on average. But if you’re hoping to go in the other direction, building up some “fasting powers” to counteract your holiday indulgences can make all the difference.

What fasting powers are you ready to develop?  Here are a few to consider:

The power to choose and stick to your choices. What do you most look forward to enjoying? What are you willing to let go? What do you need to limit? If this is a problem area for you (if you often resolve to avoid or limit a particular item but cave anyway), start small and build your powers gradually. For instance, you might have one dessert-free night this week, or avoid one tempting item at a party. Find something that is easy enough that you’ll definitely do it, and take that confidence forward into the next step!

The power to say “no, thank you.”  Especially during the holidays, there is a lot of social pressure to eat and drink things that we don’t think are right for us. If you were highly allergic to the item (peanuts? shellfish?), or if you hated the taste (liver? cilantro?) you would easily and politely refuse it. Stand up for your own health priorities in the same way. If a smiling “no, thank you” isn’t enough, try the recommendation of Susan Peirce Thompson of Bright Line Eating: “I’m feeling really content right now.” Susan also recommends focusing on the people at an event, not the food/drink. Reaching out and learning interesting things about other guests, with a glass of sparkling water in your hand, is also a fasting power!

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Bedtime snack: water and a little Himalayan pink salt (a gift from my friend Amber, thanks Amber!)

The power to close your “eating window.” “Don’t eat within three hours of going to bed” is standard health advice. With 8 hours spent sleeping, that adds up to 12 hours. For instance, you might close your eating window at 8 pm and open it at 8 am, only consuming water, herb tea and similar while your “window” is closed. During that time, your digestive system gets some rest, your insulin levels go down, your body carries out repair processes, and you burn stored fat for fuel (notice that you’re probably not ravenously hungry right when you wake up, even after going without food all night). Once you can comfortably go for 12 hours, you might experiment with keeping your “eating window” closed a bit longer and see if it works for you (see important cautions below).

The power to reduce calories some days. There are many options for doing this in a healthful way that feels good. Some ideas to consider to replace typical meals are homemade soups, bone broth, salad with protein, green juices, green smoothies, or high-quality protein shakes. There’s evidence that this works better than restricting calories day after day (and it certainly seems more in line with our biological heritage). In this very exciting study, medically supervised patients who had only one meal plus fluids three days a week, while eating normally on the other days, were not only able to lose weight but actually reversed their type 2 diabetes, while reporting that they felt good during the process. We don’t have to go that far to see some of the benefits! (Consult your health practitioner before significantly changing your eating plan, and please read the guidelines below.)

The power to take on a longer challenge. How about “Dry January” with no alcohol? A month without added sugar? A no-caffeine challenge? Or even a Whole 30 ? What challenge will make you feel fierce, healthy and in control? This will be my topic for next week, as we all move toward a fresh start for 2019!

And now, lots of important cautionary guidelines 🙂

  1. If you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medications, check with your health practitioner before making significant changes to your eating plan.
  2. No matter what you’re trying, always stay well-hydrated, and monitor how you’re feeling. Healthy living feels good! If something doesn’t feel right, stop.
  3. Whenever you significantly change your eating plan, monitor yourself carefully for any troubling thoughts or symptoms (bingeing, obsession with food, significant anxiety about eating the “wrong” foods). If you experience any of this, you are not on the right path. Stop what you’re doing and consult a specialist. If you have an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia), ask your health practitioner to supervise any dietary changes you make, and if you’ve had one of these conditions in the past, also consult with your practitioner about your planned changes, and do not try unsupervised water fasts.
  4. Any time you reduce calories, you need to pack more nutrition into the remaining meals. Be sure to get an average of at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day (extras on feasting days if you have fewer on other days) , and definitely more than the recommended minimum of 1/3 gram of protein per pound of your bodyweight (so if you weigh 180 pounds, the absolute minimum is 60 grams); here is a good guide to the protein in servings of typical healthy foods).
  5. Reduce overall weekly calories by only a modest, sustainable percentage (maybe 20% at most).
  6. If you’ve gone a while without eating, ease back in gently, maybe with a soup, salad or green juice rather than a big plate of ribs from Rudy’s Barbecue in Laredo, Texas  — that was me after 16 hours of fasting; I went from feeling lousy because I hadn’t eaten to feeling lousy in a different way :-/ .

With your fasting powers, enjoy your holiday feasts without guilt!

The Journey Starts with Self-Compassion, Part 2 : The Humans

I live in my own head. It’s not always comfortable in here.

I know about every one of my appalling mistakes, my thoughtless comments, the many ways I’ve let people (and myself) down.

Self-criticism helps us learn from errors and avoid them in the future. But for me, all too often, it has escalated into an ongoing cycle of shame and self-loathing. In my worst moments, I’ve even wondered whether the world might be better off without me in it.

Would I ever think that way about a friend?

2017-12-05 14.38.03Here are two good friends of mine, Nohemí and Martha, along with myself and my amazing mom Ellie, at a Christmas market in Mulhouse, France.

Martha, Nohemí and I became friends more than 15 years ago, when we all lived in Germany because of our spouses’ jobs.

We try to meet up in person every year or so. We start by reporting all the things that are going well: our family vacations, our successes. But gradually we reveal more. Difficult relationships. Regrets over missed opportunities. Fears about what might come next.

I hear their doubts, and I share mine. In their eyes and words there is unflinching support and deep compassion.

What if I could see even deeper into their minds, recognizing all of their flaws, failings and mistakes as I do my own? Would I despise them? Or would I embrace them even more closely, with love and understanding?

In Part 1, I suggested treating our bodies in the same way that we would treat a beloved, respected animal.

How about treating our entire selves as we would a friend?

Nohemí, Martha, you and I, we are all flawed heroes, on a journey through life, often stumbling as we go.

But we all deserve self-care and the best health we can achieve. We deserve another chance, and another, even if we’ve fallen short in the past. We deserve to feel good about ourselves, in spite of our mistakes and physical flaws (pfft, physical flaws! Do you worry about those in a friend?).

I send my friends compassion. I send it to you. I have finally learned to start sending it to myself.

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