A little joy goes a long way

I don’t know why it took me so long to add music to my cell phone, but now it has made the difference between going for a jog or not. Though I love yoga, I need something else too, some consistent cardio in my routine. I love the simplicity of a jog- put on sneakers, walk out the door, back in forty-five minutes. I only jog about half of my route, and walk the other half, but it’s enough. I like how I feel after the jog. But I just didn’t like doing it.

Problem was, my inner rebel (or is it my inner sloth?) would put her foot down at the mere thought of jogging.

It’s too hard.

It’s too hot out, cold out, wet out. (She has a point)

It’s boring.

I don’t even like running.

Turns out, I just had to add a little joy. A little joy goes a long way.

When my kids were little, they made a game out trying on the next season’s clothing to see what still fit (named the fashion game). Cleaning up or helping to prepare meals could be fun. Learning, when it’s organic and unforced, is full of joy. Brushing and flossing teeth before bed was often a sisterly ritual, one that sometimes had to be hurried along as their chitchat continued past bedtime. And to this day, my youngest daughter plays her favorite music when she has a lot of laundry to put away, to make it a pleasant task.

It’s easy to figure out kids are more cooperative when there is joy involved. But guess what? Adults aren’t much different. We need joy too, and lots of it.

Tasks that are often tedious really can be fun.   Joy can make all the difference.

It turns out music was the joyful, magic ingredient to my morning jogs.

Oh Spotify, how I love thee. I named my first playlist Jogging. How much more enjoyable it has become to put one foot in front of the other while the Dixie Chicks, Darius Rucker, Toby Keith and Tom Petty are belting out their tunes. Oh Joy! Now my brain associates lacing up my sneakers with hearing some of my favorite music. And as a bonus, I often return from these jog-walks with an idea for an article drafted in my head.

I like dessert. I really like dessert. Which brings me to more joy.

I’ve cut those addictive sweets out of my life, as told in this post: https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/farewell-my-sweets/

Say what?! Nooooo.

Enter the joy of Dessert Substitutes. I am having fun finding dessert recipes that are sugar free and gluten free (the two ingredients that make me tired, unhealthy, creatively blocked and yet make me want more, more, more).

I have made delicious, flour-free cookies sweetened with stevia, and smoothies made with greek yogurt, frozen fruit and veggies. But there are so many more recipes for healthy desserts to try, I will never grow bored.

20150701_173611My latest joyful discovery is the very simple banana “ice cream”. I think I may be the last person to find this on the internet, but just in case you haven’t tried it yet and want to: Just slice and freeze bananas for a couple hours, put them through a blender (add peanut butter or cocoa if you desire, or both for a chocolate-peanut butter-banana flavor). Once you have a smooth texture, put into small bowls and freeze for several more hours or overnight. The high pectin content in bananas cause them to freeze into a creamy, rich dessert.20150701_174741

The joy of this discovery has eased the craving of the more traditional desserts that I miss.

So my point is, when faced with something we want to desire to do, but really don’t feel like doing, asking “What would add joy?” is sometimes hugely helpful. A dose of joy just might be the difference between the change we are looking for, or staying stuck.

But still, sometimes tasks are just going to be tedious, for children and adults alike, and we just have to do them anyway.   I doubt many people have found  joy in emptying the trash or taking the SATs.  The joy is simply in getting it done. But when we have the option of adding joy, why not?

Go Joy.

Farewell my sweets

It has been over a year since I wrote about my sugar habit in this post: https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2013/11/30/sweet-surrender/

Not much has changed. You could say I’m mindful about consuming sugar, but really I’m just aware of how addicted I am. No matter how much I engage in healthy habits, this sugar thing has got me beat. I find it easy to embrace a healthy lifestyle in all other areas but this one. It is the stubborn habit that has followed me around my entire life.

But it’s a new year and never too late for change. Recently, I read Gretchen Rubin’s article on habits:

http://www.gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2012/10/back-by-popular-demand-are-you-an-abstainer-or-a-moderator/

She proposes that when it comes to managing indulgences, there are abstainers and there are moderators, and life is easier if we identify which one we are. I want to be a moderator. That sounds so healthy. So moderate. Everything in moderation, right? But alas, I am not a moderator. Not when it comes to sugar.

With sugar, I want what I want. One means two means three. There is no saving dessert for later or tomorrow, because if it’s there, I’m going to have it. Now. And if I have it one day, I must have it the next.

I tried the eating sweets only on special occasions idea of moderating, and I failed. Every occasion became special. Not just birthdays and holidays, which by the way, seem to come around an awful lot. But it was also special when my husband brought home Ben & Jerry’s from the grocery store. And it was special if we found ourselves near a bakery where we could get cannolis. And it was special when it was the weekend or the kids were home or we’re out to dinner or…

You see how that goes?

And there was the pre-sliced cheesecake I bought from Trader Joe’s and told myself I’d save  for Thanksgiving. When my husband asked if we could perhaps break into the cheesecake before the holiday, I was adamant. No, of course we can’t! Then I fessed up. We can’t because I’ve already sampled two pieces. If anyone was going to sample the cheesecake, it had to me. Obviously.  I was the sugar addict after all.

Then there was Christmas day when I walked into my parents’ house and headed straight to their freezer where I knew they stored the whoopie pies. I helped myself to the over- sized dessert before anyone had even begun the meal. It was like I was five years old again, but it was less cute now.

But recently, I think I hit rock bottom. On a mini-road trip with one of my daughters, we left the Norman Rockwell museum and were back on the road. My daughter decided she wanted an ice cream cone, and with limited choices nearby, would settle for a McDonald’s vanilla cone.

She is a person who can indulge in sweets moderately, so of course I obliged. Once I placed her order in the drive thru, I drove to the second window to pay. I was happy with myself that I had opted to abstain from the dessert. This was a rare event: being in the presence of someone else eating ice cream and not having any. Actually, it had never happened before.

It was then that I remembered the Mcflurry- that soft serve ice cream with the candy mixed in. I wanted one. I began my internal battle: to have or not to have, my superego and my id wrestling it out right there in the drive thru. We’d already ordered. The server handed me my daughter’s cone. It was time to pay and leave. I asked her to add a Mcflurry to our order. Seeming a bit annoyed, understandably, she said okay and walked away.

Then an alarm went off. A loud, ear piercing alarm sent the employees scurrying around inside. I should have left. Surely they were facing a bit of a crisis, maybe even a fire. For all I knew, they were being held by gun point at the cash register. Clearly, it was time to move on from the Mcflurry. But no, I wanted it dammit. I waited. And waited.

Eventually the girl reappeared, flustered and holding my sugar fix. I tried to pay her and she waved me away. Just go.

My daughter was in hysterics, laughing. At least I had amused someone.

Am I out of control ?

Then I remembered the gum.

Many years ago I was chewing a piece of sugarless gum when I felt a filling loosen in my mouth. It scared me and I instantly spat the gum out. I never chewed gum again. Plain and simple, I simply decided in that moment that I would not chew gum. I feared my filling would come out and it just didn’t seem worth it. I’ve never questioned it or even reassessed the choice. I just am someone who does not chew gum now. Period.

It was easy. It’s only gum, after all. I had no real attachment to gum.

But my point is this: I am an abstainer when it comes to something I think is not good for me. A clean break frees me from the decision, the attempts at moderating, the assessing  how much and when and where. If I think it might do me harm, I am better off just taking it off the table.

I think forty-something years of attempting to be a moderator of sugar consumption is enough time. I surrender. My body is talking to me and my mind is trying every which way to reason and bargain and promise. But alas, my body wins. I must say no.

Perhaps someday I will be able to moderate sugar.  Maybe I will become one of those people who can take two bites of cheesecake and then declare that it is too rich to have any more. (In the words of my sister, anyone who thinks cheesecake is filling hasn’t seen me eat cheesecake).

But for now at least, I am an abstainer. It is time to admit this and try it on for size. I am changing my belief about myself. I used to be someone who ate sugar regularly, and the more I had, the more I wanted.

Now, only now, I am someone who doesn’t eat sweets.

No dessert for me, thank you. I don’t eat dessert.

I hardly recognize those words. I’ve never said them before. Change is good.

Some say sugar is every bit as addictive as cocaine, and heroin. I know there are going to be moments when I will want to sell my soul for a brownie. But eventually, it will pass.

My body will thank me. My mind will thank me. Life will be sweeter without the burden of this sugar habit, this sweet poison that has followed me around relentlessly. Alas, I will be free.

My name is Dana. And I don’t eat sugar anymore. medium_7774382226End of story  .

Our Nutritional Guru: The Body

The mind’s first step to self-awareness must be through the body.   –George Sheehan

Recently, while at a writers seminar, one woman wrote about how she used to get in fights w/ another girl every day after lunch, before she knew it was caused by her body’s severe mental and physical  reaction to sugar and wheat.  Are you kidding me, I thought. I actually asked her to repeat herself. I’d heard her correctly.  These foods took over her mind and body, as she described it.  She reacted with rage, pummeling the other girl to the ground, causing her opponent to call her “crazy eyes”.

As extreme as this sounded to me, it was a reminder of what I already knew. What we eat affects the way we feel, and this truly is a gift.  When the information of what is good for us and what is not is overwhelming, all we have to do is tune in to our bodies. As a yoga instructor and student, I am very familiar with the mantra, listen to your body.  It’s our key to knowing when we are pushing too hard or not hard enough.  Even more importantly, it’s where we feel our intuition,  hence the terms,  “gut feeling” and “heart wrenching”.  Our body is our instrument for feeling everything.

So when it comes to diet, it really can be that simple.  Listen to the body. It never lies. Though just some of us have food allergies, all of us have foods that fuel us and food that makes us sluggish, cranky or bloated.  Sugar makes me tired, as does anything made from flour- bread, pasta, baked goods.  I don’t even get the surge in energy I hear others talk about. I go right to the crash. A bowl of spaghetti leaves me wanting a nap.  Likewise, a plate of cookies can send me to bed.  I am fine with dairy, meat, nuts, rice, and of course fruits and vegetables, especially when raw.  Water is my magic elixir.  I feel icky when I eat anything packaged.

Though people react differently to different foods, it is generally accepted that hydrogenated oils, excess sugar, or basically any processed food versus whole foods, should not be consumed in excess. Some prefer to eliminate them altogether.  Some studies suggest raw foods are far superior to cooked.  And now there is also a lot of hype around gluten, and to quote from the article below, “There is an ever-growing body of research to support the fact that gluten sensitivity is not just an in-fashion health fad, but a real, pressing phenomenon that deserves our attention in a large-scale way.”  Anyone who is curious or interested in this suggestion can read from the following link: http://fixyourdigestion.com/the-trouble-with-gluten/

Chances are, if your body is not tolerating gluten or any other food very well, you won’t feel great after eating it. Foods should be healing, energizing, and we should actually feel vibrant after eating them. Live foods make us feel alive. The information is out there in excess. Whatever we want to research- raw food diets, sugar addiction, gluten intolerance, foods that cause obesity and foods that help us maintain a healthy weight- there is no shortage of information, and often some of this information changes over time:  The importance of dairy. The detriment of dairy.  The merits of a vegetarian or vegan diet. The pitfalls of such diets.   But where do we turn when all this information is just too much? Turn inward. Tune in. The body’s wisdom is always available, silently telling us what to do. We just have to pay attention.

Sweet Surrender

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Glorious as they are, holidays are also “fend off the sweets” time for me.  I wish I could write a post about how very simple it is to just give up sugar. Or eat it occasionally, moderately, or minimally. Even around the holidays.

My earliest memory of sugar is at about the age of three.  Alone in the kitchen, in the home we shared with my grandmother, I remember opening the refrigerator and finding a jar of butterscotch sauce. Curious, I opened it, dipping my index finger in and licking off the thick, sticky substance.  I was in heaven.  Why hadn’t I ever had this before? I reached in again, this time swirling my finger around to collect as much as it could hold, tasting again the sweet, buttery flavor that I would love forevermore.

I was just slightly older when my grandmother, having noticed I seemed to love the maple syrup more than the pancakes at breakfast, poured some into a bowl and handed me a spoon. She wanted to make me happy. So I sat at the kitchen table, eating a bowl of maple syrup just like it was soup. This was back in the day that we didn’t discuss the harmful effects of sugar. There was not a lot of talk about diabetes, heart disease or obesity. What you ate and your health were seemingly unrelated issues.

When my father went out at night and I stayed at home with my grandmother, we would sit in the living room watching television shows, each with our stash of m&ms, sweet tarts, and my personal favorite, malted milk balls.  I used to love how they come in what looks like a milk carton, and I would slowly pour them into my mouth, offering myself a “drink” of chocolate.

My father would remind my grandmother not to let me watch adult shows, and that if Johnny Carson came on it meant I’d stayed up too late.  But he never told her what I couldn’t eat. So there we’d sit together, through The Dick Van Dyke  Show, The Waltons, and Lawrence Welk, eating one piece of candy after the other until the news would come on and, seeing my grandmother asleep in her big chair, I would get up off the couch, throw away my wrappers, and trod off to bed.

During holidays, I would amuse the adults by heading straight for the sweets, sampling nearly everything that was available. Brownies with cream cheese, Christmas cookies in every color, and scotcheroos, the name my grandmother had given to her special rice crispy treats. One year her scotcheroos came out especially dense and so my cousins  renamed them ‘hard-to-chews’.  But hard as they were, it did not stop me from eating them.

After the festivities had died down, usually at bedtime, I would come down with a stomach ache. My father would find me holding my belly, doubled over and moaning. Feeling sorry for me, he’d sit me up on the kitchen counter while he got out the pepto-bismol. You’d think I would’ve learned my lesson, but this was a regular occurrence. It was around the time the famous Stanford Marshmallow Test was beginning. Surely I would’ve been one of the kids who failed.

Despite my love of sugar, I never struggled with weight. I was a tiny child, prompting people to exclaim, “Where do you put all those sweets?”  If only my sweet tooth, as it was affectionately called, had been left behind with childhood… But childhood habits don’t shed easily, and so despite knowing full well how this craving can cause me harm, it still occupies my body with a bizarre persistence, reminding me of my weakness that hasn’t just gone away.  I am the heroin addict, the alcoholic, the gambler, the petty thief.  Except that I can find my fix for a dollar, at the local store, the social gathering, the meeting, and occasionally in my own kitchen cabinets. It is brought to me on platters, delivered in a pretty basket at my doorstep. Whenever I think I have a grip on it, there it is, taunting and tempting me. Birthdays, holidays, end of school, start of summer cookouts, a thank you from a neighbor- I’ve determined that we celebrate, give thanks, start and end every occasion in life with a piece of cake.

All hope is not lost though. When I’m at my best, I like to see the struggle as an opportunity to see what happens in those spaces when I don’t reach for the sugar.  I believe something wonderful can come from something difficult.  Today, just for today, I reach for whatever is beneath the craving, to the absurd nature of this habit. In a sweet surrender, I allow it to surface, express itself, release me from its grip.