Category Archives: Tools

How to Set Clear and Healthy Boundaries That Actually Work

People are going to cross your boundaries. Here's how to make more effective ones.

People are going to cross your boundaries. Here’s how to make more effective ones.

One of the biggest causes of frustration that I see people dealing with is that they go through their lives feeling walked all over, stepped on, disrespected and that other people are taking advantage of them, over and over again. If this is something you struggle with regularly, it’s very likely that you aren’t good at setting boundaries or that you don’t know how to set boundaries correctly.

I hear “They don’t respect my boundaries” a lot. But, we can’t stop people from doing the things they do. For some reason, in our society, we think we have a right to control how other people act and because of that, most people think that others need to respect their boundaries and they can’t figure out a way to make that happen. They get frustrated. They don’t feel like boundaries are worth setting. But that’s because they’re setting boundaries with the expectation that the other person controls whether it works or not. Of course that’s not going to be effective!

People are going to cross your boundaries. That’s life. You cannot stop people from pushing your buttons or from doing things you don’t want them to do. They don’t have to respect your boundaries. You have to respect your boundaries.

They don’t have to respect your boundaries. You have to respect your boundaries.”

I’m going to tell you how to make boundaries work for you so that you never feel powerless or walked all over ever again.

First, remember that no one can walk all over you or take advantage of you without your compliance.

How we respond when someone tries to do this to us, either reinforces to them that they can keep on doing that behavior without repercussions or shows them that their actions won’t be tolerated. We choose how to respond and how we’re going to allow ourselves to be treated.

Getting good at setting personal boundaries means a lot of things have to happen – you’ve got some personal development work to do to be able to do this well! You have to have a good amount of confidence in yourself. You also need to learn how and when to say no, always say what you mean (stop beating around the bush and expecting other’s to know what you need) and let go of the need to be liked by everyone all of the time. You also have to be able to recognize that a boundary is something you put in place to protect you – it’s not put in place for the other person to abide by (which can be tricky to understand – I’ll go more in detail about this difference).

Today we’re going to go over all of this – what boundaries actually are (not what most of us think!), how to set them, enforce them and what boundaries are NOT. Really getting familiar with boundary setting has helped me navigate my personal and professional relationships with so much more ease. With clear boundaries, I no longer worry what to do when I’m with people who want to push my buttons or when family members overstep their bounds. I choose what’s best for me thank you – and I confidently make decisions as to how to handle myself.

If you take the time to learn this tool and practice it, it will make an amazing difference in all of your relationships – but especially the relationship you have with yourself.

Let’s talk boundaries, shall we?

What is a boundary?
First off, a lot of people think a boundary is something we set for other people in order for them to behave the way we want them to. Nope. This is wrong. That’s manipulation.

We can’t control how other people act. We cannot change someone else’s behavior (though wouldn’t we all like to sometimes!). Clear and effective boundaries can only be set from this perspective.

What we can do is set boundaries for ourselves. We decide what we are ok with and not ok with. How others get to treat us. How we want to feel in our relationships.

A boundary is an action you decide that you will take if someone does something that violates either your physical or emotional personal space. Your physical space is your body, your home, your safety. Your emotional space is a little harder to define but I see it as “how I decide I am willing to be treated” or what my “emotional dealbreakers” are. There is shit I won’t put up with in my life.

Here’s an example of a physical one. Let’s say someone steps on my toes in public. The boundary I will set is that I will move away from someone if they step on me. Pretty obvious right? I don’t even have to communicate this boundary to the person. I can take care of my physical needs (which includes not being stepped on) without them even being involved. Notice the boundary does not require the other person to do anything but is instead is something I do in response to their action.

Here’s an example of an emotional one. Let’s say I have a friend who really hates my husband and keeps talking shit about him to me. I can’t make her like my husband and I can’t control what she says to other people about him but I can decide how I want to be treated. The boundary in this case I would set is that I would ask her to no longer talk negatively about him in my presence. If she continues to talk about him, I will leave. If she calls me and wants to talk shit about him, I will hang up the phone. (This is a fictional situation by the way! My best girlfriends are fab and all love my husband). Notice again, this is an action I take in response to a boundary violation. It is not an action I ask her to take. She is still free to hate my husband. She is still free to talk about him until she’s blue in the face, even in my presence, but I don’t have to participate in it.

What a boundary is not
A boundary is not a threat or done in retaliation. Threats come from a place of anger, pain, fear – we threaten people because we want to cause harm (usually because we are hurt!). A boundary is set with respect & love. There shouldn’t be any intended harm when you set a boundary.

Here are a few example of threats (not boundaries!):
“If you don’t get a job that makes more money, I’m going to divorce you.”
“If you go out with your friends tonight, I will leave you.”
“If you don’t lose weight, I’m going to cheat on you.”

You could also call the three above “ultimatums”. Sometimes we get it in our head that people are supposed to act a certain way in life, as if there is some freakin rulebook that they should know about. We have rules for people that we just assume they will abide by and when they don’t, we get upset and want to throw up our fists and demand that they do what we want. But this isn’t the same thing. Someone not losing weight, going out with friends or not making more money is in no way a violation of your physical or emotional space. Demanding an action be taken by someone else is NOT a good boundary. The easiest way I can explain this is to remember that a boundary can only be enforced by you taking the action. The other person doesn’t have to do anything to satisfy you or make you happy in order to make the boundary successful.

All three of these examples are intended to cause fear, hurt and pain out of retaliation. Boundaries are never about retaliating. They’re more about protecting yourself (your physical / emotional space).

Threats = pain / fear / hurt.
Boundaries = love / protection / empowered.

If anything, when we set a boundary, it should help us feel more love towards the person and ourselves. Remaining in situations where we feel our personal boundaries are being encroached on brings up all kinds of negative feelings that can affect our life and our relationships. Setting clear and appropriate boundaries (not threats) where you have an action you know you can take is empowering and will let you take control over what you do have control over – yourself!

Will everyone be happy when you take a stand for yourself? Not always. People who like to cross our boundaries are rarely happy when someone has healthy self-esteem enough to set them! But what’s awesome, is that if you are in a healthy enough emotional place to set boundaries and hold yourself accountable to them, you will be less bothered by people who don’t like it.

How to set them
You set healthy boundaries by first deciding how you want to feel in the relationship. This friend who is talking crap about my husband – if she is someone really close to me, I probably want to feel love towards her, right? I don’t want to feel resentment and resentment is what I will feel if I keep listening to her negative feelings about someone I care about.

If I set my boundary from a place of love (for both of us) – it will be clear and appropriate.

If I set my boundary from a place of anger or resentment – it’s probably going to be more of a threat and that doesn’t help anyone (certainly not if I want to keep this person in my life).

I want to feel love towards her. I can’t stop her feelings and I can’t stop her from talking about him in general, but I certainly can control if I’m willing to listen to it or be around it.

I know some of you are reading this and going “But she shouldn’t be saying those things! She’s not a friend if she is!”

But, here’s the thing – that’s actually your opinion. That’s not a fact. I’m sure there are some cases, where telling a friend how awful her partner is, would be considered being a good friend (like what if the friend was in an abusive situation?), right? So, the best way to deal with those thoughts that come about about how someone should or shouldn’t be acting is to just remember that that is completely out of our control. So we need to focus on what we can control and that is our behavior. If she’s really as crappy as y’all think she is, I can choose to walk away from the friendship entirely but that’s not always what we want and sometimes way more extreme than it needs to be!

Ask yourself – Am I setting this out of love? Or out of fear/pain? and What do I want to feel towards this person? If love – boundary. If fear/pain – cautious, it might be a threat.

How to enforce them
We enforce boundaries by doing what we’ve said or decided that we’d do if the other person infringes on them.

Boundaries only work if we actually take the actions we’ve decided we are going to take when there is a boundary crossing. They are completely useless otherwise.

If you’ve set a boundary that you are going to leave the room when someone does something unacceptable to you, then you must leave.

If you’ve set a boundary that you are going to not answer work related phone calls after 7pm, then you must not answer your phone when coworkers call.

If you have a boundary and don’t follow through with the action you’ve set, then it’s not going to do anything but upset you and communicate to the other person that things are just fine with you!

If you’re not ready to take the actions you’ve decided to take in your boundary setting, then that is not an appropriate boundary and you should revise it. Remember, they don’t work if we don’t take the action we said we would take.

One more thing: You may tell someone what your boundaries are but it isn’t always necessary – because you are the one who will take the action, not them. There are some boundaries that aren’t worth saying to anyone, such as in the toe stepping example above – it goes without saying that most people don’t want their bodies to be stepped on. I don’t have to communicate my boundary here. In some cases though, you will want to communicate your boundary and doing so will make your relationships better. In the example with the friend talking shit about my husband, I would communicate my boundary. I certainly could act on it without communicating it, but it would make our relationship confusing to her when I got up and left the room or hung up the phone. Who wants more confusion and drama? No thanks. Communicating the boundary doesn’t make the boundary firmer (firmness happens on my side – my actions) or more enforceable but it does make communication clear and makes less room for resentment and pain on all sides.

Will my friend be annoyed? Maybe. Will she find herself still blabbing about my husband? Probably? Will she eventually learn to shut the fuck up around me? Yup. Pretty quickly I might add.

Quick recap: How do you know if you’ve set a boundary correctly?

  • It’s something you will do if your physical or emotional boundary is crossed (the other person doesn’t need to do anything to “respect” your boundary). You respect your own boundary.
  • It’s not a threat (it’s intention is not to cause harm or pain). It’s done out of love for you or the other person.
  • It is not an attempt to manipulate someone else’s behavior or choices. It’s about protecting you.
  • You act on it. Don’t set one and not do what you said you’d do. They don’t work that way.
  • You won’t feel frustrated anymore.

So that’s it!

Practice setting boundaries. You can have the relationship YOU choose to have with people. You decide ahead of time what you are ok with. You decide ahead of time what you are not ok with AND what action you will take if the other person crosses that boundary.This allows you to be fully present in more of your relationships, instead of spending time and energy resenting people.

Are good boundaries going to fix every aspect of all your challenging relationships? Of course not. But being able to set these and act on them is a sign of emotional maturity and responsibility and that can go a long way in every relationship.

I’d love to hear from you now. Do you have difficulty following through with boundaries you have set? Do you have difficulty determining when and how to set boundaries? They can be tricky, so I’m happy to help you find clarity if there is a situation you are having difficulty with.

 

How long will it take to heal your disordered eating and body image Issues?

photo credit: lost in the mirror via photopin (license)

There isn’t a neatly marked timeline to follow. Be patient and keep moving forward.                                                 photo credit: lost in the mirror via photopin (license)

“I thought I’d have made more progress by now.”

“I’m so tired of thinking about this.”

“Why is my friend doing better than me?”

“When will it be easy?”

Sometimes clients express these thoughts about their journey and I’ve certainly thought these things myself at different points along the way. I wish there was a simple answer. Losing weight often is easy – eat less, get more activity etc., but working through the reasons you gained weight in the first place can be time consuming, painful and sometimes feel like you’re just trying to keep your head above the water. You may not feel like you’re making any progress day to day or week to week. It can be frustrating, angering even!

You believe you are “working” so hard at this – you’ve thought about your weight in some way forever! So why do you feel like you are in the same place you were 6 months ago? A year ago?! Ug!! It’s maddening sometimes.

There’s no clear, fixed schedule or timeline for healing from disordered eating or body image issues. Everyone is on a different journey, has different triggers, unique habits and support systems in place, all of which contribute to how well they’ll do in the long run.

I can’t give you a schedule of when you’ll be “fixed”. But one thing I know for sure is that we’re all in a rush to get “better”, to not have this hanging over our heads anymore and for most, to do as little as possible to get there. I know I did – I literally tried to pray the fat away!

I remember being a child, laying in my bed and praying to Mary (I was raised Catholic) to help me not be “fat” anymore. I thought she’d understand more than Jesus or God, you know, being a woman and all. I asked Mary if she could make it so that every calorie I ate would actually burn 2 calories.  I don’t know how old I was exactly but I was still young enough to believe in “magic” but yet old enough to know about calories and their effect on weight and I knew that if I could burn 2 calories for each 1 I ate, then I’d lose weight in no time!

She wasn’t able to answer that prayer (maybe she was busy that day) but it was the first of many occasions where I daydreamed about what it would be like to not be heavy anymore. Ironically, I don’t  look at my elementary school pictures today and see a “fat” kid. I was mildly larger than the other kids – which certainly got worse as I got older – but I was not overweight enough to have to pray it away!

The result of thinking about my weight and food from such a young age, and gaining and losing so much over the years, is that by the time I reached adulthood and was ready to deal with my problem with food, I already felt like I had been “dealing” with it and “working” on it for years!

Thinking like this made me only give partial effort to whatever I did try – because I was, in a way, super resentful that I even had to work at it – since I had been “working” at it, at least by beating myself up and thinking about it for so so long! I expected any diet, workout or self-help book I got myself involved in to solve my issue in 2 months, 3 tops! But, I had been eating and thinking about my body in a disordered way for a long as I could remember. How the hell long will it take to get over this?

I have a rough mathematical answer for you. I give credit to Charlotte York for the formula.

In the Sex and the City episode Take Me Out to the Ballgame (Season 2, Ep 1)  Carrie and Big have broken up and Carrie is pretty depressed about it. Miranda, of course, is totally annoyed that Carrie isn’t back in the dating scene already but Charlotte tells Carrie that it takes “half the total time you went out with someone to get over them”. Only a month has passed since they broke up and Carrie and Big dated for a year so Charlotte suggests that Carrie will be over him in 5 more months.

I think Charlotte’s breakup timeline is probably similar to our food and body image stuff. If you’ve been struggling with food, dieting, overeating, restricting, criticizing your body etc for decades, you can’t expect to heal from it fully in 6 months or a year. It may take YEARS and years.

Later in the episode, Charlotte says “You can’t just push yourself into feeling good. The only way to get over someone is to feel really bad, cry to your girlfriends and replay what you hated about him over and over in your head all day.”  Those specific items aren’t what you need to do to make progress in your relationships with food and your body BUT Charlotte’s sentiment is in the right place – she’s telling Carrie that she has to focus her mental energy and take actions that will help loosen the hold Mr. Big has on her. He’s a habit that she has to break with new habits. In the same way, we have to use our mental energy and physical actions to take steps and create thoughts that will heal us, that will create new patterns and new habits. You have to be conscious with your thoughts and you have to make room in your life for the things that you know support the habits you want to acquire. (I could use that whole episode or any episode of SATC as a metaphor / analogy for this stuff – but really that would be a whole other blog! haha!)

Huh? My eating or body image issues are a habit?

That’s really all most of our shit is – habits we’ve picked up along the way. Things we’ve gotten really good at because we do them repeatedly. Now it’s time to get good at something else – not doing those things that are causing you pain and doing something else constructive instead.

Let me give you some examples!

If you’ve gotten into the habit of getting up off the couch during commercial breaks to look for snacks in the kitchen – you’re going to feel compelled to do it on every commercial break. You may almost feel physically pulled to the kitchen or almost like you’re on autopilot if you’ve been doing it for awhile. How long you’ve been doing it for will determine how difficult it is for you to break this habit. To break this habit, you’re going to have to associate something else with those commercial breaks – this might mean turning off the TV and finding a different activity entirely. Or it might mean doing jumping jacks during commercials or maybe folding laundry. And when you first try these new things, you may be successful 3 days in a row and then resort back to your old ways. Next time you may go 5 days in a row and then go back.  The point isn’t that you went back to your previous habit (that’s bound to happen) – the important thing is that you keep getting up and trying to change it for the better.

We know that often people overeat / binge because they are trying to numb themselves from feeling something that they don’t want to feel (unhappiness in their marriage, confusion in their career, worries about the future etc). Sure there is often some deeper psychological stuff going on but the simplest explanation for what it actually is is that it’s a habit that was created (regardless of the circumstances that created it).  Ultimately it is an action they took a few times, subconsciously or consciously noticed the effect it had on how they felt (it mitigated the pain they were feeling), and so they did it again, and again. It becomes a learned response. X happens and Y is the action taken. Stopping it starts with allowing those negative feelings to just be there – but it doesn’t end there.

Stopping someone from bingeing doesn’t happen with one single habit change – you have to go at it with multiple things, repeatedly and for a long time. Those things will be different (to a degree) with each person.

One of my clients has been successful in preventing binges by making sure she gets plenty of sleep, speaking her mind at work and at home (instead of keeping things bottled inside), writing in a journal daily and by eating more fat and protein in place of refined carbohydrates. She doesn’t just HOPE that these things happen – she creates space for them in her life by setting a bedtime and sticking to it, scheduling journal writing time etc. She essentially creates a plan to fit these new habits in daily.

Some of the ways I avoid bingeing is by eating a diet that is 90% whole foods (the sugar / crunchy / salty junk sets me off), caring for my body with frequent exercise and by doing lots of thought work that affects my daily outcome (Check out Self Coaching 101 by Brooke Castillo – great tool for changing your results!). How do I make space for this stuff? I plan for it. I make grocery shopping, meal prep, exercise and thought work priorities in my life.  Bingeing used to be treated like a priority. I couldn’t wait to get home from work to zone out and eat (or in the car if I could get to a store first). I made space for it and it became a firmly ingrained habit. I didn’t get where I am today in a few weeks or months. It has taken YEARs of trial and error,  repeated attempts and conscious, focused actions!

Do these new habits that we’ve made space for mean we NEVER go back to our old ways? No. Pretty much everyone slips into their old behaviors at some point, sometimes many many times. Even me. I’ve slipped back into my old habits more times than I can count but you know what? Each time it has happened I have learned something from it – a new thing to watch out for, a new tool to keep me taking good care of myself possibly and certainly more experiences to share with all of you. I should also mention that each time I’ve “fucked up” it’s been less serious than previous times. What I consider a binge for me now, I would not have considered a binge 3 years ago. What I consider crappy eating today doesn’t look like my crappy eating from 5 years ago. I am always making progress and always working to do better.

It’s not easy but it’s also not hard all of the time either, I promise! Sometimes things will just click and you feel like “I’m going to make it!”, other times you will feel like you’re not making any progress at all. My advice to you is to:

  • Keep going no matter what. Creating new habits/responses requires time. You are actually creating new neural pathways in your brain when you repeat a task over and over and it will get stronger the more often you do it.
  • Get conscious – get to know yourself. Learn all of your habits, thoughts and how you may try to lie to yourself (it’s only 1 bite!).
  • Keep track of all that you’re trying – what’s working? what’s not?
  • Note where you are getting support – friends, family, coaches, therapists? Who knows about your struggle and cares about your success? Where else can you get support?
  • What resources you have read, watched and listened to? What kind of resources speak to you the most?
  • What tools help you to connect to your body in a positive way? Mindful or intuitive eating? Throwing out the scale? Keeping a food journal? Gentle exercise? Figure those things out and do them often.
  • What things trip you up? What situations trigger you to choose old habits? Make a plan to prepare for these situations so that when they pop up you know what to do.
  • Keep track of your accomplishments no matter how small. Where have you made progress? What good habits have become almost 2nd nature to you? Keep this list handy to look at on those days when you feel like you are at square one and it will make you feel proud.
  • Have patience. Settle in. There’s no rush. Giving up keeps you in the pain that only seems easier because it’s familiar!

As I said earlier in this post, there is no concrete timeline for healing your relationship with food and your body. It may take far longer for you than it does a woman in your yoga class or less time for you than your roommate from college. Your timeline is unique because the circumstances, relationships, thoughts and experiences that created the eating and body image problems (habits) you have today are yours. Try not to compare where you are with where someone else is.

You may have an issue with food or with how you think you look but you are also smart, resourceful, persistent and deserving of a peaceful food and body life. You are also capable of taking new actions towards the life that you DO want. Even if you’ve been struggling with dieting, bingeing or criticizing your body for 50 years, there is the possibility for change if you settle in for however long it will take and keep taking dedicated action daily. Don’t give up.

A Few Awesome Reasons to Get Your Bum off the Couch (Besides Looking Better)

photo credit: The endemic fauna of the Amsterdam AirBNB Apartment: Poezi via photopin (license)

Great reasons to not be a couch potato like this little guy.    (photo credit: The endemic fauna of the Amsterdam AirBNB Apartment: Poezi via photopin (license))

Most people who exercise do it to look better, either from expected weight loss or more defined muscles. It’s true. We do it because we’re vain! Yes, there’s a subset of us who do it to be healthier (myself included) but we’d be lying if we said the outer appearance benefits didn’t help propel us to lace up our sneakers and work up a sweat.

But aside from stroking our vanity, exercise has a wide range of benefits, some that you may not even be aware of! Physical activity is quite possibly a panacea for everything that can go wrong in the human body – mental, emotional and physical. Knowing that, it’s hard to imagine why more people don’t do it – but then again, not everyone is tuned in to quite how beneficial it can be aside from out appearance.

If you keep vowing to start exercising but don’t, read on to see some of the “side effects” physical exercise can bring you. Maybe these will be enough to motivate you to get going (and if not – I highly recommend you join the free Light A Fire Under Your Butt 30 Day Exercise Challenge that starts October 12)!

Here are just a few studies that show the benefits of physical activity:

I literally could make this list a few pages longer but I don’t want to bore you! There is no shortage of evidence that exercise is vital for a healthier life. If looking better isn’t enough for you to get moving, what would motivate you? A longer lifespan? Less cognitive decline as you age? Reduced risk of heart attack or diabetes? Better sleep? Less aches and pains? Preventing depression? All of these things are possible if you start today.

How much could your life be improved with just a tiny bit of exercise? I bet quite a bit!

Need some hand holding as you get started? I’m running a casual free exercise challenge that starts October 12, 2015. You should join in – it’s just a few minutes of activity per day for 30 days. I want to get people moving! It’s called Light A Fire Under Your Butt. See you there!

Free Exercise Challenge for Bottom of Blog Posts

Light a Fire Under Your Butt! A Free 30 Day Exercise Challenge starts October 12

You, me, your living room and just a few minutes a day.

You, me, your living room and just a few minutes a day.

The hardest thing about making exercise a habit is the whole getting started part!

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they wanted to start exercising . . .

How many times have you said “I need to start working out! I’ll start tomorrow!” and then found yourself not feeling up to it when tomorrow comes? Or you decide it’s not worth doing unless you can do a whole hour or at least a half hour – which almost never happens. You might also hate working out alone – it’s so  much more fun and the time passes by faster when you’re with a friend (but none of your friends can exercise when you’re free so again, it just doesn’t happen).

How many weeks, months or years will go by before you do start exercising?

How much more fit could you be at the end of this year if you started now?

Why wait?

What’s really stopping you?

One of the biggest reasons people don’t get themselves moving despite a desire to be healthier and fitter is the time issue I mentioned at the beginning of this post. We think if we can’t exercise for 45 minutes 5 times a week then we shouldn’t bother. We think that it doesn’t make a difference to do what we can but even just 3 minutes of intense exercise per week has been shown to have health benefits! Bump it to 7 minutes and you can see some even bigger benefits. Anything is better than 0 minutes!

Another reason people don’t do it is because they think they need fancy equipment or a gym membership to get fit. In the beginning, your body weight can be enough – in fact, some of the most challenging exercises can be done with just your body weight (think planks, push ups, and squats!). I’ve been working out in a variety of ways for years and I still find ways to make body weight exercises strenuous – so I can get some activity in wherever I am.

Lastly, despite what it might look like on Instagram, not everyone who works out does so in $100 tights and $80 sport bras. It’s not a requirement for getting fit! While I’ll admit that wearing clothes that make you feel good will help make you want to workout more often, they certainly don’t have to cost a lot to do that. You just need something comfortable to move in and a supportive pair of sneakers (unless doing barefoot routines like yoga, barre or pilates)! And if you’re going to be wearing them in public, you may want to bend over in front of a mirror (in a well lit room) and check out your rear to make sure they’re not see through. It happens to the best of us.

Because I have a lot of people in my life who tell me that they really do want to start exercising but just can’t get themselves started, I started thinking about what I could do to help that. I’m not a personal trainer and I’m not super buff (though I like to pretend I am) but I do know the benefits of exercise and I have a lot of experience in trying to find activity that keeps me from getting bored (because if I get bored I’m not going to do it!). While I workout several days week consistently now, there have been many times in my life where I was just like you, sitting on the couch, wishing I could find the motivation to do some physical activity and I just couldn’t get myself started.

I want to light a fire under your butt. Please, let me light a fire under your butt. I’m putting together a free 30 Day Exercise Challenge that starts October 12 (Columbus Day). Each day of the 30 days as a group we will commit do doing at least 5 – 8 minutes of activity. I will send out an email daily that has a link to an online workout routine for all of us to do. The daily workout will be between 5 – 8 minutes long and they will be challenging. You will sweat, you will feel clumsy and you might feel like giving up if you’re new to exercise but you won’t because you don’t want to let the rest of us down (and you want to see what a difference it can make in your life).

If you don’t want to do the daily video, you are welcome to do whatever you want for exercise – you can dance, run, bike, lift weights, whatever! But you must do it (a minimum of 5-8 minutes per day!).

This challenge is free. It’s online and you’ll have group support and encouragement. I’ll either be doing a Facebook Group or Google+ community (though I haven’t decided which yet!) to go along with the daily emails and I’ll post the daily workout there as well. All you have to do is show up each day and do your 5-8 minutes. I don’t even care if you do your 8 minutes on commercial breaks while you watch TV. Just get it done!

Can you do that? I know you can.

At the end of the 30 days, you’ll be stronger, you’ll find the workouts don’t tire you out as much, you’ll be sleeping better, you won’t get as winded going up stairs and you might even lose weight or see muscle definition in places you’ve never seen it before! But the best thing of all, is after 30 days, you will have created an exercise habit that you can continue – 8 minutes a day will become a part of your normal day, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. You can then choose to do more or make it harder – whatever you want, but you can pat yourself on the back because you are NOW someone who exercises. You are NOW someone who is making their health a priority (and that is my goal for all of you). You are NOW someone who knows they can commit to lifestyle change.

If you can do this, what else will you be able to accomplish?

Come light a fire (under your butt!) with me! It’s free and we start October 12th. Sign up here . Share this challenge with your friends who also could use some help changing their habits – it’s always more fun to do something like this with friends!

Join the Light a Fire Under Your Butt free 30 Day Exercise Challenge.

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Shush . .I’m fabulous and so are you!

I really do think I'm fabulous when I'm not busy beating myself up.

I really do think I’m fabulous when I’m not busy beating myself up. (apologies for the grainy camera phone quality).

I hope you’ll forgive me for the formatting and flow for this one – I was in a ferocious typing mood and didn’t feel like editing. Let me know your thoughts!


We spend so much time talking and thinking about what is wrong with our bodies or ourselves.

I wonder how much amazing stuff in this world doesn’t get done because some woman woke up and decided her jeans felt too tight, she was fat and now the day was ruined.

The internal dialogue might go something like this:

My stomach is so flabby.

My skin is too red and I have such huge pores.

I’m such an idiot!

I have so much back fat it looks like I’m smuggling two hams under my armpits.

When did my ass get so saggy?

Why am I so boring? I never have anything good to say.

The thoughts may come all at once in succession (maybe after trying on a bathing suit) or they may come one by one throughout a day (each time you catch yourself in the mirror).

It doesn’t matter if they’re assaulting you in a barrage all at once or if they’re dripping in slowly like a leak in an old roof.

They’re destructive either way.

We think it’s no big deal since they’re just passing thoughts most of the time.

But like a roof that leaks – you have to address it at some point or you’re going to have a big mess on your hands.

Repetitive negative thoughts become part of our regular thinking and with time they become beliefs. Beliefs are really hard to change.

Thinking negatively about yourself – physical or otherwise, contributes to your mood, it contributes to how you interact with others, it affects the actions you’ll take everywhere in your life.

How you think about yourself influences hugely the life you will ultimately have.

Why do we think that it’s a badge of honor or a sign of humility to put ourselves down?

Why is it often seen as being conceited or boastful to take pride in or even just acknowledge that you’re good at something or that there is something about your body that you like?

Why do we think the only way to be in this world is to be disgusted in some way by our own bodies? Somewhere along our journey we learn that a woman who dares to love her body is actually betraying the rest of us. She’s an alien from another planet. There has to be something wrong with her for daring to think so highly of herself.

There is so much contradictory bullshit in this. It’s divisive and creates pain for all involved. One feeling inadequate for not having what the other has and the other feeling ashamed for not having ingested the shitty memo the rest of us ate up.

I’m sure there’s at least a few of you reading this whose first thought was something critical about the photo I used at the beginning of this post. Who am I to post a photo of myself on a blog about being fabulous? I’ll admit I hesitated to use a photo of myself here because I had those exact thoughts myself. But then I said, fuck it, that’s the whole point of this post.

And when we all feel crappy about ourselves, we do less of the important stuff. We don’t put ourselves out there. And we’re not a good example for the young women and little girls in our lives.

What if we all did something different and spent time noticing what is right about our bodies?What if we declared out loud the qualities we have that we are proud of?
What if we boosted ourselves up and other women too, instead of tearing both of us down?

There’s no need to compare and knock someone down. Comparing and determining that one is less and one is more, gives one the idea that there is only a certain amount of good stuff out there and that if someone else has what you want (be it a shapely booty, a ferocious drive, thick hair, money or major charisma), that there isn’t enough of that thing out there for you. That’s not true.

Her having something doesn’t make it less likely that you can have it too.

Her having it actually means that it is possible you can have it.

If you’re going to compare, use it as proof of what you could have, what is available to ALL of us in this life we have.

When we can sincerely appreciate and love ourselves, without feeling like we’re wrong for doing that, we have more capacity for kindness, generosity and productivity. When we can sincerely look at other women and not want to tear them down to lift ourselves up, we will have more love for ourselves and love to give everything we do.

Can you start changing your own dialogue today? Next time you find yourself wanting to pick yourself or another lady apart, can you turn it around and find something you LOVE instead?

If you can’t, ask yourself, why. Why do you want to cause yourself more pain? Why would you choose to think negative thoughts about yourself? Or others? You can choose love.

It takes practice to be comfortable saying positive things about yourself. When you’re not used to doing it, at first it’s pretty hard. It might be painful and make you want to cringe. But after awhile, you’ll find it’s pretty easy and with that comes the ability to see the good stuff in other people too.

Here is some of the stuff I’ve been loving on me lately:

I love my eyes. I’m not really sure if they’re blue, grey or green but I love them.

I love my arms. They’re strong and they look strong too.

I love my curves. I’ve been big and small and those curves are always still there keeping me company.

I love that I have thick muscular thighs that can cycle 30 miles like it’s no big thing and they also look fab in a short skirt, at least I think so.

I love my skin – it’s soft and smooth and it’s usually a reflection of how well I am caring for myself.

I love my smile and the dimples that form in my cheeks when I’m really happy.

I love my laugh. I love my ability to empathize with other people. I love the little intricacies that make me, me, even if other people might think that they’re bizarre.

I love my brain. It doesn’t always go the conventional route, but it gets me there. The shit it remembers and the details it can conjure up are almost sick.

I love how dependable I am. If you ask me to do something or be somewhere and I say yes, you know I will do it, I will show up (albeit late!) and if I can’t, I will own up and let you know. No slinking away in a corner here.

I like me.

That’s probably enough for now.

Don’t think that just because I was able to rattle those off that there isn’t a part of me that was like “ah, don’t write that!” or “you’re writing too many!” or “you should mention that you love your smile despite your messed up jaw!”. I’m human and a work in progress. There are things I’ve gotten better at, but it doesn’t mean that I never have my “stuff” come up again. I’ve gotten so much better at being WITH myself instead of AGAINST myself. No need to aim for perfect but there’s always room for doing better.

If you’re reading this and you’re the one thinking “she wrote too many!” or “wow, she’s full of herself!” then sister, I ask YOU to please spend a little time coming up with a list of things you love about YOU. When we knock others, it’s a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. And you should feel no other way than fabulous about yourself, because lady you ARE fantastic and I hope you can say that about yourself some day. And if you love this and want to stay in touch, you can do so here.


Guess what time it is? Time for the 12 Day Detox! We start September 14! Join us! You’ll love how you feel as we move into fall!

Did you hear? The 12 Day Detox Program is returning September 14, 2015. Join us!

Did you hear? The 12 Day Detox Program is returning September 14, 2015. Join us!

Yes, You Really Should Write That Thought Down

I’m a big advocate for writing things down. I have a journal collection that now spans decades (though I slacked heavily shortly after I met John and only in the last year or two have I picked it up again!). I write details on the back of every photo I’ve ever printed (names, dates, locations etc). In college, I could bang out a paper at the last minute in just a few hours. I still tend to write my shopping lists on paper – despite having every list making app available literally at my fingertips on my phone.

Despite all this writing, my handwriting is a mysterious scribble that can only be understood by me. (Apologies if you’ve ever been the recipient of a card or letter from me – odds are you are still trying to figure out what I wrote but are too polite to ask!). Writing is just a huge part of who I am, and always have been.

I promise with all this writing, I’m not just anal about details! Something I’ve noticed over the years, is that when I write things down they become more concrete in my brain. The act of writing (as opposed to typing or just thinking about something) creates memories that are more firm. It’s a long running joke with my friends and family that I have an insane memory and I’ll never let you forget something. Mention one detail, “oh that night we went to ______” and I can often tell you who was there, what we ordered and where we went afterwards. I might even be able to tell you what I was wearing! Possibly what you were wearing too! I’m not special, I don’t have super abilities or anything – the reason I am able to remember these types of details so clearly even years after an event is because of my dedication to writing things down.

The reason I’m telling you all this isn’t to pat myself on the back for being a pen-wielding computer of memory but because writing things down can be an incredibly important way to work through our feelings, including our issues with food and solidify new habits! I have a few clients who definitely don’t love it when I suggest they do a writing exercise – but every one of them who is willing to do it ends up seeing benefits from it!

This is also one reason why I often ask folks who are having trouble losing weight or are unhappy with their food choices to keep a food journal. It’s not about calories or fat grams – it’s about becoming aware of what we are putting in our bodies and not hiding from ourselves. Writing it out makes it all the more real! It’s a great way to get to know yourself a little better and see what you are really thinking about.Joan didion quote for blog post

Here are some of the benefits writing can bring to your life:

  1. Self – exploration & clarity. Writing things down helps you figure out how you are feeling. If you tell me you don’t know why you’re overeating when you get home from work, I’ll suggest you “dump” all your thoughts out on paper (without judgement or trying to write fancy – just get them out!) and I bet you’ll discover something there that gives you an answer. Writing helps us tap into parts of ourselves that we have a hard time accessing otherwise. Getting to know yourself better is one of the best ways to change yourself for the better.
  2. Better Memory. Write things down so you don’t forget! Ideas and thoughts can be fleeting – what you think you’ll remember later, you’ll forget as soon as you stop thinking about it and you’ll wonder what that great idea was! How many times have you walked into the grocery store thinking that you’ll remember all the things you needed and promptly arrived home missing some of the important ones?! (Oh, is that just me??) Write it down to make it come to life.
  3. Firmer goals. Writing down goals makes them more likely to be achieved. If you write it down, it becomes more real. It becomes a commitment to yourself. It’s a lot easier to ignore that you had a goal of not eating cupcakes at work when you only thought about the goal – writing it down gives it concreteness that will help hold you accountable.
  4. Stress relief. Writing can help us release stress and feelings that we are having difficulty letting go of. Ever experience that release that comes from talking to a good friend about something that has been worrying you? You can get a similar release of stress by writing about an experience (or your thoughts/feelings). It’s very cathartic to write everything that is going on in our brains!
  5. Concrete evidence. Writing serves as a record of our progress. At the time, writing acts like a stamp on your memory and helps you let go of feelings and situations that are troubling you, but read those same writings months or years later and you will be able to see how far you’ve come in areas of your life. Sometimes we forget exactly where we were when we started and it’s easy to gloss over how much work it took to get where we are, but if it’s written down, you’ll have that to look back on, which can be a powerful tool to keep your motivation up!
  6. Cultivate positive feelings & self-esteem. If you’re someone who has a habit of thinking negatively about yourself, writing exercises can help you become aware of when/how you do that as well as help build more positive feelings for you – one thing I love to suggest is for clients to write a gratitude list before bed each night, a list of the things they did well that day, or things they love about themselves (physical or otherwise). For some these tasks are very hard at first – it’s hard to come up with things you love about yourself when you’ve been putting yourself down for years – but over time, it gets easier and in their day to day lives they feel more powerful, supported and able to go after what they want. This is such an awesome thing! Writing at bedtime inserts those thoughts gently into your subconscious so you wake up feeling the effects of that good stuff.

So you’re probably wondering what kind of writing can be helpful? And how to get started?

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  1. Buy yourself a pretty journal or notebook. I don’t know about you but I’m more excited to write when I like the notebook. Call me shallow, I’m ok with that!
  2. Set aside one day a week or a certain time of each day where you will dedicate to at least 15 minutes of writing and stick with it. Put it on the calendar. If you’re more introspective in the morning, maybe that’s a good time to write. If you feel more free on the weekends, that might work better for you.
  3. Find a place that you enjoy writing. I always got more journal writing done when I left my home and went to a coffee house/cafe or outdoor park or beach. I’m more inspired in those types of places and don’t enjoy the distractions that can come from being at home (ug, I should really do those dishes!). When I was single and lived in a house with a bunch of friends, my room was my writing retreat. Find what works and inspires you!
  4. Decide what kind of writing you want to do. It doesn’t have to be formal or in a certain format and it can change however you like. You can write in prose, poetry or just random thoughts. It’s ok to have spelling errors and wacky punctuation. It doesn’t have to sound pretty or smart – it’s just about getting what’s in your head down on paper and seeing where it takes you.
  5. What should you write about? It’s up to you, really! You can just write about your day – what did you do? Who did you see? How did that make you feel?. You can write about things that are worrying you, bothering you, things that happened that made you happy, things that happened that frustrated you. You can write down goals and use a journal as a way to track your progress with them. You can even use a journal to draw and color and tap into your creative side! You can write down old memories – maybe for you, writing could be a way to document your personal history! (This is where my genealogy hobby intercepts my coaching business, haha!) Where did you grow up? Who were your best friends? Where did you go to school? Who was your favorite relative? What sort of food did your family eat? etc.  Lastly, you can also look for writing prompts if you’re the type who draws a blank when you put pen to paper – just do a google search “writing prompts for self-discovery” or “writing prompts for goal setting” etc. Insert whatever subject you might want to explore and when you find some writing prompts that interest you – write one down on each page of your journal and then as you have time to write you can fill in each prompt.
  6. Shameless plug here – Join the September 14, 2015 round of the 12 Day Detox program. It’s a whole foods based program that will help you connect with your body – but each day there are writing activities that can help you get started writing!

That’s really all you need to get going! One word of advice – try to not have judgements about what you are writing or how your writing should look or sound. This is just for you and no one else needs to read it (unless you want them to). You don’t need to censor your thoughts – we do enough of that elsewhere in our lives! Lastly, just do it! Commit to doing some form of writing for at least a few months (whether it’s daily or once a week) and if you don’t see a benefit from it after that, go ahead and stop, but I’m guessing you will be able to come up with at least a few positives that have come from it!

Have you found benefits to journaling or doing writing exercises? Please share with me in the comments! (And if you dig this kind of stuff, consider joining my email list in the green box below!)

If You Want to Stop Emotional Eating You Have to Get Back into Your Body

photo credit: good morning via photopin (license)

photo credit: good morning via photopin (license)

If you want emotional eating to be a thing of your past, if you want your long history of diets to be over, if you want to stop struggling with food, there is one thing you absolutely must do and that is get out of your head and get back into your body.

What do I mean by this? Most of us with emotional eating issues or a long term diet mentality will do anything we can to distance ourselves from our bodies and we often don’t even realize it. While a lot of our mental focus might be spent on how we feel about our body on any particular day (feeling fat, feeling gross for overeating etc) or how we want our body to look (wanting to be thinner, fitter or more muscular, wanting to have curves if we don’t etc), virtually none is spent on actually paying attention to the signals our body sends to us – signals like hunger, fullness, satisfaction and having had enough!

If you watch babies and young children, they are very in tune with the signals their bodies send them. Babies cry and toddlers get cranky when hungry. They feel it. Some days it seems like they eat almost nothing, while other times they seem to be a bottomless pit. We say “oh they must be going through a growth spurt” when this happens. We recognize that the extra hunger they have must be caused by something their body is conveying. A need for energy. A need for nourishment. A need for fuel to build healthy muscles and bones. But they stop themselves when they’ve had enough. While very young, we are very in sync with the needs of the body. So we start off honed in to these sensations and then lose it. Why?

Over time, we’re taught that we can’t trust our bodies. The teacher might be parents, relatives, well meaning neighbors, or it might be advertisements we see in every form of media. As children, we’re told told if we clean our plates we’ll be rewarded with dessert. How many of you struggled to finish your meal just so you could enjoy a treat? We’re taught that eating happens at 8am, 12pm and 6pm and we fill up at those pre-selected meal times whether or not our bodies say we are hungry. As adults, we’re taught that smaller portions and counting calories is the only way to not be overweight. We receive the message that point systems, low fat products, sugar free substitutes, and liquid meal replacements are the way to having a thinner body (never mind the message that a thinner body is what we all must have to be happy or desirable! uggg!). Along the way, we learn to gauge if we’ve had enough or too much food based on the calories, visual cues like portion size or by what we see in the mirror (thin or fat?). Eventually we learn to ignore something we had at birth – the ability to determine when we’ve had enough by paying attention to how our body feels.

We’re so focused on what our bodies should look like, how they should appear in a bathing suit and how few calories it takes to see the scale go up that we spend a huge chunk of our time attempting to maintain some arbitrary bullshit ideal. We abuse ourselves by withholding food based on whatever is popular at the time, instead of using the tools that our body is equipped with (or abuse ourselves by overeating to satisfy an emotional need). I know I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again – Our bodies are incredible machines – all we need to eat the right amount of food is inside us, if we’d only start paying attention and give it the trust that we instead give to whatever diet guru is popular at the moment.

Paying attention to the signals in my body has been a huge game-changer for my own relationship with food. I used to think that there was no way to not weigh 300 lbs without strictly accounting for all calories – but once I was able to trust my own hunger (now that I can recognize what that is!) I found that my weight is far more stable and I have less fear and stress around food. When I focused on calories, I made food choices based on what was going to help me meet my weight loss goals and not what was going to fuel my body. It wasn’t balanced and I always felt deprived. These days I can eat whenever I’m hungry and stop when I’m not and not worry about it – all because I’m in tune with my body and stop eating when I’m not hungry.

A key theme that every eating issue recovery program, tool, book and philosophy on the subject all have in common is that if you want to be more at peace with food and your body, you have to get out of your head and return to your body. If you eat according to anything other than the physical sensation of hunger, you’re probably not doing that.

What does this mean exactly?

Getting out of your head and back into your body means:

  • we choose to eat because we are hungry. True “hunger” means your stomach feels empty, it may make growling noises, your mouth may salivate at the thought of food, you may feel weak, lightheaded or slightly nauseous. You may feel hunger in your throat or neck instead of your stomach. It may be a gnawing, gurgly, light feeling. Hunger is a physical sensation. Describe it. Get in touch with it. What does “hunger” feel like to you? When was the last time you recognized that you had physical hunger? Do you feel it daily? Once in a while? Don’t remember the last time you felt it?
  • we stop eating when we are no longer hungry. Most of us confuse emotional hunger with physical hunger. You will never satisfy emotional hunger by eating food. Being in your body and in touch with the physical sensations it gives you means you can recognize when you are truly hungry and make the choice to stop eating when you are not.
  • not making food decisions based on whether something looks like it’s too much or not enough food, or whether it’s more or less calories than you “should” have at a certain meal. Instead of using judgements from our head about the quantity of food to determine how much to eat, we have to allow our bodies to tell us when we’ve had enough food. This can be really scary if you been calorie counting, dieting, restricting or have a history of out of control eating – I recognize this – but it’s key. You have to trust yourself.
  • Choosing foods based on their ability to make your body feel energetic, light and satisfied. We make the majority of our food choices based on fuel and nutrition but occasionally still leaving room for foods that bring us joy (and this doesn’t mean that the foods that we use for fuel aren’t also enjoyable!).
  • Avoiding foods that make us feel sluggish, lethargic or make us feel out of control. When we’re eating from our heads we tend to choose foods that don’t satisfy us very well (fat-free, low calorie, low nutrients) or make us feel terrible (fried, heavily processed, high in sugar etc). Are you even aware that some foods make us feel better or worse than others and that that is different for each person? It’s worth working on.

How do we get start to get back in our body?

  • Keep a food journal. I know it’s tedious but it works. Write down every single thing you put in your mouth (food or drink, even a single lick off a spoon – every bite!), what time you ate, as well as how hungry your were when you started eating and how full/satisfied you were when finished. It’s also helpful to record where you ate the meal and your mood at the time. Calories aren’t important but quantity might be helpful in the beginning. This is where we see patterns and start to understand our food “story”. Knowing your story is how you go about changing it. Some of the things you’ll see: When do you overeat? What foods do you tend to go for when you’re in a good mood? When you’ve had a rough day? Are you eating more or less than you thought you were? If you’re not willing to take the time to keep the food journal, you may want to ask yourself why? What are you afraid of finding out? People I know who are resistant to keeping a food journal, claim it’s because they already are aware of what and how much they are eating, but they’re usually the ones who have the most to learn and the most to gain from connecting with their bodies! Yes, you can use an online tool like myfitnesspal, peertrainer or whatever else you’re into – BUT ignore the calories, macros etc, PLEASE input info beyond the actual food you eat and ANALYZE it over time. Using paper, you’re more likely to look back at past entries and see your habits – with tech we’re less likely to do that so be willing to commit to that if you insist on using an app. I have seen the best results from paper and pen for me and my clients.
  • Use a hunger scale. When we’re not used to paying attention to the sensations in our bodies, using a hunger scale every time we eat can help us by slowly bring our attention back to our bodies on a regular basis. It takes a little practice. Here are two tools that I regularly use with clients (depending on their particular needs) – example 1 and example 2.  In both tools, the goal is to stay somewhere in the middle all day – never letting yourself get super hungry or super full (neutral to comfortably satisfied is where it’s at). Doing this, we start to pay more attention to when and how our bodies start to signal us and we’re less likely to run into that problem where we’ve gotten so hungry that we can’t make good decisions and end up going completely overboard. A tool like this takes a little practice to use. First you have to determine what each point on the scale means to you – with Brooke Castillo’s 2 to 2 scale (from example 2) – how much food do you need to eat to take yourself from -2 to 0? What about from 0 to +2? What does eating to +5 look and feel like? What does letting yourself get to -7 feel like? You may find some days you reach satisfaction with less food than on other days. Some days you may find that you are hungrier than usual and need to eat every few hours to prevent yourself from getting too hungry. Once you know how much food it takes to keep you in a comfortable place on the scale, you can plan ahead since you’ll know what it will take to satisfy you (and you’ll start to recognize how beneficial it is to not let yourself get too hungry or too horribly full). I can tell you that what felt like “enough but not too much” shortly after I ended my regular binges now feels like being super stuffed. Be willing to adjust your expectations and needs as you get more comfortable with your body and eating intuitively.
  • Eat slowly, in a calm environment and chew more than you think you need to. Doing this ensures your brain and digestive system work together to #1 prepare to digest your food properly (saliva and gastric juices baby!) and #2 release chemicals that tell your brain that you’ve had enough. Often we eat so quickly that by the time we stop eating, it’s another 20 or 30 minutes before the brain catches up – by then we’re so full we can’t stand it! If you slow down it won’t get to that point and you’ll be amazed how much less you need to eat to feel “good”.
  • Indulge in body based self-care. It’s not a direct route to listening to your physical hunger sensations but these are all certainly aligned with getting in touch with your body (literally!) and can help foster the skills you need to listen to your body more. If you can’t stand to touch or move your body, you might be not be open to its communication tools as well. Try some of these to open back up: Dry brushing daily with a natural bristled brush (towards the heart), physical movement that focuses on the mind-body connection like yoga or qigong, masturbation (did she just write that? yes, yes she did!) or deep tissue massage.

Ditching a diet mentality and recovering from emotional eating takes a lot of effort but with concrete tools and consistency you can make some incredible progress. Eating does not have to be such a struggle and if you start here – connecting with your physical self, you are at step one of a healthier relationship with food and yourself.

Does any of this resonate with you? Have you been completely out of touch with your hunger signals? Please share in the comments! And as usual, if you like what you’ve read here, please sign up to be on my email list in the green box below.

6 Things You Can Do To Have More Power Over Anxiety

photo credit: anguish via photopin (license)

Some simple things you can do to reduce the impact anxiety has on your life.   (photo credit: anguish via photopin (license))

In last week’s email I talked about some of the benefits I’ve experienced from my own meditation practice and one of those things was the effect it has had on my anxiety. Sending out that email made me realize that I haven’t talked much about anxiety in the whole time I’ve been keeping this blog. Since anxiety can be a huge factor in whether someone is able to move forward on their health or life goals and it’s something I personally have dealt with, I thought it might be a good time to talk about some other things that might be helpful if you are suffering from anxiety – because let’s be honest . . .there are more of us that are dealing with anxiety in some form or another than aren’t. Today I’m going to share 6 things I do that have given me more power over my anxiety (and I’ll share some about my struggle too). I hope some of these help you!

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, affecting about 18% of the adult population. And that’s only those who have actually been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder (and not including those under 18). I’ve had anxiety for years, and while I’m managing it very well these days, there have been times when it has been a major issue in my life and felt completely out of control. Long term anxiety and stress can lead to many health problems, so it’s really important to find ways to manage it if you suffer from it (even if you don’t have goals that it’s getting in the way of).

Despite how common it is, I’ve been a little shy about sharing my struggle with it in the public sphere (even though I’ve been very frank with my weight & emotional eating history), probably because there is still a big social stigma surrounding mental health.  Today I’m going to share because I’m in a place where my anxiety is pretty well managed (by some of the tools I’ll talk about today), I want others to know that they aren’t alone and I want others to see that even people who you think have their shit together, have probably struggled with things that you would never suspect. (Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone thinks I have my shit together. Just kidding, I have my shit together . . . it’s in a pile over there, but it’s still shit. Haha.)  I also think anxiety ties in easily with the to the emotional eating world – the two often go hand in hand.

My Anxiety Story
To give you a little background about my anxiety . . .I have a type of medical anxiety that is called “health worries”.  It started shortly after my Mom died in 2001 (though if I’m honest, I’ve always been squeamish about medical stuff – it just snowballed after 2001).  I remember lying in bed feeling like my heart was going to jump out of my chest. At the time, I was living pretty “hard” (lots of partying, bad food, crazy hours) and I remember thinking constantly that I was having a heart attack or that something else was seriously wrong with my body. As the years went on, that fear around my health got worse. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure in my early 20’s and had to go through a bunch of tests over several months. The doctor was worried that my kidneys and heart were damaged from possibly having high blood pressure for years. Having to have all those tests when I was already scared about health stuff really put my anxiety in overdrive (thankfully those tests showed everything was ok) and there have been times when I was completely paralyzed by my anxiety. Every doctor appointment, test or even a random pain or sensation in my body that was abnormal for me could send me into a multiple day panic attack. I have had difficulty discerning when a pain or a feeling I have in my body is something that needs immediate attention or is nothing to worry about. And of course, with my anxiety, I’m terrified of going to the doctors (what if they find something terminal?) and also of what happens if I don’t go (what if it is something terrible and I’m ignoring it?). You can see how that loop can be hard to get out of during an episode.

Quality of Life Issue
That’s the cliff notes version of how my crazy anxiety works (which is more than you probably want to know I’m sure). A doctor once said to me, when I said I wasn’t ready to get help for it, that people only get help when their quality of life is compromised to a point that they feel is no longer acceptable. I didn’t understand what she meant at the time but several years ago I finally reached a point where I understood what she was talking about. The amount of mental and emotional energy I was using just to get by most days was completely exhausting.  I went to therapy for it, and have also done a ton of work on my own since then. I still have occasional anxious days that pop up but nothing that would stop me in my tracks for days like I used to. I have tools now that I use to halt the progression of my anxiety. They help me keep perspective, stay calm and grounded and I’m so glad I have them. I would never want to go back to feeling the way I used to (feeling out of control, smothered and vibraty all at the same time).

While my health anxiety manifests a little differently than other generalized anxiety disorders, the techniques I use to manage it are similar to those used with generalized anxiety – and can be very effective!  Try some of these and let me know if they help you at all!

6 Things You Can Do To Have More Power Over Anxiety

1. Exercise.
The first thing to go for me when I’m in the midst of anxiety is to stop exercising, usually because I’m so wrapped up in my fear that I become paralyzed but in reality, exercise is the best way to release some of the stress around the issue, get some feel good endorphins going again and concentrate your energy in a healthy way. It helps get your mind off of whatever you are worried about or at least gives you something to focus on other than the feelings your anxiety gives you. When my anxiety creeps in these days, I make sure to stick to my regular exercise schedule and doing that usually shortens the duration of my anxiety.  It doesn’t have to be something huge, even going for a short walk or a 15 minute yoga session at home can enough.  Getting in touch with your body and out of your mind for a bit can be immensely helpful.

2.  Tell someone about it.
This is something I didn’t see the value in until I was in therapy for my anxiety (which seems crazy to me now!). I used to actually keep all my worries and fears inside – part of me felt like my fears would get worse or be realized if I actually shared them with anyone.  But when I did finally share with my husband or a friend that something was on my mind, not only did I feel a huge sense of relief but it also allayed the extra anxiety that comes from thinking you are acting like a big weirdo during the attack (since they now knew the reason if I was acting like a weirdo). Sharing your worries, fears and anxieties with someone you trust can help you realize how much we build stuff up in our heads (to a huge deal) and it may seem like way less of a deal when you say it outloud. I find I’m much more likely to think rationally after talking about something with another person. Hearing their thoughts can be helpful too because they can be more objective. Hearing from someone who cares about you that the situation you are having anxiety about isn’t very likely to happen can make you feel world’s better. And if the situation is something that is legitimately likely to happen, these people who care about you can also be the ones who support you and help you get through it. Totally helpful either way!

3.  Write.
 
Journal! Free form or be specific. Just get it all out – say as much as you need to and I recommend good old pen and paper over typing/computer. When I’m dealing with my medical anxiety, I find writing especially helpful. There have been times when I felt completely paralyzed by my own thoughts and fears around my health.  One tactic that has been very helpful to use during a panic attack is to write a journal entry about it.

For me, it goes something like this:  What am I feeling? I write down what I’m feeling at that exact moment (for me it’s usually a pain or sensation somewhere in my body).  What do I think it is? I write about what I’m worried what it could be. Next I ask myself to get into my rational brain for a minute with What it is more likely to be? (odds are it’s just constipation or just my body being run down etc), and then I come up with a rational action plan. What and when will I do about it? For me, it might be something like “if this pain gets worse or lasts longer than 3 days, I’ll go to the doctor”.

Once I put it all down on paper I feel some relief just sheerly out of being able to express what I’m feeling, but also having an action plan written out, helps me to relax.  Sometimes my anxiety brain can’t understand when something is worth investigating and when it’s best to wait and writing helps me make sense of it all. It’s like I get stuck in a loop but writing halts that loop from continuing.

For general panic / anxiety, your questions and answers might look a little different – maybe something more like this (but please customize to what makes sense for your type of worries):

1. What am I feeling? (physical sensations, thoughts, feelings)
2. What am I having anxiety about? or What do I think I might be anxious about?
3. Do I actually have any real evidence that this is likely to be/ happen? If so, what?
4. What specifically can I do to feel more in control in this situation? And when will I take those actions?

Writing in a question / answer format might not feel right for your particular type of anxiety – I know for some folks, anxiety is a vague feeling of fear or worry (or just something not being right) – so writing about specific worries and action plans may not be possible. I’d still encourage you to write in a freeform style – to get all your thoughts and sensations on paper. Take some deep breaths and read it over when you are done. For many people just putting the thoughts down somewhere can be enough to take us down a notch!

Doing this will be hard at first – in fact you may not remember to even do it! But if you keep it in the back of your mind as a tool to try the next time you are freaking out you may be surprised by how much it can help. I find this one especially to be cumulative. The more I’ve resorted to it, the faster it brings me back to normal.

4.  Become aware of your thoughts and make the decision to change them.
Okay this one deserves a blog post on it’s own because it takes a lot of practice but to be as brief as possible, know this – ultimately, we’re in control of the thoughts that happen in our brains. I know it may not seem like it (and holy shit it doesn’t feel like it when you’re lost in anxiety land!), but we are the ones coming up with  thoughts (good or bad) and those thoughts that make us feel a certain way (anxiety, happiness, jealousy etc). The problem is, most of the time we’re not aware how ingrained these thoughts are in our brains. They’re so ingrained that it becomes an automatic response to a situation. This makes it very difficult to change it (unless you are willing to notice and call yourself out on it, repeatedly).

To become more aware of your thoughts, next time you feel anxious, I want you to try to recall (write it down) what thoughts made you feel that way. You may not be aware of the conscious thought at first – but it will become more apparent the more you give your brain this task to do. If you don’t want to wait until you’re anxious to do some of this type of thought work, try it the next time you find yourself feeling down or irritated – work backwards from that feeling and try to find the originating thought that made you feel that way. This kind of work helps us become more aware, which is the starter step for changing your response.

The good news is that once you are aware that you’re the one in control of your thoughts, that you’re the voice inside you that is thinking those things, you can work at managing and changing those thoughts.  For me, in the past this meant when an anxious feeling or thought came up that normally would send me into a tailspin, my old way of thinking was to go along with the thought (because our brains like to do what’s easy – and that’s easy) and build on it, look for evidence of it being true, which would increase stressful anxious feelings very quickly. My current response when an anxious feeling or thought comes up is to notice it, pause, say to myself “I’m not going to give that thought any power over me right now.”  A statement like that is powerful because it interrupts the natural evidence building process that goes on with anxious thoughts. I actually feel almost instant relief now when I feel anxious and I halt the thoughts in this way. It feels incredible to have some control over your brain.

It probably won’t work the first time you use it and the first few times you try to reroute your brain you might find that it halts the thought temporarily and then it comes back, but try a powerful statement again (even if you have to go at it a different way), and again, and eventually you’ll find it will have more staying power. You are literally retraining your brain how to think in these situations. It may help to practice changing your thoughts in less volatile situations at first – instead of trying it for the first time during an anxiety attack, try it when you have self-doubt about a situation at work or self-judgement about your body. Becoming skilled at managing your thoughts can be helpful in so many areas of our lives! (I will be sure to talk more about managing our thoughts in another blog post – because this is a huge subject and it is something that takes lots of practice!)

5.  Watch what you put (or don’t put) into your body.
I know you knew this one was coming. 🙂 If you’re a naturally anxious person, then it’s super important to pay attention to how different foods, drinks and other substances affect you – items in each of these categories can increase or decrease anxiety in certain people. Sugar (including carbohydrates from refined grain products), alcohol and caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety, especially in high quantities or in those who are very sensitive. Anxiety can also be a symptom of a food sensitivity or intolerance (and one way to determine that is through an elimination diet).  Low blood sugar can set off anxiety (if this sounds like you, you may want to keep balanced snacks of protein, fat and fiber on hand).  I know I’m far more anxious if I’ve drank more alcohol than I should (especially the day after) or if I reach for a 3rd cup of coffee. Know yourself and what you can tolerate.

Many supplements are touted to be beneficial for anxiety sufferers, including magnesium, valerian root, kava, chamomile, fish oil and several of the b vitamins – if you have any medical conditions or are on any medications it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking supplements (especially if you’re thinking about taking more than one).  And lastly, a whole foods diet rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and light on heavily processed foods is one way you can support your body from your toes, all the way to your head. Is a whole foods diet going to cure your anxiety? No, I’m not saying that, but if you give your body great nutrition, it’s better equipped to support you in every way, including mental health.

6. Breathwork.
I’ve already talked in previous posts about meditation being so helpful for anxiety – but in particular, to me, quiet time with deep and slow controlled breathing is one of the best things you can do during a panic attack or even during less acute anxiety.  A few minutes of slow diaphragmatic breaths will slow down your heart beat, reduce your blood pressure, relax muscles and the intake of fresh oxygen with stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which will help you feel more calm.

Unfortunately, breathing is one of the hardest things to do when we’re freaking out isn’t it?! We take shallow breaths which makes us feel like we can’t get enough air in, we’re breathing too fast or we have difficulty exhaling fully, all of which increases feelings of panic. If you feel like you’re not getting enough oxygen, it’s hard to think rationally or about anything else so in order to slow the anxiety down, first you have to slow your breathing down.

To slow yourself down, try this breathing exercise:  sit down in a quiet place and breathe in fully and slowly for a count of 4 seconds, hold the breath for 4 seconds (if this is prudent for your body – it may not be if you have any heart or respiratory conditions) and then exhale for 4 seconds. To make sure you are breathing from your diaphragm, put one hand on your belly when you inhale. Your belly should expand on the inhale and retract on the exhale. If you are breathing from your chest alone (too shallow) your belly won’t rise. Try breathe deeper into your body and try again. Do anywhere from 4 – 10 of these slow breaths and go back to your normal breath if you find you start to get dizzy.

Don’t be surprised if you feel sleepy and relaxed after!

Well that’s all for today. I hope some of these tips can help you if this is something you are going through. I know they’ve made a world of difference in my life.

One last note of importance, please, if you have been suffering from anxiety and aren’t having any luck reducing it on your own, please consider speaking with your doctor or a mental health professional for help. You don’t have to go through it alone and there are many resources available to increase the quality of your life.

If you have anxiety, what are your favorite tools or tricks for managing it?  Please share in the comments below.


Have you gotten my newest free guide You Have What it Takes? If you’re an emotional eater, overeater or longtime dieter who wonders if she has what it takes to change her relationship with food, then this for you. And it’s free. Click on the image below, then enter your name and email and it’s yours!

How A Meditation Practice Can Help You Lose Weight

11187217_944500648914551_6888870963403059405_oMost of us know that practicing meditation can help us feel more peace, more focus and generally more at ease, but did you know that a meditation practice can also help you lose weight?

It’s true. It’s especially true for those of us who identify with being an emotional eater. For people who find themselves eating in order to not feel an emotion (or in order to feel a certain emotion), one of the things they have in common is a lack of paying attention to their eating. What I mean by that is, if we are eating emotionally – usually the act of eating isn’t a memorable one. We eat fast, we chew quickly, if at all, we barely taste the food we’re eating before we swallow it. Many of us read, watch TV or browse the internet while eating. We do anything we can to not be present during our meal.

Why is that? Well, most emotional eaters don’t want to feel something that they’re feeling and they believe that eating this food will bring them comfort. Eating fast and without thoughtfulness is in an effort to distract themselves from the feelings they don’t want to feel. On some level, they believe that overeating or eating the wrong foods feels better than feeling the emotions they are trying to avoid. The worst part is that eating this way feels terrible afterwards and the guilt and shame that comes with it leads to us repeating the habit again and again.

Overeating is the opposite of awareness. And when we overeat regularly, it leads to weight gain. Let a few years of this behaviour pass and it won’t just be a couple of pounds that we want to lose, it can be many pounds as well as health problems.  Most emotional eaters are aware that their eating behavior isn’t normal (how do we know this? We hide our emotional bouts of eating from other people – it’s usually done in secret).  They know it’s not a normal way of eating – so in that sense they are aware that there is a problem, but they aren’t always aware that the issue stems from a deeper unawareness in their entire lives. Overeating to deal with emotions allows us to not be present or mindful or take responsibility for our feelings and actions. It’s a distraction. It’s a painful way to live and can feel impossible to get out of.

Earlier I mentioned that meditation can be helpful in losing weight. The reason for this, is that meditation can be a path back to mindfulness, back to being present and being thoughtful about our choices, not just in our daily lives with how we treat others and feel about ourselves but with how we interact with our food and our bodies. There is nothing mindful about overeating, whereas meditation essentially is the practice of being mindful.

When you first start a meditation practice, it can be really challenging. Your brain likes to keep a constant chatter of thoughts to distract you and your body doesn’t feel comfortable no matter how you sit. But with practice and consistency, it gets easier and you get more out of each session. You’ll find that your meditation sessions bring you awareness in so many other areas of your life, including eating. Your meditation practice will put you more in tune with your body which can help you determine feelings of hunger or fullness and it will put you more in touch with your emotions, which can make us less likely to reach for food. If we’re not using food to deal with our emotions as often, weight loss often becomes a side effect of practicing being mindful.

Will meditation alone fix emotional eating issues? Probably not but it’s one of many tools we can use that can make a huge difference.

Mindfulness Meditation is one of the types of meditations that emotional eaters can benefit from and it’s actually a part of what we’ll be doing on June 1st when the 28 Day Spiritual Cleanse begins.  If you’ve ever considered starting a meditation practice, this is a great way to learn! If you are interested in joining us, my email subscribers get a discount so sign up in the green box below!

Wavering Over A Big Decision? Here’s What I do.

Image courtesy of ponsuwan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ponsuwan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When it comes to making big decisions in your life, are the answers easy and clear for you? Or is it exhausting trying to figure out the right path for you? If you feel like you don’t really know what to do most of the time it might seem like everyone around you just instinctively knows the answers to big questions like what should I major in?, Should I stick it out at my job or look for a new one?, Should I move in with my significant other?, or Should we have a baby? But the truth is, there are more of us who struggle with making big decisions than those who don’t.

Why is it so hard to choose? Well, we get overwhelmed by the pros and cons of each. We’re afraid that if we chose it will be the wrong choice and we’ll forever regret that we didn’t chose the other way. We worry if it’s the right time or if this is really who we are. We worry about succeeding with either choice. We worry about failure. We feel conflicted between choosing what we want vs. what we think is expected of us. We question if we even know what we truly want deep inside.

I’m tired and anxious just thinking about it, aren’t you?

So what do you do when you have a big decision to make and aren’t sure which way to go?

One thing you can do is talk to friends or family about the decision and hashing out your thoughts on either choice can be a big help. Sometimes just hearing yourself talk out loud is enough to sway you in a direction.  Sometimes feedback from people who love us is helpful because they see parts of us that we may not be able to recognize ourselves. And sometimes feedback from those same people isn’t very helpful since everyone has an opinion (and sometimes their “stuff” gets in the way of what’s right for you) but it can bring up deeper feelings inside you that might be revealing. Writing can also be incredibly eye-opening when you’re going back and forth on something. Writing can helps you to see what you’re thinking about, where the balance is falling and if there are any red flags to watch out for. Writing privately in a journal is a space where you may feel safe to bring up things you wouldn’t in conversation. Doing this can really uncover your true feelings.

What if talking with loved ones and writing about our feelings doesn’t help? Don’t fret, there is still something that can help – Meditation. You’re probably thinking, but I thought meditation was for relaxation?  It is but it’s wonderful for so much more.  Meditation has been incredibly helpful to me when it comes to making some of the biggest decisions in my life (including quitting my job and launching into the coaching field).

Why will meditation help you with decision making? Deep down we are intelligent intuitive beings who have all the answers we need inside of us. It’s true! We really do. Sometimes we get clouded by external (media, parents, societal pressures etc) and internal (our own thoughts) distractions but your soul has an answer for you. You just need to find a way to access it! Meditating can help us access those answers because it quiets the chatter going on in our bodies and minds and it allows those deep intuitive feelings to rise to the surface. It’s an amazingly effective way to get clear and refine your focus in any part of your life.

A few minutes of quiet contemplation, where you focus just on your breath and the question at the forefront of your mind and you’ll often know what to do when the session is over.

You’ll know you’ve reached the right answer when what comes up feels like it is coming from your heart – our true place of knowing. If it feels wishy-washy or immediately wants to contradict itself, the answer is probably still coming from your mind.  Settling in for a longer meditation session may help you go a bit deeper. How do you know it is coming from your heart? It will feel confidently true. It will feel like something you just “know”. The doubt will move aside.

Do you want to try meditating on a big question? Here’s a free 1 Day Meditation for Decision Making that will walk you through it (save it to your computer for later). If you want more meditation tools like this, I have something that can help you go deeper!

When I chose to leave my desk job and start my own business, I spent time meditating on the decision. And when the answer finally came (on 4th of July weekend), it came from my heart (and I walked in and gave my notice that Monday). Yes, I was scared and worried about how or if I would make it all work (the details) but deep down I knew that this was where I was supposed to be.  Meditation helped me stop focusing on the “noise” and the anxiety that was preventing me from stepping out of my comfort zone.

Do you have a meditation practice or want to start one? Share with us in the comments.

Finding clarity is just one of the many many benefits that can come from starting a daily meditation practice. Earlier I mentioned that I have a way for you to go deeper if you are interested in learning more about meditation – it’s my 28 Day Spiritual Cleanse program which starts on June 1st.  In this program, you’ll learn all you need to know to start an enjoyable and effective meditation practice but at an unintimidating beginner level! We’ll go day by day and build on our knowledge step by step so that at the end of the 28 days you can move seamlessly into your own regular meditation practice (because you’ll already have developed one!). There are 3 levels / options for participation. You can read all about them to see which one is right for you here.
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Ps. I’m offering a special discount for early birds who purchase the program before May 20, 2015 at 11:59pm but you have to be on my email address to get access to the discount.  Sign up in the green box below if you’re not already a member!