Pressing Pause: The Joy of Hot Water and Lemon Water

Let’s just say I’m holding steady. My schedule won’t allow me to ease into phase two for another week, which is fine by me.

Each day I’m surprised. I’m surprised by how easy I’ve found this process. I’m surprised by how well I feel. I’m surprised by how my response to day-to-day stress seems to have shifted toward something resembling calm. Ever the skeptical inquirer, however, I continue to question.

How could a few shifts in my diet, coupled with a supplement regime, produce results in just a few weeks? Besides, didn’t I cheat once or twice (or thrice)?

The point of the practice, I suppose, is to create the conditions by which I am consistently mindful of what I am putting into my body. That means being mindful not only when I’m making good choices but being mindful even when my choices are less than helpful. It also means cultivating good habits – like beginning the day with a mug of hot water and lemon juice.

But mornings can be hectic in my household and the simple act of boiling the kettle, pouring hot water into a mug and then adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice squeezing the lemon into it can fall down the list of priorities when there are showers to take, a litter box to clean and emails to answer.

My solution is to set myself up for a good morning the night before. Before bed I fill my forty ounce Mira thermos with hot water, the juice from one whole lemon and – as suggested by NaturalStart’s Detox, Flush and Reboot program – a little pinch of cayenne pepper. Sometimes I’ll add a bit of grated fresh ginger, too. In the morning my hot lemon water is ready for me. I drink a large glass when I wake and sip the rest throughput the day.

But why? Why is this is healthy habit? An internet search will offer a list of reasons, some more dubious than others. I found a balanced explanation on Wellness Mama but I’ll be honest- I don’t really need a list of benefits that may or may not be true. I can report that I’ve noticed an improvement in my skin tone. It’s possible the dark circles under my eyes aren’t so obvious. But mostly it just feels good to begin my day with a glass of lemon water. I don’t really need any other reason to keep this healthy habit.


Day VIII, Week II, Phase I: Oops, I Did it Again

I’m an emotional eater. Always have been. What does that mean? It means when something comes along to jangle my equilibrium – a quiet disagreement, a perceived slight, difficulties at work or even just the voice in my head chipping away at my self-esteem – I eat.

And believe me, I’m not stuffing my face with kale salad. Nope. Remember, sugar is my nemesis.

I reach for ice cream.

I knew there was a half eaten pint of Talenti gelato in our freezer and with a little foresight I would have either finished it or thrown it away before the start of this reboot journey. But I didn’t. You can figure out the rest of the story.

“I’ll just have a spoonful,” I said to myself. Three spoonfuls later I said, “Just one more.” Thankfully, Ben was home and pried the carton from my cold, curled fingers before I could inflict any more self-harm. He and I both knew a few spoonfuls of creamy chocolate goodness wouldn’t derail the progress of my detox/flush/reboot journey. The guilt scheduled to arrive the moment that last spoonful hit my gullet would be my undoing.

What do we do when our best intentions take a back seat to our reflexive instincts?

One of the gifts that a yoga practice offers is self-regulation. Yoga teaches us to have a measured response – the ability to dial down the strong reactions we might have to external events. In other words, instead of reaching for the ice cream I might have reached for the meditation cushion.

But sometimes self-regulation defaults to stress-induced tantrum and before I know it I’m a sticky chocolate mess. When that happens – it’s time to practice forgiveness. When forgiveness opens my heart I remind myself that one of the gifts of this program is the opportunity to look at the small choices we all make each day. Approaching each choice with presence and mindfulness and – sometimes – a little bit of forgiveness is an act of healing.


Day III, Week I, Phase I: My Nemesis Sugar

If reports are true, Dr. Evil and his cat have nothing on the sugar industry. Last week I read it was the sugar industry that gaslighted us into believing all fat was bad. And, as a woman who struggles with weight and comes from a family of women who struggle with weight, I believed the conspiracy. I turned my back on fats but didn’t dare pass a jar of jelly beans without grabbing a handful. There were commercials, paid for by C & H, touting sugar as a fat-free, natural alternative to cyclamates, aspartame and saccharine. 

Saccharine. Just typing that word brings back memories of the small plastic bottle of little white saccharine tablets my mom carried in her purse when I was a kid, in the event we stopped at Woolworth’s. This was when we still thought it might cause bladder cancer but my mom didn’t care. She wasn’t going down without a fight and battled our predisposition for weight gain valiantly. Her order at Woolworth’s was a tuna melt and a cup of black coffee into which she’d drop her two white pearls of artificial sugar. I’d have my favorite: peanut butter and banana pie. To this day she still drinks Diet Coke or maybe Tab if she can find it. And if you offered me a slice, I’d still eat the peanut butter and banana cream pie.

In my commitment to the six-week Detox, Flush & Reboot program I’m determined to remove added sugar from my diet. But there’s a problem.

Sugar is addicting.

I went to my favorite resource, Dummies, to find out why. It turns out that sugar stimulates a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in charge of the pleasure centers in our brain. In other words, sugar makes us feel good. And we all want to feel good, right? 

Unfortunately, after awhile we become sensitized to sugar and need to consume more to reach the same level of pleasure. To make matters worse, as our dopamine receptors become more desensitized our prefrontal cortex begins to slow down. That’s the part of our brain that helps us make rational decisions…(which may explain why I wore striped socks with sandals paired with a plaid flannel shirt and rolled up jeans on Tuesday.)  

So what’s a sugar addict to do? I know all the obvious places sugar lurks, like the Bowls of Temptation at Samyama – the glass bowls filled with ginger chews or Starbursts. So I need to find strength and discipline. Ok. I can do that for six weeks.

But sugar is stealth. It turns up in the weirdest places. Like catsup. Or the soy creamer I’ve been using for the past month. Plus it uses aliases, like sucrose, fructose and glucose.

Then there are the other sugars, like honey and maple syrup and even agave syrup. Don’t be fooled. Under that hippie exterior lurks the same old sugar.  Don’t forget, a sugar by any other name tastes just as sweet…and is just as addicting.

I don’t think it’s wise for me to go cold turkey. I’ll begin by finishing the soy creamer and then switching to unsweetened. I’ll close my eyes when I pass the bowl of Starbursts. I’ll remain mindful – considering my choices and doing the best to make the right one.

Wish me luck.


Day I, Phase I, Week I

What I hate about the word ‘detox’, as in ‘doing a detox’, is that it implies we’ve done something wrong – that we’ve deliberately filled our bodies with impurities. But if we make reasonable decisions regarding our health and wellness then our organs of elimination – the liver, skin, kidneys, lungs and intestines – do a great job of filtering impurities and protecting us from environmental dangers.

And so you will never hear me say, “I’m doing a detox.” You might, however, hear me say, “I’m rebooting.”

I’m rebooting.

It all began last Friday when I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Diane Fong and Adrienne Chhoeuy. Dr. Fong is a Naturopathic Doctor and Medical Director of NaturalStart Medicine. Adrienne is the team’s colon hydrotherapist and lymph drainage expert. Despite my initial skepticism, I was won over by their enthusiasm and expertise. The team at NaturalStart believe that a ‘detox’ is more than changing your diet and drinking more water. A reboot has to incorporate a mind/body component that speaks to our spiritual imbalances and the energetic blocks we encounter as we move through life.   

At the end of the meeting I was invited to participate in their six-week Detox, Flush & Reboot program. Curious by nature and in desperate need of something – anything – to help me regain my enthusiasm for life I didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes’.

This past Saturday I joined fifteen other participants. We squeezed into the light filled lobby of NaturalStart and for the next few hours reviewed the program, gathered our supplements, enjoyed delicious green juice courtesy of Pure Juice Organics and were given a functional health assessment by Dr. Fong.

And so it begins. For the next six weeks I’ll be working with my diet, choosing fresh vegetables and whole grains while reducing gluten and caffeine and eliminating sugar and alcohol. I’ll reduce my screen time and spend more time practicing the mindfulness I try so hard to teach.

There’s more to this reboot than diet and exercise and as the weeks go by I’ll do my best to share the experiences with you. I’ll share some great recipes, too. All while wearing tis gorgeous new accessory:


Death by Sugar

d689d520cd3e2d7653c5e1469e50ff90--liquorice-allsorts-floppy-hatsMy mother craved licorice while carrying the child who would become me. I blame her for my addiction.

Last week a client who eschews quests asked me if I would purchase a box of Barrett’s Licorice All-Sorts for her as she could not find them where she shops for groceries. This was a little bit like asking someone avoiding alcohol to pick up a box of pinot (a box, not a bottle – no cork screw required).

I giddily agreed.

I love licorice all-sorts and I know for a fact they are available for purchase at the store across the street from where I live. I know this because when I see them near the baked goods or stacked in the candy aisle I stare longingly. I marvel at the confection’s bright colors. I remember with affection their sweet and bitter taste. And I know that should I give in to temptation and bring a box of the candies home they will be eaten within the hour. I also know that it will be less a slippery slope and more an oil slicked slide. I won’t be able to stop and will continue to buy and eat licorice all-sorts until the inventory at Mollie Stone’s is decimated. Or I’m in a sugar coma. Whichever comes first.

Sugar is poison.

Is that true? The media loves an extreme headline almost as much as I love licorice all-sorts and as powerful as it is to label sugar a poison, it may not go far enough. I prefer to think of sugar – and by ‘sugar’ I mean sweeteners we add to foods as obvious as cookies and as surprising as spaghetti sauce – as a passive aggressive bully gaslighting me to ill-health. I’ll admit it, more often than not sugar can sweet talk me into those Panera chocolate chip cookies in the pain clinic’s staff room, the chocolate covered macadamia nuts at the yoga studio and even the half-pint of sorbet gathering ice crystals in the back of the freezer.

And while sugar is tickling my taste buds with sweet nothings it’s also contributing to weight gain and tooth decay, placing stress on my liver, heart, kidneys and pancreas, aging my skin and inflaming my joints.

The most recent nutritional advice is trading the theory that a calorie is a calorie no matter where it comes from for the more obvious and intuitive notion that it’s quality, not quantity.

In other words, one thousand calories derived from a balanced combination of fruits, vegetables and whole grains will beat one thousand calories derived from fruit rolls, potato chips and donuts hands down.
I told you it was obvious and intuitive.

A box of Barrett’s Licorice All-Sorts will not kill me. Death by sugar is more insidious. All it takes is a little label reading to discover sugar shows up in places we’d never expect.
Why am I firing up my sweet tooth with all this thinking about sugar? It’s New York Time’s David Leonhardt’s fault. He wrote this, which lead me down several internet rabbit holes to this and this.

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Last week I stood in front of the Barrett’s Licorice All-Sorts and weighed my options. In the end, I didn’t buy them. I didn’t even pick them up. Instead, I came home with a bag of Pontefract Cakes.

And I ate them all.

Nobody said it was easy.


Toxic/Not Toxic

This is toxic:

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This is not toxic:

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And that’s why I don’t use the word ‘detox’. Yes, it’s time for my yearly campaign to ban the word ‘detox’ and any associated eating plan that encourages us to either eliminate entire classes of macronutrients, requires a blood test before we meal plan or encourages us to subsist on lemon, cayenne and honey.

Why don’t we call what most of us are about to embark on in a few days’ time what it actually is: an opportunity to practice mindful eating.

The problem with a ‘detox’ program – or any strictly defined and limiting diet that promises more than it can deliver – is that it is finite. The rules and edges are so sharply defined that we are almost guaranteed to fail.

If instead we reframe our efforts as an opportunity to slow down and to consider our food choices, we allow ourselves room to explore, to try something new, to reset and – most importantly – to change our relationship to food, our bodies and the intentions we hold when we eat.

 


The Accidental Vegan

Vegetables

 

 

 

 

 

Remember this post? The one where I proclaimed that my omnivorous ways did not make me a bad person? How times have changed. Turns out I’m a very fickle woman.

Eating meat worked well for me during the winter months. A nice stew of vegetables and grass-fed beef on a cold day warmed my bones and blood. But at the time I was sharing most of my meals with a friend. It was easier to prepare one meal, and even if I’d wanted to I knew I didn’t have the discipline to say “no” to bacon on a Sunday morning. So I was an omnivore. And I loved it. What I noticed, however, was that when I was on my own the foods I craved were foods that hadn’t been born. They didn’t have a face and they didn’t have a mother. They were grown from the earth.

When spring arrived our schedules changed and my friend and I had to say goodbye to the beautiful tradition of breaking bread together. I miss sitting down at a table and sharing a meal. It’s a ritual good for the soul. I miss the conversation and the laughter and I even miss cleaning away the dishes.

But I don’t miss the meat. Or the eggs. Or the dairy…except for the feta cheese I used to add to my kale salad.

I remember attempting a vegan diet about six years ago. I don’t think I lasted two weeks.

But I’m a different person now, and being a vegan wasn’t really something I thought I was moving towards. It just sort of snuck up on me. First I let go of the meat. The eggs came next – that was easy. The goat milk was more difficult because I love it warmed with honey before bed and I love milk in my coffee. But I did it. Last was the feta cheese.

So here I am. My favorite meal these days is a bowl of steamed veg with a spicy tahini sauce. Go figure.

How long will this last? Who knows. That’s the thing. I’m not really putting any pressure on myself to eat any one way or be any one thing.

I have to say, though, that this time it feels different. My first challenge arrived yesterday when the staff and teachers of Samyama had a dim sum celebration with owner John Berg at Ming’s. I passed the challenge. The next big test will be in two weeks when I fly home to Pennsylvania for my mother’s 80th birthday. I don’t know how to break it to her that I really don’t want pork chops fried in butter and mock seafood salad in mayonnaise.

I think sometimes you have to choose your battles. Besides, you just can’t argue with an eighty-year-old woman with a cigar in one hand and a slab of raw pig hanging from a fork in the other. Sigh.

Wish me luck.