Archive | February, 2012

The Voices of My Past

26 Feb

It is 2:41pm on Sunday, and if I’d been tallying the number of times I’ve thought about having a snack since 9am this morning, an entire 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper would be covered in tick marks– front and back.

Am I obsessed? No. Am I hungry? For something.

I work with individuals who are dieting, who are working toward getting healthy, and who need help finding their inner strength to manage chronic health, as well as mental health conditions. I teach them how to listen to their bodies and minds, to become observers of their thoughts, to manage the negative voices that often plague them, and to understand their drives, desires, and core  motivations. I can do this for a number of reasons, but a critical component to my skill in helping others has much to do with the critical skill I’ve developed in caring for myself.

Many of my clients know I struggled with disordered eating as a young college student. Perhaps it would be more appropriate for me to say that I struggled with low self-esteem, shame, depression, and anxiety. I was distrustful of the world around me, the people in my life, and believed I was unworthy. The scripts that would play in my head often sounded like this:

“You can’t do that. Are you kidding? You’re actually going to try that? You’re just going to be made fun of and ridiculed. Why would that person want to take the time to help you? Of course he meant that you’re ugly, stupid, and not worth paying attention to. You better make sure you do that perfectly, because without that grade, you will be seen as nothing.”

I remember nights spent lying awake, listening to my stomach growl. Images of food dancing across my brain are still so vivid now. Writing this, I just noticed a wave of cold discomfort envelop my  body. I was lonely and deprived. Literally deprived. I know well the environmental circumstances that caused me to begin isolating myself from people, and then isolating myself from food. It’s interesting looking back at what my life was like almost 15 years ago.

Despite the time that has elapsed, however, and having recovered fully from any eating and weight-related issues, the feelings associated with those experiences can still resonate within me. They are resonating today, and I realize as I’m wanting to eat, despite just having eaten a meal,  no threats to my well-being, and no perceivable stressors, the impetus to feed myself is self-protective.

Dieting for a bodybuilding contest can be arduous business. There are days when gnawing hunger is constant. Low blood sugar sometimes comes along and likes to kick up its feet and hang out for a little while. Training and cardio is done despite a lack of energy. I’m not necessarily in a stage of competition prep right now where it’s a grind every second (I’ve been there and know how low I can begin to feel), however, that doesn’t mean that when I am struggling with a craving or wanting to “just have a snack” that I can just respond with, “Oh, wait it out until your next meal and you’ll be fine…” and it’s A-OK.

I’ve realized why it’s pretty difficult for me sometimes. I’ve got clients who constantly tell me they don’t know how I have this mind of steel, how I can just lock it down and when I’m in prep mode, it’s all systems GO. Well, that may be the case, however, all systems GO requires constant vigilance in being mindful, aware, and acknowledging the cravings and struggles. It’s not that I don’t have them! So I’m great at listening to my self. I can easily monitor what’s happening in my body and my mind and use that effectively to refrain from diving into the peanut butter jar. But I, just today, understand why, after years of competing, I would continue to have the same drives toward constantly eating (even though I don’t), despite those years of practicing moderation.

The tremendously uncomfortable anxiety which would manifest physically and mentally, in addition to the physical discomfort, as a result of not eating for hours and hours and exercising more than 3x per day felt unbearable. Well, I bore it. But it was awful while I was. Now, despite the critically different reasons for moderating food, exercising, and the obviously different severity of restriction, my body will still create similar feelings of deprivation, worry, anxiety, and discomfort. This time I’m not dying, what I’m doing is safe, and it has much less to do with negative emotional health, but my body doesn’t know the difference! The year I spent having the same shameful, unworthy thoughts that manifested in physical and emotional feelings, created the circuitry in my brain and body for to me to feel the same things any time I would have even a slightly similar experience. As creatures of habit we strive to make sense of the world, maintain equilibrium, get away from unknowns….because we can’t relate to unknowns!  We make associations with everything we do. We remember things by attaching something new with something we have already experienced so we have “something to go on”– this is the nature of associative learning.  I start to feel hungry while I’m dieting and associate that with what I’ve come to know since recovering from my disordered eating (you hurt yourself in ways you never want to again), and subsequently want to eat immediately to prevent the hurt again.

Am I hurting myself the way I was then? No. Will eating every time I feel hungry or anxious get me to my goals? No. But listening to the voices of my past and acknowledging now what they are telling me to do is no longer maddening– it’s freeing. Those voices are there for a reason- to remind me that I’m safe and will be okay.

If you’re working toward change, whether it’s reducing stress, getting out of a harmful relationship, changing behavioral patterns you recognize are damaging,  quitting an addictive behavior, or losing weight, to name a few, expect discomfort. It has to be there. It will be there. It’s your body’s way of trying to strike that familiar balance, even if the “balance” is what you realize needs to be different. You’ll want to give in when you feel that discomfort, but if you can remember that it’s a signal that you’re creating something new for  yourself, let that be the reminder you  need to persevere.

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Illuminate to Eliminate

18 Feb

I tweeted today, “Can life be any more FULL?!?”

The painful, the amazing, the brilliant, the hideous….all of it is valuable and necessary to become who we desire to be.

We’ve got to be willing to go through it all too- not just bear it. We need to milk it, dig at it, peel away the layers of it, and taste it….every single glorious little morsel of it.

It’s easy to make excuses and back away, shut the windows of our souls, or at least allow them to fog up when we’re not paying attention. If we want to eliminate our personally created barriers, however, we’ve got to illuminate what we’re using to  build them.

What are we  blocking our paths with? What are the words we hear that stunt our growth and minimize our talents?

Once you take the time to shed light on these walls, then you can move forward in replacing them with committed and deliberate, intense, and purposeful movement down a well-lit path of resilience and healthy vulnerability.

When do you find that you get most lost in your self? When are those times when you get a real, candid, honest look at who you are and acknowledge that it’s pretty dang ugly sometimes? I want to know! Because we all have those moments. You’re not alone. Maybe sharing them would relieve some of the disgust or fear we have about what we’re assuming no one else experiences.

You don’t have to lack confidence. You don’t have to fear what you assume others might be thinking about you. You don’t have to struggle with overwhelming anxiety. You don’t have to battle food or the scale.  But you have to want something different and be willing to till and water the dirt if you want new seeds to grow.

A Gulp and some Spirit– You Ready?

15 Feb

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard, “But Kori, I know what to do” or “Kori, I really should know how to do this on my own” or “Kori, I have the information– I just can’t “do” it.”

And to each of these comments, I usually nod, smile, and respond with a “Yep,” a “Not exactly”, and “You hit the nail on the head.”

The brain is a wonderful thing.Without the brain we’d not be functioning human beings who can breathe, move, think, sense, experience, learn, creating meaning, much less digest our food. Each of the statements above referenced ‘knowing.’ The brain is involved in ‘knowing’, gathering information, assimilating that information, creating understanding of that information, and establishing meaning of that information. But let me back up.

Knowledge stops at knowledge unless it is followed by experience. Semantic memory are those tidbits of knowledge that we’ve stored to possibly access later. Key word: possibly. Through experience we create episodic memories by connecting the known with the unknown. If we desire to make sense of something, to understand what we’ve not previously encountered, we connect it with something that we’ve already stored away.

For example, I ask my weight loss clients to remember a big accomplishment in their lives. The meeting of a goal takes tenacity, determination, the ability to problem-solve, manage time, institute some level of organization, and a mindset of flexibility. We can anticipate that there will be bumps in the road along the way, and navigating them takes a level of skill, right? Losing weight often seems like the most daunting task on the planet when my clients first begin the process, however, when they can use what they already know, associate the same skills they have used in the past on other tasks, with what it will require to lose weight, suddenly the goal seems much easier to reach. In essence, they may “know what to do” (they have read a million diet books, participated in numerous diet programs, and watched Dr. Oz), but without experience, that knowledge remains a philosophy.

We also learn by repetition, and herein lies the problem, especially with chronic dieters. Many of them have been doing the same thing over and over, but what they have been doing has been ineffective.  “I read that carbs make you fat,” (knowledge) the client across from me stated emphatically. “I’ve been doing a low carb diet for years, and I just keep yo-yoing.” (experience).  How can she know what to do if she’s been doing the wrong thing for  years and hasn’t learned any new information that could be more effective for her? At this point her low carb dieting has become automatic. If she gains a few pounds, guess where her brain goes? The neurons that are connected to the “knowledge” about carbs are connected to the neurons that initiate the chemicals connected to the emotion that has created meaning about carbs and the subsequent behavior of ketogenic (no carb) dieting. NO FRUIT FOR YOU!

If she wants to change who she is and what she does, she has to change her brain by learning new things to create new neural circuits. She could get frustrated and say, “I just can’t do it. This is just me,” and resign herself to be overweight, unhappy, and unwilling to learn some new knowledge to start applying for the attainment of new skills.

Are you understanding now that to create change you have to first change your brain by acquiring new knowledge and information, then be willing to embrace novel experiences to create new connections and meaning that will, by association and repetition, become automatic and eventually subconscious?

So here’s the deal: If you’ve got the knowledge, it may be sitting there just waiting to be activated. What you have learned (as information) is what someone else has basically turned into experience and wisdom. So now it’s your turn. But it won’t “just happen.” What’s the next step? You’ve got to assess that knowledge, turn it over and examine it thoroughly, identify how it relates to you, reflect on it. By doing this you’re internalizing it and making it more a part of you. You are creating new synaptic connections in your brain that are now ripe to be influenced by experience (applying what we learn and changing our behavior) and attaching emotion. But we can’t stop here. We have to continue assessing and critiquing along the way, adapting what we’re taking in and experiencing with what we’ve already learned and making decisions about what to keep and continue applying or what to throw away and continue learning about! The woman who succumbs to peer pressure and has pizza and wings when she’s out with friends rather than sticking to her plan of enjoying a healthy grilled chicken salad must go back and ask herself how that event transpired, what got in the way, and create new understanding for herself so she can avoid the same behavior next time. Now she’s becoming wise!

I started with a client yesterday who expressed her trepidation about whether she really needs to work with me. She was of the “I should be able to do this on my own” camp. But she’s been in that camp for a few years, she hasn’t changed, and her knowledge and experience has remained the same. We talked about this new journey she’d be embarking on with me and she said, “With a gulp and some spirit, I’m ready to learn….”

Think and you shall become…

3 Feb

Scientists used to believe that we were born as blank slates. As brand new babies we had nothing to guide us until we started creating meaning from our environments and forming neural connections from our surroundings and the people and models in our lives. We know far more about neuroscience now, and from conception, the fetus’ brain is being formed in a manner that through the parents’ DNA, predisposes it to a certain temperament, personality, and even talents. Our genetics are powerful and they contribute 50% to who we are.

If half of who we are is outside of our genetics, however, how do we become the very individual, unique human beings that think, feel, and act in such different ways?

Well, we think, feel, and act in the ways that we learn how to think, feel, and act. Through repetition we create neural circuits in our brains that dictate how our brains will function and consequently, how we will feel, act, and develop patterns of behavior. Our caregivers modeled patterns of behavior and as young children, we watch and repeat. As parents you see this happening all the time. You say a derogatory word, not thinking about its impact, and the next day your child is walking around repeating it everywhere he goes. Like a case of Tourette’s!

The more we use certain areas of our brains, the more neurons we create there, and the stronger the pattern of behavior connected to those areas becomes.

Makes sense now how we want to be better about assessing what we’re doing and the thoughts that are leading us there. If we can do this, we have the ability to break the sequence by thinking something different and doing something different. In essence, we have to nurture what we most want to obtain– positive thoughts lead to positive feelings lead to positive actions.

Is your behavior effective? Is it getting you where you want to go and to who you want to be? If not, what are the thoughts you have? Thinking “I can’t do it,” “or “this is too hard” will lead you somewhere. Where do you think that this? Certainly not to a confident, determined, “failure is not an option” type of person!

Buddha said “All that we are is a result of what we have thought.”
Think the same thing over and over again and you will become that thing.
You can become the other thing. Nurture the nature you want to expand on and nurture the thoughts that will create new connections to become the person you want to be.

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