26 August 2012

Tell Your Story

Today's post is a guest blog from Erica Trestyn. I met Erica at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating workshop I went to last month. I hope your find her message as insightful and inspiring as I did.

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.” - Dr. Seuss
For many years I have been ashamed to tell my story I have been ashamed for anyone to find out “my big secret”. Even now I have a hard time telling people that I am a recovering food addict and compulsive eater. I don’t want anyone to know how much food consumes every part of my life. How much I think about what to eat and what not to eat. I don’t want anyone to know that I used to make batches of chocolate chip cookies from scratch just to eat the raw cookie dough. I don’t want anyone to know how much I love to eat food.

Recently I have come to realize that what makes me most vulnerable is in fact my biggest strength. I am learning that in order to help heal myself from my compulsion to eat I need to expose my truth. Sharing my story can be difficult. It takes me back to a place that makes me uncomfortable. When I reflect back on my past and the person I used to be I am reminded of that scared and lonely fat girl who is hiding from the world. I am reminded of a girl who is self-conscious and insecure. I am reminded of a girl who I never want to be again. What I remind myself of is that when I expose my story and share my truth I don’t feel alone anymore. I know that through the sharing of my story I make it possible for others to share their own stories. I hope that in the sharing of this story you will feel inspired to share your own.

My Story
My “weight issue” has been with me for as long as I can remember. When I was seven, I went on my first diet. I was “not allowed” to eat certain foods and believed I was “good” when I ate what I was supposed to. By the time I was ten years old, I was sneaking cookies up to my room and eating them in secret under the bed. Before becoming a teenager I had been on weight watchers twice, seen a nutritionist, and been in a special program recommended by the doctor for overweight kids.

Dieting continued way into High school. I tried many forms of therapy and support groups for compulsive over eaters. For so long I felt like people were judging me based on what I ate. I began to judge myself in the same way. I was “good” when I ate what I was “supposed to” and “bad" when I didn’t follow the rules. After seeing that nothing seemed to be working my parents relinquished control over my eating habits. For the first time in my life I felt free and in control. I was finally “allowed” to eat whatever I wanted. I began to eat without thinking of the consequences. Without thinking about what I was doing to my body or myself. I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted and once I did I couldn’t stop. I left High School weighing almost 300 lbs.

I stayed obese for a long time. I was not ready to let go of my unhealthy habits, nor did I want to. It was nice to have control over my eating and I wanted to remain in control. I didn’t like the feeling of other people controlling what I was “allowed” to do. Control is something that I still struggle with. Even now that I have lost 150 lbs and I am not binging on food I struggle with finding the right balance. I don’t want to restrict my eating habits too much because I am afraid that will lead to binge eating. I also don’t want to give myself permission to eat whatever I want because I am afraid I won’t be able to stop. I still feel like it's not fair that I always have to “watch what I eat” and at times I get frustrated with my healing process, but I do know that I am making tremendous progress.

Over the past ten years I have gained tremendous strength and wisdom. I know that being in control is something I need to learn to let go of and that if I do start to get “out of control” with my eating habits I now have the tools to be able to stop. Learning to love myself and heal my spirit is a daily practice. I am honored to be able to share my most important tools with you.

Focus On Feeling Good
Focus on what you can change, not what you can’t. This also translates into focus on feeling good on the inside. I challenge you to count how many times you think something negative about yourself throughout the day. When I first did this I stopped counting after a few hours because the number became too overwhelming. Once I realized how much I was putting myself down I understood why I felt so insecure. I decided that I needed to change the way I thought. I began to flip that negative self-talk into positive talk.

Each time you catch yourself saying something negative, turn it into something positive. Negative self-talk: "I hate myself, I am so fat":: Positive self-talk: "I choose to love my body today no matter what." Say this positive affirmation as often as you need. Post it in a place around your house where you’ll see it all of the time, or program it like a reminder into your smart phone.

Learn To Let Go
“Wisdom comes with what you let go of, not what you hold onto.” -Unknown
If we start to sweat the small stuff we create anxiety. When we hold onto anxiety we can never truly learn to live within the moment. Allow yourself to be angry, sad, depressed, or lonely. Then allow yourself to let it go. When we hold onto to our past too much we can never truly experience the here and now. Once I began to let go of “my weight issue” I was finally able to change the way I thought and felt about myself. What are you holding onto? Usually those are the very same things you need to learn to let go of.

This is something that takes daily practice. Moment by moment we have the power to change the way we think, believe, and feel about ourselves. We have the power to re-create our thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Every time you catch yourself saying something negative about yourself, acknowledge it, observe it, and then challenge it. Begin your day with a positive affirmation: “I am getting better and better every day in every way.” Repeat throughout the day as needed. You don’t need to say it aloud, just changing your thinking can have powerful results on your actions.

About Erica
Erica Trestyn, MA, HHC
Holistic Health Counselor. Soft Spoken Teacher. Powerfully Passionate Motivator. Creative Spiritual Being.
Erica is the owner of Cultivate Nourishment LLC. Her personal story has provided tremendous inspiration. She healed herself from morbid obesity, loosing over 150 lbs, and changed her life. After a career as a New York City public school art teacher for 6 years she enrolled in the Institute For Integrative Nutrition in 2012 and received her certification as a Holistic Health Counselor. This allowed her to pursue her passion for educating others about health and wellness. Everyday she strives to cultivate more joy, peace, and love into her life by empowering others to nourish themselves.

Website: www.CultivateNourishment.com
Facebook: Facebook.com/CultivateNourishment
Follow: @EricaTrestyn

19 August 2012

Petitioning the Universe

Early in her book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert describes an activity a friend had her do while she was waiting to hear from her lawyer about whether her husband finally signed their divorce papers or not. She was feeling tortured by the whole drawn out, painful experience, and just wanted to be free. Her friend encouraged her to write a "petition to God," and once she had written down what it was she really wanted, she gave Elizabeth permission to summon signatures from all the people she could think of who would be in support of her plea. After naming close friends, family, colleagues, and so on, the list became wider, until lots of people from her life or from the world at large virtually signed her petition. Of course, in true cosmic fashion, minutes later she got the call that her divorce was final.

I started listening to this book on my iPod again while at the gym the other morning, and it occurred to me that there were one (or two, or three) things in my life where I was feeling lost about, and that this might be an interesting exercise to try. (I re-frame is as "petitioning the Universe" only because that's the term I particularly feel comfortable with, after 12 years of Catholic school ruined me for the word "God", though in theory I recognize it's all the same.)

It may be obvious, but I've never had trouble writing, so I opened up to a new page in my journal and just started writing. In about a page and a half, I spilled my guts. I wrote about things I felt tortured about, and asked for help. My last free-flow statement was, "help me find some way, some answer, some light."

And then it got weird.

I heard an answer, and I wrote it down. Not really a tangible, "do this thing now" kind of answer, but an answer nonetheless. I argued. And something responded. Two parts of me, having a dialog, back and forth. Sounding like a stubborn child and a patient adult. A lost friend, with another gently and supportively putting her back in her place, making her realize what's in her control and what's not. Reminding her of things along the way that she'd forgotten. Encouraging her to have faith, to trust, and believe that the answers will come. And that she MUST wait for them, must be patient.

Then the writing just naturally stopped. The child part didn't have any other counterpoints, and there was nothing further coming through.

Methinks I need to do this more often.

11 August 2012

Yoga & Loss

As many folks know, my husband and I recently lost Ferris, our feline friend. In this blog post, I discuss some of the challenges of the situation from both a personal and yogic perspective.

Ferris' Story
I found Ferris at my then veterinarian near Hartford, Connecticut, back in 1999. I'll never forget the first time I saw him--a 6 month old in a cage with his "brother"--both of them looking up at me with the sweetest eyes you ever saw. Ferris' given name was Preston, and his brother's given name was Avery. I remember my face wrinkling at the thought of these two going through life with those names, and immediately adopted both.

Rattrap & Ferris as Kittens
My best friend Frank helped me rename both kitties. Rattrap came from a Transformers cartoon series; Ferris, perhaps obviously, from the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. (It could have been worse--I remember trying to stick with the Transformers theme and wanting to name Ferris "Megatron"!) In retrospect, neither of these names really captured his personality, so he often ended up being called "boo-bah".

Ferris was terribly shy when I first brought him home. I remember starting both kittens out in my bathroom, sitting on the floor with my back leaned up against the wall, playing with Rattrap. I could feel Ferris hiding behind me. When they first started to roam my apartment, Ferris found a spot under my bed, and wouldn't come out. I remember wondering what happened to the poor fellow that made him so timid, and decided to reassure and love him all the more.

Apparently a few years of my care worked. Ferris not only became a "lap cat", but he was essentially a pose-able ball of fur. You could pick him up anytime (you'd always want to put him down before he'd want you to), you could turn him upside down, flip him over, blow on his tummy, and so on. I remember one phase where I wore him around my neck like a scarf and another where I stuffed him into the front of my overalls like a baby (yes, I had a pair) while I tooled around my condo. He was insatiable when it came to cuddles.

Around 2001, when I worked exclusively from a home office, I heard Ferris growling in the other room. Thinking he and his new buddy were about to get into another scuff (Rattrap suffered from congenital heart failure and after his third stroke, died just before his second birthday), I ignored it. But when Ferris arrived at my chair with a little red puff toy in his mouth, I sat in amazement. He dropped it at my feet; I tossed it out of the room, and he brought it back. Although we never played "fetch" like that again, Ferris often carried around his red puff, growling at the same time. I wish I had gotten a photo or video!

Ferris' other funny skill was detecting stretches. I could be in a completely different room, but the minute I got on the floor to stretch or do some yoga, Ferris could just sense it. He would find me and lay down next to me, stretching his body out long as well, or putting his head into my face. The other very unique thing about Ferris was his meow. It was of a lower tone than any other cat I'd ever heard.

Me and Ferris

Ferris was also a very finicky eater. Although he weighed 13 pounds for a lot of his life, he occasionally went on "hunger strikes"--we originally thought this was because of the ongoing struggles for dominance he still occasionally had with our other cat.

Eventually though, we though we'd discovered a non-behavioral reason for Ferris' eating issues. He was diagnosed with kidney disease in December 2009, soon after I returned from a trip to Chile and Argentina with a friend. I felt guilty, as if my going away somehow prompted his condition. From that point on, I (or my husband eventually) would administer subcutaneous fluids to Ferris every evening, and give him a pill every morning. Ferris was generally good about this--in fact, the most he'd complain was just before we put the needle in. About a year later, when his blood work was redone, we (our vet included) were all thrilled that Ferris actually seemed to have improved from the fluids. We'd given him another chance at life.

The Difficult Choice
In 2012, it became more difficult to manage Ferris' condition. He would go on hunger strikes more often, and started losing weight. Putting him on an appetite stimulant at one point sent him into an allergic reaction, warranting a trip to the kitty ER. Finding him pawing at a bloody mouth sent us back another time, only to find a rotten, half dislodged tooth as the culprit. And then the urinating started. Outside the box. First occasionally, then almost daily. When I came back from my Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training in June, my husband was at his wits end trying to manage everything. We knew Ferris was starting to decline.

A few months later, we started having conversations about the ultimate question: "when is the right time to put Ferris down?" We hated asking the question at all. Apart from the issues I mentioned, Ferris was still active and friendly--he didn't seem to be in any pain. So, we waited. Sure enough, over the next few months, the urinating got worse, Ferris got skinnier, our other cat got more neglected, and we got more stressed. We could no longer let Ferris freely roam the house while we were gone, as we'd never know where he'd urinate. When we were around and he roamed, he'd meow a lot, and sit uncomfortably on the window sill. Soon after, he seemed to start having trouble with his mouth again. When we last weighed him, he was about 7 1/2 pounds. "Stabbing" him with the fluids every night made us sad--he was all skin and bones.

After several appointments made and cancelled, we decided that Tuesday, July 31st was the day. He'd made it to his 13th birthday on the 20th, it was the end of the month, our wonderful vet at Westin Vet Clinic could do it, and we had nothing going on after work so we could process the situation afterwards.

From a yogic perspective I struggled with this. What was ahimsa here? Who gave us the right to decide when to take Ferris' life? Or was it more harming to keep him alive, hurting both of us and our other cat? And then I pondered, "who gave us the right to prolong Ferris' life with fluids when he was first diagnosed?" I'd always felt that Ferris was a human in another life--he just had that kind of soul. This made finding "the right time" all that more difficult. It wasn't the first time yoga and death had been on my mind.

Facing a Fear for Love
About a month prior to getting Ferris, I had been surprised by a diagnosis of lymphoma in my 18 year old Ivory, who had essentially grew up with me, and who I had taken with me all the way to college. When the vet told me he needed to be put down, I was in the midst of a breakup with my then fiance as well. I just couldn't handle it. I said goodbye but insisted that nothing be done until I was gone. Even once I was in the car with my fiance, I remember urging him to "just drive" so we could get out of there. So I could remember Ivory alive and well.

Unfortunately with years gone by, I ended up deeply regretting that decision. In retrospect I felt like I had completely abandoned my loving companion and childhood friend. I was determined not to have that happen this time, and I was acutely aware of how "being with my feelings" was not something I was good at. I decided to use this opportunity Ferris provided me to grow spiritually.

After preparing me with information about how it would go and what my happen, Dr. Mike left me alone with Ferris for a few moments. In that time, I whispered many things to him. I told him I loved him, that he was a good companion. I told him that I believed he was before, and that he would be again. And that he's be safe, free. Then while petting him, I chanted: "Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya" over and over. It seemed to have an effect: Ferris put his head down on his catnip mouse, purred, and relaxed.

Inner Knowing
Coming home that evening was difficult, but in the days that followed, I felt very content with our decision and completely at peace with it. That's how I knew it was the right thing to do. That's how I know it was in line with ahimsa. And then, a few days later, as I lay in shavasana (corpse pose) at the end of a gentle, yin yoga practice, I saw a vision of Ferris. It was likely inspired from a photo I looked at a few days earlier; he was stretched out long, front paws reaching toward me, floating up into the sky. He looked healthy, and it felt like he was saying goodbye, letting me know he'd be just fine. At the time I felt comforted--today the image brings tears to my eyes but I'm still certain that everything is OK, just as it is.

04 August 2012

My First Juice Cleanse: A Mixed Blender

After a recent trip to NYC where I stumbled upon one of their stores, I was reminded of Organic Avenue, and ended up checking out their web site when I returned home. After 2 weeks of being "off my healthy eating plan," I impulsively signed up for their Deep Love Cleanse. What I didn't realize was that it was their most challenging cleanse, requiring one ingest only fruit and vegetable juices for 3-5 days.

Benefits of Juice Cleansing
A lot has been written about the benefits of cleansing in general, and particularly juice cleanses. A Google search will turn up tons of information, highlighting both pros and cons. Below are some of what I found on various sites about the reported benefits of abstaining from solid foods:
  • increased energy
  • deep hydration of the body
  • improved digestion (after giving the body a rest from solid food)
  • improved mental clarity
  • improved nutrient absorption
  • clearer skin
  • more regular / normal elimination (i.e. alleviated constipation or diarrhea)
  • removal of harmful toxins that have built up in the body
  • increased metabolism / weight loss
However, it doesn't appear as though the medical or lay communities advocate juice cleansing as completely safe for everyone, or agree that such a cleanse necessarily provides all the benefits I listed above. LIVESTRONG, for example, provides several articles that talk about juice cleanses--some of illustrate benefits, others point out several potential risks. (Hey, I guess it's good to see they're largely unbiased!)

Risks & Downsides of Juice Cleansing
Here are some of the risks and downsides of juice cleansing that I've turned up:
  • nutrient deficiencies (e.g. those usually obtained from protein and fat in one's diet)
  • increased one's sugar intake (which can be especially harmful for those who already have medical conditions related to sugar)
  • potential for side effects such as headaches, dizziness, digestive upset
  • decreased energy
  • increased hunger and thirst 
  • loss of water weight only / regained weight upon return to solid food
Additionally, experts like Dr. Nasir Moloo have frequently been cited as stating that the body already knows how to remove toxins naturally, once one stops ingesting substances like caffeine, sugar, alcohol, processed foods, etc. So doing that instead might be more effective long term.
My Personal Experience
Since I like to reserve judgement about something until I have direct experience with it, I tried a 3-day juice cleanse, and here's what I can tell you:
  • I've never felt so hydrated. Unless I'm in a tropical climate, I'm always terribly dry and dehydrated. Not so with this cleanse! Between the juices and all the water and tea in between juices, it does feel great.
  • I did not abstain 100% from solid food. Even on day 1, I planned to supplement the juices I received from Organic Avenue with some fresh fruit and vegetables. Why? Based on my calculations I wouldn't be getting the medically-accepted minimum of 1200 calories a day (for women) on the juices alone. According to Mayo Clinic, fewer calories "could deprive a person of nutrients like calcium, iron, and protein." I also knew from John Doullard and Marc David's work that diet and exercise should never cause physical distress--doing so actually causes the metabolism to slow down. Also, I really just missed chewing!
  • My skin did look good. That said, I've also observed this on less invasive cleanses.
  • I was freezing! The Buddha cleanse I did previously warned that one might get cold as a side effect of cleansing, so I expected this. But as someone who is always cold anyway, by day 2 I was physically shivering all day at the office, and could not get warm inside.
  • By the evening of day 2 I was pretty much done. Day 2 started really good--I didn't feel as though I needed as much solid food (though I ate some anyway), but by evening I was super dizzy, and my stomach was in total revolt. I tried going to bed but between the loud growling and cramping the only way I could fall asleep was to eat some Mary's Gone Crackers. Unfortunately, I woke up with the same symptoms, and on Day 3 I had soup and a rice cake for breakfast, and a salad for lunch. The solid food made me feel better, but I was also pretty irritated. Not sure whether that's because of some release of toxins, or just annoyance over this cleanse not really working for me. Having a flat stomach that hurts like hell totally isn't worth it in my book!
My Advice
First off, based on my personal experience I wouldn't recommend this particular juice cleanse. Of all the cleanses I've done, the Buddha cleanse is my absolute favorite. Through it, one is eating solid foods all along (but starting clean and reintroducing certain foods along the way if one likes), so it feels much less disruptive and supportive of long-term healthy eating habits (i.e. ones that don't zig and zag between deprivation and binging).

However, if you are going to try this particular cleanse or a juice cleanse in general because you're curious about whether it would work for you, here's what I'd recommend: 
  • Find a local supplier of juice. Though most of Organic Avenue's juices were tasty, dealing with ordering, shipping, storing and trying to understand the smudged expiration dates on lots of perishable (unpasteurized) juice was difficult. During the process we had a few snafus--which they handled quite responsively--but it was a pain nonetheless.
  • Do the juice cleanse with a mentor and/or group. Having someone available who knows what they're doing, can answer questions, and provide support is valuable. Working remotely with Organic Avenue, I didn't find that they provided a lot of clear instruction up front--although when I emailed specific questions, they were pretty helpful.
  • Don't do a juice cleanse longer than 3 days. This is partially because of the risks I keep reading about with juice cleanses, and partially because of my personal experience and how yucky I felt. Of course, some juice cleanse creators will tell you otherwise; after all, they're likely selling you the juice! I've done much longer (food-based) cleanses before and to me, nothing but juice doesn't feel healthy for my body for very long. Maybe I gave up too soon, but when my body is revolting that violently even though I don't eat very badly in general, I have to listen and think that maybe it's really not a good thing!
  • Back off intense workouts. I reluctantly gave up my running and a hot yoga class because I was worried about having the energy to do them, the low calorie intake, and the understanding that cleanses work best when you rest the body. Although I'm somewhat resentful of missing these workouts given how it all turned out, my instincts were right--I don't think there's any way I could have done my typical routine if I wanted to. (I did do yin yoga the second day, which was lovely and fitting as a somewhat restorative practice.) 
So, basically I tried this juice cleanse and I don't think it worked for me. I mean no disrespect toward Organic Avenue or their juices--in fact, many of their products are yummy and who knows, maybe when I've forgotten about this experience I'll order some of their juice again.

Or, maybe I'll just go back to making my own smoothie recipes in my new Vitamix! :-)