Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bad News for Those With Hormonal Imbalances

Okay, I know I promised a post on ways to regain your hormonal balance this week, but first we have to talk about the kind of things that can throw you out of balance. Because everything you do to put yourself back in balance won’t matter one bit if you keep doing things that send your hormones out of balance. One thing will cancel out the other and you’ll be going nowhere fast.

That’s where I feel like I am right now. I haven’t been right since I spent several days in the whirlpool at the Y, trying to loosen up a bad shoulder. The bad shoulder was caused by driving too rigidly for several hours while under a lot of stress. You know how the best way to drive is calm and relaxed (and NOT on the phone), aware of your surroundings and what’s coming your way. Well, I was driving to a strange place, meeting strange people, had to be there at a specific time, didn’t know how much farther it would be, got caught in road construction, and had a lot on my mind. Not ideal conditions for driving, especially for a PMDD woman. Stress sets us off like nothing else can.

So my neck and shoulder locked up, aggravating an old rotator cuff/pinched nerve injury, and because the pain was so intense, I sought the comfort of the whirlpool.

Big mistake, and a heavy price to pay for 20 minutes a day of sheer bliss. Two months later, and I’m still paying that price.

Most of us don’t realize our skin works like a bodily organ, much like our kidney, liver, or a lung. Skin absorbs things in the water or air, like toxins and pollution, the same way it absorbs lotion. Skin also releases toxins we absorb, inhale, or ingest, through sweat.

I knew this could happen, but the pain was so intense I didn’t care. I couldn’t type, couldn’t read, couldn’t do any of my favorite things. So I opted for denial and took a chance.

Next thing I know, I’m sitting in a tub full of toxins—specifically an overchlorinated whirlpool, overchlorinated because God knows who is using the whirlpool or what germs they might carry—just to get a little relief from my pain. I only did it for four or five days, just long enough to help the pain subside, but--between that and my new stress over not being able to read or write or spend any time worth mentioning at the computer--it was more than enough to mess up my hormonal balance.

So, number one: Chlorinated pools are no good for women with hormonal imbalances. I mention this specifically today because it’s summer here, and what do people do to escape the heat in the summer? Head for the nearest pool.

But think about this…you know what chlorine does to your hair. You know how itchy it makes your skin feel. You know how sticky you feel after you get out of the pool and dry off. How you smell of chlorine until you take a soap shower. Did you know you shouldn’t wear gold into a pool because the chlorine will weaken it, eventually causing it to crumble? Ask your favorite jeweler. I had the tines on a ring completely dissolve after a few trips to the whirlpool. I had to have the tines on the ring recrafted, and the jeweler said absolutely…keep all gold out of the pool.

So, if you still believe none of that chlorine is soaking into your body, then check out this link that discusses swimming and chlorine toxicity. Children are most at risk, but so are women’s hormonal balances. Not to get too far off topic, but fish have died from just the chlorine in tap water.

So tap water is also a concern for women with hormonal imbalances. (Drinking distilled water is best.)

Other things a woman with hormonal imbalances needs to avoid are (and I know this will have you shaking your head and saying no way, forget it, like I did for too many years to count, but if you want to stop feeling miserable, this is what you have to do):

Alcohol: Alcohol is especially dangerous to women with PMDD, but affects all women with hormonal imbalances.
Caffeine: Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, but worsens your hormonal imbalances.

Chocolate: Women who suffer from hormonal imbalances crave chocolate. Pure, dark chocolate is rich in magnesium and eicosanoids, which our bodies need. Unfortunately, most chocolate is also laden with fat and sugar, which worsens the imbalance. Dark chocolate, with 70% or more cocoa in it, is the best kind to eat for your hormonal needs. Not the kind with nougats or creme filling or caramel in it. Those only offer even more sugar and fat.

Oh, and never drink milk with your chocolate, or it cancels out the antioxidant benefits obtained.(So much for milk and brownies...)

Nicotine: Nicotine stimulates the nervous system, but worsens any hormonal imbalance.

Refined Sweeteners: Sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, or any processed sweetener worsens any hormonal imbalance--and yet the brain craves sugar, needs it to survive. So we can't get away from eating sugar altogether, but we can choose to eat healthy sources of sugar—fruits, vegetables, whole grains--over refined sources, so that our brain gets the kind of sugar it needs to work properly, while the rest of our body doesn't suffer from the effects of too many sweets, such as obesity and diabetes.

Sugar-Free Food and Drinks: Sorry, ladies, but sugar substitutes only worsen hormonal imbalances and we need to avoid them altogether.

Doesn’t leave us with anything fun to eat or drink, does it?

That’s not to say you can never have an ice cream cone again, or a glass of wine, or a diet soda, or anything made with chocolate. (In fact, here’s a blog dedicated to the health benefits of dark chocolate, so that you don’t feel totally deprived. Can you tell chocolate is the one vice I haven't been able to give up yet?) But while your hormones are out of balance--and you will know they are out of balance by the way you feel—it’s best to avoid these things until you are back in balance, and your body is better able to handle the occasional jolt to your hormones caused by one of these substances.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Judge Not...

One of the cardinal rules of joyful living is that judging others takes a great deal of energy, and, without exception, pulls you away from where you want to be. ~Richard Carlson

Today I’m going to write about judging others. Over the years, several people in my life have remarked on my ability to be so understanding and accepting of others—at least when The Alien isn’t around, which, thankfully, is most of the time :). But the real me is usually pretty open, easygoing, and tolerant, inclined to give everyone and anyone the benefit of the doubt. That often ends up with me being taken advantage of in one way or another, but I’ve decided I’d rather go through life trusting people than not. When they fall down on the job, or fail to come through for me, that’s on them, not me for trusting them to do what they said they were going to do.

Doesn’t make my life any easier when something falls through and I have to scramble to compensate, but at least I know it’s not because I didn’t withhold my trust or support.

But I digress. Like I said, I wanted to write about judging others. I used to judge people all the time. Made me feel superior to them in some way, I guess. I don’t remember now, because now I make a conscious effort not to judge. Why is this? I didn’t have a lightning bolt of awareness strike me one day and do a total turn around in thinking, that’s for sure. My level of tolerance and understanding came slowly. It came as I got older, and it came over time. Eventually, I noticed it came every time I judged someone. Maybe not right away, but eventually, it came.

Funny how that worked. I’d look at someone and think, why on earth would they (do or say whatever it was they were doing and saying) and pass judgment…Good Lord, I’d never do (or say) that…and then, eventually, unfailingly, in God’s own time, I would find myself in that very same situation.

And I would understand. And I would remember passing judgment. And I would feel badly about it.

Fortunately I don’t usually speak my judgments aloud, so I had nobody to apologize to but thin air, but still…

They haunt me. I remember. And I have learned from them.

For instance, I was at a writer’s retreat one weekend, and a group of us were sitting in a room talking about writing, and a woman spoke up and said something to the effect of, “I haven’t written a word since I started having children.” Me, being childless at the time, thought, “Well that’s no excuse. You just tell the kids you’re busy and you write.”

Then I had my own son, who never took naps, and was always so sunny and inquisitive—I used to wish he would be bad so I could put him down for a forced nap and get some writing done—but it never happened. He was awake, lively, endlessly curious, and a joy to be with. Not tired at all. Until the end of the day, and by then I was exhausted, so no writing got done. For years.

Finally, I understood. And when I see that woman’s name on her books now…I remember, and wince a little inside. Because now I know what she meant, and how she felt, and how honest and brave it was of her to speak the truth to that room full of writers.

Another thing I never understood was why women didn’t color their roots a whole lot sooner. I’d see an inch of gray peeking out, and wonder, why even bother coloring if you’re going to run around looking like that?

Then I started coloring. And then I learned. Finally I gave up, and went gray. And for at least six months, while I let the color grow out, I was one of those women I used to judge. And I was aware of it every single day.

Those are only two of thousands of examples I have learned from over the years. Now, because of God’s uncanny ability to show me why people do the things they do when I, in my imagined superiority, thought they should be doing something differently…I’ve learned not to judge people. Any time I find myself slipping back into old thought patterns and starting to judge someone, I’ll catch myself and change direction. Try to find a way to understand their seemingly inexplicable behavior. Not because I’ve developed this wonderful altruistic streak—but because I don’t want to know the answer—at least not from the inside out. If it’s a friend and he or she wants to share with me, I’m all ears.

But I don’t want to have that experience. I don’t want to find myself in their shoes. I don’t want to find myself having to make those same choices. I’d rather stick to my own problems and my own choices.

So I don’t judge people any more. Instead, I trust that they are doing the best that they can with what they have or know or believe at the time, and know that they are struggling right along with the rest of us.

Everyone I know is struggling with something in one way or another. Everyone. With jobs, or lack of jobs, relationships, or lack of relationships, health issues, family issues, financial issues, addictions, choices and decisions to be made….you name it. Financially, spiritually, mentally, physically—people are hurting all around me.

So now, instead of passing judgment, I offer compassion instead. And prayers. Lots of prayers.

Is there someone you can pray for today?

We know nothing of the trials, sorrows and temptations of those around us, of pillows wet with sobs, of the life-tragedy that may be hidden behind a smile, of the secret cares, struggles, and worries that shorten life and leave their mark in hair prematurely whitened, and a character changed and almost recreated in a few days. Let us not dare to add to the burden of another the pain of our judgment. ~ William George Jordan ~

Thursday, June 24, 2010

How Hormonal Imbalances Affect Your Brain

I'm sorry. Yesterday got away from me, and tomorrow is more of the same. So this will be it until Sunday. Shoulder is acting up again, but the hormones, they are much better. As always, when things go askew, I look for answers, so last week I read the book Women’s Moods: What Every Woman Must Know about Hormones, the Brain, and Emotional Health. It was a great book about overall hormonal health and described how hormonal issues are physiological imbalances in the brain that manifest as emotional behavior, because the hormones involved affect the areas of the brain that regulate our emotions.

On the one hand, I wish I’d read this book years ago, as it was first published in 1999. On the other, I’m glad I didn’t. While the authors completely explain the devastating effects women's hormones can have on your emotional life, they are firmly in the camp of using medication to treat these brain disorders that affect women throughout our reproductive years.

That’s fine if you want to go that route, but there are other options available now to women who suffer from hormonal imbalances. These options are given a cursory mention and dismissed. Which, if I’d read the book ten years ago, or even five, I would have come to the conclusion that there was no alternative to my hormonal imbalance short of medication.

That, for me, would have been very depressing indeed. I know there are millions of women out there who have severe hormonal imbalances that may well require medication to control them—notice I say control them—not manage them. Me, I manage my symptoms through nutrition and exercise and positive lifestyle choices. If I took medication I wouldn’t need to be so vigilant about my health—the medication would handle the problem for me. But in my case, with the PMDD, I can’t see taking medication every day for something that only occurs a few days a month.

Still, there are days when the thought of it tempts me. But most days it does not.

As I said, to have read this book five years ago would have been devastating for me. Because the authors insist over and over that without treatment, your imbalance will only get worse. There is no light at the end of the tunnel without treatment—this is absolutely true--but their treatment of choice is medication.

So, that aside, I was able to read the book and learn much about the causes of hormonal imbalance and how and why these imbalances can and do get worse later in life without some type of intervention.

Hormonal imbalance is a very serious and practically rampant problem for women, and is all but neglected by the medical community. The only people paying attention are those who can profit from the condition. Most of the information women receive regarding hormonal imbalances comes from companies whose drugs have been approved for treatment of these imbalances.

Which is why we need more books like Women’s Moods to read, even if it is somewhat outdated. Because we need more than to be told a certain medication can solve all our problems. We need to understand the underlying causes of these imbalances and find ways to heal ourselves and prevent the need for chemical solutions. We need to understand the unique female brain/body connection and how it makes us vulnerable to mood problems at the most challenging times in our lives. Puberty, pregnancy, post-partum, peri-menopause, menopause, and post menopause. Every time you have a child, your hormones undergo an enormous amount of stress, and yet society acts as if there’s nothing to it. Life goes on and you cope.

But what happens when your ability to cope fails you? What happens when, as these authors aptly describe it, you have an internal “earthquake” and mood disorders erupt?

All this attention is given to heart health, but brain health is equally important. We need to learn to care for our brains as diligently as we do our hearts. Not only the heart can be strained by a woman’s genetic make up, life experiences, and stress load, but so can the brain. If our brain doesn’t work right, we don’t work right, and all sorts of mayhem can ensue.

No amount of “being strong” is going to re-regulate a brain that has gone askew. It just isn’t going to happen.

The way this book and many others describe it, our brains have neurological pathways that become worn over time like ruts in a road. When any situation arises, our brains immediately locate the memory of how we dealt with that situation in the past, so that we can effectively do so again. And each time we deal with that situation again, a new pathway is created over the old pathway.

This works fine if your brain is healthy, or operating at optimum level. But what if your brain is not? Then your brain is creating new pathways over damaged roads, and only more damage ensues.

Genetics plays a factor in this, of course, but so do your thought processes. In short, how we deal with stress affects our hormones, which in turn affects our brain. This stress can come from any and all sources, trauma from an accident or abuse, be it physical, emotional, sexual, mental, spiritual, financial, you name it, or from naturally occurring life events such as birth, death, marriage, divorce, loss of a job or health or relationship, to name just a few.

When your hormones are in balance, your body deals with these stresses in a normal and healthy way. When your hormones are out of balance, your body and brain do not. Little stresses can be magnified into big stresses, completely out of proportion to the situation. When your hormones are out of balance and your brain is dysregulated, you can feel like you are under attack 24/7. Your brain makes no distinction between the threat of an oncoming car or someone who simply disagrees with your point of view. Both, to your dysregulated brain, are threats to your very existence.

It’s not logical, in fact is completely irrational, but that’s what it is. Your dysregulated brain is not properly processing the threat.

This is why women with mood disorders or even simple hormonal fluctuations seem so irrational at times. But we’re not crazy, we’re simply out of balance.

Come back next week for ways to regain that balance.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hormones Gone Haywire

I’m not sure what’s going on. My hormones seem to be going haywire again. I’m wondering if it’s from going to the whirlpool at the Y for my shoulder a few weeks ago. The chemicals in the water are deadly to hormone balance, and I knew that going in, but I needed some kind of relief from the pain. Now my hormones are out of kilter and my shoulder is messed up again.

It’s very frustrating when you try to do the right thing and the opposite effect occurs. I went to the chiropractor, which usually makes me feel better. This time I feel ten times worse. As if my body prefers to be maladjusted and putting it aright sets off my nerve endings.

Between that and the hormonal swings…life is a bit unpleasant at the moment. But determined soul that I am, I went grocery shopping on Monday, stocked up on all the good, whole, healthy foods I need for the first week of this new 30-Day Hormonal Balance eating plan I want to try and then blog about at the other site. (The last hormone-balancing eating plan I tried was quite successful in how it made me feel--my PMDD symptoms abated for four blissful months-but it was too heavy on the dairy products and sent my hot flashes soaring. I had to abandon it or give up sleeping.)

So Monday I was so proud of myself. My first totally pure shopping venture. No junk food in the cart. Well, there was the ice cream, but it was all natural and $2 a carton (couldn’t pass that up!) and it was for my son. I have no desire to eat any, even as miserable as I am feeling. Does that mean I am doing well? Sure doesn’t feel like it.

Anyway, the only processed food in my cart was my bedtime Cheerios. Once they’re gone, I won’t have any vices left :(.

So I came home and yesterday started the eating plan. By noon I had a raging headache. I don’t get headaches. Which just goes to show I need a certain amount of calories per day, and a certain portion of that has to be healthy carbs—or else. So for the rest of the day I only ate healthy foods on the list, didn’t give in to any cravings, but now my body’s decided it’s in starvation mode and has bloated up another couple of pounds, achieving the opposite effect of what I was after.

200 miles walked and not a pound lost—or gained. Two days off due to other commitments and 24 hours of eating only whole, healthy foods and the weight climbs 2-5 pounds, depending on the time of day. Makes no sense.

Not much makes sense right now, mentally, emotionally, or physically. Spiritually, I’m feeling good. Very upbeat and positive. Don’t know where I’d be without my faith.

Meanwhile, I continue reading and learning and listening to my body, which is screaming for something right now, some kind of relief, but I don’t know what that is. Believe me, if I knew, I’d be right on it. This is not fun.

I think I’ll make an omelet for breakfast and then go to the Y and walk. But I’ll have to stay out of the whirlpool :(.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

It Never Hurts to Pray

Feeling a bit under the weather this week, so will have to pass on my Sunday Inspirational as well as FWL. I had such a nice one in mind, too. Unfortunately, I never got around to writing it. Next week, for sure.
In the meantime, here's a prayer for you that pretty much says what's in my heart at the moment, once again sent to me by a friend in an email. I'd also like to welcome all the new followers to my blog in recent weeks. You know who you are :) Thank you, and I appreciate that you stop by. I'll be posting regularly again soon.

Dear Lord, I thank You for this day,
I thank You for my being able to see
and to hear this morning.
I'm blessed because You are
a forgiving God and
an understanding God.
You have done so much for me
and You keep on blessing me.
Forgive me this day for everything
I have done, said or thought
that was not pleasing to you.
I ask now for Your forgiveness.
Please keep me safe
from all danger and harm.
Help me to start this day
with a new attitude and plenty of gratitude.
Let me make the best of each and every day
to clear my mind so that I can hear from You.
Please broaden my mind
that I can accept all things.
Let me not whine and whimper
over things I have no control .
And give me the best response
When I'm pushed beyond my limits.
I know that when I can't pray,
You listen to my heart.
Continue to use me to do Your will.
Continue to bless me that I may be
a blessing to others.
Keep me strong that I may help the weak...
Keep me uplifted that I may have
words of encouragement for others.
I pray for those that are lost
and can't find their way.
I pray for those that are misjudged
and misunderstood.
I pray for those who
don't know You intimately.
I pray for those that will delete this
without sharing it with others
I pray for those that don't believe.
But I thank You that I believe
that God changes people and
God changes things.
I pray for all my sisters and brothers.
For each and every family member
in their households.
I pray for peace, love and joy
in their homes; that they are out of debt
and all their needs are met.
I pray that every eye that reads this
knows there is no problem, circumstance,
or situation greater than God.
Every battle is in Your hands for You to fight.
I pray that these words be received
into the hearts of every eye that sees it
in Jesus' name. Amen!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Results of My Walking Challenge :)

For the past several years I’ve been trying to lose weight. I tried Weight Watchers, I tried various eating plans--low carb, glycemic index-based, hormone balancing--I tried exercise—cardio and strength training--I tried combinations of all three. I was determined, come hell or high water, to shed those excess pounds that had gradually appeared around my middle.

Well, hell is exactly what I got.

PMDD begins with an imbalance in a woman’s hormones, but through some complicated process scientists and doctors have yet to fully understand, the end result involves a lack of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. Lack of serotonin in the brain = depressed mood.

One thing that helps to create serotonin in the brain is carbohydrates. What do women with PMDD crave? Carbs. So no, you’re not crazy, and you don’t lack willpower. Your body is telling you what it needs with a vengeance. Your craving for carbs is simply your body telling you what it needs to bring it back into balance. This is why at times we can’t seem to stop ourselves from eating the sugar, the pasta, the chocolate, the quick fixes.

The problem only worsens when we reach for carbs with little or no nutritional value to feed our need for serotonin, but that’s a post for another day.

Today I want to talk about diet and exercise and PMDD. Exercise overall is good for anyone, so let’s get that right out of the way. While you’re exercising, you’re boosting your immune system and endorphins, strengthening muscles, including or especially your heart, building bones, toning, firming, and burning calories. The problem for a PMDD woman, however, is when our bodies are out of balance, and especially when we’re having an episode of PMDD, exercise can make the PMDD worse. (Again, for you to experience the full benefits of any exercise program, you have to balance your hormones first.)

What do most diets tell you to restrict these days? Carbs. What does a PMDD woman crave? Carbs. What happens when she doesn’t get them? PMDD. What happens when she gets the wrong kind of carbs? More PMDD. What does any kind of cardio or strength training exercise do? Burns carbs. What does a PMDD woman need? Carbs. Do you see where I’m going with this?

This time last year I was a mess. I had made a vow in January of 2009 I was going to lose those excess 20 pounds, no matter what it took. I was restricting carbs and doing 45 minutes of cardio five times a week. That wasn’t working, so I upped it to an hour a day. I ended up with such a lack of serotonin in my brain that my PMDD episodes were lasting not just days, but weeks.

Something had to change. I went on a research binge and read everything I could get my hands on about PMDD. I found out I was causing my own problems by restricting my carbs and exercising so much, thereby burning the very carbs I needed to produce serotonin in my brain. My body was screaming in protest, sending me into longer and deeper troughs of PMDD.

So the first thing I did was start listening to my body. When it wants carbs, it gets carbs. I did, however, slowly get rid of 95% of the non-nutritional carbs in my fridge and cupboards, and replace them with healthy, nutritional carbs. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, you know the drill. The problem is not that we don’t know what’s good for us, it’s that we’re unwilling to make the change to better eating habits, until the pain of living in hormonal misery all the time forces us to make the change.

My eating habits today are 100% better than they were a year ago, and they weren’t that bad to start with. I’ve never been a fan of sugar, can’t eat corn syrup at all. It gives me a headache and makes me grumpy. Sugar makes me nauseous. So I started with eating better. I realized I was self-defeating myself with so much exercise, and made the mistake of stopping altogether.

Just until I get my hormones back on track, I told myself. Well, four months and ten pounds more later, my hormones were still out of whack and I was well out of shape…

Slowly, one baby step at a time, I had to get back into the swing of things. I had to get my body back up to the level of exercise I had been at before, or risk gaining even more weight, plus increasing other associated health risks.But boy did my body protest. No matter what I did, every time I moved it in a different way, it got stiff and sore for a day or two. Before long, everything was hurting. This didn’t make sense…what the heck was going on?

Well, for one, I’m getting older, and it takes longer to get into the swing of things again once you’re older. Even if you’re just a little bit older, I quickly learned, when you’re at my age, which is 52. Muscle response times just aren’t the same.

So after pulling a few muscles and nearly incapacitating myself, I settled for walking. Baby steps. I joined a walking challenge at my YMCA, 100 miles in 100 days. Shouldn’t be a problem, right? I started with 1-2 miles a day, and quickly moved to 2-3 miles a day, then 3-4 and 4-5. It was amazing how the miles piled up. In the first 50 days, 19 of which I skipped off and on, I already had 85 miles. How was that possible? I was going to reach 100 well before the deadline.

So I upped my personal challenge to 200 miles in 100 days. With just three miles a day of walking, I could easily make that. An added bonus was we could use time on the treadmill, cardio, or cycling machines to count toward our mile totals. During the course of the second part of the challenge, I started with ten minutes of cardio on the elliptical, and worked my way up to 30. Any more than that, I’ve discovered, starts sending me into the negative carb column again.

On Monday I completed my walking challenge. I did 203 miles in 100 days. I’m now regularly walking 20 miles a week. And you know what? I haven’t lost a single pound. I weigh exactly the same as I did at the beginning of the year, when I once again made a resolution to lose weight.

So….I improved my diet 100%, and I went from nothing to walking 20 miles a week. Things shifted, sure, and tightened and toned, but the scale, she wouldn’t budge.

It’s the hormones. They’re still not in balance. I can tell by the way my body feels, and how it responds to exercise. The harder I exercise, the worse I feel. 4-5 miles a day was too much. 3 is a good number for me, in a combination of the elliptical and walking. Too much cardio and I burn too many carbs and feel wiped out afterward. A two-mile walk, however, especially on a bad day, energizes me and improves my mood.

So…now that I’ve got the eating and exercise habits sorted out, next on my list is balancing the hormones from within, through good nutrition. In the meantime, if you’re cutting carbs and exercising like a fiend and still feeling miserable, maybe this post will help you to figure out why.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Those We Love Don't Have to Be Like Us

First, quickly, the winner for May's drawing of an autographed copy of either Thin Ice, Jake's Return or Ashton's Secret is Linda Rettstatt, who writes for women, stories of strength, love, humor and hope. If you missed her interview, it's here. Congratulations, Linda, and thanks for being one of my guest authors!

Although it's Sunday, inspiration is not coming today because I have so many projects going (which is why I missed posting FWL on Friday--I was so wrapped up in a project I completely forgot what day it was). I'd rather complete my works in progress than try to start something new, so thanks to my friend Wendy, I have some wonderful pictures to share today.

Apparently this deer visits a cat near Harrisburg every morining, and the cat's human (can anybody really own a cat?) took pictures.

Enjoy, and have a blessed week. May all your friendships be this loving.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Change is Hard

Change is hard. I don’t think anybody likes change. Even when it’s a good change. I’ve been working on some positive changes since the start of the year, and to tell the truth, most days it feels like I’m getting nowhere. But every now and then a spark of awareness occurs, and I realize, that yes, I am making progress.

Take my 100 miles in 100 days walking challenge, for example. It started out slow, 45 minutes or 1-2 miles a day, then gradually increased to 1-1 ½ hours, or 4-5 miles a day, putting me way over the goal by having around 95 miles logged in before the first 50 days was up.

So I decided to scale back to a manageable three miles a day and carry on, shoot for 200 miles in 100 days. I now have 7 days left, and 17 miles to go.

But what started out as a little something to make me more active (since at the time I couldn’t use any of the machines at the Y and was not exercising at all), has now become an hour a day habit.

Now, if you had told me at the beginning that “You will have to spend one hour of each day walking” for the rest of your life, I would have said, no way, can’t do it, don’t have the time. Now, nearly 100 days later, I can’t imagine going through my day without doing something physical (I’m back to using some equipment at the Y), or, at the very least, walking. I get grumpy if I miss my daily walk or fitness break.

So with that habit now firmly entrenched, I’ve started a new challenge. I’ve joined a group of fellow writers committed to writing 1000 words a day. Blogs don’t count. (So what you’re reading now does not count toward my total for today.) Our 1000 words have to be words written on our books, or works in progress. Yesterday was the first day. I can’t tell you how hard it was to decide what to write and then sit down and do it. Again, if someone had said to me, “You will have to write 1000 words a day for the rest of your life,” I would have said, no way, can’t do it, don’t have the time. Life gets in the way, you know?

But since this is a time-limited challenge, like the 100 miles in 100 days walking, I said yes, I can do that. Our challenge will last about six weeks. I’ve heard it takes only three weeks to develop a new habit, so by the end of the six weeks, I should have the new habit of writing 1000 words a day, and not just when time permits and inspiration hits.

But what I’ve found already is it’s complicated when you have two goals that oppose each other. Writing involves sitting in the chair and typing. Walking involves getting up and moving around. How on earth am I supposed to fit both into a day already chock full of things to do?

The answer is priorities. A long time ago, I made a list of seven priorities. Writing and exercise are on that list, but I now see that was an exercise in intentions vs. reality. These challenges will help me to make those priorities something more than words on a list of good intentions. I figured out yesterday that since the walking is now a priority and I get grumpy if I don’t walk, that I will always make time for walking. So the writing, being a new element I am adding to my routine, has to come before the walking. Can’t go walking until I finish writing.

And so the change builds, one step after another.

Another change I have been trying to make is to improve my eating habits. Not that they were all that bad to start with, but yes, I could use a little adjustment. Mostly having to do with dairy products and sugar. Still, the thought of never eating some of my favorite snack items again was truly daunting. I didn’t think it could be done. But slowly, gradually, I ate what was in the cupboards and refrigerator at the time, and simply didn’t buy those dairy products and processed snack foods any more. I watched in amazement as the contents of my fridge shifted over to only healthy choices, and surprise of surprises, I didn’t feel deprived.

Over the weekend we had an impromptu picnic here. My friends brought the guests and the food. Hamburgers, hot dogs, cole slaw, potato salad, fruit salad, baked beans, strawberry-rhubarb crumble, macaroni-tuna salad, and ice cream and cones. Between us we had five cartons of ice cream lined up on the table. It was truly a feast for friends.

But as I started to eat, I noticed I could taste the sugar in everything. The potato salad was the exception, so I had two helpings of that. But I was even able to taste the sugar in the bun of my annual hot dog. The ketchup, something I only eat on my annual hot dog, no doubt added to the sweetness. The baked beans were so sweet I decided I wouldn’t need any dessert, and I was only able to pick the tart filling out of the strawberry rhubarb crumble. The brown sugar coated oat crumble I couldn’t eat at all. The only way I was able to have any ice cream was an hour later, with a cup of coffee to counteract the sweetness.

Used to be I couldn’t drive past the ice cream shop without wanting to stop. Now it’s the last thing I want to do. My stomach gets queasy just thinking about it. My taste buds have changed, have adapted to my healthier style of eating, and have no desire to go back. Even my long-time favorite, brownies, no longer have any appeal.

But if you’d told me six months ago I’d never eat brownies or ice cream again, I’d have said, no way, can’t do it, can’t even imagine living without it.

Now, however, I can.

So yes, change is hard.

But not impossible.