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intimacy

Things We Don’t Talk About: Sex and Intimacy

Part of a continuing series of “Things we don’t talk about,” also known as “Why people are in therapy” and “the elephant in the room.”

My mentor, Don Pitts, taught me that “behind every complaint, there’s a request,” so each time I meet with someone who complains about something their partner has (or hasn’t) done, I think about Don. I may need a button that I can press that just has me saying, “Have you talked to your partner about that?” Either (a) it hasn’t occurred to them to talk to their partner about the thing, or (b) they don’t know how to start that sort of conversation. Either way, it can result in unmet needs and resentment that builds up and strangles the relationship.

In order to have an enjoyable, healthy sex life, there must be a foundation of mutual trust and respect. Open communication requires safety: emotional, physical, intellectual, and commitment. (That’s a series for another time!) If any of these areas is a challenge in your relationship, I strongly suggest working on that before attempting to increase sex and intimacy. Once you’ve done that, however, one way to start talking to your partner about sex and intimacy is through taking online quizzes together. Sometimes, this can bring up new ideas, or increase your emotional intimacy through shared information.

There are many resources available to help increase sexual intimacy between partners, but the most important thing you can do for your relationship is to communicate freely and respectfully—both in and out of the bedroom!

Things We Don’t Talk About: Infidelity

This is part of a continuing series of “Things we don’t talk about,” also known as “Why people are in therapy” and “the elephant in the room.” Today, I want to talk about surviving infidelity in a relationship. The Institute for Family Studies has completed multiple surveys of cheating in intimate relationships and found that 20% of men and 13% of women have had sex with someone other than their spouse while married. (The research does not currently control for people who are in open relationships/engaged in consensual non-monogamy, which is a topic for another time.)

An important caveat: Infidelity is defined by the couple together.

It’s important to have these conversations before there is a problem. For some people, texting or flirting with others isn’t cheating. While for others, any close friendships or relationships that take the place of connecting with the partner is defined as cheating.

Infidelity is often the impetus to start couples therapy, but it’s rarely the first sign that something is wrong. Or, to put it another way: Infidelity is usually the symptom of a greater problem within the relationship. Perhaps surprisingly, 60% of married couples who have dealt with infidelity stay married.

Couples who stay together tend to follow these guidelines:

  • The extramarital relationship must end completely. (This usually means that you cannot “stay friends” with the person with whom you engaged in an affair.)
  • The timeline of trust and reconciliation is set by the “wronged” partner. The fantastic book, How Can I Forgive You? The Courage to Forgive, The Freedom Not To, by Janis Abrahms Spring, PhD, provides guidance on how to accomplish this.
  • Both parties fully participate in couples therapy and individual therapy.
  • Both parties need to be able to critically examine their roles in the relationship, as well as the problems in the relationship.
  • Trust is earned back gradually, based on the timeline set by the wronged partner. In order to do this, the unfaithful partner must take their cues from the wronged partner. However, the wronged partner must also provide opportunities for their partner to demonstrate trustworthiness. Some couples do this by having an “open technology policy.” This means partners are able to go through one another’s phones, social media, and/or email at any time.
  • Grand gestures (whether it’s buying the wronged partner an expensive gift, or pulling a “Waiting to Exhale”) rarely result in positive reconciliation. While both may seem like good ideas at the time, financially recovering from either adds an additional burden in moving toward the relationship you want with your partner.

Couples who put in the hard work of recovering from infidelity often find that their marital relationship is even stronger than before. Healing takes time and is not linear, but it can be facilitated by a great couples therapist. When considering whether you want to repair your relationship, make sure you ask a potential therapist about their experience in working with couples who have experienced infidelity.

racial profiling

Racial Profiling and Our Youth

Time to Wake Up! Protecting our Black Youth from Racial Profiling

Racial profiling is a longstanding and deeply troubling national problem despite claims that the United States has entered a “post-racial era.” It occurs every day, in cities and towns across the country, when law enforcement and private security target people of color for humiliating and often frightening detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of criminal activity and based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. Racial profiling is patently illegal, violating the U.S. Constitution’s core promises of equal protection under the law to all and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.” –ACLU

I grieve for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Few of us can imagine the horror that they experienced in those last moments as they were murdered by the people who took an oath to serve and protect them. I grieve and I am disgusted. I want to do something!

As a Social Worker and owner of an agency that focuses on serving and protecting our black youth, I believe that I have been sleepwalking. Most of us have. I hear stories and read accounts of young black men being stopped and handcuffed for bogus traffic stops simply because they were black. Our young black men in our community do not feel safe! They live in constant fear of being stopped by the police. Imagine, if you can, how oppressive that is. It is emotional abuse! The young black men that I work with suffer from this oppressive fear. They feel it every day as that they walk into or drive into the community.

The fear of racial profiling is traumatizing our black youth, and we must wake up and reignite the passion that will end it once and forever.

Here’s an important name: Tae-Ahn Lea. Tae-Ahn was the teenager that was stopped in June of 2019 (a year ago) and detained in handcuffs while his car was searched for 1 ½ hours for drugs. He is suing the Police Department. Here is part of that document:

“Tae-Ahn Lea is an honors graduate from Central High School. He was the homecoming king, has no criminal history and upon graduation became employed with a well-respected local car dealership. Tae-Ahn, however, also happens to be black, live in a low-income neighborhood, and drive his mother’s fairly new vehicle. He was thus the perfect target for members of the Ninth Mobile Division of the Louisville Metro Police Department who, throughout the past two years in Louisville, have employed a discriminatory, prejudicial, and illegal stop and frisk practice in which “violent crimes” units use traffic stops as a pretext for pulling over young black men driving nice cars, handcuffing them and subjecting them to abusive, racist, and intrusive searches without consent, good cause, or reasonable suspicion of any criminal activity.”

Time to wake up! Time to do something! Young black men in our community need our help! They need my help. As an agency, we will be investing time, work, and money to stop this illegal practice! We cannot do everything, but we can do something! It’s time to be a change agent! It’s time to end racial profiling!

Join us!

burnout

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking The Stress Cycle

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski

“The problem is not that we aren’t trying. The problem isn’t even that we don’t know how. The problem is the world has turned “wellness” into yet another goal everyone “should” strive for, but only people with time and money and nannies and yachts and Oprah’s phone number can actually achieve.”

Sometimes a book comes along at the exact right time in your life. Sometimes, that’s a book you probably should have read three degrees ago. This book is exactly that for me. It provided a brand-new way of looking at stress in my life by separating stress from stressors. They write:

Dealing with your stress is a separate process from dealing with the things that cause your stress. To deal with your stress, you have to complete the cycle…Stressors are what activate the stress response in your body. They can be anything you see, hear, smell, touch, taste, or imagine could do you harm. There are external stressors: work, money, family, time, cultural norms and expectations, experiences of discrimination, and so on. And there are less tangible, internal stressors: self-criticism, body image, identity, memories, and The Future. In different ways and to different degrees, all of these things may be interpreted by your body as potential threats.”

A failure to go through and resolve the stress cycle can result in burnout, which was “first coined as a technical term by Herbert Freudenberger in 1975. ‘Burnout’ was defined by three components: 1. emotional exhaustion—the fatigue that comes from caring too much, for too long; 2. depersonalization—the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion; and 3. decreased sense of accomplishment—an unconquerable sense of futility: feeling that nothing you do makes any difference.”

If we’ve known about burnout for so long, how is it that we’re just now figuring out how to fix it?

This is not quite a rhetorical question. The answer is: Because it’s hard. If everyone knew how to combat burnout, we would all be doing it! (And the monetized “experience of self-care” that’s sold by the capitalist machine will go away, but that’s for another time…) Part of the problem is that we’ve been looking at stress the wrong way. “The good news is that stress is not the problem. The problem is that the strategies that deal with stressors have almost no relationship to the strategies that deal with the physiological reactions our bodies have to those stressors. To be “well” is not to live in a state of perpetual safety and calm, but to move fluidly from a state of adversity, risk, adventure, or excitement, back to safety and calm, and out again. Stress is not bad for you; being stuck is bad for you.”

To get un-stuck, the Nagoskis’ write, we must move. Run, dance, kickbox, tense and release muscles, and, most importantly, breathe. The book has other great tips, as well as a way to plan out all of the options you have for completing the stress cycle.

So the real question is: How are you completing the stress cycle today?

helping kids with transitions

5 Tips for Helping Kids with Transitions

Many children, with and without disabilities, have difficulty managing transitions. This is especially true when you’re moving from a more preferred activity to a less-preferred activity. Who hasn’t had the battle of bedtime, especially when kids are involved with a fun project, watching tv, or playing right before? Here are some practical tips to help with transitions.

  1. Use a visual schedule or checklist

I live by checklists and schedules for myself, and have found that many of my clients have a reduction in stress, tantrums, and meltdowns when a schedule is provided to them. If your child can’t read yet, a combination of pictures and words (to reinforce reading!) can be really helpful. Try a wipe-off board where you write (and check off!) the list for the morning, or a folder with laminated pictures velcro-ed to it.

  1. Use a timer

Many kids have success with visual timers and 10 or 5 minute warnings. If your child can’t read an analogue clock, use a digital one, or use an analog that has a colored portion that ticks down, so they can see how much time is left.

  1. Think forward

In behavioral circles, this is known as FIRST-THEN, as in “first put your toys away, then we’ll go make lunch.” Setting it up this way helps ease anxiety about what’s coming next. You can also do this by reminding your child when they will have the opportunity to engage in the activity you’re asking them to transition away from again. “We have to put up the toys now, but after dinner, you will be able to play again.” I sometimes pair this with an IF-THEN. “If you can show me how quickly you can clean this up, then you’ll have more time to play later!”

  1. Make transitions fun

This can be especially helpful when you have to move from one extreme of activity level to another, i.e., a very active event to a very quiet one. As you transition, you can have your child pretend to be an animal or use their imagination to sneak to the next activity. If we have to go from playing outside to naptime, I build in about 10-15 minutes to pretend that we’re mice and we have to sneak past a cat, or pretend that we’re sneaking into a bank to jump in the vaults, Scrooge MacDuck style. It works similarly in reverse—pretend to be an airplane, careening down the hallway, or a T-Rex, stomping to your next destination.

  1. Provide choices

Another tip from the behavioral sphere: forced choices work well, and aren’t as horrible as they sound! Essentially, as the parent or teacher, you give two options that are equally palatable to you. “Do you want to use this pencil or that one to do your math?” “Do you want to take your shower before or after dinner?” The key is holding the child accountable for the choice that they made, and following through. We all like to feel like we have choices, and this is one way to give your children choices without letting them run the show.

  1. BONUS TIP! Teach calming skills

None of us are born knowing how to self-regulate. We all have to be taught how to calm ourselves down when we are over-stimulated, upset, angry, or sad. When children are small or have neurological challenges that make it difficult for them to follow multi-step directions, we have to co-regulate with them. Researchers Grolnick, Kurowski, McMenamy, Rivkin, and Bridges[1] identified multiple ways caregivers can co-regulate with children:

  • Prompting/helping: Caregiver physically or vocally prompts and scaffolds child (e.g., physical prompting with toy if child becomes frustrated)
  • Following the child’s lead: Caregiver is sensitive to child’s interests and follows the child to his/her desired toy/activity (e.g., Caregiver may appear to wait for child to choose a toy and then insert herself into interaction)
  • Redirection of attention: Caregiver distracts the child or directs the child’s attention away from negative stimulus (e.g., pointing out other toys in room)
  • Active ignoring: Caregiver actively ignores child during distress episodes (e.g., mom may continue to play with a toy or purposely turn away from child)
  • Reassurance: Caregiver reassures or encourages child surrounding frustrating or negative activity (e.g., It’s okay. You can do it!)
  • Emotional following: Caregiver’s reflection, extension or elaboration upon child’s distress or preoccupation (e.g., I know you want the toy)
  • Physical comfort: Caregiver initiates behaviors to comfort child (e.g., hugging, kissing, picking up the child, rocking)
  • Vocal comfort: Caregiver initiates vocalizations to comfort the child (e.g., sshhing, singing, sing-song voice)

[1] Grolnick, W. S., Kurowski, C. O., McMenamy, J. M., Rivkin, I., & Bridges, L. J. (1998). Mothers’ strategies for regulating their toddlers’ distress. Infant Behavior and Development, 21(3), 437–450. http://doi.org/10.1016/S0163-6383(98)90018-2

 

family estrangement

Things We Don’t Talk About: Family Estrangement & Cutoff

Content note: This post contains mention of childhood abuse and trauma. Please exercise discretion if this is something that may be triggering or upsetting.

This is part of a continuing series of “Things we don’t talk about,” also known as “Why people are in therapy” and “the elephant in the room.” While many therapists work with people who are estranged from family members. Not as many will acknowledge that there are times and events that make it appropriate to limit or even cut off contact with a family member. With more frequency, I am discussing and hearing about adult children who have experienced this with a parent. More often than not, the estrangement comes after years of verbal, emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse. I often find myself asking the critical question: If you were not related to this person, would you continue to have a relationship with them?

I’m very lucky to have the parents that I have. I would still be friends with them even if I wasn’t related to them. Their parenting wasn’t perfect (no one’s is!). But they learned from their mistakes and tried to repair any tears that happened in our relationship over the years. They set appropriate limits with me and my sister, held us accountable when we broke rules, and raised us with the knowledge that we were loved and cared for.

It is appropriate to set boundaries.

Remember, boundaries are not for the other person! They are for the person setting the boundary, in order to draw the line and set a healthy limit on what is (and isn’t) acceptable. Sometimes cutting off contact is the healthiest thing to do. However, there’s a narrative in our culture that says that children should always love and be connected to their parents. When some of my clients have shared with friends that they don’t speak to their parent(s), they hear the old saying: Blood is thicker than water.

That phrase is often used to force someone to continue a relationship that not only isn’t healthy, but is actively harmful. But that’s not the whole saying. The whole saying is: The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb. Translation: the promises you make to people are more vital than a biological tie. With the help of a supportive therapist, you can start to learn your appropriate boundaries and work on setting them. When people violate those boundaries, they’re showing you who their covenant is with—and it’s not you.

out of the darkness

Out of the Darkness

Hank Buckwalter, his wife, Chelsea, and Rommie and I participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk this past weekend at Waterfront Park.

It can be emotionally overwhelming to be in a gathering of people that are celebrating the lives and passing of their loved ones. I listened as the “Honor Beads” were given to the family members and friends of those who had taken their lives. They celebrated these beautiful humans that saw only one solution to the pain they were experiencing.

I lost a friend of 47 years this year to suicide. He was in a lot of pain. At his memorial service, an acquaintance commented, “I can’t believe Jeff took his own life.” I forgive him for his insensitivity. As much as I miss Jeff, our laughs, our High School pranks, our wonderful conversations on his deck near Hikes Point, I understand why he took his own life. He was in pain.

I struggle with the legality and morality of suicide.  Having said that, I will do everything in my clinical and personal power to prevent others from taking their own lives.

People need hope and when they lose hope

 they see very few solutions to their problems.

I wrote a blog a year ago about hope. Here is what I said:

People come to therapy because they have feelings of hopelessness. As a young therapist, I was inspired by Moltmann’s admonition, to be an instrument of hope. At the very heart of therapy is the goal of helping people find hope, because without it they cannot live. I believe that hopeful people inspire hopefulness in others. A hopeful therapist has many tools and strategies for helping people, but most important they inspire hopefulness. I believe they infect people with their hopefulness. They engage in a Therapy of Hope.

If you have thoughts of suicide, even fleeting thoughts, contact a therapist. We have included the suicide hotline number on our website. Call it and make an appointment. In Kentucky, all therapists are required to take a workshop every three years on suicide prevention. Make the call.

After the walk this past Saturday, Hank and Chelsea, and Rommie and I went to First Watch and had breakfast together. We reverently celebrated life.

2 or 3 pounds a year

The 2 or 3 Pounds a Year Club

It doesn’t sound like much: 2 or 3 pounds a year. But in ten years you’ve added 20 pounds. In 20 years, you’ve added 40 or 50 pounds, even 60. 

I’ve had a membership in this club and, unfortunately, I put on 25 extra pounds in 8 years. 

Many, many Americans are members of this club. To be precise, 160 million. That’s how many Americans are overweight or obese.

I apologize for my insensitivity. This is not a club. 

For many, it’s a prison. It’s a life of hopelessness.

Most of this added weight comes from added sugar. I have used the word “insidious” to describe the effect that sugar is having on America and its children. Everywhere I look, people are carrying many, many extra pounds of adipose tissue (fat). They were fit and lean in their twenties and thirty years later they struggle with a high body mass index. I’m noticing it with children as well

Do you want to cancel your membership to the “2 to 3-Pounds-a-Year-Club?” Then you’ve got to do something different.  Alcoholics Anonymous warns us about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We are reminded that they call this insanity. 

Two Options for Getting out of the Insanity Club

First, hire a personal trainer that can help you put together an exercise and nutrition plan. Make sure they are certified. I’m certified with the American Counsel for Exercise (ACE) and I believe that this is the best program because it initially focuses on stability and mobility.

You can find them at most fitness facilities, or you can hire them individually. Simply google ‘personal trainers’ in the city where you live.

I practice the Paleo Diet (and lifestyle) and believe that it’s the most nutritious. It also addresses the sugar problem. Make sure your trainer has a certification in nutrition and expect that they will be able to give good information and guidance (within their scope of practice) about nutrition. 

Your second option is to be your own trainer and nutritionist. If you choose this option, you’re going to need some help changing the status quo in your life. Think, KISS. Think “exercise and fitness for dummies.” 

I’ve selected three books with simplicity and comprehensiveness in mind. All are in the “Dummies” series of books. 

Fitness Walking For Dummies,” by Liz Neporent.

Weight Training For Dummies,” 4th Edition, by LaReine Chabut, Liz Neporent, and Suzanne Scholsberg.

Paleo All-in-One for Dummies,” by Patrick Flynn, Adriana Harlan, Melissa Joulwan, and Dr. Kellyann Petrucci.

I’ve chosen these books for two reasons:

If you put together an exercise, it needs to include moderate-intensity cardio and resistance training. The first book helps with the cardio and the second book helps with resistance training.

If you put together a nutrition plan, it needs to help you get the added sugar out of your life. I believe that the Paleo Diet accomplishes this.

One additional suggestion: find a coach. Find someone that can help you stick with the plan. This could be a workout buddy, a spouse, or a Certified Health Coach (they do exist). 

It’s time to get out of the 2 to 3-Pound-a-Year-Club or Insanity Club and start preparing for the next ten years of your life. 

NUTRITIONAL AND MEDICAL DISCLAIMER FOR TRUE NORTH COUNSELING, LLC

In viewing this website (and blog), it is assumed that you understand and acknowledge that the services and information, provided by True North Counseling, LLC may involve recommendation to improve your general health, fitness and well-being, including nutrition/diet advice and suggestions for physical activity.  In accepting this information, understand that it is under your best discretion to be respectful to your body when engaging in physical activity and/or changing dietary habits. It is recommended to consult with your primary physician before starting any new/recent exercise or eating routine and to get annual check-ups to assess current health and fitness status. Do not overlook the importance of having a team-approach when health is involved. Regular visits with both your physician and registered dietitian will allow you to create the best possible, balanced approach in meeting health and performance/fitness goals.

seduced by sugar

Seduced by Sugar

“Prone to Wander, Oh I Feel it,

Prone to Eat the Sugar I love!”

I’m not sure the hymn writer intended their song to be used to illustrate the temptations of sugar, but I had to give it a try. It may not be right, but it feels right. 

We are constantly seduced by sugar. It’s everywhere and in everything. It’s delicious! And if we are ever going to cut back or completely avoid it, we are going to need lots of willpower! 

Willpower, also referred to as self-control or strength, plays a big role in our health, fitness, work, and in our relationships. The problem is, we only succeed half the time when we try use willpower to overcome temptations. This is due, I believe, to our lack of understanding of willpower.

I want to share some current research about willpower. Hopefully, it will help you in your quest to eat and live well.

These are two important sources that help:

Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior: Why is Self-Control so Hard?” a series of lectures by Dr. Mark Leary, from Duke University 

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength,” By Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.

Here is what I gleaned from them:

  • Willpower (or Ego Strength) is more effective when you are able to avoid being exposed to the things that tempt you. If you want to avoid added sugar, avoid going to a candy shop. Simple enough. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Try to set more immediate and concrete goals vs. distant and abstract goals. You are more likely to keep goals that focus on losing 8 lbs. in one month than a goal to “get healthy or lose weight. 
  • Work on one goal at a time. “Studies have shown,” explains Leary, “that when people must control their behavior on one task, their ability to control themselves on a second task is weakened.”
  • There seems to be a reservoir of ego strength, so be careful to not expend it by stress and multi-tasking. Ego strength decreases as the day continues especially after a day of self-control for many hours. “People were using up all their willpower on the job,” writes Baumeister and Tierney. They explain that it’s the same supply of willpower to deal with frustrating traffic, tempting food, annoying colleagues, demanding bosses, and pouting children. 
  • It’s possible to “store up” self-control strength to be used for later tasks, such as engaging with family and children after work. This can be done by decreasing the level of self-control intensity that you use during the day. It may mean taking breaks and recharging throughout the day. “Possibly by relaxing before Lent,” write Baumeister and Tierney, “people store up the willpower necessary to sustain themselves through weeks of self-denial.”
  • I believe the self-control reservoir is similar to a gas tank. Work at keeping it at ¾ of a tank to ensure that you don’t experience lapses of willpower. I always remind parents about self-care to keep their gas tanks full. Relax and de-stress throughout the day.
  • Blood glucose levels affect willpower. Researchers have discovered that low blood glucose equals low willpower. The pattern showed up time and again as they tested more people in many situations. Sugar plays a role in our resisting sugar!!!

All roads lead back to sugar!

I want to make it clear; the researchers are not recommending that you have a flask of sugar water in your car or desk to use throughout the day. Sugar makes it worse!!! They are recommending that you eat a diet that helps you maintain a stable blood glucose level throughout the day. 

The High Willpower Diet and Lifestyle

  • Eat for the slow burn. The body converts just about all sorts of food into glucose, but at different rates. Foods that are converted quickly are said to have a high glycemic index.

To maintain steady self-control, you’re better off eating foods with a low glycemic index: most vegetables, nuts (like peanuts and cashews), many raw fruits (like apples, blueberries, and pears), cheese, fish, meat, olive oil, and other “good” fats. (These low-glycemic foods may also help keep you slim.) 

  • When you’re sick, save your glucose for your immune system.

If you’re too glucose-deprived (because of the demands put on your immune system) to do something as simple as driving a car, how much use are you going to be in the office (assuming you make it there safely)? 

  • When you’re tired, sleep.

Not getting enough sleep has assorted bad effects on your mind and body. Hidden among these is the weakening of self-control and related processes like decision making. 

Whatever you call it (ego strength, willpower, self-control strength), we need “it” to live healthy and successful lives. 

Improving your willpower will enhance every aspect of your life, but especially in overcoming the temptation of sugar.  

NUTRITIONAL AND MEDICAL DISCLAIMER FOR TRUE NORTH COUNSELING, LLC

In viewing this website (and blog), it is assumed that you understand and acknowledge that the services and information, provided by True North Counseling, LLC may involve recommendation to improve your general health, fitness and well-being, including nutrition/diet advice and suggestions for physical activity.  In accepting this information, understand that it is under your best discretion to be respectful to your body when engaging in physical activity and/or changing dietary habits. It is recommended to consult with your primary physician before starting any new/recent exercise or eating routine and to get annual check-ups to assess current health and fitness status. Do not overlook the importance of having a team-approach when health is involved. Regular visits with both your physician and registered dietitian will allow you to create the best possible, balanced approach in meeting health and performance/fitness goals.

thoughtful eating

Thoughtful Eating

We take food for granted. 

I know there are people in our country that are hungry. I work with many people on reduced incomes and I see them struggle to make ends meet. Poverty continues to pose a challenge for our country.

Despite this, children and adolescents in low-income families are more likely to be obese than those in high-income families.  This pattern doesn’t hold true for adults and is more likely affected by the level of education. We will look at obesity in a later blog.

Regardless of our socioeconomic status, Americans eat with little thought about the food we are eating. Americans are convenience eaters. We eat in our cars and we eat standing up. When we’re angry or sad, we eat. We impulse eat and snack between meals. We see a candy bar at the checkout lane and buy it and eat it. Even after we feel full, we continue to eat. 

We take our food for granted.

When was the last time you fasted? Skipped breakfast and lunch? When was the last time that you thought about the people that provided, cooked and served you your food? How often do you take a moment and quietly voice gratitude for the food for which you are about to receive? When was the last time that you sorted through the different textures, flavors, and colors while you were eating a meal?  Do you think about the triggers that prompt you to eat? Triggers like feeling down, angry, or anxious. When was the last time that you craved a pastry (that’s always for me) and ate it so quickly that you didn’t even remember eating it? 

Thoughtful Eating simply means, paying attention to what we are eating

 In his book, “How to Eat,” Thich Nhat Hanh offers what he calls “notes on eating.” I’ll share some of them.

  • Nothing comes from nothing. Think about how the bread was made. The fields where the grain grew. The sunshine that bathed the blades of wheat. The farmer that labored to harvest the grain.
  • Your body belongs to the earth. “We eat with care,” writes Nhat Hanh, “knowing that we are caretakers of our bodies, rather than their owners.”
  • Slow down. The author shares that, slowing down and enjoying our food helps our lives take on a deeper quality. You become connected to everything that the food represents.
  • Pay attention to the people that are eating with you. This he calls community-building. Food should bring you closer to the ones you love.
  • Take a moment before you eat and nourish yourself with the breath of life. Breathe deeply. Fill your lungs with the life-giving air around you.
  • Turn off the Television.
  • Become aware when you are full and satisfied with the food you are eating. Then stop eating.
  • Chew your food, not your worries. It’s difficult to feel grateful when your chewing your planning and your anxiety.

These are just a few of the suggestions in “How to Eat.” 

Here are two of mine: 

Prior to eating, reflect on the gift of food. The Stoics practiced reflection to insure they saw the meaning of the events in their lives. They reflected on the mistakes and successes. They wanted to learn from both. 

Reflecting on food can take place as a quiet moment or a prayer. I remember growing up and learning a prayer we called ‘Grace.’ We said ‘Grace’ before eating. Many faith traditions have their prayers. Mine was:

Bless us Oh Lord,

For these thy Gifts,

Which we are about to Receive,

From thy Bounty

Through Christ our Lord, Amen

You may prefer a more secular prayer:

Earth who gives to us our food,

Sun who makes it ripe and good,

Dearest earth and dearest sun,

Joy and love for all you’ve done.

If you’re not satisfied with these, create your own thoughtful prayer.

My second suggestion is to practice fasting. Many, many religious and secular practitioners have been fasting for millennium. I have practiced fasting for many years. I currently fast 3-4 times a week. There is nothing like feeling hungry. I love it. I think it mimics the lifestyle of early humans. It makes my senses more keen. It helps me appreciate food.

I have taken food for granted, but with practice, I’ll learn to savor it and to enjoy the people that I share it with. 

NUTRITIONAL AND MEDICAL DISCLAIMER FOR TRUE NORTH COUNSELING, LLC

In viewing this website (and blog), it is assumed that you understand and acknowledge that the services and information, provided by True North Counseling, LLC may involve recommendation to improve your general health, fitness and well-being, including nutrition/diet advice and suggestions for physical activity.  In accepting this information, understand that it is under your best discretion to be respectful to your body when engaging in physical activity and/or changing dietary habits. It is recommended to consult with your primary physician before starting any new/recent exercise or eating routine and to get annual check-ups to assess current health and fitness status. Do not overlook the importance of having a team-approach when health is involved. Regular visits with both your physician and registered dietitian will allow you to create the best possible, balanced approach in meeting health and performance/fitness goals.