Friday, June 18, 2021

Food Freedom

I give thanks for the food freedom I now know is possible, palatable, even practical. What do I mean by food freedom?

Peaceableness in body. Steadiness in being in my own skin. Relief from endless food discernments and decisions.  Any philosophical inquiry into what we actually mean by freedom will specify the sense of being free from and being free for (whatever). In those terms, then, I now know freedom from a lot of things -- cravings, billboard or marketing triggers, expectations of others imposed upon me with respect to what food means for them, presumed to be for us. I also know freedom for a lot of other things -- physical play, increased sense of fun or levity, a high level of energy for my entire day and embodied movement with less and less shame or guilt, whether internalized or imposed upon me by another. It took me a long time to find my way here, but I am so very grateful for the food freedom I now know and get to experience every day.

One of the pathways that began to open the way for me here several years ago is called the Whole30, which (I was surprised to be reminded recently) is probably where the use of the phrase first landed in my own vocabulary. Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig’s book, The Whole30: the 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom, came down from my shelf recently. I was looking for some new healthy food combinations I could find to spice up the order and content of our summer meals, and I startled at the subtitle. I had not remembered their use of the phrase. The book itself doesn’t have much to say about it, but Melissa Hartwig has a video in which she describes what she means by the phrase food freedom. I recognize the steps in her words that got me here, even as there is a sense of ‘moving beyond’ into my own experience, my own words.

“You are in control of your food instead of food controlling you,” she begins. “
No more uncontrollable cravings. No more feeling like you’re a slave to sugar or carbs. No more prowling through the pantry at 10:00 p.m.” Instead, food freedom means “you are making conscious and deliberate decisions about your food.” 

I appreciate her words and recognize the wisdom within them. They describe my own experience, at least to a point. Because I also feel a weariness in her words that I do not experience in my day to day. She speaks the truism that food freedom for her is making conscious and deliberate decisions about food. She offers a pathway there, in our cultural intersections where food-choices abound, and maybe only 10% of them are healthy. 

Is it worth it? 

Do I want it? 

These are the two questions she names within food freedom living. She’s basically asking what impact will this food have on my body--in ten minutes, in an hour, by tomorrow morning, or even into next week? Is it so special that it’s worth it? Is it so delicious that it’s worth it? What will the impact be, on my body?

These are the questions I also listen to when I’m in a social situation with my husband, necessary in his job. Or when a celebration weekend is coming and nostalgic-special foods are desired to observe the festive day. The consciousness and deliberation in decision-making is a pathway to food freedom. But it’s incredibly wearying as well. Particularly when we are bombarded from without by others’ food-insecurities or struggles in a high-marketing, high-consumption culture.

What I’m taking delight in for myself is the unexpected arrival into a space or habit whereby I don’t even desire or crave what’s difficult for my body to digest. Where the decisions I make about food each day are so free that I don’t even have to discern. It’s no longer that I am consciously choosing or being deliberate about food choices, but that the high sugar, high carbs things don’t even appeal to me anymore. I’m not deciding it’s not worth it as much as not even noticing an interest in having to choose.

Before this sounds all cut and dry, I so do have my area of consciousness and deliberate decision making, each week. My husband and I are foodies, and he’s loved learning about all kinds of cocktails in these recent (and lengthy) pandemic-bubble months. I was one of his only bubble-mates so regularly faced invitations to cocktail hour! The drinks themselves were not that high in calories or sugars or carbs, but they do lower inhibitions for old habits of munchies and hors’d’oeuvres. So...I learned that an ounce or two of vodka can go a long way in an evening with three cans of seltzer accompanying it over time. I’ve learned cocktail recipes actually control amounts and ratios, because you have to be precise in the creation of a Poet’s Dream, for instance. (isn’t that a great name? Easy for a poet like me to accept that celebratory beverage). Recipe cocktails are better than an eye-estimated Old Fashioned.’s not that I’m never weary in deliberating, but that occasion is really the only time where I get to practice differentiation (doing what my body needs and desires, splurging from time to time) and participation (communing alongside my husband and our friends, from time to time), both at the same time. The rest of the time, I take delight in the food freedom I now know, held in a community of fellow-travelers who love CrossFit intensity, who also navigate home and restaurant food choices within a commitment to health.

The secret here could be said to be "hidden in the sauce" of how CrossFit works--communally, collegially, competitively (for some). Several times a week, I surround myself with folks who are intensely committed to fitness. I pick up tips of the trade and new ways to prepare foods, which then circles back to supporting the community for me. It’s not a mindfulness or deliberation alone, in other words. It’s a communal culture that encourages good health and increasing fitness. As each decides for themselves. No shame, no blame. 

The end result has been a peaceableness and steadiness in my body, my life, which then allows me to be present to all that is around and within me. I rarely get triggered into feelings of shame or guilt anymore, at least with respect to body-image things. Awakened heart, some of my teachers call it. 

I know from the outside this way of being with food looks like a hugely willful and highly controlled-from-outside discipline or difficult regimen. I often get the comment that I must have huge self-discipline, or that the person talking "doesn't have that much willpower." I don’t experience it that way at all. By now, it's not my willfulness or even that much discipline anymore. It was a journey of discipline to get here, with coaching and community support/learning. But over time, even my husband with whom I eat the most often, who eats vastly different than I do now, honors and even does his best to support me. It can be hard to have willpower regarding food in our overculture, unless you surround yourself with those who are living into your own choices, values, with you. So no...this way of being with food--no sugar, low carbs, rich healthy fats and proteins and veggies--is not a mind-trip or superhuman willpower. I find that it gives freedom from all that swayed me into anxiety and fear, and freedom for so much more in my life than I knew was possible to enjoy. 

That’s what I mean by food freedom. 

P.S. I just found another Melissa Hartwig listing that I also live into myself...but 'nuff said, for me.

Food Freedom ...

... is about indulging when it’s worth it, passing when it isn’t, and never feeling guilt or shame for doing either. about taking morality out of food, and recognizing you are not a “good” or “bad” person based on what’s your plate.

...means you never again feel powerless over food. You don’t obsess. You don’t get anxious. You aren’t stressed.

... means that food is FUN again. It means you feel free to play around with how much, how often, and in what quantity while still looking and feeling exactly as awesome as you want.

... means you don’t restrict needlessly, or binge heedlessly. You make conscious, deliberate decisions around food, and sometimes you say yes, and sometimes you say no, and both are totally okay because you chose it.

... doesn’t mean you’re a perfect eater or always make the “right decision", always stay on track, or never fall back into old habits.

I like the whole-life living overview of this, particularly the emotional components with food that are so prevalent in my own early formation and stress-responses, which often would include food.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Socialization's not all bad after all...

Socialization is a funny thing, I’m finding, and not all bad for the fitness journey I’ve been on.

It’s funny for me to be toting socialization because it tends to be a pejorative word in my line of work, or at least in the way I do my work. Many of my seminary-faculty colleagues are socialization-heavy, in my view. It speaks to the status quo, to prioritizing the Tradition (always with a capital T), to the way we’ve always done it, to the conservative power of the community to shape human behavior in predictable and definable ways. Most socialization-heavy folk, in my view, are rigid out of fear, need for security-stability, willfulness to hold onto what-was instead of being with what-is... Not surprisingly, I’m a transformation girl, myself. I’m interested in tradition (small ‘t’) growing and changing, welcoming innovation and healing through new ways of trying/doing something that improve upon the old. Not eradicating the old, of course, just improving upon it. Of course, folks who don’t want to be improved upon see me as against Tradition. I don't like it when others try to improve me, so I get that, but...I am as I am. Transformation's more interesting.

Schools are vehicles of socialization, though we also want them to be places of discovery and transformation. School today is where young (older?) people go to learn how to be in collective settings, to know how to speak quietly in the library and scream on the recess playground, to learn the rudiments of reading, writing, arithmetic, to learn critical thinking and problem-solving. We also want them to try new things, of course, but usually only things we adults have thought of before, or
know to be safe, etc. Older people go to school to learn a profession, to be shaped in a discipline of study, to learn a set of skills that will nurture and provide sustenance and hopefully even delight in their lives. By the time older people decide to return to school, sometimes they/we just want to “get the certification” or the “driver’s license” to do something we/they already know we/they want to do. Theological education can be that, or it can be a lively container in which someone learns new ways of seeing the sacred, the world, our relationships within us and our world(s). I can usually spot the socialization-students within the first week of class. Socialization ultimately provides the script by which we become the human beings we are familiar with already.

The fellow I studied with defined transformation as the force that helps human beings become who they/we could become in the future, with imagination, creativity, and wonder. He placed the journey of human becoming solidly between the necessary forces of socialization--learning how to survive in human collectives and the natural world--and transformation--delighting in being a child of God, able to imagine, create, take delight in the mysteries and gifts of being a body in our world. Transformation is what happens in the Sacred Flow of life. Transformation is the unexpected, the scandalously abundant, the surprisingly Grace-filled Gift, etc.

So this transformation girl is today going to tote the wonder of socialization, alongside the gifts of transformation: I completed the Murph challenge yesterday, with time left to spare before the time-cap of 60 minutes. CrossFit ‘boxes’ across the nation (world?) often honor national days of remembrance with a particular ‘hero WOD,’ a workout-of-the-day that is specified and named after a fallen veteran or officer whose life was lost in the line of duty. Many boxes do the Murph Challenge on Memorial Day: wearing a 20-lb vest or body armour, run a mile, then 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 air-squats, then run another mile. Scaling options are available, as in any CrossFit workout, and the community comes together to complete the workout. Post-COVID now, this was the first time our box was back in full force for the Memorial Day workout. Coaches & some arrived early to do the challenge before the rest of us arrived at 9 a.m. to complete the workout.

All of this has everything to do with socialization in a CrossFit way. There is a predictability of the Murph Challenge on this day. There is the way you are supposed to do it, accompanied by other ways you can, so more of the community can participate. Folks coming in know the ‘rules of the road’ and how to participate. All the marks of socialization.

I’ve only done CrossFit for a little under three years, so this was only my third run-through. The first time, I arrived a little unsure of what all would be required of me. I was new. I teamed up with 3 or 4 partners, and we did the work in pretty short order. I realized I had more umph in me, so I added a mile run on the end of that day’s fitness. The second time was in COVID lockdown, so no one came to the gym at all. I was already socialized enough to know the Murph Challenge was “a thing,” however, so I found a scaled way to do it in my own garage: bent-over rows with 18 lb DB, push-ups, air-squats, and run to the middle-school sign and back at the start and the finish. I made sure my husband was away at work that morning, and did the whole thing in my garage. 61 minutes, or so, but including a run downstairs to get a box-fan. It was HOT! So this time, I repeated the way I had done it before, except worked out with the community at the gym/box, 20 lb dumbbells. Another mark of CF socialization: do the same workout and try to beat your earlier time.

It’s the predictability, the continuity, the community that keeps me steady in my own fitness journey. Learning how movements are done, and done healthily and well. Learning ever-deeper nuances as one skill-level is mastered, like pairing one’s breathing-timing and tending to core-stability once you have the barbel technique down. It’s the socialization of the whole that creates the container for the individual to grow, to strengthen, to challenge, to celebrate too. That I can celebrate about socialization.

And there are funny side-effects of all this in life outside the gym/box. Recently, my college sent out a notice that they were rectifying a gender-injustice within the varsity sports norms operative when I was there in the late 80’s. Men would get varsity letters for playing a varsity sport; women’s sports at Carleton did not. I had been a soccer player through the first years of high school, then gave it up to focus on band and academics. I entered Carleton without considering joining a sport. By junior year, however, events converged for me to join the women’s soccer team. It became my life, my community, my web of friendships. I wish I had played from freshman year. senior year, I played on the varsity team some, but I was by no means a starter of the team. I remember the assistant coach, Kristen (though she went by Sten), sneaking me a first-year C pin, which was the women’s equivalent of a varsity letter at the time. It meant the world to me. 

Today, once again, I understand myself to be somewhat an athlete, given my love of and discipline in the CrossFit streams. So I wrote the Alumni Office--which I probably would not have done if I weren’t a CrossFitter now--and requested my varsity letter. It arrived in the mail last week, complete with a certificate in my name.

Socialization is not all bad after all. It’s nice to have achieved within the spectrum of some norms I have come to value anew. I love the fact that it’s a C too. For Carleton, of course, might just go onto a jacket and mean CrossFit for me. Perfect.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Shifting the Open

Something shifted in me today, at least once I caught my breath and had time-space to feel, sense it... I sit here after a large brunch meal of pulled-pork, eggs, salsa verde, intrigued and curious about this first journey for me into the CrossFit Open.

I’ve formally entered the CrossFit Open this year, though I’ve been an avid CrossFitter since August 2018, not quite three years. For the first two years, it was a time in the gym that felt like it shifted the energies away from what I valued, became more numbers-oriented, competitive. I did the workouts in class, and that was quite sufficient for me. I did enjoy watching and listening to others' enthusiasms about it all, but it was never going to be for me. (Never say never.) Part of it this year was the altered structure--three weeks, not five, I think--and part of it was seeing the wide variety of ‘options’ from ‘equipment-free,’ to ‘Foundations,’ to the more traditional ‘Rx/Scaled’ versions of any workout. I still registered to support the community more than to actually submit scores and such. Wasn’t even sure I’d bother. But there’s something about the challenge and world-wide thing of it that finally caught my attention, my own sense of confidence. After watching the 21.1 festivities that Thursday night, I said to myself Why the hell not? I decided to download the app, follow the Grand Reveals on Thursdays, see what option of workout would make most sense for me.

[There were really funny memes with this image, but I can't find much but this one...:):)]

So far, surprising myself, I’m a Scaled athlete in this mix-up. Me being me, I’m holding open the possibility of Foundations or Equipment Free versions for me for next week, but it’s been a fun challenge to lean into the Scaled version...and succeed in my own mental goals with both. For 21.1, I wanted to at least get to the 21 ‘wall-walks’, and I did. A couple reps over! For 21.2, I wanted to see if I could finish, beat the time-cap. I was fine if I didn’t beat the time cap, as long as I was into the final round of burpees by then. And I finished!!! 19:33 mins, all 225 reps: 20 lb DB and 20” box for the burpee-step-overs. I didn’t even really get that nauseous until the 50 DB snatches, says the athlete who normally refuses to push herself so far as to feel nauseous. As I saw the prospect of finishing was before me, I made an exception this time.

So something in me has shifted in this journey so far. For one, I came up with a strategy for myself to both tend to nerves and keep my initial pace down. I could feel the anticipation/nerves building yesterday, though I don’t really know why. None of this matters that much to me. But my mind was simply active. After hearing many in the gym talk about their experience, coming out of the gate too hot/fast, I elected nasal-breathing for at least the first round, to keep me slow-enough on pace. Step-overs were fun, without the usual mental-game I have with box jumps. I’m a 16” box-jumper, but 20” step-overs were good (once I faced one direction, to alternate legs!). I even stepped into my own strategy-voice by sharing it with a couple CF peeps. I’m usually pretty quiet about ‘how to do this’ kinds of things, at least aloud. The first thing I celebrate here is that I came up with a strategy for myself, and it was a good one. I found it to be so. A CF peep said she found it to be so, after her wko of it. We’ve come a long way, baby!!

Wasn’t conscious of this one til just now, but I also tended my own sense of belonging in a way that connects me in the rest of my life, interests. As a carrot for getting some onerous admin work done yesterday, I experimented with a new recipe by a Dedication-Health (often) Approved guy, Mark Hyman: salted pecan chocolate chip cookies--dairy-free, grain-free. Not only was it relaxing for me, the ‘day-before,’ it was fun to share with anyone who wanted to enjoy such a treat. I do best when I feel connected in a community, and in hindsight now, this was a good way for me to feel as comfortable as I was gonna. Again, we’ve come a long way baby.

The something that’s shifted feels much older than some of these recent learnings, however. I have images wafting into my awareness, not only because of the adrenalin/endorphins: my sixth-grade self at the pull-up bar, ‘failing;’ my 5-6th grade selves having to run the 400m sprint for a school track-and-field, ‘failing’ to succeed-win-finish in a top rank. There were so many opportunities for my youngest self to enjoy her athletic successes--the diving saves at the goal when I was goalie; the tip-over-the-bar save that fractured my wrist but allowed me to move into Sweeper-defense position; the college-soccer-team two-a-days weeks in which I began to shine as a late-blooming college athlete. I have many fond memories of my athletic sensibilities--soccer, runner, cross-trainer--but the ones that feel shifted are the harder ones, the ones I felt shame about…

...because so many who worked with me didn’t know how to frame girls’/women’s athletics that maximized our strengths, our own athletic forms and musculature. There is so much women never knew to share with one another, for one, and appreciating women’s distinctive gifts and strengths was never taught in PE school when I was its student. When I learned you could do a ‘real pull-up’ with a kip, for instance. I can use my child-bearing hips to help my arms?!? I exclaimed to my then personal-trainer, Natalie. “Of course,” she said. I was furious. Why didn’t someone tell me that? Why didn’t Ms. Hill, the PE teacher whom I adored, teach me about that? Because she didn’t know herself, at least to teach it, if her body even knew how. Besides, by the time I met her, she was well over 200 pounds and shorter than I was. PE was about other things than getting a girl to love moving in her own body.

So today I’m feeling strangely vindicated inside. Like I stuck with my desire to move, my love of movement, through a wide, challenging, non-linear learning curve. I was an incredibly active little girl--tom-boy, really--who got immersed in what all adolescent girls seem to--comparatives, shame, self-loathing and more. And I’ve come out the other side, more days than not, at least. What got ingrained at such an early age will always be with me, but it seasons the journey now, it doesn’t shape it. I catch the voices fairly early, most days…

...because I’ve surrounded myself with a community of fitness and health, fun and extraordinary silliness...and discipline, trust, encouragement. I did 150 DB snatches (151, with one no-rep :)) and 75 burpee box-stepovers in 19:33 mins. I have received a witnessed, testifiable promise that I will never have to do that workout again (Melissa’s encouragement to really finish under the timecap! :):):)). And there is a lightness, an openness in me because I leaned into something I wasn’t sure I could ‘do’ and have done it. Already. Regardless of ‘success’ or not in the actual workouts. I believed in myself enough to enter into the challenge of it all. With friends.

Shifting the Open.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Patterns Today Then...

 A quiet February morning, snow glimpses enjoyed while they may be, as they’ll be gone by Wednesday (most likely...high in the 50’s). We’ve only really had winter for a couple weeks this year, really, but it reminds me to enjoy the seasons, the cycles, as they come. Always something to be celebrated or cherished, each winding step around the mountain, right? Amidst the various stressors of these last several months--pandemic, election, civic unrest, etc--I decided to focus my early 2021 attentions back on a bit more conscious-disciplined eating habits, among other things. I’m now coming up on the end of the two months I invested in for that purpose, so I figure it’s a good time to note some of the new patterns or learnings… 

I’m once again pleased with where I am, learning maintenance-mode still and again. Though my weight is about where it was, I’m actually down over 4 pounds in fat and up over two pounds in muscle. I am reminded of how much easier I am inside, mentally and emotionally, when I’m choosing good care of my body’s needs. The numbers are less of interest to me, though no longer NO interest. I’m noticing that I am actually much less stressed than I was  (though admittedly some of the input has also been ratcheted down, from the outside). I’ve remembered once again I’m less edgy inside when my body is burning mostly fat for its energies. I can push myself in workouts or around the house, for fun, without a sense of angst or fear. 

One of the take-aways this time then: I learned that recording my splurges in FatSecret terms had a gift this round, though it felt a little counter-intuitive to enter off-plan items into the CookBook. For example, I laughed aloud when I texted a friend with several laughter/thinking emojisπŸ˜†πŸ˜‰πŸ˜πŸ˜†, “Do you think it’s counter-intuitive to record the recipe for an Old Fashioned into FatSecret?” I mean, it’s clearly off plan, though I make mine as 'on plan' as possible, i.e. no simple syrup or sugar cube--rye, orange bitters, an orange slice. I’d never recorded it before. Unknown to me, it was a lacrosse weekend, so this friend was hanging out with Melissa, laughing aloud when my text arrived. A picture of Melissa came next into our phones' text-stream, all of us laughing at the collision of accountability and ‘responsible’ or ‘conscious’ splurging. I had invested in the accountability web, after all, so I loved it and laughed for a long while. Arguably, still. And yet maintenance in my own household requires me to navigate ‘conscious splurges’ too. How do I stay more conscious with cocktail hour? has been a regular question on this journey. Record it in my app, I’ve learned, regardless of whether anyone’s watching on the other end.

One Old Fashioned (with Bulleit rye) is 221 calories, with other macros minimal. Great for low-carbs attentions, but it can also lead me to less-conscious choices, particularly if B brings out chips or munchies. On days when I’m low on calories and way opens for a porch-sit with my husband, it’s an easy and splurgeworthy choice for me. While I remember it’s never completely about reducing calories, alcohol consumption can lower inhibitions and lead to choices that are much higher in calories than desired, for more days/week than desired. Evidence file: November-December. πŸ™ˆ Even if I’ve eaten sufficiently and healthily, an Old Fashioned can put me much higher above the healthy calorie threshold than I was consciously choosing to be.

The unexpected gifts of recording splurgeworthy cocktails? For one, recipe-cocktails are much more precise in measurement. I know what I’m imbibing, more than ‘pouring over ice’ in tumblers of varying sizes. Recipes moderate intake. Recording off-plan items also register the calories in a much more obvious way. In the months of ramp-up to election and post-election events, habits of stress-eating became my choice more than tending to what my body actually needed. I was unconscious of this shift, at that time, considering myself still largely on-plan, with occasional splurges. It was much more than ‘occasional,’ I now realize. Instigating ‘periods of check-in’ with FatSecret keeps me most aware. So while I don’t anticipate recording/tracking every day for the rest of my life, I demonstrated in this season that I will know when I need to return to some ‘check-in’ listening, learning, trusting each time will offer the gifts I need for that time. I celebrate that too.

Recording splurge-worthy items also makes them another choice, but each time conscious and with reminding-impact. Instead of going ‘off-plan’ and implicitly believing a “doesn’t count” kind of thing, off-plan choices can be better seen for their macros and impact. There is an implicit deciding-factor of what truly counts as ‘splurgeworthy.’ My long-lived relationship with bread, for instance. Yesterday, I finally loaded my favorite splurge-worthy bread into my FatSecret CookBook: struan, which is a Celtic harvest bread, handcrafted for celebration and love of baking. It’s a multigrain bread with oats, uncooked polenta, brown rice, a touch of sweetness. Totally off plan, but food here is more than fuel for me. When I was in my first sabbatical, needing to write my first book but unable to keep my butt in the chair, I would make three batches of struan a week. It forced me to a domestic, sitting-writing-waiting rhythm while it rose, both times, then baked. Too much to eat or store, of course, so I gave loaves away to our students for free that semester. My way of feeling a part of the community, even though I was ‘away’ writing my book. I called myself the Sabbatical Bakery, with tagline because everyone needs a little extra dough. When I make it, I do so in mini-loaves, better for smaller servings and toasting (more crusts!). I hadn’t made it in literally years, but in November, Thanksgiving time, I retrieved the recipe and made a batch. Two loaves have been in our freezer since then, so were nearing ‘eat’ or ‘throw out.’ I decided it counted for a splurge in my Saturday night/Sunday morning rest-day/family day. One small slice? 33 g carbs, 4.59 g protein, .24 g fat, 169 calories. It’s not worth it regularly or even ‘often,’ will always be splurgeworthy to me...and now I’m more conscious and aware of the impact of the choice. 

A more feasible communal pattern may also have formed in my home in these two months. Sorting out “the family rhythm” is the ever-changing pattern-discernment for me. My husband is eating just as much, if not more, sugar, carbs, etc. than he used to...which for the most part, doesn’t impact me much at all in our weekly day-to-day. We’ve figured out our regular meal-compromises and rhythms amidst work and rest during the week. The date-nights/weekends are more challenging, however.

There are times he misses some of the classic date-night meals we used to make together--paella, pad thai, vegetable lasagna, etc. I don’t miss the food like he does, but I do miss his ease and delight, his artistry and play with the food we often both used to enjoy. So...he asked about making paella earlier this week--a Spanish rice dish with lots of meats, veggies, shrimp. “How about Saturday night, then?” has become the pattern. It seems to meet a relational need, and I have been enjoying a bit of his play and artistry, some of the communion I’ve missed. Counting and recording it in these weeks of accountability? Sometimes I record it; sometimes I just leave it blank, not even trying to ask Brian what he’s created our dinner with that night… Paella is pretty easy to aim for proteins more than rice, but it's all in there. It also behooves me to watch the binge factor with such a night. If Saturday night is the ‘only night,’ then a bit of everything can wind up in the mix, which my body truly does not fare well in...

It probably seems strange to some that families consider food to be so central a connector. For his and my families, it has been for as long as I can remember. Our visits to his family are totally food-identified, which 'favorite food' of his will be when during our short stays. Hard to navigate sometimes... This new pattern of a ‘less than 24 hour’ period from Saturday night into Sunday morning where splurging ‘fits’ in my week, my rhythm...may work for the time being. I don’t even ask Ches Brian as he creates, because it alters the ease of the evening. Post pandemic, we’ll have different options, but for now… The day-after becomes rehydrating and a smile to get back to what my body prefers for ‘normal’ now...low carb, higher protein, higher fat...fresh vegetables and meats. All a body loves…

Finally, I’m continually intrigued by the invitation or drive to relaxation that ‘splurging’ seems to connote, followed closely with the body discomforts or edginess I know I do not find relaxing. What is it about relaxation/downtimes that seems associated with foods my body now does not like…? Craving arises still, though much less frequently. I know sometimes it’s simply a body-habit or body-memory that focuses my attention on things I grew up on, or have a strong relational connection to. Some of them, like my earliest-years-birthday-meal, Chef Boyardee’s beef ravioli, now disgust my palette even though my body remembers it with nostalgia. Others, like freshly baked bread, right out of the oven (or toaster), remind me of my father, of celebrations, and my own delight and artistry. These are harder to release, though I don’t like the after-effects my now-sensitized body signals. Yet relaxation seems to trigger the impulse to splurge in some way… So very curious… Such a fascinating dance in these days… 

Eventually, when I go back to my “track my food” a couple series-of-days in a month instead of daily, I’ll already know more how these recent patterns of choices play in my week, my days, with stress and without. One nice thing about the conscious-unconscious cycles in us is that it keeps us constantly learning, if we’re curious. These have been worthwhile (re)learning days for me, proving once again we can end where we began. We human beings can be as changeable and cyclical as the weather. Part of the CrossFit wisdom is to honor the cycles, the intervals, and work them again and again, in community. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Staying on the Spiral Path...

It’s been a while since something has arisen large enough in my experience to invite me to the page here, at least with respect to CrossFit journeying and the nutrition re-education path I’ve been on these last years. I’m coming to think of this path as a spiral, because I’ve spent the month of January (re)learning things I already know, but in some senses also did not remember, or at least know in this pandemic rendition of fitness and health. Reflections for staying on the spiral then…

This past Friday brought some unexpected and rather unfamiliar sensations of craving I’d not experienced in a while. Or perhaps it was simply desire, without the judgmental nuance of ‘craving.’ The week’s workouts had been good but also wearying. My body was more weary than usual at the end of a week. I had a hunger for something as I stopped by Dorothy Lane Market on my way home from the gym. For Saturday, I still planned on my sacred rhythm of arising-coffee-drive-CrossFit-drive-breakfast then into the day, but I did decide that a weekend of a little both/and paleo-and-not food-planning was in order. I got the beef-stew meat to make the paleo beef-stew I’d found, and I got the crusty loaf of French bread to go with it. And while I was there, a blueberry-bran muffin that DLM offers, which I’ve enjoyed in seasons past. 

As I arrived home, putting the groceries away and eating breakfast, I noticed I was moving even more slowly… I had been ravenous, however, so perhaps just needed calories for the day. I tended to my work until about 2:30 or 3 p.m., getting ready to make some herbal tea for the afternoon. It dawned on me that I was done. I could hardly keep my eyes open. So be it, I figured, laying down to rest my eyes for 45 minutes. Two hours later, Brian stirred me, wondering if it was cocktail hour yet. Wow...a two hour nap? Marvelous! As I rubbed my eyes, I realized I was taking the weekend off. “Sure,” I told him. “Pear martini please. Hold the simple syrup but bring on the rest!” He smiled.

We had a delightful evening of some listening to music, catching up from the week, watching The Expanse (the sci-fi TV I’ve actually enjoyed, believe it or not), and working on a puzzle (for me). The paleo-beef-stew wasn’t bad, though I wasn’t sure I’d make it again. Three pounds of beef, then celery, carrots, and parsnip. Dried shitake mushrooms (ground in a processor til they become a powder) created the thicker stew-texture of the dish, instead of flour (hence, paleo). The best, though, was the crusty loaf. It’d been a long while since I’d had bread right out of the oven. My martini lasted well all evening, a good sipping drink over time. I’d made Brian banana bread earlier in the week, a sign of the way he desires to be loved. I’m not usually tempted by it, or least much of it, but I treated myself to a slice. It was delicious. I slept well enough--though awareness more below--and the easy coffee-and-breakfast-muffin in bed was luxurious. I don’t think I got out of bed until 9 a.m. It was a marvelous beginning to our weekend of rest...

The (re)learning parts are no less significant, of course. I eat the way I eat now because I love how I feel each day--the energy I have, the extensive activity I enjoy, the movement(s) I get to play in, and more. I rarely feel ‘deprived,’ in other words, though something clicked in this weekend that hit a whiff of that chord in me. So, carbs and sugar. Have at it, I told myself.

Surprise and remembrance then. I must have had over 64 oz of water that night, though the stew wasn’t that salty, and the volume more than accounted for the ounces of vodka. Thirst was intense, with dry-mouth and all. I smiled, remembering. Yes. And of course, this promised waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Smiling and worth it. Getting up in the middle of the night, however, I noticed this incredible discomfort in my stomach. Not quite nausea, but whiffs of that feeling. A weight in my stomach. A bit of discomfort. Nonetheless, back to sleep I went. The muffin in the morning was still tasty.

Brian and I went on a long loop through the nature preserve close to our home. I’ve loved these walks together, and alone, with Nala, these last months. Feeling my feet on the earth. Enjoying the landscaped campus of Mount St. John/Begamo and the less tended woodland-prairie paths. A full long loop is probably about 2.5 miles, with varying terrain and a huge hill to climb at the end of the walk. I’m eager for spring when afternoon walks can become a part of my usual routine again. For this weekend, though, I was shaky hungry by the time we returned home for breakfast. This is one of the main reasons I stay off of the carbs and sugar. It’s exhausting to get so hungry, so shaky, attempt to eat normal portions of a meal, then crash-rest afterwards. The upside, of course, is that I’m reminded how much I hate this cycle. It motivates my return to healthy clean eating for myself. All a part of the spiral, then.

A couple times throughout the Saturday-Sunday rest days, I would feel that whiff of discomfort in my stomach again. I’d drink some water and it would diffuse, go away. Of course, me being me, I began to wonder about the ulcer or stomach cancer that it probably was--my overactive mind simply cannot help itself--but the digestion of food not usual for me anymore simply took a bit more effort, methinks. All part of the spiral...

The Monday morning workout was a “30 min time cap,” I saw when I walked in. It was good to be back in my fun-space, and I was looking forward to the movement. I’d done nothing beyond the walk, really, except nap and read all weekend. I was surprised at how the workout felt, however. I’d guessed that the carb-fest of Friday night/Saturday morning would have passed through my system 48 hours later. But I could still feel the shakiness, the internal edginess and weariness. It was still fun. I still did just fine, scaling the workout to make it well under the time-cap. But I’m smiling at the body-awareness and sensitivities. I’m thankful, even as it’s also a bit unnerving. I’m so much more aware of my own body’s responsiveness to what I choose to eat. It’s a gift to be sensitive. It’s also a challenge in our food-cultures today to be sensitive. 

The pieces I’m remembering are simply I do better in my own nutrition and fitness choices when I’m within a community that holds space for me to get to choose what’s best for me. I used to feel so alone in my body-journey, guilted-shamed about food-choices and highs/lows/crashes I never could manage well, isolated about what science knows and what is lack of willpower, etc. Being wise about my own nutrition and fitness doesn’t work in that cultural storm. It also doesn’t work if there’s an obligation to do so. I resist obligation anymore. It doesn’t work for me if there is an authority ‘above’--whether I place him/her there, or others do--saying “you must, if you want to be healthy.” But it seems to work every time when I set the pieces in place for me to choose my best self. A community, a sister on the other end of the food diary, then body memories of why I choose what and how I do? It works ever time. I choose my best self much more often, over time. 

I suspect that at least once a year, it’ll simply be good form for me to return to higher-accountability practices for myself, to examine closely where I am on the spiral path that this is. I can remember how much I’ve already learned, but more importantly, be reminded that this is always a learning journey as my body changes and my tastes cycle through menu and food-prep choices. 

And during an election-season, holiday-season, then into civic-unrest season that we’ve been living, it’s not the least bit surprising that food began to become once again an emotional salve for feelings I did not want to hold consciously. I began to focus on the workouts “to burn off the extra calories and less attentive food choices” I was beginning to make. Whenever I land in the “I’ll eat this and then work off the calories of it” habit of mind, I need to reorient once again. Find healthy ways to tend to the feelings I don’t want to feel. Take a break from things that are stressing me and return to what gives me joy. Ultimately, get back on the spiral path… Sojourns off of it need not be bad--some things are to be enjoyed in life for a foodie such as myself--yet getting too far off the spiral requires relearning and being reminded of the habits it entails, beckons, invites...

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Failing Well at Encouragement

I’m learning a lot about encouragement in my CrossFit journey these days. Some of it comes in a daily way, with CF peeps cheering one another on during a workout or giving a “Good job today!” shout as we walk out the door. Some of it is more precise, with particular observations shared on a particular skill-development or PR (personal record) success. There’s also the one-step removed invitation to inspiration, offered by members’ Facebook page feeds and posts. Sometimes those are about the day’s workout, but oftentimes, they are ‘food for thought’ from professional and personal lives. For me, a lot of it comes down to consistent presence and companionship, being with a community fiercely intent upon fitness. And fun. Can’t forget the silliness that crops up, like creating a ‘fake PR photo’ of one coach to goad the success of a friend. Encouragement is the fruit of all of this, in different ways.

What struck me the other day is that I myself struggle to be a good encourager in words or precise observations mirrored back to another. For a woman who can be incredibly wordy--case in point--I honestly become speechless in how to encourage precisely, with attention to specific movements or workouts. I don't know what to say, nor how to reach out genuinely like some can and do. A couple of folks in our Box are really good at it, in different ways of going about it, which is what made me notice.

One offers encouragement often, but rarely in a generic way. You know she’s been paying attention and has developed an eye for form and technique. She’s precise in naming the good she observes. Another offers encouragement in his consistent team-spirit, shared with everyone. He’ll offer feedback on a technique, if asked, and will encourage with a bit of his own story with that movement. When I receive the gifts of encouragement in this way, I find myself a bit speechless, but appreciative. So I wish I had that gift too. Until I began to feel my way into this topic, that is. It’s actually a huge celebration in my own CF journey to not be good at this, this way, believe it or not!

To be really good at encouragement like this, you have to observe others with a precision and attention to detail. For a very long time, from earliest memory, I did learn how to observe others in this way. A constant attention to the other first, even before becoming aware of my own experience. It eased things in my own home, for one. Developing a perceptiveness, even intuition, about the feeling states of my parents allowed me to feel safe, protect myself from surprise or harm. I got kudos for caring for others in this way, sometimes sensing things in their experience before they were aware of them. I learned how to hold the energy of a room full of people, heightening awareness of mood-states and potential challenges (as a professor-teacher, for instance).

The downside of this honed perception, over a lifetime, is that you can lose track of your own experience, even your own feeling life. You get so good at sensing outwardly that your muscles of inward awareness atrophy. Another binding habit is the comparative one, hoping to build your own sense of self up by achieving more than another, or doing something better than another. This is actually quite unsteadying, as your own sense of things depends upon another rather than being grounded in your own body, your own journey. 

My CrossFit journey has pretty much mirrored and healed this dynamic in me, I'm so very thankful to observe aloud. The last several years in my midlife journey have been about re-centering and re-accessing my own experience first, awakening to what I might feel about something before tending to others’ desires or wants. So much religious formation can shame this inward honoring as selfishness, but it’s not remotely selfish. One, if you lose enough of your center, you have no self to be selfish about. Surprising or not, I’ve been there, myself. But mostly, particularly for women, it’s not selfish to take up space and know your own body, mind, sense of things. In my CF journey, I’ve learned to really hone my energies and awareness in my own body in a workout, attending solely to my own movements, process, feelings. I am finally completely unaware of what another CF friend is doing, how many reps, what round s/he may be on. When I log my wko and learn how others have progressed in the workout, the numbers don’t have much meaning for me internally. There’s no comparative-shame-competitiveness in me anymore.

So while it may sound rather odd, or counter-intuitive as something to celebrate, it’s an amazing victory for me to be so bad at this, at precise encouragement. The kind of observation required to be really good at it is there in me, but I’ve had to re-learn other skills necessary for balance inside. It means that I’m not aware of others’ processes or movements while I’m tending to my own, and that I can really cheer CF peeps on without any sense of connection to my own. Given my own path in life, this is a remarkable accomplishment for me. Strange to celebrate being bad at precise encouragement, but ironically, it allows me to be encouraging of everyone without any ties, caveats, or personal motives.

Victory is a sweet sweet thing...