Better & Bolder, the Blog

Sweet

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Thursday night at Nia at the end of class, I asked everyone – as they lay on the floor, sweaty, relaxed, transcended – what would make their new year sweet? What, I asked, might make their new year peaceful? What would make their new year blessed?

Thursday was International Day of Peace, and – I imagine you may feel the same way – I have been putting my fingers in my ears and chanting “la la la I can’t hear you” to the news. Men in powerful positions bluster, their brags and threats reaching hurricane force, as they wag their nuclear missiles in each other’s faces. Boys, stop it.  They can’t be serious, can they? They know what’s at stake? They do. We are at stake, and they don’t care about us. We aren’t real to them – our lives, our hopes, our blood. These puffy men believe they are Kings and that we exist to follow their will. That is, they are insane. In power and insane. I can’t think about it, literally. There is no way to fathom human beings who act inhumanely.

 

In class at CNM, we read “Learning to Read and Write” by Frederick Douglass. Then I tell them there are more than 40 million slaves today worldwide. 71% of them are women and girls sold into sexual slavery. I can see this information not computing, see in their faces that this number, 40 million, makes no sense.

 

Puerto Rico, I tell my classes, will be without electricity for months. Here in the States, we would lose our shit if we had to spend half a day without charging our phones and using our internet. We have clean water to drink, hot water for our showers. We are rich and safe. The young mother in my morning section who was evicted from her apartment this past week and still got her homework completed on time? She probably doesn’t feel rich or safe. It’s all comparative and it’s all perspective. If I don’t think about North Korea and Puerto Rico and Houston and Mexico and all the rest, I sleep pretty well at night.

 

Thursday was International Day of Peace, and I made my paltry offering to the world. I pushed a few roomfuls of students to think a little bit harder than they had the day before, and I pushed a dozen women to sweat and glide and shake for an hour, all so they could spend those last three minutes on the floor, relaxed and spent and receptive.

 

My life is privileged and selfish. And yet – last night, I sat outside, long past sunset, in the last hours of summer. I said to my husband: this is it. This is the reason we know it’s amazing to be alive - this sky, this warm air, this beauty.

 

Today is my 23rd wedding anniversary. Underneath a chuppah of giant sunflowers, more than two decades ago, we said our vows in a judge’s office. Though it was far too late for the act (I was already several months pregnant), my gentile husband crushed the glass under his shoe. Then we left our relatives behind for a few hours, changed into jeans and sweaters, and headed up to the Crest. The aspen already were changing, just a bit, and we stayed until the sun began to set on the Autumnal Equinox.

 

I love being married. I love the stability of it. I love the certitude. I fell in love with a man who loved music and made art, and I adore those things about him still. I love that he knows more than I do about the things I don’t want to know too much about, like North Korea.

 

Several years ago, I became post-menopausal after having my ovaries removed. Life with lower levels of hormones is much calmer. But I miss them anyway. Hormones pull our lovers to us; our scent changes. Fertility is enticing. Listen, sex will always be fun, but there’s an urgency, a life-driving, deep growl in the throat, ache in the belly that’s only there when the hormones roar up and demand attention. That time is gone for us. Maybe in another 23 years I’ll stop thinking about that, or maybe I’ll always feel the difference with a little bit of loss and sadness.

 

So it’s Thursday night at the studio, and I’m asking my students what will make their new year sweet. It’s the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, perfectly timed to coincide with the Fall Equinox. We don’t make resolutions at this new year. Instead, we are commanded to head to a body of water and cast away our sins and shortcomings. We are invited to start the year clean. Then we dip apples in honey to ensure a sweet new year. That’s all we ask, not that we lose weight or run 100 miles or get a new job. We just set this one intention: may the new year be sweet.

 

And here’s what I thought for my sweet year. I’ve been reading this super cheesy but unexpectedly hot fantasy series. The faerie males are, like, big and buff and possessive, total stereotype. They have a keen sense of smell, and the smell of the woman they love – their mate – drives them crazy. As embarrassing as this is, those passages detailing sexy time with horny faerie males and the women they love for all eternity, yeah, they get my engines going. Sexy time with my hot non-faerie husband is just a bit more urgent. That’s what I want for my new year. I want to read more books that make me hot.

 

And you? What will make your new year sweet? Or sweaty? What will make your new year peaceful and blessed? What will be your tiny contribution to a world that’s more peaceful?


May we all have enough. May we all be blessed, and may we all share our blessings. May we all know the intense rich sweetness of our lives.

Gusto

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One of my favorite sayings about food is Michael Pollan’s dictate to “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” That about covers all the food rules a person needs to have. Admittedly, it’s not always easy to do.

Pollan suggests we should eat foods our great grandmother would recognize and only rarely eat the ones that are boxed or made in a plant or otherwise processed. How many generations away are we from eating real food? My first food was not breast milk but formula. 

Pollan notes in this article that "The American paradox is we are a people who worry unreasonably about dietary health yet have the worst diet in the world.” Perhaps we simply like to worry? Or have the luxury to do so? Or perhaps being so many generations away from real food has made the processed kind increasingly irresistible as it saturates our holidays and family memories. 

If you like rules, this article lists 7 that Pollan explains to help guide our food choices. Remember that whichever rules you choose, they should make you happy. Eat happily.

Daverick Leggett, a farmer and teacher, echoes a similar sentiment as Pollan in this article. Legget says most of us eat too much and we worry too much about what we eat. Worry creates stress that interferes with digestion. Leggett writes, “So worry, especially about food, is damaging. In fact I would go further and say that today worrying about food, overwhelmed as we are by too much often contradictory information and stimulation, has become a pathology.” 

His article ends with these rules: “don’t worry, enjoy, eat less, eat better, consider the rhythms of nature, have fun in the kitchen and eat an inclusive, broad diet.” What would happen if we took any one of these principles and played with it for a while? 

Try this. Choose one of those ideas – don’t worry, enjoy, eat less, have fun in the kitchen. Ask yourself which one shift you’d most like to make and is best for the fall season. Ask yourself which one you’d like to apply to your whole life, not just your relationship with eating. Make a big (and pretty) sign that you post in your kitchen. Play with it throughout autumn. In early December, decide if you’d like to continue to focus on that one principle through winter or you’d like to choose another principle for the next three months.

I recently read a post about Chinese Traditional Medicine that gives me another set of 3 very simple guides for food. I can ask: Who is the eater? What is the amount? What is the condition?

There are no good or bad foods. There may be, however, appropriate and less beneficial amounts of food for a particular person to eat at a particular time. I might eat chocolate, a stimulant, in the morning but not at night. I might enjoy ice cream when I’m feeling healthy and the weather is warm but avoid it when it’s colder or when I’m not feeling great.

I don’t want to add too many rules, but, really, we have to keep this one in the forefront: Eat with joy and gusto.

Here’s a rule, the rule of Enough, that continues to challenge me.  Eat a little less than you think you need or want and see if you are satisfied 20 minutes later. Be patient. Learn how to eat not too little and not too much, but just the right amount for you right now.

Enjoy eating with other people, which is one of the best digestive aids available.

 Relish fruits and vegetables that are locally in season. It’s the season! Savor. Enjoy. Be nourished. 

Beautiful Bodies

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I recently read Kimberly Rae Miller’s memoir Beautiful Bodies. The first few chapters are great, and it’s an interesting, quick read. It gets a bit disjointed in the middle (I skimmed a bunch), and she has trouble focusing on her central premise. But it’s a revealing look at a woman who began her first diet at age 7.

Age 7. One of the statistics she cites is that 1 in 4 girls have dieted by the age of 7 and 80% of 10 year old girls have been on a diet (a 2015 review by Common Sense Media as described here). I didn’t dig into those statistics or studies; perhaps they are exaggerated. Miller explains how she first learned her body was too big and she should restrict food: she heard her mother negatively discussing her own weight. 

Miller realizes, “I have come to rely on the structure and hope diets provide as a way of anchoring myself in the world. When there are no rules or promises to life, a diet provides them.” While she explains dieting is her only real hobby, she describes dieting in almost religious terms. 

Miller explains that America’s first diet movement came from the Rev. Sylvester Graham, who warned that “diet, health, and morality were inseparable.” I remember thinking as a young teenager that I was so fat and incapable of limiting my food that what I was doing was a sin against God. My body was a temple, right? I equated thinness with righteousness, and I’m not alone. 

Check out this article from the New York Times about fat bias. Then look at the comments section. People express incredibly judgmental thinking and felt completely justified in complaining that fat people take up too much space and if only they did what the commenter did, then they, too, could be thin. The article explains that fat discrimination is one of the few that most people agree is okay — it’s okay to say terrible things about fat people because they deserve it and, clearly, shaming them is for their own good. Want to learn more about fat bias? This American Life ran this interesting podcast called “Tell Me I’m Fat." 

The weight-loss industry is worth $60 billion a year, Miller explains.  Dieters regain weight 97% of the time, which means first, that’s great for business! Also, it means it doesn’t matter which diet you choose because it’s not going to work long-term. The refrain from the Health at Every Size Movement is that we don’t fail at our diets; diets fail us.

 I’m not anti-diet so much as I am against diet culture. This culture tells us we have to be thin, rewards thin people, and sends many of us on lifelong struggles to attain a weight that is not necessarily the best for our bodies. Diet culture is anti-diversity. Diet culture allows me to feel shame about my body and then grants me the license to shame others (even if only in my head). 

Should you give up dieting then? Yes, actually, most especially if you’ve been chasing a certain weight your whole life and torturing yourself over it, as Miller has been. If you are always wanting to be just five pounds thinner, is that really worth your time? Should you be ashamed to be a size 12 as if a size 8 is somehow morally superior? 

Eat well, move well, sleep well, and let your body do what it needs to do. If you’re not eating well, moving well, and resting well, then a diet may make a temporary difference in your weight but it won’t make you any healthier. 

How do we eat well? If you’re stuck, go with Michael Pollan’s basic advice to eat food, not much, mostly plants. Keep it simple. Want to seal the deal? Take a breath and say a quick prayer before you eat and again at the end of the meal. Do your best to focus on nourishing yourself — your body, your mind, your emotions, your spirit — because all of you gets to delight and be nourished by the food. Do your best not to hope that eating well means you’ll lose weight. Do your best not to overthink your food choices. 

This New York Times article is another look at both the diet industry and the effect of diet culture on one smart, educated, accomplished woman. 

This summer I gave up my scale. But then I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I weighed. Every day, I wondered. Finally I decided it was easier to weigh myself than to keep thinking about it. I weighed about what I guessed I would. I immediately began stories in my head about what that weight meant, how it was different than a year ago, and what it would be like to weigh a bit less. I don’t know yet how to get beyond this so that I really truly don’t care what I weigh. I know it doesn’t matter. But I haven’t let go of it. 

Yesterday I listened to a podcast, Life Unrestricted (tagline: Free yourself from being obsessed with food & exercise). Meret and her guest, Isabel Duken Fox, pointed out that women will say that they love other women’s bodies but hate their own. Women will say it’s okay for others to be fat and they look beautiful as they are, but on our own bodies, no amount of fat is okay. Meret and Fox called bullshit on this. When women are hating their own bodies, they’re hating women’s bodies. We’re kinder to others to their face, perhaps, but deep inside, we believe fat is wrong and it isn’t beautiful. If we believed our bodies were beautiful at every size, we’d believe it about ourselves. 

Diet culture is my culture. It’s part of my DNA. It has stolen happiness from me because I’ve allowed it to do so. The way out of suffering and hate is probably love but here’s the process: pleasure. Pleasure is a process of noticing and enjoying. Pleasure is an antidote to shame, a balm against worry and negativity. Fuck beauty and being beautiful. Pleasure is wholly, healthily, enthusastically engaged in the moment. Pleasure is possible for each of us at every size.