Sydney Skinny: Bare again

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Sometimes you don’t know how far you’ve developed until you’re tested again.

For me, participating in the Sydney Skinny, was always an experience designed to see if I could shed my clothes (in public!) and be comfortable with it. From my previous test runs, and the 2014 event, the answer was no. With that said, I completed it.

I was nervous leading up to the event. Despite my gym sessions, I felt my body was bigger and saggier than 2014. However, I was determined to face my fears and complete it despite this.

And I had a great time!

One of the elements I really enjoy about the day is the community vibe feeling the day has. Food vans, music, gloriously sunny day and so many smiley faces – it’s designed to relax people and remind people that life is for living and how friggin good that can feel.

This year, I was part of Team Nudie. As I walked over to the tent to pick up my Nudie goodie bag and register, I was horrified to notice that most of the women had their tops off and were having messages painted on their bodies. For those reading assuming they were naked, wrong! There were kids around…c’mon. The bit that gave me the ‘stomach sinking into my legs feeling’ was thinking of the two options I had in front of me – get involved, take my top off in front in front of the crowd and suck it up, or, play it safe and keep my top on (naturally I was thinking ‘I don’t really want body paint anyway’….).

Of course I got involved but farrrrk it was hard. I was nervous for two reasons – one,  because the bra I was wearing  was recycle from a very success date the night before (boom chika wah way) and not ideal for 9am, sunny day wear. The other reason was I would need to put my perfectly imperfect round belly to the clothed world around me. Majorly uncomfortable.

But, I did it as though I didn’t give two hoots. I slowly peel my t shirt above my head, sat down (ARGHH THE ROLLS), smiled and requested the team nudie logo. When completed, I slid back into my t shirt.

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Clearly not me, but to give you an idea…..

Well, I’ve never done that before. And boy, I was feeling very proud of myself.

When the time came, the group congregated at the meeting area. Time for a group picture!

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Then we slowly made our way down the windy, rocky, dirt path down to Cobblers Beach.

And just before we arrive, as because I wanted to, I had a selfie with our team Captain, Tim Dormer.

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When we arrived at the beach, the previous waves were returning to shore in all their naked glory. But in fairness all you see are a bunch of heads bopping up and down on the surface of the water.

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I put my bags down and started chatting with a very handsome 30 something year old man who was telling me how much we was enjoying the day. I was enjoying looking at his bare chest and trying not to look below his waist….oh wait….heyyyyy big boy (unfortunately I don’t have any pics of this to share…)

I stayed clothed for a few minutes, chatting and enjoying…errr looking at the broader view. My breaths were definitely increasing and I started to do the little dance I do when I either need to pee, or I am uncomfortable. I didn’t need to pee….

When the group was called up I slid off my shorts, and my knickers (maybe a g banger wasn’t the most sensible underwear to choose) and finally took off my t shirt and unhooked my deliciously black lacy bra.

I am naked! What surprised me this time around was how comfortable I was walking to the water. I found it a lot more relaxing than 2014, and even more relaxing than having paint written on my back an hour earlier.

Because I like a plan, I decided I was going to take a completely didn’t approach to my previous swim. I am not going to treat it like a race. I am going to slowly make my way around the 900m course. And I did. I chatted with people as I past them, or they swam past me. I was even dared by one of the lifeguards to swim under his board. So I did remember at the last minute to not do a dolphin dive. I was naked but I doubt the world need to see my bent over bottom rise from the clear waters of Sydney Harbour.

As I walked out of the water, it was so nice to be greeted by smiling faces, music and so much laughter.  I chatted with a various people about how amazing the experience is – and how proud of themselves they were for doing it. The beauty of the event is it brings people together for all different reasons. One lady was standing there in all her glory after telling me she was there with her daughter, how her husband wouldn’t have seen her naked for year yet here she was! In front of hundreds of stingers. I think her husband will soon be getting very used to her strut her naked, glorious self around the house. Another guy mentioned he was ok with being naked but wasn’t a strong swimmer and wanted the support of swimming 300 metres at the beach.

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It doesn’t matter what the reason is, I was so proud of everyone who attended – even the amazingly fit entrepreneur who picked up a couple of girls. It doesn’t matter what your reason is, for being there, it’s about getting involved, pushing your boundaries and having fun. And the day represented all of that and more!

Will you attend The Sydney Skinny 2017?

Thanks for Nudie for all the images in this post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Spot an Emotional Grown-Up

Over the last 12 months I have realised that being emotionally aware, and then regulating those emotions, is probably the most important practice in living a fulfilling, successful and peaceful life.

I have been lucky to attract some amazing men in my time, but until recently I’ve not really dated. Relationships yes, but dated no. I also reflect on these relationships and it’s clear one or both of us were not ready – but that’s the beauty of age and (hopefully) wisdom!

Going through the motions of chatting with men, meeting them, exploring their personalities and beginning to understand them, has taught me a lot about myself. Mainly the buck always stops with me. My choices, actions and reactions, are mine and mine alone. I still have a long way to go regarding where I want to be, but I’ve become more attune to identifying an emotional grown up and becoming one myself. The pain of falling for someone who isn’t emotionally available is one I will try to avoid wherever possible. The pain of falling for someone who is more emotionally developed is equally as heart wrenching.

When I read this article on Goop.com, I needed to share it with all of you. I found the advice to be very helpful for all elements of my life.

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How to Spot an Emotional Grown-Up

BY ROBIN BERMAN, M.D. AND SONYA RASMINSKY, M.D.

1. Emotional Grown-ups manage their feelings: They don’t pout, slam doors, or give you the silent treatment.

It’s great to be able to express your feelings, but being able to regulate your emotions is the most important quality of an emotional grown-up. When the skill of controlling your emotional thermostat (and it is a skill) isn’t learned in childhood, you end up with a simple on/off switch: On the one hand, there’s unalloyed joy and passion (the fun part); on the other hand, rage or uncontrolled crying in response to insignificant events. We expect to see toddlers screaming in public; but when a middle-aged man yells obscenities at a stranger for cutting in front of him on the road, we wonder what went wrong during his childhood. One of our biggest jobs as parents is to teach our kids how to self-regulate: how to recognize and name their feelings, how to react proportionally, how to calm themselves down. Emotional grown-ups have learned these skills and can keep themselves in check: They can express their feelings without blowing a gasket, and you don’t have to walk on eggshells or worry that they will lose it with the slightest provocation.

2. Emotional Grown-ups use language thoughtfully.

It couldn’t be further from the truth that “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Because words matter, words can wound; and knowing this, emotional grown-ups choose their words carefully. Everyone has moments when they feel that their partner has let them down, but phrases like “How could you be so stupid?” have no place in an intimate relationship. In managing a conflict, words and tone can mean the difference between a defensive response and willingness to change. Take the following example:

“Early in my marriage my husband had a crucial business dinner meeting. He told me that it was important that we be on time and he wanted to leave at 7. In the throes of multitasking—feeding our baby, drying my hair—I realized that it was 7:15 and braced myself, expecting my husband to yell at me like my father used to. But instead of blaming, he looked at me and said, ‘How can I help you in the future? Being on time is important to me, and it seems that you had so much to do before we left. What can I do to make it easier?’ Instead of putting me on the defensive, his language inspired me to want to try harder to be on time in the future. He may have been thinking, ‘What the f?!&!,’ but he chose his words in a way that I could hear him.”

Language can inflame or inspire, and mindful language is a gift. Taking a moment to edit your thoughts and choose your words goes very far in a partnership.

3. Emotional Grown-ups have empathy for others.

Emotional grown-ups try to see things from the other person’s point of view. Let’s say that your mantra is, “Where’s the party?” and your partner’s ideal night is Netflix and ordering in. And yet you make it work. Having empathy doesn’t mean that you agree. You might not even fully understand where your partner is coming from—but it does mean that you do your best to respect and even celebrate their viewpoint. Take the following example:

Bill likes to socialize, but his partner Steve is an introvert and hates to have people over to their home. This was a significant source of conflict in their relationship, as Bill felt guilty about never reciprocating invitations. Steve felt that Bill was being insensitive; Bill felt that Steve was holding their social life hostage. The breakthrough came when Bill came to understand that for Steve, their partnership was enough to sustain him; from Steve’s point of view, Bill’s insistence on being with lots of people felt like a rejection of their dyad. Trying to see things from Steve’s point of view, Bill was able to make more of a conscious effort to spend time together as a couple. At the same time, Steve was able to see that Bill’s desire to be with others was not a personal affront, but rather his way of recharging his social batteries—something that Steve didn’t really need. They came up with a compromise: No more than one social engagement per weekend, and when they did have people over, Bill would act as primary host.

The spirit of compromise is key to being an emotional grown-up. Here’s the mantra for the partnership that goes the distance: If it’s important to you, it’s important to me. When one partner is a neat freak and the other is messy, the messy one has to learn to tidy up—not because she suddenly cares about being neat, but because it’s important to her partner. Sometimes the annoyance of putting the clothes in the laundry hamper or unloading the dishwasher in the morning is worth the peace of mind that it gives your spouse.

4. Emotional Grown-ups own their stuff.

Owning your stuff is the most underrated sexy quality. The real hero isn’t the man who never makes mistakes; it’s the man who owns his mistakes! When emotional grown-ups mess up, they don’t point fingers, make excuses, or blame the circumstances; they take responsibility for their own actions. There’s nothing more appealing than a man who will thoughtfully say, “You’re right; I messed up. Consider it changed.” rather than retort with “But you…” Take the following example:

Jeff and Anna have been married two years and have a new baby. Sleep deprived and overwhelmed, Anna gets frustrated that Jeff doesn’t spend more time helping out at home. When he comes home late for the umpteenth time, Anna is seething. But when the first words out of his mouth are, “I’m so sorry, I screwed up. Let me get you a glass of wine and take the baby,” it’s hard for her to stay mad—especially if it leads to change in the longer term.

Owning mistakes doesn’t make an emotional grown-up weak; it makes them trustworthy and safe, it diffuses conflict and allows people to move beyond blame toward real change. The capacity to hear and incorporate feedback is a gift to the relationship; it helps both people to become their best selves.

5. Emotional Grown-ups don’t keep score.

All this empathizing and stuff-owning can leave us feeling very pleased with ourselves, but it’s hard work that may leave us wondering what we get in return, and whether our partner has done as much. The biggest gift that you can give your relationship is to throw away the scoreboard. Tit-for-tat is not just petty, it’s emotionally damaging. Relationships are give and take, and a generosity of spirit is essential. Keeping track of minutiae—who did the dishes last, who picked up the socks, who put the baby to bed—is a great way to breed resentment. This doesn’t mean that you should give and give without getting anything back; it means that balance is determined not in individual actions, but over time. As long as both partners give freely to one another, the relationship itself is the reward.

6. Emotional grown-ups love and care for themselves.

Emotional grown-ups take care of themselves as well as taking care of you. This means tending to their physical health—exercising, not using alcohol to self medicate or marijuana to escape, making healthy food choices, getting enough sleep—and also being attuned to their own emotional needs. It feels good to be needed, and having a partner who depends on you may be appealing. But in the end, people need to be responsible for their own well-being.

What’s true for your partner is also true for you. If you expend all of your energy looking after others without recharging your batteries, you’ll burn out. We charge our cell phones every night; why not ourselves? For people who are natural givers, this is a hard lesson to learn. But if your partner is consistently asking you to put aside your own needs for the sake of the relationship, that should be a red flag. Self-care is not selfish; it’s essential.

There’s a Dutch legend about a young boy who goes out walking one night by the canals. A storm comes to the area, and the water begins to rise. The boy notices a hole in the dike, and knows that if the hole is not plugged, the entire area will flood. Instead of returning home, he stops and puts his finger in the dike, spending the whole night outside in the cold, lying on his stomach, keeping the city safe. In the story, a towns person comes by in the morning and summons help, and the boy is a local hero. But what happens if no one comes by, or no one calls for help? Our friend says, “My natural impulse in relationships has always been to put my own needs aside and to think about the other person. I have the image of putting my finger in the dike to keep the floodgates from opening, except I’m putting my whole body in the dike. At first I feel like a hero, and then I realize that I can’t move.”

7. Emotional grown-ups plan and follow through.

We can fantasize about a free-spirited partner who whisks us off to Fiji on the spur of the moment with only a bathing suit and a toothbrush. But the reality is that long-term relationships require long-term planning. Children have the luxury of living exclusively in the here and now; grown-ups have to think about the future. The practical necessities of paying the rent and putting food on the table—not to mention paying for college and retirement—require a certain amount of planning. Emotional grown-ups have a plan and they follow through. If they promise to pick up the kids at a certain time, they’ll be there. If they are running late, they call. Trusting your partner is one key to feeling safe in a relationship. For emotional grown-ups, actions and words align.

8. Emotional grown-ups fight clean, not mean.

All couples disagree. It’s how you argue that makes all the difference in the world. Emotional grown-ups stick to the issue at hand; they call out your behavior rather than generalizing about your character. Instead of “What kind of a person spends $300 on a pair of jeans?” they say, “I really wish that money wasn’t an issue because you look amazing in those jeans, but the truth is I worry about how we’re spending our money.” While it’s tempting to bring up old arguments to prove why you’re right, or to pile old grudges on to the new, statements like “You always…” or “You never…” have no place in a grown-up argument.

Emotional grown-ups express their feelings without name-calling, blaming, shaming, or devaluing the other person. Cheap shots (“And by the way, you DO look fat in those jeans!”) and hitting below the belt (“You’re such a loser, just like your father!”) are not in their repertoire. We all like to win, but when you love someone, staying connected is more important than being right. Reality TV-style conflict makes good TV, but it makes terrible reality.

9. Emotional grown-ups can be flexible.

Emotional grown-ups know that there are multiple ways to get from A to B. Sometimes it’s important to let go of the need to always be right. Mothers are particularly guilty of this one: Wanting Dad to take his turn with baby, and then being upset that he doesn’t feed her the organic veggies, get her to nap at the “right” time, or put all the toys away in their proper place. Sharing responsibility means truly sharing—accepting the idea that if someone else is in charge, they get to make the rules. We all benefit from being exposed to new ways of doing things. Not only do both ways often work, but together they create a richer overall experience. Take the following example:

“We were never allowed to have junk food in the house, but when my mother had late meetings, my father would always take us to the drive-through. I have wonderful memories of open windows, music blasting, and the sweet smell of French fries. Those evenings with my father were truly special—memories of freedom and spontaneity.”

Recognizing that there is more than one way to be right leads to mutual respect—and an appreciation for your partner’s way of seeing things. Sameness is not closeness. The poet Khalil Gibran enjoined us to “fill each other’s cup but do not drink from one cup,” stressing the importance of maintaining your individuality in the context of a relationship. Appreciating your partner not only for the qualities and interests that you share, but also for those that you do not, enriches both of your lives.

10. Emotional grown-ups don’t need to be propped up.

Emotional grown-ups score low on narcissism. Narcissists take up all the air in the room; in order to feel good about themselves, they need others to adore them. When you live with a narcissist, it’s a full-time job attending to their needs—often so much so that you forget that you have needs of your own. It can feel good to bask in the reflected glory of your partner’s success. But here’s the problem: no matter how attentive you are to your narcissistic partner, you can never fill them up. Most of the time, they never get around to taking care of you.

Emotional grown-ups, on the other hand, can come into a room and say “There you are!” instead of “Here I am!” They may not be as flashy or colorful, but they are secure enough in themselves that they don’t need someone else to constantly prop them up. They both give and receive support. They are thrilled with their partner’s success—not as a reflection of them, but on its own merits. The highest form of romance is to be truly seen for who you are—and that requires a partner who can see outside the lens of his own reflection.

So what’s next?

Finding an emotional grown-up applies to both sides of a partnership. Before being with an emotional grown-up, you have to be an emotional grown-up. The movie Jerry McGuire did a head-trip on us with the line, “You complete me.” The phrase suggests that finding the right person will fill an emotional void; that love transforms us out of immaturity. On the contrary, love is the reward for doing the work of transformation! Any psychiatrist worth their salt knows that you don’t get anywhere simply by trying to get other people to change. At the end of the day, the major thing that stops us from finding an emotional grown-up may be that we have some growing up to do ourselves. If we cultivate these virtues in ourselves, they are much easier to spot in others. Now we are at the heart of the real fairy tale.

Robin Berman, MD is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, and the author of, Permission to Parent: How to Raise Your Child With Love and Limits.

Sonya Rasminsky, M.D. is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at University of California, Irvine. She has a private practice in Newport Beach, specializing in women’s mental health.

You Don’t Look Like You Have An Eating Disorder

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As I was scrolling through Facebook earlier today, a video titled “You Don’t Look Like You Have An Eating Disorder” caught my eye.

A group of people with, or who have survived, eating disorders were interviewed. The purpose was to show us the harmful misconceptions society hold about eating disorders and the impact this can have of those who suffer from them.

Please watch the video. There is a high chance a friend, family member or even a lover has an eating disorder – you just don’t know it because it’s so secretive. I know people in my life with them, and I’ve been blessed enough to have them open up so I can hear how they view themselves, what type of illness they have, how they do it, and why they do it. It’s incredibly confronting.

People with eating disorders are so shameful of the way they look. There is so much hatred and disgust when they look in the mirror. And unfortunately it doesn’t just alter their mood for an hour or so, they live with it every hour of everyday so the flow on effect is felt within their worlds as other relationships are affected by it. Is this not hell?

About 30 million people in the United States experience eating disorders at some point in their lives, but even more experience disordered eating; this is when “a wide range of abnormal eating behaviors, many of which are shared with diagnosed eating disorders.”

And people wonder why the body confidence movement is necessary! Not everyone may be comfortable looking at plus size, or petite, women online but the above statistics are related to the US ONLY. What if we could encourage and nurture more self love. Maybe people would focus inwardly and not be so critical of others which naturally perpetuates the cycle. And if we stop, or even slow down the cycle, we can reduce these these alarming stats.

Reading the materials and watching the videos has reinforced why I am again doing the Sydney Skinny. We need to learn to understand and accept our bodies. We need to stamp out these unnecessary and very harmful illnesses.

WatchCut has realised this video as part of a series to raise awareness during Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

The Hydro Majestic, Blue Mountains

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The Hydro Majestic is a jewel in Blue Mountains crown.

When I was 10, I remember driving past it in the back seat of the family car, and thinking how grand it was. The sprawling, white, art deco estate alongside the highway in the township of Medlow Bath;  a few kilometres from where I first saw and felt snow….but I digress….

Over 10 years ago a bunch of friends drove up for high tea – the food was OK but the venue was a dump. Like anything, or anyone, in life it needed to be nurtured and loved. Over the next few years, it was abandoned and neglected. Thankfully the hotel chain, The Escarpment Group, bought it, refurbished it, and polished it like the precious diamond it is.

What surprised me most as I walked through the various sections of the hotel is how few bedrooms there are. The bedrooms are confined to one small section of the venue, the rest of the building is lounges, foyers, eateries – even a grand ballroom! I spent over an hour walking through the building enjoying the different views over the valley and the super luxe furnishings.

My room was overlooking the valley and not surprisingly the room was small. The styling was consistent with the rest of the venue – art deco, blacks paired with bold colours, velvet and sheer fabrics. And the bed, well, that was big and comfortable – The Escarpment Group seem to consistently nail the beds! Pun may be intended….;)

As the room is small, which matches the era of the building, it’s a perfect venue for those who would rather socialise in the many saloons or enjoy the various sites within the Blue Mountains. For a more intimate time, Parklands may be more suitable as it has couches, fireplaces and are designed for couples to spend time focused on each other.

As the hotel is part of The Escarpment Group, it’s possible to enjoy the facilities at each other of the hotels – whether that be the various spas or restaurants throughout the hotels. I spent a few solid hours enjoying the view, poolside at Lilianfels. As did the flock of ducks which joined me!

Before heading out for dinner, and again before breakfast, I spent time walking through the gardens and admiring the outside of the building. Even though I was there in the middle of summer it was cool and misty. So much living has happened over the course of The Hydro’s life that you can feel the magic pouring out of the walls and in the surrounding air. It didn’t matter if I was walking in the rain, there is something so invigorating and intoxicating about history, especially when paired with nature.

The Hydro Majestic is a very special venue and I loved my visit – it won’t be long before I take another trip up the mountains even if it’s for a g&t with a lover, or high tea with the girls.

* My visit to The Hydro Majestic was courtesy of The Escarpment Group.

 

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Fried Mozzarella Sandwiches

It’s quite natural that as a restrict my refined carbohydrates and diary, and publish a DELICIOUS recipe for a fancy cheese sandwich. But seriously, is there a better comfort food, or casual date night food, than a perfectly made toasty.

I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I did….

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Recipe found: Vogue.com.au

Serves 4 

Preparation 25 min
Cooking 5 min

8 small country-style (farmhouse) bread slices
5 balls (150 g) mozzarella cheese, drained and sliced
2 eggs
3⁄4 cup (175 ml) milk
All-purpose (plain) flour, for dusting
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons (25 g) butter
Salt and pepper

Put the slices of mozzarella on half the bread and top with the remaining bread to make sandwiches. Beat the eggs in a shallow dish with the milk and season with salt and pepper. Dust the sandwiches with flour and place in the beaten eggs, pressing down gently with a spatula (fish slice) until they have absorbed some of the mixture.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet
or frying pan over medium-high heat, add the sandwiches, and cook for about 2 minutes on each side, until crisp and golden brown. Remove with
a spatula and drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

This recipe is extracted from The Silver Spoon: Quick and Easy Italian Recipes (Phaidon, $39.95).

REVIEW: Ryo’s, the best ramen in Sydney

Enjoying the Sydney food scene is a huge hobby of mine. I love experiencing the different types of cuisine available, the  restaurant decor, the atmosphere and most importantly the amazing produce this country of ours creates.

As enjoying food is so important to me, and my life journey, why not share some of these experiences on the blog? I am incredibly pleased to introduce a monthly restaurant review!!! They may be my favourite eateries, but it won’t be written by yours truly.

One one of my talented friends, Aimee, is a journo by trade but also the brains, and pen, behind Community Table – The People Behind The Food.

The first review is of Ryo’s in Crows Nest, Sydney. This is my favourite cheap eat in Sydney! It’s quick and the ramen is to die for. If you haven’t tried it, I would strongly recommend you visit.

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As soon as you sweep aside the noren curtains and push through the orange doors, you’re instantly greeted with a friendly Japanese smile and directed to your seat. It’s almost an identical experience to what you would get in Japan.

But that’s if you’re lucky enough to not have to wait in line to get in first. Come weekends Ryo’s is a favourite for many regulars who are looking for an authentic Japanese ramen experience, Japanese expats who want a taste of home, or those who want to relive their Japanese holiday over a bowl of noodles and soup.

The original Ryo’s is located in Crows Nest, but more recently the business opened up a second shop in Bondi Junction to cater for those who have long rated it as the place that serves up the best ramen in Sydney.

While it doesn’t have a large menu, Ryo’s serves up enough to tick the boxes for many tastebuds, including ramen in traditional pork broth, ramen in chicken soup for those wanting a lighter option, ramen in bolognese sauce, or rice dishes such as curry and rice or onigiri (rice balls). The menu has even been transcribed on butcher’s paper in kanji and stuck on the walls, adding to the authentic décor of a Tokyo noodle house.

But don’t come here expecting to be able to sit around and have long conversations; it’s more of an eat-and-run joint. You put in your order, head over to the counter to grab your self-service water in colourful plastic tumblers and complimentary pickled ginger– if that’s your thing – and as soon you get back your dishes will have arrived.

A favourite and the biggest seller is the ‘number 2’: A deep bowl of ramen in a thick and soy sauce flavoured pork soup, which is packed with roast pork slices, nori, egg, and shallots. When served, it’s only traditional to have a spoon in one hand, a set of chopsticks in the other, and to get your head down low to the bowl and slurp away.

If you’re easily tempted like we are, the chicken karaage is never a let down either. Served with Kewpie mayo, the bite-size chicken pieces are lightly battered and salted, and always crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.

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Changing The Way We Think About Food

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As you know, I am currently undertaking a radical shift in the way I eat until the end of February; no refined carbohydrates and no dairy (other than the occasional coffee).

When I saw this article on Goop.com, it came at the right time. It’s clear that I am struggling to maintain such a shift in my diet, so articles like the one below have been useful to keep me on track; in addition to keeping keeping my eye on the bigger picture.

However, in a typical situation, with work, family, social life and so on, my best intentions don’t always match what I actually put in my mouth. Below are some new ways to forge new pathways into the brain to change the way we think about food—and about our own ability to eat better.

 

Going Mind-to-Table

I’m going to come right out and say it: The way we’ve been thinking about New Year’s wellness resolutions is deeply flawed. Like clockwork, every January we vow to subsist on salad and protein, to steer clear of sugar and alcohol, and to exercise like maniacs.

But what we’re missing is the real groundwork to make lasting, sustainable changes; to execute new behaviors that become habits; and to keep honoring them after that tropical vacation or much-anticipated social event. I think about this a lot because I’m in the business of helping people make healthy changes for the right reasons. Changes that really stick because, over time, the behaviors take less effort to execute. Eventually, it feels pretty good to keep them up.

Researchers have examined the success rates of New Year’s resolutions and found that people tend to crush it in January, but start dropping off after that. By the next holiday season, we tend to be right back where we started…sometimes a step or two behind. We scold ourselves for lacking self-control, and then, as if the prior year was a fluke, we recommit to the same resolutions all over again.

How can so many of us be so tremendously motivated to lose weight but not follow through? (Hint: It’s not because we’re the worst.) I’d argue we’re actually stacking the odds against ourselves because you can’t change your weight or your lifestyle until you change your mindset.

Knowing What You Need to do Is Not Enough

I realized something career-altering early on in my practice: Most of my clients could immediately rattle off all the things they ought to be doing—limiting added sugar, exercising portion control, making better choices at restaurants, and not self-sabotaging. The biggest problem was not knowing how to make the changes. So, while I still make meal plans and talk portion sizes, a big part of my practice is not just about what to change, but how to change. And not just for a week or a month.

Willpower: A Misunderstood Skill

Have you ever come home after a grueling day with every intention of whipping up a healthy meal, only to find yourself eating cereal over the sink? Or put off a morning workout for “later” only to be burned out at the end of a brutal workday? This phenomenon is called ego-depletion. We all have a self-discipline fuel tank that we use throughout the day—checking off our to-do lists, moderating emotions, making big decisions. Once our tanks are empty, we’re much more likely to make impulsive decisions that aren’t consistent with what we really want. No wonder we throw in the towel on our wellness goals!

Before you get discouraged, I want to clear up a couple of things. For starters, willpower is not a trait some of us are born with and others are not. It’s a skill. In this context, it’s the ability to pause and consider our wellness goals before jumping on an impulse (for instance, choosing berries for dessert instead of a decadent baked good). Yes, it’s hard, but the good news is willpower is like a muscle—it can be built up.

Making Your Mind Fit

Weighing short-term wants (like sugar) against big-picture wellness goals requires a good deal of focus and attention. A lot of this work goes down in the prefrontal cortex area of the brain, which regulates thoughts, emotions, and decision-making. Although this area is the most evolved region of the brain, it’s also the most vulnerable to stress. Even periodic instances of unchecked stress can dramatically impede its functioning. This is why so many office dwellers end up hitting the communal pantry for stale-ish pretzels when their inboxes feel insurmountable. Luckily, it’s possible to adapt our conditioning toward these types of triggers, giving us more flexibility and perspective when the s%&# inevitably hits the fan.

Until 20 years ago, it was assumed that only young brains were able to form new connections between nerve cells. Thankfully, we’re actually much more flexible than that. Our brains undergo constant structural and connective changes throughout life in response to experiences and specific, directed thoughts through a process called neuroplasticity. This means we can develop favorable skills and behaviors (like better self-control, for instance), even if those skills and behaviors don’t come naturally to us.

“Mind-fitness” happens by focusing on skills that make us feel more in charge of our decisions. Skills like self-regulation are especially important for sustained weight loss because they help us remain clear-headed under pressure. This gives us more objectivity when considering short-term wants versus big-picture goals, and better impulse control. You can imagine how helpful this ability is when you’re over-tired or post-breakup at a portion-less dinner.

Slowing down and focusing on moment-to-moment experiences improves self-regulation, which is why you can’t walk five steps without someone talking about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. But I’ve found that simply telling someone to eat more mindfully is usually eye-roll-inducing at best. People know they should be more present while they’re eating, but many don’t know how. So I started recommending techniques that help remedy that.

Goals, Goals, Goals

Since a significant part of making healthy choices comes down to considering your big-picture wellness goals, it’s crucial to understand what they are.

  1. What is it you want?
  2. What’s motivating you?
  3. Are your goals realistic?

Ask yourself these questions and dig deep. If you want to lose weight because your mother or partner hints that you should, I’d strongly consider re-evaluating. If you want to lose weight because you believe once you do you’ll finally land your dream job or dream partner, I’d urge you to re-evaluate again. But if you’re motivated to make lifestyle changes because you want to feel better, more confident, and to be a leaner, stronger, healthier version of yourself, you’re headed in the right direction.

The next important step is making sure your goals are within reach. Setting realistic goals helps you stick with them, rather than getting discouraged when you can’t follow through. Instead of making blanket declarations like “I’m quitting sugar,” opt for something more reasonable like, “I’m avoiding all added sugar in coffee, salad dressings, nut butters, etc., but I’m still going to have one fruit a day, and portion-controlled complex carbs, like 1/2 cup beans or lentils and 1/2 a sweet potato.”

Once your goals are clear, write them down on a notepad or on your phone, and keep them available to you as a reminder.

Know Your Roadblocks

Understanding and empathizing with your roadblocks is crucial, because it helps identify specific strategies. One of my clients was having a particularly hard time with dinner. She loved cooking, but felt overwhelmed by how many recipes she had pinned and screen-shotted. She felt pressure to constantly try out new recipes, but by the time she got home from work and decided on one, a Postmate was already en route. Also, she used to go to the farmer’s market weekly, but found she only used her produce some of the time, so she stopped altogether because she felt guilty about wasting food. So now there were never any fresh veggies on hand to whip up a healthy dinner.

The solution here was pretty straightforward: structure and self-compassion. Instead of worrying about the self-imposed pressure of whipping up new dishes every week, we sat down and made a list of her favorite dishes to rotate through. She could experiment once a week if she felt inspired, but it wasn’t something she had to do in order to feel successful. Since she knew what she was cooking ahead of time, she could Instacart the ingredients from work. Structure and planning always come up in my sessions because when we provide more structure (like having pre-determined recipes and groceries en-route) we don’t actually need as much discipline. The second part was about letting go of the guilt of wasting food. We can all agree that wasting food is a bummer and we’d rather not if we can avoid it but, in my client’s case, the guilt of potential food waste was preventing her from stocking up on fresh produce. Letting go of that guilt meant setting herself up for the week.