Wellness Wednesday: This strategy is helping me combat binge eating

It fills me up.

Me, in conversation with my therapist.

I wasn’t describing binge eating, a habit that developed in my late teens. Going on 68, I continue to examine the drive which stands in shocking contrast to all my healthy behaviors like a lifetime membership in Weight Watchers and a daily exercise regime which helped me recover from a near-fatal illness in 2019.

Binge eating feels driven by emotional desperation. I need. I need. Feed me. Feed me. Although the subsequent gorging on carbohydrates follows as if the only possible response, I end up feeling stuffed without feeling satisfied.

Binge eating doesn’t fill me.

But meditation does.

Meditation calms the beast

Twice daily, I stop, step away from whatever I’m doing, go outdoors to a chair in our garden, and sit for 20-30 minutes.

When I do this, I re-calibrate my thermostat from “I’m too busy to sit down” to “I’m just here, breathing.” It has worked wonders in reducing stress-induced eating which otherwise can sabotage a day, a weekend, or an entire week.

So, how have I managed to make this change? There are a few key steps that have helped.

Put it on your calendar

When I worked in an office, I learned that scheduling time on my calendar for my midday workouts kept that hour free from meetings. I recall the conversation that made the point, when a colleague said that she needed to see me at a certain time but saw that I had a meeting on my calendar. I almost said, “Oh, that’s just my workout.” But I kept my mouth shut, and of course we found another time to meet. And I got my workout in.

Today, I schedule my meditation breaks at 11 and 4, and they are announced by an alarm on my iPhone/Apple Watch/iPad. I have the luxury of being home most of the time, and simply walk out to my meditation chair.

I’m off the clock

Me, to my husband, and also to myself

Link to another good habit

All of us connect things in our daily schedule: creating the to-do list after breakfast; walking the dog before doing the dishes (and with any luck someone else has done them when you get home!); the step-down behaviors—chamomile tea, calm music, reading in bed— that lead our body to sleep. The experts call it habit stacking.

The best way to form a new habit is to tie it to an existing habit.

Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times

I already have two events scheduled for late morning:

So, when my Easy Kegel notification goes off at 11, I take my iPhone and a piece of fruit and head out to my meditation spot. My 2 minute exercise on the app brings my focus inward, I eat my snack mindfully, and then it’s eyes closed, seeking peace.

Engage the mind

It took a while to relax into nothingness, and I am not always successful at staying in the zone once I find it. Structure helped.

When I began this practice, I needed to engage my mind, to distract me from being distracted. This 54321 sensory exercise pulled me into the present.

This exercise evolved. Some days, I counted how many shades of green I could see, or how many different types of bird calls I could hear. Eventually, I noticed myself settling in for brief periods of just being there. And one day I noticed I was no longer counting, only being.

Practice, practice, practice

Here’s the hard part. You actually have to do this. The more you do it, the more you realize how much you need to do this.

Some days, it’s easier. Some days, not so much. Some days, you forget. The next day, you get it back on the schedule.

Because for me, meditation fills me up, way more than a box of carbs.

My meditation view
My meditation view

Three Pandemic Habits You Should Keep

Structure has been our saving grace during the unending pandemic, when days seem to bleed into each other and the hours stretch on forever. The order that used to be imposed on my retired life by medical appointments, casual errands, breakfasts with friends, and dinner dates with my husband evaporated March 13, and I had to create structure from inside in order to make it these ten months.

In her recent article for The New York Times, Tara Parker-Pope urges us to continue the self-care habits that the pandemic imposed on us. Here are three strategies for encouraging healthy behavior.

Create accountability

We do better when someone’s watching, even when we’re the ones doing the watching.

Gretchen Rubin, author of “Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits” as quoted by Tara Parker-Pope, NYT

I’ve set up my Apple Watch to ask me to breathe once an hour, and I often disregard it only to find myself spinning in place mid-day. Breathe!

When I graduated from pelvic floor therapy a year ago, I asked my nurse practitioner if I should continue doing the exercises. “Only if you don’t want to leak,” she said. Got it. I installed Easy Kugel on my iPhone along with reminders to do my pelvic floor exercises four times a day. I do them.

My healthy eating habits were organized by Weight Watchers for many years, but it only worked when I actually tracked what I ate. Darn it. There are lots of food tracking apps out there, including the one I’m using these days, My Fitness Pal.

It you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

WW adage

Use your pod

My physical pod is small: we are two people and a dog. I’ve made an effort during these months to be in touch with family across the country and with friends near and far. I sent my holiday cards out in October, and thank goodness for telephones and electronic media.

Kumba’s routine is my routine: his breakfast is followed by a long morning walk, his 5PM dinner reminds me to do my pelvic floor exercises, and then we take a leisurely evening walk. My husband and I encourage each other’s creative work: he’s my first reader, and I’m the first audience for his abstract paintings. Once a week, we go out into the world together for a couple of hours of fresh salt air and whooshing waves. Kumba is learning to deal with separation anxiety.

Stay active

It has been very easy to sit through the pandemic. Our daughter, whose hospital days used to guarantee her 10,000 daily steps, now finds herself working remotely in a chair on Zoom. The 24/7 news cycle can capture us for hours, and Netflix’s endless options enables hours more of binge-watching.

Here’s where electronics are super handy for me. The Apple Fitness app on my Apple Watch encourages me to close three activity circles tracking moving, exercise, and standing throughout the day. It’s a feedback loop I count on. There are loads of other apps. WW partners with Fit On, a free app that has loads of audio and video workouts that have expanded my routines.

Be accountable, use your pod, stay active

Congratulations for making it through these long ten months! Keep using your pandemic strategies to stay healthy as we look toward the vaccine and easier times.

Together, Again!

I have recovered sufficiently since coming home from Amsterdam in August to have reconnected with many people and places in my community. In fact, I’ve never better understood the dearness this place holds for me.

Of course, I’d never lost the connection with our dear daughter: Victoria was bedside with me in the ICU and welcomed me back to the United States at her workplace, Shands Hospital. She was at my side when we returned to Shands earlier this month for a clean CT scan.

At the Butterfly Exhibit, Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville FL

My South Florida neighborhood friends have gone out of their way to encourage and support me. My friend Maria Consuelo (Coni) and I do a pool workout every Sunday morning, catching up on each other’s lives and racking up a whole lot of strength-producing activity.

April, another neighbor, has driven me to Weight Watchers once a month. It’s a program I’ve been a part of for a decade now. I have gained about 30 of the 35 pounds I lost in Amsterdam using the healthy WW food and activity structure. Food for thought?

This week I closed the loop with two more critical parts of my pre-Amsterdam life: my car and writer friends.

My husband and I have spent more time sitting next to each other during the past six months than we have in many, many years. It’s is one of the multiple silver linings of my medical saga.

My ten year-old Prius sat in our driveway for the three months we were in Amsterdam, and it sat for another three months while I slowly recovered my body and my wits at home. My car and I are so simpatico that it actually died while I was away, leaving a ghostly, weed-filled outline on our driveway.

My ten year-old Prius
A sandy garden sprouted under my car while it waited for me to recover.

Since our return, my husband has been my dedicated chauffeur, ferrying me to doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, blood labs. A couple of weeks ago, we switched seats, with me driving his Highlander and he in the passenger seat: like a teenager on training wheels, I drove slowly around the neighborhood for a few days, and eventually pulled through the gates into the larger world.

This week, Ray put a new battery in my baby, and I sat myself down in the driver’s seat for a solo lap around the neighborhood. Felt like I was finally home. Off I went for a massage and a doctor’s appointment, aware of my surroundings and profoundly grateful. I I have not fired Ray as my go-to chauffeur. But now he has a go-to chauffeur in me, too.

Al Pessin’s hysterical murder mystery

And this weekend I spent a wonderful evening with writer friends. The occasion was the production of Al Pessin‘s new murder-mystery farce, Murder at the Butcher’s, winner of the Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Awards Dahris Clair Award for Best Play of 2019.

Scroll in for a chuckle. Al swears he did not pose for this creepy creation.

It was silly: one character had the notion to open an Elvis Presley-themed garden center called Thank You Very Mulch. It was nerdy: the butcher delighted in identifying figures of speech mid-dialogue. It was a madcap evening in which murder, love, language, and cue cards played with a happy audience and everything turned out just right. I hope many more audiences, far and wide, will have the opportunity to enjoy this romp.

Al and friends onstage “at the butcher’s”

The production was in the Willow Theater at Sugar Sand Park where we must return during the daylight: what a great family complex with a community center, a science explorium, an athletic facility, and a carousel!

sugarsandpark.org

Yesterday’s Virgo horoscope describes the way my husband and I now approach life:

Wherever you go, arrive as a tourist: it’s the heightened awareness that helps you see everything as new, interesting, and delightful.”

Virgo horoscope, pbpost November 24, 2019

Wishing you such an outlook!