Friday, December 16, 2011


Hey Hey!  I know I've been MIA and I am planning on writing about why in the coming weeks.  Anyway I just came across this great TED talk (LOVE TED!) given by Brene Brown on vulnerability and had to share it.  For me this talk hits on all of the things I have learned in Program.  Enjoy!

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Asking the Right Questions

I talk to morbidly obese patients everyday. I teach them, counsel them, eat with them, and spend endless hours reading their journals. These patients have a story to tell, but we aren't listening and we continue asking the wrong questions.
When I first read the last line of the above quote I almost stood up and gave a “Grey’s Anatomy” slow clap, but I was home alone and that would have been weird.  Nonetheless, there was a sense of “Yes, finally someone gets it!”  (Actually, there are a lot of people who get, and if you look to the right of your screen and click on the some of my favorite blogs, you will see for yourself.)  The reason this line resonated with me so much is because it is so spot on.  In our society being overweight is looked at as "you are lazy and a pig.  Just stop eating!"  But many (most) times weight loss is not simply about "eat less, move more." 
Originally, I came across the post that contained this quote from an article titled "20%-40% of Obese Women Were Sexually Abused"  .  This title did not suprise me. I know the statistics and correlation between women who were abused sexually, physically, or emotionally that end up being overweight.  Finally, people are starting to acknowledge this and that is what has me excited. 
As I continued reading I got all "You go girl!" when I read this quote:  
Yes just yes.  I and just about every other overweight person I know knows how to count calories and lose weight.  It's the keeping it off that is problematic.  For that we need to dig deeper.  To make any weight loss successful and long lasting we need to ask the right questions.  The right questions are not "How many calories does this piece of bread have in it?" or "How many minutes of cardio did you get in at the gym today?"  Real change comes when we acknowledge that one does not become obese or mobidly obese simply from enjoying one too many milkshakes or from being lazy.  It is so much deeper than that.  I know from my own personal experience it's not until you start asking the right questions that you eventually start getting the right answers.
While I can't relate to the experience of being sexually abused, I can relate to using food to self-soothe.  I was an anxious kid who has grown up to be an anxious adult.  Food was how I sought comfort.  Being the child of a single parent I often was scared of something happening to my mom--my one remaining parent.  Where would me and my brother live?  Who would take care of us?  What if my mom got sick?  If I heard my mom agonizing over bills it became: What if we become homeless? Am I old enough to get a job to help my mom out?  The worry was endless.  Overeating and being full to the point of discomfort has a way of shutting the worry off.  It numbs you so that the questions, worry, and fear go silent, even if just for a little while.  
I understand that on a physical level losing weight is about eating better and moving your body.  I get it and there is no (legitimate) doctor, pyschologist, or counselor in the world who will dispute that.  But in order to keep making the right choices, not to overeat and to exercise, you first have to work on the excess pounds in your head and (this is my strugglekeep working at it day after day.  In life worry, fear, and anxiety still come up often.  By having others around me asking the right questions I have slowly learned how to deal with these emotions without overeating.  My goal is to keep practicing this one day at a time. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mothers and Daughters

The other day while I was laid up on the couch with cramps that had me contemplating a hysterectomy popping a few Tylenol I decided to turn on the television to try and get my mind off the pain.  I turned to this new talk show and the topic happened to be about a daughter confronting her mother about verbally abusing her about her weight.  Let me paint this picture for you:
It was a black family of three; a mother and her two daughters.  The mother was morbidly obese, one of the daughter was obese and the other daughter who was skinny.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this is a recipe for disaster.  The daughter who was overweight told of how her mother favored the skinnier sister and often bought her clothes and talked about how pretty she was.  However, when it came to her- the obese one- she was called “fat a$$”  “fat b*tch” etc.  The mom claimed that she was just trying to help her daughter and encourage her to lose weight.  At one point the mom stood up and started yelling “Do you want to be like me?!!?”  “Do you want to be lonely and fat like me!?!”  Next, the skinnier daughter comes out and is proud to be the skinny one and tells her sister “You need to lose some weight.”  Meanwhile, this sister has admitted to sleeping with two of the fat sister’s boyfriends.  While the talk show host begins questioning why she would betray her sister in such a way, guess what the mom does.  Yup, she jumps in and defends her skinny daughter claiming “men will be men” and “I warned the men about her”  “All men are dogs.”  This mom did not demand that her daughter take any responsibility for her actions, because she was skinny, while at the same time she blamed the overweight daughter for being fat and “always wanting something in her mouth.”  This was self-hate at its very ugliest on the part of all three women.  This is what happens when a woman who hates herself ends up raising daughters.
The relationship between a mother and daughter is always complicated.  Add in the issues of weight, body image, and self-esteem this relationship can become destructive.  The more I pull back the layers behind my own weight and body image issues I keep coming back to the fact that I am my mother’s daughter.  I love my mom and I have no doubt that she loves me.  With that said she has struggled with her weight for most of her life and she has admitted to me that she has let it stop her from doing things in her life she has wanted to do.  As a child, when you here the one person you love most in the world call themselves a “fat ass” as a joke it leaves an impression.  And not a good one.  As an adult who has been working through these very issues I can say my weight is not my mother or anyone else’s fault.  It’s not even my own “fault” per se, but it is my problem and recognizing that there are aspects of my relationship with my mom in which my compulsive overeating and body image issues stem from is one way I am working through this problem.
One of the main reasons why I want to get past these issues and learn to love and treat myself and my body with respect is because I want to be a mom someday.  When I do become a mom there is a 50% chance I will have at least one daughter.  I don’t ever want my daughter to hear me call myself a “fat ass” or have her see me look in the mirror and grab a roll of fat in self-disgust.  I want to teach her that food is nourishment for your body and that her self-worth comes from loving others and being loved.  And since I cannot give what I do not have I need to possess these qualities myself.  Because 20 years from now I refuse to be standing on someone’s talk show screaming at my daughter “I don’t want you to be like me.”

Friday, October 7, 2011

Learning to Take Care of Myself

Early on in Program my sponsor would ask me, "What nice thing are you going to do for yourself today?"  The first few times she asked me this I would respond "I don't know, umm, watch tv."  The first time I said this she accepted it by the second or third time she asked "Is tv like food for you?"  "Huh?" I responded.  "Well does it help you to zone out and go numb like food does?"  "Damn, how did she know," I thought to myself.  My sponsor challenged me to find ways outside of food and tv to be compassionate towards myself.

In the last few years I have learned how to take care of myself without stuffing my face full of food.  The progress I have made in this area has become abundantly clear to me in the last few months.  For example, today I was exhausted for two reasons.  The first being it is that time of the month and my energy level typically plummets during this special time and second, I did not get to sleep until after 12:30 last night which is extremely late for me.  I could not even complete my run this morning because my body was just telling me to sit down somewhere.  Once I got home from my run/walk instead of stuffing my face with comfort food I took a nap.  A long one.  I rested and put some things on hold that I planned to do today.  Then, to top it all off I did not beat myself up for not doing work that I wanted to get done.  Those were the nice things I did for myself today.

In the past I probably would have eaten a lot of food that made me extremely tired and thus given me an excuse to take a nap.  After my nap I would have kept reminding myself of everything I should have done, could have done, or would have done had I not taken a nap, not to mention the regret of having eaten ridiculous amounts of food. 

Today I did not do that.  Today I showed myself self-compassion, and while this is not an everyday occurrence it is becoming more frequent.  I am still very much a work in progress.  But, as we say in Program...Progress Not Perfection!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

5 Lessons Learned From Running

As a kid I hated running.  Makes sense, right?  I was the fat kid.  The fat kid and the Presidential Fitness Run do not get along.  In high school I dreaded the 1st and 4th quarters because it meant our gym teachers would take us out once a week to run 3/4 of a mile.  It wasn’t even a full mile and it still took me nearly the whole period to complete it.  I was always the last one to finish.
One time during my junior year on one of these ¾ milers I was by far the last one.  My friends in the class, as a show of support, began cheering and clapping for me.  I ran the last 100 meters under the guise that their support helped me run a little harder.  The truth is I wanted to get them to shut up quicker.  I hated having all eyes on me as the last one to finish.  I felt so bad I nearly started crying, but being fat in high school is bad enough, I didn’t need to be labeled as a cry baby as well.  I held the tears in and pretended to appreciate the cheers.
Even with my disdain for running, I often secretly wished to become a “runner.”  Every time I attempted to lose weight I pictured myself crossing the finish line of a marathon, or at least a 5k.  This time is no different.  For the past few years I have been running off and on.  Since I moved back to New Jersey I started running around the neighborhood I live and then I found a trail close to home that’s great because it’s flat.  I don’t do hills-yet.  I don’t run great distances or fast, but I run (or jog if you want to get technical), and I have learned a few lessons as a result.
1. Music makes it all better.  I love music.  On my MP3 player (yeah mp3 not an IPod) I have all types of music: hip-hop, R&B, rock, dance, pop, alternative, neo-soul.  In the past I often heard of the healing powers of music.  Going through a breakup?  Put on some breakup music.  Experiencing one of life’s hard times- nothing like the blues.  For me, I came to music’s healing potential while trying to push myself to run just a little farther.  If I can make it through this Beyonce song then my time while be up or almost up.  These days I often turn my music all the way up and blast Beyonce, Lil Wayne, Eminem, P!nk, Avril Lavigne, Maroon 5 and whoever else I am in the mood for.  Music gets me into the zone, plain and simple.
2. Clothes can make the runner. The seasons are changing in my neck of the woods.  Meaning that instead of it being 80 degrees at 7 o’clock in the morning it is now around 55 and the other day it was in the 40s (WTF?).  Since I have moved a couple of times in the last few months I have lost much of the outerwear I had that I preferred to run in.  To remedy this I took a trip to Target yesterday to purchase a new running jacket.  I bought a hot pink zip up hoodie.  Wearing that hoodie for the first time this morning was most likely the only reason I got up this morning to run.  Hot pink is and has always been my favorite color and not to brag, but it looks damn cute on me.  While running I knew I wasn’t the fastest or skinniest runner on the trail, but my new hoodie made me feel like the cutest and that gave me more confidence to keep going. 
3. The power of positive thinking.  In most of my day to day life I often have a negative dialogue going on with myself.  “You’re too fat,” “You can’t do that,” “You’re not smart enough”- and these are some of the nicer comments.  A couple of years ago I was on the treadmill and struggling to keep going.  The negative self talk was playing louder than my music and I wanted to stop.  I consciously made a decision to tell myself I could do it.  I started saying things like “Good job Tiff”  “You are doing so good” “Just a little further to go” “You can do it.”  As cheesy as these comments may seem I could actually feel myself stand up a little straighter and relax just enough to let me continue running.  Since then, I often encourage myself while running telling myself I am doing a great job or saying things like “You could have never done this five years ago- keep it up!”  I am working on transferring this kind of self-talk into my life outside of running.
4. Your core is more than stomach muscles.  This may seem like common sense to some, but it wasn’t to me.  When I first started increasing my running times- from say 15 seconds to a full minute (seriously), shortly thereafter I would get this pain in my lower back.  I thought it just meant I needed to stretch, but after doing some research (i.e. googling “lower back pain after running”) I discovered it could be an indicator of weak core muscles.  Why would that affect my back? I wondered.  Well it turns out the core includes your abs, as well as, the lower back.  The core is the band of muscles that extend all the way around: front, sides, and back.  While running all these muscles take a pounding and since most people neglect their back while trying to build core strength these muscles tend to be weaker.  Once I found this out I began doing strength exercises to build the muscles of my lower back.  Guess what happened?  The back pain disappeared!  Lately, I have been slacking off because my lower back has been complaining after I run.  Back to working on those lower back muscles.  Sometimes I need to learn things more than once in order for it to stick!
5. Endorphins are God’s gift to those of us who choose not to indulge in illegal narcotics.  Before I ever experienced it for myself I had heard of runner’s high.  I never believed it would happen to me.  I had also heard that exercise is ideal for those suffering from depression because of the endorphin rush.  As someone who has suffered from depression for years (that’s another post for another day) I thought maybe it could be beneficial for me.  When I began working out I didn’t really experience anything.  Even once I started adding running to my workout I didn’t feel much.  Then, out of nowhere, one day I felt it.  After running on the treadmill for 20-30 minutes I would feel invincible or at least like I could take on the rest of the day.  I have yet to experience “runner’s high” while actually running, but I am betting that is coming.  For now, I can settle for the rush I get after my run/walk/workout. 
I am sure this list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lessons learned from running.  I am anxious to see what comes next.  Maybe patience?
Have you learned anything from running or any other activity you do?    

Monday, September 12, 2011

What the Ten Year Anniversary of 9/11 Taught Me

This was going to be a different post.  I planned to write about something else, but then yesterday happened.  As you all know, yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.  I remember exactly where I was that morning ten years ago and I remember everything I felt that day.  Therefore, I decided I was going to avoid coverage of the anniversary.  I felt as if the media were sensationalizing the events of that day.  I watched a little bit of the memorial dedication in the morning and did not turn the tv back on all day.  At 8 o’clock last night I finally caved in and watched a documentary of a group of firemen who were there on that day.
 I had seen this particular documentary before, but I couldn’t look away.  As I watched I thought about the lives that were lost that day and about the town that I live in now.  I live in a commuter town where a number of people commute to New York City on a daily basis.  Within close proximity of my home there are two buses, a ferry, and a train station all leading to New York.  My town is known as the town with the highest number of September 11th casualties for any town outside of New York.  There is a memorial at the train station dedicated to those from this town who perished on that day.  I’ve been there.  The saddest part is imagining these people waiting for their train to come, going to work, sitting at their desk, and then never making it home.  They simply went to work and never came back. 
At this point it sounds cliché, but that is the truth.  It was an ordinary day.  But how many times has this happened?  Someone goes to work or out to run an errand and never returns having gotten into a car accident or something like that.  What makes Septemember 11th so tough, for me, is that so many lives were lost and the most horrific part was, this was no accident.  Human beings plotted and carried these attacks out against other human beings.  I still cannot comprehend it ten years later.
As I watched that documentary yesterday a thought kept creeping into my mind: I want my life to mean more.  If nothing else, these attacks show us how precarious life is.  I am sure many of those people that died had plans to have dinner with friends that night, or see a movie, or go on a weekend trip and they never made it.  How many do you think kept thinking “someday I will (fill in the blank)” and never got to do it? 
For me this anniversary shone a mirror to my face.  Life is uncertain.  There are many things I have been putting off until “I had more money” or “I was ready” or (my personal favorite) “Once I lose weight.”  In doing and saying these things I put my life on hold.  I tricked myself into believing I had more time than I actually do, because I don’t know how much time I have.  None of us do.  It’s scary to think of one’s own death.  None of us wants to do it.  So we keep living on autopilot as though that will keep us safe from dying.  I read a quote once that sums it up this way: “Some people are so afraid to die that they never begin to live.” 
For a long time I have done this.  I kept telling myself, once I graduate high school and go to college I will start to live, then it became once I graduate college and start working I will being to live, then it was once I find the right career, and it has ALWAYS been once I lose weight I will live.  Yesterday, was a reminder that I don’t have that kind of time.  If I want to do or be something then I need to start doing and being it now because right now is where life is.  There are many things that I have put off for tomorrow and now I plan to start working on them today.  Here’s a list of things I have always wanted to do but kept putting off:
1. Become better with my personal finances
2. Run the Broad Street Run 10 miler- in Philadelphia
3. Learn to swim
4. Travel more and live abroad (again)
5. Get married and have a family
6. Forgive people from my past
7. Forgive and love myself
8. Go camping
These are just a few, but it’s a great start.  Do you have a list of things you have been putting off?