Cissy Brady-Rogers
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Archive for February, 2013

Senior High Girls Support Group


A new study points the finger of responsibility for the “worldwide pandemic of Type 2 diabetes” at beverage manufacturers. Try as they might to deny it, avoid it, or point the finger at some other industry or genetics, each new study backs up what my mom told us when we were kids, “Coke is not food. It’s colored sugar water and we don’t drink it in our house.”

Back in 1999 one brave leader in the food manufacturing industry gathered 11 C.E.O.’s from the largest companies in America. His plan to “warn the C.E.O.’s that their companies may have gone too far in creating and marketing products that posed the greatest health concerns” and become part of the solution–fell flat on it’s face. The bottom-line is sales, not nutrition. “Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste good.”

Yet, at the same time, those very manufacturers were investing major money in the science of manipulating our taste buds to eat more, so they could sell more.

Greed, greed, greed. No interest in nutrition or health.

That’s why reading labels is important.  Any so-called “food” that has any ingredients listed that my mom wouldn’t have served, I don’t eat. Although, there was a period of time when she bought instant breakfast and space food sticks.  But that’s a story for another blog.

Today an article on my homepage offered me tips on fighting belly fat after 40.  It wasn’t bad information, but the headline is a poor choice for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

Fear of fat, both in food and on the body, is a major player in the onset and perpetuation of eating disorders–especially anorexia. More people die from anorexia than any other mental illness.

Fear of fat, the war on obesity, and all the “fat fighting” products and formulas are, in my opinion, doing more harm than good when it comes to promoting sustainable health promoting behaviors. We have to work with our bodies, not against them. Like any relationship, if we come at it with our fists up, the natural response is to defend against the threat of attack.

Neurologically, fear only motivates short term behavior changes. For long-term, sustainable changes, the neo-cortex (which shut downs when fear is activated in our autonomic nervous system) must be engaged. This wise, rational part of our brain is most effectively activated by compassionate, open, accepting and loving attitudes and communication.

In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I say, how about working with your belly fat, not fighting it.  Maybe you don’t have to “love your belly” or “fall in love with fat” as others have, but how about dropping the fear and fight mentality. Your belly just might be more cooperative if you do.

Misogyny and female objectification scored another major victory Sunday night at the Oscars. I posted on Facebook that it was the stupidest show I’d ever seen. A young female friend whom I greatly respect thanked the Oscars for wildly entertaining her.  I thought it might be sarcasm, but she noted that I needed to remember she had a crude 13 year old boy sense of humor.

That pretty much sums it up. Our societal disconnection from the sacredness of our bodies leaves us with no better story about female bodies than Oscar offered Sunday. We live in a culture so saturated with this kind of disgraceful, disrespectful treatment of women and our bodies that even the intelligent, thoughtful women among us found it entertaining.

I don’t fault those who found it humorous. This is what we know.  This is what Hollywood has trained us to find entertaining. Schooled at the movies and television, we’ve become a culture of 13 year old boys when it comes to our bodies.

Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

My pastor Chris spoke yesterday on slowing down as a spiritual practice for Lent.  It reminded me of my Great Uncle Solanus Casey who lived in a way that reflected what spiritual writer Evelyn Underhill referred to as the “leisure of eternity.” I aspire to follow my great uncle’s example, but I am easily distracted, often rush, and don’t like driving in the slow lane–despite knowing it is good for me.

My Great Uncle Venerable Solanus Casey, OFM

Solanus Casey, a Capuchin priest who died in 1957,  is the first American born male declared “Venerable”by the Catholic Church–the first of three steps to canonization which confirms official declaration of sainthood.

When Solanus died in 1957, over 20,000 attended his funeral mass in Detroit where much of his ministry took place. In addition to an extensive ministry of prayer and counsel to people with physical, emotional and spiritual ailments, during the depression he helped start a soup kitchen which continues to serve the hungry today.

In spite of a potentially exhausting schedule–sometimes working up to eighteen hours a day–he never exhibited impatience, even when occasions warranted it. People said he was never in a hurry but lived in what he referred to as “faithfulness to the present moment” with himself and others.

At the height of his ministry of prayer and spiritual counsel, people would patiently wait for hours to meet with Solanus.  Apparently, he wasn’t distracted by the dozens of people waiting, but offered his undivided attention to whomever he was sitting with. His patient presence spread to those waiting  who reported that it was easier to wait knowing they too would receive his full attention.

The image of Solanus in his simple brown robe and glasses, praying with hurting people, feeding the hungry, consoling the suffering, never in a hurry, inspires me to practice being faithful to the present moment like he did. Specifically, at least for the rest of Lent, that means no attempts at multitasking (it’s really neurologically impossible despite my fantasy that it works), no listening to media or phone calls while driving. That last one will be especially challenging. But a recent dinner conversation with a friend whose nephew was killed in a car crash due to distracted driving keeps coming to mind every time I get on my phone.

How about you?

Where in your life do you go so fast that you aren’t fully present with yourself and others?

What would slowing down and living with the leisure of eternity look like in your life?

What one small change could you make to practice being fully present?

Studies in attachment reveal that it’s the repair of breaks in attachment, not their absence, that builds security and solidifies a child’s sense of being loved and lovable. Rupture and repair is an expected and necessary feature of all enduring relationships. In fact, even people like myself, who grew up with an insecure attachment pattern, can go on to form lasting love bonds by making sense of our painful developmental years.

Similarly, it isn’t the absence of sin that deepens our capacity for love, but sin itself is the way God’s love enters our hearts. In our brokenness we cry out for help, we open our hearts to God’s love so that as we are forgiven, we can also forgive ourselves and extend forgiveness to others. Sin is a rupture in relationship–with God, with ourselves, with each other.  Forgiveness is the way love repairs the rupture.

Sin teaches us about love.

There’s a story about a female “sinner” massaging Jesus’ feet with oil, crying tears of love over him and breaking all the rules of polite dinner parties. Jesus welcomes her affection and even turns it into a lesson on love and forgiveness. Speaking to the well respected host who isn’t  identified as a sinner in the story, Jesus says:

“Her sins, which are many, are forgiven for she loved much, but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

In my teenage and young adult years I strongly identified with this woman. While the more respectable church goers didn’t reveal blatant struggles with sin, I regularly showed up requesting prayer for my struggles with substance use, misuse and abuse. Like the apostle Paul,who didn’t understand himself because he didn’t do the good he wanted but did the very thing he hated, I too felt like the chief sinner amongst my peers.

During the years when sin obscured my capacity to behave in a  respectable, church going, lady like manner, I still knew that God loved me. I knew that there was nothing I could do to make God love me more and nothing I could do to make God love me less. Each fall into sin became an opportunity to open to love.

Learning to receive forgiveness for the behavioral sins of my early years prepared me to work with myself and others on the more complex and entrenched character defects, deficits and defenses that “respectable” people struggle with: greed, self-righteousness, insecurity, fear, envy, jealousy, carelessness with words and humor, procrastination…to name a few.

I’m pretty sure that my musings on sin, love and forgiveness don’t line up very well with what the Catholic Church taught me or what I learned in seminary. But it’s the way I’ve made sense of what I read in the Bible in light of my personal experience, research &  training and work with others.

I’m hopeful that my story will help you access compassion for your “failures” and the “failures” of others. I’m hopeful that it will help you make sense of your struggles with sin.  I’m hopeful that it will help you open your heart more widely to God’s forgiveness so that you will become a great lover of God, yourself and your neighbors.

She who is forgiven much, loves much.

May it be so.

Two articles in the LA Times caught my eye this morning.

The first presents research indicating that bariatric surgery isn’t the “near panacea” for the multidimensional problems–patient health/lifestyle/longevity as well as medical costs–associated with obesity after all.

The second is an opinion piece by a medical doctor who suggests “your annual mammogram may cause you more harm than good.” The author, H. Gilbert Welch, wrote Overdiagnosed: Making people sick in the pursuit of health based on years of work in public health and clinical practice.

I have clients as well as family and friends who’ve undergone bariatric surgeries.  Some have had the standard dramatic initial weight loss as well as long-term benefits.  Others have had disappointing results, life-threatening complications, or not changed their relationship with food in a way that sustained the initial weight loss.

My personal experience with 20 years of annual mammograms has been complicated.  A favorite mammogram cartoon depicts two ladies greeting each other.  One says to the other “Did you have your mammogram today?” The first lady, whose breasts stick out in the shape of two books attached to her chest, says “As a matter of fact I did.  What makes you ask?”

The anxiety associated with having breast checks, the frequency of false positives (between 25-45% according to Welch), and what he says are the one-quarter to one-half of all cancers detected that “meet the pathological definition of cancer but are not destined to cause problems” yet get treated anyway, all contributes to a “cycle of increasing intervention” that put an unnecessary emotional toil on patients.

Yep.  That sounds about right.

Bottomline: better health through better technology isn’t working.  It’s a story that isn’t truly promoting our overall health and well being–either as individuals or as a culture. We need a better story.

We need to create a culture of individual responsibility for compassionate self-care where children are taught from the beginning to honor, respect, and listen to their bodies.

We need to equip both our children and ourselves with tools for mindful living that enable us to pay attention to signals of hunger and fulness so we don’t overeat, gain weight, and end up in the severely compromised condition that bariatric surgery patients find themselves.

And we need to return to a whole foods diet that eliminates pesticides, genetically modified products, hormones, antibiotics and all the other crap giant food manufactures use to increase their bottomline.

Not that I have anything to say about that!

Lent is a season of listening more closely to my life, listening for God and the voice of Love in my life.  Mindful awareness of the presence of life, beauty, goodness in people, creation, creativity–even technology–deepens my capacity to love God and my neighbor as self.

Henri Nouwen says that prayer is “first and foremost listening to Jesus, who dwells in the very depths of your heart.”  Not somewhere out in eternity, but right here, in me, in you.  In order to listen to God, we need listen to ourselves.

Many of the women I work with were socialized not to listen to themselves, but to others.  They were taught that priests, pastors, doctors, teachers, parents, police officers, and other authorities “knew best”.  They were taught to be good girls, do what they were told, and everything would be fine.

And then they developed an eating disorder, or an addiction, or depression, or anxiety.  And had to learn to listen to their own lives, to their own hearts, to their bodies.

Mindful awareness practices teach us to pay attention to our own experience, to listen to our own lives.  Over time, with practice, it actually changes our brains, thickening the muscles of focus, attention, choice, empathy, compassion, while decreasing reactivity, self-judgment and other unhelpful patterns.

Practice is necessary because we live in a noisy world where people, cell phones, computers, customers, clients, bosses, co-workers, loved ones, and all manner of things demand our attention leaving little time and space to listen within.

Listening for God begins with learning to listen to your own experience.

Countless resources are available to help you learn to listen to yourself.  Dan Siegel is my go-to guy for all things related to mindfulness and the brain.  In addition to his books, his resources section offers free downloadable mp3 practices.  But tons of other options are available.

There is no right way to listen.  There is no quick fix.  The way begins with you. It begins with valuing yourself and taking time to listen to yourself.

What time and space will you create this Lent to listen to your life?

When it comes to diet, calories and energy regulation, there’s always something new being brought to the table.

Rachel Carmody, a Harvard researcher is out to update the system currently used to measure calories in our food.  She says that the calorie values on food labels don’t account for digestive processes that are typically lower for processed foods and higher for unprocessed.  In other words, your body digests mashed potatoes more efficiently, thereby using less energy in the process, than it does to digest that same amount of raw potato.

Practically it makes sense.  Chewing a raw potato takes a lot of work compared to letting mashed spuds melt in your mouth and slide down your throat.  Not that I’ve ever chewed up a raw potato.  I may be Irish, but I like my potatoes cooked.

“So although two foods might have the same number of calories on paper, these calories are not necessarily equally available to the body. In some cases, reported calorie values could differ from actual energy harvest by as much as 50per cent.”

Interestingly, on the same day I came across this research, I also discovered a free e-book called “Fuck Calories” that parallels much of what I read in Michael Pollen’s Food Rules.   Both author’s capitalize on listening to your body, eating as close to nature as possible and avoiding highly processed foods (especially sugar).

How did eating become so complicated?

A colleague showed up at work a few weeks ago congested, coughing and telling us that she really wasn’t as sick as she sounded. My young neighbor, who had similar symptoms, was forced to show up at her fast-food job anyway.  Apparently the boss isn’t concerned about either her well-being or public health.

I recently heard a story that brought home the spiritual value of caring for our bodies.

The famous Rabbi Hillel was asked by his students how he was going to fulfill the sacred duty of mitzvah (doing of good/following commands).  He told them he was going to take a bath.  He said, “It is a sacred duty to care for the body, since we have been created in the divine image and likeness.”

Our culture does not support self-care. Whether we choose to neglect our own health because of our sense of responsibility to others or have self neglect imposed on us in our workplaces, we need a new paradigm that makes personal responsibility for self-care a public health issue.

Friends and lovers don’t let those we love go to work when they are sick. Being a good friend to ourselves entails the same standard.

Self-care is not optional.  It is a sacred duty.