Cissy Brady-Rogers
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Tag: loving your body

Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard, say’s how we think about our age and health has a tremendous impact on our actual physical state.  Her counterclockwise experiments found that subjects placed in settings that mimicked an earlier era  and told to “act as if” they were 20 years younger, showed improved health functioning. Other research shows that people who have positive views of aging add 7 years to their lives.

I wonder if the predominance of anti-aging messages in our culture might have an adverse impact not just on our self-esteem, but on our actual aging process. I wonder how a daily diet of “anti-aging” product advertisements and glorification of youthful beauty & strength in the media impacts both our view of reality and our long term health.

What is the impact of a steady diet of both direct and indirect messages that we should be afraid of aging, that it’s something to prevent, avoid, and do battle against?

After my shoulder surgery last year I ended my membership at the swanky, upper SES, Pasadena health club where the majority of the clientele were my age and older. I became a community member at nearby Occidental College’s athletic facility where I now work out with mostly college students.

As I reflected on Langer’s work while surrounded by flexible, durable, youthful bodies this morning, it struck me that this might actually be better for my health than I think! In some sense, I’m replicating Langer’s studies. By “acting as if” I’m still in college, not letting the anti-aging messages determine how I view myself, I may be enhancing the benefits of my workout.

The bottomline: I know I’m saving money and drive time by working out at Oxy, and perhaps adding years to my life!

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.

Eating in loving alignment with my body includes being free from the rules and regulations of supposed “authorities” and “experts” who want to tell me how to eat and how to live.  And, it’s also about not rigidly clinging to my own “rules”. Love does not demand its’ own way.

Last month I ate pork and bread sandwiches at my neighbor’s fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration.  I was hungry, so I ate what was served.

At a party with people eating pork, I am free to eat pork.  If no veggies are available, I am free to go with the flow. And, as soon as possible, balance out those choices with foods more aligned with what I know provides optimal nutrition and energy for my body.

To whatever degree I can, I want to be free to sacrifice my preferred way of eating in order to be “at one” with my neighbors.

Perhaps eating pork and gluten is a way I love my neighbor? It’s not what I choose to eat when given other options.  Not because it’s inherently “bad” but because it doesn’t make me feel my best.

chard in our yard - the bugs like it too

I don’t digest meat and breads as well as I process veggies, legumes and whole grains.  My body notices the difference.  Rich foods feel thick and heavy both in my mouth and digestive tract.  In limited amounts, I do okay.  But I don’t want to feel weighed down like that on a regular basis.  I eat certain foods in limited amounts because I can feel the difference.  My body says “Too much” and I try to listen.

Sometimes our bodies speak very loudly. Gluten makes people with celiac disease very sick with painful and disruptive intestinal problems.

Sometimes our bodies speak more quietly.  For me, a subtle case of  rosacea lead to my discoveries about gluten’s ill effects on my body.

Loving alignment with your body means listening to both the obvious and not so obvious indicators about how food is effecting your overall health. It’s about listening to your body, your life–and eating in a way the optimizes your energy in whatever situation you are in, as best as you can.

Does eating pork make you feel energized, engaged, clear headed, open hearted?

Does your body hum and your soul sing when you eat bread?

What foods feel best the whole way through your digestive experience?

Like any other relationship, we need to make time and space to listen to our bodies in order to have a positive working relationship.

So, the next time you eat, try listening to your body.  You might be surprised at what you discover.

In the latter decades of the 20th Century, building positive self-esteem in children became a widely accepted and influential concept in psychotherapy, parenting, and education.  Years later, with decades of implementing esteem building interventions, it turns out self-esteem isn’t as effective a standard of psychological health as it was originally thought to be.

Educators, coaches, parents, youth workers and psychotherapists have spent decades trying to help kids “feel good about themselves.”  Yet it turns out that self-esteem is highly resistant to change, may cause self-distortions, and is associated with narcissism and bullying.  On top of the evidence that it isn’t the most helpful construct for supporting identity development , the notion that we should always feel good about ourselves and our lives doesn’t leave room for what Judith Viorst termed the “necessary losses” of real life.

Dynamic Duo Working Out at Dynamic Advantage

This week I participated in my first group strength training class at Dynamic Advantage in Eagle Rock.  I was a good ten or fifteen years younger than my classmates.  But some of those gals were surprisingly strong!  One of the two “Pats” in the class was doing tricep pushdowns with several times the amount of resistance I was using.

Dynamic Strength for Everyone!

In an earlier season of my life I might have experienced a drop in self-esteem, feel “bad” about myself and judge myself for being such a slouch.  I prided myself on my strength and fitness.  My body identity was largely built on comparing myself to you, being superior, and allowing the good feelings of being “better than” you enhance my sense of self.  I don’t like admitting it.  Yet, it’s the precise dynamic that years of academic evaluation, athletic competition, and cultural tutelage in building my esteem by being at the top of the class  or having my dog win the “best in show” have taught me.

Yesterday I noticed a small dark line beneath my eye.  Thinking it was an eyelash, I used my pinky to brush it away.  No such luck!  Turns out,  it’s a permanent documentation of my recent life experience.  Dehydrated, un-moisturized, and fifty years old—I’ve got the wrinkles to prove it!

This week I discussed loss and grief with my marital and family therapy students.  Several students spoke of experiencing a loss of physical strength and fortitude.  One said in his younger years he felt invincible as he ran for miles, feeling more energized the further he ran.  “I can’t do that anymore.  It doesn’t feel good.  After a few miles I start to hurt.”

Even though we know these physical changes are normal, as another student put it, we still don’t  like them.   And we often don’t “like” ourselves during the moments they preoccupy our minds. It’s difficult to extend loving care to someone we have a negative attitude toward.  In a similar way, not “liking” ourselves often becomes a barrier to the very work we need to do to feel better.   Somewhere along the line we’ve come to value “liking” ourselves in a way that inhibits truly “loving” ourselves, just as we are, on any given day, in whatever state of health and success or illness and failure we might be.

Disappointment, frustration, sadness and anger are expect responses to loss.    Just as we must grieve the death of a loved one or loss of a job so that we can move forward into new life possibilities, physical changes bring real losses that must be acknowledged and integrated. And grief doesn’t necessarily feel good!

I wonder if the ladies I work out with feel “good” about how they look?  Do they “like” their wrinkles, sags, thinning hair, and widening mid-sections?  Do they feel affection for the necessary losses of their once youthful bodies and faces? Or are they too busy living their lives to the fullest, enjoying themselves and making the most of each moment to bother with such antiquated notions as self-esteem?

That deep line under my eye is part of the package of living long enough to get old!  A friend is grieving the death of his twenty-six year old nephew.  That young man will never have the privilege of developing wrinkles under his eyes. My classmate Pat is stronger than me–good for her!  And, good for me.  I want to be like Pat when I am sixty-something: wispy white hair, lots of life documented on ever surface of her face and body, and enjoying every second of cranking out those tricep pushdowns!

Jesus’ disciple John preached the good news of God’s love in Christ well into his 90’s.  Even after  he was frail, weak, and could no longer preach, he loved participating in the community gatherings.  Because he was John, the last alive of Jesus’ original disciples, when he showed up everyone wanted to hear from him.

Over and over again at every gathering he attended, all he had to say was “Little children, love one another.”

One day, someone asked why he never said anything new or different.  He replied: “If you do it, it will be enough.”

What else matters?

Apart from love, what else really matters? Good health?  Money? Professional success?

Without love, all the rest is meaningless.

The first questions to ask when it comes to improving your health aren’t about your body–they are about your heart:

Who do you love?

What do you love?

Who and what do you live for?

And, perhaps even–who and what would you be willing to die for?

Many chronic health conditions could be improved and even reversed with  lifestyle changes. Yet, just knowing we should make changes doesn’t motive most of us to do so.

Live long enough to fulfill and enjoy your dreams - eat a vegetable!

Sustainable change is enhanced by linking desired changes to the people and dreams you live for and might even be willing to die for. For instance, what sounds more inspiring — “I’m going to choose broccoli instead of French fries so I can reduce my risk of cardiovascular disease” or “I’m going to choose broccoli instead of fries so I can see my nieces grow up, have kids and take them to Disneyland on their birthdays just like I did with their moms.”

Identifying who and what you love is a good place to begin when starting a new diet or fitness regimen.

What does it look like? Create a list or a collage of pictures that remind you of who and what you love.  Alongside, write down one change you want to make to improve your health.  Make it simple.  Make it achievable.  Make it something you know you can do. Small changes can make a big difference. On a recent trip I met an airport security official who’d lost 40 pounds just by eliminating all fluids except water!  A few suggestions:

Drink a glass of water or green tea instead of a soda or coffee.

Eat a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts instead of candy bar, chips or cookie.

Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Walk around your neighborhood for 15 minutes either before or after work.

Get to bed by 10 p.m.

Tell one  person you love–and whom you trust will be supportive, not critical–your plan.  Check-in with him/her at a specific time each week (i.e.  email on Friday afternoon with a report).  Commit to  four weeks and see what happens.

If and when you fall short, practice self-compassion. Nobody’s perfect.  Don’t marinate in your failure.  Contrary to popular thought, self-compassion is a better motivator for change than self-criticism.

Wise old John knew that love really is all we need! All things came into being through the love of God the Creator.  The harmony, happiness, and health of everyone and everything increases when we love one another, ourselves, and all of creation.

Practice loving yourself by making one small change for the next four weeks.  Treat your body with the kind of care you really need and deserve.

Please let me know if you do and how it goes.  I know that if you love yourself with the kind of love John was talking about, all things are possible.

I wanted to cry as I left home this morning. I crossed the threshold of my front door on the way to my car and felt tears well up in my eyes. Physical therapy (PT) again?

i want to be here

If I didn’t love all sorts of recreational activities like I do, I wonder if I’d keep showing up for these appointments.   The arduous process of rehabilitating my shoulder is teaching me at a personal level what I’ve known theoretically for years: functional goals are most predictive of successful rehabilitation or training. I don’t like spending up to eight hours a week doing the repetitive, narrowly focused exercises of PT.  But a vision of myself meditatively swimming laps at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center or with the turtles in Hawaii keeps me inspired to show up even when it’s difficult.

PT is the most challenging exercise I’ve done in my life. The psychological and physical demands of recruiting nerves and muscle fibers to remember how to work is far more intense than training for the 100-mile bike ride of a Solvang century. I don’t breathe hard or sweat during physical therapy, but I do feel an intense straining of my brain as I try to extend my left arm in directions I used to take for granted.

Brain strain is also what people who’ve never enjoyed exercise experience when they attempt to begin a new fitness regime. It isn’t just the motor muscles that get activated in new ways. The brain must also lay down new neural pathways to support the movements and energy expenditure demanded by new modes of physical activity. Anyone who has struggled with exercise resistance knows that the key to rewiring our brains for new functions are more psychological than physical – requiring mental discipline, alongside physical effort.

choosing to show up again...and again...and again

When I strain to lift my arm a little higher or hold it in a difficult position a little longer, my mental focus is more important than the muscles doing the work. My mind must choose the effort demanded to lift higher and hold longer. If my mind isn’t on board, my muscles give up.

Neuroplasticity is the technical term for what occur when we use mental focus and discipline to learn new skills or develop new habits. As recently as the 1990’s neurologists were still being taught that adult brains were unable to change. But experimental and rehabilitative work with various conditions, especially stroke patients, has proved otherwise.

When my supraspinitus muscle sends “warning” signals to my mind in the form of pain, my brain is the conduit of communication. My mental challenge in that moment is to remember what I really want – a fully functioning shoulder. When I remember that this pain is therapeutic and stay with the discomfort, I’m reactivating old neural pathways that went to sleep during my months of inactivity. My mental vision of a fully functioning supraspinitus muscle strengthens the neural pathways of my brain designated for shoulder movement. The mental vision strengthens the brain muscles even when the shoulder muscles lag far behind.

Albert Einstein said that discipline is remembering what you really want. Whether you are awakening old neural pathways that have been offline for a while or building new pathways, keeping your focus on what you really want is essential.

I really want to fully rotate my left arm as I swim freestyle and backstroke this summer. One of my coaching clients really wants to walk the cobble stoned streets of old Italian cities without fear of stumbling or getting winded.

Exercising to lose weight or tone up in order to “look better” (whatever that is) in your swimsuit or wedding dress offers short-term, limited success. A functional goal of confidently swimming in the ocean with your children, nieces and nephews or grandchildren, or of effortlessly carrying your own suitcases up several flights of rickety stairs at an exotic island cottage on your honeymoon is more likely to produce long-term, sustainable behavioral changes.

What do you really want do be physically capable of?

What do you want to be able to do on your own power and strength in six months, one year, five, ten or twenty years?

What mental vision of yourself in motion do you hold as you face the brain strain necessary to strengthen your muscles and train your neural pathways?

What do you focus on as you face the therapeutic pain of your physical therapy or fitness training regime?

Remember what you really want and show up for your therapy or training appointments with yourself or a professional this week. You and those who want to enjoy an active life with you will be grateful that you did.

Today I chose to listen to my body.  I canceled my appointments and entrusted my graduate psychology students to the guidance of my co-teachers.

If your reaction is “So what?” then you can be my teacher for this piece of the journey.  Somewhere in your life you learned to accept illness as an indicator that you need to stop activity, rest and recover.

I didn’t even begin to learn that lesson until my breast cancer diagnosis at age thirty.  It was a loud wake up call that sounded an alarm about the dangers of  my increasingly busy lifestyle.

Listen to Symptoms

After eighteen years of trail and error attempts to discern the difference between “stay at home” and “keep going” symptoms, I now understand that symptoms indicate an imbalance in my body’s self-regulating system.  My body wants to be well.  It cries out for help through symptoms.

Some symptoms–rosacea on my cheeks, constipation, tension in my neck–are quiet whimpers that don’t demand I stop.  But they do invite me to pay attention to what I’m eating and drinking, my sleep and exercise patterns, and a host of other basic physical needs.  Oftentimes a simple adjustment in one of these areas eliminates the problem.

The fatigue I felt two days ago, the sore throat and mild head and body aches that appeared the next morning, and the cough that showed up last night, are louder cries.   They tell me that stopping just might be a good idea.

Create a Health Supporting Lifestyle

I made a decision after my bout with breast cancer to make my health a priority.  I created a lifestyle that allows me to take time off when my body needs it and to allot a percentage of my income for products that support my body’s efforts to be well in spite of all the challenges I’m up against living in of one of the most populous cities in the world.

I’ve had seasons of both success and struggle with maintaining a health supporting lifestyle.  My inner compulsion to prove my self worth through productivity (how many people I help, how many presentations I give, how much money I make) coupled with external support for all the activity (happy clients and students, happy community groups, happy bank account) reinforce my often too busy lifestyle.

There’s Always A Reason Not To Stay Home

Reasons to not stay home when sick abound:

  1. I can’t afford it.
  2. I’m out of sick days.
  3. I have a deadline to meet.
  4. I’ll miss an important meeting.
  5. They (fill in the blank) are counting on me.

The truth is–nobody is better off when you or I show up as expected but cough, sneeze and spread our germs around.  I don’t care if Dr. Oz or the Surgeon General supports the frequently touted line “I don’t think I’m contagious anymore”– it’s just not a loving way to show up in our lives.

That’s my take on staying home when I’m sick.  If you have something to say about that, I’d love to hear your take on it!

Something to Say

One of the young clinicians I mentor told me she wants to study with me because “You have something to say and I want to have something to say too.”

Writing teacher Brenda Ueland learned through years of experience that “everyone is talented, original and has something important to say” (If You Want to Write).

I do have something to say.  My students and mentees have important things to say.  And you have something important to say.

Sometimes what we say is profound.  Sometimes it’s ordinary.

I prefer to be profound. But my experience tells me that the ordinary is just as helpful and necessary as the profound.

This is a space where I share insights gained on the journey to loving and enjoying my body, just as I am.  Some of it is profound—like how God used a mastectomy at age thirty to heal years of shame and disconnection from my body.  Some of it is ordinary—like how drinking caffeine after 3 p.m. can disrupt my sleep.

I want to hear the important things you have to say about loving and enjoying your body.  I hope you will be bold, access your profound or ordinary voice, and share what you have to say too.

And, if you have something to say about that, I’d love to hear it.