a near miss

yesterday was a tough day.  I was working on a grant all day, and mid-way through we decided to do a 180 with our direction.  Bleh.  Then, the DMV still hasn’t sent my tags in the mail.  Double Bleh.  THEN……you get the idea.

So after a long and wonderful walk with my friend D. I was still stressed and guess what? I craved sugar.  Big shocker, right?  Not just sugar but specifically cake frosting.  Not just cake frosting but the kind at the slices of cake at Safeway.  And even more specific than that – the white cake with the white frosting only, please.  If you’re thinking “….umm, doesn’t she know that is totally gross.  I mean, she is the Off White Living girl…..”. Yes, yes I do.  But what can I say.  When my lizard brain acts up, it want what it wants, and nothing else will do.

So there I stood and D’s house, half of my attention on saying my good-byes and the other half on calculating how fast I could get to Safeway and what kind of line there would be so I could get my cake and eat it too! (Clarification: I don’t eat the cake, just the frosting – which is even more ridiculous, don’t you think!).

I got in my car still plotting my escape into trans-fat and white sugar heaven when a little voice in me spoke up.  It said this “What if….just this once…you saw what would happen if you drove home instead?  All you have to do is make it past Poleline road and you’re in the clear.

Now, a dilemma began in my brain.  Only 97% of me was on board with this whole cake idea.  I drove away.  Then another voice spoke up “yeah, you just walked and you are feeling so good, and wouldn’t it feel better to see Matt after a long day than eat that cake and feel crappy about yourself?”

Egads! Now only about 70% of me was into this whole cake frosting business.  I’m driving towards Poleline – a new voice, louder than the others.  “Yeah, you don’t really need that frosting.  What is that going to do for you? Write the grant?  Make you happy?  It never does, does it?”

And it went on like this for approximately 6 minutes until….vioala!  I was home and no cake had been harmed during the time between leaving D’s house and rolling into my driveway.  I DID it!

And you know what??? I woke up this morning feeling SO FREAKIN’ GOOD that I didn’t eat that silly, ridiculous, unnecessary, make-me-feel-bad-about-myself cake frosting.  Instead I went home, kissed Matt, ate dinner and went on with my night!

Score one for yours truly and NADA for that frosting. 

You can do it too.  If I can do it…girl that fantasizes about cake frosting….you can too!!

Feeding the wolf

A Cherokee Legend

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

I first heard this  amazing legend from a dear friend and mentor, Britt Bensen-Steele.

Recently, because of some inner struggles my husband and I have (Grad school will do that to you), this story resurfaced in my life and seemed more relevant than ever.  I was particularly taken with how this story can pertain to emotional eating.

Just like in the story, my experience with emotional eating stems from something Ekhart Tolle refers to as the “pain body” (aka the negative wolf).  For some reason that wolf sometimes seems easier to feed.  Pain can be very seductive especially when it is wrapped in a package that looks like “I am a victim” or “why does this happen to me” or “I will never be good enough”.  Eating emotionally is a way that I’ve often fed that wolf.  It reinforces the pain because it gives me a momentary reprieve and a lasting shame.  It never satisfies anything but to fuel the fire of that voice saying “see, you messed up again”.

On the other hand, when I can pause, be mindful, and shift into the role of the observer I can see that there is no feeling and no situation that will be solved with food (or any other substance).  This is like feeding the positive wolf.  When I am gentle with myself, when I stay calm, when I reach out to give and receive love, I find serenity and trigger foods just don’t have the same allure.

When I am caught up and find myself longing for excess sugar I can stop myself and say ‘hey, what is going on here?”.  I don’t have to just go into the food on autopilot like I used to.  I can catch myself feeding the negative wolf earlier on than I did in the past, but it does take work.

A long time ago I heard somebody tell me that training the mind to be ‘mindful’ and shift into the observer role is a lot like training a puppy.  It constantly goes off course, wandering and searching for stimulation.  The solution is not to blame or punish the puppy (the mind).  It is just doing what it inherently does.  The solution is to kindly, patiently, gently call it back to course and let go of the attachment, knowing that it will stray again in 5 minutes.

Maybe it’s age, but more than ever I’m so curious about my own mind and where my thoughts come from.  I’m doing a lot of work on looking at the origins of my emotional eating (which is just a manifestation of deep anxiety).  It’s  fascinating, I tell you.  I had no idea how much I’ve fed the negative wolf and starved the positive wolf.  The greatest gift in this exploration has been in realizing that the deep, dark places I’ve been afraid of aren’t so dark at all.  Almost like the negative wolf’s bark has always been bigger than his bite but I was under an illusion.  So, for me, the positive wolf might have a softer voice but dang is she STRONG!!


Purge your words and avoid emotional eating

Well all know journaling is good for us, right?  Well if you don’t – hear this:  Journaling can help you to release stressors and emotions and be a safe place to vent.  IT can also be a place to work out ideas or dilemmas you’re experience.  As an emotional carb eater, journaling has helped me tremendously in the past ‘purge my words’ so I don’t try and stuff them down with sweets.

However, lately I don’t journal much.  Not sure why, I just don’t feel like it- that is, until I found this site: 750 words.  The premise is simple.  It’s based on a technique from the “Artist’s Way” which includes writing 3-pages daily called morning pages.  It just so happens that 750 words is about 3 pages.  This website is a virtual journal that challenges you in a fun way to write 750 words/day in an uncensored, private, daily fashion and it will help you keep track of how often you do it.  There is something charming about the approach to the site and I like the design.  It’s very simple.

All I’m sayin’ is that in the past few days I’ve journaled every day and feel a lot better.  I have been stressing about some upcoming decisions and been home alone a lot.  This is a recipe for eating in the absence of hunger, particularly for wanting refined carb goodies for me.  Writing it out and not worrying about perfection has helped me tremendously.  Maybe it will help you too.  Check it out!

On resiliancy

Last week I participated in the UC Davis Entrepreneur Academy.  In a word: FANTASTIC!  One of the many benefits it gave me was a clear awareness that I want to have a successful career in health coaching and create coaching-based solutions for health and wellness challenges.

But, that isn’t what this post is about.  However, reigniting my fire for coaching led me to peruse some of the coaching literature I’d been neglecting since starting grad school.
I was reminded of the many benefits of coaching and all the great techniques and tools.  One concept specifically stood out to me: RESILIANCY.

To be resilient, in my book, is to be able to weather the storms of life while still keeping your head and heart rooted in your values and your wellbeing.  Resiliency was not a skill I developed as a young child.  It just wasn’t a trait my parents exemplified, as they were not very resilient themselves.  I believe much of my emotional sugar eating was born out of this lack of resilience.  I grew up having fear of everything I couldn’t control (which is everything) and thus turned to easy distractions to soothe my discomfort.  Candy.  Ice Cream.  Homemade cookies.  I think it’s no coincidence that sweet baked goods were my go-to binge food, as they represented a home-like comfort that I was seeking within myself and  couldn’t find.

In the past year I’ve been working hard at becoming more resilient.  I had no idea what this would look like 1 year ago but here is what it looks like today.  It means that when something changes suddenly in my life, I don’t have to ‘react’.  I can evaluate what is going on and I can ask questions.  I don’t say ‘yes’ as much as I used to, and when I start saying yest right away to every request guess what….I start wanting and eating sugar.    When my husband and I have a fight I don’t immediately force a solution (which never worked).  I can let things settle.  I guess you can say that I’m getting more comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I can hang in the tough emotional spaces a bit longer than I could before.

It has been amazing to me to see what cultivating emotional resilience has done.  I’m not hardened and cold – quite the opposite.  I’m more loving, compassionate and easy going (ask my husband!).  I don’t try and manipulate the environment to create an outcome I’m comfortable with.  I find myself saying “hmm…we’ll see what happens” or ‘I don’t have an answer to that problem yet but I’m open to finding a solution’.  These are new phrases for me.

A lot of women I’ve worked with as a coach also struggle with resiliency.  It’s scary to feel uncomfortable, unloved, confused, stressed, dismissed, angry and all the other myriad of unpleasantries that live brings us.  Sugar is a very seductive yet ineffective coping tool.  It never works for more than 10 minutes, does it?  While I don’t have a magic answer as to how resiliency begins, I can say that two things helped me:  journaling, journaling, journaling!!  Professional help, professional help, professional help!!  You are worth the time and resources it takes for both if this is an area of life you struggle with.

By no means am I suddenly the most resilient well-adapted human around.  Ha!  Don’t I wish.  But the fact that I’m aware of what it feels like when I lose my center and want to break instead of bend to the pressures of life is a HUGE improvement…and my sugar consumption has improved along with it!

Sugar and stress, part I

So I’ve decided to do a little piece on sugar and stress, since it is SUCH a big aspect of my life and I see a lot of the effects of s&s everyday with myself and others. One benefit of having this affliction AND being a nutritional counselor is that I get to experience the impact of food and mood or many levels.

I’m gonna do this in 3 parts because I have a lot to say about this topic, and I think its worthy of a few posts.

Here’s where I’m going to start: WHY do I emotionally (people) crave sugar when I am stressed?

When I was young , the only thing I ever wanted was sugar, sugar, sugar. I obsessed over Halloween candy. I was glued to mom’s side when she was baking, so that I could score some free licks off a spoon or spatula. I always voted for “The Sizzler” when we were picking restaurants, exclusively for the strawberries and whipped cream at the salad bar. I was a junkie.

How did this all begin? First off, did you know that sugar is the first taste we develop? Mamma’s milk is sweet. We are held when we are fed. We feel safe. It goes on and on. Sometimes new mom’s and dad’s are told to bring sugar water to the doctor’s office when their baby gets an immunization, to help calm the pain. Sugar numbs us out. It makes us high. Physically, we do not need sugar to survive. We need carbs, but not necessarily simple sugars. We might then speculate that some of us are not so equipped to handle the impact of sugar. More on that in post #2.

For as long as I can remember, sugar has been a best friend to me. It is always there, in so many shapes, colors, sizes and textures. Its cheap, its socially acceptable, and it makes me feel SOOOOOOOOOOOO good….or does it? I went years harmoniously co-existing on this continuous sugar buzz without a hitch. I bragged about the fact that I could eat a pound of red vines while grocery shopping and not gain any weight. I think I kind of liked being the candy girl. It had a certain charm. My ego devoured the attention I got over sugar. “How cool is this?” I would think to myself. Turns out, not so cool.

But, like all good addictions, it catches up. It turns out that my physical and mental body don’t like being fueled by fructose and glucose 24/7 and that as I get older, my tolerance for sweet is much less, yet my attachment to it is much greater.

The past couple days I’ve been wanting for sweet because I am afraid of change. What? How do sugar and change relate? Well, when you are trying to heal the body-mind from something that was like an old friend (sugar) in your life, and then new variables (like possibly moving to California, and making major life changes) pop up, it sends me running back to mamma’s arms: AKA hot chocolate, oatmeal raisin cookies, or anything warm and sweet.

This desire to soothe is so deeply imprinted in me, and others (I think?!), that it almost seems like the right thing to do . My brain is so good at taking the path of least resistance that I trick myself into believing that I actually need sugar to survive. When uncertainty triggers feeling of aloneness, I need security. It feels deeply carnal, like a survival instinct. My emotional body actually thinks that I will not survive without it.

In the past few years, I’ve done a lot of soul searching and book study about this crazy, wacky phenomenon of sugar-stress. Here’s what I know:

  • Sweet is the first taste we experience, and nearly all people find “sweet” palatable. Sweet includes breads, pastas, fruits and even meats, such as red meat or lamb.
  • The average American consumes 140 lb/ year of sugar in some form. That is 44tsp/day. That means we pretty much get it all the time, so it becomes a major physical and psychological habit.
  • Most kid’s can identify brands like “McDonalds”, “Starbucks”, or some sugar cereal characters before they can actually read. When our sub-conscious mind is wide open, we are bombarded with messages that these companies will provide us with fun, friendship, love and excitement if we just eat what they are peddling.
  • As a kid many of us develop the association of sweets with reward, soothing our pain, celebrating and drawing attention to ourselves (ever have mom bring in cupcakes on your b-day? Didn’t you just feel like the cool kid at school, even if just for that day?)
  • When white sugar was first developed, European conquerers used it to over-power the people they were invading. They claimed that it made wise, motivated men “stupid and lazy” (from the book Sugar Blues).
  • Sugar depresses the nervous system. If you’re a nervous nancy, like I am, you want to stop those neurotic thoughts. What a better way than some cookies and milk, or a piece of favorite cake, or some candy, or whatever…..


  • Do you find yourself going for breads, cookies, cakes, candy, Starbucks ‘stuff’, fruit, honey, granola bars, power bars, etc when you have had a long day, are over tired or bored?
  • Are your favorite foods in the dessert category?  Would you rather skip dinner and have dessert first?
  • Do you get edgy or cranky if you don’t have sweets/fruit/breads for a couple of days?
  • Do you fantasize about sweets, or did you used to do so?
  • What’s in your cupboard?  Lots of boxed, processed foods? Refined cereals?  energy/granola bars?  Dried fruit?  Do these items tend to get eaten first?
  • Does the thought of never having those favorite sweet treats again feel really sad or scary to you?
  • Is the concept “portion control” non-existent when it comes to certain, refined carb-based foods?
  • Are you turned off to bitter or sour foods, like dark green veggies, lemons, saurkraut, relish, etc?
  • Do you hide stashes of sweets in your car, room, desk or anywhere that nobody can see you eating them?

I’m certainly no expert on your life, but for me, I can answer “yes” to far more of those questions than I’d care to admit to.  However, when I do face my truth, I can release the guilt, shame and frustration and move forward.  There is life after refined sugar, and I’m learning how to make friends with it, one day at a time.

For those who are curious about unrefined sweeteners:  I use them in my life, but they are still sugar.  If I’m spooning agave syrup into my mouth, I’m still getting high on sugar, it just doesn’t take as much of a toll.   It’s really about why I am seeking out sweet stuff to fix my life.  It never works.  It never makes me feel better, but my brain has 31 years of conditioning to release.

If you are just starting out your sugar-free life, I have some insight and advice, based on what has worked for me:

  • Get SUPPORT!  Friends, special groups, spiritual groups, blogs like this, etc
  • Be gentle with yourself and realize it is a process
  • Begin to replace as much refined carbs with veggies, protein and water.  Protein is your friend, as are anti-oxidant rich veggies.  more on that tomorrow.
  • One day, one meal, one moment at a time.  Progress, not perfection.
  • If it’s serious, talk to your alternative health practitioner about getting food allergy or GI function tests done.  I learned  a TON about the physical reasons I crave sugar when I had tests done by Diagnostechs.   They rock!

PS: for the curious – yes, I did have some sugar today.  I made hot  chocolate w/ rice milk and cocoa.  I used sucanat instead of stevia.  Not the best  choice, but could have been worse.