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Book Review: Craving April 4, 2013

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As I read Craving: Why We Can’t Seem to Get Enough, by physician Omar Manejwala, MD, I found myself nodding like a bobble head doll, and also reaching for my pen to underline something on pretty much every page. This is a topic I can relate to. It opens with the question, “What explains the mysterious urge to do something that has caused so much damage in the past?” In other words, haven’t I learned YET?

I read this book to see if I could learn something new for my blog readers, my Weight Watchers members, friends and family that I care about, and of course myself. And while much of the content of the book wasn’t NEW, it was certainly reaffirming and validating of many of the steps I’ve taken that have helped me (and explained how and why I’ve had setbacks).

The book opens with a definition of what craving is: a strong desire that, if unfulfilled, produces a powerful physical and mental suffering. They can range from a passing urge to an all-out, consuming addiction.  The author mentions something called “apparently irrelevant decisions” that can lead to a relapse. Then he explores why cravings matter: because they are uncomfortable, because they cause us stress, and because people who experience cravings are more likely to relapse into behavior that isn’t good for them or aligned with their goals. (nod, nod, underline, underline)

It deals with all different sorts of cravings – from alcohol to food to gambling, smoking and sex. He addresses ways in which these are universal issues, no matter what the substance or behavior.

There’s a big chunk in the book on brain science – the neurobiology of cravings, why they happen and how our brains lie to us to make us do things that we know don’t benefit us. I happen to be a total geek for brain science, especially when it relates to this topic. I find it both reassuring and encouraging – it takes it out of the realm of “I suck because I can’t get a handle on this” and sheds a light on exactly WHY it can be so hard sometimes. The studies that are cited are fascinating.

The good news about our brains leading us around, is that we can actually re-draw the map and get our brains to work in ways that are more beneficial to us. Again, this isn’t new news, but for me, obviously, it is something that I need to learn and read over and over again, and this book does so in a way that is so straightforward and nonjudgmental.

The other good news is that a lot of things that I am already doing, are the things that are proven to work. Group support is key. KEY! (yay Weight Watchers, yay online blogging community, yay friends) Writing things down (i.e. tracking, food journaling etc) is KEY. Forgiveness is key. (One of my favorite, and most startling lines in the book: “Only love can neutralize shame.”)

What can I say? It’s a good book. It’s SOLID. It’s filled with good science, which I find both illuminating and reassuring. It’s filled with concrete, positive suggestions for addressing the issues of craving. It’s also compassionate at its core. It’s like, Give yourself a break. There are reasons you do this stuff, and it’s not your fault, but it’s not helping you, so here are some good tools that can give you a way out.

It so happened that I finished reading this book while alone on my writing retreat. I’m away from home, and out of my normal routine. A little excited (vacation mode), a little anxious, a little lonely here and there. Perfect breeding ground for cravings! I could feel myself veering into potentially dangerous territory. Reading this book was like a little life jacket being thrown my way. It was a voice saying, “You know how to do this. Remember?”

Some of my favorite underlinings:

  • Cravings… are deeply personal. Comparing your cravings with what other people experience is a losing game and can only serve to undermine your success.
  • There is no such thing as a permanent craving; all cravings eventually go away, whether or not we act or act out on them.
  • The ideal time to address your cravings is when you are not actively craving.
  • Another important brain function is to lie to you.
  • Health, happiness and even longevity benefits come from being helpful to others.

It’s good stuff. Check it out! You can pre-order here.

Disclosure:

I was fortunate enough to recently receive a copy of this book for review. For the record, I often get offers to review a product for this blog. My policy (and I am up front about this) is that I will accept things to review, but unless I really like it, I probably won’t take the time to write a review. I don’t really have time for negative reviews. Unless I really, really really DON’T like something. ;-)

 

Day 4 #NHBPM: The Disclosure Post November 4, 2012

Day 4 – Sunday, Nov. 4

Writing Prompts: Disclosure post. How did you decide what to share? What do/don’t you share? OR Write about what’s in your bag / purse / backpack every day

I don’t think anyone is really interested in the contents of my bag or purse, so I’m skipping that one.

Disclosure. Ahh. Well, in the interest of full disclosure I’m going to disclose that I don’t disclose everything. I’ll be honest. Sometimes when I am making poor choices regarding my health, I don’t write about it. Instead I just won’t say anything, often until after I’ve “recovered” myself and then I might write about it retrospectively.

It’s hard to write about things we don’t feel good about, especially when we are in the midst of doing them. It’s so much easier to write about crossing the finish lane of a race, than writing “I’m lying on the couch watching multiple episodes of Breaking Bad on Netflix.” It’s easier to blog about a great healthy recipe than “I just snarfed down half a jar of peanut butter.” Right?

There was a period of time when I was taking pictures of, and then blogging, every single thing I ate. This went on for a few months. I have to say, it was probably one of the healthiest periods of my life. Because I was committed to one hundred percent full disclosure. I didn’t eat mass quantities of peanut butter or chocolate because I knew that if I did, I was going to have to broadcast it visually throughout the internet. So it gave me pause, and made me really fully consider all of my choices. It made me think, Do I want to share this bite/plate/meal with the world? And if I didn’t feel good about that, I didn’t eat it.

Looking back on it, maybe I need to take up that practice again. It was a good one, and I learned a lot from it. Because it’s in periods of “hiding” that I tend to do things I don’t feel good about.

Here’s to writing more from the shadows….

This is the 4th post in a series of National Health Blog Post Month. Join me! And check out these other great health blogs:

 

Lessons Learned from a Hard Week June 12, 2011

Filed under: food,health,lessons learned,overeating,struggle — Susan @ 1:04 am

I really want to thank everyone for the good wishes for my mom. It’s only been a week but it feels like one of the longest weeks ever! Tonight I think I can safely say she is definitely on the mend. After not wanting to eat a bite all week, tonight she asked if we would order Chinese takeout for dinner and she snarfed down a huge plate with gusto. WHEW.

It’s been tough, and rough, but she is one resilient lady. I have spent the week sleeping on the floor of her room, helping her up in the night. Tonight I am sleeping in my own bed again. She can once again make her way up and down the stairs and is taking the doggie for short walks down the street. This is amazing considering where she was just a few days ago.

I have to admit not taking great care of myself this week. For the first few days, she didn’t eat, and I didn’t eat. Then I lost a bunch of sleep. Then when she seemed to get better I suddenly wanted to eat everything in sight. I ate more Chinese food tonight than I think I have in years. Ah well.

This week taught me that I can’t succumb to stress. What if it had lasted longer than a week? Tonight I plan to get a good night’s sleep, then start tomorrow with some good activity and getting back on track.

It’s an old, old lesson but one that needs to be learned over and over again. Food doesn’t fix stress. But some reptilian part of my brain stubbornly wants to believe that it does.

Again, thank y’all for the warm wishes. I think they truly helped. oxoxo

 

Discombobulated December 31, 2010

Filed under: emotions,exercise,overeating,running,struggle,walking — Susan @ 4:13 pm

Longleat Hedge Maze

I had written this post in my head during a very funky run I did on Monday. I felt really messed up. After two days of eating and sloth, I felt really yucky on Monday. Can just two days produce such a change? Yes. But I was feeling funky for many reasons.

  1. Junior was enroute to her solo adventure in Thailand. Her landing and arrival in country was kind of on the bumpy side, resulting in Not Much Sleep the night before. Fretful.
  2. I’d eaten too much over the weekend, like I said, and it really took a toll. It wasn’t a HUGE amount but it was more than I am used to and different types of foods – more carbs – than I usually eat. So I felt like a bloated slug.
  3. My trainer is on vacation until 2011 and I really really miss him! Plus the combo of running and core/weights that seem to keep me in balance.
  4. The Garmin Forerunner that I’d asked Santa for had arrived. I was very excited about this, but when I took it out of the box and set it up, all kinds of weird things began happening to me, psychologically.  The reason I had wanted this device was so that I could track my pace and mileage and routes without draining my iPhone (on which I was using Runkeeper). But when I went to set it up, I was taken aback by the tininess of the numbers and buttons and things (old eyes, much?). THEN when I had to set up my profile I got to see their standards: their “walking” was pretty much equal to my “jogging” and their “slow jogging” was about the same pace as my breakneck sprint. As for “running,” I could not move that fast in my wildest dreams. For some reason this affected me WAY MORE than it should have. I mean it threw me into a downward spiral slump and made me develop an instant hatred for this poor inanimate gadget. Suddenly I felt inadequate and ridiculous and like such a stupid poser. (“You think you’re a runner? HAH!”) But it really, really affected me. So much so that when I went for my run, I was already in a terrible mood. I sat in the car at the starting point for an HOUR (I am not kidding) grumbling and cursing. Finally I got out of the car and pushed “START” on the Garmin. And: I kid you not, it took the thing SIX MINUTES to “locate satellites” to active the GPS. By this point I was really, really annoyed that my first 6 minutes were not being recorded. Then about 5 minutes later I realized I had to pee. Major discomfort. No bathroom. I walked, grumpily, a few miles to a nearby hotel. Used the bathroom and then sat down in the lobby to pout. At that moment, Junior texted me from Thailand which instantly perked me up. The rest of the run was better. Not stellar, but better. It was on the short side because I just wanted to get it OVER with.
  5. Much as I have longed for this week off from work, it was also fraught with expectation. I had plans to meet with friends I never see, exercise, rest, declutter my entire house (HA), buy a new car and get some writing done. It was completely unrealistic and the truth of this was sinking in to me big time.
  6. Much as I love having unstructured time, it also can be a tyrant.

So this final week of the year has been kind of funky. I did manage to buy a new car (yay) but that in itself was very very stressful and took almost three entire days. I have not done an iota of decluttering. I have not sent out my holiday cards. And today I woke up with a sore throat and cough which was both distressing and a relief. I’m not doing anything for New Year’s eve tonight. Tomorrow, I’ve been invited to a lovely open house party, but… more food? Do I really need that? I think not.

Sunday morning I will be leading the very first WW meeting of the year! in our area and I am excited about that. I think I just need to take it very, very slowly and not pile too much on my schedule. I want to savor these last days of vacation and be ready for a very busy week ahead.

 

It’s the Food, Stupid! November 23, 2010

Sammy's guacomole

Okay, I shouldn’t be calling myself Stupid. But nor should I be shocked or surprised to return from my little vacation (less than a week!) to stare at a brand-new, unwelcome number on the scale. I was so glad to be all active, and get in runs and hikes and shredding and such, but on the food arena? Not so good.

And the “food part” is really more than half the equation. Some say it is 70%. It’s definitely at least 50%. Food intake and activity are BOTH important. But last week I was being so focused on my activity, I sorta (no, not sorta) turned a blind eye to my food intake. Because it was sooooooooo good.

You know we all engage in some kind of weird magical or wishful thinking when it comes to food. It doesn’t count if… you’re standing up. Or if it’s after midnight. Or you’re wearing a blindfold. For me, I tend to discount my intake if it’s beautiful, expensive, gourmet or lovingly homemade food. I “know” that fast food or junk food can be excessive or whatever, but … what if it’s Chez Panisse? Or some other amazingly wonderful place? I tend to turn a blind eye.

We went to an area that has an incredible bounty of amazing food. It’s the home of Cowgirl Creamery and oysters and and and… we ate at amazing restaurant after amazing restaurant. Then when we were sick of eating out, our friends came up to visit us and brought a crazy array of homemade and bought goods and we had an insanely delicious feast. Juniorette has turned into the world’s most awesome baker and she brought (I am not kidding) the Best Scones I Have Ever Eaten In My Life, plus some beautiful pecan shortbread. Neither of which I could (or wanted to) resist. But here I am now.

It’s the tracking. If I had tracked all that luscious food (which I obviously did not) I would have woken up very quickly to the reality that I was going over my points in every which way. But I am back now. I’m home. I’m back on track and trying to not turn blind eyes anymore.

I don’t regret it. I enjoyed every single morsel. But I think if I had it to do over, I would’ve been just…a little…more… mindful.

chocolate pudding stuff from Stellina

clam chowder from the Busy Bee

black cod from the Olema Inn

Juniorette's pecan shortbread

Cowgirl Creamery cheese

Sammy's caramelized onions & mushrooms

insanely good homemade roast beef sandwich (I had mine openfaced)

 

I (heart) Frank Bruni: A Book Review September 9, 2010

I just finished reading Frank Bruni’s memoir, Born Round. When I got to the last page I was a little choked up, feeling like I’d found a real kindred spirit. He’s like another Foodie McBody! Someone who loves and appreciates food, AND who wants to be healthy and fit. I know so many fit people who truly seem unmoved by food, or who see it purely as fuel (and not so much as a source of pleasure) OR as the Enemy. Anybody who knows me knows that I am constantly striving to find ways to have my (cup)cake and eat it too. And of course I also know the foodies who turn a blind eye to fitness or health. Please, can’t I have both?

Enter Frank! OMG. For the first (more than?) half of the book, we follow him through his childhood, where he is a ravenous toddler, and then a huge eater at family feasts orchestrated by his mother and grandmother. The descriptions of the incredible food-a-paloozas were enough to make me faint. Pasta! Italian food! Roast turkey! Frites! (fried stuffed yummy things)

And there’s Frank, simultaneously loving all the food and mortified by his plumpness. And I’m nodding like one of those dashboard bobblehead doggies with its head on a spring. Sigh.

I followed, completely rapt, while Frank joins the swim team and slims down, then joins up with his mother on endless diets (Atkins! I did that one with my dad, back in the 70s), back and forth, back and forth. Ultimately it gets into some pretty dark territory, of bulimia and then bingeing.

It’s a classic tale of Too Much of a Good Thing, when something turns and then doesn’t feel so good anymore. And I feel like I am constantly trying to find that balance. I still want food to be a Good Thing. And it is, until it isn’t. I don’t ever want to fear food or not enjoy it. So it was kind of awe-inspiring and very happy making to read about Frank’s ultimate challenge and job: to be the food critic for the New York Times. How could he manage to eat out 7-8 times a week, at amazing multi-star restaurants, and stay fit and healthy?

Exercise. Of course. Lots of exercise. And portion control. Right? Of course that’s the key. Calories in, calories out. I loved reading about Frank’s bootcampish trainer, Aaron, who sounds like a much meaner version of my own trainer. I was intrigued by his description of Pilates. It was fun following Frank on his transformation from couch-potato-dom to athlete.

The writing in this book is fantastic. Funny, poignant, honest, real. I laughed out loud a LOT, and also cringed and wiped a tear or two. And there was a crazy moment of recognition, much like when I read Kate Moses’ Cakewalk and remembered that I ALSO bit the toes off of rubber alligators from Disneyland (WHAT??? Really!). Maybe not quite as bizarre, but like Frank Bruni, I also had a mad love for cold noodles with sesame paste, something I’d long forgotten (I can’t find this stuff in San Francisco). I used to be obsessssssssssed with those cold noodles when I lived in New York, and my favorite spot was this teeny tiny hole-in-the-wall called OMei in NY’s Chinatown. My friend used to bring me those as a special treat after I moved away. It’s been so many years since I’ve had those noodles, and… sigh. Reading this book brought it all back. (Frank! if you or anybody else knows where I can find these noodles in San Francisco, pleeeeeeeeeease tell me!)

Anyway. Back to the book. I loved it. For someone who loves both Top Chef AND The Biggest Loser, it really spoke to my heart (and my taste buds?).  It made me feel like I had company, in the best way. And after I read it, Frank Bruni joined the ranks of my invisible fit-foodie-community. I finished the book on Monday and in the evening, I was contemplating going out to the cemetery to work out. But it was a Holiday. And I was tired. Suddenly, the voice of Frank’s trainer Aaron popped into my head. “Don’t be a wimpy quitter!” I went out there and did 3.5 miles, and added on 50 pushups and 480 stairs. Then I came home and looked for something really, reallllllllly good to eat.

 

Week 2 of Foodblogging: What I’ve Learned, Part 2 July 19, 2010

I’m still at it. I’m having fun. I’m liking it. And I’m still learning new things.

This weekend, for example, I learned that it is possible to take photos of your food and still gain weight! (ha) Saturday was a perfect example of Too Much Of A Good Thing. (well, actually, NOT too much, but perhaps too much to LOSE weight) I don’t regret a single bite of anything. I don’t feel like I binged. But I know, and especially looking back, that that was a day that I ate really healthy food (perhaps with the exception of the bread and butter, and the cream puff at the end!) but more than was necessary, um, physiologically speaking. I mean: grilled vegetables! Salmon! Shaved zucchini salad! It was all good good food. It was delicious. I ate “in moderation.” All in all, I’d consider it a Success. I did  not feel deprived; I ate good things, I was happy.

I also learned that it is possible (well, I knew THIS one already) to eat not enough of Not Very Good Food. This was pretty much yesterday. I was still really full from Saturday AND I was really busy so I did not eat very much. But what I did eat wasn’t the most ideal stuff. A lot of carbs, not enough produce.

Last week I took some photos of lunch while at work. I think my co-workers thought I was a little, um… special. As my daughters would say. But I took them anyway.

I’m excited that since I’ve started this process, a few of my blogging buddies have joined in and are photoblogging too. I’m having a great time following their food, and learning all sorts of things. Here’s Karen’s, and Pubsgal’s, and Sweeter’s. Welcome to foodblogging, friends!

The process is continuing to fascinate me and every day I notice more and more new things. Onward!

 

 
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