Monday, October 19, 2009

No-Edit Feel-Good Living

Another no-edit post except to fix my inevitable spelling and typing errors.

Among all the projects and strategies I use in my life, I'm finding some especially satisfying ones recently. Or rather, I've been more conscious of them recently. I know they are significant when they find their way onto my daily lists. In amongst the "make doctor's appointment" and "change kitty litter" I include such mundane items as "eat good food," "go for a walk," "prep veggies for dinner." I also include some tasks that are more acknowledgement than prompt: "breast feed" and "drink water." If I only do those things, I have nevertheless had a successful day.

I don't know why it's so powerful, though, to list some of those basics. Maybe because I get so caught up in the baby-feeding cycle that I *forget* to eat good food. I eat snacks all day and forget that what I *really* want to do is eat good food.

Over the past couple months, I've been re-nurturing some of these good habits I took for granted when I had more free time than I really knew what to do with productively. Now, it feels incredibly refreshing to not just worry about things I am doing badly (ie eating too much sugar or letting my muscles get too tight from lack of stretching), but to name the things I want to do well. Thus, a list:

1. Eat good food. This can be anything from a full cooked meal to healthy snacks.

2. Cut up or pre-prepare food for snacking. Instead of grabbing the chocolate or junk because it's close, I keep really yummy food near by and ready to eat. Some recent eats: Carrots and celery cut into sticks for dipping into hummus. Green seedless grapes washed and snipped into small servings in a box in the fridge. Dried apricots or raisins with raw almonds or walnuts.

3. Keeping my portion sizes modest. Instead of eating a huge sandwich, I'll eat a modest one. Or instead of two huge pieces of cheese for my breakfast sandwich, I'll stick with one. Or when making a huge stir fry, I'll portion out the remains for another lunch or dinner instead of eating until I'm stuffed.

4. Eat regularly. On the other side of the coin, sometimes I forget to eat at all. Eat! Eat! Just eat well.

5. Balance the carbohydrates with protein and fats. This seems to help me keep my blood sugar, not to mention my mood, on a more even keel. So even when having a bit of chocolate or sweets, I make sure I start with a bit of protein to even it out. Nuts in moderation are a good stand by.

6. Avoid sugar and chocolate when I am feeling stressed or more hyper than usual. I've been especially conscious of this one recently. I hear from some of my friends with more serious health issues that it's very hard on the body when the adrenal system is induced to stay in a fight-or-flight holding pattern. Adrenaline is great for keeping us going for the short term or longer term as needed, but it can lead to chronic illness.

In my own mind, I have connected the dots between high levels of cortisol from living with high levels of stress (from being "Type A" personality or living with harassment, racism, any kind of physical-mental-sexual-emotional abuse), and high levels of heart disease and other illnesses impacted by a stressed adrenal system. Sleep disorders, metabolism issues, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue syndrome anyone? I don't have ALL the science or ALL the answers, but I can certainly draw some conclusions and speculate. The upshot of all this is that I try to AVOID sugar and chocolate when I am stressed or fighting off something. Simply reminding myself to be gentle with my adrenal system helps me treat myself better.

7. Avoid stress and stewing. Well, I try! Certain people and situations can be very stressful for me. Sometimes I need to vacate myself or to practice healthy distraction to avoid *stewing* in the stress or letting things run endlessly through my mind. Sometimes I deliberately find a new target for my attention just to help me jump out of the mental-emotional rut. Sometimes I have to declare my intent out loud, as in: I am not going to let that person ruin my body through stress. Sometimes I practice some deep breathing to help lower my blood pressure. Sometimes I walk away and decline to engage. Sometimes I have to choose between "politeness" and my health (but not often).

8. Eat less salt. This is right up there with sugar and caffeine. I don't eat much additional salt to begin with, but again, being more conscious of it helps me make better choices than high-sodium ones.

9. Stretch. Move. I used to do yoga with my husband. We hardly have time for that at home, much less taking a class. But incorporating some stretches in my day helps. Every little bit helps, dontcha know?! :) I get up, I stretch my arms over my head and turn my head from side to side. I tilt my head, sit up straight, then run through a few pelvic tilts to wake up my spine. When I take a bath, I do a few sets of long leg stretches and lifts in the water. I wash my hair while letting my legs float up and down and engaging the abdominals. I do wrist and ankle rotations while I'm sitting nursing. I dance around to music to wake up my aerobic system and entertain the baby at the same time. I lift her over my head. If I go out to get the paper, I try to make a longer loop through the yard. I park farther away from the door of the grocery store so I get a longer walk. I prefer to go for longer walks, but again, every little bit helps.

I know all this stuff, but I get distracted by other things going on. I'm going to keep on adding these, in different incarnations, to my everyday lists.

I'm pleased with the huge difference a small amount of attention (and reminders to pay attention) can make. The big payoff is not just that I can check something off my list but by how good I feel. I can feel the results.

And one more.

10. Actually go to bed at a reasonable hour so I can get more sleep! Oh, I guess I need to add this to the list, eh? Okay, I can make that happen. Off I go. :)

Epilogue: I started this post thinking about being overdosed on adrenaline, and worked my way around to it from a direction I thought might get me there. I might be able to say all this more succinctly if I could edit it down, but no time to fuss with it! Such is the frustrations and beauty of the no-edit exercise.

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