It’s common for people to dread the holidays, because of all the boundary violations that come with the season. I don't mean relatives who say things like "I'm going to let you go to the grocery store for me," as if you've been begging. I mean the unwanted food being pressed on us by well-meaning relatives.
Except, some of us suspect, they don’t really mean well. They’re really trying to sabotage us … maybe because …
they couldn’t handle it if we were to succeed at losing some weight
they’re afraid we’re changing too much, and they don’t want us to get too far away from the family
they need company in their own overeating or weight class
Or may they’re not trying to sabotage us. Maybe they’re just trying to make sure we still love them, and they don’t recognize love when it comes at them in the form of hugs and kisses and gift-wrapped Uggs. They only see love if it looks like eating their food until you can't stand any more, right?
Tcha! NO. While it’s true there are many badly behaved relatives in this world, and the holidays can provoke even the best-behaved, other people’s experiments with our boundaries are never the main problem.
The problem - and this is actually good news - is us. Specifically, our failure to say No and mean it. Not to others, but to ourselves. If Aunt Hazel’s self-respect is riding on how many of her red-and-green sprinkled cookies you eat, she’s gonna make you multiple offers. And if you’re wobbly about what and how much you’ll be eating this holiday, she will unerringly sense this, and sweeten her deal until you take it.
I have witnessed this over and over: a firm boundary does not get tested more than once. And by firm I don’t mean enforced with anger or belligerence. I just mean unambiguous. No one’s confused what No means, including you. If you say No, and mean it, Hazel will find another way to feel good, guaranteed.
But last week we talked about how one or two holiday meals are not a disaster, unless we don’t go back to normal the next day. It’s when we say, Oh NOW I’ve blown it, screw it, it doesn’t matter, I guess Grandma was right when she said I’ll always be fat, and we continue our bingey way until April, except for a short break around January 1. That's the disaster: Not the holiday, but the post-holiday boundary breakdown.
So watch out for that "screw it" thinking, because it’s very pervasive and very sneaky, and its undoing requires a bit of grit on your part.
And keep this in mind: A boundary is not a diet. You might actually decide to eat a cookie to please the lady. Cookie eating is an act you are free to decriminalize any time you want to. We’re just talking about a few days out of the year.
Unless we’re not. Unless we’re talking about most days out of the year. If the real problem is that we don’t have boundaries and guidelines that we practice 90% of the time, then it’s no good flipping out on Hazel.
As I write, it’s just after Memorial Day in the States, I’m staring down a to-do list that would take Mary Poppins a year to sort, and trying to get back in the groove of a week with a day missing out of it. Always in recombobulation. Never actually bobulating. Fully bobulated is my fantasy and how I wish to be remembered, perhaps on my headstone: "Max Daniels. A life of Total Bobulation!" Maybe an emoji:
(Just kidding. My real fantasies involve earrings, cocktails and textiles, and as for my headstone, and I would totally take anything above 67.)
Anyway. Let's talk about June.
You may know June as the arrival of good weather - though not us in New England where we’re having Juneuary, again - or as the end of the academic year. Some of the people I’ve talked to over the past couple weeks know it as the season of weddings, graduations, reunions and beach holidays, aka Time to Freak Out and Apply Extreme Measures.
By which I mean go on a diet, of course. Which is a bad idea, because in the short term: hunger, boredom, and that relentless Help-me-I’m-being-held-captive feeling.
And in the long run, as my learned colleagues Traci Mann and Janet Tomiyama amply showed, dieting results in weight gain. (Not always. Just 97% of the time.)
So, some suggestions that I think work better for the long run, if you agree the odds of avoiding weight gain following a diet are stacked against you:
First, and the easiest place to break this cycle: DON’T go on a diet. Learn a more sustainable way of getting control of your weight and eating. (I know you know I have one.)
Plump for a really nice outfit / bikini / ball gown / killer set of accessories so you can feel like the most fabulous woman at the party. You know you will do this FIRST THING when you lose “enough” weight. How about considering that you’re enough as is? And if you can’t do that, how about faking it, just because it’s an assignment from your coach <- that’s me, for the purposes of this permission slip. Clothes may not maketh the entire woman, but they are a posture miracle and the pictures will be worth it and the knock-on effects of treating yourself with respect are like a freight train of unstoppable wellbeing that will touch every aspect of your life, and your kids’ lives as well. And then you can get that outfit taken in whenever you need to.
Speaking of pictures, guess what? A lot of those Instagram envybombs ARE POSED, and it is becoming more common to see women showing themselves “posing skinny” contrasted with “posing normal,” minutes apart and looking like two different people, just because they’re body-positive and feeling sisterly and want to spread the Let’s All Relax Shall We! message. You too can train an Instagram husband to get your best angle. (Need not be your actual husband.)
And if you’re really fed up and ready to stop hating yourself over a number for the rest of your life, start looking for the real source of the suffering. It’s not on your hips. It’s in your mind. Round up those critical thoughts, shine a bright light in their eyes, and ask them Where did you get that idea? Who says I can’t get married at this weight? Who says I don’t deserve to lie on the beach and enjoy the wonders of the natural world? Where is this information coming from? Because you will find that it comes from culture, not from you. And there are already many things that you and culture do not agree about. Your worthiness at any weight can become just one more.
Easier said than done, I know, but it's worth doing and can go 1,000x faster with help. If you have been thinking about getting help with any of this, now is a very good time to do that, before summer is under way and life starts moving to a different rhythm.
So last week I made a list of things that make me stabby in the world of weight and eating issues. This week, some things I think make a lot more sense.
I am emphatically in favor of the following:
Personal responsibility. In a "what goes in my mouth is 100% my business" way. Not in a gross Ayn Rand or "The Secret" kind of way. And not in a way that pretends we don't live in a world with broken food culture and a not-great food supply. In a "no one can do this for me" way.
Not pretending that we can eat whatever we want and stay skinny, like that unicorn next door. If we're prone to weight gain, our choices about "addictive" kinds of foods are 1. little or 2. none. (Very different choices. For very different people.)
Not kidding ourselves about how uncomfortable it is to break a habit. Being braced for uncomfortable.
Going straight at it. I work with a lot of women who want to lose weight so they can … Working your body, because exercise makes your body happy. Consider: weight ≠ physique ≠ body composition ≠ performance or capability. We often think that when we lose weight, we’ll be fit and toned and have cute knees and perky breasts and a high-and-mighty booty. Mmmmm … maybe! But probably there will still be work to do. Because weight loss is a result of not doing something - not eating too much of the wrong things. Physique is a result of activelydoing something, which is working your body.
wear what they love, not just what’s big enough
"show Them" at a reunion or wedding
feel good sitting on the beach (on Maui, why not?)
feel good getting naked
find a lover - or a better lover
be rich, travel to Paris, wear expensive lingerie, and go to the opera
or just ride around town in cute jeans on a cute bike with a baguette in the basket
Nothing wrong with any of that - except it might not happen magically, as a result of weight loss. What happens as a result of weight loss is that our bodies and our clothes get smaller. Which is, not gonna lie, often a good result. But it’s not the same as a ticket to Paris. Which you can start working on right now, while you lose some weight.
Working your body, because exercise makes your body happy. Consider: weight ≠ physique ≠ body composition ≠ performance or capability. We often think that when we lose weight, we’ll be fit and toned and have cute knees and perky breasts and a high-and-mighty booty. Mmmmm … maybe! But probably there will still be work to do. Because weight loss is a result of not doing something - not eating too much of the wrong things. Physique is a result of activelydoing something, which is working your body.
NB: Exercise doesn't do much to move the needle on the scale. But it works miracles for mood, and that can make all the difference for getting control of your eating.
Doing it now.Tomorrow is the most popular time to start something. But the only potent time is now.
No set amount of time to break a habit. It can happen instantly. I work with plenty of people who meet with me once, get started right away, and never binge again, The End.
Addition over subtraction. It is just so much easier to focus on what you want than what you don't want. So much easier to bring good things into your diet, your day and your life than it is to 86 the bad things. Examples: Try adding more protein or fat instead of eliminating carbs. Try adding more walks instead of swearing off Netflix. Try dressing to please yourself today instead of eliminating 80% of your closet this weekend. This is a very simple reorientation with huge payoffs. And a lot of us get it backwards.
Taking control of your personal food supply. A lot of our food is engineered for profit, not for health or even pleasure. A lot of our food isn't even food, really. Yes, there's something wrong with everything, and there aren't any true miracle foods, and we're all going to die. But some foods really are more healthy. Single-ingredient foods are always going to be better for your body than foods with 40 ingredients.
Sovereignty. I’ve been doing this a while and have some pretty good guesses about what will happen if you do [X]. My job is to recommend what I think is your best course of action. You get to take my suggestions - or not! People vary, and you have to test things out for yourself.
Dignity, self-respect, ease, flexibility, adaptability, invisibility, sustainability and a very light touch: All the reasons why I love the Riley method for overcoming overeating, as I wrote to you recently.
Fat. Fat is not a disease process, or a bunch of useless waste matter we haven’t been able to flush yet. Fat is an active, vital part of us. We need it in our diets, on our bodies, and for our brains. A lack of fat is incompatible with the Good Life.
Feminism. My feminism might not be everyone's feminism. But it's pretty solid, and it's very compatible with taking care of our bodies and our health.
Women’s bodies. They don’t matter much in our culture; not in the ways I would like to see. But they really matter to me.
Also: Pleasure, beauty, love, friendship, family, surprises, food, wine, dressing up, lingerie, lazy Sundays, beach walks, PARIS OF COURSE, London too, early church music, knitting, cheese plates, coffee in bed, Buffy and Veronica, reading every book titled How the Frenchwoman Does [Thing], using the good china, The Magicians, critical thinking, young adult fiction, Spoon, village life, bow blouses, the American Himalayan Foundation's Stop Girl Trafficking program, my alma mater (Wellesley), and those shrimp crackers that look like puffy little pink discs.
Hint: It's not innate, and you didn't know how to do it as a baby. It's a skill, and you have to learn it, whether you learn as a child, or an adult.
I've been talking to a friend of mine who lives in France. She's from Montana, but has spent virtually her whole adult life in Paris. I told her I have quite the fascination - which you already know - for books about how the Frenchwoman doesn't get fat or flummoxed by tying her scarf or flattened by affairs of the heart.
I asked her if she ever read those books? She said:
I don't. I think they're mostly fantasy.
And she added, further killing the fantasy: I believe the French take more anti-depressants and sleeping aids than any other Europeans.
But our conversation hasn't stopped me rereading re-skimming Debra Ollivier, whose writing reminds me of this essential fact we all know about the French: They have a food culture, and they pass it on to their children.
This points to anotherpopular fantasy of Anglo culture, namely that if only we could learn to eat "intuitively," i.e. the "way children eat," we would all be healthy and thin.
"You knew how to eat as a baby," is a very popular thing for proponents of Intuitive Eating to say.
But that is a big fat lie. Babies know how to nurse, The End.
They do not know what to do with a croissant. They will definitely not know how to evaluate a cronut or a croissandwich.
What looks like "intuitive" eating is in reality acquired taste and behavior. If you were lucky enough to acquire them as a child, you most likely got this food culture from your parents, who got it from theirs.
Each one of them had to be taught, had to learn, to eat this "natural" way. This body of knowledge developed over generations. Lifetimes.
If we did not get a solid foundation of eating "rules" or guidelines or principles as children - habits instilled by parents - if we don't know how to eat comme il faut, we're going to have to learn as adults.
Important note: There is no shame in this! However, it can take a while to figure out.
If you want it to take longer, do what I did, and listen to people who say you already know because it's "intuitive."
Coincidences (aka Spontaneous Unsolicited Upgrades, aka signs of Forming)
As you may have read in her latest YEARbook, Havi has taken the phenomenon of spontaneous unsolicited upgrades and upgraded them to SUUTRAs: Spontaneous Unsolicited Upgrades of Treasure, Radiance, Abundance. I'm adopting her term because my crazy unaskedfor upgrade this week was actual diamonds. Thus I have an honest-to-goodness Diamond SUUTRA to list in my Wayfinding report.
What we are doing here:
Dwelling in mystery.
Luxuriating in desire.
Seeking the hot tracks.
Glorying in the pageantry and spectacle of the phenomenal world.
Gracefully negotiating the contradiction between revelry and spirituality.
(If there is one.)
Here it is: I really truly love my engagement ring. It's a big, ugly, lumpy lump of gold, made up of little lumps put together, the way Andy Goldsworthy might. It's somehow very 70s, also very Danish. It was made by a Provincetown jeweler, and all over the Outer Cape people recognize his work and exclaim over it. It really fits my hand, which is not easy. And I didn't even pick it out; Mr Jones did. He didn't know my taste anything like as well as he knows it today and he got something just perfect.
And still. Like my friend Briana knew by age 3, DIAMONDS.
So after many years together, Mr Jones had been thinking to surprise me with a diamond when his daughter, who I will style Miss Jones because why not, said to him: Max needs a diamond.
He did not say I am way ahead of you daughter. He said What makes you say that?
And she said I just know. Trust me on this.
(I did admire Miss Jones's engagement ring. Sincerely, but not extravagantly or enviously. I maybe injected a note of overcasualness in trying to throw her off the scent of my lust. Obviously I failed to cloak my desire from her considerable psychic powers.)
So it is possible that her urging caused him to upgrade his original plan, because I wound up with an adventure as well - a surprise journey through the countryside, or so it seemed, until we wound up at a fancy suburban mall, where Mr Jones steered me in the direction of a … Wolford shop? Uh oh. I thought What's happening here? Are we buying some extremely expensive-yet-mumsy Swiss stockings? and I had a nervous moment before Mr Jones took my elbow and guided me into the jeweler next door, where I became a bit delirious, and the next thing I knew someone was putting a very Game-of-Thrones-looking ring on my hand.
(I hope it was Mr Jones. I really don't remember.)
The ring has an inverted diamond, which means it points up, like Everest, and it's very dark, "meant to evoke twilight," as its maker says, and maybe to him that means vampires and werewolves and the Pacific Northwest, but to me it means the best time of day. This ring is so beautiful.
(Also, it is an actual upgrade, intended as such. Of course Mr Jones is a software person, and thinks in terms of "upgrades," but it tickled me to hear him say I thought it was time you had an upgrade. Because he definitely does not read this blog.
And I will show you a picture later, when it's back from the shop where it's being resized.)
Another SUUTRA: I have gotten very keen on naughty underwear this year. One of my sister students at the School of Womanly Arts put me onto Agent Provocateur, which is a fancy British brand with stuff for the seasons, which goes on sale, and "Classics," which do not. These of course were the things I wanted. They just had their sale, and although the girl in the shop assured me that the pieces I wanted would never be included, they threw them into the sale at the end for 75% off. And they still had my size.
Further treasuring myself. I think this means organizing my underwear drawer this week, which probably sounds like polishing the silver or cleaning the fridge. But it feels like a particularly delicious kind of self care. Making sure the good stuff is ready to hand. Setting things up so that making good choices is the easy way.
That, actually, is what 90% of my work is about. So I will say it again: Setting things up so that making good choices is the easy way.
Updates on past experiments, aka Treasuring Myself, aka Act Natural
This may strike you as extreme and insane, and maybe more fitting for a person recovering from having been raising in an attic or a basement or Kamchatka. Or, I don't know, maybe a hippie town. But I don't know any other Boulderites my age who have this problem. Anyway.
While I was in Portland a couple weeks ago, I noticed that one of my sister agents, who I will call Agent Orange, had amazing hair. Like maybe the best hair I have ever seen. Really full and bouncy and, clearly, the object of affection, attention, care, love and time.
[Time! The thing that signifies care better than just about anything.]
And I noticed that, as I often do when drawn to something beautiful, I instantly went through this process:
Step 1: admire [something] Step 2: desire; wish I could have something like it Step 3: deny; tell myself it would not be possible Step 4: feel sad Step 5: dismiss; calmly recite reasons why it's not possible for me in an attempt to pacify myself Step 6: feel more sad, disappointed, a little relieved (no risk! no work! no big change) Step 7: accept the verdict "you can't have that" and carry on as if that's true
(Wow, look how many subpersonalities, as my Zen teacher would say, are involved here. Definitely a Small Sad Me and a Miss Slighcarp type: a knuckle-rapping governess whose job it is to say No! and lambast me for wanting in the first place.)
But sometimes a further process can occur, which is
Step 8: desire comes back, even stronger than before, now with added anger, which could be expressed as belligerence toward the denying part of myself, or with renewed determination
And then, maybe, Step 9, rather than return to the beginning and repressively stamp down the desire, perhaps with added verbal abuse for persistently
Step 9: Consider that Hey! Maybe there's a way to have this thing...
So the task "make appointment for Bumble inversion cut" has been on my to-do list a long-ass time. Huge resistance. But the mental image of Agent O's fabulous hair kinda egged me on, and I forced myself to make the appointment - helped by the fact of far more unpalatable items on my to-do list, like Get new doctor, Get new dermatologist, Get mammogram, augh - and instead of acting like a big embarrassed weirdo at the salon, I watched and listened carefully as the stylist explained exactly how to get volume, and I did not curl up and pray for death when she showed me 86 ok 3 tools I do not currently use.
And when she said Most people do not use anything like enough product in their hair. Do not be afraid to use a lot, I heard the voice of my father say "She's just trying to see you more stuff," but I merely responded "Ok maybe. Thanks for the heads up. I'll take that under advisement." So I let her do whatever she wanted and I will say, my hair is bangin right now.
(And that makes this inversion #2 this week, so perhaps inversion is a Clue.)
I have mentioned before about my idea, erroneous I mostly know now, that I was so ugly that any visible attempts to make myself less ugly would only invite ridicule. Like, public humiliation. Like, haha look at that hideous chick wearing lipstick. Did you ever?!
(This strength of this belief is stunning to me now. GOD! WHERE DID I GET THIS IDEA??!!)
To this day, I take mostly horrible pictures because I am on fire with intolerable shame if anyone sees me "preening" e.g. checking for egg on my face or some equally outrageous egotistical concern. The antidote for all this might be "Go where they have a vested interest in helping you look better, and will say nice reassuring things while they're doing it and most important of all, my acting natural while the whole wild and crazy enterprise is happening.
One day, I will not be acting natural when I put "product" in my hair. It will just be natural.
Well! It'll still be artifice. But I'll do it naturally.
Destination: Date night
What has happened? Nothing on this list, but Mr Jones and I went to Deep Ellum in Brighton this week on our way home from an errand. Great burger, perfect fries, unbelievable cloud show from the deck.
Also I think it's time for updates. The new Best of Boston list should be out now.
Alden & Harlow
Belly Wine Bar
Myers & Chang
No. 9 Park
Pok Pok Noi (Portland)
Toro Bravo (Portland)
That should keep us busy for a while, but please feel free to suggest additions.
Let me know what you think. You can report on your own Wayfinding experiments, or tell me about the best places for naughty skivvies, or just say Hi.
What is this Wayfinding? It's a series of experiments with Martha Beck's "technologies of magic," as described in her book Finding Your Way in a Wild New World." They are Wordlessness, Oneness, Imagination, and Forming. We do the experiment together!
Two of my important teachers, Byron Katie and Brooke Castillo (and a whole lot more: the Buddha, Shakespeare, Eckhart Tolle), agree that there is no external circumstance that can cause us pain. Only our thoughts about our circumstances can cause us to suffer.
Fine. I accept that, in large part - if we add a rigorously applied distinction between pure "clean" pain, experienced in the moment, and "dirty" repetitive suffering, kind of like the difference between breaking your tooth and probing the break every two seconds with your tongue.
What I'm disliking today is any notion that you shouldn't attempt to change your circumstances. I don't mean that there is fun or profit in compulsive maximizing (I don't find it there, anyway) or that nirvana is to be found in constantly seeking better accommodation, if you prefer the Buddhist description.
But why hang about the pain factory? As a massage therapist once said to me regarding his commitment to pain-free techniques, "Anytime you cause more pain, you're just causing more pain." And he did not add, And now it's in your body, but he may as well have.
I see no reason not to change your circumstances while working on your habits of mind. I do it all the time, and tell you what: Changing shit is fun! Actually watching yourself change shit to suit your pleasure is just pleasure in and of itself.
Moreover, it's a great way to get feedback from the world. Try shit. See what works. This particular life might be short, and we're not at the beginning of it.
Now, in the realm of changing my personal cirumstances, I am in Portland this week. Being in Portland is really a substantial change from being in Boston. The Fuckedness Index, as created by William Gibson, is pretty low here. The coffee is amazing, especially at Barista. The cocktails at Aviary, just this week named Restaurant of the Year by Williamette Week, and coincidentally right across the street from my hostel, are fantastic, especially the One Night in Bangkok (if you go, have them make it extra limey). The Bollywood Theater is delightful, especially the little Indian carb bombs called Vada Pav, basically some kind of breaded potato inside bread. And the raw vegan kale salad from Pixie Retreat is as good as I remembered.
First-ever drink with an umbrella, at Aviary. My childlike excitement is genuine.
Yes. Good change. It's only for a week - slightly extended due to the airport chaos of Hurricane Sandy - but a nice example of Doing it Right Now. By degrees.
Coincidences (possible signs of Forming):
I'm at the Fluent Self's Crossing the Line retreat. I signed up for it over a year ago, and was really not too sparky when I set out. It didn't feel like it was the right thing at the right time anymore.
Turns out, it's exactly the right thing. Very right timing.
This past year, starting with seeing Byron Katie 13 months ago, I've been On The Floor a lot. One weekend with Katie, and I Hit The Wall and was knocked On The Floor for a month. Every retreat and vacation, On The Floor. After going half-time at my day job in September, On The Floor until 10am every day.
And by On The Floor, I mean literally on the floor. Putterputter then back to the floor. I really don't think I've been so slowed down since the Great Year of Unemployment, which began when someone else's bubble burst, and ended when I got part-time webmonkey work at a 400-year-old web-enabled institution and met Supergravity Jones.
(The Great Year of Unemployment, by the way, was not even a slightly bad thing. I spent the whole time reading, sleeping, playing boardgames, watching tv (!) and going out to hear live music. I feel certain it extended my life expectancy by way more than a year.)
I was still working out why all this lying around On The Floor when I arrived at Crossing the Line. Where coincidentally we are On The Floor throughout the day. Like, a lot.
Havi calls this "Conducting." Best part: no justification or explanation needed. Just noting of benefits, which are huge. Yay! No more needing to work why. Big, big, BIG YAY! for that.
(If this "conducting" interests you and you want to try it, email me, and I'll tell you a little bit more. There's some structure to transmit.)
Another coincidence: of nine people at the Crossing, three are Martha Beck coaches. I didn't know either of them before, but I am super glad to be connected to them now.
Turns out I am not the only Martha Beck coach who takes pictures of her drink. Whew!
Updates on current and past experiments:
About a year ago, I saw a picture of a Martha Beck coach on Facebook, having an In Person coffee date with three other Martha Beck coaches, right here in Portland. I had the biggest surge of I WANT THAT! Connection. Co-location. Conviviality. Coffee. Plus magic and witchery. OMG. Looked so amazing.
Saturday night I had that. SO. GOOD. Me and three other Martha Beck coaches, two local, one probably soon-to-be local.
It was magic and kinda witchy. Total dream come true. Thankful!
If you're doing a similar wayfinding experiment and want to report results, or reading Martha's book and want to talk about it, leave a comment below.