• Believe nothing, question everything, don't take anything personally

    Announcement: I'm on a spontaneous holiday! It started yesterday and I don't want to stop yet. It looks like going straight on through my birthday in New York this weekend. I'll be back next week with a new article; in the meantime, please enjoy Manifesto 1.0, from July 2013. One of my most popular posts.

    (Manifesto 3.0 is in the works, by the way.)

    And if you like this sort of thing, you would probably enjoy my weekly newsletter. I write about weight loss and ending compulsive eating from a shame-free, anti-diet, feminist perspective. 

    Believe nothing, question everything, don't take anything personally.

    That's some of the best encouragement I've ever received. It comes from my Zen teacher, Cheri Huber. (My Zen non-teacher, actually, as I've just written.)

    I know a lot of behavioral change / habit creation / lifehacking folks are all about identifying negative or limiting beliefs, and replacing them with beliefs that are more helpful.

    I'm not in love with that idea. I like to dismantle old crappy beliefs, absolutely, but I prefer not to replace them with anything, insofar as that's possible.

    Although I don't merely believe that's possible. I don't have to believe it, because I know it's true. I see people like Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle doing it. And during my own week ok five days of enlightenment, I experienced the bliss - there's just no other word - of belief-free living.

    (I also noticed I never watched my back during this time. That alone was a mind-blowing experience.)

    So I don't want to pack in new beliefs, because I like the feeling of space there. Space in which something creative can arise in response to whatever's happening.

    Even if it weren't possible to avoid having beliefs, I don't want to put conscious effort into "creating and clinging" to new ones, as I remind myself on my cushion each morning.

    Believe nothing

    As you probably know, a statement of beliefs is a very popular thing for a coach to post on her website. These are usually quite uplifting, which, oh, just, barf. I loathe anything "motivational." So that's not what I've got for you, but here are some things you might like to know about me. These are things I don't believe:

    Unlike most coaches, I don't believe I was put here to heal people. Much less the planet.

    It's not my "mission," because I don't believe I was chosen by God or singled out in any way.

    I'm not on a "crusade," because I paid attention in fourth-grade history (probably on account of my insufferable friendship-killing need to Please Teacher), so I know that "crusade" is English for "jihad." And although there were certainly holy wars before the Crusades, I don't think you have to stretch too far to understand that the holy wars of today are causally related to the holy wars of so many centuries ago.

    I'm quite a bit smarter than most. But I don't think that makes me special.

    I like animals, but probably not more than the next person. I can communicate with animals, but probably in a way that you can, too - if you want to.

    I can perform compelling acts of shamanism, but so can anyone who has the inclination and the interest, probably.

    I don't even believe I have any kind of special life purpose. I don't actually think "life purpose" is a helpful concept. It's like believing in soul mates. How stressful. Why only one? There's 7,000,000,000 people on the planet. I think we could each probably be happy with a few of them.

    The only deep desire that I've had since childhood is to be Nancy Drew. Or to be at least as good at finding and interpreting clues as Nancy Drew. I am pretty darn good at that, but I don't think I can elevate that desire to "life purpose."

    I don't believe in "deserve." I'm not here to help you create the life you deserve, because there's no such thing. Believing in "deserve" requires belief in some judging body. This for you, that for you. Believing in "deserve" requires belief in reward and punishment. I prefer the idea of consequences. Causation.

    (Martha Beck, Michael Brown and others say that nothing happens to us; everything happens for us. I like that.)

    I think it would be more fun living on this earth if we weren't raping and killing each other. And if everybody had enough to eat. And if Virginia Wade were on the pound note and Dan Savage on the dollar bill. And if there were less strip-mining, fracking, and the like. Fewer Deep Water Horizons and Exxon Valdezes. But I don't think these things mean there's anything wrong.

    And I can show you how to lose weight, but more important, I'd like to show you there's nothing wrong with you.

    Clinging to beliefs naturally leads to a sort of uberbelief in one's superiority, which, blearrrrgh. Beliefs require correctness, and correctness requires mistakes and wrongness, the way "forgiveness" requires someone to be "wronged" and someone to be a "wrongdoer." It just feeds the illusion of separation.

    Which is how holy wars start. Obvs.

    So I could be wrong about all of this. But I notice I'm happier when identifying beliefs to undo them, rather than identifying with them.

    Question everything

    Here's a belief I've created and clung to: As a person who's a recovered binge eater, I need to get a lot of protein. I don't do well in situations where someone else is in charge of the meal plan. Especially a vegetarian someone. I don't like going on Zen retreats for that reason. It's a lot of low-quality, low-protein stodge, in my opinion. A few days of that, and I'm running through the woods.

    So I don't go. I also chose not to attend a two-week shamanism intensive in Virginia this year on account of the vegetarian offerings and the lack of access to shopping.

    But I'm questioning that now. Does it serve me to believe that I'd be running through the woods, perhaps bingeing on wild-caught chipmunk, if I have to rely on Jeweled Tofu Rice and Tempeh Jambalaya? Might serve me to dismantle that belief, too. (No reason not to bring a bag of almonds, though.)

    Don't take anything personally

    In the immortal words of Havi Brooks, Shit is not about you.

    I have a lot of evidence for this. Shit is not about me.

    So if I did want to create and cling to a belief, it'd be this one.

    If you like this sort of thing, you would probably enjoy my weekly newsletter. I write about weight loss and ending compulsive eating from a shame-free, anti-diet, feminist perspective. 

    Photo Credit: Matthew Fang via Compfight cc

  • The persistence of habits

    A true story: I began smoking as an adorable 12-year-old. Horrifying, right? I smoked Kools. Because that’s what my friends, who were from North Carolina, smoked. I was quickly addicted, and by the time I was in my mid-20s, I would have a cigarette if I woke up in the middle of the night. Perhaps I am lucky to be alive.

    In my early-to-mid 20s, my friends starting quitting. I was one of the few holdouts. I was a Bad Person who did not encourage my friends in quitting because that would have left me alone, looking like a Bad Person who smoked. << priorities (I’m actually very ashamed of this, and I wish to apologize to Louise Katz in particular, wherever she is today.)

    Eventually I had to quit. It was too weird being a smoker. Also I wanted to take up running and I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. So after a few false starts involving bargaining over tobacco rations, I stopped.

    And it was as awful as they tell you. A crater appeared in the center of the world. After sex I would kinda want a sandwich. After dinner I would feel like having an after-dinner sandwich. I could barely write a grocery list, now that my other hand didn’t have a cigarette in it. (To this day, when I think of myself writing anything, I am also smoking in that image.) The only thing that helped was loud music, and that was only a help to me, not to my neighbors.

    But I did stop. I stopped smoking, I stopped eating to make up for it, I stopped blowing out speakers.

    Then, about ten years later, I was walking down the street on some random cloudy Tuesday, thinking about I don’t know what, fumbling in my pocket. It took some seconds, but I became aware of the movements my hand was making. What an odd sensation! I said Hey, Hand! What are you rummaging around in my pocket for? And the answer came: I’m looking for a cigarette. Where are they?

    Dear heaven. After 10 years of zero cigarettes in my pocket, this is where my hand goes without my thinking about it. And smoking is an activity not required to support life. It’s not something I have manage, I NEVER have to do it AT ALL. Ten years, no habit maintenance whatsoever.

    Unlike eating.

    Habits can be vaporised in an instant, and the centuries of Zen literature is full of such accounts. But more often, science tells us, habits fade slowly as we replace them with other behaviors. Neural pathway “pruning.” Sometimes people use the metaphor of garbage collection, as if the material of our habitual thoughts and actions gets trimmed, neatly bagged, and carted away to be recycled into the desire to do yoga or paint unicorns.

    But I have enough experience slipping into old habits to believe that it’s not so tidy. I think it’s more like a ghost limb. There’s a shadow apparatus that never really fades, like riding a bike. The pathway is there, ready to be walked if we want to.

    The Zen teacher Cheri Huber once said, “People think they’re going to do a lot of spiritual work and then get to a place where they can juuuust cruuuuise. And it doesn’t work that way.”

    The same goes double for bad habits. They might be disappear forever, it surely happens, but the usual case is that we starve them and freak out about it, and keep starving them and have to remember not to feed them and keep sweeping up crumbs for the rest of our days because habits have long arms.

    So really, for most of us, the work is finding a way to feel good about that.

    If you like this sort of thing, you would probably enjoy my weekly newsletter. I write about weight loss and ending compulsive eating from a shame-free, anti-diet, feminist perspective. 

  • There are times when you can't be too thin

    Earlier this week, in my newsletter (not subscribed? If you want to be, just sign up here), I mentioned having been mooed at by some yob in Maine. I hadn't yet read Lindy West's essay in Shrill about working for a fat-shamer (recommended), but I have now so a few more thoughts.

    Right, then. I got mooed at in Maine. I was, admittedly, committing the crime of tourism in a tourist town. I grew up in a tourist town, I spent most of my adult life in another, and I live in a tourist town now. So I get it. Tourism is complicated and tourists cause problems (as well as solve some).

    The guy didn’t yell Go home! though - he mooed at me as if the reason for his dislike would remain perfectly hidden that way, behind the evident reason for his disapproval: My "fat." As if I would naturally understand him not to be saying I am a disenfranchised male and you look well-heeled so I’m gonna vent now, but Your fat body disgusts me to the point I’ve lost my English and must now communicate with animal noises.

    Mind, I am only fat in my own memory. I am not objectively fat except by the most recent, most distorted standards, like, in comparison to supermodels and Iggy Pop. I am of statistically average weight; my BMI (not that I care about BMI or venerate the concept) is normal. So when a man moos at me, implying that I am too heavy, he is not really saying anything about my body weight.

    He is also not saying “I have a very specialized sexuality; I am only attracted to women with very low body weight, and I need to let you know that you are not that. While I am driving by. Not that you would have even noticed me otherwise.”

    No, what he was really saying is “I hate you.” And he was using a very recent, very aberrant body “norm” because it’s a handy decoy, and because that “norm” so often goes unchallenged.

    Too often, we don’t even catch ourselves thinking Oh, is someone coming at me with the information I am too fat? Much less the rest of the sequence, which goes something like this:

    1. Oh, he is right, and I am too fat.
    2. Therefore I am less than, worth less.
    3. Also he is allowed to pass unilateral judgement on me.
    4. Also he is authorized to inform me of my worth-less-ness out loud in public.
    5. Now it is time to feel like shit.
    6. Semi-optional last step: Binge, mini-binge, go on diet, or some combo.

    My purpose is not to point out that it’s irrational to fat-shame people who are not fat. I find fat-shaming despicable and disingenuous at any weight. It’s about hate; it’s not about fat.

    My points are 

    1. Let's catch this, when our brains agree with any formulation forced on us like you're fat so you're a piece of shit who deserves agression and

    2. I’ve done a very poor job, as a weight coach, of letting people know that I don’t regard losing weight as the only reasonable response to being fat or being called fat.

    I think losing weight is a good idea if our body wants that. I think learning to expand our capacity for pleasure beyond food is a great idea. I think putting your body in charge of eating beats bingeing and restricting. I think our bodies have a sweet spot at which they’re most comfortable, and if our back is messed because we’re too heavy or if we’re not menstruating because we’re too thin, we are not in that sweet spot.

    But if we think the haters will shut up and leave us alone when we’re thin? Well, that’s when it's true that you just can’t be thin enough.

    If you like this sort of thing, you would probably enjoy my weekly newsletter. I write about weight loss and ending compulsive eating from a shame-free, anti-diet, feminist perspective. 

  • A simple way to be less crazy at night

    A subscriber, M, asked recently about out-of-control eating in the evening. Here’s what she says:

    Q:  At breakfast and lunch I have a plan I can stick to. I am tired after a day of work and ready to eat anything. I can usually make it through dinner, but then I face evening challenges and I get really crazy.

    M’s question is a very common one. I asked What happens earlier in the day? What are breakfast and lunch like? And she said:

    I will admit it’s the same thing every day. I weigh and measure breakfast, usually cereal with fruit and milk or yogurt. Lunch is either salad or leftovers - small portions. 

    A:  This is actually a pretty easy problem to fix by going back to Square One, aka The Basics, aka What Your Grandparents Always Did, aka Starting the Day Right, aka … breakfast.

    Many people all over the world eat “the same thing every day” for breakfast. Nothing wrong with that, because lunch and dinner tend to vary. But breakfast needs to be enough food, and any time someone says they’re weighing and measuring, I think it likely they’re restricting. Undereating. 

    (And not necessarily! Maybe they’re an athlete concerned about getting enough of some macro for their sport. I don’t know. But … usually, it’s restriction. 

    So get enough. And if you’re trying to make it to lunch, get a balanced breakfast. I don’t mean meat, starch, and two veg - I mean protein and fat and carbs. Something that will keep you going for a few hours. Perhaps an egg sandwich. Some people like a chopped salad. No need to stick to “traditional” ideas of breakfast. (Check out the recent “Breakfast around the world” issue of Lucky Peach for ideas.)

    Lunch of salad or leftovers seems fine. Or salad and leftovers. “Small portions” does not seem fine, if you “go crazy” in the evening.

    We all know people - oh! just terrible people - who can skip breakfast, eat a small salad at lunch, and be happy with a cocktail and a bowl of cereal for dinner. But if you come home tired from work, face challenges, and then go off the rails, you are not that person. You will never win the battle to stay thin by undereating, because work and home challenges wear down your willpower while your hunger is building strength all day. You have the kind of body - a common enough kind of body - that’s going to win at the end of the day. It shows you exactly that, all the time.

    And that’s not bad news.

    Because, as I say, this is a pretty simple fix: Eat enough at breakfast, eat enough at lunch.

    Now some people do not want breakfast. Maybe they are not a morning person. Or maybe they, too, go crazy and get bingey in the evening and wake up full. But most people who want to shift this pattern find that within three days or so eating in the morning, their body has adjusted and is asking to be fed shortly after getting up.

    There may still be evening struggles, but they will be many fewer and much less crazy. 

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  • Staying ferociously on our own side

    As you may know, I think the core of self-care is staying - ferociously - on our own side. I have been studying my friend Jennifer (this is her real name but I have 86 friends called Jennifer, just like you), a woman who can stay on her own side no matter what. Always feeling herself. ADMIRE! RESPECT!

    I have never observed Jennifer to deflect a compliment. She prefers to amplify positive feedback. She can take a little fun-size compliment and make a meal of it. Here’s what she does: If you say Jennifer, I love your idea! It is so smart! she will respond, I know! Hot, right? Or if you say Jennifer, those yoga pants are amazing! They make your booty look really high and mighty! she will be right there with I know! Hawwwwt, riiiiite?!

    Disarm criticism with this hawt two-step dance move:  Agree, and make it a virtue.

    You have to LOVE. YOUR. SELF. to respond this way, receiving a compliment and then taking it even higher. It is genius. It is like the loaves and fishes of approval.

    Receiving compliments by pumping up the volume would of course be enough to make every day a gala event. (This is my summer project, by the way: Every Day a Gala Event. Feel free to swipe.) But! there is more. Because just as this response amplifies positive feedback, it can be used to deflect negative feedback. Jennifer works this angle, too.

    Now by negative feedback I am not talking about the kind of criticism that you’d ask for to make your work better. I’m not talking about the kind of thoughtful critique you’ll get from a friend who has your back. I mean the fear of being told we’re stupid, self-regarding, pretentious, overreaching, and doing it all wrong. This isn’t a slight suspicion; we have a body of evidence. The world is always ready with its message of Who do you think you are?

    And if we try to avoid it, we’re going to stay indoors on a lot of beautiful days.

    Now, because I have put in 10,000 hours experimenting with boundaries - hot, riiiiite?! - I get a lot less criticism than I used to. It’s like I am wearing an invisible sign that says I am impervious to your “feedback” so be quiet today.

    Once in awhile someone will throw something at the wall, see if it sticks. But it doesn’t! Because now when I hear, Wow you’re being kinda dramatic or You are criminally ignorant if you want your burger cooked medium-well, or some such freestyle unsolicited opinion, I can say I know! Hot, right? and instantly communicate 1. Guy, your opinion has added nothing and 2. I am ferociously on my own side, so if you try to knock me down, you'll just get tired.

    Obviously there are times when you need more than a standard deflection, and for this we have boundaries. (Boundaries! More boundaries! And one last word about boundaries.)

    But this little dance move is a cheerful first announcement that you're not defenseless. AND you can say this without sarcasm. You can defuse a criticism bomb without belligerence! You’re just letting your critics know you don’t need their approval because you’ve got your own

    Soooooo hot.

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