Holistic Health Care For Women – San Francisco, CA
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After experimenting with the guidelines for healthy eating from part 2 of this series, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed! When I first read these guidelines several years ago, I also felt pretty overwhelmed. My mealtimes were anything but peaceful or mindful. When I began trying to sit down at the table and eat my food without reading a magazine or turning on some music, I found myself getting extremely agitated. I was so used to eating in a distracted environment, or using food to distract me from uncomfortable emotional states, that I felt trapped. However, I kept practicing and the discomfort slowly began to ease. I started to notice the flavors and textures of my food more. I also began to eat smaller portions because I was able to focus on my internal sensation of fullness rather than just finishing what was on my plate. I didn’t snack as much either because when I made myself eat the snack at the table, I realized I was more bored than hungry.

It has been a long journey and I am still not 100% consistent, but my attitude toward food has really been transformed through these daily practices. Instead of using food to reward or punish or distract myself, I now view it from a more neutral perspective as basic nourishment. I know that in order to have energy and feel more emotionally balanced, I need to give my body the building blocks to create those states. I also know that I need to create consistent routines surrounding my meals so that my body knows it can depend on a stable source of fuel.

Ayurveda is all about moderation. There’s no need to adopt a “take no prisoners” approach to changing the way you eat. In fact, that’s only going to lead to you feeling deprived and resentful. Start small by choosing an area where you feel like you could have some success and also enjoy doing it. Maybe for you that’s the food journal, or maybe it’s starting to sit at the table for dinner three times this week. Whatever it is, approach your new project with a sense of curiosity and experimentation. Meals are often very social times, so talk to your family members or coworkers about what you’re doing and let them know how they can support you. When you feel like you’ve been about 75% successful at adopting one of the suggestions, think about which one you’d like to try next.

If challenging emotions start to come up — which they likely will, invite yourself to hold them with compassion, breathing deeply and sensing where you’re feeling them most intensely in your body. See if you can just be present with each physical sensation rather than getting caught up in the story or the drama behind it. Oftentimes, you’ll find that the sensation begins to shift. Above all, be patient with yourself. It took each of us a very long time to develop our current relationship with food, so we need to give ourselves plenty of time and space to build the foundation for a new way of relating to what we eat.

P.S. If this series stirred something in you and you’d like some support to move toward a way of eating that feels right for your own mind, body and spirit, please get in touch! This topic holds a special place in my heart because of my own past challenges with emotional eating, and I’d love to help you navigate your way to a more peaceful relationship with your food.

In part 1 of this series, we saw how keeping a food journal can be helpful for uncovering connections between our food choices and mood. If you’ve been keeping a journal, you may have noticed that when you’re feeling a certain way, you reach for a certain type of food. Conversely, you may have discovered that when you eat a certain type of food, you find yourself feeling a certain way several hours or even a day later. Now here’s one more piece of the puzzle: in addition to thinking about what we’re eating, it’s important to consider how we’re eating.

When I worked a stressful cubicle job several years ago, I would grab a muffin or a piece of fruit for breakfast as I ran out the door and eat it in the car as I drove to work. I used to spend my lunches hunched over my desk shoveling food into my mouth while I answered emails or worked on a presentation. Then I would come home at the end of a long day and reward/comfort myself by eating half a bag of tortilla chips before dinner or getting take-out because I was too tired to cook. Have you ever been there?

What if you could instead use your mealtimes to take a break from the craziness of your day and really ground yourself in the present moment? In Ayurveda, we aim to approach each meal with awareness and a sense of gratitude. After all, the food that we put into our bodies literally becomes us as it is digested and transformed into the building blocks of healthy tissue. We really, truly are what we eat. Here are some ways to help bring more mindfulness to your mealtimes:

  • Begin meals by giving thanks for the food in front of you or simply taking 3-5 slow breaths with your eyes closed. Doing this brings your awareness to the present moment and prepares your body to receive the food. There is an actual stage of digestion called the cephalic phase in which the release of gastric secretions is triggered by the sight, smell and anticipation of food.
  • Eat in a calm environment where there is little distraction. It is best to avoid having the television or the radio on. Avoid reading, excessive conversation and all conversation about emotionally intense issues.
  • Chew your food until it is an even consistency. This requires your attention to be on the food in your mouth. There is no magic number of times to chew your food. Chewing well improves your digestion and absorption of the food.
  • Eat at a moderate pace and until you are approximately 75% full. You should feel neither heavy nor hungry. When we overeat, our digestion becomes compromised and the undigested food particles ferment in our gut, fostering bacteria and toxins that are then transported throughout the body. Some people notice a small burp when they are reaching 75-80% full.
  • Following your meal, let your food digest for a little while before going on to the next activity. It is best to wait 15-20 minutes. During this time, engage in light conversation or read a light book. You can also go for a slow walk. If you are rushed, at least take 3-5 slow breaths to consciously close the door on your experience.

You’re probably saying to yourself, “There’s no way I could do all of this! My current way of eating is so far removed from what you describe that I wouldn’t even know where to start.” Believe me, I understand how you feel because I’ve been right there. Here’s what you do: start by keeping it very simple and picking just one suggestion to play with over the next week. If it doesn’t go perfectly as planned, don’t worry! I’m always pleased when a patient discovers an area of stuckness, because that means we’re starting to move closer to the heart of her challenge. In part 3, I’ll share a bit more about my own experience of learning to work with these guidelines.

Have you ever noticed that every woman’s body responds differently to specific foods, especially during the week before menstruation? What makes you feel more balanced that week may make another woman feel awful. Keeping a food journal for at least a week can be great method for gaining insight into your personal connection between food and mood. For each meal, record how you’re feeling before, immediately after, and 2-3 hours later. Note your mood, energy level, degree of hunger, and any physical sensations like gas, bloating, or headaches. You may discover that certain foods affect you differently during the various phases of your cycle, so think about tracking your meals for a few weeks at a time if your symptoms are quite severe.

You don’t have to share this information with anyone, so be candid and use it as an invitation for self-reflection. If you skip a day in your journal or eat something that you know is a mood trigger, be kind with yourself! Before we can make sustainable, long term changes, we have to bring our challenging behavior patterns into the light, take a good look at them and decide whether or not they’re still serving us. At the end of the week, review what you’ve collected and ask yourself if you see any patterns between your food intake and mood. Is there anything that surprises you?

In part 2 of this series, we’ll explore why how you eat is just as important as what you eat. Stay tuned!

These days, there is so much pressure to do and have it all. Over at Forbes.com, Chaniga Vorasarun wonders if stress has become the new status symbol, particularly for women. Have you ever found yourself comparing your stressful day/week/month with another person as if it were a contest? If not, consider yourself one of the lucky few. Especially here in the bay area, we tend to wear our “I’m SO busy” badges like some sort of medal of honor. Why do we do this? Dr. Stephanie Smith offers some insight about why we get sucked into this “I’m more stressed than you” game.

When we do eventually try to relax, we’re often so worked up that our leisure time turns into an exercise in productivity. Toward the end of last year, I found myself feeling perpetually anxious, even on my days off. When I took some time to explore what was behind the perma-anxiety, I found this belief lurking in my subconscious: “If I’m not stressed out, I’m not working hard enough.” Yep, this one stopped me in my tracks. As I mulled over its implications in my own life, I realized how deeply embedded this belief is in our culture.

In an annual survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, women reported higher levels of stress than men, but were far less likely than men to say that increased demands at work had affected their responsibilities at home. Women also reported more stress-related physical symptoms like depression, fatigue and digestive issues. Sound familiar? Looking at my own life four or five years ago, I was a textbook case of the perils of trying to have it all. While I received accolades and pay raises at my job, I watched my health decline significantly and I almost ruined my relationship with my (now) husband. I literally didn’t have anything left in the tank for him (or me!) at the end of the day. I can only imagine working those crazy hours and then coming home to take care of kids as well.

As women, we can be so hard on ourselves, comparing our lives to the seemingly perfect friend or colleague who takes it all in stride. But appearances can be deceiving, because only we know what kind of toll trying to be a superwoman takes on our own health, relationships and peace of mind. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s bad to be busy. We just need to stop and examine our reasons for being so busy. Are we feeling pressure to keep up with someone? Is staying so busy a way for us to avoid addressing deeper personal issues? Do we need to ask for some extra support so that we don’t burn out? I hope this blog will provide a place to explore what it means to slow down, reflect, and find a rhythm that feels right for your own mind, body and spirit. Thanks for joining me! I’m so happy to have you here.