Updated: May 21, 2020
Continuing my explanation of "how?"
You’re still here after my insults about your personal conviction to feeling better? Huh. What’s the next way to push people away before taking my sage advice?
Let’s talk about health. Sorry.
We all know Maslow’s Hierarchy. Organisms have baseline needs that must be fulfilled before higher level needs can be. Cool. So we all agree that you need to eat, sleep, and reduce physical discomfort before your brain box is going to work right?
Next point. You’re probably already experiencing a lot of physical discomfort from your anxiety and depression. Maybe some exhaustion, nausea, heartburn, migraines, hypertension… who knows, we all get a personalized mix.
So. Before you begin to tackle that clusterfuck of symptoms, I strongly recommend you get a hold on your non-trauma related physical discomforts. Get your system working right before you start rewiring the main computer. That means tackling health.
My old life.
When I used to wake up with searing acid reflux, tension migraines, zero energy and digestive failure every day, it was difficult to know what was related to my mental health and what was fuckery that I brought upon myself with unhealthy living. It was a solid mix of both - rest assured.
At the time, if you had asked me, I wouldn’t have been able to identify all the ways I was actively fucking myself. I told myself I lived healthily and everything was out of my control. After my bout with mysterious illness, I was quick to feel like a victim of my biology. I thought I had a mysterious, vindictive body that worked in unpredictable ways. I was a slave to my physiology.
In reality, I didn’t do the best job. I always ate tons of fruits, veggies, and low fat options… but I wound up anxious-eating a box of cereal at night or a family sized jar of peanut butter over a weekend. I went through restrictive diets and subsequent binges, for years. I refused to buy myself expensive food or to eat out, but I would also succumb to weird cravings and waste my money on shitty snacks. I also drank pretty hard. It was a foodie town, and most social activities involved drinking. So did my depressed days with a bottle of Evan Williams.
Overall, not great.
When I finally started REALLY taking care of myself, I was pretty shocked to see a good portion of my unsolvable physical problems disappear. I stopped eating tums by the handful. Stopped taking ibuprofen on a 3x daily basis. Stopped taking metformin for pre-diabetes. Stopped blowing money on middle eastern herbal medicine (not saying it doesn't work, just saying I was actively working in two directions). Stopped experiencing whatever comorbidities all those medications caused.
I was finally able to see what was my body, doing body stuff, and what was my trauma, wreaking havoc on my system.
Symptoms that disappeared: acid reflux, digestive problems, sinus infections, regular cold/flu, bloating, ADD, obsession, body pains, random hives, itchy eyes, 25 pounds
Symptoms that lessened: racing/palpitating heart, exhaustion, insomnia, migraines, hypertension, depression, worry, shame
Symptoms that remained: insomnia, shakiness, hypertension, tunnel vision (anxiety and trauma responses)
Cool. So there’s my rationale and my experience. In conclusion, health is Step 2. Love it or hate it, motherfucker - but get started.
Tough love pre-amble.
If you’re in the same place I was, telling yourself that you eat pretty well and try to be active… your body just doesn’t respond to diet and exercise like everyone else’s does. Get the fuck out of here. You’re fooling yourself. You have room for improvement, you just don’t want to give up your life’s pleasures.
Based on the uncomfortable feeling washing over you right now, I bet you realize that I’m right. Heh heh heh. My ridicule comes from a place of experience, love, and self-mockery. I have made all these mistakes. I gotchoo. Don’t hate on yourself. That’s crucial.
So, how the fuck can you start to approach this healthy living topic when it causes a visceral response just to consider the idea of calling your own bullshit and actually trying?
This is going to be the most uncomfortable part of the journey - by design. We're starting from the bottom.
You’re going to have to accept the discomfort of examining your life from a 3rd party view, identifying where you’re making mistakes, and not beating the shit out of yourself long enough to enact changes in those areas.
Get your self-shame in order.
That’s a lot easier said than done. I get it. The uncomfortable feelings - they’re panic-inducing at times. You feel a wash of terror come over you? Maybe a warm, embarrassed feeling in your chest and face?
That’s self-shame. That’s taking an honest look at your life, passing judgement/hatred, and making yourself feel like garbage.
Get used to that feeling. You’ll have to sit through it often if you’re serious about changing your life. (Sorry). Luckily, it’s just a feeling. After you have it, it’s gone. Let yourself feel the bodily reaction, and let it pass. Just don’t let your mean fucking brain get involved and you’ll be fine.
This isn’t a time for conversations about how you’ve let yourself go, let yourself down, or don’t compare to so-and-so. This is a period to look at your daily schedule, pick out the times when you make poor choices, and choose new activities to fill your time healthily.
My snacking shame.
For instance, I had a bad habit of snacking perpetually at work. It was the only thing that kept me staring blankly at a computer all day long, especially with all the mental turmoil I was in. I needed a distraction all the time. This was a problem. This was useless, shitty, food, being shoveled into my mouth for hours all day long. This was a caloric, behavioral, and dietary mistake.
I spent years knowing I didn’t need a constant drip of calories all day long to sit at a desk. But the discomfort of actually changing that behavior caused me to tell myself it wasn’t
1) such a big problem
2) different than what other people were doing or
I dodged all responsibility by avoiding and rationalizing a poopy habit.
From the bottom.
I wasted my mid twenties being unhappy with my physical appearance because of my snacking, at work and at home. I filled my anxiety and loneliness with eating. At any point I could have called my own bullshit and devoted 100% effort to making changes. Instead, I started years later. I prolonged my own misery way longer than necessary. I missed out on some of my best years, feeling like shit physically and emotionally. I regret it.
That’s why you WANT to jump into this honest, shitty, conversation with yourself now. Don’t wait until tomorrow, or next Tuesday, or next year. It’s going to suck no matter when you start. Just do it now.
Know, the day that you sit and honestly examine something you need to change is the lowest point.
If you decide to make change, this is the worst you’ll feel. Accepting a shortcoming and managing your own self-judgement fucking sucks. But it has to happen, or else you’ll avoid the discomfort with your old coping mechanisms (feeling snacky?).
Just trust me, from here on, every day gets better. Coming around to identifying a problem is like hitting rock bottom - now you get started on climbing back up. You might as well start now, the top of the pit isn’t getting any closer.
Don’t focus on where you are now - just think of how accomplished you’ll feel in a month when you look down and see how far you’ve climbed. When you slip on anything in the closet and look awesome. When you're confident to leave the house, run errands, or meet up with old friends. Hell yeah, you'll be there soon.
Boom, hope returned. Welcome.
Identifying your problem areas.
Do you have dietary habits in your life that need to be changed? You can tell me, I’ve done it all. Snacking, sugary drinks, eating out, drinking, binging, “cheat days,” eating for sport, eating for boredom, eating for anxiety, eating for insomnia (I’m struggling with that one right now). Need some general dietary improvements? Eating a lot of carbs, pre-made food, bad fats?
Totally get it. Let’s change.
Start with low-hanging fruit - Three day challenge.
Since everyone needs an easy win, let’s just get you looking and feeling better in 3 days. Dip your toes in the water. I mean, you can commit to anything for three days. If you see and feel results after that, do it for another 3 days.
To circumvent self-sabotage for the next 3 days… First get real about when and why you’re slipping on your diet.
Is late night your danger zone? During your work day? In the car? After work? After getting a few drinks in you? Identify the times/circumstances that are linked to bad choices and low will-power.
Find the causality. What are you trying to avoid by snacking? Boredom, anxiety, stress? Why are you eating fast food? Expense, convenience, pleasure? Figure out what’s driving the bad behavior.
Commit to a solution... for 3 days. Only 3 days. Find something to fill your free time at work/home - I recommend writing or giving yourself creative time. Listen to podcasts or take phone calls in the car. Drink plain tea or water if you're convinced you need to occupy your mouth. Offer yourself uncooked veggies if your body won't stop screaming for a snack. Go on a walk when you can’t handle being near the kitchen or liquor cabinet. Re-visit old hobbies. Start new hobbies - be non-committal and shop around online for something you’ve always sort of been intrigued about. Look at new jobs. Peruse other housing options. Join a new MeetUp. Clean the closet you’ve been avoiding.
Just do stuff. No pressure. Fill your time; you’re living through it either way. Divert your attention from the temptation. Your brain is looking for stimulation - there are many options besides your taste buds.
Three day challenge - Commit to these 3 rules.
1. No more than 30g of sugar per day.
Be honest. How much sugar are you consuming? When . you get coffee is it more like an ice cream sundae? Pounding soda (or worse, diet soda)? Eating candy late at night? Ignoring the nutrition facts on your granola bars? Telling yourself smoothies are healthy?
Dude, sugar is sugar. Even in fruit, it’s not good for you. It affects you in more ways than you’ll ever care to acknowledge. If I even eat too many damn berries I’m a bloated, gassy, exhausted, oily mess for days. Trust.
Sugar is well known to cause inflammation, which basically causes all the major diseases and disorders. I’m talking about getting CANCER from your stupid sweet tooth. Just knock it off.
Watch your drinks. An oldie but a goodie that people are still ignoring. No sugar in your coffee or tea. No soda, no kumbucha, no shakes. No alcoholic drinking (I say, working at a craft brewery). Take a break for 3 days. Black coffee (or tea) and water are all you need in adult land.
2. No eating out.
It's expensive, you have no control, and it's proof that your focus is on the wrong things. You're overspending, overeating, and over-emphasizing food in your life.
Clearly, you don't know what you're actually getting when you order out. The calorie count is approximate and its super easy to go overboard at a restaurant; especially when bread, condiments, and apps are sitting on the table. You get in a jovial mood and next thing you know, you ate 2 days of calories in one sitting.
Nah, son. Not anymore. Stop eating out.
Besides the nutritional aspects of eating out, I think it's a dangerous mindset problem, as well. Using food as a social activity? Knock it off. Filling your spare time with thinking about ordering food? Seriously, get yourself focused. There are so many bigger and better things to worry about. Too "busy" (lazy) to go to the grocery store and cook? You're full of shit, make yourself a priority and make time. If you don't carve it out, it won't appear in your schedule. Promise.
Long story short: if you can't manage to feed yourself at home, you're using food as a crutch and you're making excuses. Get committed.
3. No processed foods.
Sorry. Talk about feeling shitty - 90% of the grocery store is bullshit that your body can’t fully digest. What constitutes “processed?” If the ingredient list is longer than 5-10 things - uh uh. No more. If the food comes pre-prepared. No way. If you can’t identify what the base ingredients of this product were by sight (corn chips do not look like corn on the cob). Nope.
Stop putting sodium in your body.
Stop putting weird chemicals in your body.
Stop filling your system with a shmorgishborg of mysteries. (Why don’t you feel good? It would be a lot easier to diagnose if you weren’t consuming 100 different substances every day.)
Stop putting low quality food in and expecting high quality results out.
Got it? Great. Do these 3 things for 3 days. You can fucking do that. You’re tough enough to live 3 days without a trip to the convenience store, drive thru, or your “secret” cabinet of shame. You can replace bad habits with other activities.
Get ready to feel better. No sugar, no problems, man. Your sleep, digestion, general mood, and bodily sensations should improve markably - in only 3 days. Best yet - YOU WON’T FEEL AS HUNGRY. No more sugar cravings. (Get over the hump; it might take you 5 or 7 days to detox, and suddenly you won’t even care about the candy aisle any more.)
Expect to lose 5-10 pounds in water weight. Is that long-lasting weight loss? Nope. But it is a clear indicator that you’re doing something wrong if you’re normally carrying around a gallon of excess liquid. You can thank salt, sugar, and random chemicals for all the bloating. You should see a slimming change in your face, fingers, and lower belly.
NOTE: Even if you were 120lbs, you wouldn’t appear to have a “fit” body carrying around all that water. You know those people with tiny legs and round bellies? Yeah - weight doesn’t equate to health. Bloating/fluid retention is a real, separate problem which is indicative of a system imbalance - not a symptom of excess weight. Get that shit under control, or keep fighting a losing battle.
Get your diet under control for a few days. See if there’s a difference. I recommend that you journal throughout this time. It WILL help to keep you on track.
Some ideas for your journal practice (might as well start now, I’m not going to stop talking about it): Set intentions for your day every morning or night. Map out your meals. Acknowledge your successes. Doodle. Write about the “hunger” you’re feeling - identify the underlying causes. Break down your bullshit maladaptive thoughts (that box of cookies isn’t going anywhere - no need to worry about it).
Most importantly, note your physical symptoms at the beginning, throughout your day, and at the end of the experiment. Track your results. Otherwise this is just shenanigans, not a real experiment.
Remember. Day One will really suck, but Day Four will be awesome.
A quick note:
I have this whole thing laid out “step by step” for a reason, but if you’re needing life-inspiration to get started with the “earlier steps” of healthier living or making time for yourself - start here instead. No problem.
For me, it was necessary to quiet my body, gain some confidence, understand where my pessimism started, and begin recognizing other possibilities before I could find a new life goal to focus on. Knocking down those hierarchical needs to free up some brain space and recognize new possibilities, you know?
You might be different. Do what you gotta do in whatever order you gotta do it.
I’ll be here to chat about Step 2.5 in a minute. (Yep, it’s the other side of the coin; supplementing your life with exercise.)
Get busy and don't let food run your life for 3 days! See you on the other side!
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