Archive for ‘Ideas to Consider’

August 18, 2010

People, places, things :: Identifying triggers

by Ashley Solomon

I can already tell you that my mother is going to be none too happy about this post. But the inevitable phone call I will receive tonight will be the price I pay to address a topic I think is extremely important: triggers, specifically ones that are difficult to recognize and confront. And hopefully she’ll forgive me by the time she gets to the end!

My brothers, Justin, and I - Photo by Gabi + Jeremy Photography

I say that Mama Neu, as my friends and I lovingly refer to her, will not be happy with this post because she herself is one of my biggest triggers for unhealthy eating. Well, her and the rest of my immediate family (but mom’s get blamed for everything, so why stop now? 🙂 ). Growing up in Cincinnati, my family didn’t exactly have an active or healthy lifestyle. In fairness, my mom was for a brief time a single parent, and then quickly a married mother of three, working full-time with a husband who often worked late or out-of-town. In addition, my mom is not the most open-minded of eaters herself. This meant that my brothers and I tended to eat fairly simple meals that lacked a bit in nutritional value (okay, yes, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese does have calcium…). We always had “junk food” (a term I really don’t like to use, but for the sake of simplicity will use it in this post) around the house. Breakfast was not a priority, and if eaten was often a trip through the McDonald’s drive-thru or an Entenmanns donut (I still crave those chocolate pieces of heaven…). Vegetables were optional and not particularly varied (green beans, again!?).

I want to emphasize here that this post is not intended to demonize my parents for how they nourished their children. I’m quite sure that many, many parents out there have struggled with feeding their children in a balanced way, particularly twenty years ago when there was a much more limited focus on these issues and less information available.

But, this was where I learned, at least initially, about nourishing my body. The home is the primary source of learning for children about the meaning of food. I’m not addressing the science of developing “taste” for foods here, but rather the cultural and psychological significance of food. The things that I learned as a child were that food should be simple, taste is the most important factor, and that food is an integral part of connection. These are not all bad lessons, but taken to the extreme, as I do with most things, they can lead to some pretty unhealthy habits.

While I have branched out from my family’s more limited palate and have begun to value how foods make me feel physically and mentally (in addition to how they taste), I still struggle with the third “lesson” I learned, the one about food equaling connection. My family, like many others, bonded over food. Meal time was family time and every celebration or event was marked with some edible decadence. This is not inherently a problem. In fact, I think the cultural significance of sharing meals is incredibly beautiful. However, going back to the issue of extremes, problems arise when connection relies solely on food.

I began early on to equate food with love. And when I didn’t feel this love externally and internally (for reasons only my old therapists know!), I fed myself (a lot) to try to achieve the feeling of love and connection. As you of course already know, this does. not. work. I was left feeling very full and very alone.

Fast forward to today and I am a fairly healthy eater, have wide culinary interests, and have learned to receive love and give love to myself. But then I make a visit home…

As soon as I walk into the house, the urge to eat comes rushing back to me. No matter if I’ve just stopped at Skyline Chili and had a three-way or I’ve finished a big breakfast, I walk into my parent’s home and I want JUNK FOOD!!!! Seriously, you’d think I was one of Pavlov’s dogs the way my mouth salivates when I enter that old kitchen. I start dreaming of donuts and ice cream and potato chips (and I don’t even really like potato chips!). I feel like my ability to reign in this insatiable hunger has been left safely back in my apartment. So, my Cincinnati home is a trigger. I now know this.

What’s perhaps scarier is that this same thing happens when I’m around my parents, even in a different location, like, say, when they come to visit me in Philadelphia. Granted, some of this related to the fact that it’s like a mini-vacation when they are visiting us – all about doing fun things, eating at new restaurants, and relaxing. But for me it’s more than that. It’s an urge to not just eat, but to overeat and completely indulge. I have more difficulty gauging my body’s cues and feel more compelled to eat emotionally. So I now know that, unfortunately, my family is also a trigger.

My parents, Justin, and I in Atlantic City over the 4th

So… how do we deal with triggers? Well, that’s for another post due to the extensiveness of the topic. The first step, however, is figuring out what your triggers are. In AA and other recovery programs, a lot of emphasis is put on identifying PEOPLE, PLACES, and THINGS that trigger you to use alcohol or other substances. (For most of us, PEOPLE are the hardest to identify and change). This is a great principle for whatever your issue may be – emotional eating, compulsive gambling, intense anxiety – and requires some deep investigative work. It’s not easy work – I’ll give you that. But it’s important work in the journey to leading a new and different and healthier life.

So, have you figured out what your own triggers are? How you determined what have triggers you? How do you cope with triggers you can’t avoid or are hard to admit?


___________________________________________________________________________________________

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August 11, 2010

Listening to Your Body (While It’s Being Eaten By Misquitoes)

by Ashley Solomon

First, some exciting news that I am being featured today as a guest blogger on Honoring Health, one of my absolute favorite blogs! Check it out here.

Okay, so it’s going to be a long one… be prepared! (Don’t worry – there are pictures to get you through…)

Before getting into the heart of this post, I feel that it is important to provide you with some background information so that you might avoid immediately thinking to yourself, “This chick is a total obsessive wimp!” and closing your browser. (Not that you won’t continue to believe that I am a major wimp – and obsessive – but please withhold judgment for the 4.5 more minutes it will take you to read this). The important information is this: I did not grow up in a “camping family” This means that the closest my family ever came to camping was staying in a motel that had a door leading directly to the outside. My mom’s rule was that we could not vacation anywhere that she would be prevented from blow-drying her hair. You get the idea.

Now having been married to Justin for a while now (“a while” is relative, I realize), I’ve learned that, perhaps, I’ve been missing out on something. So I, in my typical adventurous fashion (ahem…) have agreed to give camping a shot. We actually registered for camping equipment for our wedding, which may have been a bit premature at the time. However, last year around this time I agreed to try camping for the first time (I’m not counting Girl Scout camping, by the way, despite the very real poison ivy I got on EVERY SINGLE trip) and we took a trip up to Acadia National Park in Maine, where a fluke hurricane decided to hit. Oh, I’m serious. This was just as we were settling into what I had been tricked into believing would be a relaxing trip. Well, I suppose it was relaxing if you consider sleeping while being pounded by rain in the middle of the night peaceful.

Here are some photos of the trip, pre-hurricane:

Okay, so my lack of experience and my traumatic first time camping are not really the points of this post. The point, which I promise we’ll get to, has to do with our most recent camping trip, which officially puts my count at… 2. I decided to take a different approach to this particular trip to Elk Neck State Park in Maryland and to try an experiment that I want to share with all of you…

And this, finally, is the point of this post.

The experiment was this, stated as an intention: I will listen to my body and to nature for 100% of my cues. I will not use my cell phone, look at a clock, or ask others for assistance in determining the needs of my body. I will not plan. I will just “be.”

If you’re confused, I’ll try to explain a little better. First, you have to understand that it is incredibly (and this is an understatement) difficult for me to be “unplanned.” I feel comforted and secure only when I have planned – and thus am in control of – every detail of a situation. I need (well, I seem to think I need) to consistently know what time it is in order to determine the appropriate behavior (Oh, it’s 12:30 – I should eat lunch.) While I know well on a cognitive level how futile, and ultimately damaging and unhealthy, this quest for control is, it is part of me that I have to continue to battle on a daily basis. And thus I thought that camping in the middle of the woods would be a perfect time to challenge myself. I would listen to my body’s cues for hunger and level of energy. I would consider only my desires for what I chose to do, rather than taking into consideration what I should be doing. I would not let my mental “chatter” or outside influences direct me.

I have to tell you that when I told my husband about this plan, giddy to have thought of such an awesome way to push my own boundaries, he laughed. When I asked him why he was laughing at my beautifully constructed experiment, he replied, “Um, because that’s what I always do. I never pay attention to the time or worry about what I should be doing.” I had just one word: Jerk.

So, here’s how it went:

Morning(ish):

After an extremely uncomfortable night due to a popped air mattress and a ridiculous plastic pillow, we woke up around… oh wait, I have no idea! My immediate instinct as my eyes painfully opened was to grab for my cell phone to check the time. I remembered then that I had locked my cell phone in my car in order to prevent my instincts from taking over (and here is where you begin to make the connection between my obsessiveness and alcoholism…). It’s okay, I thought, my experiment is starting! Yay! Justin and I then got up and made a delicious breakfast of apple sausage, eggs, blueberries, and whole wheat toast.

We then decided to go for a run, as the weather was beautiful and it’s nice to run in new places. We got out the trail map that the campground had given us and then started debating between two different options. After several (okay, more than several) minutes, I decided that we should simply choose one of the options and stop comparing pros and cons of each. It was just a run after all. And this extreme analysis was not in line with my experiment. So off on our run we went. What we encountered were lots and lots of hills, something that I would have avoided like the plague had I known about them ahead of time. But this was part of my day of adventure. I hadn’t been able to plan, so I ended up on very steep hills… And when I was able to (very slowly) make it up these hills running, I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment. One I would never have felt had a mapped out a “perfect” flat course. Though we got a little sweaty…

Afternoon(ish):

After getting back from running, my desire to know the time really set in. Was it near lunch time? Should I be hungry? I didn’t feel hungry. Okay, we’ll say no then, it’s not time for lunch. Justin and I decided to play cards. I won’t even get into our issue over Rummy 500 right now, but suffice it to say that we get pretty competitive.

We then finally took showers and by then I was ravenous. Okay, so this is hunger! We decided to head into the little nearby town to try crab cakes at a restaurant that Justin happened to have been to years earlier and had been literally talking about for years (This was not planned! Total coincidence that we stumbled upon the exact same place!) We ate some delicious Maryland crab (very excited to be moving here in a month!) and then walked around the town. Meanwhile, I was REALLY struggling without my cell phone. I wondered if anyone had tried to reach me, what was going on in the world, what the weather in Hong Kong was… It was painful. But I kept myself distracted.

Evening(ish):

When we returned from town we decided to take a nap. If you know me, this is, in and of itself, a MAJOR accomplishment. I do not nap. I realized on this trip that part of why I never am able to nap is that my mind is always wrapped up in what I should be doing, and thus napping feels so… unproductive. When I eliminated the “shoulds” and listened to my body calling for rest, I was able to fall into a blissful sleep… well, blissful minus the mosquitoes. After we got up from our nap we read for a while and then decided to start making dinner over the fire, which, mind you, was a two and a half hour process. Not that I know this exactly, but I decided paying attention to the position of the sun was not cheating and I estimated this long.

Like this turtle we saw, I was trying to sloooowwww down!

Again, I was hungry by the time dinner was finally completed and it felt good to eat completely based on hunger (not because it was “dinner time”). I will admit, though, that as dinner was cooking and my hunger was growing, I started “craving” the connection of my cell even more. Hunger can make me uncomfortable, and just as stress triggers me to want to eat, wanting to eat triggers stress and a greater desire for control. After dinner, Justin and I read some more (seriously, I did a lot of reading of a book that I’ll tell you about soon!), roasted marshmallows, and retired to our palace (a.k.a. tent)… Doesn’t Justin look creepy in the light of the fire?

So that’s my day in a nutshell. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that it was amazing and relaxing and freeing to be rid of the context of time and culture and be listening to myself.  It kind of sucked at times. But I think that trying new things and breaking out of our comfort zones is supposed to suck, at least a little. If it’s not uncomfortable, you’re not growing.

Despite the difficulty, I learned a tremendous amount about myself through this experiment, not the least of which is that I (shockingly!) enjoy napping. I also learned that the world continues to spin on whether I have internet access or not and that my body really will tell me when it’s hungry.

And since it’s telling me that again about now, I’ll leave you with these questions…

In what ways have you challenged yourself and/or grown recently? How skilled are you at tuning out the rest of the world and listening to your body’s needs and desires?

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Don’t forget to become a fan on facebook or twitter!


August 11, 2010

Listening to Your Body (While It's Being Eaten By Misquitoes)

by Ashley Solomon

First, some exciting news that I am being featured today as a guest blogger on Honoring Health, one of my absolute favorite blogs! Check it out here.

Okay, so it’s going to be a long one… be prepared! (Don’t worry – there are pictures to get you through…)

Before getting into the heart of this post, I feel that it is important to provide you with some background information so that you might avoid immediately thinking to yourself, “This chick is a total obsessive wimp!” and closing your browser. (Not that you won’t continue to believe that I am a major wimp – and obsessive – but please withhold judgment for the 4.5 more minutes it will take you to read this). The important information is this: I did not grow up in a “camping family” This means that the closest my family ever came to camping was staying in a motel that had a door leading directly to the outside. My mom’s rule was that we could not vacation anywhere that she would be prevented from blow-drying her hair. You get the idea.

Now having been married to Justin for a while now (“a while” is relative, I realize), I’ve learned that, perhaps, I’ve been missing out on something. So I, in my typical adventurous fashion (ahem…) have agreed to give camping a shot. We actually registered for camping equipment for our wedding, which may have been a bit premature at the time. However, last year around this time I agreed to try camping for the first time (I’m not counting Girl Scout camping, by the way, despite the very real poison ivy I got on EVERY SINGLE trip) and we took a trip up to Acadia National Park in Maine, where a fluke hurricane decided to hit. Oh, I’m serious. This was just as we were settling into what I had been tricked into believing would be a relaxing trip. Well, I suppose it was relaxing if you consider sleeping while being pounded by rain in the middle of the night peaceful.

Here are some photos of the trip, pre-hurricane:

Okay, so my lack of experience and my traumatic first time camping are not really the points of this post. The point, which I promise we’ll get to, has to do with our most recent camping trip, which officially puts my count at… 2. I decided to take a different approach to this particular trip to Elk Neck State Park in Maryland and to try an experiment that I want to share with all of you…

And this, finally, is the point of this post.

The experiment was this, stated as an intention: I will listen to my body and to nature for 100% of my cues. I will not use my cell phone, look at a clock, or ask others for assistance in determining the needs of my body. I will not plan. I will just “be.”

If you’re confused, I’ll try to explain a little better. First, you have to understand that it is incredibly (and this is an understatement) difficult for me to be “unplanned.” I feel comforted and secure only when I have planned – and thus am in control of – every detail of a situation. I need (well, I seem to think I need) to consistently know what time it is in order to determine the appropriate behavior (Oh, it’s 12:30 – I should eat lunch.) While I know well on a cognitive level how futile, and ultimately damaging and unhealthy, this quest for control is, it is part of me that I have to continue to battle on a daily basis. And thus I thought that camping in the middle of the woods would be a perfect time to challenge myself. I would listen to my body’s cues for hunger and level of energy. I would consider only my desires for what I chose to do, rather than taking into consideration what I should be doing. I would not let my mental “chatter” or outside influences direct me.

I have to tell you that when I told my husband about this plan, giddy to have thought of such an awesome way to push my own boundaries, he laughed. When I asked him why he was laughing at my beautifully constructed experiment, he replied, “Um, because that’s what I always do. I never pay attention to the time or worry about what I should be doing.” I had just one word: Jerk.

So, here’s how it went:

Morning(ish):

After an extremely uncomfortable night due to a popped air mattress and a ridiculous plastic pillow, we woke up around… oh wait, I have no idea! My immediate instinct as my eyes painfully opened was to grab for my cell phone to check the time. I remembered then that I had locked my cell phone in my car in order to prevent my instincts from taking over (and here is where you begin to make the connection between my obsessiveness and alcoholism…). It’s okay, I thought, my experiment is starting! Yay! Justin and I then got up and made a delicious breakfast of apple sausage, eggs, blueberries, and whole wheat toast.

We then decided to go for a run, as the weather was beautiful and it’s nice to run in new places. We got out the trail map that the campground had given us and then started debating between two different options. After several (okay, more than several) minutes, I decided that we should simply choose one of the options and stop comparing pros and cons of each. It was just a run after all. And this extreme analysis was not in line with my experiment. So off on our run we went. What we encountered were lots and lots of hills, something that I would have avoided like the plague had I known about them ahead of time. But this was part of my day of adventure. I hadn’t been able to plan, so I ended up on very steep hills… And when I was able to (very slowly) make it up these hills running, I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment. One I would never have felt had a mapped out a “perfect” flat course. Though we got a little sweaty…

Afternoon(ish):

After getting back from running, my desire to know the time really set in. Was it near lunch time? Should I be hungry? I didn’t feel hungry. Okay, we’ll say no then, it’s not time for lunch. Justin and I decided to play cards. I won’t even get into our issue over Rummy 500 right now, but suffice it to say that we get pretty competitive.

We then finally took showers and by then I was ravenous. Okay, so this is hunger! We decided to head into the little nearby town to try crab cakes at a restaurant that Justin happened to have been to years earlier and had been literally talking about for years (This was not planned! Total coincidence that we stumbled upon the exact same place!) We ate some delicious Maryland crab (very excited to be moving here in a month!) and then walked around the town. Meanwhile, I was REALLY struggling without my cell phone. I wondered if anyone had tried to reach me, what was going on in the world, what the weather in Hong Kong was… It was painful. But I kept myself distracted.

Evening(ish):

When we returned from town we decided to take a nap. If you know me, this is, in and of itself, a MAJOR accomplishment. I do not nap. I realized on this trip that part of why I never am able to nap is that my mind is always wrapped up in what I should be doing, and thus napping feels so… unproductive. When I eliminated the “shoulds” and listened to my body calling for rest, I was able to fall into a blissful sleep… well, blissful minus the mosquitoes. After we got up from our nap we read for a while and then decided to start making dinner over the fire, which, mind you, was a two and a half hour process. Not that I know this exactly, but I decided paying attention to the position of the sun was not cheating and I estimated this long.

Like this turtle we saw, I was trying to sloooowwww down!

Again, I was hungry by the time dinner was finally completed and it felt good to eat completely based on hunger (not because it was “dinner time”). I will admit, though, that as dinner was cooking and my hunger was growing, I started “craving” the connection of my cell even more. Hunger can make me uncomfortable, and just as stress triggers me to want to eat, wanting to eat triggers stress and a greater desire for control. After dinner, Justin and I read some more (seriously, I did a lot of reading of a book that I’ll tell you about soon!), roasted marshmallows, and retired to our palace (a.k.a. tent)… Doesn’t Justin look creepy in the light of the fire?

So that’s my day in a nutshell. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that it was amazing and relaxing and freeing to be rid of the context of time and culture and be listening to myself.  It kind of sucked at times. But I think that trying new things and breaking out of our comfort zones is supposed to suck, at least a little. If it’s not uncomfortable, you’re not growing.

Despite the difficulty, I learned a tremendous amount about myself through this experiment, not the least of which is that I (shockingly!) enjoy napping. I also learned that the world continues to spin on whether I have internet access or not and that my body really will tell me when it’s hungry.

And since it’s telling me that again about now, I’ll leave you with these questions…

In what ways have you challenged yourself and/or grown recently? How skilled are you at tuning out the rest of the world and listening to your body’s needs and desires?

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Don’t forget to become a fan on facebook or twitter!