What Do You Value?

It’s a simple question, on the surface.  One that most of us have thought about, whether we’ve pondered for hours or defined immediately.  What do you value?  Asked to make a list of our top ten values, I’d put money on most people having “health” and “family” somewhere on the list.

I took a time-management class through work a while back.  (I was heartened to learn that I’m already really good at time management.  I was less heartened to learn that the reason I can’t get everything done is because I straight-up have too much work assigned.  *sigh*  ANYWAY.)  One of the questions was “what do you value?”  But then the instructor qualified it: the question is not “what do you THINK you value,” but rather, “what DO you value?”  In other words, what values are demonstrated in your behaviors already?

Do you think you value your relationships with your spouse/partner and/or kids?  Great!  But do you then work 80 hours a week at your job so you can earn an income in the high 6 figures?  Hmmmm . . . that might demonstrate that you value your work more than your relationships.  Alternatively, it might show that you place a high value on being able to provide nice THINGS for your family, but again, it’s not a reflection of valued RELATIONSHIPS.  If you valued the relationship more, you’d probably work fewer hours and spend more time with your family.  See how that works?  You can say you value health, but if your actions don’t reflect that, then you don’t really value it – or, perhaps more accurately, you value something else MORE.

I’ve been noodling on that idea for a while.  And along the way I remembered  (what I call) the Geneen Roth Theory of Actions: that everything you do is the effort of your mind and/or body to achieve something productive.  The most maladaptive behavior is still a result of your search for something beneficial.  If you can find the (beneficial) result you were after initially, you can deal with it directly instead of going through the maladaptive/destructive behaviors (which, let’s be honest, probably aren’t getting you what you’re really looking for, anyway).

Still with me?  Ok, then!  I’ve been spending some time thinking about this.  First I made a list of things I THINK I value.  That included everything from relationships to health to whatever else I could think of.  Then I set that list aside for a couple of days.

After a few days had passed, and I didn’t have that list fresh in my mind, I sat down and asked myself the following question: “If someone were to observe my life day in and day out, and draw conclusions about my values based on my behavior, what would those values be?”

HOO, boy. Different answers.  And yet . . . they still made sense.  For instance, if I were to examine my behavior from the outside, I might say that I value television and wine.  On the surface, that sounds awful, doesn’t it?  But if I look beyond the television and wine to the REASONS I (seem to) value those things, I find something else: rest.  I come home from work and stay up too late and drink too much in an effort to find some mental peace and quiet.  Late at night, watching TV, I can be assured that my phone won’t ring, my email account is quiet and (since it’s late) I’m not obligated to be doing any chores (can’t run the vacuum if it’ll wake up the neighbors).  Now, in practice, staying up late, watching TV and drinking means that I’m tired the next morning.  I feel sluggish, run-down and depleted.  But I still need to get up and go to work, expending energy I don’t have.  By the time I come home, I’m even more desperately in need of rest, so I stay up late, watching TV and drinking.

And thus, a vicious cycle is born.

But back to the value list: what I value then, is not drinking or television; what I value is REST.  If I start there, the question then becomes, what do I do that will get me more rest?  I know it’s not staying up late, and I know (let’s be honest) that I’m not going to go to bed at 8:30 or 9:00pm.  Personally, the solution I hit on is to take a nap.  Seriously.  I come home from work, and doze for 20 minutes.  It dissipates any stress I’m carrying from my workday and provides me with a discrete break in my day, so that when I wake up the night no longer stretches before me like some wasteland.  I feel like I have some time to get things done, and the mental space to do it.  I still watch a little TV before bed and have a glass of wine – but it’s not 3 hours of TV and 3 glasses of wine.  That 20 minute nap makes all the difference.

Not only that, but by taking care of the values (needs?) on the 2nd list, I have the time and energy to start a 3rd list.  My 1st list was what I THOUGHT I valued, right off the top of my head; my 2nd list was what values my behavior demonstrated; the 3rd list is for values I’d like to develop that aren’t reflected on the 2nd list.  (And they may not be the same values as reflected in the 1st list either, although there will likely be some crossover.)  So if I’d like to place a higher value on my health, that 20-minute nap (rest) gives me the mental space to do it.  Maybe valuing my health means walking in the park for 30-45 minutes 2 or 3 or 4 days a week.  Maybe it means cutting back on sugary afternoon snacks (Frappucino, I’m looking at you).  It probably doesn’t mean going from sedentary to 90 minutes in the gym, 7 days a week, simply because that’s not sustainable, and won’t make me healthier in the long run.  (I’ve done it.  I know whereof I speak, ok?)

Right now the things I value most are rest and recovery from exhaustion.  In turn, getting enough rest is giving me the mental space and energy to focus a little more on other things – things that got kind of back-burner’d as I felt more tired and depleted.  Funny how that works.

So.  What do you value?

WRITER’S BLOCK

You know, I originally mis-typed that post title as “WRITER’S GLOCK.”  I wonder if that says something about my frame of mind.  (Or maybe it just says that I need to cut back on the episodes of “Criminal Minds” right before I go to bed.  Could be that, too.)

You know when you start to write things and then think, “well . . .  that’s not really EXACTLY true . . . ”  Yeah.  That’s kind of where I am.  I can’t get my thoughts to run coherently, and I think, “Well, it’s because I’m just really busy.”  But no . . . it’s more because I’m staying up too late at night, watching aforementioned “Criminal Minds” reruns, and now I’m just too damn tired to string words together.

ANYWAY.

I wrote a couple of posts ago about slowly phasing grains out of my diet.  Which I’m still kind of doing.  (With an eventual eye on “really” doing.)  The reason I say “kind of” is that it was (gently) pointed out to me by my awesome nutritionist that I need to be careful of the fine line between doing something because I feel better and doing something because it allows me to feel in control.  She pointed out that even though I’ve come a long way, I still tend to drift slowly toward Food Rules, the way a sleepy driver drifts slowly but inexorably out of her own lane.

I was SHOCKED.  SHOCKED, I TELL YOU.  What Food Rules?  I don’t have Food Rules!  “Well . . . ” she mused.  “You say a lot of things like, ‘No one needs that much sugar,’ and ‘If I’m hungry and want Red Vines, I should just freaking eat some lunch,’ and ‘Processed foods are just bad.’  And maybe all those things are true and maybe they’re not, but you seem very RIGID in those beliefs.”  Basically she said (and now I’m paraphrasing), ‘You need to be careful not to let reasons for taking care of yourself become rationalizations for exerting control.’  (I TOLD you she was awesome.)

BUSTED.

She asked me, as an exercise, how I would feel about eating a “bad” food as a snack, with another food, maybe a couple of days a week.  Eat a serving of potato chips with an apple in the afternoon, or have 3 or 4 Red Vines with lunch.  Not every day, but 2 or 3 days a week, in an effort to remove the stigma from them.

DUDES.  I.  FROZE.  You want me to what????  PLAN to eat JUNK FOOD???  WHAT KIND OF DIABOLICAL PLOT IS THIS!?!?!?!

Innnnnnteresting . . .  See, here’s the thing: I tend to eat sugar/carbs/whatever a few times a week, ANYWAY.  But it’s usually a mindless, spur-of-the-moment-oh-God-it’s 3-in-the-afternoon-and-I-need-a-Frappucino kind of thing.  It’s not PLANNED.  It’s almost . . . accidental.  And accidents are just anomalies, right?  Even if the accidentally happen a few times a week, RIGHT?  And accidents are totally forgivable, because HEY!  ACCIDENT!  Right?  But PLANNING to eat processed, junky, off-any-approved-diet foods?  HERESY, I SAY.  NO ONE NEEDS TO EAT THAT MUCH CRAP.  (See what I did there?  ;))

The funny thing is, I didn’t even really realize I felt that way until I was faced with the prospect of planning to eat chips/licorice/frozen yogurt.  And after my initial freeze-up, the first thing that came to my mind was, “Well, MAYBE I could do that on Tuesday and Thursday, since I go running those days anyway, and . . . oh, shit.  This is the rationalization she’s talking about.”  And even funnier? I’m already freaking out at the thought of planning for something like that twice a week, but it’s not like I’m not ALREADY EATING CHIPS, ETC. A FEW TIMES A WEEK, ANYWAY.  (That was thought #2, by the way: “Maybe if I have them 2 or 3 times a week I can eliminate them all the other days that I’m ‘accidentally’ eating them, and then . . . oh, shit.  This is more rationalization.”)

True story: I could not bring myself to pack chips for a snack today.  And then I was so stressed out because I was SUPPOSED to pack them, and I DIDN’T and I’M DOING IT WRONG that I ate frozen yogurt and 2 cookies in the afternoon, and then followed it up with half a bag of chips for dinner.  *sigh*  Good times.

I’m really kicking butt at this whole “Start Writing Again” thing, huh?

Yeeeeaaaaaahhhh.  But! I console myself with the thought that I didn’t exactly kick butt with the whole “stop dieting” thing when I first started last year, either.  (Add to that the fact that it’s easier to STOP doing something than to START doing something, at least in my experience: one requires taking something out of my day, but the other requires finding the space to add something new.)

And I actually have some things to share (LUCKY YOU – ha!), but am late for work.  I needed (for myself) to post something (anything) though, just to freakin’ DO IT ALREADY.

I”m going to try and bang something out later today or tonight.

For reals.  I have THOUGHTS, yo.

(Oh God, I should never use the word “yo” again.  NEVER.)

On Eating

I have written and re-written the beginning of this post more times than I care to count, now.  So I’m going to skip the more nuanced introduction and sum it up so I can get to what I’m really thinking about, below: when I stopped dieting, I also stopped exercising, because it was making me crazy, despite my efforts to keep it from doing so.  It took 12 full months before I felt like I could think about getting healthier (not thinner, but healthier, and that will be important soon), based on what my body actually responds  well to and not based on the latest and greatest “21 Ways To A Fat-Blasting-Workout That Will Make You Look Like [insert celebrity name here] In a Bikini!  In Just! Six! Weeks!” workout.  (Oh, come on – you know you’ve read them, too.)  It bears saying here that in my teens I was diligent about doing some of those – and I always felt SO disappointed that I didn’t look like a celebrity in 6 weeks.  But did I ever think that it was unrealistic?  Nope.  I just figured I WASN’T TRYING HARD ENOUGH.  And redoubled my efforts when the next magazine came out.  *sigh*

BUT.  Ahem.  Random tangents aside, I decided this year to work on being *healthier*.  This is more challenging than I anticipated.  Even after a year “off,” it’s hard not to think in terms of weight loss.  I find myself thinking that I should get the scale down from the shelf - just, you know, to SEE.  For a STARTING POINT.  And then I have to stop and remind myself that if I didn’t lose weight after that, I’d be upset, and that if I don’t want to weigh myself regularly going forward, I won’t even KNOW if my weight changes, anyway.  So I’d have to go back to weighing regularly.  That’s usually where sanity kicks in again and I think, “Oh.  Right.  Weighing myself makes me kind of nuts, and I don’t really want to do that.”  And I leave the scale in the closet. 

I also find myself slowwwwwwwly phasing grains out of my diet.  Well.  Out of 80% or so of my diet, anyway.  I’ve noticed that as much as I love my toast in the morning, I do feel better if I’m fairly grain-free.  And I picked up a copy of The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson (blog and link to buy the book here), and realized that I’d been intuitively heading in the direction he advocates in his book.  So I made it a little more formal.  And I circumvented the Crazy (at least so far) by deciding I would commit to 80%.  That sounds like a lot when you think about it, but if you figure that I eat 3 meals and 2 snacks, 7 days a week, that’s 35 “eating times” every week.  Eighty percent of those should be grain-free (there are other “rules” to the Primal Blueprint, but that’s all I’m worrying about right now).  Twenty percent of 35 is 7.  So I have 7 opportunites to eat non-Primal every week.  That’s once every day.  Now, the reaaaallllllly funny part?  If I have permission to do something, it takes away the desire to do it.  (Why, yes, I AM a giant 5-year-old.)  If I decide to eat grain-free ALL THE TIME, NO EXCEPTIONS, I will immediately eat an entire pound of pasta with cheese sauce for dinner, just to SHOW YOU [me] WHO’S BOSS.  On the other hand, if I know I can have toast or ice cream (which is not grain, but is sugar, which I’m getting off of) or whatever else I want at least once a day . . . well, then I don’t really care if I have it today, because I know it will be there tomorrow.  I eat more healthfully overall when I’m allowed to eat badly (REALLY allowed – no guilt or anything).  Weird, I know. 

And the first week or so of actually thinking about what I ate was TOUGH.  Because my if-a-little-is-good-a-lot-is-better-brain was off and running: “If grain-free is good, well, grains are carbs, and if I’m avoiding carbs, I should also cut out sugar, and fruit has sugar, so I should stop eating fruit and if I’m not eating sugary-fruit, it’d probably be best if I cut out berries too, and if I ALSO cut back on the fat, that might help, I mean, I know a pound of bacon for breakfast wouldn’t be a good idea, so obviously all fat is bad, and maybe I should also start buying super-lean ground beef, or even better: chicken, and I wonder how many carbs are in nuts, because I know they have a lot of fat, and if they have fat AND carbs I should probably stop eating nuts . . . ”  So multiple times a day I had to physically STOP what I was doing, take a deep breath and repeat to myself, “GRAINS.  JUST avoid GRAINS.  Not fruit.  Not nuts.  Not even bacon at this point, just GRAINS.  And even then, remember that you still have 20% of your meals where grains are ok.  (And in fact, you can eat all grains, all the time, if you want to, even if you don’t feel all that good afterward: nothing is written in stone.)  So for the love of Pete, CALM DOWN.”

It seems to be working so far. 

Next time, exercise!

Thoughts on last year, this year, and why I’m just like Jesus.

I don’t particularly make New Year’s Resolutions.  My personal experience has been that if I want to fail at something, I should pick a day that everyone in the world is aware of and announce my intentions for all to hear.  Any time I do that, some inner-5-year-old REBELS like crazy.  I find myself enmeshed in this weird attitude that hollers, “Who do they think they are to have expectations of me?  How dare they tell me what to do?  I’LL SHOW THEM!!!”  And then I quit doing whatever it was I was doing.

It’s just as highly productive as you’re imagining right now.

But last year I’d spent several months thinking about Geneen Roth, and Intuitive Eating and all that jazz.  It had been rolling around in my head for a while, and sinking into my brain in bits and pieces.  (I call this process “percolating.”  Any time I have a new idea, a new theory, a new decision to make, it has to percolate for a while.  I have to roll it around in my thoughts, like a shiny new marble, getting to know its shape, its texture, its weight.  It has to seep into my brain and my emotions until it feels like it’s coming from inside me, instead of like some external thing I’ve put on.)  (I know that sounds weird.  Just go with it, ok?)

And last year, it just so happened that right about the time I finished percolating  about all the Intuitive Eating stuff, it was my birthday.  To be precise, it was the day before my birthday on the morning that I woke up and said, “Yes.  Yes, I definitely do want to do this.”  So I started on my birthday, which happened to be my 33rd – which was a significant birthday for me.

See, when I was little, we weren’t a particularly religious family, but I was FASCINATED by religion (still am, to be honest).  I read various stories from various religions, but Christianity was the most accessible, just based on my extended family.  I remember the year my mom was 33, realizing that she was the same age as Jesus when he died.  That stuck with me, because even though 33 seemed far away as a kid, I knew that it wasn’t really OLD in the relative sense: I knew it was actually really YOUNG.  (I breathed a secret sigh of relief when my mom turned 34.  Why, YES, I WAS a dramatic child; why do you ask??)  (True story: on my birthday, I called my (formerly Catholic) dad and announced, “Hey, guess what!!  I’m the same age as Jesus when he died!”  Dead silence on the other end, followed by incredulous laughter and his pronouncement, “God, you’re so weird, Marste.”  :D)

ANYWAY.  All that to say that 33 had some MEANING for me, ok?  So, what the heck, I figured.  I’d change my entire way of looking at food: I’d stop dieting, I’d eat what I wanted, I’d probably gain weight while doing so (*gulp*, but all the books said it was likely in the beginning).  It was time for my old, neurotic self to die, and for a healthier mind to be resurrected.  Being the same age as one of religion’s Big Kahunas just seemed like a freakin’ sign, ok?

(I  swear, lightning will strike me dead any minute for comparing myself to a godhead!  Dear Mom, I leave you everything I own.)

Hm.  That actually got a lot more religious-y than I meant it to, especially considering that I’m not religious at all.  But I DO still find myself fascinated and enthralled by the scope of the stories, and drawn in to the metaphors and metaphysics of the whole thing.  (I actually do believe in god.  I just don’t necessarily think any one god story is better or worse – or truer or falser – than any other.)  (Yes, “truer” and “falser” are TOTALLY words.)  (At least they are NOW.  The English language evolves, people!)

ANYWAY, AGAIN.

I did really well last year.  And this year I percolated some more, rolled around a new thought (more or less since January), examined a new idea, and tried to decide if I was ready for that next step, or if it was too soon and would just make me crazy (again).  But I decided I was ready: last year I worked on a healthier MIND. This year I have 2 goals: a healthier BODY, and to finish a book.  The latter is something I won’t talk about a lot here (I don’t think), but the former is the one I was the most concerned about.

And this is getting WAAAAAAY too freakin’ long, so more later.  In a Part 2!!!!  (Maybe Friday.  Or Saturday.)  (Or maybe Monday.  Heck if I know.)

Is this thing on?

So.  It’s been a year (for all intents and purposes).  After I started my no-more-dieting project last year, I discovered that trying not to think about dieting while WRITING about trying not to think about dieting was sort of . . . well, impossible.  Kind of like the old line, “Quick!  Don’t think about an elephant!”  Aaaaaand, what are you thinking about right now?  Yup.  Thought so.

So I quit for a while.  And now my year is up.  And no, I’m not dieting (still).  I have a new thing that I’m working on this year – well, a couple of them, really.  I spent the last 12 months trying to get my brain healthy, and I decided to spend the next 12 trying to get my body healthy: not thinner per se, but healthier.  I also decided to write about the last 12 months, and probably the upcoming ones, too.  Not just here, but in an actual, honest-to-God book.  (NO idea if it will sell, but what the hell, right?  At the very least I’ll have something super-cool to leave my kids when I die.)  (Yeah, I know.  That was morbid.)  (And yes, I know I don’t even HAVE kids.  Just go with it, ok?  Geez.)

So posting here will likely be sporadic, just because I need to work on the actual book thing.  But I miss blogging – plus it’s a handy tool for overcoming writer’s block.  ;) Less structured than an official book, but good for getting things on the page and getting some feedback.  (Not that I’ve left anything worth feedback today, LOL.)

Aaaand . . . that’s it.  We’ll see how things go.

Farmers’ Market Recipes: Carmelized Onions

Carmelized onions in about half the time!