Tuesday, May 26, 2015
"Don't place a stumbling block before the blind."
- Leviticus 19:14
A few years ago a friend from rabbinical school and I were going out for a dinner that almost turned into a weight watchers disaster. It wasn't dinner that was actually the problem, it was the fact that on every corner on our way home there was a gelato place or a bakery. I had planned friendly meal and was about to mess it all up with little falls from grace. It was either going to be death by chocolate or death by cannoli. My friend kept telling me, "let's just go inside and see if anything catches our eye." My resolve was wearing thin and I almost gave in, but not until I flexed some of my rabbi superpowers and said, "Don't put a stumbling block before for the blind!" We were finally speaking the same language and he understood that by asking me to go into those delicious corner stores, he was setting me up to stumble. I just needed to speak up.
It's hard to negotiate eating with other people and whether our loved ones realize it or not, we sometimes sabotage each other.
My dining companions sometimes ask for more chips and salsa/bread, or order a pitcher of something delicious. It's hard to resist and if it's on the table it takes a great deal of energy to keep myself from reaching for the basket... This is energy that could be put into being my usual hilarious self, but is instead funneled into restraining my limbs from doing the hand to mouth gesture. We're dining together and for some, pre-dinner bread is their favorite part of the meal, but for me it's another pitfall. This is a negotiation especially with my hubby, Aaron. Just because I have a weight problem, doesn't mean he should be deprived of every delicious thing that could steer me wrong. I do need to have some personal accountability. That being said, we try to minimize stumbling blocks when it's reasonable.
The hubby has a healthy sweet tooth and candy and ice cream are frequent guests in my home. BUT we have some rules. Full fat ice cream only crosses our door step when they are flavors that I actively dislike, such as mint or coffee. We don't bring in peanut M&Ms or snickers and if he makes brownies, I sometimes ask him to triple wrap them in something opaque. When he brings down something candy-like to snack on, he'll sometimes bring a bowl of grapes for me and this works for us.
Sometimes family can be our best supporters or biggest culprits. When my wonderful mother stays with me, instead of baking something she cuts up lots of fresh fruit. My mom has always been one of my allies in healthy eating. Meanwhile, my father (who I love very very much) snuck a cheesecake into my fridge for Shavuot. It was done with love and in the spirit of Shavuot (a dairy heavy holiday) but we spent a joyous afternoon evening off the cheesecake. For me (and the world), cheesecake=stumbling block.
But... The biggest culprit is usually me. I know that if I bring Ferrero Rochers into my house, I will spend all week going in and out of my kitchen like a moth to a flame, trying hard to make the decision to eat only one. I learned in Weight Watchers that if I leave the trigger food in the market, then I only have to make one decision (don't buy it) and it's over with. No need to sabotage myself.
One of our most valuable Weight Watchers tools is the ability to ask for help when we think we might stumble and to be self aware about our strengths and weaknesses. That seems to be just good advice in general. We all have shtick and we all stumble. To quote the Beatles, "I get by with a little help from my friends."
Posted by Dahlia Bernstein at 12:23 PM
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Love YOURSELF as your neighbor.
This is my new take on the Golden rule, "Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 18:19)." I think it needs some rewriting for those of us who are our own worst critic. When a friend in a meeting has a weight gain at the scale, our group gives encouragement to not get stuck on the gain, but to move forward. We proclaim that we all have weeks that don't reflect our hard work and that it will show up next week OR if they just had a tough week of eating we coach them to shake it off, learn what works and what doesn't and keep going. Now, try telling that to YOURSELF and your mind resists the kindness.
When I have set backs, it is so hard not to feel like a failure. Even little weight gains leave me feeling inept and suddenly I lose sight of all of my previous triumphs. Even if I try and boost myself up, something inside won't let me forgive myself. If I'm feeling particularly down on myself after a gain, my mind will sabotage me with little disparaging remarks and I'll begin to believe them:
"I think this might become a pattern."
"This is the beginning of gaining all the weight back."
"You were bad."
How many times have I heard others and myself say to the people weighing us in, "I was bad this week." WE WERE NOT BAD. We may have made choices that don't help with weight loss, but it says nothing about our character. Negative speak doesn't get us anywhere. In fact those thoughts can become self fulfilling prophecies if we don't practice being kinder to ourselves. That is why we must love ourselves as our neighbor.
Here is how we can put it into practice: Imagine that whatever set back you had actually happened to your best friend (not in a sadistic way). What would you say to him or her?
"We all have hard weeks."
"You'll come back strong next week."
"Every challenge helps us know ourselves better."
Try this one. It is my FAVORITE new saying about set backs: "one step forward and one step back isn't a disaster, it's a CHA-CHA!"
Now literally say that OUT LOUD to yourself. Close the door if you don't want people to start thinking you're hearing voices and talking to yourself. But say it out loud. We have to start being as kind to ourselves as we are to our friends.
In order to fulfill the commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself," you must first know how to love yourself. It may take practice, but self love will keep us strong and focussed. And we're worth it.
Posted by Dahlia Bernstein at 7:00 AM
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
"Who is truly rich? One who is happy with their portion."
-Pirkei Avot 4:1
-Pirkei Avot 4:1
When I first read the quote above in relation to Weight Watchers, I immediately thought about the people I know who can eat monster "portions" and not gain weight. This is called ENVY. When I first started the program I thought, "why can't I eat their portion (and mine) and be skinny too?!?!" It doesn't work like that for me and I needed the program to unlock my weight loss tools. To my surprise, it worked!
When I first lost the weight, people would come up to me and comment, "Don't you think you've lost enough?" On the other hand, women who had taken off and put on the pounds like me advised, "Don't let anyone tell you that you've lost enough because when you stop, you'll put it back on." Oy, everyone has an opinion. And what a terrible feeling it is, that at any moment, if I let my guard down, if I don't continue striving to lose more, the weight will come piling back on! Am I doomed, like Sisyphus, to push the boulder up the mountain forever, only to watch it roll back down?
I am left questioning:
When will I be satisfied with who I am?
Can I be satisfied "with my portion," like the teaching says, and still strive for more?
Early on in attending meetings I set a target weight, which was to lose about 47 pounds. I was 2.8 away from my goal when I stopped losing in 2002. I was so close!!! Then college hit and so did the freshman 15. It seemed that the ladies a few paragraphs back were right. I stopped losing so I started gaining and I knew it was time to go back to meetings. Cut to Rabbinical School and I had been hovering above the same weight (a healthy weight) for a long time, but still way above my original goal. My friend, Stacey, said "maybe this is just where your body is comfortable right now." She was right. I needed to listen more to where I was in my life, what my body was telling me, and what my commitments were. So I set a new goal that was 15 pounds above 16 year old Dahlia's original target weight.
This was an important step for me. I felt torn because on the one hand, it felt like I was letting myself off the hook, moving the finish line closer instead of pushing myself to the end of the race. Was I changing the rules to make it seem like I had won? On the other hand, I was trying to listen to my body and my brain the way they were at the moment. It was time to stop worshipping some old version of myself. So, I asked myself honestly if was happy with how I felt in my body. The answer at that moment was YES, so I adjusted my goal. I felt relief and when I became lifetime, I still felt so accomplished.
Maybe goal setting and loving yourself is about knowing what you are capable of right now and going for it.
This was a paradigm shift for me. I gave myself permission to accept my body where it was, not the ideal that someone, even younger version of Dahlia, set out for me. I don't think I ever truly eliminated the desire to improve where I was, but I still allowed myself to love and accept the body I was in, no matter what weight.
Undoubtedly, my weight will continue to fluctuate, but there is no use in beating myself up. I have and will continue to change. I am in more control now than I was 4 years ago and am working towards a new goal. And 4 years from now I will have reassess. Life will be thrown at me and at every stage, I hope I have the patience and clarity to say, this is my "portion," and go from there.
Posted by Dahlia Bernstein at 4:03 PM
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
"If I'm not for myself, who will be for me?
If I'm only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?"
-Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Sages) 1:14
This teaching has followed me all week long, including at my weigh in. I went down 1.2 this week, and this is one of those times when I feel like I earned it. Sometimes, when I lose weight, I chalk it up to a good BM or some other reason that doesn't actually give me any credit, you know...the one who actually did the work. We all need to own our successes more. But, this week I didn't even try to make excuses. I knew I earned it and I'll tell you why.
I stopped worrying about how my food choices would make others feel, and I focussed on how they would make me feel. This is easier said than done because everyone has something to say about what what we're eating.
Do you remember what your mother used to say if you ever complained that your brother or sister didn't finish their broccoli? "Keep your eyes on your own plate!" Unfortunately, people generally don't do that, and what we eat seems to worry the people around us. Plug that natural human tendency into overt social settings, and everyone is a critic or a concerned party.
My work, like a lot of other folks, comes with a whole slew of free food including cookies, cake, challah, bagels, and sometimes even eggplant parm. Add a conference into the mix and I would have expected a weight gain this week. Conferences mean that I am sitting all day and survive at the whim of someone else's menu. On top of that, there are tons of people around which means that either I am having a great time, which makes me want to eat, or I'm feeling very anxious, which also makes me want to eat.
I have come to learn that I cannot wait for someone to make healthy choices for me and if the options are not there, then I'll forge them myself. Occasionally, that doesn't sit well with others.
Let's take family gatherings like Thanksgiving. Does Great Aunt Mildred (fictional family member) get upset if you don't eat her famous pumpkin pie and say, "not even a sliver?" Do you ever feel the pressure to eat seconds of something so that your host/ess knows that the meal was delicious? How about when you're out to dinner and you're the only one who doesn't want to share the wine or the appetizer? Last one, I promise: During my Passover shopping I came across those sour cream and onion chips that my father likes. I thought, "he'll be disappointed if I don't by them." Guess what... he barely touched them and I almost finished half the bag before I threw them out.
I may ruffle some feathers, I may disappoint people, and I may make people uncomfortable with their own choices (or I may make that all up in my head), but if I am not for myself, no one will be for me! That is not to say that I go out of my way to make people squirm. Remember, the 2nd line of the teachings is: "If I am only for myself, what I am?" But there are other ways to connect with people and show our gratitude and love other than with food.
This principle applies to every corner of our lives, including our professions, and even within our families. Just a note on professions, there is a great book that I have been meaning to read called: Women Don't Ask The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation." We tend not to negotiate promotions and we tend not to negotiate eating or time to take care of ourselves.
It's time to be our own best advocates because: "If not now, when?"
It's time to be our own best advocates because: "If not now, when?"
Posted by Dahlia Bernstein at 3:07 PM