Tuesday, August 18, 2015
People often say that maintenance is harder than weight loss. How could that be possible???? asks the sane person. You made it! You're at your goal! The hard part is done. Now it seems to be about keeping momentum and good habits up even when you don't have the endorphin kick of a loss at the scale.
When I hit goal, I started to understand this. I was suddenly overcome with fear that I was going to lose control again and slide back into sloppy eating. Please don't imagine me with a bib on covered in bbq sauce- not that kind of sloppy eating! The kind where you sneak in an extra brownie here because you've "earned it," or you stop measuring out food because you're a pro by now. Many of us, me included, have been repeat Weight Watchers offenders, having to rejoin multiple times.
How do I trust myself not to slide back into old habits? I hate to admit this, but I don't have a straightforward answer. I cannot predict the future. Who knows what stresses life will throw at me? There are all sorts of reasons why we gain or become less focussed on our eating. Sometimes other things need our focus!
But I do know that we are in a very important time, the month leading up to the High Holidays, which offers us great strength and insight. The buzzword for this time of year is teshuva, which you can translate as repentance, but I find it much more satisfying to translate it more literally as "returning." This is the time of year in which we return back to ourselves, and to others in our lives. But this blog is pretty selfish, so we'll focus on what it means to finding our way back to ourselves. I call this returning to factory settings.
In these weeks we sit down with pen and paper and look at ourselves honestly, asking tough questions:
1. How have I disappointed myself?
2. How have I lived in my my body?
3. When did I take risks this past year?
4. What positive habits have fallen by the wayside?
5. Am I happy? What small steps could I take to get back on the right course?
This is so hard to do because sometimes it is painful to look at ourselves too closely. We might not like what we see so we often gloss over things or pretend they are not happening. It feels easier, but it gets us in trouble and leads us away from our goals.
This is another of Judaism's greatest gifts, the periodic opportunities to return to ourselves. I'll share a private Jewish practice that is important to me which goes along these lines. On a monthly basis, I visit a mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath. After my monthly cycle, I go to a beautiful spa like mikvah and go through a process of returning to the most basic and honest version of me. I take off all of my jewelry, remove all make-up and nailpolish. I am bare. I take that time to sit and write in my journal about successes and failures from the previous month and hopes for the month to come. I examine my body to make sure it is ready for the mikvah and take an honest look at what has changed and what has stayed the same. It is a very grounding practice, one that ensures that I do not stray too far from myself.
It is unreasonable to expect that I was always be at this weight or in this same condition. I also don't discount the possibility that I can grow and change and push myself harder. Holding my breathe and hoping I don't mess up is not an option. Life will happen and get in the way, but Im working on trusting myself to be honest, return to meetings, and return to myself.
Posted by Dahlia Bernstein at 11:43 AM
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Today is a miserable day. It is gray and rainy. There is nothing enticing about what I see outside. What really gets me is that this is my last few hours of a too short stay on the Jersey Shore's Long Beach Island. I envisioned waking up early, jogging on the beach, jumping into the ocean for a cool down and then reading the rest of the book, The Fault in Our Stars, while reclining in a beach chair. How nice does that sounds?!?!? Well... It's not going to happen and my disappointment grows with each of the tiny thuds of rain drops on the roof. This is one of those "hevel" (futility) days, when you feel like nothing will bring you happiness and you might as well just be miserable and hide under the covers with a jar of Nutella. (Don't you wish you were my family right now?)
By contrast, yesterday was glorious. Yesterday, after basking and baking (I'm a little crispy) in the sun for hours, I quoted my favorite verse from Psalms (we rabbis have things like favorite verses):
זה היום עשה ה׳ נגילה ונשמחה בו
Zeh hayom asah hashem, nagila venismecha vo.
"This is a day made (just for me) by God, let's enjoy it and be utterly content in it." (My liberal translation).
That captures my feeling when the day just can't get any better. I love that feeling and I know I'm not alone. So what do you do when life gives you hevel (futility) and all you want is simcha (joyousness)?
I read in a magazine recently that "any day can be a good day." I took this to mean that you are the architect of what is a good day, whether you are given bright and shiny or dull and dank.
Lemons... Lemonade, right? Easier said than done. Because when you are in, what my hubby Aaron calls "a mood," it's hard to break out of it.
I find that this is a question of will, that strength and stubbornness inside that keeps you running that last (or first) mile, holds you're mouth shut when someone says "I" when it should be "me," and empowers you to turn down ice cream cake at a birthday party (why would you do that!!?)
My friend from my WW meeting, Kevin, inspired me when he said that his goal is to impose his will on life, rather than allowing life to impose itself on him.
What a wonderful and powerful attitude.
Just because you are served something it does not mean you need to except it as is. I'll give you an example. Aaron leaves a little bit of whatever he is eating on the plate, just one less bite, to show himself that he imposes his will on the food, not the other way around. He is flexing his willpower muscle. Every time we do this, we grow that muscle and it becomes easier and easier to construct our lives as we want them to be and not just take what we are given.
This is one of Judaism's greatest gifts to the observant Jew. Every time I look at a menu or go to a grocery store and say, "I eat this and don't eat that" because I observe kashrut (keep kosher), I am cultivating willpower. Every time I choose to read a book on Shabbat over going to the mall, I am sharpening that tool in my emotional and spiritual toolbox, the one that tells me that I can live out my values and not accept what others think I should do with my time. While we Jews love to eat, I will say that saying "no" to bacon all these years has made it easier to say "no" to other foods and habits that will not help achieve my weight or spiritual goals. Living an observant life of "don't's" and "do's" is reminding us that holiness is carved out of every day life. A snack is turned into a conversation with the unfolding source of creation when I say a blessing over my peach, because I didn't let hunger make me ravage it like a lion ripping into a gazelle.
Willpower gives us the strength to take enjoyment out of a disgusting day, not allowing curveballs in our plans to derail our contentment. As we learn in Pirkei Avot, "Who is a hero? The person who overcomes his urges." It doesn't name grand heroic acts like saving a puppy from a burning building or splitting the Sea of Reeds. If you can break out of "a mood" and redeem the day, then you get a gold star. And if there is anything I have learned from Weight Watchers meetings its that no matter how old you get, we all love being rewarded with a gold star:)
Posted by Dahlia Bernstein at 3:10 PM
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
Can't I just stop time, even just for a little bit?
As I count down to 30, I'm feeling all of these desires to hold life right where it is. I was picking out cards for a friend's 30th birthday and I hated almost every card that I saw. One said, "Happy 29th... again!" Messages like that get me angry and I want to blast this notion that there is an ideal age out of my mind and out of Hallmark.... BUT, I also share the insecurities that cards like these embody. I want to love myself at every stage and just walk around with an attitude of fabulosity (technical term). On the other hand, I find myself worrying about loosening skin, grey hair, and stomach flatness. At some point I will start a family and as I contemplate that, I remember hearing someone say: "Having kids is the end of fun and the beginning of joy." Well, that's all well and good, but I really love FUN!
I don't think this feeling is only about turning 30. I hear from parents that they just want to hit the pause button and enjoy the stage they are in with their kids, especially when their kids are young (note: not usually said by parents of middle school kids). I hear the same thing from grandparents who want more time with their grandkids, and adult children who don't want to watch their parent's health decline.
This desire to pause is so deeply seeded in us especially when we start to realize how precious life is and how easily it can fly by or disappear. There is a story of King Solomon who asked his servant to find him a ring that could make a happy man sad and a sad man happy. Eventually, after scouring the land, he brought back the item of jewelry that Solomon described. The King looked at the engraving in the inside of the ring and read the words:
גם זה יעבור (Gam zeh ya'avor)
This too shall pass.
I call this the Kohelet syndrome. The book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) is also attributed to King Solomon. We read in Chapter 2: "
Therefore I hated life, because the deeds that are done under the sun were depressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind." He could have written for Hallmark. What a downer! I guess the guy really struggled with time also. This phrase, "grasping for wind" captures the urge to press pause. But it is just not possible. And when I accept that (reluctantly, because Superman was able to turn back time in one of his movies), I begin to remember the other parts of Kohelet.
The same Kohelet who appears to say so often that living is vanity and time is slipping by also exclaims that there is nothing better than man rejoicing (3:22), and that nothing is better for man under the sun than to eat, drink, and be joyful (8:15)....Go, eat your bread with joy, drink your wine with a content mind; for God has already graced your deeds (9:7).
… He obviously didn’t know how many WW points are in a roll:)
It seems that the fleeting nature of time also makes us savor each moment that much more. It makes me want to get together with friends and share a delicious glass of wine, not so much that I lose myself, but just enough so that I really enjoy the moment. I think that while we cannot pause time, we can focus in on every moment more intently, drawing awareness to the way we live.
In this way, we do press pause.
This morning, I was running to my car and realized that I did not stop to enjoy the warmth of the sun on my face, so I just stopped dead in my tracks in front of my prius and gave up a little blessing that I felt joy over the warmth spreading over me.
The antidote to rushing time seems to be cultivated gratitude and mindfulness. Kohelet is right, we cannot turn 29 again, we cannot grasp at wind, but we can stand still occasionally and appreciate the breeze on our necks.
Posted by Dahlia Bernstein at 12:35 PM