Overcoming self-image issues with the “new” norm

Whenever I read something on how to stop disliking your body and find peace with your appearance, most sources tell you to just start loving your body the way it is, but don’t tell you how. We don’t live a fairy tale or a movie with a happy ending. You are probably familiar with the scene: the character experiences a moment of enlightenment,  encouraging and inspirational music starts playing in the background, the face changes along with the changes the person makes right there and then. Have you ever experienced anything like that? I haven’t, no matter how much I’d like to. I couldn’t just one day become fully satisfied with my looks after reading yet another manual on how to love my body just the way it is! And if they tell you that’s all it takes – wrong! It’s a process of cultivating self-care and self-respect that does not produce instantaneous results, but does reward you with an experience of finding the peace with you body along the way. Here’s what to do:

1. Understand that you are not alone. Millions of people struggle with their looks, trying drastic weight-loss diets, cosmetic surgeries and all kinds of hacks to look better. Knowing that there’s an army of people like you in the same situation might help with realizing that your rare condition is not that unique, it’s rather common and manageable in different ways. It is not non-normal to dislike one’s own body, we are all humans, weirdos even, everyone has his or her own “norms”. One thing you have to keep in mind is that you are not trying to make yourself better by reducing the extend of your problem to be more like other people, who are not dealing with the same thing. You are doing it to improve your quality of life. There’re therapy groups and social clubs where people with similar problems meet and discuss solutions that could help them. Joining a group like this either in person or online is a good step forward to acknowledging that self-image issue needs to be resolved. And it does, because it occupies so much of your time and effort, often keeps you from going to social gatherings and spending time with your friends, brings on dark mood and thoughts, takes away your freedom to just be you and enjoy life. Remember, resolving this problem is a process, therefore don’t stress if you feel like your are not making much progress, don’t even think about it – just prepare for a long journey to finding your relationship with your body.

2. Find something positive in it. Whether it is the reason why you are eating healthier – to lose or maintain weight for instance, or exercising to improve your looks – these are the positive factors you can take out of your problem. Healthy diet and exercise will bring on concurrent pleasant changes like healthier younger looking skin, improved endurance, reduces inflammation, better mood, reduced cravings and better sleep, besides improved appearance. And while you might not see dramatic improvement in your looks (at least in your own eyes, you’ve been too critical with yourself for too long) – improved mood will change your attitude and the way you see yourself. 

3. Shift you focus. As I meantioned above, dwelling on your appearance takes up a lot of time and effort, so much sometimes, that you don’t have much of it left for other things. Things like community involvement, playing with your kids, enjoying a hobby like cooking or writing, expanding your horizons on to something bigger than you – some serious problem the world is dealing with like starving children or disappearing species of animals. The world needs help and every one’s effort counts. You can be so much more than just you by contributing your time and effort to help with those global issues. It will bring sense of accomplishment, delight from your contribution, it’ll improve your insecurities and make your self-image problem feel insignificant. Your problem will be resolved mostly on its own and you’ll find a purpose in life that will fulfill you.

You might never be able to fall in love with your body and your look the way you think you’d like to. But you will be able to change the way you think you should love it – what if you don’t have to love it at all?! What if you can just have your body and not experience any feelings towards it – no love, no hate – no judgement! It’s just your body, you want it to be healthy and perform the functions you need it to perform. Your body serves you well, it does all the things you tell it to and things it doesn’t know – you teach it and it’s very responsive. You don’t have to caress yourself continuously repeating the mantra “I love body the way it is”, sounds unnatural and a bit pathetic. You have a body – and that’s good enough, that’s the norm.

The key to successful weight loss

One of the biggest mistakes (among many, but I’ll only discuss this one here for the sake of time and space) people, who try to lose weight make is making weight loss a goal. Yep, I’m not kidding  – weight loss should not be the primary goal of a process that is long-term and non-linear in nature. In order to achieve weight loss one has to undergo lifestyle and dietary modifications – and that’s what the primary goals of a weight loss journey should be, with losing weight as a positive side effect.

Here’s why:

  1. Physiological aspect.

As I mentioned, weight loss is a long-term and non-linear process. If we only take into consideration calories in vs. calories out approach, all we would have to do is either burn through physical activity or cut from our diet 3500 cal/week or 500 cal/day to lose 1 pound of fat per week. Easy, right?! Not quite so!

The type and quality of calories matter – protein takes more energy to digest while highly processed carbs are much faster absorbed and many are stored as fat. Our hormones would dictate our metabolic rate on a particular day – whether we are slow or can actually get away with a few extra calories due to higher energy requirements. Some days we retain more water due to overindulging in salty foods, hormonal changes or inflammation, and that affects our total weight greatly. Water content in our bodies will also go up with higher carb intake since we store every gram of glycogen (the form of carbohydrate storage in the body) with 3 g of water. We all different genetic design, gut microbiomes and the ability to handle carbs (some are more insulin sensitive, than others… lucky them!)

Non-linear weight loss means that it could be a “2 steps forward/1 step back” process. Our weight is so volatile, we can easily gain and lose anywhere between 1 to 7 pounds in a 24 hr period! Mind you, that’s not fat mass, but mostly water weight. So, if you’ve been losing steadily for a few weeks and then gained a couple pounds back – that’s either water weight or your slowed metabolism (due to reduced caloric intake) is making your body claim some of the weight back.

  1. Emotional aspect.

Now that we know how unreliable the number on the scale could be, imaging its effect on our mood?! We’ve been trying so hard for so long to lose the weight and are now somehow gaining it back! We start feeling like a failure, frustrated and upset with ourselves for lack of willpower/mental strength/desire to achieve the goal. Next thing we do – reach for the ever-comforting doughnut/candy bar/bag of chips/ice-cream thinking “I failed to lose the amount of weight I planned, might as well eat whatever I want now!”

But the truth is, the actual methodology of the goal setting for weight loss is wrong. While the weight could easily bounce up and down from factors that are not under our control, the strategies we use to achieve the goal are oftentimes underappreciated. Shifting our focus from weight loss on to changing what and how we eat and adding more movement and mindfulness to our everyday life are the key goals that need to be achieved on daily basis to bring on lasting weight loss.

  1. Set new realistic goals.

Now we can reassess our goals and take the pressure off ourselves from not “delivering” 2-pound weight loss per week in a steady fashion. Because now we can focus on adding so many new foods and exciting activities to our lives, knowing that the long-term effects are vitality and weight loss (as a side effect – almost effortless!)

What’s even worse than making weight loss the primary goal, is making a big amount of it in a short period of time – that will definitely put the most pressure on the person and make it most difficult to achieve and very easy to fail. One study found that the best predictor of failure in sticking with the weight loss program was high expectations for a lower BMI (body mass index) (1).

Eating the right foods – lots of vegetables, fruits, quality animal products and avoiding highly processed sugary foods will inevitably lead to a reduction in inflammation, improved detoxification processes and increased metabolic rate. Same with adding exercise – with a purpose of not just to burn calories but to impPortofinorove insulin sensitivity, increase blood flow with all the nutrients to your muscles and rev up your metabolism. These changes in turn fire up your fat-burning mechanisms and produce lasting weight loss.

This is not to say that dietary and lifestyle changes are easy goals to set and achieve. However, while weight loss is not necessarily an indication of getting healthier, implementing a diet and exercise plan and sticking with it certainly is! And a healthier body will naturally start shedding excess weight. It will also lead to a healthier mindset, improved sleep, reduced stress and cravings – and the virtuous cycle of health and subsequent weight loss goes on!

 

 

Are you still searching for yourself? Just look into your life – you might have already found yourself.

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So many young, and not so young people are in search for themselves. I wonder if it’s information overload of the current day and age or is it because we are now learning so much more about ourselves that it causes the feeling of being lost. Whenever I feel like I’ve lost the sense of self, I sit back, relax and analyze what I already have – my values, and where I currently am – my place.

Core values: family and loved ones

My family, my biggest fans, supporters and lovers! I cannot value and appreciate enough my precious daughter and stepson, my wonderful and ever understanding husband, my patient and accepting mom. They fill my life with so much joy and work, and some tears sometimes – to mix things up, of course. They are part of what makes me – me, and what makes my life meaningful and fulfilled.  I have realized myself as a daughter, wife and mother and that’s an accomplishment. They don’t give out prizes for that, but when my 4-year-old wraps her arms around me and says “Mommy, you’re are my best friend! I love you, mommy!” – there’s no other prize I wish for.

We don’t all have kids, families or partners, but we all have somebody, for sure: pets, friends, next door neighbor – an old lady who brings apple pie sometimes, coworker who treats you like her own daughter or son – anyone you care about and who cares about you. It doesn’t matter who they are, if these people do exist in your life – they are a part of who you are, they make you matter.

Career

I’m 35 and I have finally determined what I want to be when I grow up. Until recently it never occurred to me that I can actually do what I like for living – not just get a job out of need, like it used to be in the past. I’ve turned my hobby into a career I enjoy – nutrition consulting. I quit my previous job and studied hard for it, it took time, effort and money. And I’m still just at the very beginning of this endeavor, but I’m on the right track. If you like what you do – you are in the right place. If you don’t – you probably have aspirations to change the situation for the better, and that means you are in the right place. You don’t have to have arrived there yet, but as long as you are moving into that direction, you can consider yourself found. Having clear understanding of what you like, what you need to do to have it and then start your way towards it, is your credential of having found yourself professionally.

Spirituality

Last but not least – your spiritual affirmation. This might be the most difficult part of your search for yourself. What I have found discouraging in spiritual teachings is the meaning of being present in the moment. I don’t discount its importance, but it is not a steady state, rather work in progress. We don’t just arrive there after a couple of meditations and having read a book or two on mindfulness. Nor can we suddenly stop thinking about the past or future. But if you feel like you can’t quite put your finger on it yet and it’s making you agitated and stressed – that just defeats the purpose of the whole process. No worries, one step at a time. The fact that you have realized the need to become more spiritual – whether through mindfulness or simply by being more kind and nonjudgmental to others – is already an indication of having achieved some level of spirituality. Now just work from here. We are never in status quo, life itself is work in progress, we are in constant process of development, improvement and achievement. When I think about present, past and future, I like to picture the three-place prize pedestal – on the 1st place is present – the winner, the one that’s in action the whole time. The 2nd place is for the future – it’s still in our hands to shape it the way we want it, and the 3rd place is for the past – it’s gone already, but it still matters with all the memories and lessons it taught us. They all matter, not just the present.

There are many ways to assess your place in life, the above criteria are just a few. Searching for yourself could be very time and effort consuming. It can also force you into a state of missing out on life where you are already found – with your family and friends, your work, your spiritual believes. Now sit back, relax and look into your life to see that you have already found yourself.

Protein pancakes with sun butter and fruit

There’s no meal like breakfast! That’s when my “foodgimation” really takes off – breakfast could be anything, from fried eggs and pancakes to salads and stews. I feel like in the morning my body can easily digest everything, probably being rejuvenated and energized from the night long fast.

This morning I felt like pancakes, but loaded ones – that is with collagen protein powder and ground flax seeds. That’s also the best way to hide healthful nutrients for my picky toddler.

Recipe:

  1. Any pancake mix (I like Birch Benders Paleo mix – they are delicious and all you need to do is add water
  2. 2 tbsp Collagen protein powder, I usually get this one from Thrive Market
  3. 1 tbsp ground flax seeds
  4. Sunflower butter, any fruit (I chose banana, pear  and blueberries) for topping
  5. Cook according to instructions, serve and eat with gusto!

How to personalize your nutrition

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There’s an undoubtfully great value in DNA tests that tell you whether you’re a fast or slow caffeine metabolizer or how you handle sugar and saturated fats or if the genes responsible for digestive enzymes production are doing their job. However these tests come with a price not everyone can afford, while we all deserve to know how to make nutrition customization simple and affordable – our health and wellbeing would definitely benefit form this type of knowledge. We tend to rely more on technology than our own body signs. We have dissociated from our physiology, which is sometimes the only radar we should listen to and trust.

Here’s how you can learn your body’s reactions to different foods and whether they make you feel good or not, without having to do finger pricks and saliva swabs and paying big bucks for it:

  1. Start a food log

You won’t know for sure how you respond to different foods until you start writing down your after-meal experiences. What’s your energy level after that pasta dish – are you full of power to take on a new project at the office or sluggish and ready for a nap? Does your tummy feel content or is it bloated and distended? How’s your thinking – clear of foggy? Paying attention to the signals your body is sending you will teach you what foods you should cut down on and which ones to increase. We all have very unique physiological designs and respond differently to the same foods. A lot of foods and food groups that are generally recognized as healthy could be potential culprits of weight gain, digestive issues, joint pain and cognitive decline among other conditions. Once you learn what’s causing trouble – you can either eliminate the food completely or cut it down to minimum. Most common food groups that are triggers of health issues are processed foods, gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, corn, commercial vegetable oils and some nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplants).

  1. Learn how your body handles carbs

When we eat carb-containing foods, our body (pancreas to be exact) secretes insulin – hormone that takes care of the blood sugar by shuttling it into the tissues, since too much sugar in your blood is damaging to the body and even fatal (and I’m not suggesting that sugar is good in the tissues – just as damaging in excess!). When too much sugar (simple form of carbs in this case) is ingested chronically, the body releases a lot of insulin which, in the beginning does its job just fine – taking sugar to tissues and storing excess as fat – in fat cells; but with time the tissues stop responding to it – now you’ve developed insulin resistance, which, if not intervened, leads to type 2 diabetes. The opposite of insulin resistance is insulin sensitivity, which is when your body needs less insulin to maintain stable blood sugar levels, which translates into having normal blood glucose and less fat accumulation. I’m pretty sure each one of us knows at least one person who can eat whatever they want and never gain a pound. The type of carb handling by insulin is largely dependent on our genetic design. If you belong to the insulin resistance club – you’d know it by measuring how easily you gain weight. In this case reducing your carb intake is key if you want to lose and/or maintain weight. The insulin sensitive club members are luckier since they don’t need to be as strict with their diet when it comes to carbs. Yet most people are somewhere in between – not too resistant, yet not very sensitive.

  1. Caffeine sensitivity

Coffee has been getting contradicting reviews regarding its health benefits. Some studies have demonstrated its ability to improve glucose metabolism and type 2 diabetes and increase fat utilization during physical activity – which means burning more fat and weight loss. But is it so for ALL of us without the negative consequences of increased risk of cardiovascular events, being suggested by other studies?! It depends on your individual ability to metabolize and excrete caffeine. Those of us who don’t have a problem with it – meaning our genetic design allows for fast caffeine metabolism – can enjoy a couple cups of joe a day without increasing their risk of disease development. However people with genes or gene mutations encoding for slow caffeine metabolism have to be more careful and watch their coffee/caffeinated beverages consumption. What’s you type? Just analyze how you generally respond to coffee – if you are jittery, hyperactive, sweating and sleepless at night after having coffee – that’s a red flag for slow metabolizer. Limit to 1 cup a day or switch to decaf (water processing preferred, not chemically decaffeinated). For those who don’t notice any adverse effects, it’s ok to have up to 3-4 cups a day.