Fasting for Focus, Plus More

Just over 2 months ago, a friend was telling me how intermittent fasting (IF) had helped his focus. Intrigued, I started researching IF while trying this new way of eating on for size (pun not originally intended). Mind you, I am the woman who (before this) would not have skipped a meal without … consequences. “Hangry” had my picture next to it in the dictionary. So I was initially very cautious about IF as well as … skeptical. Now, over 2 months later, I am well into skipping breakfast, and sometimes more as I have found my focus is better and so are my energy, stamina and overall attitude towards life (yes, I know, it can seem unreal). Along the way, there have been some surprising, some not-so-surprising and some interesting side effects of IF to share. Then at the end, I’ll share some tools and links to science-based articles and posts, so you can explore more if you’d like.

As a result of my first-hand experience and the research I’ve done, I see IF as giving my body a break from digesting, assimilating and (improper) storing of food energy. This post touches briefly on the many positive “side effects” of fasting. I encourage you to keep an open mind as you read. Fasting offers different physiological responses than restricted calorie “diets.” As many of us have experienced dieting and the perpetual low blood sugar that results, we equate dieting with fasting. These are two very different beasts. Please treat them both with respect. 

Less Sleep
Overall, I sleep less and I wake up more easily in the morning – this is with less caffeine, too. Most nights, I sleep between 5-6 hours and feel energized. As such, it is easier for me to get out of bed, yes, even in the (almost) winter! In the past, I was “sleeping in” until the last minute most fall/winter mornings. Now, I’m up before the sun even on the weekends.

More free-time and money
Cooking and preparing fewer meals means more free-time and less money at the grocery store…well, and less meal-prep stress. While this makes complete sense to say now, these were initially unexpected side effects for me. I’m also snacking less, which means less money on expensive snack bars. Most of my calorie intake is now from more savory meals, and some sweets.

LESS Hunger
This one surprised me. Well, it still does. After the first few weeks, I’ve found that my hunger has actually decreased, as long as I am eating enough. It will make more sense if you have time to read this article about the hunger hormone, Gherlin, which increases weight gain while it increases your appetite! 

More energy and desire to work-out
While this all sounds counter-intuitive, I have MORE energy for the gym. Research even suggests it is better to workout while fasting. Honestly, if I had not experienced this myself, I would not have believed it. So I understand if you are also skeptical.

Now I look forward to working out. I’m hitting the gym more regularly and I feel so much better about myself and my body. WIN-WIN.

I will say, however, that I would personally refrain from starting a new workout routine during the first few weeks of IF (new meaning not already a well-established routine), as it can take some time to adjust to the IF regimen. 

Fat Loss and Muscle Definition
While I have lost some “scale weight,” most of my weight loss has been in inches of fat –  particularly fat around my waist, thighs and upper arms. Yes, I still have a “belly,” however, it is much more slim than it was just a few months ago. AND, I can also safely say that this is the smallest it’s been since before graduate school (and kids) with the added bonus that IF has required easily less than a quarter of the effort of a caloric-restricted diet (like WW). For the most part, I have not consciously changed my diet, just the time that I eat. In fact, I’ve even stopped tracking my foods.

Again, weight loss has not been my focus, it has just been a nice side effect to look and  feel better in my skin, well, and jeans.

More Desserts, Yet Fewer Sweets
While I buy more cookies and treats (I rarely trusted myself to have them in the house before), now I find that I eat fewer of them as my sweet “sensitivity” is greater, so I do not indulge in as many sweets as I did before. In other words, I enjoy the sweets I do eat more, consuming less of them. 

Heightened Senses & Intuition
Perhaps this is also part of why I enjoy fewer sweets; my senses of smell and taste are more sensitive. After a fast, especially longer ones, I find that the food tastes so incredible that I eat less of it and enjoy it more.

Intuition can be more challenging to quantify. Suffice it to say, my intuitive voice is louder, more active and accurate.

My Personal IF Steps
When I first started, I was doing a 16-hour fast followed by an 8-hour feeding schedule. It took me about 1/2 the first week to feel comfortable with not eating for 16-hours straight.

In fact, the first few days I really had to “breathe through” the belief that I was literally going to starve to death if I waited another minute to eat. This is a sure sign of psychological hunger, by the way. As such, it can be easier to fast initially when one’s schedule is more busy, starting 3 or so hours before bedtime to take advantage of our normal sleeping fasting routine.

About a month of so into IF, I began to extend the fast to 18-hours after I read research that the benefits of IF really “begin” after about 16 hours. On kid-free weekends, I also extend the fasting periods for as long as I feel comfortable without allowing it to feel like a punishment.

Strategies That Support IF

  • See IF as a break from eating instead of as starvation. Starvation is when you’re not eating and you have NO idea when you’re next meal may be. 
  • Drink lots of water. Sometimes I add a pinch of salt to give it some flavor.
  • Herbal (non-caloric) Tea helps. Matcha has also been ranked as a good hunger suppressant.
  • Know the difference between physical and psychological (or emotional) hunger.
  • Avoid punishing yourself with extending the fast for too long OR overeating when you break your fast. Think the long haul here, if you punish yourself with it, how long are you really likely to stick with it?
  • Be flexible with your feeding and fasting schedules. This can go a long way to support your success. Rigidity here may lead to failure of your program.
  • Avoid boredom, or you’ll quickly find out how much you eat to fill the time.
  • Meditate or keep busy during fasting times. I find that too much down time can make for a difficult fast (late-night TV is the WORST with all of those food ads; those marketing companies know what they’re doing….)

Yes, My Morning Routine Still Includes Coffee & Some Unsweetened Almond Milk
When I first started IF, I was drinking black coffee only, then I read this article that talks about how caffeine can actually support your fast. The author also states small amounts of unsweetened nut milks do not break the fast. While reviews of this practice have been mixed, for me, I’m still maintaining the positive benefits of IF WHILE also enjoying my AM coffee more.

Some of the science
Does Coffee Break an Intermittent Fast? by Mark Sisson
YouTube: Dr. Satchin Panda
YouTube: Optimizing Your Workouts While Fasting with Thomas DeLauer
Study finds fasting 72 hours regenerates the entire immune system

Tools
Tracking App: Zero – keeps track of your fasting times and you can set to count up or down to feeding times, customize the time that’s right for you.
Instagram: @Fastingnews “for all things fasting”
Facebook: Also has moderated support groups including: Intermittent Fasting and Delay, Don’t Deny.

Epilogue
Intermittent fasting has been an interesting journey for me. I’ve learned a lot about myself and find that I am snacking less, have more energy and am less weighed down: literally and figuratively.

The first week may require some adjustments and yet I feel if you find these side effects intriguing that it would be good to do some research. It would also be a good idea to check in with your physician first, too, especially if you are taking prescription meds that require food.

May we each find the dietary regimen that works best for us. 

Namaste

Detoxing Addictions both Emotional and Chemical

A few weeks ago, I posted a prayer request for a loved one to receive the support s/he needed. This person was not eating regular meals, and instead was drinking a superhuman amount of vodka per day. Since then, s/he has started the detox process and is eating again, returning to human status.

In developing compassion for this individual, I started to look at my own addictions. In doing so, I recognized that on a basic level it doesn’t matter what we’re addicted to: an addiction is an addiction is an addiction.

Each substance or behavior keeps us out of our own control and power. When we are addicted to something we feel powerless to change and so we don’t. Various addicts like to think they are better than others, but I no longer feel this is true… just my humble opinion. Each addiction steals our power.

So with this in mind, I chose to initiate the process of stepping away from addictions (chemically with junk foods, alcohol, coffee/caffeine, and emotionally with unhealthy habits of relating). At first, my biology craved the sugar and the caffeine. Those effects were minimized for me with an herbal detox.

The more challenging aspect has been the emotional response. For it is now that I am recognizing that the emotions I was suppressing with my addictions have begun to surface. To stay on top of these emotions, it has been important for me to keep centered and grounded. Meditation and self-care have been saving graces. Prayer and support of friends have also been tremendous in getting me through.

For several days, I have felt like I’ve been surfing in a bad storm. There have been periods of grace, yet overall it’s been tumultuous. To keep on my surfboard through the emotional waves, I have dropped into my center and grounded by imagining my consciousness being in the “bowl” of my pelvis. At times I have also imagined my tailbone sprouting roots that go downwards into the center of the earth, which takes away all that no longer serves me.

Furthermore, softening into the emotions allows for grace. Journaling has also helped. The big move, however, has been finding my willingness to forgive and send love to any others involved; including myself. At times it has felt like every trespass and each grievance had bubbled up. In finally seeing each item as a part of me that had not healed, I have become more compassionate towards myself…and others.

This detox and getting away from my addictions has helped me to see all of the emotions I was tucking away for another day. All of these chemical distractions were what I used to avoid feeling my emotions. To avoid feeling myself.

I also recognized during this time that my focus on others has kept me from taking responsibility for myself. In blaming others, I failed to see where I was failing myself.

Change takes effort. Yet we are worth the effort. When we can make these changes that support ourselves, we can further support others.

Each light that is lit helps to spark the light in others.

May we each find the solace we seek within ourselves and our Higher Power, instead of the things that are external and uncontrollable.

Namaste

Balancing the Edges: Creation & Destruction

All systems seek balance including our inner and outer selves. We often become unbalanced when we suppress the expression of our hidden, or shadow, aspects. This suppression is learned during the process of being raised, as we are taught to deny parts of ourselves to fit into society. We cut ourselves off from our truest expression of self as a sacrifice for the safety of others (imagine society if everyone acted on every urge felt). However, the complete suppression of our shadows creates an imbalance in our lives until we choose to look within and honor these hidden aspects; even if only symbolically. This is the first in a series about returning to a place of balance within by uncovering our hidden and at times golden facets.

Once the match is struck, it creates a flame which results in its own destruction. To create is to destroy. While I have posted about this topic repeatedly, even this week with the Necessity of a Broken Heart, today I have a new perspective to share.

For a new wave to be formed, the old one must crash. To build a new house or road, the land must first be cleared. To create a new thought, we must destroy the old beliefs. To create a new life, we must allow the old life to die. The maiden must die before she becomes a wife. I could list different things all day that follow this cycle and the possibilities are endless, yet to create such a list would destroy the point of this post. (smiling).

We can see these examples of creation coupled with destruction in the external world when we allow ourselves the sight to do so. For instance, when we watch the news we see where the world seems to be caving in on itself. Yet, so few of us see within ourselves how this is merely a reflection of our own inner desires for destruction. When we can allow our inner world to balance these two halves – without shame or judgement – then we can begin to be whole and complete – finding the keys to our true inner peace.

A beautiful wave crests just prior to its destruction, yet the water flows back to the ocean to create a new wave. In the process of creating new shoreline, something else must be destroyed.
When we fight our dark urges we give them more strength to control us. However, when we allow ourselves without judgement to have dark and “negative” or culturally unacceptable feelings – instead of blocking them or acting them out – then we can free ourselves from this burden of right or wrong. Accepting that the path of creativity also means that we destroy something, even if only in our minds, or even if only symbolically, then we can free the edges of our psyche to co-exist and we can move beyond duality. Balance is then restored and we come to a place of peace, even if it is briefly held as if “on the head of a pin.”
Some creative ways that we can get our destructive fixes: meditate and walk through our “dark sides,” write a story where everyone dies, paint (destroy the canvas with acrylics), sculpt, Dream and even daydream. These activities diffuse the ticking time-bomb within: when we allow them to be as they are – keys of free expression of our dark sides – we free ourselves and become the whole we are meant to be.

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Superheroes Needs Super Villains. The Movie ‘Unbreakable’ is a beautiful explanation of this need for balance.

When we block the destructive side of ourselves it just wells up within. Then we take it out on others through road rage, passive-aggressive behaviors, or maybe even directly abusing others. So much of the world makes sense now from this perspective. Look at all of the examples of “great real life heroes” who commit acts of atrocity.

From this vantage point, we can now see how great societies fell: when their destructive mechanisms outgrew their creative ones. I can now see how many serial killers were also sometimes model citizens. Ted Bundy, for instance, volunteered at a suicide hotline and talked people out of killing themselves. Yet had no problem brutally raping and murdering brunette college-aged women. Now I can understand my own fascination with war, war machines, and serial killers, of all things… This may be scratching the surface of BDSM as well.

This new awareness has shed so much light for me. I now see why I can be so patient and calm with clients and then short-tempered later. If someone cuts me off in traffic I thoroughly enjoy cussing like a sailor as it helps me to release that darker side of me. I have also seen how health care workers and other service providers have the darkest senses of humor. Yes, that absolutely includes me!

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So often the greatest artists destroy themselves with their nihilism. To create so beautifully, there is a requisite balance of destruction that must occur. Not understanding this, many artists destroy themselves. Perhaps as more artists embrace their darkness, fewer will die from their self-destructive behaviors. Special thoughts to: Jim Morrison, Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Van Gogh, Whitney Houston, Kurt Cobain. 
It is now my belief that mystery schools and societies understand this need for destruction. Many believe Masons are devil worshipers. I never understood this, especially since my grandfather was one. He was one of the kindest & most gregarious men in my life. Perhaps this is why there is so much secrecy about what Masons do: men acting out their need to destroy can be highly misconstrued by the passer-by.

Each of these examples is seeking balance. By telling off-color jokes, cussing at other drivers and, at least mentally, indulging in dark sexual fantasies, I am finding balance in my own ways. This also explains phenomena such as “preacher’s kids.” Now I can even understand why for the past two weeks my children have been acting out so much at school. I had been blocking many of my darker thoughts lately. Now to dive in and free my children from finding the balance I was unwilling to find within.

So please, allow your darkness to express itself within you or at least in ways that allow you to release without harming yourself or others. Finding creative ways to express the need to destroy is a way of creating a controlled burn instead of having wild fires sweep through your  life. As I continue to understand this concept better, I will write more. 

The light & darkness within me honor the light & darkness within you.


The Lady of the Water

Images: google

Painter of words 

As a writer I paint words,
replacing brushstrokes
with keystrokes.

Just like Hemingway said,
writing is just bleeding,
except now it’s at the keyboard.

oops! and this post makes 3,
past my quota of 2 max/day.
at least it’s a quick read?!

(C) tiffanybeingfree.com 2016

Food Addiction: Eating as Punishment


As a young girl, I leanred to “use” food as a drug to supress strong emotions that were punished, heavily discouraged and suppressed in my family. The message was that it was not ok to emote, whether positive or negative. To carry strong emotions triggered an adult, the child was punished. Without the ability to express myself, I learned to turn to food for comfort. I was attempting to “stuff it all down,” with food, to swallow my feelings. This was my way of surviving; not feeling by eating.

This blog focuses on consumption, and I would like to acknowledge that I believe the denial of food through abstaining and purging has a similar theme.

Many times as an adult, I told friends and co-workers that if food were alcohol, that I would be intoxicated and unable to function. Later, I learned that alcoholism and food addictions can often alternate generations. It seems to be that the underlying issue is that with addiction, there is a lack of connection.

So if one generation is unable to teach the next how to connect (or more accurately, the elder generation teaches the younger generation how to disconnect), then the children as adults carry that pattern forward; suppressing connection in their children. It is then up to each generation to break that pattern, or risk carrying it forward.

Understanding the emotions and motivations behind behaviors can help one to break through the pattern, developing new ones (note: this does NOT involve dieting, which can make us more … obsessive). Through reading books, journaling, reflection and observations I have made, it seems that we often use food to punish ourselves, or to prevent feeling a feeling.

Food as Punishment

Out of shame or guilt for a strong emotion, or what is perceived to be a mis-action, we can overeat to discomfort or eat foods that do not feel good to us now or later. This can include eating “healthy” foods that we do not enjoy. We can also punish ourselves with abstaining from or limiting foods that we do enjoy. Consuming food (or beverages) out of guilt to avoid putting food to waste is interesting, because then it just ends up on our waist (or hips or asses). It would seem much better to let it go to waste rather than carry it around…

Doreen Virtue’s book Constant Craving offers readers insights into cravings for different foods. For instance, I have noticed that when I feel anger (that I do not want to feel), that I eat crunchy foods (because I want to break something). When not wanting to feel vulnerable, sad or needing love, I often eat fatty foods (fat protects, soothes and satiates). When feeling depressed, or low in energy, sweet foods are on my top list. Virtue’s book has much more detailed information for each food (such as bread with butter has different implications than plain bread).

Food as pacifier: self-soothing

Poor body image can also be a reason for self-soothing. This can be a biscuits cycle. The more I eat the worse I feel, so I eat more to temporarily feel better.

Having thinly guised positive feelings can also turn us to food in unhealthy ways. When making it through a tough day, we may over reward ourselves… When in actuality we are self-soothing.

Denial of food

Denial of food, whether healthy foods or abstaining altogether, reflects a denial of needs. Research has shown that small indulgences over time are better than complete denial for periods, which can result in binging later.

Conclusion

The overarching theme, in my experience, to food addiction and denial is a lack of self-love. For someone who loves him or herself would choose to do things that serve one out of love, not dis-serve them out of pain.

~~~

Other resources:

A Course in Weight Loss: 21 Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight Forever by Marianne Williamson (a great tool for learning to love oneself)

Shadows Before Dawn: Finding the Light of Self-Love Through Your Darkest Times by Teal Swan
To readers, please feel free to share how you have used food as a way to soothe more than satisfy your body’s physical hunger.

Photo by  Koratmember at freedigitalphotos.net

Stopping Addictions: A New View

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Over the past year, I have discovered that the more disconnected I have felt from myself, from The Creator and from others, the more I have indulged in one or more of my addictions: food, spending, alcohol, social media, and dating. Feeling lonely, even when not alone, is the experience of being disconnected.

In his TED Talk titled, Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong, Johann Hari poses the hypothesis that addiction is caused not by chemical hooks, but by people feeling disconnected from others. He details several studies that have been done that support his hypothesis.

For me, this rings very true. You see, for most of my life I have been addicted to food. I used it for comfort. At certain times in my life I felt that I had binge eating disorder. You can look at some of my pictures over the years and see it apparent in my figure and its ever expanding and then decreasing size. The more disconnected I have felt, the more I have sought out food for comfort. That is, until recently.

For me, I feel most connected to myself, The Creator, and others, when I meditate regularly. By  connecting with myself and The Creator, I have begun to more readily connect with and have compassion for other people in my life. I also find that my self-confidence has improved over the same time frame.

A positive side effect of being more connected through meditation and feeling my feelings, I have removed almost 50 pounds from my frame. This has happened during some of the most tumultuous years of my life, where I have chosen the path of separation and divorce, splitting the family apart, changing jobs, moving, and living on my own (at least part-time) for the first time in my life.

I have lost this weight even without dieting and even with reducing my activity levels due to a hip injury. The weight loss did NOT occur overnight. Yet, I have managed to avoid the severe yo-yo of my weight that I have experienced since adolescence.

The more I connect with myself, The Creator and others, through my practices of meditation, feeling my feelings and writing, the more I make healthy food choices. Dieting is no longer necessary. If I notice that I begin to over-indulge in food (or one of my aforementioned addictions), this is my warning sign that it is time to go within and investigate what the underlying need is: where I feel disconnected, unloved or unworthy of love.

I share this with you because I felt the most disconnected when I spent the most time on Facebook, or dating sites. As a society, we know more about our friends lives, yet only on the surface. As individuals, I feel, we are also losing touch with our own feelings. Immersed in the lives of others, we feel guilt and shame that our lives don’t look as good. In reality, we are comparing our inner lives to the outer lives of others. In reality, we reach out and share the surface, yet avoid diving deeply into our own waters. We then turn to our addictions to give us comfort.

In reality, the evasive answers to the questions we seek are within. Yet so few of us take the time to sit still with ourselves. We fear the feelings. We fear the answers. We fear ourselves. We are all starving ourselves of the very things we need: self-validation, self-love, self-acceptance through connecting with the Divine within ourselves.

We all need food. We all need connection with others. Yet, we so often settle in so many ways and we avoid the deeper waters of our psyches. We disconnect because we fear the truth of our magnificence.

I encourage you to find the places in your life where you disconnect. We all do it and, I believe, to some degree it is healthy. Yet there is a boundary across which we often press into unhealthy territories. Beat yourself up not, my friend, we rarely can find the boundary without having crossed it. Once we figure out where that lies, then we know when we get too close or have gone too far.

I encourage you to find what meditation works best for you. There are many, many options. Personally, guided meditations were the easiest way for me to connect initially. Your Auras & Your Chakras: An Owner’s Manual by Karen MacLaren also has a meditation that was incredibly helpful to me.

The more comfortable you are with your own feelings, the more accepting you can be of others. The more accepting of others, the more deeply you will find that you readily connect.

Namaste.

Photo by stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net

New Dawn

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The old habits were creeping back in.
Inch by inch,
they started crowding the garden.
Sun blocked.
Clothes getting tight.
Ode to the muffin top.

When feeling low,
irony returns,
bad habits creep back in.
Nihilistic, self-destructive.
Feeding on the bad.
Out of focus.

Consume to feel fulfilled.
Pour something into the void.
Emptiness inside.
Broken.
Hurt.
Lonely.

Amazing how feeling not
enough leads to gaining weight.
Packing on pounds to “have more,”
and fill oneself up.
Eating more when not enough.
Self-protective and destructive, all at once.

Stop the presses.
Where did we derail?
Getting back on track.
Self-care.
Yes,  there’s enough time.
5 minutes to juice.  You’ve got this!

Pulling weeds.
Taking stock.
Blocked Facebook mobile (again).
Return to fresh veggies (again).
Meditating twice per day (new dawn).
Writing more (again).

Working more at work;
more hours to the workday.
More work and less play.
Time for a shift.
Back to the center.
Asana, breathe.

Mediatate at night.
Earlier to bed.
Earlier and easier to rise.
Meditate.
Yoga.
Detox

Back to the basics.
Slowing down.
More love.
More compassion.
When first for self,
then more naturally for others.

Namaste.

Photo by arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Habits can be helpful and potentially harmful for your brain

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When we perform new tasks, we build our brains. New neural connections and synapses are created within our nervous systems to support us in our new endeavors. This is called neuroplasticity; it is an important component in learning a new skill.

Neuroplasticity can also help us to use our “muscle memory” when we are responding to an emergency situation or when we need to respond to something without thinking. By repeating a task through drills and skill-building exercises, we reinforce these neural networks. If trained properly, skills can be performed without as much thought and attention to every little detail.  This can be helpful to us in many ways.

Soldiers and police learn how to assemble and use their weapons in all sorts of situations; so they can respond appropriately when called to duty. First responders like paramedics, EMTs and firefighters practice their trades all times of the day and in different conditions for the same reason. The more we perform a task, the more deeply it can become embedded in our neuronal network, allowing us to learn to respond in an appropriate way when everything else is chaotic.

However, when we do the same “everyday tasks” in a predictable way everyday of the week, we short-change ourselves. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails has a song titled, “Everyday is Exactly the Same.” In the lyrics he sings that he thinks he can predict the future, because he keeps doing the same thing over and over again everyday. This, my friends, is when habits can be bad for your brain.

First and foremost, we are all here to gain new experiences in life. When we do the same thing day in and day out by rote, we deprive ourselves of the ability to experience something new. While we may enjoy the comfort of the familiar, it keeps us stuck in our patterns AND it can even rob our brains of growth.

When we drive the same route every day, or perform the same morning routine, we repeatedly use the neural roads that already exist. We also have the tendency to not be fully present when we perform an activity in a habitual way.

In essence, new activities build new pathways and new synapses. This is where growth occurs. Another reason to try new routes and new behaviors is that we are generally more stimulated by these new activities which builds even more pathways. So our capacity to learn can also increase.

The best part of all of this is that when we are more fully present in the moment, we have more to gain from it all. So I encourage each of us, myself included, to travel a slightly different path. Do your morning activities in a different order or with your non-dominant hand. You’ll be more present and your brain will have a greater capacity for growth.

Go forth and do something new or slightly different today and everyday, to help keep your brain growing!

Namaste.

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