Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thank You, 2013 - Come to Mama, 2014!

Baby, you're a firework.

This is a note of gratitude to everyone who's read this blog over the year (hi, Mom!), in spite of your own busy life and pages-long to-do list. I'm grateful to be heard and understood, and wish the same for you.

It's been a year of transitions and growth; but then again, what year isn't? 

I have been working on my novel. Yes, I promised it would be done last year and yet it's not (although I'm entrenched in 3rd draft revisions and can see the "end" in sight!). And so I keep plugging away, trying to balance the true meaning of my life on earth with a desire to just finish the damn thing. (Deep breath, exhale, smile widely.) For all I know, the book is just a means of transportation to a deeper understanding of myself, right? (Pause, wrinkle forehead, wonder why I wrote that when I have trouble remembering it each day.)

And though I love writing this blog and will continue to do so in the future, I'm also THRILLED to unveil my eponymous website: www.erinshachory.com . It is very different from this blog, which I consider the place where I can roam through my random thoughts and explore crazy ideas about life and spirituality. On erinshachory.com, you can expect ramblings about pop culture, people I crush on, music I love, information about my book and art and inspiration, and it will evolve as I finish my book. For now, you can sign up for my email list - click the "join my list" button and you'll immediately get a free sample of my book!!

I'm excited for the New Year and grateful to the old one for all the lessons it brought to me. Here's to taking those lessons and learning new ones in 2014, and creating even more unseeable, exciting opportunities for growth!

xoxo Erin

The Nature of Dog

Gibby. Is he a D-O-G... or a G-O-D?
It occurred to me on my walk yesterday morning that I may have it all wrong. 

By "it," I mean, what if what I *think* is real... isn't? 

Like, what if my dog -- seen here in his usual stance and mood, a happy yellow lab with his tongue hangin' out, waiting for a walk or a crumb to drop -- isn't really the pet I think he is, but instead is... (gulp)... 


Hang with me here; I know I sound more than a little nuts. But just as I sometimes forget that everyone else in the world - every one of the billion-some people across the globe - is a tiny piece of stardust (or "God," or the Universe, whatever works for you), I often take my dog's true nature for granted. And when I thought about the very nature of our relationship, I saw the connection between my dog and God; or, rather, my relationship with God.

Things like:

* I hate getting up to walk the dog every morning. I hate it. Sometimes I want to wake up late, or drink a second cup of coffee, or mindlessly pin pretty pix on Pinterest, but my dog is ever-present, waiting for me, a large dog-like shadow panting with anticipation until I get off my butt and get the leash and get out into the sunshine of the morning. It's like how they say "God is all around." And so I reluctantly get him outside. But once I'm out...

* I love walking my dog. I'm reminded of the present moment, of the birds singing, of the changing of seasons, of the incredible greatness of the world we live in. I see my neighbors and I feel the blood coursing through my veins and celebrate the movement in my body and the very fact that I'm alive. I'm ALIVE! What a freakin' accomplishment!!

* My dog never hates me. Ever. I've snapped at him and pulled his leash tightly when he's threatening to bark at a horse (a definite no-no in my horse community), I've made him wait to "do his biz" until we're in a better location, I've been a total grump on our walks, etc., etc. But he's a total lover. He just wants to love me and everyone else. That's all. 

* He lives in the present moment. He's not concerned with what happened yesterday and can't even think about tomorrow (literally), so he just makes the damn most of every single moment.

* My dog doesn't expect anything in return. He just likes to be happy and wants everyone else to be tail-waggingly happy, too. Sure, he'd love to get a big fat juicy marrow bone and cuddle up with someone on the couch, but just being alive is enough for him. In fact, he makes it look like it RULES!

* Sometimes I have to walk around with a big pile of shit in my hands that I didn't make. Okay, so it's in a bag, but who likes to hold another creature's steaming poop? I don't, not at all. But it has to be done. I love Gibby and I don't want him to be uncomfortable, which means I have to take him on a walk so he can poop, which means I have to pick up said poop and transport it to a garbage can. It is my least-favorite part of pet ownership, for sure. But if I think about it, I hate cleaning up other people's messes in all aspects of my life; it's only now that I know it's an act of sheer love to just bend down and pick it up, even if you didn't make it yourself. This applies to dog shit as well as not going ape on another driver or saying mean things to someone who's hurt you. Pick up the poop and drop it in the garbage can and wash your hands. Then move on.

* Sometimes I mistake his barks for anger, when he's really just excited or happy. The other day, a neighbor was walking her husky and German shepherd and Gibby went nuts, as he always does with these particular dogs. "I'm sorry!" my neighbor called, and I found myself saying, "Oh no, that's okay. He just gets energized when he sees your dogs!" Where the heck did that come from? The sentiment rang true for me in so many ways: often I've mistaken excitement for nervousness or fear.

* As the morning dog walker, I hold the leash; as such, I hold "God" back from his true nature. He wants to experience the world by sniffing every plant and closing his eyes to feel the sun on his face and eating a little horse poop and saying hi to every passerby. I'm the one who yanks on the chain and says, "No, Gib, we don't have time. Not today. I have too much to do." Like what? What could be more important than living my life in the only moment I have: the present?

I don't expect to convert anyone to this dogma (what?! tell me that word isn't a coincidence!), but it's certainly something to chew on. I still consider myself a new dog owner, even after three years, but even that is good metaphor. After all, even at 42, I'm still learning about "God."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Free at Last

Emme's perfect smile
There are some things that come naturally to parents: loving your kids; annoying other people with tales of your kids' beauty, smarts and cunning wit; witnessing each new development with a mixture of awe, pride and bittersweet nostalgia for where you've been together.

Serena's top braces came off, too
But when there are battles - and there will be battles, unfortunately - you have to pick the important ones. Again, some are easy: no, you may not wear those booty shorts to school or Um... Let's find a more appropriate dress for the bar mitzvah... I don't always want to be "right," per se, but sometimes I have to put in my two cents.

However, I hadn't expected a struggle with Emme over braces. 

Full disclosure: I never had braces. It's a good thing I had naturally straight teeth, too, because my brother's mouth was an orthodontist's gold mine. Still, I didn't love through the discomfort of years of orthodontic appliances, braces, expanders, rubber bands, altered speech and eating, etc., all of which my kids hold against me.

When they were little - and I mean tiny, like kindergarten - our orthodontist recommended two phases, to widen arches and then to straighten teeth. I was totally on board; Raf was unsure. It was sad to see kids with full metal in their mouths before they could even reject it, but I was sure it would pay off. Emme's teeth in 2nd grade were headed to Spongebob-ville and the early braces for 9 months warded off crooked teeth for her pre-teen years. 

So when it was time for Phase 2, she said, "My teeth are straight. I don't need braces." Raf agreed and I had a tough time convincing him to sign the contract with the orthodontist. Month after month - for nearly a year and a half - I have struggled with the whining, "When can I get them off?" (Serena and Marlowe had braces at the same time - and both are getting them off this summer, too - but they didn't have as tough a time with them.)

With our summer vacation looming ahead of us, Raf decided to ask if we could get the braces off before we left, instead of a month later as planned. I wasn't sure about messing with the plan... after all, I didn't go to school for straightening teeth... but once the doctor was on-board (and believe me, it has been a scheduling and logistic puzzle toting three kids on three different schedules to their appointments a half-hour away at the end of the school year), Emme was thrilled. 

That is, until she had to wear rubber bands 24/7 for three weeks to speed up the process. It was painful and she cried; Raf said he wouldn't have wanted to do it if he'd known it would be so painful. Emme mumbled something about how nice her teeth were before she'd gotten braces.

I threw my hands up, frustrated at trying to please everyone and ending up pleasing no one. But the fact is - and Emme's heard me say it so many times, she's over it - I'm grateful for the braces and for having the means to give our daughters beautiful smiles and to avoid dental problems later in their lives. When they look at their gorgeous school pictures and wedding photos, they'll see why I was so adamant about braces. 

"You'll thank me on your wedding day," I'd say and she'd roll her eyes. 

Anyway, when Emme got her braces off last week, she couldn't stop smiling. I caught her looking in the mirror and she turned to me, saying those golden words a mother loves to hear. 

"Yes," she smiled. "You were right. Thank you."

And this time, being right felt really good.


Live version of Arcade Fire's "Neighborhoods #1" at Austin City Limits in 2011. In case you can't see it, click here.

It's strange, but I feel myself expanding lately. Not physically but mentally... For instance, I've had so many limiting beliefs in my lifetime, thinking I'm "stuck" in one place or another, and then life changes and suddenly I'm different and what I thought was "real" was already over, kaput, in the past. And then, having crossed that bridge, I find myself wondering, "Well, what's next?"

Most recently, it was my weight loss.  More specifically, it was how my brain and limiting thoughts had to deal with the fact that "we" had decided I was a certain body type and yet I was no longer that physical shape. I was different - actually, I felt better than ever - and I had to admit that my "limits" were gone. 

So that's where I'm at now. Wondering, "Well, what's next?"

As I wonder and get ready for our upcoming trip to Barcelona and Rome (read all about it on my other blog; I'm planning to write here and there), I've found myself wandering around the house with my iPhone in my pocket, listening to music and podcasts with earphones. This song came up - "Neighborhoods #1," one of my favorites by Arcade Fire - and I had to share it. The video quality isn't awesome, but it's a live performance shot by a fan at Austin City Limits and it felt more fitting than the "official" music video. 

My favorite lyrics: 

...Then I'll dig a tunnel from my window to yours
Yeah, a tunnel...
from my window to yours

You climb out the chimney
And meet me in the middle...the middle of the town

And since there's no one else around,
We let our hair grow long and forget all we used to know

Here's to forgetting all we used to know and expanding far beyond what we "think" we can do.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Keeping Berries & Greens Fresh in the Fridge

I love summer and I'm so happy to see the summery produce popping up at farmers markets. The only downside to buying beautiful berries and greens is watching them wilt and shrivel before your very eyes at home, often within a few short hours. I've found that a few little tricks can make them last a little longer, sometimes days after I've bought them (if we haven't eaten them by the fistfuls on the first day, that is).

If you don't have a fancy "berry keeper," use the following method:

For strawberries, cherries and blueberries, DO NOT RINSE or wash them before you store them - they will rot and turn ugly!! Instead, place them in more or less a single layer (blueberries can be on top of each other) on a few paper towels in a shallow bowl or tupperware container, cover, and store in the fridge.

Yesterday, I bought collard greens, which I love to use in place of a tortilla for a "wrap" sandwich (filled with cooked veggies, quinoa, etc.). By the time I got them home, they had already wilted, so I snipped off a 1/2" from the bottom of their stems and placed them upright in a mug of cool water for a half-hour. After they perked up, I wrapped a damp paper towel around the stems and placed them in a large ziploc (not closed) in the fridge. 

This is what they look like this morning:

Farm fresh and ready to eat!
I've used this method with chard, lettuces, and herbs. 


What I Eat: Attack of the Growing Oatmeal

After I wrote about losing weight, I got a few questions about what I eat, so I'll share a few of my favorites from time to time. For the most part, I eat the same things over and over because: (a) I love them, and (b) I feel "safer" eating something familiar within my crazy Weight Watchers/gluten-free/plant-based parameters.

I make this stove-top oatmeal (adapting the Hungry Girl growing oatmeal recipe) a few times a week, especially if I'm STARVING after my morning workout or if I know I'll have several busy hours between the morning and afternoon. I'd even call it a natural "appetite suppressant" because I've timed my hunger after eating it, and generally I don't even start thinking about food again for 3 or 4 hours! Considering how much I like to snack, this is a miracle food. Because the recipe calls for DOUBLE the liquid and DOUBLE the cooking time, the oats "grow" to a humongous size - and even though it's a small portion of oats, you end up with a really big bowl of cereal.

Years ago, when I was seeing a nutritionist, she indicated that oatmeal wasn't the best breakfast choice for me - I can't remember the reasons, but I gave it up immediately, thinking it would make me fat. Of course, there are many ways to sugar up oatmeal and make it more like a dessert - with maple syrup or brown sugar, for example - and I also used to make crazy portions of heavy, sticky oats, so it would sit in my stomach all day like a lump.

But this... this is an oatmeal revolution in a bowl!  It gives me energy all day and has incredible staying power. 

*adapted from www.hungry-girl.com
(5 points - Weight Watchers PPV)

  1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  1 cup water

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook and stir until thick and creamy, approx. 12 - 15 minutes. 

Because it's a lot of liquid, it takes a long time; just hang in there, check your emails on your phone, repin a few pix on Pinterest, and stir from time to time to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. 

After it's done cooking, you can add fruit, cinnamon and/or vanilla as desired. I like to put a few frozen berries (or other frozen fruit) at the bottom of the bowl and add a layer of thin-sliced bananas (to make it sweet without sugar), then a layer of oatmeal; then I repeat the layers, like a yummy breakfast cereal and fruit lasagna!

bottom layer of peaches, blueberries & banana 

adding the first "layer" of oatmeal
My "mug" is actually a huge 16-ounce vessel and the oatmeal and fruit fills it right up. Sometimes, I can't finish the whole thing, so I stick it in the fridge for an afternoon snack and it's DELICIOUS. 


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Emotional Weight of Weight Loss (or "Keep Calm and Transform On")

Me? In a frilly pink prom dress? YES!
How do you see yourself?
photo by Christine Rose Elle
Before I start, please "see" that I am holding both of my hands over my heart in gratitude to all of you for your support and encouragement of the past few posts I've written. Truthfully, my fear of putting myself out there so vulnerably nearly prevented me from sharing my story - and now it seems SO SILLY that I may not have written about my weight loss for fear that "no one" would understand it. 

As it turns out, many of you are right there with me in the trenches, trying to decide whether or not it's "time" to make thoughtful changes in your life, and the changes range from making healthier food choices to creating more meaningful relationships and discovering your true passions in work and life.  And so, as I've often learned and re-learned in my 41 years, we are never alone in our struggles. It only takes one person piping up to cause a ripple effect (which is why we must spread joy and inspiration, not negativity... but I digress; that's a topic for another day.)

Today, I want to address the emotional weight of weight loss, but you could substitute any sort of major transformation for "weight loss": the achievement of a major goal, a promotion, marriage, getting pregnant or having a baby, getting a fabulous new job opportunity, the beginning or ending of a relationship, moving to a new place, etc. The transformation does not need to be physical or outwardly dramatic; as someone mentioned at my yoga retreat, sometimes the greatest changes are not brought about dramatically (as with the death of a loved one), but occur slowly, quietly, and over a long period of time. For simplicity's sake, though, I will use my own weight loss as the springboard, but I encourage you to think about your own journey and the shifts you've experienced.

When I decided to start Weight Watchers, I didn't tell anyone. I didn't tell Raf, arguably my greatest cheerleader EVER, for at least a day. I also didn't tell my kids for a few weeks (and that wasn't my desire because I didn't want my "food hang-ups" to affect them negatively; instead, they noticed I was eating differently and I had to be honest with them about wanting to make better choices for my health). 

Why didn't I share my new lifestyle right away? For one thing, I didn't know if it would work. I didn't want anyone to look at me and ask about it, judge my food choices, tsk-tsk if I didn't lose weight. I didn't want to feel an "I told you so" coming on. (Of course, that was in my head... it's all in my head).

Also, I have to be honest: I was ASHAMED. As I mentioned in my first post about weight loss, I had already seen a nutritionist, talked to my doctor, joined gyms and fitness classes, and adopted a mostly vegetarian lifestyle (that focused on fruits and veggies, trying very hard not to fall into the "muffin-tarian" trap, in which non-meat-eaters rely upon baked goods and starches rather than "real" foods). I thought I knew what I had to do and yet... I was still "fat." (And, to be clear, by "fat," I mean my BMI number indicated I was "obese" for my height. Oh yeah, you read that right. Humbling, isn't it?) 

I kept beating myself up - I"m a smart woman. Why can't I do it on my own? I was shoulding all over myself: I should eat less, I should exercise more, I should be able to do this on my own... 

Well, my little Bodhisattva warriors, my true inner voice - the wise one, the nurturing one - was lost in the negative self-talk. Only now can I see that my body was holding onto - literally gripping within its extra pounds - the weight of old habits and stories. And they weren't TRUE. I had made them up, based on years of observations of those around me and fears and insecurities. It was so much easier to be unconscious,  to just go along with what I'd always done, to not rock the boat, to not stand up for my own life and health.

Of course it's easier! It's unconscious! 

I didn't have to think about anything. I let all those fears and insecurities decide for me. And those fears liked to eat chocolate cake. The insecurities didn't feel "good enough" for pricey, fresh, organic food. After long days with kids, I felt I "deserved" wine/chocolate/ice cream/chips/a big meal/an extra helping... 

*shaking my head*

No, what I DESERVED was a healthy, happy life free from fear and insecurity and ego-attachment to food.

(Can I please get an "amen"?)

Okay, so once I realized this basic desire - to take awesome care of myself - my WW journey really kicked up into high gear. I ate less, but what I ate *had* to be a better quality - it had to really *earn* my approval (meaning, if I was only going to treat myself to a tiny piece of chocolate, for example, it had to be the very best quality I could get, or else I'd skip it and save my WW points or calories). I started to feel better. I began to see success at the scale. I had to buy new clothes. 

I didn't want to talk to anyone (besides Raf, my WW group and my very closest friends) about it - it felt so private to me, this transformation I was undergoing - and the cool weather allowed me to cover up with bulky clothes and sweaters. But my face was thinner (even though I tried to cover that up with bangs and long hair, too) and my clothes began to hang on me. The more layers I lost on the outside, the more I felt myself building up a wall of self-esteem and self-worth on the inside.

So I was doing great on the inside... And then...

After losing about 20 pounds, people began to notice. And that's when the mind-tripping began. 

O.P.P. - Other People's Poop

Lovely, secure people say things like, "Wow, you look amazing. How do you feel? How did you do it? Yay you!" 

But some people can't let go of their own poop. Why people feel a need to impart their own "expertise" on others who clearly aren't asking for it, I don't know, but somehow my very personal transformation seemed to invite others to comment. The  most annoying comment I heard, over and over, was, "YOU LOST WEIGHT!" It was barked, like an accusation. Where was I supposed to go with that? Around this time, I also heard this one: "Are ya sick?" It came out of nowhere and the only thing I could manage to utter was, "No, I'm not, thanks."

Once I shared that I was on WW or that I'd changed my diet (because people have a very hard time understanding that I'd changed EVERYTHING - it was a lifestyle change, not a diet), even well-meaning friends and acquaintances would try to tempt me with foods I didn't want to eat or say, "But it's got flaxseed/peanut butter/yogurt/low-fat cheese/fat-free dressing/etc... It's healthy!" Some wouldn't take "no, thanks" for an answer or would take a moment to tell me about their past diet failures. "Oh, well!" they'd say and take a forkful of food, shrugging. 

Another strange comment is "You've got to stop losing weight! You'll get too skinny/wither away/your skin will sag!" Ugh. This one is tough. It's a rude comment disguised as a "compliment." Listen, you know your body. You will feel GOOD as you reach your health goals. If you exercise while you lose weight healthfully, your skin will not sag (I am living proof; and my arms look like Madonna's - ha ha!). This "too skinny" comment also implies that you can't stop yourself or that your body won't tell you what it needs or that you won't listen to it.

OPP began to overwhelm me. I couldn't hold space for their accusing words or angry energy. I felt like a sponge for all their failed expectations. It made me want to hibernate or continue hiding under big clothes or disown all the awesomeness I'd worked so hard to cultivate.

But I was only a little way into my journey - at that point, I still had at least 15 to 20 pounds that I wanted to lose. I couldn't stop working toward my goal - I felt sooo good on the inside! I had to learn how to deal with OPP or risk letting OPP derail my success.

More than anything, OPP is needless noise. Your own thoughts are hard enough to control and when you add in these crazy "opinions" from others, well, it's just plain nuts. Not only that, these "well-meaning" folks and their "helpful" comments might serve to make you doubt yourself. 

OPP tried to limit me.... But I was proving to myself that I had no limits. I could do anything, even take on my long-held beliefs about how I couldn't lose weight. 

And so, I took some deep breaths, talked to Raf and my best friends, and learned a few new things. In no particular order, here are a few things I've learned from my weight loss. Not all of them deal with OPP, but they may help you protect your own awesomeness during a time of heavy transformation.

A List of Things I've Learned

1 - People want you to succeed. No matter how awkward their comments may be, people love a success story because they want to see themselves in that light. If the comments are borderline mean, it is NOT personal. It just means they are not seeing YOU in all your awesomeness; instead, they are holding up a mirror to their own shadows and seeing failure. I have found that meeting these comments with compassion is the best remedy; if the person seems interested, I will tell her about WW and Kris Carr and plant-based eating.  If not, I smile and allow myself a graceful retreat.

2 - A support system is invaluable. You need at least one person in your corner when you embark upon a big change, to talk you off a ledge and cheer you on and share your successes. Once, when I ordered take-out and Raf went to pick it up, he saw a big order of french fries in my bag - yes, I'd ordered them as a "treat" without telling him - and he sent them back. I whined when he got home, but truthfully I appreciated his support; after all, he didn't know I ordered them and knew I didn't really want them. He had my back, even when I didn't. This is an area where WW excels - the meetings are a sanctuary of support and encouragement.

3 - Our society has an absurd, almost pornographic obsession with food. Don't believe me? Check out ads for fast food joints and really listen to the comments made on the Food Network (close your eyes for the full effect). It's all around us, as much as or even more than sexualized images of women in the media. Some foods are described as "better than sex" or "death by chocolate," etc. The old McDonald's motto of "You deserve a break today" comes to mind - but I doubt you really want a supersized dose of fat and sodium when you've had a hard day. And even the wonderful offerings at "artisanal" restaurants, butcher shops, food trucks, etc. don't support our actual hunger for a good life. I don't want to be a buzzkill Betty, but I can't buy into the hype anymore. I'd rather be "safe" and eat what I know will support my success. Often, that means eating at home, and I know it's not "fun," but you know what is? Waking up feeling GOOD, not bloated or puffy or with a sugar hangover. Take that, Ronald McD.

4 - The idea of deprivation is a fear of lack. When I thought about losing weight, I thought I'd have to "give up" all the foods I loved. WW definitely tells you NOT to give up what you love and I'd agree: if you deprive yourself, you will resent it. But at the beginning, I found myself obsessing over various foods - birthday cake, for one - and eventually I came to a big realization: I've had 41 years of eating birthday cake. I know what it tastes like. I really don't need to try it again to "remember" the taste. If I need a bite, I'll take one, but if I don't, I know it will be there again when I want it. It's not going anywhere.

5 - It's okay to say "no" to trigger foods and situations and start new habits. I had to train myself to recognize old habits flaring up and it has saved me. I sometimes decline invitations to dinner or I'll invite people over to my house so I can be in control of my food (and maybe expose them to a new way of eating). I carry snacks with me EVERYWHERE. I eat before I go out, so I'm not starving and looking at a menu of yummy food. I exercise my feelings (rather than eat them). I drink water instead of cocktails when I go out. I don't rely upon traditional foods to help me feel a holiday experience. I bring a "safe" dish to potlucks. I don't succumb to the peer pressure of eating or drinking; it doesn't support my success.

6 - We each have a remarkable body intelligence. Once you start eating to live (and not living to eat), your tastebuds will blossom and your stomach will stop you from eating recklessly. You'll be in control of your hunger, not the other way around. And that's real power, being in control of your life.

7 - You can start NOW. I have heard so many people say, "Well, I know I ought to watch what I eat, but I'm too busy/stressed/upset/etc. I'll start after the holidays/summer vacation/wedding/stressful event/etc." I have compassion for this remark, but the thing is: you eat every few hours, every day. There are hundreds of food choices to make each week, hundreds of opportunities to eat well. Saying that your health and your best life can wait is allowing yourself to go back to sleep rather than wake up to the possibility of a NEW LIFE, of NEW CHOICES, of being your BEST SELF!! Once WW told me what to do, I was on fire to do it. I couldn't wait to see progress and I jumped in head first. Changing your life isn't a toe-in-the-water kind of thing. It is a flame that engulfs you and makes you shine brighter. I was like, "Yes! Sign me up!"

And that's what I want for you: to shine bright like a bonfire of passionate living. 

Transformation isn't easy, but it is WORTH THE EFFORT!

Now tell me, how do you see yourself?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

My Best Body Tips (or... "How I Lost 40+ Pounds in 8 Months")

via Pinterest
I'm super encouraged by the response from my last post; thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read it and reply or send a quick note to me. My heart is filled with your support - and I am ready to spread more inspiration.

Next time, I'll talk about the emotional side of my weight loss journey, but today I'll tell you about the actual nuts-and-bolts of how I was successful with Weight Watchers. Perhaps a list is in order.

Look, I'm no hero (thank you, Bradley Cooper from "The Hangover")I'm not a nutritionist or doctor or motivational speaker and I don't work for WW. I won't pretend to be an expert on weight loss. However, if you're interested, these are simply things that work for me and I hope something in the list can inspire you, too:

1 - I follow the Weight Watchers program as directed. It is actually quite simple: you're given a number of "points" for each day (mine was 26). Each food has a points value (a number based on its fat, carbohydrates, fiber and protein). You "track" each food you eat, deducting it from your daily number of points. There are also some "bonus" weekly points (in my case, 49), which you are encouraged to use - they come in handy for special occasions or when your daily points allotment is just not enough and you're still hungry. You track all activity (again, each activity is given a number of points). If you go to Weight Watchers, they'll tell you all of this stuff and give you some nifty tools, too. I track every single thing online or with my iPhone app. 

(Side note: I love numbers and math, so the black-and-white details of my weight, food points, etc. on WW's e-tools thrill me. Charts, graphs... They're my best friends. They are just numbers, and it takes the emotion out of weight loss and I appreciate that. I'm a writer, but if I had to journal my feelings about food every day, I would tear my hair out. Some days, you just need a cookie and you don't wanna talk about it. On those days, you eat the cookie, enjoy it,  track it, and move on.)

2 - I eat a LOT of fruit and veggies. Most of them (** not corn and potatoes **) are "zero" points on WW, so guess what? Whenever I'm out of points or just feeling like I need something crunchy/sweet/more, I eat as much as I want. Bananas, pineapples, apples, carrots, cucumbers, celery, red bell peppers, salad greens... Week after week, I hear people in my WW meeting talk about how they won't allow themselves to eat bananas or carrots because those foods are "full of sugar." But you know what? I'd rather eat a banana or carrot - or SEVERAL - until my emotional hunger subsides than reach for chips or cookies or anything else later. Plus, fresh organic produce is YUMMY and is great for your "regularity." You know what I mean. (And if you don't, read #4 below.)

3 - I go to a weekly WW meeting. I reached my goal weight in late December (yes, during the holiday season) and I made "lifetime" (which means I maintained that goal weight for 6 weeks) in January. Technically, I only have to weigh in once a month, but I do still do it every week to stay on-track. I also like being in the room with other Weight Watchers to learn new tips and tricks to stay on-plan. I cry when people hit milestones and I offer support to people who are just starting out, or who are hitting a wall with their weight loss. The women who work at my meeting (including our INCREDIBLE leader) have created a safe sanctuary for all of us, coming from a place where they truly understand what we're going through. No matter what the scale says or what my previous week was like, I leave my meeting feeling renewed and inspired, ready to begin again. The meetings keep me focused on my goal to live a healthy, happy life. They are like a weekly "reset" button.

4 - POOP. I'm dead serious. Eating a healthy portion of lentils and beans most nights - with yummy veggies - ensures a healthy "regularity" in the bathroom in the morning. I know most people don't wanna talk about it - truth be told, I was squeamish about it when I read  "Skinny Bitch" several years ago. But then I revisited the topic in Kris Carr's "Crazy Sexy Diet." And you know what? It works. It clears out your system, you don't feel as heavy, you don't feel bloated, you actually feel F-ing great. After following Crazy Sexy for almost a year, I tried colon hydrotherapy and, honestly, my pipes were super clean, hardly clogged. For this reason alone - the incredible elimination of toxins from the body - I am a total believer in GREEN juice, veggies, green smoothies and beans and legumes. Every single day. (NOTE: I also don't eat a lot of meat or cheese - if at all - so maybe that's another reason why my intestines aren't inflamed and clogged. Again, I'm no nutritional expert, but once I began eating less animal products, my body responded with more... er, regularity... You know what I mean.)

5 - Water. I drink lots of it. WW suggests six 8-ounce glasses of water a day, but Kris Carr suggests at least half your body weight in ounces (so, for someone who's 150 pounds, that would be about 75 ounces, or just over nine 8-ounce glasses). One of my tricks is to keep two full reusable water glasses WITH STRAWS on my desk if I'm writing. I position one between me and the keyboard, between my wrists, so I can suck down water as I write. It looks silly - heck, it feels silly - but it works. Another trick, when you get an iced drink from Starbucks or wherever, is to refill that cup with water immediately after you're done and suck it down. Yes, you'll pee a lot, but it's good for you, I promise.

6 - Sleep. I go to bed around 10 pm and wake up between 6 and 7 am. This is AMAZING for a reformed insomniac night owl. I used to buy into the idea that sleep was for suckers and I longed to be more like Martha Stewart (who's rumored to only sleep 4 hours a night... and look how calm and sweet she is... HA!). But your body needs the deep detox and resting time of a good night's sleep to repair itself, regulate hormones and reset your system. Plus, when you're rested, you can make better choices for yourself during the day, both with your food and the kindness you choose to share with the world. It is easy to buy into the belief that we *have* to take care of a billion things before bed (for example, I prefer to pick up all the debris of my three kids and my life at night and wake up to a fairly clutter-free home), but seriously: it can wait. I have also stopped watching TV before bed because I fall asleep faster and have sweeter dreams when I get cozy and read instead. (Plus, I've read a bunch more since I've adopted this... and I know less about the Kardashians, which is certainly for the better.)

7 - The Hungry Girl. Lisa Lillien (aka "The Hungry Girl") is a master of weight-watching tips and tricks. Her website is jam-packed with slimmed-down versions of favorite foods and tips for eating at various restaurants and sooooo much more. Thanks to Hungry Girl, I can literally eat ANYTHING I want - that is, if I have a craving for a comfort food or a dessert or a mocha-coco-choco-latte supreme, I can look it up on her website and I usually can find a fabulous skinny-fied version. No, it will not taste like the full-fat real recipe, but I am no longer satisfied with being the full-fat version of myself either... Know what I mean? If you sign up for her e-newsletter, you'll get daily tips and tricks. I am a HUGE fan of her "growing oatmeal bowls" - for a girl who thought oatmeal was her enemy, it is a revelation to eat a tremendous bowl of yummy oats that keeps me going for hours.

8 - Green juices and smoothies. Here's where I veer from WW a little. I tend to get a fresh green juice (cucumber, kale, spinach, lemon, ginger, sometimes beets) a few times a week and I don't track its points. I know they don't have fiber, etc., but they make me feel FANTASTIC and are good for #4 of this list. I also drink at least one green smoothie each day (1 cup unsweetened almond milk, frozen banana, kale, spinach, cucumber, broccoli, carrot, a 1-point protein powder or powdered peanut butter). Maybe I'm wrong, but they make me feel like I GLOW! 

9 - Very limited oil. This is another area where I veer from WW. My husband is very tall and thin, but he has had high blood pressure in the past, so he was interested in Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr.'s book about preventing heart disease (which we heard about in "Forks over Knives"). We were eating loads of nuts and using about a bottle of organic extra virgin olive oil each week when we got the book. After reading his book, we decided to try a more plant-based, minimal oil and nut diet. So, for example, instead of sauteing our evening veggies in olive oil, we now use low-sodium veggie broth. Yes, it's different, but we don't seem to miss the olive oil like we thought we would. Plus, I'm sure I get enough of it when I go out to eat. The amazing result of this experiment is that my skin has changed - it is no longer borderline oily and I have far fewer breakouts (if at all).

10 - Exercise. I go to a one-hour barre class several times a week that I love, but I also walk our dog for 15 minutes most mornings. I also park far away from store entrances so I can walk a little more. What I noticed about exercising during this process is that I seem to have avoided a common complaint of people who've lost a lot of weight: the "loose skin" syndrome (NOTE: ick!). My bones and joints aren't as strained since I've lost weight and I can see definition in my muscles (I'm fond of asking Raf, "Will you stop me if my arms start to look like Madonna's?"). It's funny to me that I have finally developed a love of exercise in my 40s. Who knew?

11 - A curious, honest mind. I started this journey as a kind of experiment. I figured trying something new couldn't be worse than what I was already doing, right? I've learned how to treat each meal and each snack as an adventure - how did that make my body feel? And now that I feel amazing, I don't want to go "back." Besides, after all I've learned, there *is* no "back" to return to. I'm so different now and those foods I ate unconsciously don't hold the same attraction to me now that I know what they're made of or how they're processed... and I can't un-know those things. If I choose to eat something that's not as good for me, it's my conscious choice.  I will take responsibility for it - I won't deny it or pretend it didn't happen or feel ashamed of my choice - and then I'll move on. 

I'm sorry for the looooong post again. I will finish out this topic with one more post on the emotional piece of weight loss/transformation in a day or two.  

One last bit of weight-loss advice: trust yourself. You're worth it. For all we know, we have only this one, precious life. Why not use it to see how powerful you really are, starting with your physical health?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

My Weight Loss Story

Seriously, if I can do this, so can you.
This may be a long post and I may break it up into a few posts, but I feel like it's long overdue. I've been uncomfortable talking about my weight loss, but I realize that not putting myself out there vulnerably may inhibit my ability to truly connect with other people who can benefit from my journey. And so, in service to anyone who may be suffering from a severe case of letting her/his thoughts dictate what's going on with her/his body, I'm ready to talk about it.

There are lots of possible titles for this post. I've tossed around a bunch of them:

Mindfulness over Matter
I'm Only Human... and I Did It
What Losing Weight Means for Your Brain
My Thoughts Liked Me Better When I Was Fat

... and on and on...

But let's start from where I am now. I lost some weight last year. Okay, I lost a lot of weight last year. For most of my adult life, I'd hovered on the larger side of what I thought was "normal." And so, through losing weight, I went from thinking -- truly believing! -- I was one thing... to discovering that I'm something else entirely. I'll get to that in a bit, but first things first. We all love statistics, so here are mine:

At age 41, in a span of about 8 months, I lost 40+ pounds. I went from 172 pounds to 130. For years, I've worn a fairly comfortable size 12/14 and now I'm a solid size 6 (and that's all the time, PMS or not).

What changed?

BEFORE: June 2012
The short answer is I joined Weight Watchers. But that is the tip of the iceberg. If you want to know the truth, here it is:

I changed. My idea of my self changed. And then my body started changing.

More often than not, when I think about the first step of any journey, Mary Oliver pops into my head. The first line from her poem "The Journey" is One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began...

With regards to my weight loss, that day was June 29, 2012.

Raf and I had gone to an eco-surfing event in San Diego without the kids, a fairly small gathering of artists and environmentalists and surfers. Because we'd already begun our quest for a more organic, clean-eating, green-smoothie lifestyle (thanks to Kris Carr's "Crazy Sexy Diet" book, which is so not a diet book but a lifestyle change book), I was thrilled by the raw vegan menu and the feeling that we were among like-minded souls. But when I looked at the picture above, I wondered, "Who's that lady standing with Raf?" 

My physical image didn't match the spirit inside of me, the curious soul who was striving to eat a more plant-based diet, drank green smoothies every morning, worked out at Bar Method 3 to 5 times a week, walked the dog every single morning, believed in the old maxim "everything in moderation"...

Clearly, there was a major disconnect and I didn't know what it might be. I'd gone to a fabulous nutritionist in my early 30s but even then I never felt entirely comfortable in my body. I was never "thin." I was always heavier than my friends. I blamed it it on a gluten sensitivity, an intolerance for sugar, a lactose "thing," genetics, big bones, being petite, having three young kids, too much volunteering at the school, not enough time for "me," approaching middle age, blah blah blah (I'm making myself bored even writing my excuses). 

You get the picture. I didn't know how to help myself any more. So I examined what I did know: my mother-in-law had just joined Weight Watchers. I had noticed an immediate change in her physical appearance and, although I had never been an advocate for WW (their old programs seemed nutritionally outdated), I needed something to help me change. I found myself at a crossroad and I thought, I can either keep doing what I'm doing... which isn't working... Or try something different.

It was worth a shot. Time would pass regardless of what I did with it.

So on June 29, the day after the party in San Diego, I found myself at Weight Watchers. I walked in like a petulant child, arms crossed, judging everything and everyone. To the sweet woman behind the counter, I said, "I don't think you can help me because I have a gluten intolerance and I eat mostly vegetarian and vegan meals..." 

Instead, her eyes lit up and she said, "I'm a vegetarian, too! You'll love this plan because you can eat what you want... Here, let's get started!"

I'm a sentimental mush-pot, so I'm sure I cried. A voice inside said, "It's okay, have faith, just try it like an experiment."

And so I did.I put my faith in the fact that, if I tried it and it didn't work, I could choose a new path.

So I continued to eat the way I wanted - more raw, vegan or vegetarian - but increased my veggies and fruits, drank loads more water, continued my Bar Method workouts, added one yoga class a week, really watched my sugar intake (turns out I was fooling myself about "moderation"), and tracked every single thing I ate (which I still do). 

I made a deal with myself just to do the program, go to meetings, and have faith. That's all. 

Eventually, the awesomeness of feeling in control of my food fed on itself. I actually liked food again, rather than just eating to numb boredom or fill space with friends and family. I eliminated a lot of the sugary and processed foods I'd relied upon for years and was able to feel the physical effects of them when I did eat them again - and it caused me to rethink whether or not I had the tolerance for them anymore. I began to realize that this "thing" I'd loathed for years - my own body - was simply a delicate organism that, like a little plant or flower, required proper care and nourishment to thrive.  I realized that I was truly the only person who cared whether or not that body was healthy - because if it wasn't, I was the one who'd have to deal with the consequences.

More than that, I began to feel like I was worth the trouble.  

Like everyone, I had "up" weeks and "down" weeks - and I still do. In fact, after telling my friend Christine about a weak moment, she immediately sent me this note, which I taped to my wall:

Fries are not allowed in the quest for awesomeness. Instead, green shakes please.

Slowly, the relationship I thought I'd had with food began to lose its grip on me. The emotion I'd tied to it began to slip away. The tradition and comfort we associate with food became mere thoughts - seriously, is it the food I craved during holidays, or my family, which is in Texas and Virginia? When I realized I missed THEM and spent time either thinking about happy holiday memories or buying gifts for them or just calling/texting/facebooking, I no longer wanted to eat a big Thanksgiving feast or gorge on Christmas cookies in their honor. I felt what I needed to feel: the love and happiness of my family connections.

(Yes, I did make our traditional Russian tea cakes for cookie parties, etc., and I ate them, but I tracked every bite and put the leftovers in the freezer. I don't believe in deprivation at all, just mindfulness.)

I want to write more about the emotional aspects of losing weight, but I'll work on that in another post. For now, I'll close with another picture. I won't call it an "after" shot because I feel like it sort of captures the "real" me. It's pretty fancy (thanks to my good friend Christine Rose Elle), but I like the look of it. For me, this is the result of mindful weight loss.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


My family is sick lately.

We’re not usually sick – we get regular flu shots and for the most part, we’re all rather healthy, even in the middle of flu and cold season. No one has severe allergies or any sort of “-itis” or medical condition. We’re really lucky like that.

But something shifted late last week.

My younger daughter has been a little out-of-sorts, crying, upset. My middle daughter collapsed from a mild case of heat stroke on a Sunday hike (she’s fine, thankfully, just needed a lot of R&R and water) and missed most of her classes on Monday.  My oldest daughter, already in pain from the final rigorous phase of her last month of wearing braces, felt like she was going to black out this morning and collapsed into a catatonic heap on my bed before school.

I wondered aloud to my husband, What is going on?

He didn't have to answer. I feel it, too.

We’re depleted, plain and simple. Depleted of the energy required to go through the motions of a regular schedule. Sick of waking up early and running and working all day long, only to have hours of homework after school (when they should be outside, playing, enjoying the real, natural world). Ready for the unstructured freedom of summer.

What is it about the sun that makes our minds wander?

At the start of every school year – or, really, a month into it, around October – we’re ready for the structure and discipline of winter. It seems as though the cold weather inspires a nose-to-the-grindstone attitude, followed by the rewards of winter holidays and New Year celebrations. And just past the new year, we have a plethora of faux-holiday days off that keep our stamina up. But after Spring Break, it’s all about the last few months of school, the “final push before summer.”

But still, I hate it.

This morning after I dropped Serena off at school, I watched Emme sleeping in her bed, mouth open slightly, dreaming, her braces enjoying their final weeks in her mouth.

It won’t always be like this, a voice inside my head admonished. Someday in the very near future, my little ducklings will have to finish up their little lives here with me and go off in search of their own paths. And at that time, will any of this rigor matter? What will missed homework and sick days and even school itself mean?

Again, I know the answer. 

Not much.

Watching Emme sleep, I recognized the trap we fall into, believing that we have to do this, or we have to do that. And I was a junkie for good grades and being the best at my job, etc. Just last night (and again this morning on the way to school), I lectured Serena on not falling behind in homework because the due date is several days away (and other homework tends to pile up, on top of it). To tell the truth, I got sick of hearing my own voice lecturing, mostly because I don’t get the point of so much homework.

Is it just me? Or are you feeling depleted too??

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Lately, I'm thinking about transformation.

Before I begin, though, I'd like to apologize for my spotty blogging over the past year. It's my intention to write more frequently now that I've finished the second draft of my novel - YIPPEE! Even though I have much more to do with that project (revisions galore, dipping my toe into the "next step" of publishing and getting it into the world, for starters), I have ideas for new projects and new ways to communicate. And one of the things I've really missed is blogging, which is more a form of journaling for me and allows me to connect more fully with YOU. 

And so we begin again.

Last weekend, I was in Ojai at my twice-yearly yoga retreat. My teacher Julian Walker calls them "transformation retreats" and, after 18 of these events, he has structured the 4-day/3-night weekends to allow participants to explore the inner depths of their personal journeys. The interesting thing is, sometimes we don't know we're actually transforming... and it takes a long time to recognize it ourselves, though the other participants can see it in within us.

Because I missed the last retreat in October, I hadn't seen many of my dear yoga retreat friends for nearly a year. In that time, I've finished my novel (twice, really, since I did a major revision for the 2nd draft), I changed my nutrition and got real about my physical form (I'll write a separate post on that one of these days), and I stopped allowing myself to believe the stories I'd made up about myself. You know the ones, about being "too old" to learn things, "I've always done things this way, so I'll continue on this unproductive hamster wheel," and other ridiculous ideas that our minds use as propaganda to keep us from pursuing our dreams. 

For me, this new thinking has resulted in a different-looking body, a strong will to forge ahead as a bonafide writer, a kick in the pants of what I thought being over 40 was supposed to look and feel like, the exploration of hobbies I've always wanted to try (singing on stage, for one), and a "what the hell?" attitude toward creating and living the life I want.

The transformation feels intrinsic to my well-being and I hardly notice it now. But when I first rolled up to retreat, fresh from my regular role as a mom who has to get shit done and live in the regular world, as my friend Evann shared with me later, I didn't seem the same. Yeah, I looked different, etc., but she wondered, "Where is Erin? Is she still there?"

Which reminded me that, even with transformation, we can still put up our defenses to deflect others' judgments. Sure, I was sparkly and self-confident, but I still wanted everyone to see me and LIKE me. It was seamless.

Over the course of the weekend, as I practiced silence and meditation and being in community with other people who are as committed to finding their best selves, I found myself again under the new layers I'd added to my "self." When I dropped under all of it, I knew again that I was so much more than even the transforming self I'd worked so hard to create. 

Once again, I knew I was infinite and I didn't need anyone to tell me that. 

I guess the thing with transformation is, we're really just stripping back the layers and finding who we already are. It's ironic to me that our most magnificent selves are the naked, vulnerable ones. 

Here I must quote Mary Oliver (yet again), from her brilliant poem "The Journey":

...and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company 
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.

And that life is your own.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Campfire Stories

For years, I have loudly proclaimed my extreme dislike of camping. When I was a kid, my family used to camp a lot. Mostly, we went to Sequoia and Cachuma, places where there are a lot of trees, a lot of dirt, strange wild animal noises in the middle of the night. My dad loved fishing and I think my mom kind of loved it, too, maybe because he enjoyed it so much. What I remember is the smell of canvas, a constant layer of dirt on the floor of the tent, and boredom. 

I'm sure there were things to do. I have a brother and a sister, for god's sake. We probably fought and made up, played card games and wandered around. My dad loves fishing, so we must have done that, too. But I never liked it, even when we'd meet up with other family members (those times were worse, in a way; I remember drunken relatives, freezing-cold swimming holes, no showers, peeing the woods... none of those rank high on my favorites list).

I may have also considered it a "poor man's vacation." I longed to stay in a comfy hotel room, with soft sheets and turn-down service and cheeseburgers that you could order at the pool bar and sign to your room. That sounded like a real vacation to me.

Fortunately, I married another non-camper and we've lived blissfully camp-free for 15 years. (In fact, the last time we went camping was while we were dating and we left the campsite in the morning swearing we'd never camp again.)

And then...we had kids.

For a few years now, my girls have been asking to camp. They saw it on "Parent Trap" and it looked pretty fun - outsmarting bears, hiking trails, swimming in lakes. Emme was in girl scouts, so she's camped once or twice, but anyone who's been a scout knows that a fair share of a scout camping trip is devoted to earning those dreaded badges and listening to boring stories and obeying someone's mom (who wishes she hadn't volunteered to go). But that's just not the same.

Last weekend, though, we went camping. It was the perfect set-up: just me and my girls with another mom and her three girls. Susan (my friend, the girls' mom) had all the gear and did the shopping; all I had to do was pack up my kids and then drive all 6 kids to meet her at Leo Carrillo (only 20 minutes away). How could I say "no"?

While the kids scattered about the campground in pairs (my three are the same ages as her three), exploring without the usual parental supervision and paranoia, Susan and I effortlessly set up camp. (We were next to a girl scout troop, naturally; but I suppose the 8 of us looked like our own "troop"...) I drank coffee from the stove while she busied herself with organizing and unpacking. In fact, it took me a while to just chill out and stop offering to help do stuff. 

"This is what I like to do when we camp," she said, "putter."

After a few hours, I understood what she meant. The kids roamed freely and I felt unfettered by the usual Saturday activities. I'd sit a spell, make a little snack, clean a dish, and pack up a few things. I watched a blue jay for a while, listened to birds singing, stared into the fire. I'd brought magazines and my Kindle and I had my phone, but I didn't really feel like doing anything. I just wanted to putter.

Later, after we went to the beach and walked in the sand for a while, we settled ourselves around the campfire, eating burnt marshmallows and talking about our favorite books and hearing scary noises in the trees and watching the squirrel vandals traipse through the campsites, searching for dropped morsels. One of the littles fell asleep and then the other one fluttered her eyes and an older girl yawned and we decided to go to bed. The last things I heard were the crackling embers of our fire and tent zippers and the older girls giggling in their tent and other conversations around the camp. And then I was blissfully asleep in the nurture of nature.

I'm not saying I was sad to go home and take a long, hot shower the next day. But it was a sweeter experience than I could have expected. That night, Raf and I threw some logs in the firepit and sat outside for a while watching the stars, then went inside to fall asleep on our own bed. It wasn't quite camping, but it seemed the best of both worlds.