Friday, February 26, 2016

The proof is in the lab results

Monday I had lab tests to check on the state of my blood and thyroid. I participated in the Bright Line October boot camp research project and used lab results from the end of August as my base line. So I was particularly interested to see how four+ months of eating this way is showing up in my body other than the 52-lb. weight loss that I've experienced.

Everything that was dicey in August is good now. My cholesterol went down 31 points, my blood sugar levels are down 16 points solidly into normal, everything looks terrific. I'm looking forward to talking with my doctor next week about getting off some of the medications that I've needed because I wasn't eating right.

I couldn't be more pleased. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Rigorous or rigid: is it just a matter of perception

In the online community of my food program, some of the people are announcing their departure. They're finding the program too rigid. I find this both sad and humorous. Of course, abstinence of any kind is rigid. It's black and white. You drink or you don't drink. You eat sugar or you don't. Eating or drinking some may be okay, but it isn't abstinence.

In AA, we talk a lot about people who need to go out and do more research. They aren't done drinking yet. And I can see that happening here too. The people who aren't getting the results they want (mostly fast, big weight loss) even though they aren't following the program with any consistency are too impatient to do that and see what happens.

I understand what's happening for them. They don't want to give up all their favorite foods. They don't want to give up self-medicating with sugar and flour and fat. They are afraid to live life without anesthetic. I know those feelings and those fears. I still have them sometimes. But I can't fool myself with more research. I can choose to start eating compulsively again or I can choose to stay abstinent.

I prefer to see the program as rigorous. It requires courage and commitment. I'm working to strengthen mine.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

a new look at the present moment

From Leo Babauta:

Have you ever thought of the present moment as a loved one?
I’ve been working with this thought lately, and I find it helpful when I’m feeling rushed, distracted, worried, upset, frustrated, anxious, sad, irritated.
Let’s think for a moment about our relationship with this loved one we might call the Present Moment …
  • We barely pay attention to it, thinking instead of what we have to do later, things we’re worried about, etc.
  • If it’s boring or uncomfortable, we habitually turn away from it and go to distractions, rejecting the Present Moment.
  • We judge it as good or bad, pleasant or uncomfortable, and dislike it if it isn’t behaving the way we want.
  • We don’t accept it as it is, but want more, are worried we’re missing out, think we should be doing something else.
  • When we’re upset or frustrated, it’s because we have a story running in our heads, rather than paying attention to the Present Moment in front of us
Imagine a loved one who you don’t pay attention to, who you reject and judge as unworthy, who you don’t accept as they are, who you ignore even when they’re sitting right in front of you. That would probably not be a great relationship.
Of course, the Present Moment isn’t a person with feelings, so we shouldn’t worry about it so much, right? Maybe, but what I’ve been finding is that developing a good relationship with the Present Moment leads to less stress, more peace and contentment, and a better relationship with everyone else in my life.
What can we do to develop this better relationship with the Present Moment? Treat it with respect, and give it the attention it deserves. After all, just like with our relationship with anyone else — we have limited time to spend with it, and once that time is up, we can’t get any more.
Some ideas:
  • Try to stay with the Present Moment longer … whether it’s the physical sensations all around you, how your body feels, how your breath feels, or the thoughts or emotions floating around in your mind … try to pay attention without wandering.
  • Come back when you do wander.
  • Be interested and curious about the Present Moment, open to whatever arises, without needing it to be a certain way.
  • Be less judgmental and more accepting — experiences aren’t necessarily “good” or “bad” but just worthy of your attention and interest
  • When you find yourself wanting to go to distraction, or caught up in a story about something, try coming back to the Present Moment, and just pay attention to the changing moment.
  • When things are uncomfortable, stay. Instead of running, be there for the uncomfortable Present Moment, with love and gentleness.
  • Notice when you’re constantly wandering, and come back, come back, and stay.
You might notice an instant transformation of your relationship with the Present Moment, where you are more open, curious, accepting, and attentive. This can be transformative, in all areas of our lives.
Or it might be more of a gradual shift, where your trust in the Present Moment grows over time, and you slowly open up to it with acceptance and fearlessness.
Either way, what you’ll find is that you’re also developing a better relationship with yourself. And everything around you, all the time.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The courage to be uncomfortable

As I begin the fifth month of Bright Line Eating, many things have settled down and settled in. It doesn't seem weird to eat three meals a day and nothing in-between. This was a hard thing to get used to for a professional, chronic snacker like me. It doesn't seem cumbersome to weigh my food before I eat. I now automatically reach for the scale, which sits on my microwave, and my two pretty plastic bowls and I weigh things and fix my plate.

I've been surprised that not eating after dinner has not been a problem. I used to start eating about 5 with a big snack, then dinner, then just kept eating until I was stuffed or went to bed. Now I have dinner about 6:30 and that's it. Kitchen closed. Amazing!

What has not settled down is the intermittent hunger that I feel as meals approach. And somehow I thought it would. That miraculously the food I eat at meals would keep me satisfied until the next meal five hours later. Well, they don't. Not on a weight-loss program. No matter what I eat. And I've had to accept that being hungry the last hour or two before a meal is normal. It's not some unique aberration of my system. Instead it's what most people feel four or five hours after a meal.

What may be different for me is my relationship with hunger and my relationship with discomfort. I don't like either one. Maybe it's a heightened sensitivty or maybe it's just decades of eating any time I wanted to. But I find that intense hunger disconcerting, annoying, problematic. I'm hoping that relationship, that response will change because I'm not interested in giving up what I've worked so hard for. So I have to find the courage to ride it out, the courage to be uncomfortable for my greater good.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Interested in a coupon for Bright Line Eating?

Bright Line Eating, the online food program I'm on, is starting another round of classes and bootcamp. The cost is $997 but I have coupons for a $600 discount, so if you're interested in doing the 8-week program for $397, email me at This program has made a huge difference in alleviating my suffering from sugar and food addiction.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

An interesting blog post from one of my yoga teachers

That title jumped out at me while flipping through Paul Fleishman’s Cultivating Inner Peace at the end of an endless day. It was day 3 serving as the kitchen manager at a 10 day Vipassana meditation course over the holidays.
Our crew was cooking for 90, and I had been struggling to find the joy in my service. The book follows; “Some people can successfully avoid the depths of life, but if you try to deepen your feelings of peace, you’ll unearth within yourself and the world profound unpleasantness.”
Now perhaps these lines sound discouraging, but to me they were water in the desert. With a number of sleepless nights and stressful kitchen days under my belt, I had sunk into a quiet pity party for spending my holiday in ceaseless kitchen service.
Those words woke me up though. They called my attention back to the fact that being with this unwanted feeling was a skill, and indeed an opportunity to practice.
I was reminded that this experience was exactly my choice, thus making even my dejection an important part of why I was here. I had chosen this as part of a life long commitment to freeing myself of mental and emotional patterns that hold me hostage. 
Fleishman goes on to clarify that "sorrowing" is not about wallowing in unnecessary misery. The skill of sorrowing is about the human capacity for integration, for going down into the broken depths and coming up with a “perseverance and hope beyond prediction”.
This ability, he said, is a actually a human attainment.
To illustrate the essential need we have to sorrow he tells a story about a client who did not know how to. This man had had a painful childhood and had so aptly learned to push past it that he overcompensated with what appeared to be a very successful life.
Having become a master at ignoring pain, he didn’t perceive what was happening in the lives of his wife and children around him. He was shocked to find out his daughter had become addicted to drugs and was selling her body to pay for them. When he heard this news his reaction was wild, blaming anger, turning on everyone including his wife, daughter, and the imagined drug dealers with revenge.
In his pure reactiveness he had no capacity to go within and experience the art of sorrowing. Yet to feel his despair would have led him not only to a real understanding of the situation, but also to solutions.
And this brings me to food, kinda.
If I could give one gift to someone struggling with compulsive food behaviors it would be to find a practice that expands your capacity for feeling in a nonjudgmental way.  This includes not only unpleasant emotions like anxiety, fear, and sorrow, but also pleasant ones like excitement and joy, both of which can throw us outside of ourselves.
Learning "to stay" and get curious enough to value uncomfortable feelings has been an essential tool in my own healing and for working with others. From my perspective this capacity, is the foundation for lasting transformation, body-wise or any area of life.
I have been blessed with inspired teachers on my journey, yet none of their collective insight could take root without finding a path to my own wisdom, and for me that's on the cushion.
“Sitting” has strengthened my mind, in ways I didn’t know were possible. It has (oh so slowly) given me the ability to rewire deep unconscious habits that had always led to pain and given me the possibility of making choices aligned more with long term happiness.
During my last holiday service, the work never did get lighter, but I did. Reminding myself that this service was where I wanted to be for myself and the good of others, made my groggy 5am wake-up and race down to the kitchen, so, so worth it.

Jenna Abernathy

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Month 2 of my intentions mandala

Now that February is here, I've chosen the second month of my intentions mandala: Organizing. Two of the January Completion projects got me started thinking about this.

First, the philanthropy project to Letty Owings House and the donation of 31 paintings means that my art inventory needs to be brought up to date and my art website as well. Not only do I need to redo the digital inventory but this is a great time to organize my stored paintings and organize my studio, which tends to fill up with stuff.

Second, I made another decluttering effort a la Marie Kondo last month, and many more things, including most of the books from the Hammett Award reading, have gone. Now comes the second phase: Finding a permanent home for the things I do have so that I can put them away after I use them. This also seems a great time to reorganize my closets and cupboards in any ways that feel right.

Third, I want to spend some time organizing my schedule so that I make sure that even in the midst of a lot of editing work, I can find time for the studio and my writing projects as well as good self-care and play time with friends.

If you're following along with your own monthly mandala, I'd love to hear what you've picked for February.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Reading for the Dashiell Hammett award: 173 mysteries, 9 months, and 5 choices

            Last April, I signed on to read for the 2015 Dashiel Hammett award, which is given each year by the International Association of Crime Writers’ North American Branch. Our task: to agree among the five of us volunteers on the five best books of 2015 to move forward to the three celebrity readers who would choose the winner. We volunteers would be asked to read 70-80 books over 8 months. I said yes. I love reading crime fiction and who doesn't love free books?
            Things went along quite easily the first few months. We received a book or two a week. I’d read a ways into the book and if it was good, keep reading. If not, I’d put in a think-about pile or a definitely not pile. Piece of cake.
            By the end of the first 7 months, we’d gotten about 60 books and anticipated a push of 15 or maybe 20 to come at the deadline. We were completely unprepared for the deluge that followed. Between Thanksgiving and the deadline, Dec 15, we each received 113 books. One box arrived on the deadline with 28 books in it from St. Martin's Press. 
            In those first months, I HAD read about 40 pages before setting a book aside into the read-further pile or the no-way pile. About every fifth book was worth a second look. But at Thanksgiving, I pared the first read down to 20 pages and after Dec 1, I moved to five pages before saying maybe or no way. I wasn’t getting lazy. I just didn’t have the luxury to read all day. I had my paid job and my own writing to do. I'd also discovered by then that five pages would almost always answer three questions. First, did it truly fit our category of mystery/suspense/thriller? If it did, was there anything intriguing, new, or unusual about the opening and the hook? Then, if that was a yes, was it well enough written that I could enjoy it?
            Using this culling method, by December 15, I had read seven books in their entirety, had set aside 42 for a deeper read, and discarded the rest. Surprisingly among those discarded were all of the books by the big-name authors except for one, which I'd already read in October and liked very much. Over the next month, I read more of the 42. Curiously, the percentage of real contenders out of that group, which included those published by the biggest publishers, was no bigger than the percentage out of the smaller presses and the self-published: less than 1 in 10.
            Ten of 15 books just didn’t fit the genre; having some suspense in the plot or a puzzle for a character to solve makes it neither a mystery nor a suspense novel. Many of them had a prosaic beginning or took way too long to get to the story. And many of the books were poorly written and many, perhaps even most, were poorly edited. At the beginning, I worried that my 20 years as a professional editor might prejudice me against some of the books that my colleagues, who were all writers but not editors, might like, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. There were also books I really wanted to like: authors I’m fond of, ideas that were original, but if they weren’t clearly great, they weren’t clearly a contender, I set them aside.
            By the end, I had read 20 books all the way through and had 12 books, or 7%, that I could consider for the award. This created in me an odd mixture of relief and disappointment. I was disappointed that so many marginal books are being published and I was disappointed that there were relatively so few to choose from. I was also relieved that in the end, I had a very manageable number to read and consider.  
            In the last weeks of reading, the other volunteers and I began sharing our contenders. We wanted to be sure if a couple of us were keen on a particular book that others had set aside, that we’d have the time to reconsider it. I read two others that colleagues liked a lot, but neither of them made my final list.
            Finally, in the middle of January we each submitted our top 10 ranked in order and our stalwart leader tallied it up. We had three clear winners and a second group of four that were close in score. We agreed as a group to nominate the top two scores of that group of four to complete our charge. Among the finalists: one book by a woman, one by a Canadian, one by a well-known mystery writer. Two were self-published, one was from a small press, two from large presses. I am very proud to say that the five finalists were all on my list of 10 (with my rankings of #1, 2, 5, 6, 7).
            As a reader, fiction writer, manuscript editor, I found this a very interesting experience. It was interesting to see what the big publishers are thinking will make them money and reassuring to see that really good books are coming out of self-publishing. I won’t donate this amount to such an experience again, but I’m not sorry I did it. Now I just have to decided what I’m going to do with the 173 books stacked in my living room.