Archive for June, 2017

June 27, 2017

Keep Track

If we want to know what we’re really consuming each day, we have to keep track. If we really want to know whether we’re feeling more pain, more anxiety, or more fatigue, we have to keep track. If we hope to focus on experiences that create feelings of happiness, peace, gratitude, accomplishment, and joy, we have to keep track.

At some point when you’ve expressed a desire to improve some area of your life, you’ve probably been instructed by a friend or professional to keep a journal of what you eat or what you dream or how much pain you feel. You may have ignored these instructions. At times, I have too. It sounds like a lot of time and effort and I already have plenty to do. What’s the point?
box list
There are many reasons to keep a contemporaneous record…

Accuracy
If you’ve ever kept a weight-loss journal, you’ve probably surprised yourself. What you thought you ate each day and what you wrote down when you began keeping track may have been significantly different. You also may have noticed that your records were more accurate when you made them immediately following a meal rather than when you tried to reconstruct all of your meals at the end of the day.

If you try to remember Monday’s breakfast in exact detail on the following Monday, it is nearly impossible to do so accurately. It is the same with any memory. As time goes on, the details of an experience become more vague and less accurate. Recording what happens contemporaneously is a great reality check.

Perspective
In the middle of any difficult situation, it’s hard to step back enough to gain perspective. Writing down what happens each day and how we feel about it gives us the opportunity to review later when things have calmed down. This can lead to valuable insights that would otherwise be lost. 

Patterns
Over time, a written record may reveal significant patterns related to health – pain levels, hormone changes, symptoms of inflammation, sleep patterns, blood pressure, response to foods, response to medications, or a myriad of other health related patterns. Presenting our documentation to the doctor can help her with our diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan.

A journal can also reveal patterns of behavior in our relationships, jobs, and self-care routines. It can show us how we respond when we feel dismissed, defensive, afraid, or overwhelmed. This is powerful knowledge! While we may not see these patterns as we go about living our lives, having them revealed gives us the opportunity to make informed choices. I can’t think of anything more powerful than informed choice.

We can’t control the curve balls life will throw us. We may suffer an accident or health crisis or loss of our home in a natural disaster. We may suffer abuse or neglect from our parents. We may lose our jobs because a coworker lies about us. The greatest power we have in these situations is the choice we make about how we will allow these events to affect our lives in the long term.

Until we recognize any lingering pattern of behavior that helped at a difficult time, appreciate and acknowledge both the positive assistance and coinciding limits that pattern creates, we cannot make this choice because we don’t see a choice. That makes the journal an immensely powerful tool for improvement in all areas of our lives.

Tolerance
When we are exposed to something over and over again, we develop the ability to tune it out and tolerate more of that stimuli. For instance, if you move to a new city with lots of traffic noise during sleeping hours, you will eventually become desensitized to the noise and be able to sleep. If the level of noise increases slowly over time, it is unlikely that your sleep will be disturbed.

The same is true with gradual increases in pain, fatigue, and general malaise. Our bodies get accustomed to the discomfort and a gradual increase may not register. We tolerate symptoms that would have been clear warning signs if their onset had been acute. Recording details daily and reviewing once a month can help you give your doctor a more accurate view of changes in your condition.

Focus
In order to compose a journal entry, you must shift your focus to the subject you’re recording. If you keep a dream journal, your focus will be dreams. If you keep a gratitude journal, your focus will be on things for which you feel grateful. If you keep a pain journal, your focus will be on recording the specifics of your pain.

When we focus our attention on something, other things shift and typically our focus begins to define how we feel. Focusing only on pain can easily lead to feeling helpless, depressed, or discouraged. Because of this tendency, I like to keep balance in my records. If I keep a record of pain, then I like to simultaneously keep a record of accomplishments and things that make me feel good. The two-to-one ratio of things that feel good to things that feel bad ensures that I don’t become absorbed by pain.

In order to see all 3 categories at once, I use a colorful plastic box and a tiny notepad. (There it is in the graphic above. Isn’t it cute? Cuteness makes me feel good.) Each evening, I make 3 lists on separate pieces of paper identified by category, then sit them out side by side. Once I’ve seen the lists together, I put them back in the box until the end of the month. At that point, I review.

I recently used Accomplishments, Things That Made Me Feel Good, and Insights as journal categories for a month. I was struggling. I felt so behind that I had lost any sense of accomplishment. The events that put me behind were also making me feel discouraged.

I decided I would record the tasks I completed so that I could gain perspective. At the same time, I’d record anything that made me feel good so that I could deliberately increase those things and thereby increase how often I felt good. Along the way, I knew I’d have a few revelations.

At the end of the month, I felt better even before reviewing the lists. Recording my accomplishments had already given me a realistic view that I was behind because I had too much on my plate, not because I was being inefficient, lazy, or incompetent. Knowing that meant I could direct my energy toward setting better boundaries and reducing my task list. The shift from only seeing the problem to also seeing possible solutions felt positive, optimistic, and freeing.

Catalyst for Change
If a shift from seeing a problem to seeing solutions feels positive, optimistic, and freeing, why are so many of us averse to change? Fearful habits often keep us stuck in miserable places. We may not register a feeling of fear. We may feel the anticipation of another’s disappointment, shunning, cruelty, or displeasure with us if we buck the system, but we express this as family obligation, work ethic, being considerate, or being conscientious. Sometimes we may even call it love.

We may feel reluctance to challenge a belief that we’re not worthy of good things…what if we find out we’re not? We may be sensitized to emotional danger in a way that makes us hyper-vigilantly avoid rocking the boat at home, at work, or with our friends. No matter how we label these fears, our commitment to them prevents us from embracing change.

Keeping a journal, can be an effective catalyst for change. It’s much harder to deny or ignore how we feel if we’ve recorded those feelings when we experience them. By writing events down, we preserve an accurate record for later reference. And using a journal or a box full of lists to focus our attention differently can make it easier to see solutions to long-standing problems.

They say that if we don’t learn from history, we’re doomed to repeat it. I’d rather keep track now so that I have more options later. How about you?

June 20, 2017

Do Something About It or Let It Go?

How do you know whether to do something about it or let it go? Last week, I saw a news story in which a mother gave her 10-year-old son some sage advice. The son was angry that some graves in the veteran’s cemetery where his grandfather was buried did not have flags on them. After a few hours of listening to him complain, his mom told him simply that he needed to do something about it or let it go.
brain maze
That’s the best parenting I’ve seen in a long time. It’s also great advice for all of us. Complaining, ranting, and raving on their own just leave us feeling powerless and increasingly angry. Eventually this affects those around us, poisoning our relationships and social interactions. Observing injustice for what it is and bringing it to light are important steps toward facilitating change. Unfortunately, the complaint phase is an easy place to get stuck.

There’s a ton of injustice in the world. There is avoidable tragedy, inexcusable cruelty, disregard for those who are different, deliberate predatory behavior, negligent laziness, and power-grabbing manipulation. That’s a short list. The real list is long, long, long, unending, overwhelming, and impossible for any one of us to fix.

That means we have decisions to make when we feel the crushing effect of personal dismissal or the heartstring pull of another’s adversity. Should we leave the affluent doctor who verbally abuses our children or should we just rant about what a jerk she is and continue to let her support us? Should we continue to give low pricing to the customer who always wants extra thrown in or should we raise the price and risk losing the business? Should we consider adopting a child even though we’re in our 50s? Should we sue our employer who has fired three different employees because they used sick leave to be present after their wife gave birth? Should we buy our 16-year-old a brand new car, or buy a used car and spend the rest of the money to buy a car for a working single mother whose car just died?

Many of these decisions are difficult, multilayered, and complicated. Our decisions will have ripple effects. Of course it’s easier to rant, rave, and complain about injustice than it is to make a deliberate decision to do something or let it go.

But what is it that really stops us? Is it fear, weakness, or the belief that we have no power? Or does that even matter? Does examining, reexamining, and trying to understand ourselves only lead to paralysis?

Can we be better served by practicing the process of making a choice to do something about it or let it go? Or as my grandmother would have said, to “stop stewing in your own juice.” Let’s start with a simple issue and explore what that process would look like.

contractorScenario 1 (Complain)
I observe that my contractor only shows up 1 out of 3 times that he’s scheduled.
I tell my sister how annoyed I am.
I schedule him again.
He stands me up again.
I more heatedly tell my sister how annoyed I am, then I also tell my neighbor, my uncle, and several other people.
I reschedule the contractor again.
This time, he texts me, but he still doesn’t show.
I call everyone I complained to before and rant this time throwing in a few “why me?” questions like, “Why is it always me who gets stood up?”
I feel angry and powerless.

drillScenario 2 (Do something)
I observe that my contractor only shows up 1 out of 3 times that he’s scheduled.
I tell my sister how annoyed I am.

I begin the process of determining whether I will let him go and find someone new, or try to work this problem out with him.
Here’s how that works:
I review why I chose this contractor…
He’s inexpensive, he does quality work, and he’s fast.
I compare him to other contractors I’ve used…
When he shows up, he’s 80% better than 90% of them.

I decide that it is best to do something to try to make this relationship work.

I set boundaries I can feel good about…
One no show with a text is acceptable. A no show without notice or a 2nd no show with or without notice will be grounds for firing him.
I call the contractor to reschedule…
I tell him simply that I like his work, but he needs to show up more consistently or we won’t be able to work together any more. Then I tell him my specific boundaries. I state them in a clear, concise, straightforward, matter-of-fact manner. I do not apologize or pressure.

I schedule him again…
We’ll see what happens. No matter what, I have a plan. I no longer feel angry or helpless. I won’t feel bad if I have to fire the guy because I know I clearly stated my expectations. The decision is now his. If he chooses to show up, he has a job. If he chooses not to, he doesn’t.
I feel relieved.

hold onScenario 3 (Let it go)
I observe that my contractor only shows up 1 out of 3 times that he’s scheduled.
I tell my sister how annoyed I am.

I begin the process of determining whether I will let him go and find someone new, or try to work this problem out with him. 
Here’s how that works:
I review why I chose this contractor…
He’s inexpensive, he does quality work, and he’s fast.
I compare him to other contractors I’ve used…
When he shows up, he’s 80% better than 90% of them.
I factor in that I need the work done before a family reunion.

I decide that it is best to hire someone I can rely on in order to make my deadline.

I let the contractor know that I can no longer work with him on my project because I have a deadline. I move on and hire someone else.
While I will not recommend the fired contractor for deadline projects, I might tell someone to consider him when there’s no deadline. I feel no need to trash him on social media, continue to complain about him to my family, or even think about him again. I just let it go.
I feel relieved.

Obviously, this is a simple scenario I’ve described, but the more I practice the process, the easier it becomes to follow that process even when the relationships are closer and the feelings more complicated. The resulting peace and freedom I feel each time I embrace my power to do something about it or let it go builds my desire and courage to repeat the process.

And that little boy who received the advice from his mother? He chose to do something. He has now placed over 20,000 flags on veteran’s graves. Thanks Preston Sharp for your service, and thanks mom for your wisdom!

See the story here:
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/california-boy-11-becomes-the-pied-piper-of-patriotism/

June 14, 2017

Has Gluten-Free Living Gotten Easier?

Has gluten-free living gotten easier as awareness has increased? When I learned gluten-free living was a necessity for me, it took an average of 11 years to get a diagnosis of celiac disease, gluten-free products were limited and only available in specialty stores, and few restaurants offered gluten-free menus. That was 13 years ago. What has changed?
gf pie crust
Access to information has increased

Over the past decade, the internet and smart devices have increased our access to information exponentially. Want to know if the Knorr Vegetable Recipe Mix your friend used in the spinach dip she brought to a party is gluten-free? Just grab your phone and find out. Want to find gluten-free pizza nearby? A digital assistant can find it and give you driving directions. Need to make sure a restaurant choice will be easy for you? Preview the menu on the website. Interested in current research? Much of the information is just a click away. Want to find a gluten-free partner or friend? Try http://glutenfreesingles.com/. Advances in technology have brought the most changes by far.

Restaurants are more informed

The term gluten-free is now widely recognized. Chances are that the waiter at your favorite restaurant is familiar with the term. That restaurant may offer a separate gluten-free menu or have certain items designated gluten-friendly. Many national chains publish allergen information online.

Major supermarkets have gluten-free selections

You can now find a selection of gluten-free convenience food at every major supermarket. In fact, the top-selling breakfast cereal in the USA is gluten-free Honey Nut Cheerios. Other commonly stocked gluten-free labeled foods are crackers, pretzels, pasta, cake mix, flour blends, cookies, frozen pizza, and frozen waffles. Even convenience stores keep a selection of high protein gluten-free snacks on hand.

Specialty bakeries exist

wedding cakeDedicated gluten-free bakeries that eliminate the possibility of cross-contact with gluten containing ingredients now dot the country. Not only can you choose from cookies, brownies, cheesecake, pie, and doughnuts, beautifully decorated gluten-free wedding and birthday cakes are available in cities across the US. Many specialty bakeries also offer dairy-free, nut-free, and vegan options.

Gluten-free labeling now has a standard in the US

Prior to 2014, a gluten-free label didn’t necessarily mean the product was free of gluten because there was no labeling standard in place. As of August 5, 2014, FDA-regulated packaged foods bearing a gluten-free claim must meet the following requirements: the food either must be inherently gluten-free; or shall not contain an ingredient that is: 1) a gluten-containing grain (e.g., spelt wheat); 2) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour); or 3) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat starch), if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food. Also, any unavoidable presence of gluten in the food must be less than 20 ppm. This rule does not apply to USDA (meat, poultry, some egg products) or TTB (alcoholic beverages) regulated foods.

Testing for celiac disease has increased

Doctors are more likely to test for celiac disease now than they were in 2004. The average length of diagnosis from onset of symptoms currently ranges from 6 – 10 years in the US. New screening tests are in development that may increase test rates in the future.

Experimental treatment is being tested

Research at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia has led to the development of Nexvan2®, a product that aims to retrain the immune system to tolerate gluten. This treatment is currently being studied in clinical trials led by ImmusanT of Cambridge, MA. A Phase 2 study is scheduled to begin this year. If you would like to participate in ImmusanT studies, visit http://www.immusant.com/patient-resources/learn-more.php.

Looks like quite a few things have changed for the better in the gluten-free world! On balance, there are still things that can be improved.

More information can lead to confusion

When the mountain looks overwhelming, it’s difficult to start climbing. The sheer volume of information available can sometimes make things seem more confusing and difficult. Determining whether sources are reliable, recipes have been tested before publication, or a gluten-free pizza crust is being topped and baked in a kitchen where flour fills the air still requires time and energy. Well-meaning friends may pass along incomplete or incorrect information obtained online. The ingredients list on a favorite product you previously researched may unexpectedly change. In real life, it’s never quite as simple as 1-2-3.

Your server may not really know what gluten-free means

While most waiters have now heard the term gluten-free, they may not have a clear understanding of what it means. This sometimes makes communication a bit more awkward. They may also have served people who jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon as a fad and who cheat whenever they want a piece of cake. This makes it harder for those of us who must be gluten-free to be taken seriously.

Gluten-free processed food is still processed food

There seems to be a never-ending parade of less than delightful, expensive products coming and going from store shelves. At one point, these were grouped together in sections marked gluten-free. Now, they’ve been reintegrated into the regular product shelves where they’re more difficult to locate. Some packaged convenience products taste good. Many do not. And even though they may be gluten-free, they’re still processed food.

It’s harder to find gluten-free lists

Now that there’s a labeling standard, some companies have stopped publishing lists of gluten-free products online and have substituted a “read the label” statement. This makes it harder to research things like acceptable Halloween candy in advance.

The rate of diagnosis still takes 6 – 10 years

While doctors may test for celiac more frequently, it can still take 10 years to receive a diagnosis and over 90% of those with the disease remain undiagnosed. That doesn’t feel like much progress. That means over 2.25 million in the US are living with a nearly 4-fold increased risk of death and do not know it.*

According to the Celiac Support Association:
Untreated celiac disease increases the risk of cancer 200-300%.
Untreated celiac disease increases the risk of miscarriage 800-900%.
66% of those with celiac disease have osteopenia or osteoporosis.
51.4% of those with celiac disease have neurologic disorders
Healthcare costs per untreated celiac in the US: $5,000 – $12,000 annually.
Total US healthcare cost for all untreated celiacs: $14.5 – $34.8 billion annually.

BD PartyAnd if you really want to experience how little things have changed…
Visit a few weddings, baby showers, football watching parties, funeral luncheons, law school receptions, fundraising events, committee meetings, festivals, coffee houses, concession stands, hotel breakfast buffets, and neighborhood potlucks. While there are now some exceptions, the pre-eat or carry your own food rule still frequently applies. Ingredient information is not typically available in these settings and options are often limited.

Progress has been made

Things have gotten easier on many fronts. I am grateful for those. When I discover things that have become more difficult, I feel frustrated, but I stay the course because it’s worth it to me to feel good. And all things considered, living gluten-free is not that difficult. It simply requires commitment and planning.

Is a gluten-free lifestyle worth it

Yes!!!! Even if nothing had changed in the past 13 years, living a gluten-free lifestyle is absolutely worth any inconvenience for me. Having a chance to feel my best and be my healthiest is always worth it because how I feel affects my quality of life every minute of every day. Being my healthiest also makes it possible for me to potentially enjoy more years of living a full life. I can’t think of any reason I wouldn’t want that.

https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/Allergens/ucm362880.htm
https://www.beyondceliac.org/celiac-disease/facts-and-figures/
https://www.csaceliacs.org/diagnosis_of_celiac_disease_fact_sheet.jsp
https://www.wehi.edu.au/research-diseases/immune-disorders/coeliac-disease
http://www.immusant.com/patient-resources/clinical-trials.php
http://lilacpatisserie.com/wedding-cakes
http://www.dempseybakery.com/
https://www.tu-lusbakery.com/menus/picture-gallery/
*http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S001650850900523X

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

June 6, 2017

Five Rainy Day Comfort Foods

With wave after wave of rain falling this year, I want some rainy day comfort food on hand. What’s rainy day comfort food? That’s today’s exploration.
clouds
When I look outside and see a wall of clouds and soaking drizzle, I don’t immediately think ahhh I want a grilled steak. I don’t feel much like eating a salad either. A baked potato, on the other hand, sounds good. Macaroni and cheese sounds even better. Cozy, comforting food preferences seem to accompany gloomy days. But when heat and rain arrive together, my snuggly, comfort food preferences are slightly different than during a winter snow storm.

So, what are my top five comfort food choices for rainy summer days?

Grilled cheese and tomato juice
While hot soup may not sound good on a warm day, a grilled sandwich can still be appealing. In the summer, I like to top gluten-free grilled cheese with spinach or arugula & pair it with cold tomato juice instead of hot tomato soup. A Reuben sandwich also entices on a rainy day, but I rarely have the ingredients available. That means it doesn’t make the list of staples I reach for when rain is in the forecast.

B,L,T and kohlrabi pickles
Another comforting sandwich is bacon and tomato. My grandmother offered these with perfectly crisp bacon, homegrown tomatoes, and a little mayonnaise. She never bothered with lettuce. Bacon, tomato, & lettuce or avocado on toasted gluten-free bread leaves my mouth watering just typing the words. Kohlrabi pickles from the fridge served alongside add the perfect bright spot on a dreary day.
blt
Mashed potatoes with chives
Sometimes I reach for potatoes on a rainy June day. Even though potato salad might be the expected summer preparation, I choose mashed potatoes and leave them a little chunky. Flavored with butter, a couple of tablespoons of half and half, and chives, there’s no need for the added heaviness of gravy.

Pasta with Parmesan
I always keep a package of gluten-free pasta in the pantry. While it’s cooking according to the package directions, I melt a tbsp or two of butter in a skillet or sauté pan. Then I add 1/2 to 2/3 cup of milk, half and half, or cream. I just use whatever I have handy. Once the sauce is warm and begins to bubble, I sprinkle it with garlic powder, salt, coarse black pepper, and add shredded or grated Parmesan. When it’s done, I drain the pasta and stir it into the sauce. The whole process takes less than 15 minutes and the cheesy goodness wraps your insides in comfort.

To make this dish an entrée, I add frozen English peas to the pasta during the last 5 minutes of cooking, then drain and add them to the sauce along with the pasta. If I have leftover chicken, I chop or shred it and warm it in the sauce as well. Chicken, peas, pasta, and cheese makes a complete, satisfying meal.

Ice cream, frozen yogurt, or gelato
I love ice cream any time of year, but I could live on it in the summer when it’s 114 outside and I’m afraid my tires will melt driving down the highway. Even on a rainy day, ice cream makes me feel happy. Sometimes the selection in my freezer leaves me choosing from frozen yogurt bars or black raspberry and chocolate chip gelato. That’s not a bad thing. They’re definitely cold, sweet, delicious little rays of sunshine shewing the dark clouds away.

Those are today’s five winners!

You may have other rainy day favorites – chicken and rice, Pizza Margherita, movie popcorn, or a frozen candy bar. On years like this one, it’s good to keep a few favorites on hand cause the rain keeps popping up, or more appropriately stated – pouring down, in spite of the forecast.

Maybe after our ice cream, we’ll see a rainbow! That sounds delicious.