Viewing entries in
Habit Change

Comment

A Few Notes on The Quantified Self

Technology is a double-edged sword. Lifelogging can help you use it to your advantage.

Technology is a double-edged sword. Lifelogging can help you use it to your advantage.

A friend recently took to calling me the “bionic woman,” but it has nothing to do with using superhuman powers in service of my government. 

On the back of my arm, you’ll spot a blood glucose monitor, which I use to keep an eye on blood sugar levels. On my pointer finger, there’s an Oura Ring, which tracks sleep quality and heart rate variability. On my wrist, you’ll spot a smart watch, which counts daily steps, heart rate, and daily exercise. My menstrual cycle is logged in an app, as well as a host of other factors related to my hormones. I often enter my food intake and macronutrients on my phone, and I take note of my daily mood and the quality of each day in a goals-oriented planner. Excel is a good friend; once in a while, I’ll make an account of every minute spent over a week to figure out where I’m leaking time. I’ve also journaled since the age of 8 or so, taking note of most important conversations and events. In my religious life, I try and take at least a once-weekly inventory of where I’m missing the mark. Oh, and progress on my goals has been color-coded since 2009 (red, yellow, green). Perhaps this is one reason I became a coach!

Ok, maybe you wouldn’t call me a bionic woman. Maybe you’d call me obsessive, fanatical, neurotic, an extreme naval gazer. Whatever label one may slap onto this behavior, I am part of a growing community that subscribes to the practice of lifelogging, otherwise known as The “Quantified Self.”

The Oura ring provides sleep data, heart rate variability, and tracks daily activity levels.

The Oura ring provides sleep data, heart rate variability, and tracks daily activity levels.

This movement focuses on self-experimentation and self-knowledge using numbers, with the goal of enhancing happiness, performance, and health through the collection and analysis of data. By taking ownership of one’s health information, one can also handle medical challenges in a more empowered and informed manner, and perhaps avoid energy derailments, unnecessary prescriptions and medical misdiagnoses. As a coach and an avid practitioner of lifelogging, I know that this practice can be a lifesaver.

As an example, a few years ago a doctor in Singapore diagnosed me with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. “Take six months off and rest,” he advised. “There’s nothing else you can really do about it.” He said he saw this a lot in women “like me,” and that he had just diagnosed a lawyer and personal trainer with it as well. Admitting I was devastated by this news is an understatement. Based on my lifelogging data and research as well as a dose of intuition, however, I was able to conclude that his diagnosis was likely incorrect —there was something else going on. Taking the information I’d gathered to other specialists eventually led to the right diagnosis— a condition that has since been easily managed by keeping an eye on glucose levels and making a radical dietary shift.

In my coaching practice, these kinds of stories come up all the time. I also get to witness the many successes that arise from self-tracking. For people who have highly sensitive bodies or who lean toward being “feelers” more than “thinkers”, lifelogging can be particularly grounding, providing a kind of reality check. We’re in an age where industries that are supposed to support our well-being have become increasingly predatory. Our well being is thus hinged on taking more responsibility over our health by “knowing thyself” and doing our own research. Lifelogging has many benefits, and will only take about ten to fifteen minutes out of your day. We have little control over the things that may happen to us in life. Why not optimize the small sliver that we do have?

Action: Try out one form of lifelogging for a week. 

Power Question: How might lifelogging help you toward your goals?

As always, thanks for reading! Is Lifelogging a topic of interest to you? Let me know in the comments, as well as how you’re using it to improve your health!

Comment

Comment

Four Common Nutrition-Related Health Conditions That Can Mimic Depression & Anxiety – and What To Do About Them

How you feel often has a lot to do with what you eat.

How you feel often has a lot to do with what you eat.

Mental health conditions, particularly depression and anxiety, are extremely common today and yet complex to treat because they’re often caused by a combination of psychological, biological and social factors. An estimated one in seven people in Singapore have experienced a mental health disorder. In the US, approximately one in four women are prescribed at least one psychiatric medication to treat anxiety, depression, ADHD and other mental health disorders. This is truly the global public health crisis of our generation. Yet, a significant number of people in treatment are unresponsive to medication-based solutions.

I was one of those individuals, cycling through countless psychiatric drug interventions in my teens and twenties before finally discovering that if I changed the way I ate and moved, my thought processes and energy levels radically shifted. What I did not know at the time was that I had two common health conditions, endometriosis and non-diabetic reactive hypoglycemia, both of which I’d probably been living with for decades. Looking back on my days of bulimia, I’d binge on tubs of Betty Crocker frosting to chase away feelings of anxiety and dread, dousing my fears with sugar until my body could hold no more. In my twenties, I’d nurse on a bottle of wine most nights to keep the heart palpitations, sadness and physical pain from driving me mad.  What I did not know was that I was dealing, in a sense, with a physiological Sisyphus, one that medication or psychotherapy was not meant to fix.

Since getting to the bottom of these health issues, I’ve had to reconsider not only my personal history, but also the entire narrative that currently defines mental illness, one that I had long suspected was off the mark. Yes, millions struggle with psychological conditions which respond well to medication, particularly in tandem with talk therapy. However, there are countless others who would be better served by lifestyle and nutrition interventions rather than by prescriptions for psychiatric drugs.

At a time when suicide rates are rising and increasing numbers of people are incapacitated by symptoms resembling psychiatric illness, it’s critical that mental health professionals, physicians, dietitians, physiologists, personal trainers, and health coaches begin working together as a team rather than approaching behavioral health from opposing and competing camps.

Numerous physical health issues are often misdiagnosed as psychiatric illness — hypothyroidism, diabetes, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, endometriosis, PCOS and arthritis are just a few. People waste years and even decades trying to fix the wrong problem, bouncing from one specialist to the next as they collect misdiagnoses. Compellingly, many nutrition-related conditions can also cause symptoms resembling bipolar disorder, major depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and even psychosis. Here are four of the most common:


Iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) impacts an estimated six percent of the population, with higher numbers in women who are menstruating, pregnant or nursing, and in people following a vegan, vegetarian or raw food diet. Worldwide, an estimated two billion people are anemic; iron deficiency is a top ten risk factor for chronic disease. Numerous studies show that iron deficiency anemia increases the risk of psychiatric disorders in both children and adults, and researchers have urged the medical community to consider iron intake in assessing the underlying causes and treatments for mental illness. Symptoms of IDA include fatigue, decreased stamina, insomnia, rapid heartbeat and depression. In other words, they are nearly the same as the symptoms listed on some popular pharmaceutical commercials for depression and anxiety.

So, what can you do if you suspect you may have iron-deficiency anemia?  

First, get a complete blood test (CBC) from your doctor and ask to see your results for your red cell count, haemoglobin, hemocrit volumes and mean corpuscular volume (MCV). Compare these numbers to the “normal” range that the blood test includes, and keep in mind that a result which is borderline low but not abnormal may still result in symptoms. Every body is different, and results must be put into context. A subclinical or borderline normal result can still make you feel awful!

Treatment for iron-deficiency anemia is pretty straightforward. An oral iron supplement or IV iron treatment can do wonders, but for long-term relief, changing one’s diet is crucial. Adding foods like red meat and poultry, dark leafy greens, beans, nuts and seeds, seafood and organ meats like liver to your daily diet will boost iron levels over time. Vitamin C and beta-carotene rich foods will also help your body absorb non-heme iron, while substances like caffeine and soy protein can inhibit it. Many people are often shocked by how dramatically their mood and energy levels improve after increasing iron intake over two to three months. One big reason new mothers experience postnatal depression and crippling fatigue during baby’s first year? Iron deficiency!

 

Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease are two different yet related issues that present with similar symptoms. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune reaction to gluten and can be easily tested and confirmed by a doctor. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is more nebulous and therefore, there are no specific biomarkers to diagnose it. Celiac disease is rare — an estimated one percent of the population has it. Gluten intolerance appears to be more common, and may affect up to thirteen percent of people, although estimates widely differ. Symptoms of both include bloating, gas, fatigue, depression, constipation, iron-deficiency anemia (see above!), delusional thinking, and even psychosis. Some fascinating research on the connection between schizophrenia and gluten has been published recently, although results are not yet consistent enough to conclude a causal relationship.

Researchers at John’s Hopkins University’s School of Public Health found that people with celiac disease are three times more likely to develop schizophrenia than those without it. A literature review of studies published between 1900 and 2014 found that anxiety, depression and fatigue are all common complaints in patients with celiac disease that has been untreated.

So, what can you do? Simple serology tests, the Tissue Transglutaminase IgA antibody and the IgA antibody, will look for antibodies in the blood to determine whether or not you have a negative reaction to gluten. If this test is negative but you still suspect you have celiac disease, you may want to ask your doctor for an IgA Endomysial antibody test, although this is more expensive and less accurate. Genetic testing can be helpful in determining if you might be a candidate for celiac or gluten sensitivity, but only about five percent of people who carry the genes will actually develop Celiac Disease. You may also want to rule out a straightforward wheat allergy, which often presents differently, by taking an allergy panel like RAST or skin prick testing.

DeathtoStock_Medium1.jpg

Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are treated through dietary shifts— but that doesn’t mean that the process is easy! Many foods in restaurants contain hidden gluten (one-third of gluten free dishes in US restaurants have been found to contain gluten) and package labels in the grocery store are not always accurate. Cross-contamination in manufacturing plants is common, so it’s rarely safe to rely on an ingredient list unless the packaged food is certified “gluten-free.” And, many people who are aware that gluten trashes their health still cannot resist the siren song of pizza and freshly baked bread, which is where enlisting the help of a health coach may be extremely helpful. Going gluten free is definitely a lifestyle shift, but if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, it’s the only way to heal. Give your body and mind three months to adjust to the change, and be patient with yourself as you navigate living in a gluten-free world. It’s not easy, but the boost to your wellbeing may be considerable!

 

Reactive Hypoglycemia, also known as the great mimicker of depression and anxiety, is a little known yet increasingly common condition where blood glucose levels become dangerously low three to four hours after eating a meal. There are a few different types of hypoglycemia and while some are associated with pre-diabetes, non-diabetic reactive hypoglycemia is simply caused by low blood sugar without the highs. Symptoms include weakness, shakiness, dizziness, headache, sweating, anxiety, irritability, heart palpitations, insomnia, a sense of doom, hallucinations, extreme fatigue and loss of consciousness.  Studies conducted on the prison population found that reactive hypoglycemia was linked to violence among inmates, and it is often misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue, subclinical hypothyroidism, depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, anxiety, and others.

Hypoglycemia can also drive alcohol use disorders and eating disorders because temporary relief from symptoms is usually dependent on the ingestion of sugar, creating a vicious cycle. This may be why Alcoholics Anonymous often pushes donuts and juice on the newly sober to counteract the terrible effects of decreased glucose in the body!

Testing for reactive hypoglycemia is straightforward, although few doctors look for it. If you suspect you may have reactive hypoglycemia, you will need to ask an experienced endocrinologist for a Mixed Meal Tolerance Test, which involves swallowing a sweet drink containing fat, protein and sugar. This will raise your blood glucose and force your body to pump out more insulin. Then, you’ll be given several blood tests over the five hours following ingestion to see how your body reacts.

If you test positive during this test for reactive hypoglycemia, your endocrinologist will likely implant a blood glucose monitor into your arm and ask you to eat a wide variety of foods over a period of a few weeks, taking note of when your blood glucose drops and symptoms appear. He will then analyze this data and work with you to create a nutrition plan of action, as well as discussing medication options. You can usually treat non-diabetic reactive hypoglycemia through dietary changes alone, but patience and persistence is key. While some do well on a nutrition plan that incorporates moderate complex carbohydrates ingested every few hours, others cannot tolerate any carbs and may find relief on a Paleo approach to eating, the “keto diet” or a “zero carb” meal plan, which stabilizes insulin levels and trains the body to turn fat into ketones for energy production, rather than relying on glucose. Regular exercise and daily glucose monitoring are also important! Nutritional changes and lifestyle adjustments can completely reverse this frustrating condition.
 

Not Eating Enough is a surprisingly common reason for why people experience symptoms of decreased mental wellness.

The dieting industry and weight loss culture that has predominated over the past thirty years taught millions of women that if they wanted to shed pounds, they’d need to eat somewhere between 900 to 1200 calories per day. This ludicrous suggestion has given rise to an increase in eating disorders, slowed metabolism, suboptimal health and self-loathing.

When we do not eat enough to support bodily functioning, we rob our organs of the macro- and micronutrients they require, which can lead to a host of pretty scary symptoms, including severe depression, anxiety, fatigue, and insomnia. In my coaching practice, about thirty to forty percent of the women I work with are not eating enough, and have been living that way for years and even decades. There is so much confusion over how many calories we actually need to perform at our best. A simple way to figure this out is to use something called the Mifflin St. Jeor equation:

For women, the equation is: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161.

For men, the equation is: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) +5

 Your result will give you the amount of calories you a recommended to ingest in order to support your Basal Metabolic Rate (or BMR, your metabolism at complete rest).

 From there, you’ll want to multiply that number depending on your daily activity level, which is called your basic activity factor, as follows:

1.2 if you are sedentary (little or no exercise = BMR x 1.2

1.375 if you are lightly active (exercise 1-3 days/week) = BMR x 1.375

1.55 if you are moderately active (exercise 3-5 days week) = BMR x 1.55

1.75 if you are very active (hard exercise 6-7 days week) = BMR x 1.725

1.9 if you do very hard exercise on a daily basis and work a physical job BMR = 1.9

Using this formula will give you a pretty good idea of how many calories you need to consume daily in order to keep your body functioning optimally, assuming that you do not wish to lose weight and that there are no serious underlying health problems. If you are trying to shed some body fat, a certified and experienced health coach can help you figure out how to adjust your caloric intake and still keep your body in a happy place.

Behavioral health issues like depression and anxiety can be tricky to treat, and their underlying causes are not always straightforward. I know that if my nutrition is on point and I’m exercising regularly, I generally do not experience any symptoms of depression and anxiety, but if I consume sugar or carbohydrates, skip my workouts, and surround myself with negative people, I’m in for trouble. For many of us who have faced mental health issues, a cure does not exist in a pill, but rather in the way we eat, move and live. If you’re struggling with a drug resistant mental health condition, consider consulting an endocrinologist and a registered dietitian to investigate potential physical underlying causes. A skilled, experienced health coach or nutritionist can also be helpful in crafting a plan of action while providing support and accountability as you move into a more peaceful and contented frame of mind—and body!

 

As always, thanks for reading! I have not posted in a long while - between mamahood, health coaching, consulting, school, long-form writing and self-care, my priorities have changed. Social media/blogging doesn’t happen often these days! I do, however, continue to work with a small number of health and behavior change coaching clients, so if you’re curious about how coaching may help to improve your energy levels and overall well-being, email me at aimee@tangramwellness.com. Please be aware that I am only taking clients in Singapore at this time.

Comment

Comment

The Other F Word: TAF Club, Fat Shaming and Tackling the "Obesity Crisis" in Singapore

I'm a fitness professional and perceived as a paragon of health, but I still struggle with body image

I'm a fitness professional and perceived as a paragon of health, but I still struggle with body image

Over the last 6 months, reports on the "obesity crisis" have been mounting both in Singapore and overseas. "Obesity" has become a dirty word, and most of the articles covering this issue emphasize the negative impacts that excess weight has on our health. As a nutrition coach and personal trainer who is seen as a paragon of health, I'd like to share something with you about what I've experienced personally growing up, as well as what I've learned from it.

If you live in Singapore or have friends or children who've attended local schools within the past 20 years, you may have heard of a weight loss program implemented in schools called the Trim and Fit programme ( TAF Club).

The programme started in 1992; it was an annual school health screening exercise where children aged 9-18 were tested for vision, growth and development based on height and weight, hearing, a basic medical check-up by the doctor, a basic spinal test and immunisation. If you failed to meet "healthy" guidelines, you became a member of TAF whether you liked it or not. Just 4 years after TAF had been implemented,  I was first placed in TAF club based on my BMI ( a value based on weight [in kg] over your height squared [in centimetres] ). Later, when I entered secondary school at age 13, I was once again classified as overweight. I was officially in the "TAF club", with the target aim of reducing BMI.

The school had all of us in TAF skip recess-- the only 30-minute break time for meals-- and replace it with exercise. Now, it makes perfect sense to increase our activity level in the hope that our excess weight would be reduced. But you have no idea HOW it was carried out, in my school at leastFirst off, the area where all of us "TAF girls" had to exercise was right in front of the school canteen-- in front of hundreds of other school mates. What this meant is that we couldn't hide the shame of belonging to TAF. Everyone automatically knew. Even worse, we had to face the embarrassment of exercising in front of an audience of our "normal" peers.

It didn't help that the teacher in charge was somewhat of a tyrant who was overweight herself due to a thyroid disorder. She screamed and yelled at us at the top of her lungs in the hope of motivating us while reprimanding us for being "lazy and fat", which had the opposite impact it was intended to have. Sometimes she would call us names and say that we weren't allowed to eat during recesses because we were "fat." 

At the time, I didn't understand how this experience impacted me, since it felt normal to be categorized with the other TAF girls. Now, I realize, that it affected me in many ways, including:

  • being fearful whenever I stepped on the weighing scale again and worrying that, if my BMI goes above 24, I would be labelled as "fat" again, and exposed to ridicule. It didn't help at all that TAF, if read backwards, spells "FAT". How "apt" for trying to motivate or inspire us to get more fit;
     
  • not enjoying exercising and feeling ashamed of exercising in a group. I didn't enjoy my time in TAF or the activities they made us do one bit.
     
  • living in fear after TAF, feeling condemned, stigmatized and labelled as if my body shape was my fault. It impacted my confidence profoundly, and made me believe that I would never be able to lose weight or excel in sports. Hanging around with the fit and lean girls made me self-conscious of the way I looked, and I would try my best to make my pinafore belt looser. 

    Things did not improve initially in junior college- in fact, they got worse as my body developed and my perceptions changed. I wanted to be active but I was scared of my body and concerned that I'd be too slow to join my friends. In that first year, I still bordered on being overweight, but by the second year, thanks to increased running during PE and an added workload, I dropped 10 lbs. in two months. My school teachers were concerned with my health, because my weight loss was really fast and significant. I didn't think it was a bad thing-- in fact, I enjoyed the "skirt" hanging loose on my hips. My mind was subconsciously fixed on aesthetics. Later on, I found a studio that ran fitness classes to improve
TAF Club Days

TAF Club Days

I was later fortunate to find a studio that ran fun-filled classes working on improving cardiovascular health, core strength, co-ordination and flexibility through dance and fitness routine. It felt great that the emphasis was on enjoying ourselves and the instructors were all very encouraging. For the first time in my life, I felt so free as I was able to connect my limbs and body to move to what my heart felt and mind thought. My fitness and confidence level improved while my weight continued to decrease.

A couple of years later, after my chemotherapy for Hodgkin's Lymphoma ended, I found a new sanctuary with the bar and weightlifting. I fell in love with the bar not for the aesthetics initially but more of a way of connecting with the inner strength I knew existed within me pre-cancer days. 

So, why does our culture put so much stake on "looking good," and why does the media have a tendency to showcase women's bodies in photos without their heads? Isn't it finally time that we pay more attention to the real issues fuelling this "obesity crisis" and focus on improving lifestyle habits rather than emphasizing aesthetics?

A recent Harvard Public Health article, "The Scarlet F" highlighted findings that "weight stigma may be as harmful to the body in itself as poor diet and physical inactivity." It listed the negative impacts of weight stigma to be as rampant and as powerful as racial stigmatisation. Women who experience this type of weight prejudice may also be at a higher risk of bullying, depression, suicide, eating disorders, and other harmful addictions. Weight stigma can also impair their prospects in education, careers, romantic relationships, and physical activity.

These experiences add unnecessary stressors on their already burdened lifestyle and the environment they are in, leading to even more unhealthy weight gain. A 10-year study on the impact of such stigmatisation and the chronic stress it puts on the body shows that it also leads to changes in all the other body defence systems ( particularly the HPA axis dysfunction). 

Among women, weight stigmatisation and fat shaming are now more common than racial discrimination, according to Rebecca Puhl and her colleagues at the Rudd Centre of Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.

It's in our human nature to want to belong to a safe and nurturing environment, ESPECIALLY for women. Women and girls are predispositioned and culturally conditioned to combat environmental stressors in a "tend and befriend" way rather than in "fight or flight" mode -- both responses being the body's natural mechanism against any perceived threats. What this means is that for women, instead of constantly putting them in an environment where they feel unsafe, threatened and have perceived themselves as fighting alone, they actually do better in an atmosphere of protection of their kind and befriending in social groups where they feel welcomed.

This also means that, as fitness professionals and coaches, we should not be training women in the same manner that men are trained or force them to do exercises that do not feel comfortable or safe to them. Condescending tones, yelling, or scare tactics are generally not appropriate in group classes or private sessions with women who are focused on weight loss.

By using encouraging, self-esteem boosting modes of training, we help to reduce the hyper-loaded activity on their hypothalamus-pituitary-axis, which can have a positive impact in significantly reducing any inflammation, improving mental and emotional well-being and thereby reducing weight in a healthy and sustainable way.

So what can we do to tackle the "obesity crisis"?

1.    The traditional FOOD PYRAMID we've relied on for so long is outdated. As of 2014, Singapore's Health Promotion Board has ditched this model and replaced it with MyHealthyPlate, which emphasizes consumption of vegetables and fruits. Harvard School of Public Health's "Healthy Eating Pyramid" focuses on both exercise and diet control instead of just the eating plate alone. This sets a right framework and mindset shift towards a healthier living, and should be implemented widely.

2.    Shifting the emphasis from weight loss, numbers on the scale, and body mass index (BMI) to monitoring health biomarkers such as blood lipid levels, insulin levels, cholesterol, liver fat, aerobic fitness and mental wellness will offer a clearer picture on overall health and steer us away from the overemphasis on aesthetics. "Focusing on healthy habits rather than numbers on a scale may be more effective for both weight and health in the long run..Too much emphasis on weight loss, sets people up for failure and increases their risk of shame. " - says,  Erica Kenney,  a researcher with the Harvard Chan School’s Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity. Placing someone, especially at a young age, as overweight or obese based on mainly BMI, just may lead them to eating disorders and depression as they move into adulthood, leading to further weight gain and other health issues.

3.    Media and advertising are powerful forces in influencing the perspectives and emotions of people. Publishers should shift to adopting a more realistic choice of words and pictures when publishing articles related to weight and fitness, instead of constantly using images of skinny white women or headless bodies. More can be done from the media to promote body positivity, including popular celebrities, leaders and social media stars/influencers. An emphasis on body positivity  may lead to less weight gain or eating disorders since we tend to eat less when our psychological health is intact.

4.      There are other supportive measures which can be made at the government and corporate level. Offering accessible, reasonably priced locally farmed veggies and fruits at the supermarkets and restaurants would be a big win in Singapore. Currently, it's really difficult to access this kind of produce. Incentivising hawker stands and school cafeterias to prepare their menus according to the healthy eating pyramid would also be helpful. We could also tax sweets and sodas just like we do alcohol and cigarettes, and the tax collected could be used mainly to support measures related to obesity prevention at schools, workplaces and households. Some cities in the US and the U.K. have already begun implementing this, and though there is an ongoing debate and yet any conclusive data to prove its effectiveness, "taxing" on such beverages may perhaps change our mindset into thinking how these items are NOT necessities. 

5.   At the individual level, for myself, at least, I have adopted the following practices and incorporate them to the best of my ability, because I have learn to accept my body is beautiful at any age or size, be it 0 to 8, and shift my focus towards health and strength: 

  •  Mindfulness: It can't be said enough but being more mindful in an ever-noisy world helps to keep me grounded and centered, making my health a top priority. 
     
  • Being "selfish" with my environmental exposure: This may sound narcissistic from a girl with an Asian upbringing, and no, I am not out on a mission to take everything in sight, but rather, I am selective of my environment.  It can be a very empowering and uplifting feeling too (and if you want to read more on how to be "selfish",  read " To Move Out of Self-Sabotage, Get Selfish: Here's How" from Aimee).
     
  • Being empathetic to myself and to others: This includes taking time to understand and accept the changes to my body is going through at age 33, what my emotions and thoughts are telling me, and not wallowing in self-pity or negative self-talk or hatred upon myself. And above all, not blaming myself for my weight or dress size!

Although we have a long way to go, Singapore IS making some positive steps in the right direction. For one, the TAF program was removed and replaced with a Holistic Health Framework (HHF) in 2007. The club is now called "ActiveKids" for students who are overweight, but is open to all who want to participate. I am hopeful that more positive lasting changes to combat rising weight-related health challenges are right around the bend.

 

yansignature.png

REFERENCES:

April 2016 http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/obesity-also-rising-in-singapore

June 2017 http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/singapore-risks-hitting-obesity-rates-of-15-in-seven-years

June 2017 http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/st-editorial/weighty-trend-not-to-be-taken-lightly

 https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/magazine/magazine_article/the-scarlet-f/

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/07/07/health/frenemies-bullying-obesity-study/index.html

Perceived Weight, Not Obesity, Increases Risk for Major Depression Among Adolescents
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3686272/

Health Consequences of Weight Stigma: Implications for Obesity Prevention and Treatment
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13679-015-0153-z

Perceived Weight Discrimination and 10-year Risk of Allostatic Load among US Adults

http://midus.wisc.edu/findings/pdfs/1592.pdf

Biobehavioral responses to stress in females: tend-and-befriend, not fight-or-flight.

 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10941275

 http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/my-healthy-plate-to-replace-food-pyramid-in-singapore-textbooks

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/pyramidtest/

Childhood Obesity - Issues of Weight Bias https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181194/#B1

Social media and Obesity

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4167901/

Psychological consequences of obesity: Weight bias and body image in overweight and obese youth
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/09540261.2012.678817

http://bigthink.com/stefani-cox/will-philadelphias-soda-tax-solve-obesity-2

Soda Taxes Can Protect Health in Asia https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-02-23/soda-taxes-can-protect-health-in-asia

Can a sugar tax stop obesity? http://edition.cnn.com/2016/08/31/health/sugar-tax-obesity/index.html

A soda tax - will it change anything? http://www.obesityaction.org/educational-resources/resource-articles-2/nutrition/a-soda-tax-will-it-change-anything

Obesity Stigma: Important Considerations for Public Health
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866597/#bib113

Obesity - can we stop the epidemic https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/magazine/magazine_article/obesity/

The Trim and Fit Program in Singapore
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trim_and_Fit

https://www.moe.gov.sg/education/programmes/holistic-health-framework

https://www.hpb.gov.sg/schools/school-programmes/health-promoting-programmes-for-primary-school

Mar 2017 - http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/a-more-holistic-approach-to-a-childs-health-and-fitness

Comment

Comment

To Move Out of Self-Sabotage, Get SELFish. Here’s How

Whether it’s an addiction, a bad habit, a harmful relationship, a self-sabotaging behavior or an inauthentic life- we’re often surprised to discover that letting go of the thing which has been dragging us down for so long doesn’t automatically coax out the rainbows and trumpets. In other words, a shiny new life won’t magically appear just because we’ve made space for it.  

The self-destructive mentality that we’ve been operating from for so long dramatically compromises our coping mechanisms and life skills. After we finally stop ingesting poison, we may realize that we don’t know how to engage in nourishing activities like cultivating healthy relationships, setting boundaries, practicing self-care, or supporting ourselves. Our sense of self is shaky, at best, and the shame that has underpinned our negative circumstances and poor decisions may still be running the show. When shame’s the director of our lives, it’s hard to know who we are and nearly impossible to assert ourselves or speak our truth.

No matter what our age, we’re bound to fall back into our intricately designed traps until we make a conscious decision to completely change how we think and relate with the world, and then seek support from mentors who can assist us in uncovering our life-affirming and creative gems from the dung pile of shame. Quitting a harmful behavior, substance or relationship provides us with clarity, but it doesn’t give us the tools we need to move forward in a healthy and wholehearted way.

Recovery teaches us to be of service and to release the habit of indulgent, destructive self-pity. Self-involved thinking is part of what got us into a mess in the first place! However, recovery also requires that we embrace SELFishness and reclaim our power by learning how to respect our own needs and health.

This can be an incredibly foreign concept to many women, who were taught from a young age to be selfless, accommodating and long-suffering- a character lesson passed down unconsciously through generations. Here are five SELFish practices that I recommend cultivating:

1. SELF-PROTECTION

Author Julia Cameron writes, “it is enlightened self-interest to be selfish enough to be self-protective. Being self-protective may not seem nice. We may say no to invitations that do not serve us.” A majority of women who engage in self-sabotage can easily be categorized as “too nice.” They are people pleasers to the extreme, and have little experience in standing up for themselves. No wonder- statistics show that women battling addictions, eating disorders, and abusive relationships overwhelmingly contend with early childhood trauma, which programs them for victimhood and low self-worth down the road. It’s these very same women who become easy targets for violence in their adult lives if they haven’t learned to protect themselves, as they consistently allow politeness and the need to be liked to override intuition and self-preservation. When we learn how to adequately protect ourselves, we gain the confidence necessary to show our true selves to the world while asserting our values and beliefs through our actions.

2. SELF-SUSTENANCE

Making a successful major life change usually requires the support of a trusted circle of people, as well as the humility to accept our shortcomings and ask for help. Being able to financially and emotionally support ourselves in some way acts as a counterweight in this process while preventing learned helplessness in what should be an empowering, freeing journey. Excuses and “I can’t” mantras are detrimental to recovery and, if uttered often enough, will undermine our efforts to improve our well-being. One of the most effective ways to legitimize our power is to make our own money through a pursuit that nourishes us, even if the paychecks are initially barely enough to cover a morning tea at Starbucks. It is the act of reaching toward self-sustenance that matters in those beginning stages. Through working, you are proclaiming, “I am committed to taking care of myself.” Similarly, by learning how to emotionally nourish ourselves rather than relying on external validation, we find our voice, our courage, and our self-respect.

3. SELF-CARE

In any major transformation, regular self-care is the contract we must make with ourselves in order to redirect attention to the parts of us that were once neglected and step into a more awakened way of living.

Initially, something as simple as taking time to meet with a coach or therapist, or read an uplifting book with a cup of soothing tea in hand will open up the space you need to trust yourself again. Self-care faciliates a romance between the body and the mind, integrating our practical needs with our higher desires and providing us with the energy we need to venture out into the world with our heads held high. Often, self-care is a sacred secret, a ritual that unleashes our childlike spirit. By doing something each day that is loving to ourselves, we generate a grounded and joyful energy which attracts supportive people and opportunities into our lives. Through self-care, we radiate the message, “I’m worth respect and love.”

4. SELF-CONTROL

Self-control is central to human evolution as a developmental perk of our prefrontal cortex. It’s also what allows us to move forward as individuals through conscious decision-making and behavioral regulation. No surprise- those of us who have struggled with an addiction or bad habit tend to be low on self-control, and once we’re able to admit this shortcoming, we’re likelier to develop more of it. Just like our physical muscles, self-control must be exercised each day in order to grow and flourish. This can feel painful and tedious at first! Because excessive self-control is tied to perfectionism, this SELFish skill may be the trickiest to master, particularly if you’re overcoming an eating disorder, exercise addiction or any other type of compulsive pattern. Often, controlling ourselves actually means riding the wave and letting go of insisting on a particular outcome. Instead, we focus on the moment in front of us and take actions aligned to our integrity and purpose. Self-control is considered one of the greatest signs of spiritual maturity, and mindfulness and prayer are two great ways to cultivate it.

5. SELF-DISCOVERY

At the heart of addiction is the belief that we should not be “feeling” creatures, that the emotions we label as negative are to be snuffed out and rejected. In our pursuit of non-feeling, we lose the essence of what it means to be human, to connect, and to love. Without a full range of emotions, we’re unable to understand who we are and what our purpose is. Self-discovery is a process of allowing once-forbidden emotions to resurface, and of tuning in to the wisdom of the body rather than processing everything through logic.

Being willing to rediscover the self means rejecting the dictates of our current society, which demands that we plaster on a happy face at all times and become masters at emotional perfectionism.

When we commit to self-discovery, our emotions flow without censorship, and we learn how to befriend them in order to uncover what we’re really about.

Although the world may tell us otherwise, every single one of us is worth self-respect. That self-respect must be generated from the inside first; once we treat ourselves well, we’ll begin to notice that other people show more kindness and consideration to us. When we put these five SELFish skills to work, we begin to refill the once empty well that drove us to self-destructive behaviors in the first place, and we eventually come to a place where we appreciate our lives enough to stop the cycle of self-sabotage for good.

How are you integrating a life of service, purpose and SELF-ishness? What's the most important thing you're doing to take care of yourself? Leave your thoughts in the comments section- I'd love to hear from you! 

Comment

Comment

What a Job Interview with a Pimp Taught Me About Setting Goals

Photo credit: Caitlyn Wilson

Photo credit: Caitlyn Wilson

In the late ‘90s and barely a year out of high school, I moved from a haunted Connecticut town to glitzy New York City with a few hundred bucks in my pocket and the wide-eyed dream of SUCCESS… whatever that meant. Like any young adult facing down an ever present threat of eviction and dwindling supply of ramen, I needed a J-O-B. So, when I saw an advertisement on Craigslist which read, “MODELS WANTED” and promised up to a thousand dollars a day, I immediately applied.

Desperation is the executioner of common sense.

In less than 72 hours, I waltzed into the lobby of a Times Square hotel sporting a freshly bleached pixie hairdo a la Annie Lennox with a résumé and a few amateur headshots in hand to meet my prospective employer. “Sam” loomed large at a glass table in the middle of the lobby bar, holding a flute of champagne with a well-manicured hand adorned by gold rings. Rhinestone cufflinks peeked out of a bright blue suit as he motioned for me to take a seat, offering me a bite from a plate of cheese while pouring me a glass of bubbly. Underage drinking at a job interview? Sign me up! I’d already realized that, once again, I’d sniffed out trouble without meaning to.

In case you haven’t guessed yet, the job Sam had on offer wasn’t exactly as advertised. Is anything? Still, I listened to his proposal, mulled over whether or not he’d kidnap me if I tried to run out, and finally, after decimating the brie, told him that I’d like to give it a think. Don’t call me, I’ll call you. Here are four lessons on goal-setting from my interview with Sam the Pimp:  

1. You’ve Got to See It to Be It.
Always have a clear picture of what it is you want… and don’t want. The main thing that saved my butt that day was my imagination- being able to see and feel the scenarios available to me. I pictured, in crisp detail, what would become of my life had I accepted the job with Sam as opposed to if I declined the offer and went back to where I started from, and since neither scenario was palatable, I was able to conjure up other options in my mind. I ended up taking a waitressing position a few days later at a swanky restaurant in downtown Manhattan and enrolled in a course at my dream university not long after that. That may not seem like much to you, but back then,  I would have been blasting Drake’s “Started from the Bottom” if I’d had the option.

2. Ain’t No Such Thing As Easy Street.
The easy way is usually the hard way. In hindsight, this is almost always the case. We live in an age of instant gratification, where most people insist on results in no time flat. This lazy attitude is one reason why things like fad diets, get rich quick schemes and diploma mills continue to flourish. Their simple promises are all too tempting in a society that focuses on the shiny prize rather than the process. If you want true, lasting success at a goal, you’re going to have to put in all the work by developing grit and resilience. If you choose the illusion that promises you the world for minimal effort, I can almost guarantee you that you’ll pay for it dearly to someone else’s advantage- like a pimp’s.

3.  Run Your Own Game.
Sam owned his time, his money, and his reputation. He’d also insisted that, if I accepted the opportunity he was offering, he’d assume the role of banker and boss, booking my appointments and pocketing my earnings.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you,” he’d said.
How often do we fall for that trap in life, expecting someone or something else to manage our future and assume responsibility over our outcomes in some way? We look to our higher ups at work to raise our salaries, inflate our titles, and tell us what needs to be done. We turn to our personal trainers and doctors to oversee our physical bodies, no questions asked.  We even rely on our gadgets to spit out the secrets to a meaningful life.
“Siri, how can I attain true happiness?”

Only when you assume full accountability for your life and your decisions while respecting your intuition and inner wisdom can you create the existence that you desire. Otherwise, you’ll be handing your power over to one kind of pimp or another.

4. Know Your Cheese.
We all have different motivations. When we set goals that aren’t truly in alignment with our values and motivations, we deny ourselves the energy to get much accomplished in our lives. Similarly, if we don’t know how we’re measuring our success at a particular goal, we’ll end up feeling shortchanged and deflated, as if we’ve been on the wrong path to begin with. As we move into the New Year, millions of people will set the resolution to get in shape and hit the gym. Some will go after this goal because they’re lonely and want to get a date, some will do it because they get depressed when they look in the mirror, and still others will do it because they have four kids, an awesome wife and sky high cholesterol. Name your cheese. Know your deeper “why.”

Since that day almost twenty years ago, I’ve often thought about my interview with Sam and the various trajectories life could have taken. Human beings in hot water are like sponges. We soak up our environment until it becomes a part of us and only later, much later, when we’ve been rung out, do we realize how much we’ve been shaped by what we’ve absorbed.

There are a million posts about goals and resolutions that will promise you the secret formula for a winning New Year. The truth is, you probably hold a lot of that wisdom within you from your own wild life experiences, and I bet you already know how to set and structure goals. Our goal-setting process is hardly ever the problem; we fail to reach our aims when we’re not clear on our WHY, when we overlook our history, when we forget what’s powered our surviving and thriving in the first place.

 When you know your “why” and your worth, baby, you’re that much closer to living the dream.

Happy 2017.

Listen, if you're having a really hard time figuring out how to execute a resolution or goal for the coming year, drop me a note at aimee@tangramwellness.com. But, I really believe you've got this. You just have to spend a little more time with your inner wisdom and personal history than you may be comfortable with. If you liked this post- or hated it- leave me a comment. If you loved it, share the love. Thanks as always for reading! 

Comment

2 Comments

Navigating Italy... Without the Wine or Pizza

Watching other people exercise at  La Vogalonga,  Venice's famous boat race.

Watching other people exercise at La Vogalonga, Venice's famous boat race.

As I type this from my desk at the gorgeous new Woolf Works, a women’s co-working space in the heart of central Singapore, I am nursing a horrid case of jet lag which feels eerily akin to the hangovers I used to battle at least a few times a week. I’m usually zippy and fresh after a long flight now that I’m not downing the mile high cocktails, but this time, no such luck.

My husband Ryan and I have just returned from a blissful two week holiday in Italy, my favorite “old country”, where we embarked on a driving adventure in the North, commencing in Rome and ending in the delicious foodie village of Modena, with a few nights each in Bracciano, Venice, Florence, and Assisi. Italy is perhaps the oddest destination choice for a teetotaler who also happens to be a figure competitor with autoimmune issues (read: food restrictions & intolerances).

After all, aside from washing down copious amounts of cheese with buckets of wine while basking under sunlit grapevine canopies, what else does one do in Italy?

Thousands of wheels of cheese, oh my! A cheese tasting at t he     4 Madonne dell ' Emilia  Dairy.

Thousands of wheels of cheese, oh my! A cheese tasting at the 4 Madonne dell'Emilia Dairy.

It was my second trip to Italy as a sober chick, and I still thank my lucky stars that I’d never visited as a card-carrying lush because my only memories of it would have likely been based on embarrassing vacation photos. And, I’ve gotta say, the rumors are true- this Mediterranean paradise is indeed the toughest place in the world to continue a commitment to health & sobriety, no matter where you are on your journey.

First, wine is offered everywhere, and the refusal to partake is sometimes met with quizzical glares. “Baby?” one waiter had asked me on my first trip there, rubbing his tummy with a smile.
Second, the food is RICH- think cheese, bread and cold cuts galore. I wasn’t once able to score an egg white omelette for breakfast, and I’ve yet to spot a sweet potato or protein shake there. Third, the concept of a “gym” is still quite foreign. Although they do exist, exercising with the aid of machines just isn’t Italy’s scene and the only heavy lifting you may see is the lifting of a 50kg wheel of parmesan cheese. Finally, the entire vibe of Italy reeks of leisure and indulgence- a lust for life- which may be why so many gravitate to the region, including me!

So, how does one thrive as a vacationer in Italy while staying sober or upholding other health & fitness goals in the process? Here are my 4 tips to loving your Italian vacation without hating yourself when the holiday’s over!

A Crodino Mocktail. Crodino is a non-alcoholic bitter apertif... and delicious! 

A Crodino Mocktail. Crodino is a non-alcoholic bitter apertif... and delicious! 

1. Get real. Accept that you’re not going to be able to stay on track 100% on all fronts without being miserable. Yes, you read that correctly! Italy is not the place to aim for perfection, and if you want to stay happy, you’ll need to make a few concessions. That means deciding the difference between your “non-negotiables” and your “wiggle areas” before you go. For me, remaining sober is a “non-negotiable”, and I was prepared to do whatever it took to keep it that way, which meant constantly refusing glasses of wine and grappa and even asking my hubby to enjoy a few meals without the booze when I started to feel fatigued by it all. In my nearly seven years of sobriety, Italy is for some reason the only place that I’ve been where I feel like I struggle a bit, mainly because the strong smell of alcohol is so pervasive, which is also a good reminder for me that recovery is a lifetime job. 

However, I knew that restricting across the board throughout the trip may trigger some depression or anxiety (as restricting is known to do for many), so I loosened the bodybuilding belt and allowed myself to eat what I wanted- including some things that made me feel a bit awful afterward- and I also made sure to get in at least 10,000 steps a day. I exercised when I could, but I didn’t make it a top priority. The result of this approach? Feeling balanced and content overall while encouraging my intuitive body to lead the way when it came to eating. For instance, after a bit of an inflammatory flare up from a few too many pastries I started not to want them anymore and that was ok.

2. Lace up those walking shoes. You may not be able to find a gym in your area, but you can certainly find a million reasons to tour around an Italian village on foot. Opportunities for walking and hiking are endless in Italy, and the best way to get to know the country is a “step at a time,” whether that’s winding through cobblestone streets, hiking up mountain peaks, or climbing a few dozen flights of stairs at one of the many stunning cathedrals, like Il Duomo di Firenze. If you have a smart watch like FitBit, decide on a step goal for each day ahead and don’t forget to bring your camera! Yes, you may not get to pump much iron or attend regular yoga classes in Italy, but there’s no excuse not to get the blood flowing. Many of the smaller villages are also great for running, and there are countless public parks as well, including my world favorite, the Villa Doria Pamphili.

Villa Doria Pamphili,  I love you. 

Villa Doria Pamphili, I love you. 

3. Focus on all of the options you DO have, rather than the ones you don’t! Italy offers so much variety in the way of both food and beverage, and while you may have to miss out on a few things, your options for enjoyment are endless. Gluten intolerant? Then pastas and crusty breads are out for you, but all the succulent fruits, sun-drenched veggies and scrumptious cheeses are not! Does booze make you break out in handcuffs? So, wine’s not going to be your thing but you can still drink all of the Crodinos you want, as well as rich and frothy coffees and my all-time favorite, acqua frizzante with a slice of lemon. There are also AA meetings throughout the country and online groups like SMART Recovery if you need some extra support. Doing the Paleo thing? Then head to Tuscany for a sizzling grilled steak and some traditionally cured meats, or to the Amalfi Coast for some amazing seafood. 

If you want to feel deprived, focus on all of the things you can’t have. If you want to feel gloriously satiated, enjoy all of the things available to you. The same advice applies to everyday life, by the way. ;-)

I asked for egg whites- or just eggs- pretty much everywhere we went. This was the reality more often than not! 

I asked for egg whites- or just eggs- pretty much everywhere we went. This was the reality more often than not! 

4. Capitalize on the fact that we all need a break sometimes, and schedule your vacation to Italy accordingly. If you’re engaged in a regular exercise routine 4-6 days a week and you’re pushing yourself to the max most days, congratulations! Now, here’s the rub- you actually need to take a week off from training once in a while to get the most benefit out of it. A recovery or de-loading week is generally recommended anywhere from every 3 to 8 months, depending on your sport or intensity. This means dramatically reduced physical activity for a good week to let the body rest and repair itself. If you’re not engaged in a serious training plan and feel like you wouldn’t benefit from giving your body a break, focus on a mental “time out” instead. I doubt that anyone today reading this isn’t experiencing some form of stress in their life, whether in their job, marriage, finances or mental well-being. Use your vacation as a chance to reset, and maybe commit to a short daily meditation session or some time at a spa while you’re there. A holiday is meant to be just that! Give yourself permission to breathe and relax.

As a health & behavior change coach, addiction therapist and soberista, these are four of my tips for enjoying your holiday in Italy while upholding a healthy lifestyle. Health isn’t meant to feel rigid, so remember to make some space in your life for flexibility and flow!

Ciao for now,

2 Comments

Comment

Habit Change in 90 Days: As Told By Emojis

Whether you're ready to quit drinking, stop late night binge snacking, or shift into a healthier way of being, changing a habit or unwanted behavior is an often unpredictable rollercoaster ride that takes far longer than the suggested 21 days. In fact, to make a real lifestyle change, I'd say it requires a minimum of 90 days, which may include some major bumps along the road! Here's the truth about the journey, as told by emojis. ;-)

habit change by emojis1.jpg

This blog post was inspired by the hilarious Running a Half Marathon as Told by Emojis.

Has this been your experience? Map out your journey in emojis and share- we'd love to see it! 
Leave your virtual hugs and wisdom in the comments section.:-)

Comment

Comment

Ten Surefire Ways to Sabotage Your Sober Ambitions

Now that Drynuary has officially ended, I’m counting down the days until I’ll inevitably receive an email which reads something like this:

Dear Aimee,
I’m reaching out to you because I’d like to get some control over my drinking. I’m a social drinker who enjoys around 4-5 drinks most nights, but it’s getting in the way of my goals now and my body doesn’t feel too great either. I quit drinking for Drynuary- 31 days with no alcohol, yay!- and I thought that would give me a chance to reset, but now I’m drinking more than ever before. I’d like to quit drinking for good- sort of. I mean, I’d like to quit drinking but eventually be able to go out and have a glass of wine or two with friends once in a while. Balance- balance is key! Can you help? Signed, Frustrated


If this brain train sounds familiar, it may be because the vast majority of women with an alcohol use disorder think and behave in this manner. First, they realize that their drinking is getting out of hand. Then, they take on some type of “sober challenge”- there are even businesses that faciliate entire programs around a short-term sobriety stint. After succeeding at the challenge by resisting booze for a month or two, they reflect back on how easy it actually was to give up the sauce and then they decide to drink again- in moderation, of course! A few weeks or months down the road, they discover that they’re drinking more than ever. They really crave alcohol now, they’re not sure if moderation is possible anymore, and that begins to scare the crap out of them. Embarrassing memories of drunken nights resurface, and they develop a new awareness about how alcohol is actually impacting their dreams, as well as the people they care about. Finally, they come to a crossroads: they will either admit to themselves that there’s a problem and commit to do whatever it takes to quit drinking for good, or they’ll continue to drink as usual, awaiting a new beginning to “get it right” next Drynuary, or Sober October.

I know this path all too well- it’s one I followed for a number of years before finally becoming serious about my sobriety in 2009 and, as a coach and counsellor, it’s one I read about in my inbox every single week. If you’re determined to lose the booze, I’d like you to forget for a minute about what you need to do to make that happen and focus instead on some surefire ways to sabotage this goal. Here are ten ways to completely wreck your sober ambitions:

1. Fudge the truth about your drinking: You either have a problem with alcohol or you don’t. You’re either able to stop at one glass of wine or you’re not. While alcohol use disorders fall on a spectrum with both severity and impacts ranging widely, if you’re even on that sliding scale, it will serve you well to come to terms with it. Are you lying to yourself about how much you drink? Do you feel like you’re making excuses for your drinking behaviors? If you’re seeking clarity on the difference between a healthy relationship with alcohol and an alcohol use disorder, a good place to start would be to check out the 11 symptoms of an alcohol use disorder at the end of this post. 

2.  Take the same route home from work: Changing a behavior requires changing the triggers that lead to the behavior in the first place, and routine tends to play a massive role in drinking. If you usually stop by the bar or package store after work, consider changing the routine and the triggers that enforce this behavior by taking another route home altogether!

3. Continue to hang out with your usual crew: Here’s the unvarnished truth- big drinkers hang out with big drinkers, and if your clique of friends is used to bonding with you over beers, they’re probably not going to be very happy to hear that you’ve decided to clean up your act. First, they’ll be bummed not to have gossip time with you anymore (because, what do we do when we’re three sheets to the wind? We talk shit!) Second, your decision to quit holds up a mirror to their own drinking hangups, and then some. Given these two factors, your dear friends may do their very best to sabotage your efforts at a sober life, even if that’s not their conscious intention.

4. Deny the role that alcohol plays in your emotional life: For many women, alcohol serves as a vehicle of numbing and detachment- a way to postpone addressing emotional turmoil. Refusing to investigate the deeper “why” behind your drinking allows you to continue rationalizing your hangovers as “just another night with the girls,” or “a few drinks on the couch.”

If you want this kind of photo on your Facebook page, then be sure to sabotage your sober ambitions! 

If you want this kind of photo on your Facebook page, then be sure to sabotage your sober ambitions! 

5. Insist on quitting on your own, without any source of support: Isolationism and secretive behaviors are trademark traits of many people with alcohol use disorders; loneliness, even in the company of others, fuels the desire for a buzz. Trying to quit drinking on one’s own is an admission that you still have full control over the way you drink, and that you don’t need connection- physical, emotional or spiritual- in your life, nor help from another human being. “You cannot solve a problem at the same level it was created at.”

6. Constantly remind yourself that “everyone else is doing it”: When you make a decision to quit drinking for good, you’re deciding to take the path less travelled and to live in a way that much of the world rejects by bringing more introspection, awareness, and self-responsibility into your life. If you want to do what everyone else is doing and your main objective is to fit in, than quitting drinking is not for you.

7. Place yourself regularly in high conflict situations: Placing yourself in situations of constant stress is a fantastic way to sabotage any goal you have, not just quitting drinking. If you’re still in regular communication with someone abusive or you’re always picking fights over petty issues or you’re holding onto a job that you are absolutely miserable at, you’re going to have a tough time staying on the path. Clean up your environment and say “NO” to the drama.

 8. Fail to fill up the time that you usually spend drinking: When I was drinking, I generally wasted 3-5 hours a day over a wine glass- far more if you count my years moonlighting as a bartender. Booze is a glorious time waster, and the average moderate drinker may spend around 12-15 hours having drinks, as well as many more hours making up for the consequential hangovers and lowered motivation. When you quit drinking, you’re going to have a lot more time on your hands, which will equate to boredom if you don’t figure out a constructive way of filling it up. Running or weightlifting, learning how to paint or make pottery, picking up a new instrument, joinng a fellowship or enrichment group, or volunteering at a charity are all great ways to replace the void.

9. Continuously judge the faults and habits of others: If you’re interested in completely derailing your own personal progress, one of the best ways to do that is to focus not on your own issues, but on the perceived flaws and bad behaviors of other people. Pointing fingers and projecting is an awesome way to ensure that you never do the spiritual and emotional work necessary to stay sober, and it’s also a wonderful way of eroding your support systems. As a wise sage once said, “focus on your own shit.”

10. Depend on other people for your sobriety: “I wouldn’t drink so much if my husband didn’t get me so angry.” “My boss causes me to drink.” “If I don’t have cocktails with clients, I won’t be of much use to my company.” “The only way I’ll be able to quit drinking is if my partner quits drinking as well.” If you want to change a destructive behavior and improve your life, you’re going to have to get into the driver’s seat and take full responsibility for your actions.

By observing hundreds of relapses as well as reflecting on my own when I originally tried to quit drinking in my twenties, I can assure you that if you wish to completely sabotage your sober ambitions, these ten ways will get you there! Here are the symptoms I mentioned earlier in the post:

11 SYMPTOMS OF AN ALCOHOL USE DISORDER

  1. Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  2. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
  3. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects.
  4. Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol.
  5. Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  6. Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol.
  7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
  8. Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  9. Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
  10. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following: a) A need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect b) A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
  11. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following: a) The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol (refer to criteria A and B of the criteria set for alcohol withdrawal) b) Alcohol (or a closely related substance, such as a benzodiazepine) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

The presence of at least 2 of these symptoms indicates an alcohol use disorder (AUD). The severity of an AUD is graded mild, moderate, or severe: 1. Mild: The presence of 2 to 3 symptoms. 2. Moderate: The presence of 4 to 5 symptoms. 3. Severe: The presence of 6 or more symptoms.

Do you have any points to add on this post? If you've achieved long-term sobriety, what's the one thing that made the biggest difference to you? If you like this post or think it could help someone you know, please share it! Leave your thoughts in the comments section- I'd love to hear from you. 

 

Comment

Comment

A Resolution Recharge for Seriously Sticky Goals

It happens every year around this time: many millions of people across the globe vow- fireworks included- to turn a new leaf in the name of self-improvement, committing wholeheartedly to a fresh start. And then, around the second or third week of January, motivation begins to wane; the person they’d hoped to become eventually acquiesces to the comfort zone of where they’ve always been. Does this sound familiar? It certainly does to me! Every New Year’s Eve for over a decade, I’d vowed to quit smoking, only to feel more frustrated and beat down each and every time I failed. My list of resolution disasters continued to grow alongside my disillusionment and it was not until I changed my SYSTEMS that I was able to experience success with my goals. Here are my top 5 tips to give those resolutions sticking power:

1. Set SMARTER Goals
Many people make the mistake of setting half-baked goals like “lose weight” or “make more money”, often because they’re just not quite sure how to go about designing a success-oriented resolution. Give each goal you’ve set a real boost in potential by running them through a SMARTER checklist:
SPECIFIC goals are precise and answer the “who”, “what”, “when” and “where” questions. For instance, instead of setting the goal of “improve my health,” you would create a goal such as “go to the gym for a 45 minute strength training workout every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning and pre-plan and prepare my meals for the week on Sunday evenings between 6-8pm.”
MEASURABLE goals require quantifiable criteria to track your progress. How will you know that your goal is achieved? How will you measure it? Generally, it’s best to set up a system to record your progress for each goal, whether that’s a spreadsheet, journal or in an app.
ATTAINABLE goals are built on self-respect and self-efficacy. These resolutions are achievable because you’re willing to put in the necessary work they require, whether that’s building new skills, talking to the right people, or changing your schedule around.
RELEVANT goals have the importance they deserve in your life, and are given the space they require. Exploring the real reasons behind setting a goal will let you know whether it’s relevant or not. Do you really want to complete a triathlon, or do you merely admire triathletes?  Is making enough money to buy a sports car really important to you, or are you just trying to prove something?
TIMELY goals are made with a specific time frame in mind, often broken down into a few components. For instance, if your goal is to train for a marathon, you may set a goal of running 4 times a week for 16 weeks and signing up for a race on a specific date.
EXCITING goals are key- if you’re not enthusiastic about what you’ve set out to do, your chances of accomplishing it are going to be pretty slim. Dig deep to unearth your true reasons for achieving your goal, and imagine yourself finally attaining it. How does that feel? Does this resolution make you excited about your life?
REVIEWED goals keep you on target throughout the process. By reviewing your goals each week, you’ll pinpoint what you need to do in order to improve your chances of reaching it, and make any necessary tweaks along the way. For instance, perhaps you’ve set a goal of building muscle by weightlifting 4 times a week in the mornings before work, but your boss has made a shift change and asked you to come in an hour earlier. Reviewing your goals gives you the opportunity to edit and revise as necessary, rather than dropping the resolution altogether.
                                               
2. Get Accountable

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a behavior change specialist and regular goal achiever, it’s that success rarely- if ever- happens in a vacuum. A support team can make all the difference in how far you’ll travel toward your dreams, and contrary to popular belief, they’re not so difficult to build. With the proliferation of social media groups, buddy apps, fellowships and meetup groups, you can easily link to motivated people who are traveling along the same path that you are, and who will be more than happy to establish a mutual accountability arrangement. Hiring a professional accountability partner like a personal trainer, coach or therapist can also provide an incredible motivational boost. These professionals come armed with an ample box of tools and skillsets to keep you on top of your game. For some reason, we human beings will often choose disappointing ourselves over disappointing someone else, and for this reason alone, accountability can be just the magic you need to fuel your resolutions.

3. Measure Your Progress
As a component of SMARTER goals, creating a reliable tool to measure your progress will keep you thoughtfully focused day-to-day while minimizing feelings of overwhelm. There are many options for measurement, and one I’m particularly fond of is behavior change guru Marshall Goldsmith’s method of tracking and accountability in the evening, as covered in his latest book,
"Triggers." Instead of listing each specific goal in a spreadsheet, he suggests reframing the goal by asking, “Did I do my best to________?” each day, and then rankiing the answer on a scale of 1-10. Additionally, he mentions enlisting a reliable accountability partner to review this list at the end of each day and briefly talk over any pitfalls. I was impressed to learn that one of the most esteemed coaches of our time actually hires a coach to phone him each night to go over his spreadsheet! It only takes about 5 minutes, and the benefits clearly outweigh the costs.

4. Put Your Money On It
If you want to put some real skin in the game, throw your money down! No one likes to lose money, which is why I recommend signing up to an accountability program like Stikk, an app that has users define their goal, set a timeline, and then put something at stake, whether that’s their hard-earned dough or their reputation through donating to a charity or a cause they vehemently oppose.  According to Stikk, using a commitment contract triples the goal-setter’s chance of success. If an app like Stikk doesn’t appeal to you, then consider parting with your beans by purchasing a service that supports your resolution. This could include a personal training or coaching package, a gym membership or a race entry packet for a 10km or triathlon.

5. Visualize the Future
Without a clear picture of where you’re heading, how can you reach your desired destination? Being able to clearly imagine where you’d like to be in the future, as well as the person you’re working to become, is paramount to effectively reaching a big goal, particularly if that goal may take years to achieve. I have personally been using visualization to reach my goals for many years, and now lead sell-out workshops on a topic that drives my own life.  Instead of solely visualizing the end goal, I recommend first writing down the steps required to the goal, and actually visualizing each component of the process. For example, ifyou want to open a business this year, map out what it will actually take to do so, from waking up earlier to meeting the perfect business partner or investor to landing your first client. What does that look like to you, and how does it feel?
While visualization isn’t as easy as “The Secret” would like you to believe- explicit action is required- numerous studies prove that having a clear picture of the journey ahead can make a big difference, and athletes are notorious for mentally rehearsing their sport to ensure a winning outcome. If you’d like to experience just how powerful visualization can be while letting the child within come out to play, come join my next Intention Board Session.

Unconvinced? Still need some time to procrastinate? Then check out my top 5 book picks to help you get motivated in achieving your goals.

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts by Marshall Goldsmith
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
Getting Things Done by David Allen
Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill
Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony Robbins


What systems have you created to ensure an awesome 2016? What goal gets you most excited this year? Are your resolutions still sticking? I'd love to hear from you! 

Comment

Comment

Imagination to Reality: Kavita's Vision Board Story

When watercolor artist, Kavita Rajput, attended one of my Vision Board workshops at Woolf Works a few months back, I knew that there was a compelling story behind her words of introduction at the beginning of the session. Recently, I spotted a Facebook post announcing Kavita's first upcoming solo exhibition and so, of course, I had to ask her to share more about her experience with Vision Boards. Here's what Kavita had to say: 

"I think I made my first ‘vision board’ without realizing it. I was still studying finance while nursing secret dreams of doing something more creative. My ‘vision board’ was a newspaper article about famous people who had successfully changed their careers to follow their passions. Doctors-turned-musicians, accountants-turned-award winning movie directors and so on… This little newspaper cutout was taped on the inside of my cupboard and I used to see it every single day.

Almost a decade later, while still working in finance, I made another one, this time, more consciously. It had amongst many other things, a picture of an art exhibition and another picture of a business card that read ‘Kavita Aras Rajput, Artist’.

And here I am, 4 years later… waiting for my first solo exhibition to open in two weeks, having made that transition from finance to art.

It’s not magic. But after you have experienced it, it does seem pretty magical! Having a vision board and keeping it in a place where you see it most often helps remind you of your dream on a regular basis. Your subconscious mind starts focusing on possible paths or people or actions that can help you get to your desired destination. And then, what’s most important, is to act on those ‘inspirations’. Make plans, set small goals and do all that you can with what you have. Taking consistent action, however small, in the direction of your dreams is really important because it’s these small determined steps that make big dreams come true!

I recently attended a “Creating your Vision” workshop by Aimee Barnes and I absolutely loved how she has organized it. She is a truly inspirational woman and her own story of achieving her dreams is nothing short of amazing! Aimee guides you to gain clarity on your goals, create your own vision board and to form a plan to make that vision a reality. I would have really treasured this guidance when I first started making my vision boards!"

Many thanks, Kavita, for sharing your Vision Board story. Kavita will be showing her work in her first solo exhibition, "Moments in Watercolour by Kavita Rajput," at the ION Art Gallery from March 14th to the 20th. Her work can be found at 
www.facebook.com/KavitaArasRajput and www.kavitarajput.com

The Vision Board workshop at Woolf Works is back this month on Saturday, March 14th. If you want to create a clear picture of your aspirations and design a road map to get you to your goals while sharing laughs, inspiration and good company, then I look forward to seeing you there! Secure your seat at http://createyourvision.peatix.com/

Do you have a compelling story about Vision Boards? Email me at aimee@tangramfitness.com or share your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to seeing you at Kavita's exhibition and at the upcoming Vision Board workshop.

Comment

© Tangram Fitness 2013