Not too ago, I was a stress eater. Like many people, I would eat not just because I was hungry, but because it helped me forget things. Sometimes it was more like a zombie would eat than a human would. Other times it was not numbness I sought, but extreme pleasure.
I tried to stop, but it wasn’t until I got Invisalign braces that my eating became more structured and I found myself breaking bad habits and eating for the right reasons. Plus, I found music to be a much better, much healthier pain killer than food and, although I’m still a newbie with it, meditation became an ally.
The one thing, though, I never seriously considered in all of it (maybe because I didn’t want to) is that food would or could ever be a substitute for desire. Even so, I can’t help but find Alexandra Jamieson’s Women, Food and Desire both compelling and helpful. Alexandera Jamieson is a Holistic health counselor and co-star of the award-winning documentary Super Size Me. While some of what she writes can be a bit self-evident (“it’s time to start eating right” and ”women who overeat do so to find some kind of emotional solace” are among the few) there’s also the painfully real, which is not said nearly enough:
The intense pressure we’re under to be perceived as desirable, in an objectified way, has us either starving ourselves so we don’t have to feel how lonely or sexually unfulfilled we may be…When sex becomes too dangerous for us to fully enjoy, food becomes our version of safe sex.
But Jamieson is not just here to trouble us though with reminders of how scary sex can be or how unfair our society is to women. She wants to be our cheerleader as well and she becomes one in a non-irritating, warm and sincere manner. Though needing and eating food often makes us feel unwelcome in our own bodies, food instead “should delight us, ignite us and make us feel good.”
It’s exactly because the author is on our side and not lecturing us or talking down to readers that I like this book so much. It may sometimes repeat things we already know, but in this case we do need to be reminded how dangerous criticism of ourselves and others can be, and that in doing so, we are “failing to see that person at all.” No one, Jamieson says, not even a mother, should (whether with cruel intention or not) shame us because of our bodies.
Jamieson stresses three common reasons why we may sublimate food for other things: off-kilter family relationships (so many of us know all about that), body alienation (whether we eat to lose ourselves in our own bodies or we don’t eat as a way to try and disappear), and sexual pleasure. It’s this focus that strengthens Women, Food and Desire and makes it heads above other self-help books on women and food.
As if the empathy and sincerity isn’t enough, the writer also include the neuroscience behind cravings, how to break lifelong eating habits, and practical tips for food shopping. There is also advice on getting better rest and seeing exercise as something fun to do rather than an excruciating punishment to atone for some past sin.
Jamieson is popular with both readers and critics because she genuinely wants to help ease people into rethinking and recharging the way they see food and their bodies in a world where so many fashion magazines and TV shows hold up an “ideal” image of how women should eat, be, and look. Isn’t that refreshing?
Martha Stewart and all her kitchen minions have come together in this wonderfully simple, easy-to-follow-and-replicate cookbook. Meatless contains over 200 recipes for vegetarians, vegans, and those of us looking to get more “veg” in our diets. In fact, the book is dedicated “To everyone who realizes that a balanced diet relying more heavily on vegetable than on animal can result in a longer and healthier life.” Stewart’s foreword shares a story of her daughter’s pet lamb being slaughtered for dinner and the reading of certain books and viewing of films which together with the encouragement of friends and family brought this book to fruition. Vegetable-based meals are not only the trend, but a legitimate way to eat and live well. This cookbook is, truly, for everyone. The introduction by Editor in Chief of Whole Living, Alanna Slang, provides a legend for the recipes which are Vegan, Gluten-free, & Special Diet. She also goes further to provide an outline of “protein powerhouses” like tempeh, seitan, eggs, and bulgur.
My favorite recipes in this book are unlike any I’ve ever seen or have made for myself before:
1. Portobello & Zucchini Tacos p. 240
Roasted veggies are the best and they are filling. Tacos are easy and the sky is the limit when it comes to “the fixin’s.” This recipe asks that you cut your portobello and zucchini into strips and roast them in the oven with a light drizzle of olive oil and seasonings. These hearty veggies will act as your protein for these tacos. Simple. Simple. SIMPLE! Choose your favorite taco staples like cilantro, tomatoes, cheese, etc. to pull it all together. My favorite thing to add that wasn’t mentioned in this book- grilled avocado! Squirt some fresh lemon and lime and a bit of kosher salt – and you’ve got something really special.
2. Grilled Asparagus & Ricotta Pizzas p. 260
This one is so easy and you get to use your grill! Grill your asparagus until you get those nice browned spots. You can get some fresh pizza dough from the grocery store and prepare it on the grill (or in oven and then, transfer to grill) or use some other flat bread like naan and grill it. Be sure to use olive oil and appropriate temps to get those nice grill marks and cook/heat the dough through. Once your pizza base is done, all you have to do is add some fresh ricotta and your grilled asparagus and cover your grill to let all those flavors come/stick together (2 minutes). Remove from grill and eat your heart out!
3. Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon & Cilantro p. 336
It took a while for me to believe the in the heartiness that cauliflower has, but it really can fill you up! With the right combination of spices and time in the oven, cauliflower can be a tender, substantial meal in itself. This recipe allows for a lot of variation. I would suggest fresh cilantro and lemon juice for finishing this dish. It’s not a lot of work, lightly toss chunks/slices of cauliflower in olive oil and seasoning, roast until tender and finish with my previous suggestions. Delish!
Eating your vegetables can be really pleasurable when you have the right recipes in hand. And with Meatless you’ll find something great on each page.
The past several weeks have been full of exercise suggestions at Well & Wise, and I’ve very much been enjoying reading about walking, running, sneaking (sneaking in exercise during the day, that is), swimming, and a host of other interesting articles. My own recent contribution was about standing, believe it or not. I had vowed, when writing it, that I was going to try to work some traditional-desk-friendly exercise into my routine. I started this process by taking home the DVD No Sweat! Office Fitness for the Mind and Body in attempt to learn some simple exercises.
The workout in No Sweat! Office Fitness for the Mind and Body is lead by Blanche Black, who is the owner/operator of Fit as a Fiddle Productions and creator of the popular Chair Fitness video series. Ms. Black has also been a Geriatric Rehabilitation Nurse and Fitness Instructor. One of her guiding principles to fitness seems to be: “Movement is the key to the health and consciousness of our bodies.” This is something I can totally get behind. I’m probably not going to become a marathon runner or even a mildly avid exercise enthusiast in this lifetime, but I do acknowledge that I need to keep active (both physically and mentally).
Black offers some options for moving and stretching at work that seem completely doable. She even performs these exercises wearing a skirt and in a limited space to better replicate an office setting (though the wisenheimer husband did keep commenting that it looked suspiciously like the reception area of a funeral parlor). Is the production quality a little on the rough side? Are the exercises a bit on the low-impact side (you definitely won’t have to worry about getting sweaty at work)? Do some of the stretches seem a bit silly, especially if you are doing them in front of coworkers? Yes to all of the above. BUT the directions are clear, the DVD is reasonably short (17 minutes), and, after giving it a try, I did feel a little looser, especially in the shoulders and neck (where I tend to carry all my tension).
Black gives you some simple exercises that could totally be done on the job. She’s not out to pump anyone up, but her simple stretches and exercises could help relieve some stress and keep you a little more limber at work. And, if you choose to learn them at home like I did, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to be joined by your favorite smart-aleck.
Most of us lead busy lives. Despite using umpteen labor-saving devices and the wonderful tools provided by modern technology, we find very little time to do the many tasks we have to do. People feel constantly pressed for time. Running from one task to another, to fulfill our duties and responsibilities, we find that there is not enough hours in the day to relax, recoup and recharge our tired selves.
In consequence, we suffer from the modern scourge afflicting busy people: “SWAT” (stress, worry, anxiety and tension of one type or another). This adversely affects our mental health, and negatively impacts the quality of life. Not only do we inflict this state of affairs on ourselves; more to the point, we manage to hurt others as well—intentionally or otherwise. These unwanted and undesirable side-effects of our busy lifestyles, are our constant companions, reducing our natural immunities, and making us feel tired, upset, and in conflict with others. We are unable to shake off their pernicious effects. This state of affairs, in turn, leads to many types of uncivil behavior, triggering physical/psychic discomfort on everyone we come in contact with.
Some of us, quite unintentionally, tend to be curt, discourteous as well as unmindful of how our behavior adversely affects others. This is the exact opposite of what should be called “civility.” That is, being pleasant, considerate, welcoming, empathetic, and willing to listen and respond appropriately to other people and situations.
Consider some familiar situations in the slideshow below.
These and similar situations are everyday occurrences. They are representative of what it is “not to be civil.” Civility is based on mutual respect, trust, empathy, consideration for the well-being of others (The Golden Rule), sharing, and caring. When these principles are ignored, we pay a heavy price for our ill-mannered behavior. This manifests itself in many ways: various psychological afflictions imposed on third parties, through negligence, inconsiderate behavior, and inappropriate remarks.
When there are no shared values governing common civility, the resulting cynicism and mistrust take a heavy toll on our mental/psychological well-being. Our quality of life is dealt a heavy blow. It does not have to be this way. There is an alternative, which each and every one of us is capable of: CIVILITY! It helps everyone, hurts no one. The cost of practicing civility in everyday life is negligible indeed; while the payoff in terms of social cohesion and mental/psychological wellness is incalculable. This is a rare example of “the greatest bang for the buck.” It is a win-win bargain for us all. What it calls for is a modicum of self-control and consideration for our fellow human beings.
With the vernal equinox behind us the days will grow longer and the nights shorter. Nature is in balance for that brief moment, and then we move on. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could achieve that kind of balance in our lives, even for one day in the year? One of my favorite ways to reconnect and rejuvenate is through gardening. I am a terrible gardener but that’s not the point. The point is to get dirty, smell the soil and be humbled and amazed when a seed actually becomes a flower. Sharing with others this incredible magic through picture books is one of the joys of spring Children’s classes. Or just take a walk through the Enchanted Garden and restore your soul.
“There once was a city without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind.” Peter Brown’s tale of urban renewal and the persistent of nature (both plant and human) begins with this sobering statement. Our hero, Liam, discovers a small patch of weeds, and through trial and error, he nurtures a garden that grows and grows. As the garden greens, the colors brighten until the sky is blue and Liam is surrounded by flowers. Other gardeners take on the challenge and the city itself becomes more colorful. An inspirational tale inspired by the Manhattan High Line project.
We are fortunate in Howard County to have green space within the reach of all our citizens. Perhaps we should all take more advantage of these for our health, both physical and mental.
Kadir Nelson is one of my favorite illustrators and he knocks it out of the park with If You Plant a Seed. “If you plant a tomato seed, a carrot seed, and a cabbage seed,” then that is what you will grow. Rabbit and Mouse work together and have a beautiful harvest. When the birds come begging to share in the feast Rabbit and Mouse plant a different seed, selfishness, and – “it will grow, and grow, and grow … into a heap of trouble.” After a food fight where most of the harvest is destroyed, Mouse offers one of the last pieces to the birds. In return the birds bring Mouse and Rabbit all kinds of wonderful seeds showing that “the fruits of kindness … are very, very sweet.” Gorgeous oil paintings are a hallmark of Nelson’s books, making this a book to return to again and again to enjoy his artistry.
Share this book with those who are still working on that notion of sharing- or bunnies!
Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner is a paean to the natural world and all of the creatures who contribute to the success (and sometimes failure) of spring planting. The often unseen life all around the garden, such as a praying mantis that eats mosquitoes, pill bugs that chew through leaves, honeybees that pollinate flowers, and a garter snake that hunts grasshoppers, are lovingly depicted by illustrator Christopher Silas Nelson. This is a full year in the garden as a young girl and her grandmother plan, plant, tend, and harvest. A lovely, quiet book for sharing right now when for many of us it is a little early to begin planting, but never too early for planning.
Hopefully, the snow is behind us. Let us enjoy as the poet says when the “world is mud-Luscious” and “puddle-wonderful” and it’s spring!
The 17th century English political philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, wrote: “life is nasty, brutish and short.” He was witnessing the collapse of the then existing political and social order—a bloody civil war was being waged between those who supported the erstwhile British Monarchy, and those who wanted to abolish it. Hobbes was deeply pained by the resulting carnage and atrocities committed by both sides, and he saw the ‘natural order’ of things collapsing under his very eyes. Living and working conditions were brutal. This was a time of great social upheaval in England, resulting in ‘nasty’ physical and mental illnesses, leading to short-life spans and great misery. People behaved “brutishly” towards each other. There was, at that time, a marked decline in what we now call “civility.” The consequences were disastrous for the nation.
Today, we live in far better times, which Hobbes could not even have dreamed about. Life expectancies have improved dramatically. The average lifespan in the United States recently reached the low 80’s. A majority of the population now enjoys good physical and mental health. Standards of living have steadily improved throughout the past century. Most of us live in relative peace, and continue to enjoy the blessings of civilized life.
Although we do not yet have a perfect world, we can strive to improve our quality of life by cultivating civility towards each other. Civility can permeate all aspects of our relationships—at home, at school, at work, as well as in all our market and non-market transactions. If there is such a thing as “Utopia,” then practicing civility may take us there. This will not be an easy ride by any means, but it can be done, if we put our minds and energies into it.
What exactly is “civility?” How does it differ from concepts such as morality, religion, or ethics? How does civility promote mental health and well-being? Why should a society care about civility? To explore this topic, let us briefly discuss three related concepts: religion, morality, and ethics.
Different religious beliefs can often collide with each other, leading to uncivil behavior. Driven by religious fervor or dogma, adherents to a particular religion can tear apart the delicate social fabric that exists in a multiracial or multi-ethnic nation. This can obviously lead to physical and mental illness.
Another widely used term: morality, in most cases, is “culture-specific.” It is also a product of historical circumstances, geography, and religious traditions. What is considered immoral in one society may be an accepted common practice in another. A traveler moving from one country (which adheres to a particular moral code) to another, will find that their inhabitants subscribe to a different moral code of conduct. Interpretations of moral conduct have no universal validity. They are riddled with vagueness.
Ethical conduct and principles have much more commonality with “civility.” However, one can be civil, without being ethical, and vice versa. Ethics deals with certain modes of behavior or actions/decisions we choose to make in everyday life– what is considered as “right” or “wrong” in our national consciousness.
Fortunately, the concept of civility has great universal appeal, without invoking religion, morality, or ethics. Civility can (and should) be central to everyday human interaction. It promotes healthy human relationships, which in turn contributes to our sense of overall life satisfaction and happiness. The result is “a healthy body and a healthy mind.” Whether one is deeply religious or not; moral or immoral (as determined by context), and ethical or unethical, one can choose to be “civil.” Consequently, adherence to common principles of civility promotes overall mental health and well being, without our having to put labels such as “right” or “wrong.” We need not associate or confuse civility with other things.
How can civility promote a good Quality of Life? What should we do? This theme will be explored in the next installment of this topic.