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March 18, 2018

The gift of presence

2:22 pm - Posted by Gregg

The phrase “Physician, heal thyself” has been coming to mind a lot lately. And not because I’m a doctor. I am, however, a person who advocates being present and living in the moment. As someone who weighed over 450 pounds when graduating from college and who eventually took off the excess weight through healthy eating and exercise (no fad diets, pills or surgery required), I learned that being present (mentally) was key to any life goal—physical or otherwise.

Yet recently, I’ve developed a tic that’s come to symbolize my newish pesky habit of mentally replaying things from the past (as if I had a time machine and could somehow “go back” and undo what’s already transpired) or fretting about the future (imagining scenarios that might never take place, but worrying about them anyway).

This tic (AKA idiosyncratic habit) is hitting the “next track” button when virtually any song starts to play while in the car or when I’m exercising on the treadmill. It seems I only need to hear the first couple notes of a tune to know I don’t want to hear the entire thing and, therefore, choose to skip ahead to the next track (even though it turns out I don’t really want to hear that particular ditty either).

Here’s where I must admit that I’m old enough to remember buying “albums” on cassette tape and having no choice but to listen to an entire “side” of the cassette in order to reach and listen to a favorite song. Sure, they eventually came out with tape players that could skip ahead. But that technology usually resulted in a warped tape and often would skip several songs at a time. Ironically, having to sit through an entire side of a tape was, in a way, helping me to be present (while patiently waiting for a favorite song on an album).

But cut to several years later—now—when technology allows us to skip over songs with reckless abandon and I don’t seem to possess the capability of listening to any song with patience. At first I didn’t realize how often I was reaching over to hit the “next track” button (or asking Siri—or whomever—to do it for me). But recently while tooling around town with a friend, she pointed out that just when she was ready to sing along with a song, I’d hit “skip” and the tune would be over in an instant (thereby usurping what was about to be her big number).

Upon realizing that I do this as often as I do, I soon recognized what it symbolized. Mainly my penchant for not being present. Not being here, in the now—always wanting to get to “What’s next.” Even though I recognize that there are a lot of good reasons to stay mentally present in our lives.

Again, as someone who worked hard to achieve wellness (in all its definitions), presence is always something I’d relied on for inner peace. Yet here I was, thinking about the past or future—even sometimes while actively meditating. And outside of meditation, this lack of mental presence was now being symbolized by not having the presence of mind to listen to an entire 3- or 4-minute song.

For others—perhaps even some of you reading this, this non-present mind might be symbolized by always looking at your smartphone, turning to social media during any downtime (or even during social times), seeking out a show on some cable news network in order to become “outraged” or simply getting so caught up in thought that you’re missing out on the here and now—the only time and space we really have the opportunity to live and interact in.

These days, while doing my best to listen to any music track that starts playing from any my playlists, I do my best to recall the quote attributed to Tao Te Ching author Lao Tzu: “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

The good news is that we can exercise our mental muscle for staying present simply by focusing on our breath. Whenever you find yourself stuck in the past or the future (mentally), bring yourself back to the present moment by taking three deep breaths (and yes, you should put down your smartphone or turn off the cable news first). As you breathe in, think “In.” As you breathe out, think “Out.” Do this slowly and methodically for at least three intervals. In other words, stop yourself from going back to the past or jumping into the future—two places we don’t need to be. These three simple breaths offer the potential to bring our minds and bodies back into sync—and our overall awareness back to the present moment.

Advanced students might want to try walking into an elevator and watching most everyone else turn to their phones, while you stand there proudly aware of the elevator itself, the people you’re riding with and perhaps even the muzak playing over the loudspeaker (no skipping those tracks after all). For extra credit, next time you arrive early when meeting someone at a restaurant, just sit at the table without turning to your phone. Try the 3-breaths exercise. Or simply offer a smile to a passing server. Sure, you’ll likely freak everyone out (“Why did that person just make eye contact with me and smile? Don’t they have a smartphone?!”). But you’ll be there in your fullest capacity. And by turning this all into a game, you’ll reap the rewards by living a more present, and, hopefully, more satisfying life.

As for me, along with recommitting to staying mentally present as often as possible, I’ve also taken a vow to not skip tracks when in the car or working out. No matter what song comes my way, I’m determined to listen to it and enjoy it fully—even if it’s a random remix that goes on and on and on. Much like life goes on and on (if we’re lucky enough). And why not be as mindful of this life—and these present moments—as we possibly can be?

Image source: The Graphic Recorder

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July 23, 2012

Don’t be a pill

9:24 am - Posted by Gregg

Photo Source: wsbradio.com

Big news in the world of dieting… The U. S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new prescription diet pill named Qsymia. Note that I refer to this as “Big news,” as opposed to “Good news.” And this is because, personally, I don’t think anything out of a jar or bottle (whether prescription strength or over-the-counter) can ultimately provide what we really need to take off the excess weight.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the desire for a “Cure all” that’s as easy to incorporate into our lives as taking a pill or waving a magic wand. When people find out I used to tip the scales at over 450 pounds, they excitedly ask me how I lost the excess weight. When I tell them I did it by eating less and working out more, people often register dissapointment — as if I’ve given them unsettling news that they would have rather not heard. These same folks usually never stick around long enough to hear that by using common sense I not only took off all that excess weight (over 250 pounds!) within a year’s time period, but also have kept it off for over a decade.

Nope. People are too busy wondering about elective surgery (“I know! I’ll have a foreign object inserted into my body and wrapped around my stomach!”) or some kind of diet aid (“Guess I shouldn’t wear white underwear while taking Alli because of the anal leakage“). The list goes on. People want the “magic pill” — in its various incarnations (including surgery). And they’re willing to pay big bucks for it — not to mention potentially sacrifice their health as a result of ingesting it and/or undergoing it.

As for Qsymia, yes — patients did lose weight during clinical trials (going down from an average of 227 pounds to an average of 204 pounds) according to CNN. But some consumer advocates are worried because some patients involved in the clinical trial suffered from an increased heart rate as well as metabolic acidosis (a condition which can lead to hyperventilation, fatigue and anorexia). There are additional concerns about birth defects since one of Qsymia’s ingredients is topiramate (an anti-convulsant that has been linked to cleft lip and cleft palate in babies born to women who took topiramate for migraines and/or seizures). And who knows what other potential side effects might be found out as a result of taking a drug like Qsymia for a lengthy period of time? Anyone remember Fen-Phen and its harmful side effects?

While “curing” being overweight through anorexia (one of Qsymia’s potential side effects) might initially read as ironic, it’s a reminder that anything that can potentially harm our health deserves serious consideration. The whole point of losing weight and getting healthier is to avoid having to take pills for other ailments (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.). So why take an additional pill to help the other ailments we already take pills for?

Fact is, at the end of the day, it’s all about willpower. And this willpower can work in both directions. Just ask people who’ve undergone gastric bypass surgery who spend the first weeks after the procedure throwing up violently because they insist on eating the same amounts they did before the surgery, even though their stomach has been made smaller and can’t handle the same amount of food.

The good news is that willpower can also work for you, rather than against you. And this means you’re already armed with everything you need to conquer the battle of the bulge. No pills or magic wands necessary. Just start cutting back your portion sizes, choosing healthier foods (at least during some of your meals) and begin a simple exercise program like walking three to five days a week. Add drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep to the mix and you just might be surprised how quickly you’ll go from feeling ‘so fat’ to ‘all that’. We’re all supermodels after all. And the path to realizing that is simpler than anything you might find in a jar, bottle or on the shelf.

Remember in The Wizard of Oz, when Glinda the Good Witch told Dorothy, “You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas?” Well, much like Glinda (sans the glitter), I’m here to tell you “You’ve always had the power to lose the excess weight.” It really can be as easy as ‘flipping the mental switch’ and deciding today’s the day you’re going to begin your journey to true and lasting health. No diet pill (new or otherwise) required.

http://youtu.be/11BQQvVy8LI

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October 23, 2011

What a dope

9:26 am - Posted by Gregg

If there’s one thing that makes my blood boil (besides molten lava), it’s media gluttons who feel like they can easily take advantage of us dieters – as if what we’ve gone through (or are going through) is somehow instantly understandable to them and can be translated into something that can be marketed in a pill, a box, a sneaker, a website… (The list goes on.)

These are not unlike carnival sideshow hucksters of yesteryear (the ones selling magic potions, tonics and elixirs) – a type of conman who thinks if he (or she) speaks at a high enough volume, we will believe them (or even pay them).

The latest goofball attempt to exploit the overweight person and their desire to lose weight is some dope named Drew, a personal trainer who has decided to get fat within a 6 month time period and then show everyone how “easy” it is to lose the weight with his “specific meal plans and workout plans” via his website, fit2fat2fit.com. Along with pictures that chronicle his weight gain, Drew includes insipid blogs that detail his non-exercise and overeating routines that have made him feel as if “Every day was Christmas.” Judging from his pictures, it seems Drew hasn’t just given up his healthy lifestyle for this mockery – he’s also apparently given up his fake tan and chest hair waxing.

Drew lists his ‘goal’ as being to inspire people to get fit (and to show them how simple it is to lose weight – as if we are all too stupid to have realized it was simple to begin with). If Drew’s ‘goal’ gives you any doubts about his overall mission to make money, simply take note of his “Please feel free to donate” button on the home page of his website.

What’s worse, according to Drew’s website, he’s slated to appear on The Tonight Show on October 28th – something that will give this carnival side show national attention. This really is shameful, as it totally exploits and mocks the aspirations and desperation of the overweight person.

Of course, someone who gains weight in 6-months can take it off immediately. Hollywood actors do it all the time. But as (often) lifetime dieters, we know that we didn’t get fat overnight. Therefore, we’re not going to necessarily lose it overnight.

Stunt tactics like the one being offered by Drew also undermine the psychology behind our weight gains. If we could have taken it off within 6 months of gaining it, we would have. But we know that usually the weight is gained (and perhaps regained) over the course of several years.

What this boils down to is a gimmick – one potentially meant to totally exploit and take advantage of the dieter (not to mention his or her pocketbook). Normally, I don’t like to add to any media attention to efforts like Drew’s, which only serves to get the word out about these hackneyed pundits. But exploitation like Drew’s really is insulting to us all and, in my opinion, is one of the leading causes of us being 2/3rds overweight as a nation.

Look around! There have never been more so-called fitness gurus, weight loss products, reduced-calorie or fat-free foods – and more – than there are available today (not to mention potentially dangerous pills and surgeries). And yet we, as a nation, just continue to get fatter and fatter.

Well, it’s time to start ignoring these people who obviously have a desire for more fat in their wallet than a calling to really “help” us lose fat. True success in weight management does not come from gimmicks – nor does it come from hucksters who think it might get them some publicity if they gain weight and lose weight quickly. Shame on people like Drew. And shame on entities like The Tonight Show, which televise these dangerous and mocking messages.

To successfully lose excess weight, we’ve got to first lose the confusing and reckless messages. The directives for getting healthy are clear and they are simple: Eat less and move more (along with adding plenty of water and good nights’ sleep to your regimen). All other “gimmicks” are just that – gimmicks! – and should be completely ignored.

What hucksters have you come across or feel taken advantage of by? I’d love to hear from you on this topic. Because together we are strong enough to ignore dopes like this in unison (and get to a physically and mentally healthy place once and for all).

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