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9:51 pm - Posted by Gregg

Stress is something we’re all familiar with. And like many, I subconsciously encourage mine with that little voice in my head that urges me to run around like Chicken Little, screaming, “The sky is falling” (whether it is or isn’t).

This kind of negative self-talk can lead me to all sorts of unsavory places. In fact, it was this pesky inner voice that kept me gaining excess weight for years and years. Stress and turmoil were the excuses I would use to overeat to the point of threatening my health, which led to my tipping the scales at over 450 pounds upon college graduation.

As loyal readers of this blog know, I eventually tempered the voice in my head and lost over 250 pounds of excess weight (and have kept it off for almost two decades). But every now and then that “Everything is wrong” voice tries to make a triumphant return. Just turning on the news, discussing diverse political views or simply pulling into rush hour traffic can amplify the voice, which ultimately encourages self-sabotage of one kind or another.

So after following animal advocates including Beth Stern on Instagram for years, I decided I was going to help the world in a small, small way… By fostering kittens that had been separated from their mothers and, otherwise, might not have a chance of survival. As some may know, with warmer weather being more prevalent, “kitten season” is lasting longer and longer. And if cats (feral or domesticated) aren’t spayed or neutered, the kitten population explodes. Not only do these little beings fill up the shelters (creating havoc for older animals waiting to be adopted), but without fosters to care for, feed and socialize them, they’re often euthanized (even at their very early ages).

This proposed good deed involved three precious kittens (each just 3-weeks old). Although my local city shelter didn’t know why, these babies had been separated from their mother and abandoned. So now I was going to be their “foster mom” (so to speak).

Looking back, I realize the kittens were as nervous as I was when I first brought them home. Thankfully they weren’t put off by Latte (my 7-pound dog), but they also weren’t ready to eat or sleep just yet. We all just kind of stared at one another… Until the grey boy (who I named “Gus”) promptly plopped onto his back and indicated he wanted a belly rub. This elicited what I’m pretty sure was Gus’s very first purr. And it was this purr that told his brother (a black boy I named “Bear”) and sister (a grey and white striped girl I named “Gwen”) that everything was going to be okay.

There were certainly hurdles involved. The kittens were so young that around-the-clock feeding was necessary. And none of them wanted to suck on the bottle or eat out of the dish. They wanted to be hand fed. So what did I do? Hand feed them, of course. (Latte had probably let them know I was a pushover.) Before I knew it, I was making sure they had a heat source at night (since they were too young to regulate their own body heat), teaching them to use a litter box (which, because of their small size, was initially a shallow cardboard box lid), putting out plates of fresh cat food (leftovers from the fridge were never tolerated) and constantly re-filling their water dish (which they had decided was just as much fun to topple as it was to drink from).

As days turned into weeks, I got to watch these little creatures grow and discover all that life has to offer. Each was very curious from an early age—quickly outgrowing the small pen I’d purchased, which required purchasing a bigger pen (and then a third pen after that, which I could continually expand). This exercise eventually lead to to them having run of the entire front half of the house. Again… Pushover.

Along with being a foster “mom,” I found myself rushing around, trying to live my “normal life” and still honor all the commitments I had both in regard to career and to personal life. Despite starting this good deed thinking it might calm my inner being, I was actually becoming more manic—living life in a more harried fashion. Until one morning when I was running late and made the “mistake” of sitting on the couch to catch my breath. All three foster kittens (still just weeks old), piled onto my lap and stared up at me—and then each started purring. It was a Zen-like chorus of purrs that instantly made me realize the one gift they’d embraced but that I wasn’t allowing myself to: Being present.

That’s right. Despite a rough start at life, these kittens were anything but bitter or scared. They were ready to roll with whatever the world had to offer. And thankfully for them, it offered me—a somewhat goofy guy who didn’t mind being referred to as a foster mom. And now these kittens were reminding me that during the quieter moments of life, acceptance could happen.

This was the very lesson I’d been struggling to remind myself of in order to quell the recurring negative voice in my head. I was retaught by Gus, Bear and Gwen that only within a peaceful mind could healthy decisions be made. And bonus! Sometimes decisions don’t even have to be made. The mind can just be quiet (in other words, just be). Even if that quiet is sometimes permeated by a chorus of purrs.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that when it came time to send Gus, Bear and Gwen onto their forever homes (and trust me, I found amazing families for them to join—all of whom recognized how special these little souls were) that I cried like a baby. Even in that painful moment of having to say goodbye to three little creatures I’d come to love with every fiber of my being, I reminded myself to reach for quiet, to reach for stillness, to reach for inner peace.

When I’m present, that voice in my head shuts up. And then? All is right with the world. Literally. And I’ll be forever grateful to the three little fur balls who reminded me not only that every moment matters, but that every moment can also be filled with joy (even when “accidentally” toppling our water dishes).

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3:59 pm - Posted by Gregg

Mother’s Day is an occasion that always gives me pause since I spent most of my childhood struggling to survive in a household ruled by a monster (AKA my abusive mother). For anyone who thinks my descriptor is a bit harsh, I can assure you it’s not. What my sister and I endured while growing up was quite horrific in regard to the constant abuse we suffered—along with the lies we were forced to cover-up on behalf of dear ol’ mom.

I have a vivid memory of a time I tried to report the abuse to the police. Because it was many years ago (and because we, as a society, didn’t know better at the time) they dismissed my claims (since the bulk of the abuse wasn’t physical) and refused to investigate. Imagine a young teen hanging up the phone and turning to said abuser (my mother in this case) who had just heard me make the call. I get chills thinking about incidents like these. But still, I’ve made a vow to never suppress them or pretend as if they didn’t take place.

As faithful readers of this blog know, I spent most of my young life morbidly obese. I started to gain weight around first grade and by the time I graduated college weighed over 450 pounds. I imagine some mental health professionals might attribute this to creating a layer of protection to shield me from any relationship that I thought might cause me more—or continued—harm. This is not to say I didn’t struggle to lose this “layer of protection” throughout my childhood (even though I knew it made my mother livid to have an obese child given her penchant for telling people I had a disease that caused weight gain as opposed to simply confessing that I overate).

Once a young adult living on my own, I eventually realized that I had to let go of the mental weight (mostly comprised of memories of abuse) before I could let go of the physical weight. But even though I accomplished the goal of shedding the excess weight (and have remained a healthy weight since), I never want to forget what my sister and I went through. This is not to say I have a victim mentality. I wouldn’t encourage that in myself or anyone else. But an attitude of “acceptance” has proved most healing.

This happened. The abuse happened. It was real.

These days I can go for long periods of time without thinking about the abuse that my sister and I suffered (even though some of its after effects have been far reaching). But when “holidays” like Mother’s Day roll around, I can’t help but get a pit in my stomach when I see commercial-friendly media images that show mother and child (infant, toddler, teen or otherwise) living their happiest moments on screen or in print. I never knew this kind of relationship with my own mother. The concept remains foreign to me even to this day.

As for my mother being a “monster,” in hindsight I’ve come to accept that my mother was likely mentally ill given her outrageous behavior—which makes the real monsters other family members who, even though well aware of my mom’s actions, left my sister and I alone with her to raise us. I share this not out of spite, remorse or even sadness. But in an effort to let others who’ve had similar experiences know they’re not the only ones.

Many people breathe a sigh of relief when they learn what my sister and I lived through—because they were raised under similar circumstances. To talk about these issues doesn’t mean our goal is to demonize our parents. But abuse is abuse. And underage children often have no choice but to endure it—and to hopefully survive it. But even as adults—even when free from our abusers—we sometimes still have to make a conscious choice to continue to survive it. Especially on occasions when many are celebrating their mothers, which can potentially leave many adult survivors of child abuse feeling like we are weird, undeserving or, perhaps, as if we were in some way responsible for our tragic circumstances.

So yes—the occasion of Mother’s Day makes me somber. But it also reminds me that my sister and I—and so many of you—are survivors. We have all faced major challenges in our lives. Some on the outside, some from the inside. But we can continue to overcome these challenges (even the ones that still sometimes haunt us).

These days, when shopping for Mother’s Day cards, I pick up several. One card is for my sister, who’s managed to break the cycle of abuse and is an amazing mother to two beautiful children. And the additional cards are for other nurturing influences in my life who’ve taught me that a mother’s love can arrive in many forms (and from many different people). My self-defined version of Mother’s Day is definitely worthy of celebration. And yours can be, too. As long as its observed in a way that honors your fortitude—in addition to paying heed to moms of all kinds (perhaps even those, like mine, who were mentally ill and, maybe—just maybe—doing the best they knew how to do).

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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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8:45 pm - Posted by Gregg

Even though winter isn’t quite behind us, I like to think of this early portion of the year as a great time for spring cleaning. So once my holiday decorations were finally tucked away, I turned my sights on the rest of my home – including my overstuffed home office, which had become a catchall for anything that didn’t have a proper ‘home’ within my home.

As I wiped away dust and opened up boxes and bags with all sorts of stuff in them (much of which I’d placed onto their respective areas of the office floor several months ago when moving into my current home), I realized I’d let too much clutter build up over the years. Here I was, finally going through the odds n’ ends that I’d said I would go through right after the move. But hey, no time like the present, right?

A lot of what I came across could now be classified as ‘junk’ that could be given away, donated or given a permanent home in the circular file (the trash bin). But there were some things that did warrant keeping and finding a home for. Thus, my attention turned to my crowded bookshelves, most of which were stuffed full.

Upon closer examination, I saw that my shelves were filled with many books that not only had never been read, but also really had no place in my collection. Many of these were “quick gimmick” diet books and “self help” mumbo jumbo. Now, don’t get me wrong – there are many diet and self-help books that are written by legitimate sources. But I’m talking about a (mostly) collection of over-the-top, quick fix-style books that would lead most to failure long before success. (Why? Because there are no shortcuts and you can’t trick your body – or your brain – for long.)

But even though I knew better, and even though I’d sensibly taken off my excess weight over a decade ago (and kept it off since), my fat head and fat brain kept buying these ‘quick fix’ books that I’d been addicted to during my heavy years (nay – heavy decades).

Although I knew these books were written mostly to make a buck and take advantage of the dieter (or person with heartache or would-be goal reacher), I kept buying them. And even though I wouldn’t read them (or at least wouldn’t get past the first couple of pages), I held onto these useless books for years, in hopes, perhaps, that their mere presence on my shelves would somehow magically make all of my goals (including weight loss) come true.

Needless to say, these books didn’t work for anything more than collecting dust and taking up much needed space. But even though I knew this on one level, I was afraid to get rid of them on another – even today, over a decade after I’d taken off over 250 pounds.

But that was then. And this was now. I decided I was going to be brave and send a big message to myself, my brain, my belly – and the universe – by getting rid of all these quick fix books that not only didn’t work, but that are often the cause for us dieters receiving very mixed messages about meeting goals and losing weight.

I’m not going to lie to you. As I pulled these books off the shelves (fighting the dust clouds I was creating) and put them in boxes I would later bring to my local donation center, I felt very frightened – again as if I would break some kind of spell and, perhaps, even gain back all 250 pounds that I’d lost.

Once the shelves were clear – and even after I’d replaced the books with necessary objects and even some legitimate books from other areas of the office – I was still haunted by the two boxes of books that I’d cleared away. They knew their time was nigh and they tried to tempt me with the outlandish promises made on their covers. What was I going to do if I needed a 3-day diet? To lose weight eating just cabbage or drinking lemonade? Or to win hearts by being ruthless? Or get fit by only exercising 10 minutes a week?

It was with much bravery and a caffeine buzz that I finally delivered these boxes to my local donation center. Sure, I wanted to add a warning to every cover. But at the same time, I didn’t want to contribute to a landfill. The point is, I cleared them away from my space and, more importantly, my head.

To my surprise, when I returned home, I felt freer and more confident than ever. I hadn’t lost my weight (or kept it off) with any of these books that offered success with little to no work involved. Nor had I won any hearts or met any goals with ‘3 simple steps’ (or whatever). I’d used common sense, balance and my own self worth to meet all of my goals. No quick fixes – or books meant to rip us off through false promises – necessary.

I must admit that I was intrigued that I would have to wrestle with such a decision even today. But keeping my past in mind (along with what did and did not contribute to my weight gain as well as overcoming it) keeps me sane today. It’s weird, but I feel like I’m breathing a little easier in my home office now – having let all of those ‘false crutches’ fall to the wayside (or weigh-side, as the case may be). Along with reminding me of my own inner strength, clearing out these ultimately useless books reminds me that even maintaining my healthy weight cannot be done through gimmicks or quick fixes. And that’s a really wonderful thing to be reminded of during spring cleaning – no matter which time of year you’re doing it in.

For some tips on clearing away clutter: Click Here

What are you sitting on, keeping in your home or hoarding on your shelves that might be holding you back, psychologically? Anything you need to get rid of? Any de-cluttering you need encouragement on? I’d love to know. After all, one man’s junk is another man’s blogpost. So do tell.

Image Source: houselogic

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January 13, 2018

Up, Down, On, Off

9:35 am - Posted by Gregg

Now that we’re further into January (AKA a most popular month for dieting), I’m reminded of a disturbing trend in the billion dollar diet industry—albeit one that has been pervasive for years. I refer to it as the “Light Switch Mentality” that’s being sold by many organizations, programs, books and so-called experts who proclaim that to lose excess weight, you (we) should be on a diet. But this kind of thinking often leads to the opposite of being on… Being off.

Certainly being on or off has become part of the dieting vernacular. But in my humble opinion, it’s a way of thinking that can potentially lead to more weight gain than weight loss. In fact, it’s while many of us with a dieter’s mentality are on our diets that we’re focused on when we plan on going off. It’s a mindset we’ve been sold as the way to success, when in reality, it can be the way to put on extra pounds.

As someone who started gaining excess weight around first grade, and whose parents immediately took me to a doctor who put me on a strict diet (yes, even at a very young age), I can attest to the fact that the on/off cycle contributed to my continuing to gain weight throughout my youth. Sure, I would take off a few pounds (when I was on). But then I would gain even more weight back (when I was off). By the time I graduated from college, I was clocking in at over 450 pounds. And this was after years and years of constant dieting—the very thing that was supposed to be helping me was actually doing more harm than good.

Thankfully, I was able to remove myself from this cycle after my home electronic scale started reading “ERR” (its internal code for error, since it was not programmed to register any weight above 400 pounds). It’s when I stopped thinking of “dieting” (and being on and off of one) and started embracing healthy eating that I began to make some real headway. Within a year’s time I had dropped most of my excess weight. And sure, I yo-yoed up and down the scale for a couple years after that. I was, after all, recovering from a lifetime of “on and off” behavior. But once I nailed it (reaching a healthy weight for my height and body frame), I’ve stayed at this weight for well over a decade.

But this is where I quickly bring up that damned light switch thinking again. Because many people who see my before pictures want to know my secret to losing over 250 pounds of excess weight without any kind of surgery or medication. They’re not too thrilled when I tell them the secrets are eating less, moving more, getting plenty of sleep and drinking enough water (AKA common sense). And they sometimes go onto register abject horror when I tell them I have to keep all of these mandates in mind even today (otherwise right back up the scale I’d go).

Successfully losing excess weight has nothing to do with a light switch. There’s never a time that we should be on or off. If we’re prone to gaining weight or if we choose to lose excess weight to benefit our mental and physical health, then it’s going to take some work. This doesn’t mean food plans can’t be extremely helpful. But whether we choose to have a salad for lunch or even if we opt to have some ice cream for dessert, we’ve got to always think about portion size and ingredient content (yes, even when it comes to the salad).

This doesn’t have to mean we are always on and never off. Instead, we can adopt new mindsets and start living life as healthy minded individuals. You know—like those those fantastical types who can eat half a donut and then declare they’re full. (Yes, even I’m dumbfounded by this kind of behavior to this day.) But what these people know that we do not, is that they can have another donut (or whatever) in due time. But those of us on the endless on/off cycle of dieting often think, “I will be on my diet tomorrow (or Monday or come January 1st),” so I better have eighteen donuts today.

OnOff. Not always helpful.

Healthy thinking. A move in the right direction.

And healthy thinking can include well made (meaning clean ingredient) treats that can be easily and moderately worked into our eating plans—whether we’re taking off excess pounds or simply maintaining a healthy body weight.

Although somewhat baffling, this can be triumphant news if we allow it to be. Thinking less of on and off can mean reduced shame and self-punishment (also part of many dieting cycles, mentally speaking). Fact is, you are beautiful at your current weight (inside and out). If you choose to get healthier and drop some of the excess weight, then do so in a fashion that embraces all that life has to offer and try leaving the on/off Light Switch Mentality behind.

At the risk of an eye roll or two, what do you have to lose?

Photo Source: Zazzle

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