On Being Mindful

May 1, 2008

I know I said I’d relegate comments about my Total Health program to a coda each week, but last night’s class spurred such a barrage of ideas that I wanted to set them down (despite last week’s blathering about eating styles–we all know how well that one went over). So be warned:  this entry features no recipe, and it’s about dieting.  Please feel free to skip if that’s not of interest!

When I first started this blog back in late October (six months yesterday!!), I wrote quite frequently about my diet and (tenuous) attempts to lose weight.  I actually never intended it to morph into a food blog, but once I started reminiscing about different recipe origins, preparation methods, ingredient sources, etc., it seemed to move naturally in that direction (at least, most of the time). I preferred to write about the dishes themselves rather than my reactions to, or feelings about, them.

Well, one of our “assignments” last week in my Total Health course was to “eat without distractions.”  From what I gleaned from our instructions, this meant virtually the same thing as “eating mindfully.”  For any of you who’ve read Jon Kabat Zinn’s seminal book on mindful living, Full Catastrophe Living, this concept is familiar.  In the book, Zinn suggests eating a raisin with full attention to its shape, color, texture, smell, size, mouthfeel, taste, and effect on your emotional or psychological state.  Giving that wrinkled grape your full awareness while consuming it takes several minutes at the least, and you’d presumably experience every nuance, every physical reaction, every sensory impact of consuming that raisin.

I was a little hesitant to embrace this homework, as my schedule these days is beyond hectic and I feel I barely have time to heave a heavy sigh before the day is over.  But I did it.  Breakfast became a private communion between me and my oatmeal (or scone, or almond butter-topped apple, etc.) as I cleared the table and sat and ate. . . mindfully. 

And what did I discover?  That my mind didn’t have very much to contribute to the exercise.  That I didn’t like it. Not one bit.

For me, trying to focus exclusively on my food as I observed, smelled, tasted and then mused upon it was like “torture lite”–maybe not a figurative year in a Medieval prison, but more like recess trapped in the corner of the schoolyard with the class bully.  As with meditation, my mind kept wandering, I found myself scanning the rest of the room as if searching for a deus ex machina to release me from my penance, and I twitched and evaded and couldn’t wait for it to be over.

Me?  Wishing EATING would be over??  It’s unheard of!

In our class last evening, I raised the issue.  Was I the only one who’d had a hard time with it?  Apparently, yes.  For the rest of the class (to be fair, not everyone actually did the exercise, so I don’t know about those few who didn’t), eating with no distractions was like an oasis of peace and calm in an otherwise crazy welter of their days.  One woman even said that she’d come to rely on her breakfast ritual, in particular, as a way to start her morning on the right note, and felt unmoored without it. 

According to our instructor, sitting one-on-one with your food and forcing yourself to focus exclusively on it accomplishes a few things.  First, you are more aware of the quality of the food itself.  As she mentioned last week, it’s virtually impossible to plunk yourself down and devour a cannister of Pringles mindfully.  I found that to be true as well (not that I’ve eaten Pringles in the last decade or so):  once you know you must to sit and attend to every puff of popcorn, or every corn chip, or even every goji berry, one at a time, over and over, the idea of grabbing a quick snack between writing assignments doesn’t hold the same allure.  Similarly, if you’re eating food that is of poor quality, paying close attention to every sniff and bite will only highlight that fact, and you may find you’re not as inclined to scarf down that McDonald’s burger and fries quite so often.

In addition, eating mindfully slows down the process of how you select, bite, chew, and swallow the food, so bingeing is virtually eliminated.  When I succumb to a chocolate binge, I’m not paying very close attention to the quantity I ingest.  Basically, I eat as much as there is, until it’s gone (which is why I try not to keep it in the house).  With mindful eating, however, I realized very quickly that I didn’t need all that much to fill my belly.  After one apple (cut in segments and smeared with about a tablespoon of almond butter) for breakfast, I realized I’d had enough.  Maybe I wasn’t used to this bizarre new physical awareness, and it made me uncomfortable.

Finally, I realized that this exercise simply highlighted for me how much I’m overstuffing my schedule as well, and how I usually attempt to fit in too many items in a day; so many, in fact, that taking an extra hour or two to consume meals in isolation throws off the rest of the itinerary.  As I sat chewing my apple with awareness, I was also painfully cognizant of the newspaper draped across the opposite corner of the table, and that my solo meal meant I wouldn’t have another moment to read it that day (well, my teacher would say, you shouldn’t be reading the paper anyway–too much negative energy).

I’m going to try to stick with the practise, despite my discomfort.  For one thing, it’s helped me to determine whether or not I really want to eat something before I dig in; if it’s worth stopping my current activity to sit down and spend some alone time with a food, then I figure I must really feel like having it at that moment. Our instructor promises that the purpose of the exercise is to create a greater appreciation of what we eat, and, ultimately, a greater enjoyment of the food.  I’m waiting for that to happen.  In the meantime, I am glad for the decreased caloric intake.

This week’s homework:  incorporate greens into the diet once a day, along with cultured veggies.  Recipe coming up!

Well, I hope everyone out there had a Happy New Year.  Ours would have been very pleasant and laid back–after all, we were guests at my friend’s 8000 square foot “cottage” (you read that right–were we lucky, or what??), we were in a pastoral wonderland of snow, lake, birch trees, rare birds and other wildlife prancing past the picture windows between the stone and wood walls, and we spent the time with two of my very favorite people in the world, Gemini I and Gemini II, as well as their families.  Could it get any better?

In our pre-Chaser days, we used to go up there fairly frequently, and have spent many a lovely Thanksgiving or Christmas with the Gemini I family. This time, however, we discovered a tiny, heretofore unseen quirk in our (post-Chaser) Elsie Girl, something we’d never witnessed before:  she has a newfound propensity to lunge at and–if permitted–eat any of the other dogs up there (Chaser excluded).  What the–?? 

My beloved fur baby, the one I’ve adored since we got her from the pound back in 2002, the one who is consistently docile and sweet and gentle?  The one I refer to variously as Sweet Face, Sweet Girl, Honey Girl, My Darling Girl, My Little Love, and innumerable other nausea-inducing, endearing sobriquets?  The one who timorously permits Chaser to nibble endlessly on her ears like popcorn at the movies, who hangs her head in submission when I see her even walking toward the open garbage can, who lies at my feet silently here at the computer and reminds me, with a barely perceptible, feathery whisper of a touch with her nose, that it’s dinnertime? 

Yes, that one.  What on earth has gotten into her?

As a result of this sudden possession by the Dog Satan, we spent most of the time hovering over Elsie to ensure that she didn’t consume Gemini I’s new cat, or bundling up in our snow suits to accompany Elsie on the leash to do her “business” outside.  How I wish Cesar Millan lived in Canada. Sniff.

I also realized, as soon as we were on the road and past the point where it would be feasible to turn back, that I’d forgotten my camera up north.  Granted, it’s a cheap little unit (I must be the only blogger on the face of the planet who takes pictures with a camera she got for free using Air Miles), and also I have no photographic ability, but I am inordinately fond of the thing and it feels like traipsing around the house naked to post without photos of any kind. 

The final rather unpleasant discovery to greet me after the weekend (well, actually, the last two weeks) is that it appears I have gained a couple of pounds (really?  pigging out on baked goods and chocolate can do that to you?).  As a result of all these events, I’ve been feeling pretty disheartened since we got back.  Boo hoo.

Well, as Cesar himself would say, it’s the owner, not the dog, that needs training whenever there’s a problem.  Don’t I know it: time to listen to The Great Emperor of Dog Training and get my ass in gear, literally and figuratively.  Also, a perfect opportunity for some goal setting (notice I didn’t say, “resolutions”). 

Every year around this time–sometimes right on the first of the year, sometimes not until April–I sit down and write out a “Five-Year Plan,” a set of goals to reach within 5 years, 2 years, one year, and the next six months.  This is something I learned about from the original study at Harvard (I didn’t participate, just read about it) that confirmed how those people who actually write down their goals are more inclined to someday achieve them.  Some years it works better, some years worse, but it always seems to help keep me on track and steer me toward my goals, even when I immediately put the list back in its desk drawer and promptly forget about it till the next year. 

I’m also always amazed at the goals that eventually come to fruition even when I’ve literally forgotten about them in the interim.  To wit, a couple of years ago one of the goals I wrote was “Work with a business coach for free.”  Through a series of serendipitous events, I ended up with three full months of terrific coaching. Similarly, “guest appearance on TV morning show.”  Or, “Adopt second dog.”  At the time I wrote that, my HH’s response was a definite “no.” As the months rolled by, for some reason, he ultimately changed his mind, and eventually he succumbed.  Now, he’s Chaser’s greatest fan, and the two of them are almost inseparable.(“Thanks for changing your mind, Dad!  You’re so much fun to wrestle with. . .but wait a sec, Mum, if you’re not also my greatest fan, then whose fan are you–?“). 

So, to that end, I am going to list my goals.  I will say straight up that this isn’t the complete list, as there are still some things that I’ll keep private (goals related to relationship, family, etc.), but given the name of the blog, I think I should at least include all the food-related and health-related ones here. 

Of course, everyone and their cousin is making resolutions about now, and to that end, there was a humorous send up of these kinds of lists in the Arts and Life section of the National Post today.  Near the top of the list was this goal:

“Shed those unwanted pounds, or, if that’s too hard, spend some quality time with those pounds at a Wendy’s and make them feel wanted again.” 

In that same spirit, I shall not berate myself for those “unwanted” two pounds, or the fairly unstable wagon off of which I’ve fallen. Instead, I’m going to set about outlining some goals for the next while.

And So:

Five Years Hence:

  • Post and Beam.  My lifelong (okay, adult-long) dream is to own a post and beam, slightly north of the city, with my two dogs and HH (and in it, I’ll still be writing this blog, of course).
  • maintain normal, healthy weight and eating habits (continued since year one), following the plan I outlined, below, in the 6-month goal. 
  • go swimming on a regular basis (something I used to love as a kid/teenager, and have been too embarrassed to do in public since the weight gain).
  • Have meditation as a daily part of my life, yoga (or other easy-on-the-joints, meditative exercise) as a weekly part of my life.
  • continue to have an easy, healthy relationship with dessert, able to enjoy with moderation without being thrown into binge mode, as outlined below in the one-year goal.
  • have a healthy, effective method in place for dealing with stress (hey, may as well reach high once I’m setting goals, right?).

Two Years Hence:

  • maintain normal, healthy lifestyle and eating habits since year one (as outlined below, in the 6 month section).
  • maintain a healthy, normal relationship to dessert, as outlined below in the one year goal.
  • have meditation as a daily part of my life, yoga or similar type of exercise as weekly.
  • go swimming again–take lessons if necessary.
  • have healthy, effective method for dealing with stress in place and almost perfected.

One Year Hence:

  • reach normal, healthy weight (about 50 pounds from now) 
  •  achieve a sense of control around desserts–that is, the ability to eat them within reason, without breaking into a binge because of one chocolate bar, or brownie, or piece of cake
  • continue to create healthy, delicious desserts for fun and profit
  • continue to eat a balanced, NAG-friendly diet.
  • complete an intro to yoga course, and continue throughout the year.
  • improve work on weights, to previous levels, working with trainer if necessary.
  • continue with regular exercise at least 6 days a week, as outlined below.

Six Months Hence:

  • down 25 pounds from now
  • eat a balanced, NAG-friendly diet.  (I know from past experience that this will help me with the dessert goal, above, as I seem so much less inclined toward unhealthy foods when I regularly consume veggies, whole grains, and the like).
  • exercise regularly:  weights/club at least 3x per week; treadmill at least 4x per week (I know this can be done, as I’ve done it before, for years at a time)
  • take intro to yoga or similar exercise course; begin meditation, with the help of a course if necessary.

I think these are realistic goals, especially since I know I’ve mastered some of them in the past.  I’m also giving myself a fairly lengthy period to establish new habits (I’ve read that it takes about 6 weeks of repetition to establish a new habit, but have never found that to be true for me; even after 2 years of eating no sweeteners whatsoever, it didn’t take long to return to old habits once I allowed sugar back into my life).

Now, of course there are many other goals on the piece of paper written out here at home, such as those related to my writing career or travelling (basically, I’d like to do some).  But for now, if I can focus on the physical health and psychological wellness, I think I’d have a great head start toward everything else. 

(“You go for it, Mum!  My goal this year is to earn more treats.  Oh, and I suppose not to attempt ripping apart other dogs would be good, too.’)

There’s nothing better than celebrating a special holiday with balance.  A bounty of food and alcohol may abound, but the best approach is to simply eat well, eat with a level head, and enjoy the abundance without going overboard.  Wake up the next day feeling great, ready to take on the day as if the previous night’s festivities never happened.  Hmmm. . . too bad I wasn’t able to accomplish that this year.

I’m guessing it will likely take a few days before my body feels like itself again.  Despite the best of intentions, I must have taken the wrong cue from The Girls, eating as if I might never again have the opportunity to fill up on any of this stuff (and really, some of it wasn’t even worth having again!  “Dump Cake“??  Whatever possessed me to acquiesce to my HH’s wishes for that thing?  And then–eating two portions of it?  Even if I did buy organic cake mix in a meager attempt to convert it to something a smidgen more salubrious. . . Gak.)

(“But Mum! Everything was wonderful–we just loved Christmas!  And what’s wrong with eating something special once in a while?  Or on every occasion you can get it? Turkey, Mum–Turkey.  We. want. turkey.”)

The ideal experience at a holiday feast, for me, would be to enjoy a moderate portion of everything, including dessert, and possess the innate ability to simply stop when I’d had enough.  (Forgot to use the small plate/two item trick at my own holiday dinner–did that have something to do with it?).  Instead, yesterday, I found myself drawn to the least healthy elements of the meal–repeatedly. Today, I don’t feel so hot.

Perhaps that’s a good thing, though.  For “normal” eaters, the “STOP EATING” switch goes off much faster than it does for those of us with a propensity to overindulge.  But I can honestly say that, finally, my own switch has tripped, and I am craving–seriously, craving–vegetables.  It may have taken me a lot longer than it took my honey, but I got there.  In the old days, I might have gone on a binge for days, finishing up the dessert leftovers in one afternoon. Today, I’m at the point where all I’d like to do with that Dump Cake is dump it in the garbage can.

One of the principles that keeps coming to mind is Newton’s Law, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Since the law applies to everything governed by the laws of physics, it would, of course, also include the way we eat and how our bodies react to the way we eat.  In other words, overdo it one way, and your body will subtly suggest that you underdo it the next.  This is a principle that my friend Karen, in her book Secrets of Skinny Chicks, documented well. As her subjects told her, when slim women pig out at a special occasion, they always compensate the following day, either by eating less or exercising more.  I suppose this is a variation of the approach I adopted when I skipped dinner after overdoing the Halloween chocolates.  And today? Treadmill, here I come.  (Oh, and my Holidailies entry, of course).

Another facet of this principle is one perfectly summed up by Sally in her great blog, Aprovechar.  In her post, Sally compared the patterns of eating/overeating to the financial principle of opportunity cost.  In other words, every opportunity brings with it a certain cost, and if you assess the cost beforehand, it can help you decide whether or not to take the opportunity.  I knew that last night’s dinner would cost me today (perhaps not quite as much as it seems to be doing, what with the backflips in my stomach, but still), and I made a conscious choice to eat anyway.  For me, true progress will be achieved once I learn to make a better choice, with a lesser cost.

Still, today’s craving for veggies is progress of a sort.  And while it may be difficult to find something positive in overeating, I am determined to let my body learn what it can and cannot comfortably do when it comes to food.  The initial mistake was allowing the unhealthy food into the house in the first place, but the ultimate goal remains the same: being able to enjoy a variety of foods (including dessert) at a multi-course meal, and naturally stopping when comfortably full.  That kind of action will signal a huge milestone in the way I approach food.

In the meantime, I’m off to raid the fridge for some broccoli and carrots.  And  I’ll just glance away as my HH polishes off that Dump Cake. (“Did you say carrots, Mum?  Because we love those.  Especially with turkey.”)

Eat Dessert First

December 21, 2007

Years ago, during one of my very first visits to Toronto (and long before I lived here), my best buddy Ali and I spent an evening at the famed Pickle Barrel restaurant (in fact, the last time I went there was during Ali’s most recent visit to Canada from England, last summer–when I was rather unpleasantly surprised to note that the restaurant still offered basically the exact same, unappetizing, menu that it had in 1981). 

But back then, we were hyper, we were chatty, we were callow twenty-somethings who really were more interested in catching up with each other than any food we might consume (ah!  if only I could recapture that mindset. . . ).  We scanned the menu, chose something for dinner, and ordered.  We already knew that we wanted the killer chocolate layer cake for dessert, so we ordered that, too.  With the server still standing before us, we realized that dinner might take a few minutes, at least, and what we really wanted was that chocolate cake anyway–so we asked her to bring that over first.

After she recovered her composure (very professional of her, I thought), she nodded and trotted away, soon to return with two huge hunks o’ chocolate cake, which we consumed with lip-smacking zeal and thoroughly enjoyed before starting on our main courses.  In other words, we chose to eat the best part of the meal first.   No deferred gratification. No saving the best for last. No self-denial in the name of good health.  And then, because we wanted to, we still got to eat a darned good dinner, too.

One of the things I’ve always had trouble with is “living in the moment.”  Years ago, as a way to deal wtih anxiety attacks, I took a course called “Mindfulness Meditation.”  It was terrific, really, and I’ve written about it before.  It allowed me to be present with my body for those 45 minutes or so as I meditated, and it worked wonders.  Problem was, once I returned to the “real” world and incompetent drivers; cashiers who can’t count if the register’s computer is broken; telemarketers who don’t understand “I’m not interested, thanks”; sour (soy, or any other kind of) milk, already poured over your cereal; automatic parking lot payment machines that swallow your Mastercard whole; malevolent ice patches hiding under that soft, thin patina of snow; puppies who eat kleenex and then vomit all over your hardwood floor–and about 7,352 other daily annoyances–I lost all my Eastern calm and was thrown immediately back into a welter of Western, frenetic living, anxiety and all. So how to recapture those wonderful feelings of mindfulness?

One of my goals this year, as I attempt to lose my superfluous 50 (oops, forgot: 45.5) pounds, is to gain a sense of inner peace (okay, I’d settle for a sense of inner not-freaking-out-daily) and purpose, by identifying the things that are truly important to me.  I’ve been working away at my little organic baking business and teaching holistic cooking on occasion, setting aside time to spend with my HH and beloved Girls, writing at every possible opportunity, and making a very concerted effort to pay more attention to what is going on in my life (especially during the month of Holidailies).  This latest house-move seemed the perfect catalyst to start afresh, in so many areas.

chasereatcup.jpg So I’ve decided to try to adopt more of the same approach that Ali and I fell into that faraway evening at the restaurant, only this time, I’m going to make a conscious decision to “eat dessert first.”   I don’t mean this literally (well, not every time, anyway), but simply as a way to ensure I do the things that are most important to me; that will bring the greatest sense of satisfaction and gratification; that, years down the road, will make me smile when I remember them–first.  If at all possible. 

In terms of dieting, this philosophy logically extends to literal eating of dessert first as well. If what you really want is the slice of chocolate layer cake, and eating it will effectively remove the desire for anything else, why not have that cake, and eat it, too? I don’t know about you, but I’ve found the standard diet advice to “eat something else and wait 10 minutes” when you have a craving to be totally useless.  I eat something else, then go have the thing I was craving, anyway.  By eating the cake first, I omit the second course.  Is that really so bad?

As we enter the final phase of the holiday tempest of parties, buffets, dinners, open houses, brunches, cocktails and all other manner of food-related gatherings, it may be the perfect time to pay attention to what you really, truly would like, right now, in this moment, and then just go for it. 

In other words: march on over and stand proudly under that mistletoe.  Take off those heels and just boogie. Send that heartfelt card to you-know-who. Or, if it’s what you are really craving,  just dig right in and enjoy the fleeting, sweet satisfaction of a tall piece of chocolate layer cake, right this minute.

Willpower and Panic Attacks

December 11, 2007

Yesterday, when I finally made it back to the workout club after my recent hiatus (Nice to see you again, Elderly Gentleman Who Always Wears Black Knee Socks! Good day, Sixty-Something Woman with the Spiky Hair!  How ya doin’, Teenaged Girl with the Chirpy Giggle!), I was astonished to find that I had actually lost more weight. (Oh, and also that an earlier blog entry appeared in the Best of Holidailies! Awesome!!). 

 

I got to thinking about what, this particular time round, has made the difference that’s allowed me to lose weight. Did I suddenly acquire some new form of willpower?

 

Well, “willpower” isn’t exactly the right word, I think.  Because what I’m experiencing just doesn’t seem to take that much effort on my part. Oh, and wait a sec, I did eat the majority of a 150 gram white chocolate bar the other day–so I’m not consciously depriving myself, either.  In fact, I seem to be able to basically eat whatever I want, whenever I want—even if it involves ingesting copious amounts of chocolate—without the same repercussions as when I last did more or less the same thing, about a year ago (when I capped off my weight gain with yet another 10 pounds, pushing me past my previous all-time record).

Something struck me as odd about this latest turn of events.  Decades ago–before there was even a term to describe it–I used to suffer from debilitating anxiety attacks.  Lacking confidence, living alone in a strange city without any close friends or family, I began to find myself at 3:00 AM fretting about the sudden pains in my chest or the alarming pace of my racing heartbeat. After hours of internal battles and too scared to sleep, I’d finally wear myself out and fall into an exhausted slumber for a couple of hours before daybreak.  

After fielding endless frantic queries about the myriad symptoms of heart attacks and several other fatal illnesses over the course of a year, one day The Nurse finally said to me, “Look, I just don’t get it.  Instead of staying up all night stressing about whether or not you’re having a heart attack, why don’t you just go to the emergency room as soon as it starts?  You’ll get examined, they’ll tell you there’s nothing wrong with you, and then you can go back home and go to sleep.” And of course she was right; the few times I did go, the doctor’s reassurance caused the the symptoms to subside, and I was able to relax and go home to bed. 

It had never before occurred to me to just “give in to it.”  I’d always felt that I was required to somehow vanquish the fear, that if I succumbed and went to the emerg, it would mean that I was intrinsically weak willed and would, therefore, never overcome those panic attacks. 

Well, after about 3 or 4 weeks of acknowledging those symptoms and having them deemed harmless, those panic attacks naturally began to diminish. To this day, I don’t really know why; it was something about giving up the fight, acknowledging them as the current reality–however negative–instead of trying, for the entire course of an excruciating night of pain and hyperventilating, to deny their existence. They just went away.

As I’ve mentioned before, the last time I lost a fair amount of weight (also rather effortlessly) was about 4 years ago, as a student at my much beloved nutrition school.  About a year after that, the weight began to sneak back up.  Since then, I’ve been struggling to lose it again, failing miserably time after time.  Except now, since October.  Why?

Perhaps the same principle applies to binge eating as to those anxiety attacks. Accepting the bingeing as reality (which is NOT the same as condoning it or embracing it as a welcome practise) without trying to deny, suppress, erase or judge it–may just be the ticket to eradicating it.  At that point, the binges may just decide to go away of their own accord.

I don’t know whether this is the case in my situation, but I am most thankful for the current trend.  It may simply be that trying too hard to prevent a particular activity–protesting too much–may, ironically, exaggerate the activity even more.  I’d love to know how others feel about this one. 

(“Well, Mum, we think it’s a great strategy.  We just eat whatever we want, too, though we never do get quite as much food as we’d like.” 

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS has moved! 

If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls!

As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.”]  

* * *

Hmmmnnnn. . . . so what does this say about me?  I am surrounded by boxes.   Right here, in my office, the towers of boxes around me–leaving a path just barely wide enough to traverse to get to my computer–resemble a child’s game of war and fortress (I can almost see over the top of the cardboard wall, peeking out at the doorway–wait!  Here comes the enemy cloathed in black fur!–no, wait, that’s just Elsie .  But I digress).  The house is in total chaos, and no wonder–we are moving in FOUR DAYS.  Half my food is packed away.  Almost all my books are packed away (I saved four favorites to comfort me until I make it to the new place).  There are piles of papers, cardboard, old magazines and other detritus strewn about the hallway, slated to be dumped in the recylcle bin before we leave.  The kitchen floor hasn’t been mopped in over a week (oh, well, wait a second, that has nothing to do with moving–we’re always more or less slobs that way). 

And amid all this entropy, what do I want to do?  I want to bake.

So, finally, here is the first dessert of Diet, Dessert and Dogs.  Most of my supplies are packed, I’ve got very few ingredients left in the house, but when all else fails, I bake.  It’s comforting, it’s familiar, it’s creative, it’s a way to distract myself (which is actually one of my successful diet strategies, come to think of it).  So when the urge hit earlier today, I decided to allow it to run its course.  It seems an impossible goal, in any case, to adhere to any kind of healthy eating regimen while undergoing the upheaval and concomitant stress I’m experiencing at present, so if I feel like eating cookies, dammit, I’m going to eat cookies.  Even if I have to bake them myself, in a kitchen full of boxes, devoid of most utensils, bowls, spoons, or other usual amenities.

I ended up making these Cashew Chocolate Chip cookies, a variation on a recipe I created for the baking company.  Like everything else I make, they are primarily organic, made with natural (unrefined) sweeteners, and no eggs or dairy (ie, vegan).  They are similar in texture to an old-fashioned shortbread cookie (though perhaps a bit more delicate), with that slightly crumbly, slightly sandy, melt-in-your-mouth consistency, and the smooth, creamy sweetness of the chocolate chips dotted throughout.  They are divinely rich tasting, and yet not cloying.  (I deliberately made a quarter recipe so that I’d have only four cookies, just in case I had the impulse to eat them all–which, of course, I did.  Luckily, I remembered to take a photo before they were all gone.) 

And now, here’s the bonus–they are gluten-free!  While I don’t have a problem with gluten, the NAG diet naturally gravitates toward gluten-free grains, and I’ve done a bit of experimenting with grain-free cookies.  I think you’ll love these. 

Do excuse the photo–I am not only new to blogging, but completely unskilled with a camera as well. (Oh, and the plate in the picture is our last one left unpacked, bland as it may be).  But I think you can get the idea.

cashewchochip11

Gluten Free Cashew Chocolate Chip Cookies

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The last few nights, I’ve been having trouble falling asleep, then waking up in the morning feeling exhausted.  My heart is pounding too fast, my chest feels full and heavy, my stomach aches ever so slightly.  I’d say this was caused by overeating or binging, but I haven’t actually been indulging in those lovely activities in the past couple of days, so that’s not it. 

What it is, I’ve recognized, is the oppressive stress I’m feeling because of this impending move (only 5 days away!), the lack of organization in our home preceding it, work pressures, and having to keep up with daily routines because of two little fur-babies who don’t have the faintest idea that their lives are about to change radically and irrevocably in less than a week. (“What?  Change radically? What are you talking about, Mum? Are you going to change our food?  Are you going to buy us new toys?  Are we finding a new trail to walk in–??? WHAT???”)

 Now, when this sort of thing has occurred in the past, I’d either ignore it (if all else were going well, or I found myself otherwise distracted), or rush to make a doctor’s appointment and check out all vitals (if anxiety were rearing its ugly persona once again).  In this case, however, I’m trying to be more self-aware as part of my overall plan, so I stopped to take a closer look at what it is and how it’s affecting me. 

Years ago, when I suffered regularly from panic attacks, I saw a wonderful therapist who practised cognitive therapy and recommended a program based on the philosophy of Jon Kabat-Zin, called Mindfulness Meditation.  I attended the sessions for eight Saturday mornings (culminating in an entire day of silent meditation–bliss!),  and learned how to use a form of meditation based on progressive relaxation.  Then, during my halcyon year at CSNN, I resurrected the practise as a daily routine before going off to school.  I have to admit that I felt fantastic.

So, this very morning, I awoke at 6:53 AM, mere minutes after the alarm blared beside my ear, and determined that I’d begin to meditate again.  Yes, I had promised myself (again) that I’d walk on the treadmill this morning, but this seemed more pressing.  So, after being greeted by one exuberant puppy pressing her cold, wet nose into my cheek (C. and I sleep on a futon bed, resting on a pedestal frame–which means our faces are perfectly aligned with dog-face level), I dragged myself upright and padded into the TV room.

I had done this before, only a couple of years ago, so there should be no problem, right?  I clearly remembered the routine, the progression from general relaxation to focusing individually on each body part and relaxing it in turn, along with breathing in while focusing on the part (and any sensations, pain, etc. there), then breathing out while letting the part go limp, consciously relaxing the muscle, freeing my mind of any thoughts (and gently returning it to the business at hand should it wander in any way).  I can do this, I thought. It’s like riding a bike.

And so I began.  Bare feet flat on floor.  I sit on a chair with a special back pillow behind me for support (bad back), so I’m actually upright and sitting fairly tall.  Face forward, eyes closed, tip of tongue on roof of mouth, breathe in–deep–breathe out, a heavy sigh, relaxing all of the body.  I’d deliberately left the light out (there’s just barely enough to limn the various pieces of furniture and assorted packing boxes in the room , these grey autumn mornings) so that I could close my eyes and really focus.

I’d gotten as far as focusing on the soles of my feet when I felt it again–the cold wetness, this time on my big toe.  Then used said big toe to push Chaser out of the way, Nylabone still in her mouth.  Back to the soles.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Relax.  Focus.

Not ten seconds later (I was at the ankle by now), she’d returned to chewing her bone, this time using the top of my foot as a brace so she could prop the bone between her paws and get a better chewing angle.  And I thought meditation was supposed to be RELAXING.  At this point, I was more tense than when I’d awoken.  I gave up with a sigh and headed toward the shower.

I think I will need to close the door next time I meditate.

(“But I found it very relaxing, Mum!  You should try chewing a Nylabone once in a while.  Great for the tension in your teeth.”)