Sometimes a quote comes along that hits the spot so sweetly it needs to stand alone.
We have, in effect, an Eleventh Commandment. We have come to believe thinner is healthier, happier, and more beautiful as though it were handed down on Mount Sinai. But these are not divine truths- they are prejudices with a complex history. They have led to a false religion that does not deliver what it promises.
(Roberta Pollack Seid, Never Too Thin: Why Women Are At War With Their Bodies)
I've always avoided salad dressings - think of the calories! - but as a consequence I've also tended to avoid salad. (I don't think about calories at all any more, and just between you and me, I've made a sacred vow to myself to never count another one as long as I live.)
Yesterday my new friend made my humble lettuce, cucumber, avocado and tomato salad dance in my mouth like something from a fancy pants cafe. It's fair to say we bonded. And there's plans afoot to catch up at dinner tonight over some roast veggies.
I read an article in the Sunday Age magazine yesterday. A personal trainer associated with that ghastly Biggest Loserprogram was asked to share his secret to successful weight loss. Inevitably his message was unsustainably hard core.
'Prepare, cook and eat bland, plain food. No sauces, spices, enhances or sweeteners.'
Now there's an idea! I, for one, love the idea of eating plain boiled rice for the rest of my life, and I'm sure I'm not alone. It's a truly excellent solution.
How on earth can we have an obesity crisis with such sound advice being so freely available?
His other suggestion to people who are probably already entrenched in a long, difficult relationship with food was to ' ...try slightly over cooking your meat, chicken and fish so it is not quite so irrestible.'
I know what you're thinking: where can I sign up for this bland, overcooked, joyless life and can I do direct debit?
So, it was a great relief to see this image by Shelley Lask circulating today. Here is the edited version which transforms this article from the moronic to the sensible. Clearly this fellow could do with taking an editor with a pink pen with him wherever he goes, in case he has to, um, write anything about health.
In the same way staring at a treadmill can make you feel like you are almost exercising, reading about writing can make you feel like you are almost writing. I love reading about writing, it's my guilty pleasure. I came across one of those articles where a writer who is currently hang-gliding on a thermal of literary success is asked about their writing process. These type of interviews tend to crack me right up. Do you write in the morning or the afternoon? Where do you write? Do you write a set number of words per day? Do you wear red socks? There is an unspoken desperation to these questions where the subtext is, if I do EXACTLY what you did, will I also get a multi-book deal published in 30 languages and a movie deal. Will I? Will I? (I imagine if they asked a concert pianist about their process they would laugh and say, 'Process? I practise 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, that's my mysterious process.') Anyway, the writer in question said she has a sign on the wall of her study (she writes in a study, we have that much in common, things are looking good for the book deal) that reads KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. I think it was a saying the British trotted out during the war when the place was getting bombed into next week, to make sure people didn't become hysterical, best to keep a stiff upper lip old chap, and all that. The writer said even when her words were dead on the page and sounded beyond dreadful (and boy, we've all been there), the sign helps her through the fear and insecurity so intrinsic to writing. I like it in relation to writing but I also love it in relation to health. Despite the daily dumpings of new dietary information and misinformation, of fads and big personalities, of celebrities draping themselves over dubious products and photoshopped fitspiration images, we simply have to find our own quiet truth about health and ignore the nonsense. Basically chaps, we need to KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. Cheerio! Indigo Kate x
My groovy friend Sue, a lovely reader of this blog, recently introduced me to Pana chocolate. As you can imagine from my blog title, I was fairly wary (read: terrified) of reintroducing chocolate into my life. But in an attempt to avoid rigid food rules (y'all know how they tend to work out for me) I decided to give it a go in a controlled manner.
Mindful eating is about taking things slowly (almost comically so) and focussing on the five senses when you sit down to eat. How does the food look? What is appealing about it? How does it smell? Etc etc. This process continues throughout the whole meal, noticing the flavour of each mouthful, which is savoured and carefully chewed. None of this shovelling food in while reading the newspaper online. No more chewing your breakfast while you make up 4 school lunch boxes. No, mindful eating is about being present. I love the concept, but golly, with my monkey mind, I find it hard to implement.
So I ate a square of Pana chocolate mindfully. I admired it's cute little cardboard box, And read its messages. I unwrapped it from the gorgeous patterned paper and breathed in the wonderfully rich chocolate scent. I noticed the imprinted symbol on each individual piece. I marvelled at how homemade and unique it felt.And so on and so on until I finally took a fabulous nibble. It was soft, but not quite gooey, dark in colour and with the subtle taste of peppermint essential oils and cacoa. We sat together a long time, my square of Pana and me, longer than I could've believed possible. It was so deliciously satisfying that fireworks went off in my mouth and brain.
I don't get paid to plug anything on this blog, so I will tell you out of the goodness of my heart that Pana chocolate is raw, organic, low GI, non dairy, non soy, gluten free and has no refined sugar. I wish I could send all you lovely readers a truckload of the stuff, but you know what? All you really need is a square. Or two.
I have decided that the sooner we run screaming from the nonsense of airbrushed perfection, the better.
Whether it's images of ridiculously perfect bodies, or images of ridiculous perfect lives, they are not helpful. At best, they make us sigh a little inside. At worse they reinforce, sometimes for the 500th time that morning, that we are not enough.
Reality is good for our mental and physical health because it makes us feel okay. And okay is 12 million times better than not enough. So, in the interest of reality, I need to share these two things.
After bodies, the next most overpopulated corner of the unrealistic perfection arena is motherhood. Endless images of perfectly groomed women looking straight from the health retreat, gliding through spotless houses to adorable, well-mannered children to attend to their occasional small, sweet need. Is it any wonder women open and close their mouth like a gold fish when the Maternal and Child Health nurse pops by a few days after you have birthed a baby and says, 'So then, how do you like being a Mummy?' So, bless Esther Anderson for telling it like it is, with oodles of good humour, sending a wonderful message that life with a baby just isn't anything like the TV commercial perfection you've been been fed. Her videos and blog are doing wonders for the mental health of parents everywhere.
If you've ever rolled your eyes at those photo library images that pop up everywhere, you might enjoy this. I know I did.
In the interest of our health, let's collectively laugh in the face of the unrealistic. Enough already! Instead, let's savour our own fabulously authentic, wild, fun, messy lives a whole lot more.
When I finished Uni, I went to work for an outdoor education organisation. It was a mad travelling circus kind of arrangement living in base camps across the country. We led groups, worked insane hours in challenging conditions and barely earnt enough money to buy ourselves a beer at the end of each course. I had the absolute time of my life with the most amazing group of people I'd ever known. We laughed our heads off, we talked long into the night around campfires, we showed others the bush we loved and helped them glimpse some new possibilities within. The friends I made during these years are like family to me, 20 years on. I even married one of them.
At my very first basecamp, I met a woman named Sam. I was the terrified rookie, she was the capable senior instructor. With a generosity of spirit that took my breath away, and still does, she mentored me through my early courses and has mentored me through life ever since. I love her to bits.
I mention Sam to you here because she understands that if we are talking about health in Australia, we need to widen the conversation to include indigenous health, where there is much to improve. One thing we can do to put this topic fairly and squarely on the table is to address the fact that our indigenous people and their culture are not currently recognised in our Constitution. The Recognise movement hopes to change this through a referendum and is working hard to raise community awareness. My friend Sam ran a marathon (a marathon!) in the desert (in the desert!) last year to get people talking about Recognise. Please read her story here, and you may like to consider supporting the Recognise movement. Sam is currently in training for an ultra-marathon (I know! Extraordinary!) for Recognise.
It's all very well to navel gaze about health like I do, but it's something else all together to use your own health and hard-won fitness to actually make the world a better place. Go Sam!
Funny how sometimes the universe sends you exactly what you need, at precisely the right time.
After feeling the crushing hopelessness of the 'thin is best' message lately, I have come across two excellent resources that have given me cause to hope.
The first is a campaign from Sport England, This Girl Can, in response to research that women and girls would like to be more active but are intimidated to try because they don't have the perfect body. It would seem the barrage of 'fitspirational' images of mega-lean young women deadlifting the weight of a small African nation without a hair out of place and only a single bead of designer sweat on their temple aren't actually helping the sisterhood. Golly, who knew?
Please, please watch the This Girl Can video to see some real women exercising. There's not an airbrush in sight and it's pure joy.
And then, thanks to my mind-blowingly fabulous friend and extremely loyal blog reader Wendy, I came across Curvy Yoga. Anna Guest-Jelley founded Curvy Yoga after coming to the realisation that she had been on 66 diets. She faced the tough question, 'do I start diet number 67, or do I admit this is not working and try something new?' The world is definitely a better place because she chose the latter. Anna's message is that yoga is for everyone who wants to feel healthier. She might also have the best smile of anyone on the planet.
I raise my glass to these shining beacons of hope, and their very important message.
My little chicks have swimming lessons on each day this week. They skip along to the pool edge with their little class mates, caps and goggles in place, jiggling with excitement, cute as buttons. I then have 30 mins to myself to wave madly at them and return the odd phone call or email. It's what known in the parenting biz as win-win.
Yesterday, I bumped into another mum I really like. She's one of those incredibly capable women who parents gently and patiently, all the more remarkable when she had four exquisite brown-eyed babies in the space of four and a quarter years (twins helped this along). But what I always notice is her beautiful smile and the warm way she greets me. It's always a treat to see her and soak in her positive, happy energy.
We were at the swimming pool counter together, chatting about family and Christmas and paying our kids' accounts. My friend noticed there was a sale on for adult swimming cossies and asked to have a look at them.
'What size are you?' asked the teenage attendant flatly, utterly oblivious to the terror this question can strike in the hearts of grown-ups.
'Um', this beautiful woman said.
I busied myself retying my shoelace at this point.
She leant forward and said in a faltering, shameful whisper, 'I'm a 14.' Her voice was laced with the kind of shame which would not have been out of place coming from Pol Pot.
I just wanted to cry a river, there and then. For her, for me, for every single woman who has ever felt they needed to apologise for not fitting some stupid photoshopped ideal about what we're supposed to look like.
I looked through the glass window at my little girls, so gleeful in their swimmers and without a body image thought in the world. And I wondered how I can spare them this.
Once upon a time I was a social worker. Social workers do lots of stuff, some of it life-affirming, most of it messy. I aways found it hard to describe exactly what I did without telling people the kind of stories that would make the blood drain from their face and make them want to suddenly pick invisible pieces of lint off the carpet mid conversation.
One definition of social work that I always liked was that it helps adjust the fit between the individual and society. I was reminded of it yesterday reading about Laura McKibbon's work in the States. Laura says she was 'fatigued by the relentless over emphasis on healthy eating for the purpose of weight loss' and so developed the 'Food for Thought' pyramid as a teaching tool.
I'm a bit old to have a poster on my bedroom wall, but I reckon I could almost make an exception for this one.
I'm working hard to learn (and really understand) that 'health' and 'weight' do not equal the same thing. Everywhere - media, social conditioning, bully-boy/girl personal trainers, the diet industry, all form a fairly united front that Thin Is Best. Thin equals health.
I have bought into this concept my whole life. I have relentlessly aspired to it, attained it briefly a few times, and made myself incredibly unhealthy in the process. At the age of 45 years and 2 days, I hearby officially declare it nonsense.
Health, I now realise, is made up of lots of different layers like stress, sleep, environment, financial resources, emotional supports and a bunch of other stuff that I take for granted in my comfy first world existence. Exercise and food are in there somewhere, but they are by far from the only things keeping this health boat afloat.
There is a movement called Health At Every Size. These guys say, and I must admit I had a slight hallelujah moment reading this, that the best way to improve your health is to honour your body. They encourage people to adopt healthy habits for the sake of well-being not weight loss.
It seems to me there is a gentle tide turning here, away from self-loathing and deprivation towards treating ourselves, and our bodies, with kindness, acceptance and self-compassion. And I, for one, am watching this slow tide come in, and I'm running joyfully up to the waters edge, ready to dive in.
Some days the cursor on this blank page blinks at me impatiently for a long time - waiting for me to write something.
Some days I start typing simply because I can't bear the blinking any longer.
Some days I just want to shut down the page and admit, 'You know what? I just don't have anything to say about health today.'
But to be honest I'm scared to do that, in case it means that I don't have anything to say about health tomorrow and the next day, and slowly the whole idea of health slides off my agenda like icing off a too warm cupcake and I'm headed back there.
So here I am again today, even though I have no burning topic to share. I'm horizontal on my mattress resting my cranky back, surrounded by homemade birthday cards. Even my boys, reluctant writers at best, have neatly and carefully scripted their heartfelt messages of love. They have made me a cake (which being made entirely of cream and sugar is not fitting any health plan that I know of) and my little girls have made me necklaces and bracelets and drawings with stickers.
It's fair to say I am full to bursting with love for my four little people and wanting, more than ever, to be my best self for them. And at the end of the day, my best self is my healthiest self. Hence the Year of Living Well. Hence the blog. See you tomorrow.
I'm taking things slowly here, with this funny little back episode. Funny being a euphemism for all kinds of things, none of them terribly funny in the haha sense.
I've been reading an interview with Carl Honore, who is the father of the slow movement. He wants us all to slow down. As he says, 'It's when things move very fast that you need to cultivate the art of slowness, so you can make sense of it all.'
Carl thinks we can slow down at everything from work to food to parenting. It's about being mindful, meditating, cultivating community, and prioritising quality over quantity. I'm all for it. I'm going to take it slow in 2015, in every arena (except maybe recovery from back pain, which I would like to expresso fast track). Carl says slowing down 'gives family life special meaning, texture and colour,' and I'm sure he's onto something.
Wishing you and your family an abundance of slowness.
We live several hundred kilometres inland, quite possibly due to my pathological aversion to being eaten by sharks. (Ankle deep is plenty deep enough for me if we ever find ourselves at a beach and even then I keep a very good eye on the water surrounding my ankles.) So it is quite strange that my little fellows are doing a sailing course this week. There is a stretch of water nearby big enough for sailing, but fresh watery enough to rule out sharks. Ideal.
The lads have taken to sailing like the proverbial duck to water. They return home each night with tousled hair and sun-kissed faces bursting with stories of capsizing and adventure. Dinner time conversation is peppered with talk of team mates and tacking and catching the wind. 'Mum, I love it so much, it's just so great!'
Is there anything as wonderful as enthusiasm? That magical connection between finding your spark and letting it propel you towards new possibilities. I'm loving that gleeful, unstoppable energy in my boys this week and grateful for those who are sharing their own passion for sailing with them.
Here's to our own individual spark - finding it, rekindling it and maybe even sharing it.
The gremlins in my back continue to highland dance in all the ouchy places. But that's enough of my complex medical talk. This too shall pass. Quickly please, if it's all the same to you.
I have read a lot about health in the last wee while, which is a big change for me being a fiction girl. I've read about the evils of sugar, the evils of gluten, the confusion around calories, the joys of paleo and the holy grail of wellness. But there has been one voice in the whole health round table discussion that I have found deeply comforting. Dr Rick Kausman sounds like somebody's Dad, a kind man who also happens to be a world expert on the non-dieting movement. I wish there was a cardboard cut out of him with a voice recording reading his book in every high school, every Mum's group, every gym, every newsagents (next to the women's magazines), every Doctor's waiting room and every street corner in the land. He is one of the good guys and if I ever met him I would probably cry like a baby and hug him like a bear by way of thanks.
I mention Dr Rick because as I am spending a lot of time horizontal at the moment with my friend the heat pack. I am reading various newspapers online to pass the time and have been inundated with the standard 'Kick Start The New Fabulous Thinner You in 2015' type stories that make me want to poke myself in the eyeball with a fork. And yesterday, amongst the madness, there was my friend Dr Rick quoted in this typically kind, smart, helpful article and I thought I'd share it here. In a crazy world plagued with unsustainable weight loss regimes and the subsequent raft of distorted body image issues, this man needs to be heard.
For all my healthy living I am now barely mobile, reduced to a shuffling wreck, watching the clock and wondering when I can have my next anti-inflammatory. My newfound walking habit has been shelved and I am officially miserable.
The good news is my favourite physio has returned from holidays and will see me today.
I am reminded, even in My Year of Living Well, how much I take my health for granted. I just expect my body to work well, day in, day out. And when a small part of it doesn't I am shocked, outraged even.
I realise I have a lot of work to do on cultivating an attitude of gratitude for my health. And I will try, just as soon as I can sit/stand/lie without grinding my teeth.
I read about a women who doesn't make New Year's resolutions, but instead sets goals. Makes sense really. Goals are more specific and she is still working towards them when the rest of the population has reached what my writer friend calls 'the broken-resoultion end of January'.
I must admit I felt a quiet sigh of relief when Jan 1 rolled around this week and I wasn't looking at that tired old wish list of 'lose weight, eat better, exercise more.' These are still my goals of course, it's just that this time around they are already built in to my Year of Living Well, which is now 65 days old. My limited maths would suggest that there are 300 days remaining. Enough time to get the hang of it all really.
So whether there are goals or resolutions (or revolutions as my little girl calls them) on your list, here's to seeing them all the way through.
Golly. What happened? It was Christmas Eve, I blinked, and now here we are in 2015. A happy, healthy New Year to you. Here's a summary of how it's been here.
1. Our peaches are currently ripening on our trees. If there is anything more satisfying than biting into a homegrown peach before a possum does, please let me know.
2. Our Christmas at home, just the 6 of us, was wonderfully relaxing. There was just the right balance of excited bouncing and mooching. My favourite moment was a prolonged joke reading session from the joke books in the stockings, everyone perfectly content and laughing their heads off, before a single present was opened.
3. There have been some quiet early morning walks with the dog. The air is cool and it feels like the whole world is calm and still. Wonderful for the body and spirit. And goal setting.
4. There was some homemade rocky road consumed. Holy Toledo, Batman - it was good. But, in the interests of public health, that recipe and its ingredients have been shelved again until next Christmas.
5. I finally over came my intimidation of cacao, enough to both actually pronounce it and open the box. I made some cacao bliss balls which were, well, positively blissful.
6. I shared time with some special friends who inspire me to live fully. Is there any greater gift?
7. I have swum and read in delicious quantities. I have watched my children play board games in their jarmies until lunch time. Just for the record, I have not missed making lunch boxes, ironing uniforms and doing the mad dash for the school bus one little bit.
8. My husband has been home on holidays. It is fabulous having two grown ups on duty. If it wasn't for the prospect of abject poverty I would recommend he stayed home all year.
9. I met a new little friend, baby Zoe, who is both so breathtakingly beautiful and so deeply loved that I tried not to cry when I kissed her soft head.
10. 2015 looks set to explode with creative and healthy possibilities. I'm delighted to be here at the start of it all, looking foreward.