Mindfulness teaches us how to respond in 1/2 second or less

How many times have you done a particular behavior even though you’ve told yourself just as many times that you aren’t going to do it ever again?  Be honest. You don’t have to tell anyone.  But, you do have to live with the consequences of your behavior.  This morning it was me getting mad and throwing up my hands at the lady in the big red SUV behind me at the stoplight.  The second the light turned green she was honking at me and it really caught me off guard.

imagesCATU9PPADid you know that you have one-half of a second between the time you see something, hear something, think something, or read something before you engage in a behavior.  For instance, you have one-half of a second after you see the chocolate cake with chocolate icing in the break room at work to decide “I’m not going to have any because I’m not hungry” or just mindlessly gobble down a piece (or two).  That’s why you might be on the “see food, eat food” diet.  You’re just not present for that one-half of a second when you could choose the behavior based on your real hunger.

This means that you have to be REALLY PRESENT to catch that one-half of a second.  Just think about how many minutes and hours go by that you aren’t really present and the enormity of this proposition becomes clear.  Cheri Huber wrote, “We don’t lack self-discipline, we lack presence.”   I tell this to people in my classes who are working on not eating when they’re stressed, bored, or distracted. It’s not about self-discipline; it’s about being aware of where you are and what you are doing. Continue reading

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Changing the Culture of Food at Work

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast week I wrote about three easy ways to de-stress at work which included taking time out to take a walk and breath.  Now I’ve read a study in Population Health Management published in the last year which shows that not exercising AND eating unhealthily are linked with large reductions in productivity at work (50 percent and 66 percent respectively).  If you’re one of those that isn’t walking (or otherwise exercising) and not eating healthy, you might have a lot of work piling up on you that isn’t getting done.  No wonder the average worker reports feels stressed out at work.   Being at work without feeling capable of working is called “presenteeism” and affects us all to one degree or another.

The reason eating healthier could help you be more productive is because you’re supplying the body and mind with important nutrients.  You feel more awake and alert when you eat healthy, leaving you feeling energized for all the work you need to accomplish.

So, how can you eat healthier at work?  First of all, think about the culture of food at your workplace.  People bring in all kinds of unhealthy food to share with one another (think cookies, cakes, candy, etc.).  I know that this has turned into “thing we do” at work and I talk to people who look to cookies, cakes, and candy to provide comfort and pleasure.  While that may work temporarily, this kind of eating  then leads to feeling bad about yourself and a lack of energy for the work you have to do.  This behavior ultimately culminates in difficulties meeting the demands of your job and that’s when your stress level increases.  As the stress level increases, you produce cortisol in the body which is associated with the storage of fat around your middle.  Look down at your waistline and see if that’s true for you.

Isn’t it time we started thinking about how we can change our mind-set about what to eat at work?  Here are some suggestions for eating healthier at work.

  1. Start a fruit bowl in your office (to replace the old candy bowl)
  2. Bring in healthy snacks so you won’t be tempted by the cookies, cakes, and candy.
  3. Healthy snacks to bring to work include whole grain crackers, peanut or almond butter, dried fruit, nuts, trail mix, fresh vegetables, hummus, and yogurt cups.
  4. Suggest healthier food at meetings (forget the donuts and bring on the fresh fruit)
  5. Have healthy potlucks with your co-workers to get people thinking about how to cook healthy.
  6. Don’t bring in the food you want to get rid of at home (so you don’t eat it).  Throw it away!
  7. Post this blog in an area where everyone can read it.

Tell me some things that you do at work to make the food culture healthier and if you are a University of Missouri employee you’ll be entered into a drawing for a Healthy for Life lunch bag!!  Last week’s winner was Nancy Johnson, who won a new yoga mat.

If you’d like to know more about how to eat healthier all the time, think about enrolling in my next Eat for Life class starting at the end of May.  Contact me at RossyL@umsystem.edu for more information.

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Three easy ways to de-stress at work

4240000_thumbnailI recently gave a presentation about taking care of your body when you’re under stress.  For most of us, that would be every day.  Wanting to give something to people that they could remember when they’re caught in the middle of stress, I came up with three easy steps to de-stress.  For the biggest effect, do these steps throughout the day and you’ll probably notice stress doesn’t get out of control nearly as often.  Comment on your favorite de-stress technique and be entered for a prize.

1. Take 5 deep, long breaths and feel the sensations of your body from head to toe (Remember to breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in because that way you will have room for a big inhale—very important!)

2. Take a short walk (down the hall, around the building, up and down the stairs)

3. Put a smile on your face and visualize something that makes you feel good.

I do these three steps a lot and find in a very short time I feel much better.  You can even do all three steps at once.   Breathe deep, smile, and think about something you feel good about while taking a walk and in a minute or two you can’t help but feel better.

Bringing yourself back into the present moment by focusing on the breath and body has been shown to help you engage your mind in a way that promotes problem solving and creativity (just what you need when you’re stressed).

Add the pleasant memory of something you feel good about and you’ll be even more ready to go back to whatever you were doing with greater calm and ease. The brain needs to be trained to be aware of the pleasant and wonderful things in our lives.  Otherwise, it tends to be focused on the negative.

What are you doing today to de-stress at work?  Share your comments about your favorite de-stressing technique and, if you’re a University of Missouri employee, you’ll be entered into drawing for a new yoga mat!

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Eat for Life! Enroll NOW in summer program.

Do you eat when you’re stressed, bored, or sad?

stresseating

Do you snack without noticing that you’re eating?

Do you have trouble not eating certain foods if they’re around the house?

Do you have a hard time not overeating? (e.g. eating until you’re too full)

Are you easily enticed to eat, even when you’re not hungry?

Are you tired of the endless diets that don’t work?

Well, of course, you answered “yes” to some of these questions.  And, if you’d like to be more mindful about how, what, and why you eat, consider taking the Eat for Life program.  This program is non-diet approach to rediscovering a healthy and joyful relationship with food and your body.  This summer it’s available on-line so you can take it from the comfort of your own home (or by your pool lying in your hammock!).  Class starts May 31.

Some of the things you will learn include:

  • BASICS  of mindful eating (simple mindful guidelines for eating)
  • The  Three Food Wisdoms – no forbidden food, eating the “right” amount and knowing and respecting your patterns and triggers with food
  • How  to stop using food as the way to handle your emotions
  • How to savor your food and respect your body at the same time

Research on this program has demonstrated that after 10 weeks participants become more intuitive eaters, they have more appreciation for their bodies, they decrease problematic eating, and they increase in their ability to be mindful.  To register or to get more information, contact Craig Deken csdk89@mail.missouri.edu.  Click here to hear some testimonials about the program.

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How do you make sense of “nutrition” information?

iStock_000007141038XSmallI am amazed by all of the conflicting “nutrition” information and recommendations I read and hear about from others.  The reasons for this are varied.

First, research is conflicting.  Depending on which expert you believe, you will hear widely diverse recommendations on how to eat.  Should you eat a Mediterranean diet or the low-fat (or no fat) diet?  This question will probably be debated for as long as I’m alive.

Second, the food corporations capitalize on what they think you believe.  For instance, the preponderance of products labeled “low fat” started because there was research indicating some benefits from having a low fat diet.  Continue reading

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Cook Outside the Box

Cook outside the box.Last week I received a Change.org petition to ask Kraft to stop using dangerous food dyes in our mac & cheese.  Apparently Kraft does not use Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 in the mac & cheese they sell in other countries, including the UK, because of consumer outcry.  I signed the petition and you can too at http://www.change.org/petitions/kraft-stop-using-dangerous-food-dyes-in-our-mac-cheese.  There is also an interesting video you can watch by the organizers of the petition.  According to their test, the UK version and US version look and taste the same, so why do we need dyes?   You might also want to educate yourself about the reasons food dyes aren’t good for you.  Reasons like “hyperactivity in children.”  You definitely don’t need that.  And, they may be contaminated with known carcinogens (a.k.a. an agent directly involved in causing cancer).

Instead of waiting on Kraft to change their product, you can make your own mac & cheese at home.  Yes, you can cook outside the box!  I did on Sunday and thought I’d blog you my results.  As you can see from the picture, it looks great!  I served it up with a spinach salad and a grilled organic chicken sausage.

Here’s the recipe, slightly changed from the one I found on Pioneer Woman’s website called Spicy Macaroni and Cheese.  The whole meal took me 45 minutes to prepare—a little longer than my desired 30 minute meals, but worth the effort.  You can even leave out all of the extras like red onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, garlic, and chilies for the kiddos if you want and it would take less time to make. Continue reading

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Mind the Body at Work

There are so many ways you can bring mindfulness into your workday.  One of Computer Manthem is to be mindful about your body and feed it, move it, stretch it, and breathe in ways that support your energy, your productivity, and your emotional, mental, and physical well-being. 

At a recent two day workshop the facilitators made sure our energy was high so we could stay focused and attentive to the information being shared.  Besides the interactive techniques the facilitators used, they set guidelines at the very beginning that gave us permission to stand or pace instead of sit.  We have been so conditioned to sit that we often feel like we need permission to stand.   

You can stand instead of sit at meetings, while you’re talking on the phone, while you’re talking to your office mate, and even when you’re typing.  You can get a standing work station or be creative and stack a bunch of books on a table and put your laptop on it.  Of course, if you want to get really fancy you can buy a walking workstation.  Granted, this option is a little more pricey, but well worth the money in terms of your health and well-being. 

Research is demonstrating that “sitting is the new smoking” and that sitting 6 hours or more a day has serious health consequences.  So stand instead of sit whenever you get the chance and take breaks throughout the day to walk for 5- 10 minutes or stretch and breathe.  These small changes can bring new energy to your work and lift your mood.

What you feed your body also makes a tremendous difference in your energy level throughout the day.  In my Eat for Life class this week we talked about the difference between “power” foods and “junk” foods.  Power foods are foods that help you feel energized and keep your blood sugar leveled out.  Junk foods are what the name implies.  (It just occurred to me… why would anyone want to eat something called “junk?”).  Anyway, junk foods drain your energy because you have a quick burst and then you’re down for the count.  At the same workshop I talked about earlier, people commented how everyone became brain dead after eating the large cookies set out mid-afternoon.  A snack like nuts, veggies and hummus, cheese with wholegrain crackers or an apple would be a better idea.  Or you could choose to take a quick walk around the block and you might find that urge you had for a cookie disappears.   Since this type of food is not always readily available at the workplace, bring in your own.  Start a “food bowl” instead of a candy bowl.

For more tips for being mindful about your body at work, read the 22 ideas to lift your post-lunch spirits and energy in the workplace!  It only takes a moment to incorporate some of these interesting ideas and change the way you feel. 

 

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Use Mindfulness To Counter Cravings

If you don’t know what “bliss point,” “sensory-specific satiety,” “mouth feel,” “perfect break point,” and “vanishing caloric density”  are then you should probably read the new book entitled “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” or at least read an excerpt in the intriguing article by the author, Michael Moss, in this week’s New York Times.


These are all terms widely used in the food industry to describe how food is scientifically constructed  to bring the “greatest eating pleasure” (in other words, the strongest craving).   Mr. Moss’s interviews with food industry insiders tell a story that appalls as much as the food addicts.  Yes, the food industry spends billions of dollars developing food that addicts you, designing psychologically-appealing products, and creating advertising that catches your attention—all in the ongoing campaign to keep you coming back for more.  That “coming back for more” has resulted in the alarming rates of obesity and the associated health problems such as diabetes and hypertension.  Basically, if you are eating processed food you should take note and beware.  This is not “real food” but a “food like substance” (as Michael Pollan would say,) and it is designed to set up cravings in your body. The limbic brain loves sugar, fat, and salt and the food industry knows it.  It isn’t your fault you crave their carefully constructed food.  It’s just the way we are designed. 

In my estimation there are two solutions to this problem.  Continue reading

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“What did you say?” — The Practice of Mindful Listening

iStock_000006304060XSmallHow often have you found yourself in a conversation at lunch or dinner; sitting in a meeting at work; or talking to a friend or partner and realize you have no idea what was just said?  If you are anything like the average person, it happens every day (probably more times than you are willing to admit).  You might even be interested in what’s being said but your mind has carried you off on one of its wanderings–into the past or future, to something that’s bothering you, or to your to-do list.

Our minds are often scattered and unruly, which is why the practice of mindfulness can be so important in meaningful, attentive conversation.  You have to be present in order to listen and take in what is being said.  You also have to be listening without your own agenda and without being busy formulating what you will say next. 

Try this simple Mindful Listening Practice:  Mindfulness—the act of being fully present in each moment with kindness and without judgment—is a wonderful skill to practice when you are in any situation that requires listening.  In any conversation, you can use the person that’s speaking as your “object of mindfulness.”  Pay full attention to what he or she is saying.  When your mind wanders away from what is being said, immediately and without judgment bring yourself back to the words of the person speaking.  Repeat those instructions as many times as necessary.  You will eventually strengthen your mental musculature to stay more focused and aware.  

There are valuable personal rewards for practicing mindful listening.  Being listened to is so much like being loved that most people don’t know the difference.  (For the life of me I can’t find the person’s name that said this. My apologies).  I had a wife of someone whom I had taught mindful listening to years ago come up to me at a local restaurant.  She introduced herself and told me that the mindful listening exercise her husband had learned in my class had saved their marriage.  Try it for yourself and see what happens.  I have a potentially difficult conversation coming up tonight and I have determined to listen to everything the other person wants to say before I say anything.  When you give someone the opportunity to get everything out of their system, they are much more willing to listen to what you have to say.

There are valuable business rewards for practicing mindful listening.  Your colleagues will be more collaborative because everybody’s opinions get heard.  It will take less time to complete your work because you have listened to what needs to be done.  If you are anyone’s boss, listening to your employees will make them feel  appreciated.  When employees feel appreciated, research indicates they are happier and more productive at work.  When I saw clients in individual therapy, I was constantly practicing mindful listening.  I mean, really, there is nothing worse than having your therapist ask you, “what did you say?” 

Try the mindful listening practice for one day and come back and comment about what you discovered.   I would love to hear what you learned. 

The promise of listening:

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that something deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch.  Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.               ~e.e. cummings       

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Search Inside Yourself – A Great Idea and a Great New Book

Wouldn’t you know a Google engineer would write one of the clearest, most straightforward, easy-to-compute books on mindfulness that I’ve read in a long time.  Actually it’s a book on mindfulness and emotional intelligence based on the seven week course being taught at Google called “Search Inside Yourself.”  Mindfulness is like having a search engine for your body, feelings, and thoughts, as well as for the ability to understand and relate to other people.   

Mindfulness, once again, is proposed as the key for harnessing your ability to respond to your life instead of react to it.  In this book , the response you make to your life is one predicated on an increase of your emotional intelligence.  Daniel Goleman, who pioneered work on emotional intelligence, broke it down into five domains:  self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.   Not hard to see how competencies in these areas would be useful.

Chade-Meng Tan (more informally known as Meng) who wrote Search Inside Yourself and developed the course by the same name had the good fortune of working with and learning from Daniel Goleman (who wrote the book on Emotional Intelligence),  Philippe Goldin (a Stanford University scientist), Norman Fischer (Zen Buddhist priest and poet ), Mirabai Bush (co-founder of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society), Marc Lesser (CEO and Zen Teacher), and Yvonne Ginsberg (meditation teacher and professional coach ).  That’s a pretty impressive line-up.  And, I have to say, the results are FANTASTIC.


Buy the book and go to the Search Inside Yourself website and listen to Meng and his colleagues as they introduce the seven weeks on video. 

I’d give you a money back guarantee (but I didn’t write the book).  Darn!

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