2023: What is Your Self-Care Score? | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E19

My 50th high school reunion is next year. 

It’s another reminder that I wasted most of my high school experience, at least the first two years. I would either sit in the back of the classroom and secretly read books that had nothing to do with school, or sit in the back row of Spanish class, flipping nickels (you flip a nickel and call heads or tails and keep it if you win) with Don Andrews. I’ll shared Don’s life with you in a couple weeks. 

I rarely studied, almost never took work home (you know, homework), and consequently, my grade point average at the end of four years was 2.1. 

Things changed in my junior year. I’m not sure what it was. I just remember sitting in geometry class with Mr. Ewing, and in psychology class with Mr. Chambers, and in English class with Mrs. Miller, and in physics class with Mr. Augsburger, and then in literature class with Mr. Stillwell, and well, I remember saying to myself, “Geez, I think I like learning these things. I think I could make better grades if I just studied a little bit. And who knows, maybe I could go to college.” 

Maybe I just grew up. My relationship with my best friend in high school Jeff Wilson, helped. He was probably the smartest person I’ve known. We were best friends and maybe some of his smartness rubbed off on me. 

I went on to college and graduate school and then to seminary, and then followed up with a post graduate program at Florida Institute of Technology in behavior analysis. It all totaled about nine years of higher education. Mind you it was a lot of hard work, and I was always working at least one job, but in all those years that followed high school, I never made less than a B, and mostly A’s. 

Grades mattered to me.

So, as 2023 comes to close, I’ll give myself a grade on my effort and my growth, and the positive changes I was able to make. Put in another way, how well did I take care of myself in 2023? As much as I hate getting messages from my bank about my credit score changing when I bought my new Jeep, maybe that’s another way of looking at 2023. What was your self-care score for 2023? Not my credit score, but my self-care Score.

Maybe this is something you should consider.

Remember, this is you giving yourself a score. Be easy on yourself. Be gracious with yourself. Grade yourself on the curve if you want, nobody’s looking. Maybe bump your score up a level just for shits and giggles. Maybe an 800+.

But take some time one morning this week, sit by a window, looking out on the world with a hot drink, and reflect on 2023. Forget about all the bullshit you’ve heard about happiness and being the best version of yourself. Ignore all the images of men and women that have been airbrushed and altered. They make you feel like a complete fitness failure. Tell all the people in those commercials about joining a gym, and losing weight, and being richer, and a perfect time manager, to go to Hell. Forget about those little extra sweets you indulged in, and the one extra fancy martini you had, and those late-night snacks. Take a deep, deep breath, and wrap your arms around yourself. Go on, do it right now. Squeeze the person who tried and struggled and fought the good fight every day this past year. 

And then, look at all the wonderful things you did. Maybe you cut back on something. Maybe you walked away from a toxic relationship. Maybe you read more. Maybe you watched less TV. Maybe you stopped buying snack food or maybe even quit eating snack food. Maybe you drank less or worked out more or simply walked more.  I can hear you saying, “Yes,” with that small voice from within. “Yes, I did that. I know I walked more. I lost a little weight. I can see it in the way my clothes fit. I feel stronger.”

My Self-Care Score for 2023

If you read this blog, it wouldn’t surprise you that I spent lots of time in the woods, in canyons, in the desert, on mountains, hiking and backpacking. I read a lot of books this year, probably 100. Maybe more. I’m just guessing. Mostly about aging. Mostly for my blog. I read several memoirs about obesity and about dementia and stroke. Those were life changing. 

I’m thinking I’m at least as strong as I was at the beginning of 2023. No wait, I’m stronger, I’m bumping that score up a little bit.

I renewed a long-time friendship. I spent time with my brothers, backpacking, and with my sons, hiking.

I learned a little bit about being a better business owner <fingers crossed>.

I spent time with good friends and family. Walking. Dinners. Get togethers. Happy hours. Holidays.

I spent the year working at being a better husband. You know, the important stuff.

So what kind of score am I going to give myself? You guessed it. It’s private.

What’s Your Self-Care Score?

How about you? Wait, wait, don’t tell me. But somewhere in the quiet-inner part of you, think about it.
Forget all the background noise from people trying to sell you something, and graciously, kindly, tell yourself you did a pretty damn good job taking care of yourself this past year.

Next week, I’m going to pivot to 2024 and share how to get stronger. I’m going to avoid talking about resolutions and look at it more like a trail map. Like a topographical map. Don’t worry, I’ll teach you to how to be a Cartographer. 

This week is about looking at your assets and your strengths and focusing on what you did well.
Next week will focus on your deficits, and what needs to be improved and what needs to get stronger.

My wife Rommie and I sat down with our Clinical Director this past week and looked over our company and reflected on how well we’ve provided leadership for our staff, our employees, and our clients in 2023.

Maybe it would be good for you and your partner to sit down and reflect on 2023. Nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes.

Reflecting is all about reliving the past and focusing on what you learned.

Take a deep breath and give yourself a hug.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

The Four-Letter Word That Will Help You Stay Broke Up with Food | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E18

Alcoholics Anonymous Step Two: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.“

I sat in the non-smokers section of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting and listened to men and women tell their stories. Despite the loud ventilation system, I heard pain, joy, and most important hope. As they spoke about hitting bottom, what their lives were like before, and how they escaped addiction, and now what their lives are like, you hear the word, miracle or miraculous throughout. Many people’s lives have changed through AA. Not all, but many.


That’s alcohol and that’s addiction. Most agree. But what about food? And can you be addicted to food? I believe the answer is yes. I’ll be sharing from the book, “Dopamine Nation: Finding balance in an Age of Indulgence,” by Anna Lemke, MD, and her thoughts about breaking up with food. Her book has changed what I think about addiction.

Old Beliefs about Addiction:

You can only become addicted to drugs and alcohol. Addiction is the process of increasing your tolerance of a substance, needing more and more of the substance to get the same effect. You drink or use more to overcome that tolerance.

New Beliefs about Addiction:

Anytime you activate the pleasure pathway, you activate a dopamine response. The regular use of pleasurable substances or engaging in a pleasurable activity, stimulates a dopamine response. Regular releases of dopamine can increase the risk of developing your increased tolerance to dopamine. In other words, because of your increased tolerance to dopamine, you need more and more dopamine to get the same pleasurable response. We become dependent on this activity or substance to sustain your increasing tolerance to dopamine.

You become addicted to dopamine and the activity or substance that activates the release of dopamine.

The food-pleasure pathway. You eat food, sugar, fat, salt and feel good. Do you love that feeling?

My grandmother Louise would make me a birthday cake each year, and I would always request a banana cake with peanut butter icing, and MF, it was good. My wife made one for my 67th birthday. MF it was good! All the memories, all the sugar, all the love I felt in one piece of cake. It was a dopamine high. I ate a piece and froze the rest. It’s in my freezer, and I’m tempted to take out a piece and eat it right now. But I realize the danger of activating my pleasure pathway. I didn’t have any added sugar yesterday. Hopefully, not today. It’s dangerous! Sugar is addictive, don’t doubt it for a second.

Food addiction is no different from any other form of addiction. If you are going to overcome food addiction, you will need to come to believe that there is a power that can restore you to sanity. It’s the power that you have within you. It is greater than you and it is you. It is the magic that you have within.

The Magic Within

It’s the combination of all the positive voices within you. It’s your fifth-grade teacher who told you that you can accomplish anything if you just try and study. It’s the high school English teacher who told you that you were smarter than what you think. It’s the father or mother or grandparent who held your hand and hugged you and told you that you were special, in a good way.

Your power is all those voices within you.

Your power is the dreams that were planted in your soul by many, many, many people who love you and have sewn within you the seeds of growth and possibility. There’s hope within you because there is power within you. As you set out to change your life, know that there is a power greater than yourself. It can be God. It can be the inner power that comes from those “voices” that hoped for your best.

My hope comes from my mother who told me that I could be anything I wanted to be.

My hope comes from all the successes that I’ve had these 60+ years.

My hope comes from seeing others change, and grow, and overcome addiction, and become better.

As you set out to change your life, know that there is a power greater than yourself.

People change because they have hope.

They believe in the power of change. You can and will change if you believe in the power that is greater than yourself, if you believe in that power within you.

If you believe you can change, you can overcome your addiction to food. Hope is not enough, but hope is the miracle part. You will need many tools for change, but hope is the one indispensable tool.

I have given you several tools that you will need to begin that changed, but we will also need hope.

You may not believe in magic, but if you believe in yourself, you will see magic. You will see the power change you from within.

You will finally break up and stay broke up with food!

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

Healthy Aging Series by Mark Neese of True North Counseling

Want to Break Up with Food? Climb Every Mountain! | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E17

This blog is a second reflection on “It was Me all Along: A Memoir,” by Andie Mitchell.

Colorado has 58 Fourteener’s. For those of you not from Colorado, a Fourteener is a mountain with the elevation of over 14,000 feet. I’ve done 11.Grays Peak. Pikes Peak. Quandary peak. Mount Sherman. Mount Ross. Mount Cameron. Mount Lincoln. Mount Bierstadt. Mount Democrat. Torreys Peak. Mount Massive.

I’ve done Democrat twice and Sherman twice. Each has its own memory. So, I guess that makes 13.

I left a $400 camera on the top of Mount Sherman, the first time. I did Bierstadt on my 60th birthday. Mount Massive was on my 55th birthday.

Mount Quandary was the one I almost quit. The last half mile of every Fourteener sucks. As I approached the summit, I could see people congregating on the top. I was spent and oxygen deprived. I thought about turning around. No one would know but me. Even the people I passed on my descent would think I submitted. What’s a quarter mile. I sat down on the small boulder and pondered my decision. I’m not sure what got me off my ass to summit Quandary. Maybe it was inner shame. Maybe it was inner pride. Did I play a mind game on myself, asking myself why waste all the effort that it took to get here? Regardless of that moment, it was mind over body. Sometimes the spirit is willing, and the flesh is weak. Sometimes the spirit is more than willing, it’s strong. That day, it overcame the weakness of my flesh.

Maintaining your breakup with food is no different. In the midst of our Mount Quandary moments, we want to go back to our old relationship habits and seek the comfort that we got from food.

Earlier in the season, episode two, I shared a little about childhood obesity, the new scourge of our country. Andie Mitchell’s book, “It was Me all Along: A Memoir” was the source that I used to share the trauma and shame that many children experience  growing up with obesity in America.

What helped her climb her Mount Quandry? What helped her break up with food and maintain that breakup for nearly a decade?

I’m going to share Andie’s breakup with food and want to do that through the lens of the Transtheoretical Model of Change.

In a nutshell, the Transtheoretical Model has five stages. 

“The transtheoretical method (TTM) of behavior change is a theoretical model that is based on an integrative theory that is used to assess a person’s readiness to change and adopt new and healthier behavior patterns. Sometimes known as the “stages of change”, it addresses the stages of precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination. Used for many types of personal change, this approach is arguably the most dominant model of behavior change in use. Each of these steps is important to the change process”(alleydog.com).

The precontemplation stage really is the stage where you’re not even thinking about your problem. The contemplation stage is “Yeah, it’s a problem, and I think about it a lot.”

These are the thinking stages. In the first two stages, there is little action. No breakup. Maybe you’re thinking “Yeppers, there needs to be break up. I need to break up with food.”

That’s the pre-contemplation and contemplation stage. 

Maybe like Andie Mitchell, the contemplation stage started in your life with an annual physical in the eighth grade

Andie Mitchell writes that she began to think differently about her weight when her doctor said, “Andie, my girl, you’ve got to lose weight, or at this rate, you’ll weigh 300 pounds by the time you’re 25.” 

She was overwhelmed by that thought. Information. People. Experiences. That’s what moves us through the stages; from thinking stages to doing stages.

The Preparation Stage could easily be called the Learning Stage. She learned the healthy eating and exercise guidelines. Do you know them? 

  1. Eight, 8-ounce glasses of water, 
  2. Lots of fruits and vegetables, 
  3. Limited processed food, 
  4. No sugar, 
  5. 30+ minutes of moving a day. 

She later learned about calories. “I learned that most things in life, like cereal and orange juice shouldn’t be limitless.“ Andy moved through the Planning Stage, which is the bridge to the doing stages. 

Maybe this is the breakup stage. I’ll repeat: Information. People. Experiences. These are the things that moved Andie through the stages. I believe the two most important skills for breaking up with food are listening and reading. I do not think you can grow, or change, or overcome addiction to something like food, if you do not listen and read. Maybe reading is not exactly what I mean, but you have to be a learner. 

Andie moves into the doing stage and then back into the planning stage, and then back to the doing stage again; learning and trying out new skills, learning from her mistakes. She got closer and closer to the summit. She could see the crowd congregating at the top. She wanted to quit, but all that she had done, all that she had seen and heard, made her stronger inside. She had broken up with food and stayed broke up.  

She joined Weight Watchers.

“This time around,” she writes,  “I took instantly to the Weight Watchers plan. After the first meeting, my motivation and commitment had been restored. Meticulous by nature, I loved the structure, the planning, the goals. It felt comfortable. Counting points taught me the fundamentals of nutrition and portion size, essentials I’d never known that I should inspect ingredient lists for calories, fat, proteins, and fiber, that quantity matters, and quality, too. I liked being given a framework, a quota of points for the day based upon my weight and height in goals, it was up to me to spend them however I wanted. Because though whole foods are wonderful, and lovable and all manner of virtuous, sometimes I wanted to use my points on a brownie, rather than anything more nutritiously sound.”

She had learned a lot about food, about her environment and the people in her environment. She learned how to distract yourself from food and people. She learned and utilized some self-binding concepts. I’ve written about self-binding or setting up barriers between you and what you are addicted to. As a reminder, the Self-Binding methods are spatial self-binding, temporal self-binding,  categorical self-binding, and social self-binding. Andie would call Kate or Sabrina to talk about anything as a distraction. She spent time outside in nature. She spent time away in Italy, learning and growing.

And yes, she relapsed, but learned from her mistakes, forgave herself, loved herself, and started running.

Running isn’t the secret “pill“ to stay broke up, but it worked for her. It could’ve been walking, hiking, or cycling, or Jazzercise. She filled up her life with exercise, journaling, professional development, and with living. And she stayed broke up with food. Now she writes a blog. She helps others. That’s what helps her stay broke up.

She saw the summit and got off the boulder and finished.

These obesity memoirs have been absolutely inspiring for me. These are people who have set out on a journey to grow and  become the best people they can be, and the healthiest people they can be.

Andie Mitchell broke up with food and stayed broke up. She climbed the mountain.

Postscript: I wrote this blog two days ago. The next day I left my room at the Eagle Fire Lodge, in Woodland Park Colorado, and drove over to Mount Sherman and summited it. It was grueling, 37 degrees, 2027 feet elevation for 2 1/2 miles. And ends at 14,043 feet. There were 50 mile an hour winds at the summit.  Quitting did not cross my mind. It was a little scary. The wind and the narrow trail leading up to the summit, and then the thought of slipping on the scree going down. I did a little self-talk and joined the congregating crowd at the top.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

Image of stairs at Red River Gorge

Moderation Management for Eating | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E16

It’s the Halloween season as I write this episode, which means Scary Movie Sunday at our house. The movie “The Nun” caught our eyes so we watched it. Yeah, I know, it’s not High Art, not like the Exorcist.

There is a scene near the end, that somewhat illustrates what kind of person you are when it comes to picking the program that helps you break up with food. The priest and the nun are rushing off to battle Valak, the evil nun. The secular helper, Frenchie, who is feeling a little powerless asked, “Don’t you think we should pray?” And the priest answers, “There’s a time to pray, and a time to act. Now is the time to act!”
Frenchie reluctantly joins them, and they defeat the evil presence.

I don’t think everything can be separated into either pray or act, but there are people, and you know who you are, who have a more “God helps those who help themselves,” attitude about personal change.

There are people who see themselves as having the power within themselves to change. They don’t need a higher power. They see their problem with eating as a problem with eating. Not a disease.

And some of those people see moderation, not absence as an option. If you’re that kind of person, there is a program out there that can help you break up with food the way you want to break up. Maybe you want a total break up with food, never another gram of sugar, never another slice of bread, never another bottle of Pepsi, or Coke, for the rest of your life, or maybe you can partake in these things within reason, once or twice a week, or special occasions, or in small doses.

Then you’re the kind of person that will be interested in Moderation Management for Eating (MMFE).

How does MMFE work?

The starting point.

Although you feel powerless over food, the truth is that you have enough power to start. That will grow into power to sustain your control over food. “As you take each step forward, your belief and confidence in your ability to succeed will grow.“ (Writers of Responsible Drinking.) “Some of us will never obtain a “take it or leave it“ attitude toward our drinking or eating, but we will obtain the power to make the decision to “take or leave the next drink, or next bite of food.” (From the book Moderate Drinkers).

Power begets power. What we practice grows stronger, as Mindfulness Gurus proclaim.

MMFE starts with faith in yourself.  MMFE focuses on all the things you’ve accomplished and change in your life. To see yourself as powerless is to ignore everything that you have battled and overcome. You have solved your problems. You have found your job. You have finished your education. Growth and change are slow, but as you equip yourself with the right tools, you will change and overcome your problem with food.

Next, 30 days and nights of displaying your superpower abstaining from Trigger Foods.

MMFE members make a list of foods that trigger problem eating. The list most likely includes sugar, processed food, and whatever causes you to lose control. The 30-day period is a time to display your superpowers. You show food who’s boss. You make the decision and stick with it.
You tell yourself that it’s only for 30 days. You’ll be able to eat that food again. Maybe you want to eat them again. But it’s your choice. Moderation or abstinence.

You sprinkle 30-day sessions throughout the year. January. The 30 days leading up to your birthday. Mine is in July so that works well. Some of you might want to do it between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ve done that.

And then, make a support system. Currently, there is a website called Abstar for drinkers who want to moderate their drinking.

You can set days during the month to eat Trigger Foods, and then set goals for the amount of Trigger Foods. You eat on each of your goal days. You record each week the days you succeed. No one is checking to see if you are recording drinks or donuts. You are moderating a substance that has a grip on you. Food? Alcohol? If you’re struggling with obesity. It’s just as serious as problem drinking. 

Or you can make or create a community of MMFE’s. You can find people on social media platforms that would be willing to do web-based support, like zoom meetings.

So far here’s what we’ve covered.
1. MMFE starts with power from within.
2. There’s a 30-day power session
3. Find or make a community for encouragement and emotional support.

Finally, put in place a Skills Plan that will help you succeed in breaking up with food.

“Responsible Drinking: Motivation Management Approach for Problem Drinkers,” written by Rotgers, Kern, and Hoeltzer.

There are books out there that will walk you through all the details about moderation management. Of course, these books have to do with managing or moderating your drinking, but simply replace the drinking with food.

I encourage you to read this book. It’s a gold mine of skills for controlling your eating. Just remember to replace drink with eat.

Chapter 6: General, Drinking, Eating, Control skills.

I’m going to list them and do the “find and replace” function for you.

1. Understand what is “enough.”
For me, sugar and no-bake cookies are my problem food. I have learned that one bite can often satiate me with my sugar fix. I buy a cookie. I take a bite. I put it back in the bakery bag and smash it up. Enough.

2. Think ahead. Put sugar into your schedule, when you will plan on eating it in the week to come.

3. Measure and count. I’m not a big fan of counting calories, but it works for many people. Just remember the Obesity Memoirs that I wrote about. Most of writers used the  “move more/eat less” approach. It helps to count calories.

4. Self-talk. Have a script. Have slogans. Love yourself.

5. Focus on fun. Stay active doing the things you enjoy. Learn to enjoy moderating your food. Make it a game.

6. Think about tomorrow. Someone one said that nothing tastes as good as healthy (she said skinny) feels. Think about how you would feel when you stick with your plan.

Chapter 7: Pinpointing your drinking or eating triggers

This chapter looks at the antecedent strategies for overcoming Trigger foods. The people, places, times, activities, work-related and money-related circumstances, as well as feelings, and major life events that trigger eating Trigger Foods.

And finally, Chapter 8. How to manage your triggers for overcoming problem foods.

I offer an example of urge surfing in a later episode. It helps you know how to manage anxiety, which is often the trigger for consuming Trigger Foods.

I’m Just scratching the surface of MMFE.

If you want to learn more about MMFE you’ll need to Google moderate drinking on Amazon, and it will provide several books on this topic.

MMFE is an approach that has many similarities with Overeaters Anonymous but there are two differences that set them apart: powerlessness and abstinence only.

What kind of person are you?

Do you see miracles or coincidences? Are you a prayer or a doer? I know I’m oversimplifying this, but I think you get what I’m saying. Overeaters Anonymous and MMFE are two choices with lots of overlapping principles. Both can help you break up with food.

Regardless of whether you find the power within, or you find the power outside yourself, you have the power to break up and stay broke up with food for the rest of your life.

It’s time to choose.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.