Tag Archive for: healthy aging

It is Hard to Be Soft by Rommie Oshrieh Neese, Guest Blog in the Healthy Aging Series by Mark Neese for True North Counseling

It is Hard to Be Soft | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E25

This is a guest blog written by Rommie Oshrieh Neese. Consider it to be an extension to Season 9 of the Healthy Aging Series.

This is a reflection onThe Happiest Man on Earth: The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor’ by Eddie Jaku

Are you happy? How many times have you been asked that question? How many times have you asked yourself? How many times have you said, “Yes, I am happy?”

I am happy.

Real Happiness

Eddie Jaku’s memoir “The Happiest Man on Earth, The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor” is what I have been searching for. It is a book about a young man’s experience in the worst concentration camp, if it is even possible to discern one from the other. It is a book about the impact it had on Eddie’s life, before, during, and after the nightmare.

In the face of starvation, immense and unimaginable pain, anger, grief, defeat, degradation, Eddie found happiness. It is possible. No matter a person’s circumstances, it is possible. Eddie shares his miracle with the world that happiness is within us. Eddie’s memoir captures how human beings can find happiness in the dark, and I mean the dark.

I remember the lights going out in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave. You can see nothing. Your eyes do not adjust. Imagine dying that way. Imagine the fear and despondence of knowing that is your fate, as it has been for your parents, your children. Even your beloved pets were accused of being “Jewish” then stabbed to death. Yet, Eddie found happiness? How? Written on his first page, he endeavors to show us how. There are many things Eddie’s readers can take away from his story. I am not here to retell the Holocaust. That has been successfully done by those who survived it.

My take away is quietly knowing that softness can lead to survival. That softness leads to happiness. It does for me. Eddie found happiness in the dark, through the softness of his being. That is strong. That is survival. It is proof enough for me that I can live my life happily through my own nature. My softness. 

Real Softness

I want to believe that softness solves problems. I want to believe that softness prevents problems to begin with. That softness does not mean weakness. Softness can be achieved through practice. This in and of itself signifies that it is hard to be soft. It can be done though, with practice. As much as we do that requires practice, imagine what practicing softness could do. Imagine a problem you have being approached through softness. How might it change the outcome? I am by no means suggesting that softness means to resolve one’s self of assertion or to suppress feeling. I am suggesting that softness is an option. An alternative to violence, physical or emotional. Softness is an underutilized tool that we do not value enough to try. Try. Give it a chance.

Faux Strength

Violence is an act of weakness, out of a stumbling and shameful fear. There is nothing mysterious about that. Eddie is my teacher and advocate…for softness. I am not placing him on a pedestal. I imagine he would object to it. And I will not, by any means, attempt to recapture his life…but I will pass it onward in a mutual effort to change the world, softly. He knows how. I believe him. Day after day, night after night, years immersed in violence, Eddie suffered physical and emotional torture most people only see in the most grotesque of Hollywood films. Some of those films seek to capture the truth…the truth of what evil is a capable of, of inhumanity, absurdity, and senselessness. The weakness of people. Where is the softness?

Eddie managed to keep a soft heart in a hard, brutal, humiliating prison of grief and torture. He remembered his family. He remembered his life. He remembered himself.

He managed to stay true to who he was–a decent, smart, strong, hopeful, and soft-hearted man. Do those films appeal to your soft side? If so, that is good. If they make you angry, that too is good. Just remember that Anne Frank still believed that “in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” Remember that Fred Nietzsche warned that “Anyone who fights with monsters should make sure that he does not become a monster.” Remember that Confucius believed that “Only when a mosquito lands on your testicles, you will truly learn that there is always a way to solve problems without using anger or violence.”

Real Strength

I am lucky. I feel it in my gratitude. I am empathetic, and believe me when I tell you, there is a cost for it. It costs me my peace, at times. It is my values, my morals that keep me civil. Like Eddie. Empathy helps, but it can drive anger, my anger–a deep, writhing fury within for the unspeakable physical and emotional torture and suffering–joyfully inflicted by people onto each other.

If I give in to the anger, much like our friend, Luke Skywalker, was able to resist (yes, Star Wars offers wisdom to the young and impressionable as well as to the aging, who are still looking for it), I will become the monster (not heeding Nietzsche’s warning), and the cycle of suffering continues–through me.

No. I will not succumb to the weakness of evil, the weakness of harming others, the weakness of hate, the weakness of violence. I am soft. I notice how anger affects my softness. It is okay to feel anger. It is not okay to harm others as a result of it. As you can see, millions of people, same as you and me, suffered an agonizing, dehumanizing death by angry, weak, primitive, ignorant, violent “dividers” of people.

Eddie lived through it. And he is soft. Is there anything about his survival that is weak? 

It is hard to be soft.

It is my experience and observation that it is far more challenging to be soft in the face of adversity. It is a mark of intelligence, of evolution, to be soft, to be empathetic towards others.

A hero knows they can beat the oppressor; they can “win”. But, instead, they take pity, leaving them where they stand, with a choice–changing the world one “peace” at a time, offering the “bad guy” an opportunity to not be what they are. It is how Christopher Reeve was inspired to portray “Superman”. Eddie is a Superman. He asked, “Why?” Eddie asked the SS Nazi, caught like a rabid zombie, why? Why would you do this? He was weak and could not answer Eddie’s fair question.

I have made mistakes. I am not always soft. I am certain Eddie has made mistakes, too. We are human. Softness does not have to be reduced to feminine or masculine. It is human. Softness is necessary for survival. There are times when my softness makes me feel exploited and walked on, bullied…then I get angry!

My whole life, I have been told, taught, that my softness is weak, a shortcoming. I will remember Eddie in those moments when lashing out would be easy. I will remember that softness is strong. That softness can be my answer. And I will be happy. I will be happy because I made a choice to be. I will remember that it is hard to be soft, but I can choose to be who I am. To be soft. Thank you, Eddie. Yes, we are friends. Most certainly, we are friends.

~Rommie Oshrieh Neese

2-26-2024, In memory of my mother on her birthday

Want to Break Up with Food? Learn to Hike!! | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E21

I was sitting in Terminal C at the Denver Airport gate 47 recently. I had a five-hour layover. Time to write and observe people. I’ve been noticing something concerning at airports with the past few years. I’ve noticed more and more people needing wheelchair assistance to get to their gates and to board. I researched it and here’s what I found.

First, let me say that many disabled travelers report nightmares when traveling via the airlines. The Department of Transportation cited a 108% increase in complaints from flyers with disabilities in a three-year period from 2019 to 2022. Complaints range from lost or damaged wheelchairs to embarrassment from poor transfers and even physical injury. Traveling with a disability that requires a wheelchair can be a horrific experience. Thankfully, the Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. I encourage you to read it and know your rights. It gives flyers with disabilities recourse if their rights are violated. 

Second, I want to ask, “Why has there been an increase in wheelchair use?” Airlines do not keep statistics on wheelchair use, so here are my thoughts. People with physical disabilities and frail older adults are flying more to stay connected with people and places. Boomers are aging. Families are relocating away from their hometowns. Flying helps them stay connected.  But, I also think there has been an increase in people with mobility issues that have resulted from being overweight or obese. Many of those seeking wheelchair assistance can walk short distances, but due to the loss of stability and mobility, they lack the muscle and aerobic endurance to walk through large airports. I don’t want to overgeneralize, and my heart breaks for people with severe mobility issues, but with my Personal Training background, and a specialization in senior fitness, I think it’s fair to make a few assumptions. The real question is, can mobility issues be prevented and improved upon in cases with adults suffering from obesity and physical disabilities?  The answer is yes! Older adults can enlist the help of a professional to regain their mobility. 

I recently read two articles in the New York Times that agree with this conclusion. The first article, “Just Two Minutes of Walking After a Meal is Surprisingly Good for You,” by Rachel Fairbank, looked at walking as a means of managing your blood glucose levels. “In a meta-analysis, recently published in the journal of sports medicine,“ she writes, “researchers looked at the results of seven studies that compare the effects of sitting versus standing or walking on measures of heart health, including insulin and blood sugar levels. They found that light walking after a meal, in increments of as little as 2 to 5 minutes, had a significant impact on moderating blood sugar levels.”
Managing blood glucose is extremely important as a means of reducing the risk of developing type two diabetes. Weight management is extremely important as we age. If we do nothing, it is possible to put on 2 to 3 pounds a year, amounting to 20 or 30 pounds over the period of a decade. We wake up and we’ve gained 30 pounds! It happens. If a 2-to-5-minute walk helps, think about how much more benefit at 20-to-30-minute walk after dinner. 

When the weather permits, my wife and I do three laps in our neighborhood after dinner. That’s about 30 minutes and adds up to 1 mile or 1700 to 1800 steps. Without changing your diet, walking 10,000 steps burns 300 to 800 cal. That adds up to a pound a week. Just walking enhances your mobility.

The second article was about the benefits of hiking. In her article, “Hiking Has all the Benefits of Walking and More. Here’s How to Get Started,“ Danielle Friedman, writes “Hiking offers all the cardiovascular benefits of walking, but the uneven terrain does more to strengthen the legs and core muscles, which in turn, boosts balance and stability. It also burns more calories than walking.”

Because of my Personal Trainer background, I have encouraged aging adults to incorporate instability into their workouts. If you want to be more stable and less prone to falls, you need to activate muscles that do not get activated on even surfaces. I rarely train with trekking poles. I use them as handrails when I’m doing elevation in places like the Smoky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, or hiking in Colorado. Otherwise, I leave them home and allow the terrain to challenge my legs, knees, and ankles. Friedman offered some very good advice for getting started. I’ve got about 30 years of experience hiking, 20+ years of backpacking, and here’s my advice for getting more stable.

These are suggestions and not necessarily in order of importance. Just my random thoughts.

1. Find a park that has trails and maps of those trails. Louisville has lots and lots of parks with trails and maps as well. I hike in the Jefferson Memorial Forest and in the Parklands. Maps are available online or at the visitor center at the Jefferson Memorial Forest. Trail maps for Parklands are typically at the kiosks at the entrances of the park. There is the Bernheim Forest, KY and Hoosier National Forest in Indiana. There’s the Daniel Boone National Forest and the Red River Gorge in the eastern part of the state of Kentucky. I just Googled places to hike in Kentucky and many, many hits. There is no excuse not to hike in Kentucky.

2. Start easy and progress to harder trails. That means, starting with short trails and trails with less elevation. Trails are usually, but not always posted as easy, moderate, or difficult. I would suggest flat or no elevation trails that are 2 miles or less for your first hike. Move at a 30 minute per mile pace. You should finish in one hour.

3. Buy some gear. You’ll need a day pack and some water bottles. Shoes and socks. I always wear smart wool or acrylic socks, and I buy most of my shoes from Quest for the Outdoors. Don’t buy the most expensive shoes but don’t buy the cheapest shoes.

Take with you in your daypack: 

  • Ziploc baggies in case it rains
  • Take an umbrella in case it rains
  • You’ll need insect repellents, mostly for chiggers that you’ll need to put on your ankles
  • You need a map.
  • You’ll need clothing that is determined by the time of year. I buy most of all my clothing at Walmart, Target, and, at Meijer’s. It’s cheaper and good quality wicking material.
  • I use a smart watch to track my hikes. I use a Fitbit because its app works better for me.
  • I take a headlamp, especially if I’m going to be hiking in the evenings.
  • Take some snacks, which typically consist of energy bars.

4. There are lots of hiking groups for hiking and a variety of experience within those groups, so you won’t feel uncomfortable or intimidated. I did a Google search of “hiking groups near me” and found nine groups with links to each group.

5. Get out and enjoy the trails. Hike for your mental and physical health. Some of my most relaxing and creative times have been on the trails. Learn to love the hills. If you hike in Kentucky or Southern Indiana, you will encounter hills. They are your friends. Hills are the HITT experience in the woods.

I am a very even-tempered person, but I find myself getting upset when the weather interferes with my hiking. 

My wife is the same way with Jazzercise. Develop a love for hiking and it will keep you fit, stable, and out of the wheelchair.

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

2024: Be Your Own Cartographer | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E20

Trevor, Nicole, and Me in the Maze. The Chocolate Drops in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting to The Maze is half the fun.

The Maze is the western district of Canyonlands National Park. The Ranger station at Hans Flat is 50 miles from the nearest paved road. Think about that. Where can you go in this country that is 50 miles from the nearest paved road. Maybe Maine. Maybe North Dakota.

The Hans Flat Ranger Station is basically a small mobile home in the middle of nowhere. If you want to backpack into The Maze, you have to four-wheel it 30 more miles to the Overlook Trailhead. And then, although the trail down into the canyon is only a mile in length, it takes two hours to get to the bottom.

You have to lower your backpack by rope, shimmy down, lower your backpack down, and shimmy until you get to the bottom. It’s a task worth doing because it is beautiful, and remote, and physically challenging, and then there is the Harvest Scene, pictographs which are 3000 years old left by ancient peoples.

They call this district The Maze, well, because it’s about 175 square miles of canyons that form a maze. The first time I backpacked there I got lost. I had a compass and a topographical map. It’s just easy to get turned around. I learned to keep the Chocolate Drops in sight while I was there as a reference point. On a topographical map, these geological features look like chocolate drops. You need a map and a compass in The Maze.

As we face the new year, 2024 could feel a little bit like The Maze. It could be easy to get turned around and maybe even lost. We are standing at the Overlook, looking out over the next 12 months, 12 months of hidden springs and rock art and majestic buttes. We need a map.

Instead of making resolutions for 2024 maybe consider making a map. I love maps. My office is full of maps. What would a map of 2024 look like for you?

Maybe it’s time to consider yourself a Cartographer, or a map maker.

What would be the destination of my map?

My destination would lead to a stronger, kinder, healthier, wiser, fitter, socially more connected me and maybe a me with a better understanding of who I am and how I came to be me. This is a little lofty, but it is a map, or rather, my map. 

On this map, there should be waypoints. These aren’t goals and objectives. Nope. None of that. They are reference points to let you know where you are and where you’re going. These are points on my map that will guide me to a place that I call Clarity. For me Clarity means paying attention in a new way, seeing things differently. 

Clarity is a superpower, and it comes to those who take care of themselves physically, socially, intellectually, and spiritually or existentially.

My Waypoints to Clarity

My first waypoint is the Healthy Body, Healthy Mind Waypoint.
This waypoint on my map is all about taking care of my body. This past year I have walked almost every week and hiked almost every week. I’ve done hills. I’ve tried to do resistance training every year. I’m pretty consistent. But I’ve gotten a little lazy and I’ve avoided higher intensity workouts. So, I’m increasing the intensity of my workouts by adding one or two HIIT sessions each week. For those of you who aren’t familiar with HIIT workouts, these are high intensity interval training sessions. Typically, you schedule a 30-minute workout. Two minutes high intensity, two minutes low intensity. I have a rowing machine and recumbent-exercise bike. In order for me to find the place called Clarity, I’ll schedule a workout on each of these pieces of equipment each week. Also, I need to increase the intensity of my resistance workouts and make them more aerobic. So, with a help of my Garmin fitness watch, I’ll monitor my resistance workouts to ensure that my pulse stays in the aerobic area. 

Clarity comes from a healthy body. What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

I know I’m on the right trail to Clarity when I hike in the woods. Clarity comes from the trees, and the smells, and the hills, and the rain, and the Tufted Titmouse singing, and the squirrels playing throughout the woods.
I wasn’t able to ride my bike as much this past year, but I’m going to increase my bike rides to increase my clarity. There is something that happens on my rides through Parkland.

My second waypoint, the next reference point that directs me toward Clarity, has to do with food, but not just food, it has to do with eliminating things that create a cloudiness in my clarity. Here, I’m talking about sugar and alcohol.

Ok, if you eat sugar willy-nilly, are you off trail? Are you lost?? Maybe not in the short run but long-term, yes. Sugar amplifies inflammation, leading to cardiovascular disease, which increases your risk of stroke, and eventually dementia. So, ditch the sugar except for special occasions. 

And then, there is alcohol. I have broken-up and made-up with alcohol many, many times this year. You cannot read any serious studies about alcohol, and not be concerned about the negative effects on your health from consuming even a little alcohol. One drink affects my sleep, which affects my clarity. This past year, I was diagnosed with hyperuricemia, which is one of the causes of gout. As one medical professional said to me, “It’s the alcohol, dummy.” On my map to Clarity, I have written in a waypoint, called abstinence, circled it, and decided that it can take me one step closer to being able to see things differently in 2024.

The third waypoint has to do with reading and writing about folk tales. If you’re reading this, you are aware of my blogs on aging. Folk tales have lots of wisdom for aging or clarity. I plan to read and reflect on 30 to 50 folk tales from various sources, mostly Grimms Fairytales, and share them in my blog and eventually in an eBook.

The fourth waypoint is people. There is a proverb in Hebrew Scriptures that says that people can sharpen each other the same way that iron sharpens iron.
Being around people will sharpen me and take me to Clarity. I don’t have lots of friends. Most of them are liberals. It’s probably because I’m a liberal. No-brainer, I’m a social worker. But I have friends and family members that voted for Trump. I love them and if I’m headed to Clarity, I need them to help me when I’ve lost my way

Clarity comes from a diversity of ideas and opinions and not from ideological isolation.

Talk to your friends and family. Listen to your friends and family. Learn from them. Learn to see things differently through them. Find new friends that can guide you to Clarity.

Those are a few the of the waypoints that are on the map that I am drawing. I’m a cartographer. I’ll add a few more as I get into 2024. It’s my map. I can plan some excursions. I can have a layover or two.

When I’m done this year, it’s my hope that I am either closer to or I’ve arrived at a place called Clarity.

I’m excited!

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

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.

Addiction

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.

Overeaters Anonymous on the healthy aging series by mark neese

Using Overeaters Anonymous to Break Up with Food | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E15

One of my favorite movies is “Signs,” by M. Night Shyamalan. Please don’t judge me :-)

One of my favorite scenes is when Graham, the former Episcopal priest, who had just lost his wife to an accident is having a conversation with his brother Merrell about the appearance of lights in the sky. Merrell is struggling to understand what is happening, how is this going to end? He wants to be comforted by his brother, the former man of faith. Here’s what Graham says to Merrell:

People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance. I’m sure the people in group number two are looking at those fourteen lights in a very suspicious way. For them, the situation is fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they’re on their own. And that fills them with fear. Yeah, there are those people. But there’s a whole lot of people in group number one. When they see those fourteen lights, they’re looking at a miracle. And deep down, they feel that whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope. See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?

You have to ask yourself, what kind of person are you?

This season I’ve been writing about the very serious struggle that many of you are having with food. For some, it’s a life-or-death struggle because you feel powerless over food and it’s creating a dark cloud over your future much like the lights, threatening Graham, and Merrell‘s future.

I want to share two roads, two ways to help you break up with food once and for all. Which road is for you? It depends. It depends on what type of person you are.

Are you the kind of person that feels a sense of powerlessness over food and you need a higher power to take away your shortcomings?

Or, are you kind of person that sees yourself as powerful and you have the ability to overcome your problems with food?

I know, I know, it’s not quite that simple. Most of us are not one or the other, but sometimes, it helps to see the issue as “one or the other.”

If you mostly see yourself in group one, then Overeaters Anonymous is most likely the road to take in overcoming your compulsive overeating. We will look at group 2 in Episode 16. Both Roads have very similar “hacks” or tools for breaking up with food, but at the heart, the issue is where does the power come for overcoming your problem with food?

First Overeaters Anonymous

How does Overeaters Anonymous work?
It’s a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. There are also 12 Traditions. Think of them as bylaws. They guide members on the day-to-day operations.

The 12 steps are strategies for helping you to think and act differently about food, yourself, others, and God.

Here are the first three steps:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over food, and that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood him.

For many, these steps help them gain a sense of meaning and hope in life. They have unsuccessfully tried to manage their eating or drinking, and finally they are able to see something or someone out there that will remove all of their shortcomings. They get better.

In their literature, they write, “As a result of practicing the steps, the symptoms of compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors are removed on a daily basis. For most of us, abstinence means freedom from the bondage of compulsive overeating, achieved through the process of surrendering to something greater than ourselves; the more total our surrender, the more fully we realize our freedom from food obsession.”

The other steps involved admitting to God, to ourselves, and to another human being those shortcomings. They involve making amends to people who we have harmed and working on our relationship with God through prayer and meditation. The last two steps encourage us to help others who have an addiction to food, those who are compulsive overeaters. Overeaters Anonymous members see the problem as mental, physical, and spiritual. 

Those are the Steps, but then there is the Program.

As I’ll share in the next episode, this is where the approaches overlap or where the different roads converge at times. Every plan, every program is unique, despite having many similarities. 

Here is the general look at the AA Program. This is what they mean when they say in unison at the end of the meeting, “It works, if you work it!”

  1. Attend meetings regularly. Overeaters Anonymous is a fellowship. It is a fellowship of fellow strugglers and people who are recovering, growing, overcoming their shortcomings. They share what it was like before Overeaters Anonymous, what happened to bring about their change and commitment to change, and what life is like now. You go. You keep your mouth shut and your ears open. You listen to the success stories. You keep coming back. You take what you like and leave the rest.

  2. Get a sponsor. After attending several meetings and listening to the success stories, you approach the member who you think can help you through the steps. This is life or death, and your sponsor will be the life preserver that will help you stay afloat during the years and storms to come. What does a sponsor do? They listen without judgment. They use their experiences as a sponsor to guide you through the steps. They are there to help you follow your plan. You call them when you feel powerless or when you feel like you’re going to relapse. Overeaters Anonymous is a relapse prevention program that helps you break up and stay broke up with food. You will need a sponsor.

    3. Make a Plan of Eating. You make a list, with the help of a sponsor and possibly a nutritionist, of the foods and drinks that you are powerless over, your Trigger Foods. These foods, along with accompanying behaviors, are what’s keeping you in a dysfunctional relationship with food. “An individualized food plan is a tool designed to help you know what and when to eat. It is a flexible, usable worksheet that assists with maintaining absence from compulsive overeating and compulsive foods behaviors” (The Brown Book).
    You develop your food plan with the help of a sponsor. You make a commitment to follow the plan one day at a time. That’s your sobriety date. And with the help of your higher power, your sponsor, and the fellowship, you follow this plan one day at a time. You work the steps. And you work your Eating Plan, and you find sanity, freedom, and strength. 

Overeaters Anonymous will not be for everyone. Allen Zadoff, from the book “Hungry,” found freedom from food using Overeaters Anonymous.

My next episode is for the other kind of person. Moderation Management for Eating (MMFE) is what I call it. 

Do you see yourself as having the power to change within yourself? Then check out my next episode.

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

Image of Terri Schmidt, interviwed by Mark Neese for the Healthy Aging Series blog for True North Counseling in Louisville, Kentucky

Terri Schmidt: How Sober October and Jazzercise Saved My Life | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E14

I’m headed to Colorado again to spend some time with my two granddaughters, son, and daughter-in-law. And then a road trip. My plan A was to do a four-day, three-night backpacking trip into the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, but my son’s lower back-issues forced us to change our trajectory. Plan B is a road trip through Utah to visit the five national parks. That’s my physical trajectory on this trip.

I’ve used that word as a therapist working with teenagers and their parents. Parents do this thing about predicting the trajectory of their teens, especially if they get into a little bit of trouble at school or with the law. They predict that their Teen will end up in prison, or homeless, or living in their basement at forty.

Teenagers grow up, eventually, and the parents’ prediction of where their sons or daughters might go almost never happens. That’s Parent Trajectory.

What’s Your Health Trajectory?

This season, I’m starting something new. Healthy Aging Interviews. I’ll be interviewing people in their mid to late 50s and up. Maybe you’ll get some inspiration. Maybe some edification. And maybe even some encouragement to break up with food.

This season, I interviewed Terri Schmidt. She’s 57 and attends Jazzercise with my wife. She and my wife are longtime Jazzercisers. She got our attention when my wife told me she had been reading my blog and Terri recommended that I read, “Nature Wants Us to be Fat,” by Dr. Richard J. Johnson.

Here are the questions that I used for my interview with Terri:

  1. How do you feel about getting older?
  2. What does Healthy Aging mean to you?
  3. When did you become health conscious?
  4. What was the factor that moved you to focus on your health?
  5. Who were some of the examples for Healthy Aging?
  6. Who are your biggest cheer leaders?
  7. What books have you read that influenced you to focus on healthy aging?
  8. What does your diet look like?
  9. What does your fitness regimen look like?
  10. What is it about Jazzercise that appeals to you?
  11. What makes it difficult to maintain a healthy aging lifestyle?
  12. What would you say to your younger self?
  13. What advice do you have for people that are contemplating changing their lifestyle?

I’m not going to give her word-for-word responses, rather I’m going to give you the highlights.

Terri looked at her life in September 2022 and didn’t like her health trajectory. Her diet contained way too much sugar and alcohol. She reported that she was experiencing brain fog and irritability, most likely due to her diet.

She had been active as a younger woman and has continued to move using Jazzercise these past years. Maybe Terri is an example of not being able to outrun a bad diet and chronic alcohol use. She had other issues that she worked through. Her first marriage created an environment that caused her to blame herself for everything. She looked at her life mentally and physically and didn’t like where it was going. She looked at some family members that struggled with their own wellness and saw herself in them.

That was the push she needed to break up with food and her old lifestyle. She looked around and saw people in her life that were failing to thrive and said to herself “That’s me if I don’t change my trajectory!” Some of these family members have difficulty walking, anxiety, and worry about what everyone else is thinking.

The pull was her mother-in-law, who maintained an active lifestyle, volunteering, living a balanced emotional life, happy and strong. “That’s me, if I change my trajectory.”

In October 2022, she listened to that still small voice within and stopped drinking alcohol and eating sugar. She began creating a new trajectory, taking care of herself. Terri lives her life now very intentionally. She’s not one of those goal-setters, although she does try to walk 10,000 steps a day. She wants to eat real food. Fruits and vegetables. She practices time-restricted eat (intermittent fasting). She stops eating at 6 pm and then eats a big breakfast with lots of protein, whole grains, and what I would consider a disgusting smoothie of kale, cinnamon, and protein, just kidding Terri. She’s not perfect. She does have some guilty pleasures periodically, like potato chips.

If you were to ask Terri, what she loves about her new lifestyle, she would answer, “I love feeling strong.” She gets stronger physically and mentally by Jazzercise three or four times a week. This group has become her support system. What was an intentional consequence of her new trajectory from abstaining from sugar and alcohol? Clarity! She started seeing she was enough. She started seeing the importance of self-care, the need to stay in her lane, and take care of herself. She started to see that this was her journey to walk, and she wanted to be happy.

And now, here is what she says: “I feel great, that’s what makes me happy.”

Again, Terri isn’t perfect. She has her snacks every now and then, but she has the clarity now to see where she is going and loves it.

Freedom from addiction is what she is loving.

It’s not easy or pleasant sometimes to see where we’re going, seeing our trajectory. For some it’s not a major overhaul in your diet or exercise. Maybe a series of tune-ups.

Add a little walking and group fitness.

Take away a little of the processed foods, sugar, and alcohol in your life.

What got Terri’s attention was the week before her sober October last year, she literally got sick from drinking alcohol.

I think it scared her. Maybe we all need a scare about where we are going.

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

Mark Neese of True North Counseling in Louisville, Kentucky

How a Stoplight Can Help You Break Up with Food | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E13

I remember my first week of basic training in the United States Air Force. There’s a lot to learn. Really, it’s indoctrination. Military bearing. You’re learning to stop being a civilian and act like an Airman, a Marine, a Soldier, or a Sailor. They teach you how to salute. They show you, then have you salute, then correct you.

I remember our Sergeant teaching us how to put our laundry mark on all our clothing. They were nice enough to make us rubberstamps with the first initial of our last name, and the last four of our Social Security Number. It  was like N1234.

The Sergeant gathered us around him and took an Airman’s trousers and said, “Put your stamp here,” pointing to the inside area of the zipper section. “Questions? Then go put your mark on your trousers.“ And you guessed it, someone had put his mark on the wrong spot. “Come here,” the TI said gesturing to the Airman to come close. “Give me your stamp.“ And then our Sergeant stamped the Airman’s forehead with his laundry mark. When that training session was over, and everyone had finished marking their uniforms, I noticed that two or three Airmen had two or three laundry marks on their foreheads.

I feel like one of these Airmen at times, and no, I wasn’t one of them. I need someone to teach me, show me, train me on how to do something successfully. That’s what I found in Allen Zadoff’s book, “Hungry: Lessons Learned on the Journey from Fat to Thin.”  I’ve shared Zadoff’s book in part three of strategies for breaking up with food. In the first part, I looked at compulsive overeating as a disease and changing the way you look at food and yourself. Zadoff offers a visual approach to categorizing food.

A Stoplight.

Red light foods:

These are foods that you cannot stop eating once you start. Make a list of those foods for you. Is it sugar? Ice cream or bread? Pastries? Candy? Chocolate? Popcorn with lots of butter? Potato chips? Alcohol? Actually, this is my list. And then he talks about Red Food Behaviors. This is good. “What are behaviors around the Red Light Foods” As a Behavior Analyst, I might ask where are you likely to eat these foods? Maybe it’s while you’re driving. Where do you buy these foods? When are you more likely to eat these foods  and less likely to eat these foods? What are you doing when you’re not eating these foods? Are you in a gym or walking in the park? Who are you with when you eat or drink your Red Light Foods? And, when you don’t eat or drink these foods, who are you with. This is just a start. You need to do a thorough assessment of Red Food Behaviors. We’ll come back to what you’re going to do with this list in a bit.

Yellow light foods:

These are foods that you have a problem with sometimes. Yeah, bread is one of those foods for me. I love biscuits. But I have some control over Yellow Foods. Your Yellow foods could include soft drinks, pasta, processed food, fried chicken, or any kind of fast food. Make a list of your yellow foods.

And lastly, Green Light Foods:

These are foods that you have no problem stopping when you start eating them. We’re talking about things like vegetables and fruits, grilled chicken, fish, and really what we’re talking about is mostly real food.

Next, Zadoff refers to Red Foods as Trigger Foods, because once started, they trigger a powerful response in our bodies. They activate your pleasure pathway which releases dopamine. And after many, many episodes of this dopamine release, we develop dopamine resistance, and need more and more to get the pleasure response and then you guessed it. You’ve developed an addictive response to Trigger Foods. Zadoff then directs us to abstain from Trigger Foods. I know there are a lot of other ways of working with Trigger Foods besides complete abstinence, but this is the approach he took and it worked for him.

He spends time throughout his book discussing the addiction and recovery process and compares food addiction, which he calls compulsive overeating with alcoholism. And although he rarely if ever mentions Overeaters Anonymous, there is no doubt he is heavily influenced by it. I am not a compulsive overeater. I would probably fit, at times, into the Problem Eater Category that I mentioned in Episode 12 of this blog. I struggle to manage my weight. I don’t abstain from anything and probably won’t. The key food management word for me is moderation. But I am at a healthy weight.  I do have Gout, which is caused from foods high in purines, so I limit those foods. Otherwise, I have no food restrictions. I mostly abstain from sugar, but I occasionally eat bread, which is almost like sugar. I have attempted to abstain from alcohol, mostly for health reasons and sleep hygiene, but have decided that moderation is a key there as well. There is no credible science that supports total abstinence from alcohol.

Zadoff suggests a support group. I would too if you’re a compulsive overeater. Overeaters Anonymous involves developing a food plan, having a sponsor, working on the 12 steps of OA. These involve the work on your emotional and spiritual issues in your life. In other words, an inside job.

I would recommend Overeaters Anonymous as one option.

So, you have Red Light Foods that are typically creating a weight management problem for you, and then there are Yellow and Green Light Foods which are typically good that you do have control over.  Zadoff recommends abstaining from Red Light Food, finding a support group, and building within that support group some accountability.

And that is Overeaters Anonymous. I want to share in the next part what you can expect if you decide to join Overeaters Anonymous. There are lots of other options for weight loss and breaking up with food.

Many of the obesity memoirs I have shared use a very simple approach; eat less and move more.

I  want to give you some options because breaking up is hard to do and you need as many options as you can find.

In Episode 15, I’ll share in more detail OA!

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