Category Archives: thinking out loud

Living with Weight Loss

outline of person meditating

Between 2019 – 2021, I lost 70 pounds. How I did it–both the good and bad practices–is a story for another day. I have kept the weight off for 15 months, a milestone in itself since the statistics related to regaining weight are discouraging to say the least. Losing the weight was finding the resolve to follow the directions given by my coach and establishing weekly check-ins to support accountability. His recommendations for nutrition and exercise worked as he predicted, and I made steady progress. Even after I reached my goal, I kept following those guidelines fairly closely as I knew how easy it could be to slip back into old habits.

After the first year, though, I was ready for a bit more normality in my diet–spaghetti and meatballs, french fries, ice cream. And, I was finding it harder to muster motivation to get on the treadmill despite the Apple Watch with its monthly challenges and helpful reminders. Yet, part of me understood that I had established a “new normal” as they say, and while I could be a bit more liberal with my food choices, I couldn’t go back to the old ways.

What I wasn’t prepared for, perhaps, was the fear of regaining the weight. The longer I am able to keep it off, the worry eases a bit as I think I have found a balance, but there is still a bit of anxiety on weigh-in days. And, if there is a pound or two extra, the old tales of failure and recrimination begin to spin themselves.

I am not willing to live with fear and recrimination on a daily basis and am working through the negative patterns to find solutions for dealing with them. Meditation helps as I can more quickly and easily (sometimes) recognize the states of mind and the stories…notice, name and stop the narrative before it gets too far. Begin again. Accept without judging.

I know, just as during meditation I can refocus on the breath or the body when my mind wanders, I can begin my healthy practices again. But, I must do so in a spirit of tenderness towards myself. Joseph Goldstein makes a beautiful distinction between acceptance and resignation. We must purse the first in the present, but it doesn’t mean we can’t also pursue change in the world. We are not helpless.

This article from the Medical Clinics of North America describes the problems associated with maintaining weight loss long term and has tips for medical providers for supporting those who have lost large amounts of weight. They are clear enough for regular people to understand as well. Their opening case study and their descriptions of the thoughts that go through your mind (were they reading mine somehow?) certainly resonated with my experience. It was actually a bit of relief to know that I am not alone.

One of their fundamental recommendations is providing people with specific training in maintaining their new weight, something I think I stumbled upon on my own. They have practical, research-based suggestions from eating breakfast to getting regular exercise: no real surprises, honestly. They also suggest helping people create risk-management plans along with ways to deal with lapses, pretty standard behavior management strategies, briefly mentioning mindfulness practices as potential coping mechanisms, lumping them in with hobbies.

At least mindfulness got a mention and I think it deserves more exploration as meditation connects with several of their other suggestions. It has certainly helped me with what they call cognitive restructuring, learning to recognize and redirect the negative patterns of thought that I described above. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to take changes or lapses in stride. We aren’t going to be perfect and setting all/or nothing goals is the first step on the road to failure. It is, in meditation terms, the ability to begin again, strengthening our skill and commitment each time we do so.

Another View of Southwest Virginia

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

I wrote about Southwest Virginia earlier this year after several trips to this beautiful part of the state. It is a favorite spot of mine, and I count several natives as good friends. This region has been particularly ravaged by the opioid epidemic, especially Lee County, the setting for Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel. She faces the epidemic head on. Demon Copperhead, a modern-day David Copperfield, tells his life story, one tinged by abuse and addiction from the beginning. Ron Charles, reviewing the book in The Washington Post, called it “hilarious and heartbreaking.” Having just finished the book and still reeling from its go-for-broke realism, I’m wondering how I missed the hilarity.

In fact, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to read the book at all after Kingsolver’s early graphic depiction of domestic violence that bordered on torture. Children and the trauma visited upon them through material and spiritual poverty are at the heart of Kingsolver’s story, whether they are raised by their own parents, grandparents or, like Demon, foster families who often do not have the purest of motives for taking in children and a system that doesn’t have the energy to support them. The stories are sad, violent, tragic, and many of these children don’t survive past young adulthood, victims of neglect, violence, and drug use. I worried that Kingsolver was in danger of using her characters for political ends that made them more stereotype than reality. But she held them up with respect and compassion, even those who might be deemed antagonists. I do think, however, that there is a middle ground that isn’t part of Demon’s story that I know from being on site: the middle ground where families and communities are working against the tide, opening businesses, obtaining grants, creating opportunities.

Demon, born as Damon but quickly nicknamed as most characters in the book are, narrates the story. The son of a teenage mother and deceased father, Demon is Melungeon, an ethnic mix of European, Native American and African descent found in the isolated region of the Cumberland Gap, that includes Lee County. His mother is an addict who is in and out of rehab. Demon is forced to grow up quickly as he cares for her and then learns to navigate the sometimes downright dangerous foster care world.

From an early age, he is able to express his self-awareness of the reality of his own situation and how the world perceives his community. They are hillbillies, objects of ridicule, not respect. Yet, despite his awareness, he is unable to extricate himself from this life that has taken so many of his people. There are bright spots in the often dark journey including Demon’s talent as a graphic artist that, early on, offers a psychic escape, and later, a physical one. This ability allows him to see into others, their motivations, their passions, their own demons as well as he sees his own.

Kingsolver’s voice shows up now and then, mostly in the character of Aunt June, a nurse who adopted her niece and moved to the big city. Early on, she returns to the mountains to attempt to save her people from the drug companies represented by Kent, the slick opioid salesman with his brochures and reassurances. This political angle provides some outlet for the anger that builds as you listen to Demon tell his story in his matter-of-fact way. Kingsolver, who has family ties to the area and until September operated a restaurant just up the road from Lee County, acknowledges Dr. Art Van Zee, one of the leaders who pushed back against big pharma. He, along with others, sounded the alarm about the crisis but were largely ignored. I haven’t read Dopesick by Beth Macy, but it is now at the top of my list.

I may also dive into David Copperfield. I am sure I read it at some point but don’t have much memory of the book although Kingsolver stirred a few as Dickens inspired her plot, characters as well as social activism. The treatment of children in both books is horrifying but the more so as Kingsolver is describing recent history.

Wisdom from Austin Kleon

Consider this a second installment of a “people I take time to read and listen to” series. I featured meditation teacher and writer Sebene Selassie on Monday. Today is Austin Kleon, an artist and writer I have written about in the past. I look forward to his Friday newsletter with its ten topics that could take a month to explore. He’s like the New Yorker of newsletters. I can never finish one magazine before another arrives.

I appreciate Austin’s work so much I took the step of becoming a paid subscriber. That means I get an additional email during the week where he muses on life, art and more. This week, he reviewed a dozen books he read this summer and described the guilt associated with being able to read during the day.

I resonated with these sentiments. While I renounced the notion of calling any reading a guilty pleasure, I do understand the idea of guilt at seeing some free time during the day and thinking, “I could read my book.” And then immediately imagining all the people I know who are toiling away at desks, in offices, online and feeling that pang that perhaps I *should* also be doing something other than “just reading”. Prior to retiring, even though I have worked from home for decades, I almost never read during the day unless it was professional literature. My work day mimicked that of the real world, and I felt as though I was cheating clients if I was engaging in hobbies during the day.

Now, however, as I explore this liminal space in which I am living, reading during the day is rapidly becoming part of the routine, both in the morning and in pockets throughout the day. It is all part of the increase in my reading mojo. I created a bookshelf bullet-journal style page and penciled in some of the titles I want to get to before the end of the year.

P.S. And now I *really* feel guilty as I realized the new season of the Great British Baking Show is available now on Netflix and the streaming has begun.

Spend Some Time With Sebene

Sebene Selassie

Sebene Selassie is one of the lead teachers for Ten Percent Happier. I have probably meditated with her hundreds of times over the past few years. Her book, You Belong, is an exploration of finding connection in a world that often focuses on division. She introduced me to Audre Lorde.

I find her personal story compelling:

Growing up, I felt like a big weirdo. I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and raised in white neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. I was a tomboy, immigrant, Black girl who loved Monty Python and UB40, explored Asian philosophy, and did not go to prom. I never believed I belonged. But I do. So do you.

In addition, she has suffered at least four rounds of cancer, including one in the past year and she speaks honestly about how those struggles impact her life and practice. I find her fun, refreshing and serious, all at the same time.

She writes two newsletters a month, on the new and full month. Here is her more recent one in which she muses on learning about astrology (something I am exploring as well), Octavia Butler, and coupling. Take some time to read it and follow her links as they give a better sense of her philosophical grounding.