Winning Against “Bo”: Fighting To “No-Tox” My Face

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Sitting in a Esthetician’s chair last week, after being gifted a salon “sampler” package at my gym for referring a friend, I was enjoying the soothing chimes of the background music when my white coated skin care specialist told me she was a medical esthetician. I had no idea what that meant. “You have great skin”, she tells me, “but you should really get some Botox here, and here, and here, and here” she coos as she is pointing to my forehead, under my eyes, and to my “marionette” lines (who in the world thought of that terrible adjective?)… “Don’t worry” she assured me, “just 20 cc’s or so to start.”

I was immediately enthralled. Here I had a real “medical” skin care specialist making recommendations to my tired, over-sunned, once flawless 45-year-old face! I immediately wondered if it hurt. “We give you something to numb the area”, she assured. When I asked if it ever went wrong, she told me that she’s never seen it go wrong, but that I would need to sign several waiver forms to release any liability on their part. “I get it”, she adds. “How old do you think I am?”. She looks about 48 with smooth, baby-butt skin. I think I piss her off when I tell her this. “I’m 49”, she says as she begins to furiously perform skin extractions with what I believe is excessive force. As the tears are rolling down my eye corners due to the stinging she is evoking she soothes me, “Come on Stacey, toughen up”. For those of you curious, non-facial receivers, this is when a little tool is brought out and every pore you have on your face is “de-clogged”. This happens even if you have no visible blemishes or pimples. More of a stated preventative for any potential baby zits or clogged pores that may be thinking in the future they want to become problem areas. I find this just makes my face blotchy and worse looking when I leave, but it must me good for me right?

So instead of relaxing (as the gentle chimes are joined by water trickles and continue to play in the background) while she mousses up my face with a cucumber smelling frothy substance, I begin to fantasize about shooting my face full of botulinum toxin. I think of the ways I could sneak over, and get it done, without telling anyone. I look at the address…I could be there in 15 minutes. True, I write about aging gracefully, eating fresh foods as close to the earth as possible, and refusing to kill animals so I can eat them….but I WANT to put this in my face. Next to my brain. ALL OVER MY FACE to be exact. I do. I admit it. I want to reverse the signs of aging on my face and look better. I don’t want my mouth to have marionette lines on the corners when I talk like a hand puppet. I want, I want, I want. Who cares that the word “tox” is in the name… Not me. Not anymore.

I leave her chair with a business card in hand for the facility she practices in with a “real doctor” also, she claims. “She used to be an internal medicine specialist, but now she does this because she can make $250 for 10 minutes of work and not have to bill insurance, you know?”. Yes, I know I say. I’m conflicted all the way out the door. I get in my car, drop down my sun shade and slide over the plastic window so I can look in my lighted mirror. I’m all blotchy, red and shiny from the extractions and ten layers of skin products. I look at all of my laugh lines around my mouth. I fake smile to see how bad it looks by my eyes. My forehead scrunches up and the lines stay there when I let the smile fall off my mouth. I want this, I think. I’m going to do it. I will look so much younger and better and I will no one has to know. I feel weak to my own judgement. I cave.

I had a haircut scheduled following my facial as it was my day off. My hairdresser is a beautiful, vivacious, 25-year-old women who just got into haircutting 3 years before but is wonderful in both her style and, even more enjoyable to me, in her personality. I sit in her chair explaining why my face looks so blotchy and red. “I thought maybe you just got a peel”, she says. Then I tell her that I think I’m going to start getting Botox. “I just got some today,” she admits. What? “It’s my third time”, she adds…”I get it in trade”. She proceeds to tell me, as she looks down the line of the other gorgeous hair stylists in the row alongside her, that everyone does it there. “All of us do it”, she admits. I am completely blown away as I look at these twenty something young women. What are we doing to ourselves as women? “Even men do it now”, she adds, “they call it Brotox”. Of course they do, I think to myself. What are we doing to ourselves, I wonder quietly.

I realize in talking to her, that I just can’t do it. I have nothing against anyone reading this who has decided for themselves that they want to reverse the clock and take advantage of something that it feels like “everyone” is doing. I get it. I really do. But as I sat in that chair and looked at my stylist I realized that I had a daughter growing up who has told me repeatedly that she never wants me to do any “fillers” or “Botox” and wants me to age naturally. (She also wants me to get really chubby to be a “comfortable” grandmother someday for my grandchildren…but that one I’m going to fight.) She is a 15-year-old beautiful talented girl who is going to feel this same pressure amongst her peers when she is in her early twenties. This next generation of women has a whole new toolbox available to fight aging and maintain some ideal form of beauty that our society is promoting. This toolbox is more of a magicians bag of tricks, and they are often not healthy for our sense of self and personal acceptance.

I take a deep breath, look at my red blotchy face in the mirror, and make a personal commitment to myself that I am choosing to share on this blog. Here it is: I am going to age and it’s going to show on my face, my body, and in my wisdom. I promote self acceptance and positive body love to every single one of my clients as a therapist. I refuse to not be genuine and thus will begin the process with me.

I throw away the “medical” esthetician’s business card. I tell my daughter that I will make her a deal. In this life, I’m going to be who I am, warts and all. But the deal I make is this…If I do it, you need to do it too. She proceeds to tell me that she thinks wrinkles are beautiful and that they add character to a women’s face. What wisdom in such a young fresh woman in training…. Whose lucky daughter is that? Oh yeah, that’s mine.

Stacey Neil, Licensed Psychotherapist, is in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139. If she isn’t there, she is off floating in the ocean, or hiking in the mountains.

Growing Old Is Not For Wimps

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As I get older, I realize more and more that growing older is not for wimps. New and unusual hair begins to grow in places that you believed to be bare, and you need a magnifying mirror before you can even begin to pluck it out. I’ve been trying to figure out if our eyes naturally begin to fail in our forties as a way to allow us to not be able to see ourselves as clearly as before for self-preservation purposes, or if their slow demise is a thermometer designed to help you come to terms with the fact that you are getting older.

I now find myself wearing glasses just to work on the computer…or read a menu, recipe, or food label. I have become my mother and have magnifying eyeglasses all over the house (you can buy a three pack at Costco for less than $20 – you’re welcome). I can’t believe that’s now me. I was excited that the new Iphone 6 was coming out not so I could get the latest “gadget”, but because it would have a bigger screen so I could finally read my phone again. It was terribly sad for me when I finally got it to realize that I still couldn’t read the newspaper text on the screen (yes, I realize these are first world problems….and yes, I had already increased the font size).

What a strange phenomena we humans experience to be present as your body ages and you realize that once something starts to slip away IT IS NEVER COMING BACK. My vision will never be restored to the eyesight I enjoyed (without truly appreciating it) in my earlier years. Those of you who follow my blog know that I got injured running a few weeks back. After X-rays came back telling me that all of the impact sports I have been doing (including running) have done damage to my hips, due to the genetic way that my hip-joint and spine curve, I was told to take up some low or no impact sports instead. Who me? You sure Doc? Yes…she was sure.

“Deterioration” is a word that you are hoping not to hear when you are someone who is passionate about all types of activities such as I am. So what do you do with bad news like that? You determinedly decide you are going to take the news with a stoic appreciation for what you have that is still functioning… then I went swimming. While I have recently been spending so much time in the water I’ve been reflecting on the ways in which it is a struggle for us to age in these bodies of ours.

It feels like a blessing and a curse that we humans have mastered the art of living much longer lives. Neanderthals lived to be about 30 years old, maybe they had it better dying while in their primes. Right now we are expected to live to be around 79 (American Men) and 81 (American Women). As a interesting side note, if we live in Japan, we get to add a few more years (82). How wonderful that we have the experience of spending time in our later years with gifts such as grandchildren, retirement and social security benefits. On the flip side is the fact that our human bodies begin to change in ways that we could not possibly understand in our youths with themes more like: fear of Alzheimer’s, investment loss, minimal medical benefits, and strange body changes (while trying to find our misplaced keys for the tenth time that week).

Youth is definitely wasted on the young. You hear that phrase when you are young by your grandparents, but unfortunately, do not really understand it until you are much much older. I get it now.

It takes a lot of courage and wisdom to age well and with grace. For some, the later years will be the first time they experience the true gift of total self acceptance. It will certainly make for a gentler aging process. Fighting with every wrinkle, sag, memory loss, or strange hair will only lead to distress. One true gift of getting older is the new found appreciation I have for older people I meet who share their incredible life stories that are filled with strength and an undeniable sense of humor. “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, they tell me when I ask what makes for happiness in this life.

One of my favorite quotes is by Hunter S. Thompson who says:

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”.

This is my goal (and I am well on my way based on my most recent doctor’s X-ray). I want to live fully and messily and wear myself out. I am finally okay with the idea of this being my best body, self and life. After a certain age, there is only one direction your body is going, and it’s not younger. It happens to all of us if we are lucky. Really think about that. If you are struggling with how to come to terms with your aging body, you are fortunate beyond words. You have been able to stay alive in this crazy world of ours and get the privilege of actually living to old age. How cool is that?

Stacey Neil, Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer, can be found at the pool swimming laps along with in her private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

Surrender Without Quitting: Accept What Is

Surrendering with White Flag

I have been contemplating a new wrist tattoo that has a dandelion with the word “surrender” floating away as if set free in a wish. This concept of letting go seems to go against every bit of my type A personality’s desire to “power it out” and “get it done”. However, I would suggest to you that surrendering is the hardest skill to learn of them all. How do we learn how to let go and just be? How can we ignore societies ongoing messages that drive us to achieve, achieve, achieve? I suggest to you that to letting go is the opposite of driving through your life at 110% of capacity…that the truth to living a fulfilling life filled with mindful presence is to actually take a deep breath, exhale it out, and surrender.

There is resistance around the idea of surrendering as it can feel like quitting. Surrendering is not quitting. Surrendering is allowing yourself to live in the moment of your life and to realize that in this very moment this is as good as it gets. If you can learn how to let go and be fully present in your life, you can surrender the anxieties that surround all of the “what ifs” that we all tend to ruminate about in our heads. What if I lose my job? What if my spouse cheats on me? What if I never lose these 20 pounds? What if I get cancer? What if my son doesn’t get into that college he is fighting for? Quitting is rolling over and allowing your life to run you; it has nothing to do with surrender. Surrendering is allowing space to just be, as is.

You can surrender and decide you are never willing to quit. You never “quit” trying to be mindful, eat healthier, improve upon your body, learn to relax, living fully and with passion, etc.. Never give up in fighting for the things you want in your life whatever that means for you. To give up self-care is to give up on yourself. Always do your best…and then surrender to what you currently experience as your life. Know that for this very second, what you see is what you get. There is no purpose in feelings of bitterness for what you may or may not have in this second. Surrender to your reality as is.

Why does this matter?

I am always sharing different themes around our internalized myths about what we believe to be in our control (everything) when in fact what we control is very little (almost nothing). We control our own individual words, actions and behaviors. We have no control over how other’s perceive us, what other’s say to us, or how our bosses act. The more we try to control our external environment, the more frustrated we become and the less present we are in our lives. We become focused on the future, potential catastrophic anxiety inducing worries that may happen, or we hold on to past vulnerabilities and pains. What we don’t tend to do is be present in this very moment breath by breath.

Sometimes when a client comes in for therapy, they work really hard at trying to task through the work of becoming more aware of their own internal processes by getting mad at themselves or frustrated by their thoughts or the way they feel. They despise their own judging minds and thoughts. If this ever happens to you, I suggest you try to imagine letting go instead of criticizing yourself. Your thoughts can spiral out of control and you can choose to non judgmentally notice that they are present, then surrender and not engage in the emotions that will only fuel the fire of your judgements. Give yourself permission to be just who you are and allow that to be good enough. Let go of all of the ways in which you feel you are not doing what you “should” be doing according to some internal judgement of yourself and be free. Be good enough. Surrender. It is so much less effort to let yourself go in this way.

What can you do right this second as you read this to let go? Surrendering sets you free. Be free.

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

Healthy is Too Hard!! Answers On How To Implement Positive Change

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If you are someone who is interested in making positive changes in your life, I imagine you are reading this blog among many others. It is my hope that you read with an open mind and take things away that are pertinent to you or speak to you in some manner, but leave behind the advice or suggestion that doesn’t speak as easily to you. In my work as a therapist, personal trainer, and wellness coach, I spend a great deal of my time with my clients working on the issues that they are hoping to work through or heal from; along with a great deal of energy dedicated to how to make positive changes. As I have heard in the voice of many of my frustrated clients: “Healthy Is Too Hard!”

Yes, it is incredibly challenging to make, implement, and maintain positive changes that you attempt in your life. A lazy, sloth-like, fast food eating, indulgent lifestyle are much easier to pull off in our society full of convenience, sensory overload, and consumerism that pushes us to “buy”, “eat”, “compete”, “drink”, and live in a manner that is not in alignment with a wellness based goal of balance, health, and long-term care of our spirits.

Sometimes it is easier to ask yourself, “why bother?”. I find the answer to this question to be grounded in the idea that many people who are not taking good care of their health and wellness are unhappy, unfulfilled, lack work/life balance, and are completely living a life that does not feel in alignment with who they always believed themselves to be (if in fact they are aware of who that is). Sometimes they have anxiety, depression, impulsive shopping problems, work/life balance issues, no real quality time with their children, or no idea about who they are and where their passion lies, or chronic health problems. Maybe they drink themselves to relaxation every evening to relax.

Wellness is about integration between many different components in your life in which you have health including: emotional, spiritual, mental, vocational, physical, family and financial. Often we are good in one area in our lives, but not another. If for example, you are doing a great job working out and eating well each day but you are working 14 hours a day at a desk and having no time to explore your emotional well-being – you are not living a life of wellness. It is the integration of these components that makes up a complete picture.

This discussion gets complicated because the first step in working towards improving upon your life is to take an honest assessment of where you are. I use an integrated wellness assessment I have created with my clients, but you can even write down the 7 areas I mentioned above and check in with each section by asking yourself, “How am I doing?”. You must be brutally up front with yourself if you are going to be able to truly take a current day snapshot. Most of us have one or two real problem areas in our life and struggle with having to face the facts around our behaviors and how they are affecting us.

The next step is to grab one of your problem areas and set yourself up with 2-3 goals using the S.M.A.R.T. format listed in the graphic above. You literally just start somewhere positive. Pick one (maybe the area you tend to feel the most negative consequences in your life from). You can learn more about setting smart goals here:

http://www.wikihow.com/Set-SMART-Goals

Pay special attention to being specific and having goals that are achievable. We often attempt to set goals that are too vague or general and have very little chance of success. If you are not honest with where you are currently in regards to the behavior, you have very little chance of setting up an achievable goal that targets it effectively. For example, if your goal is to start exercising and you are currently at 0 times per week. Your smart goal would look like: I will walk 20 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 7-8 beginning 9/15. It must be that specific, and as you can see, it needs to start with an achievable amount of time and days involved. Going from 0 to 2 X per week is a great start. Keep it up for a few weeks and re-evaluate if you want to, but don’t create a goal that has you working out 7X per week straight out of the gate. You will set yourself up to fail.

Speaking of failing, one critical step when setting a new goal, is to always be mindful of also setting up a plan to fail. That is, put down a plan for what happens if you fall off the wagon. It happens to all of us, no matter how motivated we are to get started, so you want to anticipate it ahead of time. It is always incredibly helpful to say your new goal out loud to someone who can hold you accountable, or post it on social media…maybe you want to hire a wellness coach to help you along. Whatever it takes. Wellness is a life long journey that will require tweaks, updates, and constant monitoring to check in with yourself and how you are feeling within your individual life.

I am lucky to have worldwide readership on this blog; however, for those of you who may live in or are close to Silicon Valley, I am offering a special program to help this process along for my clients. I am offering it only for a limited time to help kickstart some of my readers and clients (and their friends) to get started on improving your wellness. Please see my flyer below for more details.

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I will continue to write tips and ideas on how to integrate wellness and find a way towards authentic living in a mindful, balanced and fulfilling manner. This is my greatest passion and I believe strongly that we need to focus on all of the areas of our life to have a true understanding of how we are living. Our lives are so very precious and short. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to live it as fully as we are able.

Stacey Neil, LMFT, CPT is a licensed Psychotherapist, Wellness Coach and Certified Personal Trainer who is in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She is also the Co-Founder of TotalFit Solutions, Integrating Mind & Body. She can be reached at 408.827.5139, or http://www.totalfitsolutions.com

Or you can fill out the form below and I will get back to you!

This Is As Good As It Gets: Live In The Moment

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One of the ways to immediately ground yourself and be present in your life in this very moment is to realize that “this is as good as it gets”. If I suggested that there was no tomorrow, next week, or retirement year ahead of you that were worthy of you holding back, not fully living, or experiencing the moment as it is with total presence…would you believe me? Probably not. You believe you know better. You think you have many days, seconds and years left to live. You have time to put things that matter off. You would argue that you need to wait to start pursuing your dream until: the kids go to college, you are able to finally stop working in a job you don’t like, or you are able to save enough money in your 401K, etc. (What Would You Add?)

The truth is a harsh reality. We really have no guarantees in this life for a tomorrow, next week, retirement age, or more stable 401K. All we have as human animals is this very moment in time. Today. This second. Right now. This is as good as it gets because it’s all you have. Would you live your life differently if this day was your last? Would you spend a single second in relationships that were toxic, jobs that were not satisfying, or a passionless life? Maybe you would, but I believe that you would choose a different option if given the chance. Maybe I am wrong.

There is no better day for you to start something that you have always wanted to do than now. Or to begin a new healthier lifestyle that matters to you. How about that hard conversation you have been waiting to have with your partner where you begin to express all of the ways you feel loved? Or the one in which you need to ask for what you need and take responsibility for your part in a negative pattern? Maybe this moment is the perfect time to tell those that you love how much they mean to you. Or even more powerfully, how wonderful would it be for you to unconditionally choose to love yourself with total empathy, compassion, and acceptance? Not you in 10 less pounds, or you making more money, or you as a “better” person. Actually loving the YOU that you are in this very second; perfectly imperfect you.

How freeing would it be to realize that we have little control over most of our lives? We control our thoughts, actions and words…our own self. We have NO control over others’ behaviors, actions or perceptions. As we learn to live in this moment, we enable ourselves to let go of all our anxieties over what little we can control and surrender to this very moment in time by making it count. Making it matter – finding our way second by second.

Would you live differently if this was as good as it was going to get? Would you breathe a little deeper, slow down a little bit, smell the proverbial flowers or have dessert? Would the familiar photos on your walls take a bit of your gaze, or the hug you give your child as they walk out the door mean a little bit more? Maybe you would wear more comfortable clothes and let go of aging worries. You would buy that beautiful coat at the store to fit the body you live in now rather than decide to get it when you can buy the size you wore last year. What would change for you? Would you stop wasting your time?

Stacey Neil, LMFT is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer in private practice in Los Gatos, Ca. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

How Our “Perspectacles” Create Our Truth

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Social learning theory posits that learning is a cognitive process that takes place in a social context and can occur purely through observation or direct instruction. This theory points to learning through interaction, relationship and instruction by others. If this basis is true, then wouldn’t it also be true that all learned “truths” that we have as unique individuals are also uniquely ours? As no two people have shared exactly the same actuality as they developed and moved through the myriad of experiences that brought them to current day living; it would make sense that no two people share the same realty, even if looking at exactly the same picture, idea, poem, lesson, etc..

I believe that our realities are shaped so much by our fears, experiences, positive relationships, and day to day minutia, that it is next to impossible for two different individuals to see the same situation in the same way. It’s as if we wear lenses, or spectacles, that are entirely biased by our learned perspective. If we view life experiences so different from each other day to day, wearing our so called “perspectacles”, how are we ever able to agree on anything? Or come to general conclusions with each other?

This biased perspective that each of us holds is the root cause for so many miscommunications between individuals and especially within couples. How many times have you looked across the table at your partner, in the middle of a heated argument, and wondered…how in the world did they come to that conclusion? When both people are faced with the same situation, conflict, or event, how is it possible for it to be viewed in such different ways? The answer is rooted in the the very basis of how we learn things as human beings.

When we are babies our parents point at square object sitting on the floor with weird symbols on it and say “book”. We have no idea what the sound “book” means but we hear it and a small seed gets planted in our minds. A few days later, our parents say the same sound to us again and pick up the square object off the floor while doing so. As this continues to occur over the course of our beginning months of life we begin to associate the sound “book” with the square object our parents are pointing at, picking up, or reading from. Then maybe our parents ask us, “Can you say book?” while pointing to the object. As babies just beginning to speak, we try out the sound and are immediately rewarded with positive reinforcement in smiles, loving gestures, and excitement in our parent.

This positive reinforcement motivates us to continue to practice and work on making our parents give us that good feeling again. Eventually through trial/error and repetition, we internalize the sounds that go together making a one syllable noise “book” as the square object with the symbols on it to the point where we don’t even have to think about it anymore as the word just automatically pops into our head. This becomes our internalized knowledge and it is how we learn everything. Everything gets learned in this manner: what to fear, what feels good, what is right/wrong, how to take care of family members, talk to others, and what love looks like. Everything.

If social learning theory holds to be true, then this would mean that everyone has had unique and different learned experiences around everything that has formed their world view. So when you have a couple in an argument and the husband stops talking and is silent, the wife will interpret that with the learned experiences that she has associated with that behavior. For example, if her father (in the midst of an argument with her mother) used to be silent, when he was about to hit her mother across the face, her reaction will be one way; however, if her father used to be silent to allow his wife to have some space to formulate her thoughts in the argument, her behavior will be different. Based on what she has learned, this same behavior in her partner can evoke fear, or security. One of the main causes of conflict with couples in working through their issues together, is that there is no one way to view any shared experience. All of us utilize our own perspectives to determine what we believe to be our personal truth, we identify it as right or wrong, and then act according to this belief system that we hold in place.

So if this holds true, how do we learn to interact with each other in a healthy manner? How do we have shared respect and room for individual opinions allowing for an appreciation for the differences in our shared realities? The first step is to recognize that this is everyone’s truth and your way of seeing the world and your reality are your unique perspective and yours alone. Having a general respect for the fact that everyone you meet will see the same thing as you in a different way can help you to get over your bad self, tell your ego to take a deep breath, and minimize your frustration in collaborating with others.

After you open up your perspective to allow for differing opinions, I encourage you to humble yourself and ask questions of whomever you are connecting with. Don’t make assumptions with what your “perspectacles” are telling you someone is feeling based on what you think is going on. Learn to have the courage to ask questions and be curious about someone else’s experience. One of the best ways to encourage someone to feel like you are truly open to a different point of view is to have genuine curiosity about them. You are sharing your time with a unique individual who has learned things much different that you. For example, they may have painful past experiences or trauma they are trying to work through, or maybe they struggle with trying to identify their own feelings in the moment; you never know what someone else’s journey is about. Be compassionate and patient and hold open your heart as you hear someone’s truth. It doesn’t have to change your perspective or mind, but it should help you to understand that this person is not you, but is instead uniquely their own individual self.

Finally, in addition, I encourage you to see if you can catch yourself using negative judgement when considering persons with vastly different viewpoints from your own. See if you can begin to appreciate and have an openness towards others that may be be new for you. When in an argument or discussion with your partner, try a genuine curiosity about their point of view and ask them about it in a non-judgmental way. My bet would be that your relationships open up into a brand new closeness as you begin to understand and stay open to the uniqueness of your partner. This new skill will work effectively for you in all collaborative relationships: at work, in your family, friendships, and in dealing with the guy at Starbucks. I think honoring everyone’s unique perspective makes our world a more interesting place full of individuality. I mean how boring would it be if everyone was the same?

Stacey Neil, LMFT is a licensed Psychotherapist and Certified Personal Trainer who has a private practice in Los Gatos, California. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

Why Dieting Has Always Made Me Fatter

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Want to gain weight, get angry, frustrate yourself, and mess up your metabolism potentially forever? Go on a diet. As many of my readers know, I grew up overweight. I weighed in at higher than 160 pounds in 4th grade. I remember this clearly because I had to get my wisdom teeth pulled (at an ungodly young age) and I lied to the dentist about how much I weighed so my dad wouldn’t know. This caused him to not use enough numbing medicine and I began to feel all of the cutting, pulling and tearing midway through the surgery. I will admit, as much as that sucked, I was still glad my dad didn’t know how much I weighed because even by age nine I was fully aware of the stigma associated with being the “fat” girl in my school.

My doctor at the time told my mom that I needed to go on a diet and put me on The Peanut Butter Diet. Seriously. No joke. Peanut Butter. I had ton’s of peanut butter for each meal. I remember being seven and trying to measure out a tablespoon of peanut butter into a little plastic spoon. That’s hard as you know if you have ever tried to do it. It’s also a really small amount of peanut butter and it leads you to want to suck the remaining smears of leftover peanut butter off the spoon if any clings on. Sure, this doesn’t lead to food cravings and feelings of deprivation. This is how food obsessions are born. My little girl self was dutiful. I measured, logged, counted calories and tracked everything I ate. I didn’t like the fact that my parents needed to order “pretty & plump” size clothing for me. It was humiliating. At the time, this was the early seventies, I just wanted to be able to get my clothes at Sears like everyone else. If you have ever been overweight, you understand that to buy clothes “off the rack” is highly desirable when you haven’t been able to do so in the past. Stores didn’t use to have attractive, cool, fashionable clothes for larger women like they do now. I ended up hating peanut butter for about 10 years. And I gained weight once I cried and told my parents I couldn’t do it anymore.

Next I went on Weight Watchers with my mom (who used to have those delicious Dexatrim chocolate caramels under her bathroom sink when I was growing up) by around the time I had my wisdom teeth pulled. Dieting as a young girl makes you bitter. You watch your friends (who at the time had ruler shaped bodies and no curves whatsoever) eat whatever they want from chips to cookies to soda, while you are eating carrot sticks, celery stalks and dry bread. Nothing makes you feel worse than being so obviously flawed at a young age that you need to eat different foods then your peers. If it wasn’t already obvious that you were overweight and “not like everyone else” (which by the way it already was) then you certainly didn’t fit in when you pulled out your little veggie packets during recess. I didn’t lose any weight during this diet either and had to hear my grandmother ask me each time she saw me at the holidays, “How is your diet dear?”. My diet? What I wanted to say was, “It sucks Grandma, and the minute you turn around I’m going to sneak into that candy jar and eat as much as I can hold in my mouth before you walk back in the room.” But of course I am a nice polite little girl (back then) who doesn’t speak to her grandmother like that. I did however learn how to steal candy from her jar when she wasn’t looking in my very own “silent lid removing” skilled way. That’s how my diet was. Dieting just made food my obsessive enemy. A feared necessary evil that I apparently was unable to control. I mean look at me, the evidence was right there. And yet, I was persistent in my quest to lose weight…and would be for 35 years.

The point of my historical dieting memoir is that I have been on just about every diet that has come out since back in the seventies. I am here to tell you that what I have learned in my history of eating: only protein, no carbs, fat free, low fat, SouthBeach, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystems, liquids only, fasting, and bordering on anorexic deprivation – is diets do NOT work for me. They only make me fatter. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to make myself eat “this” or “that” particular food and stop considering foods as “bad” or “good” that my weight was able to stabilize. Granted, I am still in no way a small woman, but I am able to take the power away from my obsession with food that dieting only encouraged. I have finally been able to let my dieting goblin go and not have food rule my every thought, action and feeling about myself. As a woman who can tell you it used to be easier for me to not eat at all then to eat healthy, I have found freedom.

When you are taught at a very young age that you are not “allowed” (internalized as “good enough”) to eat ______________ (insert any delicious off limit food a young girl wants), you really mess up your relationship with food from the get go. Food is not understood to be energy for your body to utilize in order to be fit, strong, and healthy. Food becomes public enemy number one. The surest way I know to make an individual obsessed with and yearn for a particular food is to make it off-limits. When food is off-limits it becomes ALL POWERFUL. All you think about. Dieting by its very definition is, “to restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.” That is the definition for the verb form of the word and I assure you for anyone who knows what it takes to diet, it is definitely an “action” word verb, not a (person, place, thing) type noun. Love the term “special kinds of food” by the way…. I think food should just be food. Not special, or bad, or holiday themed. Food is fuel…delicious, nutritious, scrumptious fuel.

I work with my clients who are interested in losing weight by following a very simple principle….and for those of you who work with me on this, you know I am always insisting you call your meal planning a “lifestyle change” and not a “diet”. There is more to this phrase than simple semantics. A diet implies deprivation by it’s very definition and if you want to successfully implement a healthier eating method in your life, you need to make sure you can follow whatever you roll out with yourself for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. Seriously. Forever. Because if you take something away that you love from your daily food intake in order to lose weight, you need to never eat it again for your weight to stay off. It makes more sense to try and incorporate balance and smaller portion of foods that you love on a daily basis so you can maintain whatever changes you have made long-term.

This is pretty simple actually. If you take a bunch of foods away from what you like to eat and lose weight, you are creating a new pattern for your body to follow of eating. This is the principle of a diet. As long as you diet in this way forever, you can maintain the weight loss, but if you cannot keep yourself following whatever plan you put yourself on that is causing you to lose weight, you will inevitably gain the weight back. Add to that the new brain science that is being discovered around our bodies desire to fight weight loss at all costs by changing our hormones, brain chemicals, and metabolism when our body goes into starvation mode or caloric deficit. Your body does not know you are overweight and fights any weight loss you try to achieve as a means of saving its’ life. Our bodies are super machines. To lose weight in the caveman days meant sure death and your body has not yet changed it’s thinking in this regard. It does not realize we have fast food and processed super connivence items at every street corner. Evolution did not get the memo.

So what works if you are looking to eat healthier and be fit? Moderation, mindful eating, balance, and exercise. Moderate your overall calorie intake. Eat slowly and enjoy every bite your put in your mouth and balance out foods by eating a diet full of rich colors and grains that are as close to the earth as you can (i.e. not processed). Exercise. Do this by finding your way to an exercise program you can maintain because you enjoy it. Eat foods you enjoy fueling your body with (mindfully and slowly) and then…and this is really important…accept the body you end up with as a result. If you are eating healthy wholesome foods most of the time and exercising in a way you enjoy, you can give yourself permission to let go of what you think you are supposed to look like and instead celebrate your best self as you are. Stress kills. Tearing yourself up all the time because you aren’t as thin as you want, or because you ate that brownie at the pot luck, is just going to make your life miserable. A miserable life is a life that is no fun. Life is hard enough without having to move through it without accepting and loving yourself as you are. You are so much more than your looks, your body, and the size of clothes you wear. Let go of your materialistic expectation and just do your best. Live fully and with pleasure.

Shhhh…The Secret To Finally Starting an Exercise Program

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My clients ask me all the time about exercise programs. As a Personal Trainer and Licensed Psychotherapist, I tend to meld both backgrounds into my transformational work with my clients incorporating the importance of moving your body, practicing mindfulness and also looking to implement positive change in dealing with struggles that individuals face with anxiety, depression, loss, or trauma. Exercise is amazing for many aspects of well-being that go far beyond physical health and include re-wiring the brain.

Scientific studies are finally beginning to catch up with my soapbox preaching around the importance of exercising to overcome mental health issues. Now you can pull up your favorite search engine and type in “the benefits of exercise for mental health” (I tried Google) and get over 78 million responses. I believe that every Doctor and Psychiatrist should have a section for “exercise prescription” on the medication pads. I don’t think medication should be prescribed without a discussion on the benefits of exercise to go along with your chemical cocktail of symptom relief. If you are going to take pills to feel better (and often that is absolutely necessary) it is equally important to get that body of yours moving.

So what makes it so hard for all of us to grab our bodies and begin an exercise program when we know it is SO good for us? In my experience with clients it boils down to a feeling of overwhelm. There are so many individuals who are mass marketing programs that guarantee you results in “3 Months”, “30 Days”, “14 Days”, or even (believe it or not) “The 3 Minute Exercise Solution” that it is impossible to know where to start. To add even more confusion to the mix is the conversation around what you “should” be doing as a part of a complete exercise program such as the baseline debate over which is better: cardiovascular exercise “cardio” or strength training. In addition, once you even whittle down past these two main categories, there are literally hundreds of different exercise options available.

As a prospective new exerciser begins to look into how to work out, what exercises to do, or how to plan a program – worries begin to arise. The opposite of positive thinking occurs, and instead the only increase that comes up for someone is a spike in his or her stress levels. I have heard these concerns. Everything from: “I don’t want to bulk up”, “I am too old”, “I am going to get hurt”, “I’m too overweight to do that”, etc. pops into consciousness as attempts to find the best possible excuse to forget getting started on a new program in the first place arise, and going to the pantry to get a snack begins to sound like a much better idea instead.

I know it’s intimidating because I hear it from clients all of the time. That’s why I want to share the number one secret that I have learned to getting started on any exercise program. The best thing you can do to assure that you are going to get started, and more importantly, stick with an exercise program is to find something you enjoy doing. This cannot be overstated and does not need to be more complicated. If you find something you enjoy doing, you will stick with it. If you like to walk in the evenings with your dog, go out for a walk starting for 20 minutes and work your way up to 30. Don’t like dogs? Grab a bike, go for a swim, try a class, take a hike, or find a friend to join you. Hire a Personal Trainer to explore ideas with you if you want. But try something. If you don’t know what you like, give yourself permission to try a lot of different things. There is no perfect science to finding out your likes and dislikes other than having the courage to give it a shot.

I promise you that if you are able to find something you enjoy you can begin to create a new healthier habit. This takes 6-8 weeks to do, so you may find yourself needing to self motivate until the habit gets established, but this will become routine, and your body will start to look forward to whatever activity you begin to practice. Yes, there are ways to change the way your muscle structure looks through exercise, or lose weight, or even improve upon you metabolism; however, this is not necessary to focus on, when learning how to get your body moving. What is important for improved health is as simple as it is stated below in the American Heart Association Recommendations.

AHA Recommendation

For Overall Cardiovascular Health:

-At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes.

OR

-At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes

(You can visit http://www.heart.org for more information on this)

If you enjoy walking your dog in the evening and want to make this your exercise routine, you can make sure you are going at a moderate-intensity if you can still talk but have increased your breathing rate. Maybe you need to take Fido up the hill for a stroll to accomplish this, but you can make this the only exercise routine you need if your exercise plan is to walk according to the guidelines above.

It can be overwhelming to listen to all the fitness programs available, and at times having access to so much information can lead us to shut down instead of take charge. Fitness professionals are master marketing moguls and typically have killer bodies to boot. From Beach Body, to Jillian Michael’s Fat Shredder, to P90X; the options for exercise promises and benefits are numerous, but rest assured that for you to improve your mental health, relieve depression, and feel happier and healthier, you just need to find something enjoyable to you.

So get out there and ride a bike, join the Y, rescue a pet that needs to be walked, or take a class. Check in with yourself after a few days and see if you can feel the difference in your mood, you self-esteem, and sense of well-being. Becoming mindful of this feeling of accomplishment and improved health will keep you going. Good Luck On Your New Plan!

Stacey Neil is a Certified Personal Trainer and Licensed Psychotherapist in private practice in Los Gatos, Ca. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

All The Pointless Killing: Looking For Light In Darkness

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Our world feels heavy and dark to me lately. I have been reading and watching the news with a burdened heart as we continue to kill each other in mass quantities and destroy the beautiful lands of our world in a systematic, destructive, and pointless fashion. I was speaking to a friend this morning and trying to understand if the increase in overwhelming violence feels more prevalent due to our ability to share information as it happens, or if we are just becoming more monstrous as a people. Based on what my son was sharing with me about a documentary he watched on “The Dark Ages” the other day, we humans have always been the most destructive animal ever to live on our planet. Maybe our ages have always been dark as we have been conquering lands, resources, and each other’s property, since the beginning of time. We don’t always do this with intelligent conversations, agreements, or thoughtful compromises; more often than not, we do this in horrific and torturous ways. Murderous ways.

These thoughts have been causing me to wonder how to help others hold hope during such despairing times. When we are bombarded with mass killings, and populations of people who kill each other in the name of many things such as: biblical lands, sexual orientation, adultery, God, or not fitting in with our classmates; holding on to any kind of light can feel impossible in so much darkness.

Hearing about the plane being shot down over the Ukraine-Russian border yesterday is just one more example of the senseless nature of murder. There were 298 fatalities that occurred in a split second. It was originally reported that there were 295 people killed because the airline had not accounted for the 3 infants that had been on board. They missed the three infants who never had a chance to have a life in our world. Who knows what a loss to society those three brand new people were when they will not be given the chance to grow up. We will never know what we have even lost in just those three alone, not to mention the 100 people on board who were working in the fight against AIDS on their way to a conference, or the remaining 195 people from all over the world. All 298 people have families, loved ones, and friends, who are grieving alongside a world of fellow human beings that are also devastated. Any one of us could have been on that plane.

When did it become of statistical relevance that how many people get killed on each side of a battle is what determines who can be deemed “right”? You kill 100 of our people, we retaliate and kill 150 of yours; therefore, we are winning. How can killing someone be in alignment with any form of victory? Isn’t everyone losing? The whole of the world has lost if this how we calculate victory. How much land is worth the blood of one human being? Is there a ratio? Maybe a square foot per body? It feels so senseless and yet the conflicts continue.

We are historically a people who seek power and control over others. We are also a people who are loving, kind beyond measure, and filled with compassion. How to hold both the dark and light aspects of our human nature is a struggle even on an individual basis for many people who cannot accept the dark aspects of their selves. Therefore, it would make sense for this same conflict to also extend on a much larger scale to us as a people, who have an unimaginable burden to bear, as an awareness of what we are capable of as human animals is more and more apparent in our actions.

It can be a challenge to maintain kindness and generosity in a world that does not always return the favor. Do it anyway. Believe in the potentiality of us as human animals to heal and love one another in spite of our differences. Choose to live in a world of which this is the common goal of yourself and those you come in contact with. I chose a career in which I can support others in their own individual journeys of growth, self acceptance, and empowerment so I am gifted in that my work can reflect my hope.

I know that I am lucky to not have to fight another to feed my children, or find myself desperate to provide warmth to my family when the weather is hostile. I am mature enough to realize that within my own stance is ignorance. I have never had to live in a place where I do not feel like I have the opportunity to provide the resources needed to care for my own. With this lack of experience, I cannot rightfully judge; however, I propose that our fundamental belief systems should stem from a moral base of caring for each other, treating each other with respect, and being kind. Maybe this too is idealistic and unattainable. I choose to hope not.

In spite of the darkness, I will continue to fight for our positive potential as humans. I have been witness to the remarkable will of the human spirit to heal and find its authentic self. Whether an individual’s struggle is through human weakness, mental illness, a traumatic history, or personal loss – the human spirit is undeniable and powerful beyond measure. I see this in my therapy office every day. As we all go through our daily choices, thoughts, and decisions, I hope that all of the acts of kindness, generosity, and patience for each other’s differences helps to better our world one action at a time. Believe in the power of these little tiny acts to gently create a luminescent glow in the darkness. Hold on to your ability to care for those around you as you join me in fighting towards light one small victory at a time. Never give up in this quest. It is too important for us, our children, and our children’s children.

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer in private practice in Los Gatos, California. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

How Running is the Ultimate Battle of Me vs. Me

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I am constantly reminded of the fact that I am my own worst enemy. I constantly question, reflect upon, and challenge my actions, progress and daily choices. We are a result of the choices we make, and I focus on making mine count. I believe that there can be a balance between challenging myself to always do my best while allowing for days when my best is a pathetic effort to roll out of bed. In an ideal world, I would do this without judgement. In my real world I do this as a daily battle of my beliefs, thoughts and actions battling with the thoughts of how things should be in my head. This is a work in progress as many of you probably can relate. For me, running has become the epitome of this battle of Me vs. Me.

I absolutely abhor the act of running; however, I am equally passionate about how I feel when I finish a run. There is no stronger euphoria for me that I have been able to duplicate with any other form of exercise. This is no small statement as I participate in a variety of programs, classes, and latest trends in fitness to challenge myself. As a trainer I need to keep up on what is current in my industry and have found myself just lately in classes such as Barre, CrossFit, and P90X…but nothing beats the pounding last step of my run and the resulting accomplishment I feel.

Running is simple to learn as we figure it out as babies. Lean forward, catch your self falling, repeat. I have dreams of being a gazelle like runner with legs like Lolo Jones and a body that can wear little tiny black shorts that are not concerned in the slightest about being long enough to protect my soft upper thighs from friction based chub rub. However, this is not meant to be, as I feel like a giant, leaden, heavy footed rhinoceros when I run. Don’t get me wrong, a mature rhino weighing 1500 pounds, can run up to 25 mph and frankly holds a kind of grace when moving that much mass…but for me it doesn’t quite feel as impressive. This is not actually meant as a put down on my size, shape, or form – it’s truly just a descriptive statement on how I actually feel as I am running through space. As a side note, in the battle of gazelle vs. rhino, gazelles can run twice as fast, clocking in at a graceful 50 mph. A wonderful example of how I feel in a race..but I digress.

For those of you who run and are able to enjoy the process of running, the clarity of mind you receive, or the meditative thump of your feet as they turn over in perfect rhythm – I envy you. I am nothing like you, as I need to fight my own self minute by minute (even second by second) at times just to keep going. I have found it to become my own ultimate fighting challenge: The Battle of Me vs. Me.

One would imagine that I win either way if I am only battling myself. Clearly there can be only one winner, right? However, I do not always feel like I come out on top. My head screams at me throughout the run telling me a plethora of negative statements: “You will NEVER make it”, “You’re feet are burning”, “Your hip is aching”, “Your sports bra is chafing your underarm”, “You suck”, “This hurts”, “Stop already”, etc. My abdominals like to add into the chant and begin to threaten me with risky temporary feelings that are best described as a form of “loosening of the bowels”. The person who finishes the race with diarrhea running down their legs? That happens…trust me. I decide I need to pee immediately, but cannot stop anywhere. It goes on and on. Mindless chatter to accompany me as I go…my own twisted form of voices in my head.

Running has become my lesson in self battle. A challenge I fight with 3-4 times per week at the crack of dawn. I do this because I am never prouder of my body or mind when I complete a run. Never. The battle that I overcome in my head throughout my mileage, as I continue to go step by step, leads me to an unmatched sense of accomplishment. It is more than worth the pain, sweat, and fear of failure, because in spite of all the chatter, I can beat it.

What is your internal battle? Do you ever sit with yourself and really check in about what you are not doing in your life because you are afraid? Maybe you don’t try because you think you need to be perfect, you are too old, or you may fail. Push through. We are nothing more than a compilation of our actions and choices in this world. What do your choices say about you?

Decide that you are willing to take a risk. Know that it will be hard, you will fall down, look less than graceful, or be a beginner. A beginner!!! What a terrifying concept -such a dreaded word. Trust me when I share with you that as an ex smoker who couldn’t run a mile at 38, I know what it feels like to begin something later in life. It is NEVER too late. What would you do? What would it take for you to make a commitment to yourself to try it? You will fall down. You will look like a newbie, you will not do very well to start – so what! Do it anyway. You do not need to compete with the Lolo’s or Gazelles out there…you simply need to compete with yourself. You vs. You. Your goal is to try to do a little better than you did the day before, and most importantly, just keep going. Decide you will NOT give up on you.

As I prepare to run my fifth 1/2 marathon I tell you that it is possible and worth it to push yourself beyond your imagination. I cried after finishing my first half marathon from a combination of triumph and pain (my body felt like it got hit by a mack truck), but that medal was heavy against my swelling chest and the weight of it was immense. I may never run a full marathon or ultra; however, in the battle that I need to fight just to push myself through, I come out a winner. Hold yourself accountable and just go forward. Move one step at a time towards your own fears by making them the goals you pursue. Sometimes you need to do this in spite of yourself.

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer who founded TotalFit Solutions. Her private practice is in Los Gatos, California and she can be reached at 408.827.5139.

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