Could You Use 20 Minutes of Stillness?

Man thinking on a train journey.

Man thinking on a train journey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I probably use this blog to harp on about my busy life a little too much. We’re all busy, right? You don’t have time to read about someone else’s busy-ness. But that’s my life, which I’ve had to accept. At least I can say that I never get bored. December seems even more crammed with obligations than November – or maybe that’s how it always feels when you’re living in the middle of it.

There are times when I am so busy that I don’t realize how much my kids are growing. Then someone points it out, and I realize that they are big. What happened? How did I miss it? I have to remind myself that I need to slow down and be with them. No, I don’t really want to line up all of our toy cars and count them, but my three-year-old does, and as long as he still wants me to sit with him, I should take advantage of it instead of throwing this opportunity away.

Still, there are many nights when I have the best intentions only to realize that it’s past their bedtimes, and we still haven’t read or done something fun together. If only I could just slow down and be present for a while, then maybe it wouldn’t feel like I’m living with they’re-growing-up-too-fast-itis.

This past week, I was forced to slow down when I had my first acupuncture session. My doctor kept up a steady dialogue while she was placing the needles, I suppose to keep me from focusing on what she was doing. She asked for advice on finding the perfect home-baked something to give to her two very different neighbors. We talked a lot about our dietary lifestyles, which have a lot to do with treating the hypothyroidism from which we both suffer. I was settling in to enjoy a nice conversation.

But with all the needles in place, she turned off the lights, gave me a bell to ring if I needed anything, and told me she would be back in 20 minutes or so.

My first reaction was to wonder what in the world I would do for 20-or-so minutes. And I had no way to track the time; I wasn’t wearing my watch because there were needles in my wrist, nor did I have my phone. All I had was me and some needles on this cushioned table in a little room. What in the world was I supposed to do?

If I had been at home instead of on that table, there’s no way I would have just lain down with no stimulation except for the darkened room around me and outside noises. I would have gotten up every couple of minutes to do something or other. My parents should have named me Martha.

Instead, when I had no choice but to be still, my body grew calm and comfortable – a gift that I very much needed in the middle of a very hectic month.

There are so many people I know who push themselves past the limit, especially this time of year. On the one hand, many of them have to because of their particular jobs, but on the other, staying so busy and so stressed eventually takes its toll. Last year, my mother’s body succumbed to a vicious virus right after Christmas because her body gave up when it finally had the chance to slow down.

Sometimes, the only way our bodies can grab our attentions is to force us to stop. The busy-ness… well, it can wait.

And I guess waiting is hard for people like me because we want to stay active. We always want to move forward, to do something. Slowing down isn’t just a luxury but almost a sin.

Except that the stillness is healing, reinvigorating. As painful as it may seem at the time (especially if you’ve never tried to do anything like meditation or even failed miserably at it), the results are positive.

That day on the table was still busy; I had no time to write. But I spent a long time thinking about my novel and what should come next. I prayed for several dear friends, finally with the time to reflect on their particular situations. And I just laid there doing nothing. Imagine that.

My challenge – which I extend to myself, as well – is to choose to be still from time to time, to choose to watch and listen. To relax at what seems an inconvenient time and recharge. To be present. I can’t slow time or my boys’ growth spurts, but I can use that time to its fullest.

Which sometimes means leaving it empty.

How My Desire to Lose Weight Led to a Complete Lifestyle Change


The night before my younger son was born (as seen on the left above), I weighed more than I ever want to weigh again. And losing that weight was a lot harder than with baby number one. That came as a shock, accompanied with a good deal of worry over whether I would be able to keep the weight off – if it ever came off at all.

I have one of those lovely body types that gains weight if I so much as look at a cupcake. I’ve tried various exercise routines over the years, and finally found success with a combination of P90X and a couple interval routines, which have helped me achieve a level of fitness I never expected. The problem is, however, that exercise is only part of the solution. Living under the impression that I could work off the pizza and doughnuts and Saturday morning fast food breakfasts only lasted so long—just long enough for me to start regaining my baby weight (but this time without the baby).

When my clothes became uncomfortably tight, my options were to give in and buy larger ones or revolt against what I’d done to myself and take action. I took action.

Taking the First Step

Before actually doing something, the shift came from within. I know that sounds metaphysical and whatnot, but it’s absolutely true. There is a huge difference between thinking, Hmm, I really could lose a few pounds and realizing, Something has to change, and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen—permanently. Follow-through is a must, but there has to be that driving decision first.

Going Wheat-Free

I heard about Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back To Health a year or so before I decided it might be worth looking into. I didn’t want to cut out wheat. It seems to be in everything, including many of my favorite foods, but I was desperate and hoped it would make a difference. My husband thought author William Davis, M.D. was a quack, but since I was the one buying groceries and cooking, he had little choice but to eat my wheat-free food, at least at home. He lost nine pounds.

I’ve been reluctant to discuss this decision because most people think I’m stupid, latching onto a fad. I mean, why deny myself “regular” food if I don’t have an allergy that prevents me from eating it? At the same time, however, I was pleased by a number of people who came out of the woodwork and told me how going wheat-free has changed their lives for the better. As a friend said, even if only one-quarter of the book is true, that tiny bit of information is worth heeding.

Today’s wheat has been genetically engineered to grow more plentifully, and in doing so, its gluten content has risen dramatically. Franken-wheat, some call it. What struck me most about Davis’s research was the number of conditions apart from celiac that are affected by wheat consumption. Many of Davis’s patients had problems that no other doctors could fix, yet the simple deletion of wheat from their diets solved them.

And then there’s the obesity issue. Although whole wheat is recommended as a fiber-rich staple that should be a part of everyone’s diet, whole wheat bread elevates blood sugars nearly as high as white bread (don’t believe me—believe Harvard Medical School). While this is particularly harmful to you if you’re diabetic, this even affects people like me. The two slices of whole wheat toast that I used to eat every morning caused a blood sugar crash that made me ravenous two hours later.

Experimenting with Paleo

The Paleo Diet has a lot in common with Wheat Belly, although there are places where the two diverge. If you follow the “primal” version, you can have dairy, while many Paleo followers shun milk products altogether. Either way, the main idea is that humans started as hunter-gatherers, and we survived just fine without processed foods.

Paleo depends on many natural foods, but carby foods like corn and legumes are a big no-no. There are a number of great Paleo recipes that I’ve tried, but I have not gone completely Paleo. Instead, I use a blend of the two diets I’ve discussed, as well as some gluten-free selections. Even so, the mere deletion and substitution of certain elements of my diet isn’t enough, which leads to the third and most drastic thing I’ve done.

Making My Own

Making my own what? Well, a lot of things. Pizza dough, protein bars, almond milk, almond meal, coconut milk, coconut flour, peanut butter, tomato sauce. When I cut out wheat, I knew we couldn’t eat out as much, so that meant cooking. By making a lot of things from scratch, I not only keep the cost down, but I also control what my family eats. The pre-made items that I do buy go through a lot of scrutiny first. If I don’t know some of the chemical-sounding ingredients, or if sugar is toward the top of the list, I make it on my own. I also avoid buying canned or frozen food as much as possible.

In short, I’ve become one of “those” moms.

Using Nature’s Supplements

I started to take an interest in natural remedies while doing research for a character in one of my novels. (It always comes back to writing for me, doesn’t it?)  Many people never think twice about popping a pill to fix their problems, but I would rather live in a way that keeps me from having problems to begin with. And if I need medical help, I would rather use nature’s treatments first.

I never even knew coconut oil existed before I read Wheat Belly. I assumed that I would have to buy it at a specialty store and was surprised to find it everywhere I normally shop. While I knew that hydrogenated oils are bad, I didn’t realize how bad. A friend gave me the book The Coconut Oil Miracle, by Bruce Fife, C.N., N.D. This truly is a miraculous oil. Not only is it a natural antibiotic, but it’s also antiviral and can even help fight the flu.

So what does coconut oil have to do with weight loss? It gives us energy and increases our metabolism. This is wonderful for people like me. I have to exercise two to three times more than people with fast metabolisms just to keep from gaining (and that’s only if I eat right, too).

To Make a Long Post a Little Longer. . .

What I discovered, even before I lost any weight, was that I was transformed, and not just physically. Although changing my eating habits certainly keeps me satisfied longer, the way I think about food (it’s not a social or even a comfort activity for me anymore) underwent an even more powerful transformation.

The weight loss is great, but the health benefits that I will reap from my change of lifestyle will last me, I hope, much longer than the clothes that I can fit into again.

Related articles

The Benefits of Cutting Out Gluten but Not Going Gluten-Free

Dr. Peter Attia on Ketosis

Mark’s Daily Apple (we don’t need grains)

Best Sugar Substitutes

All Sorts of Pretty (almond and coconut recipes)

Beating My Metabolism Into Submission


I have struggled with weight my whole life, even if I appear to be in great shape now. I almost wish sometimes that I let myself put on a ton of weight before getting into shape to prove that I do have to struggle. It gets old listening to people say how nice it must be to have it so easy. I look the way I do because of choices that I make every day, and things could be very different, if not for an embarrassing trip to the pediatrician when I was ten or eleven. Instead of gently telling me that I needed to lose a few pounds, my doctor pinched my far-from-flat belly in one hand, jiggled it, and with an expression that said Do this or die, told me I needed to take care of that.

I was mortified. I knew that everyone on my dad’s side of the family struggled with obesity, and my dad had warned me on more than one occasion that if I entered adulthood overweight, it would be hard to take and keep the weight off. But I wasn’t worried—I was nowhere near adulthood, right? That doctor’s visit was the first time I felt degraded enough to do something about my body.

If I were to be reincarnated based on my metabolism alone, I would come back as a sloth. So for me it doesn’t come down to just diet or exercise but both. Over the years, I’ve discovered the tricks that do and don’t work for me. For instance, those cute little ten minute workouts don’t work. They simply don’t burn the amount of calories that I need to maintain weight, much less lose.

So when I come across something that works, I add it to my routine. The jump rope was the first tool that really helped me shed pounds, and I’ve used it regularly since my senior year in high school. Then in college I started drinking meal shakes, more out of convenience than anything else. I’ve drunk them ever since, from Kashi to Slim Fast, and now ViSalus. People have teased me about them, but if I didn’t drink them, it would be so much harder to maintain my weight.

I added P90X in 2009, and I love it. I supplement with the jump rope, a recumbent bike, and some circuit training to keep my muscles challenged. Someone told me once that I was crazy for trying an extreme workout. And I have no delusions of being on the next cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition—I’m still going to have knot-knees, no matter how fit I am—but with P90X, I did achieve the best fitness of my adult life. Never before could I do a real, unassisted pull up, but P90X helped me build up enough strength to finally do what I thought was impossible.

With P90X, I became a stickler for logging my food intake, something I only did sporadically before. Whenever I don’t do it, I gain weight because I don’t feel accountable. I finally found an app called SlimKicker that not only counts calories, but it also keeps a log of my weight and exercise, and it has fitness, diet, and lifestyle challenges that keep me on my toes.

I’ve organized my life to make sure that fitness is a priority (one of many). It takes discipline and sacrifice, but I hope to be a good example to my children. More importantly, I hope to be healthy enough to see them into adulthood.






If You Don’t Like Diets. . .

A diet rich in soy and whey protein, found in ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I am not a trainer or nutritionist, I have been overweight before, not to mention that I lost more than I put on after both of my pregnancies. I do exercise regularly, but that’s not all there is to it. Here are five tips that I’ve applied to my own lifestyle and could be helpful to you.

1. Keep a food intake log.

This can be as simple or complex as you need it to be. The point is for it to help you, not bog you down with needless details. There are some great calorie counting and fitness websites and apps that will track calories for you if you input what you eat. When I did the P90X diet (yes, I did—religiously for two whole months), I kept track according to which food fell into which category (carb, protein, dairy, etc.). Then I switched to tracking the number of calories I consumed versus how many I burned in a day. That was a pain, but it helped me understand my own personal limits. Once I had a handle on that, I scaled back to a list of the food I ate every day along with a record of my weight. I noticed patterns, for instance, if pizza was on the list one day, my weight would probably go up the next. You can employ any of these methods or do something different. If you have a calendar, you could write, “Ate cake today—no more this week!” The point is, make it work for you. As I discovered when I first wrote down what I ate, I wouldn’t eat something if I didn’t want to have to account for it.

2. Monitor when you eat and drink.

This was very important on the P90X diet, but that wasn’t the first place I’d encountered it. I’d heard from different sources that you should always eat within the first 30 to 60 minutes of your day. But you should also not workout within an hour of eating. That means, to follow this rule and get out the door with my kids by no later than 7:10 during the school year, either I have to get up at 3:30 or sacrifice something. I choose to sacrifice eating within the first hour most days. Sorry, but I need my sleep (and there’s a lot less of it to go around these days). With this in mind, I at least try to be good about when I eat at the end of the day. Some sources say not to eat within the last hour, although others say not to eat within the last three. I eat small portions all day long, and so I’m full well before bedtime. But you know what I’ve found makes the most difference? Liquid intake. And I’m talking plain old water. If I eat something super salty and drink water all night afterward, I’ll weigh more the next morning. It’s even worse, of course, if I drink something with actual calories. (Sports drinks seem to be the worst culprit. I never drink them at night, if I can help it, although I sometimes crave one after an evening workout.) I am not saying to deprive yourself and go thirsty, but keep in mind that twenty ounces of water right before bed will probably mean more on the scale the next day. So hydrate during the day, and determine when your cut off point should be for guzzling.

3. Cut out carbonated beverages.

This was extremely hard for me after I had my second baby. I couldn’t drink many carbonated beverages at all when I was pregnant because of swelling. So I craved them and went kind of crazy after delivering my little bundle of joy. That was a contributing factor to not losing weight as quickly as I wanted. As soon as I limited my intake, it became a lot easier. Carbonated beverages, even the zero calorie ones, contain sodium, and sodium makes you retain water weight.

4. Weigh yourself regularly.

For me, it’s a daily thing. The usual recommendation is to weigh once a week at the same time of day, but I just do it every day when I wake up. Yes, there are a lot of fluctuations, weighing every day, but the good thing about it is that it keeps me honest. I think hard about if I want that bowl of ice cream, knowing that I could very well see the negative effects the next morning. I became a believer in the daily method when, after plateauing, my mom suggested it to me. I was firmly against it at first but then tried it anyway, figuring I had nothing to lose—except seventeen pounds. What do you know? It worked, and quickly, too. That plateau became a thing of the past, and all my pre-baby clothes fit again in less than three months. (Do remember, if you’re exercising and your weight goes up slightly, but your clothes still fit, you might be converting fat to muscle.)

5. Eat Enough

The rule of thumb is to burn more than you eat in order to lose weight, but if you’re burning two thousand calories and only consuming five hundred, you won’t have the stamina to get through the day. I am not a huge proponent of crash diets because it is so easy to lose control and gain more than you lost to begin with when you start eating normal portions again. (I’ve done it myself, and it took a good four years to lose the weight I put back on.) I suggest that if you plan to do an extremely low-calorie diet, make sure it’s monitored by a nutritionist. If you exercise regularly, your body won’t take well to a lettuce and water diet. This doesn’t mean picking up a two hundred calorie candy bar because you need an energy boost (read about empty calories here). You need a balance of proteins (to rebuild muscle mass), complex carbohydrates (to give you energy), plus fruits and vegetables (for vital vitamins and minerals).

Hold It! You’re Exercising Wrong (I Know I Was)

Cover of "Hold It! You're Exercising Wron...

I read Hold It! You’re Exercising Wrong: Your Prescription for First-Class Fitness Fast! the first time in 1999. I was about to give up on exercise completely because I exercised all the time, yet I never lost weight. I was chubby and had low self-esteem. I wanted to tell people I ran into, “I really shouldn’t look like this. I do workouts from a weightlifting book by Lou Ferrigno. I do step aerobics, too, I promise.”

Searching the fitness section of Chamblin Bookmine (the most awesome bookstore in northeast Florida, by the way), author Edward Jackowski’s title practically jumped out and grabbed me. I knew I had to be doing something wrong to work out so often and have absolutely no results. And when I read the book, I discovered that there were many people in the same situation. The reason is that there are many fitness programs out there, but they are often directed at anyone and everyone instead of targeting the appropriate body types.

Jackowski lists four body types, according to where one puts on weight. Cones are broader of shoulder and narrower at the hips, putting more weight and muscle on the upper halves of their bodies (usually men but not always). Rulers gain weight evenly from top to bottom, with small to medium hips. Spoons are the opposites of cones, amassing weight on the lower halves of their bodies, particularly thighs. And finally, hourglasses (most often women) are proportional on top and bottom, usually with slender waists.

Body types are genetic, so there’s no way to change that. Jackowski, however, details plans for each type, listing which exercises to avoid (because they accentuate the negative aspects of those particular body types) and which to add to a person’s routine to become as fit as possible. I found out, since I was a spoon, Lou-Ferrigno-style weightlifting and step aerobics were the two last things that I should have done. As soon as I adopted Jackowski’s workout, I became physically fit within a few short months.

The most gratifying part was running into friends several months after losing weight, and they looked at me and asked where “the rest of me” was, since there wasn’t as much of me as there had been before.

There are many things I love about Jackowski’s workout. First, he explains why we need to do certain things, like a warm up and stretches and why they need to go in a particular order. And the exercises he recommends don’t require any special or expensive equipment. If I don’t have time to do a full workout, I can pick and choose exercises and tailor the whole thing to my limited schedule. Since 2009, I have also added the spoon-appropriate exercises from P90X and Spartacus.

The central component to the You’re Exercising Wrong workout, which is challenging for many people, is jump rope. According to Jackowski, “you burn more fat with rope jumping than with any other exercise” (81). I try to jump rope two to three times a week, and at one point between babies, I could do so continuously for ten minutes. It sounded impossible at first, but I built up gradually from 30 seconds to one minute on up. If an average girl who barely participated in team sports can do it, anyone with two functional legs can. Even if you’re skeptical about the jump rope part, I highly recommend this book if you want to get into shape and learn more about your own body type.