Book Review: The Setpoint Diet

I have read many, many diet books over the years. Mostly because I was never self-disciplined enough to ever learn to really like eating healthy for the right reasons. I have been up and down for so many years. But more recently over the last year, I have found that my attempts, even with the right discipline of tracking my calories and exercising, have been completely futile. This has never happened before. When I had put my mind to it in the past, it was never an issue to drop weight. This has me in a complete panic! I started researching about set point, or the weight at which your body fights to stay. I chose that route because I had experienced many a plateau over time and was frustrated by it to no end. I could feel my body fighting me every step of the way. I knew I had bad habits but this was ridiculous.

My reasons nowadays to lose weight are different from they were in the past. It’s not about vanity anymore. My father’s family had so much heart disease and I know I’m heading down the same path if I don’t do something soon. Also, I know I could have so much more energy if I could get this extra baggage off. I want to accomplish so many things, and I can’t do them effectively if my back constantly hurts due to all the extra weight. Lastly, my daughter sometimes asks me why she’s bigger than her friends. That absolutely kills me. I can’t send my daughter down the same path, it’s completely irresponsible. I must be able to show her a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. Yes, she’s picky and that’s been really difficult, but it’s up to me to find a good solution for us both.

What I loved about The Setpoint Diet is how it reiterates so much great advice I had learned from legitimate nutritionist trainers over the years. It also points out all of the “controversial” foods out there. When you go into the diet aisle in the bookstore, there are so many publications which contain completely contrary advice; it’s so difficult to find the right formula. I’m busy, just tell me the right diet to follow and I’m willing to commit if I see results. The problem was, I had committed to so many false ideas that I continued to gain weight instead… talk about complete and epic failure!

Some diets work for some and some don’t. That’s clear. What I love about this book is that it focuses on whole foods. It also exposes the “healthy myths”, those foods you think are good for you but in actuality are stalling your progress. It recognizes that the problem isn’t always losing the weight, it’s keeping it off for good. That’s the aim of this book, to lower your set point and stay there without self-torture. I can’t tell you if the strategy from this book will work yet, but after reading no less than 50 diet books over the years, I’m willing to give this one a legitimate shot!

The Sounds of Summer Nights

I went for a car ride tonight by myself and remembered how glorious the sounds of summer nights can truly be. I rarely allow myself to soak in that concert of nature because I always have both the radio and the air conditioning blasting while driving. I’m also usually buried somewhere in my head about the week that was or the week to come.

But tonight I remembered the relaxation that can be gained by simply opening your ears to the symphonies that are played each and every night. One doesn’t need tickets, just a willing heart and an open mind.

Fond memories of my childhood came flooding back to me of peace, quiet and freedom from responsibilities. I recalled summer reading on the couch of stories that transported me to other lands, all with the summer backdrop in my ears from the open windows that reminded me of the coming morning’s complete freedom from responsibility.

Connecting with nature is a luxury we rarely allow ourselves to feel. But there is no cost and the dividends are extraordinary. Rather than anxiety brought on by my ears completely overwhelmed and bombarded with constant harsh, electronic stimuli, I am feeling complete and total peace, ready to calmly and clearly take on the week ahead.

Open a window and try it out, you’ll be glad you did.

To Be of Use

This weekend I was reminded again of Angelina Jolie’s acceptance speech for her humanitarian award at the Oscars. If you didn’t see it, please check it out here.

She talks about how she doesn’t know why she has her charmed, extraordinary life, and a woman in a refugee camp has hers, but she will never live sheltered again and promises to forever be of service to others.

When I took my children to CCD this weekend, the teacher told us his story of sitting in Penn Station when he had missed his train. During that wait, he took 3 homeless men out for dinner when they came to ask him for cash. Each act took no more than 5 minutes, but restored hope for those who may have lost it in despair.

When I went to buy makeup last weekend, I finally took an extra five minutes to look up which companies are cruelty free, so that I can do the right thing, instead of my usual carelessness. I couldn’t believe I had never taken the time out to do that before. I was making a difference.

I think about one of my passions, ending the nightmare of domestic violence and human trafficking. This weekend, I will take a few hours and bowl. I will ask people to support me monetarily. I will never know the horror of fearing for my and my children’s safety day in and day out. But I will look to make a difference and be of use.

In these flash moments, we can all make a difference. If we each do so, imagine the impact we can have on the world at large.

When you know better, you do better.” -Maya Angelou

I Actually Hiked!!

If you’ve been following this blog, or if you’ve known me for more than an hour, you know when it comes to outdoor activities, I’m scared of my own shadow. I didn’t grow up hiking or camping and never really ran into it on my journey thus far. But in my newest job, my colleague has been hiking forever and goes into the woods for nights on end by herself. Completely inspired by her, I jumped in.

As is customary when I discover a new hobby, I run out and buy ten books on the subject. I spent most of the last two weeks familiarizing myself with all aspects of hiking. Of course, I especially focused on the parts where it would be possible that I would die…that’s just my particular slant on things…

“Wait, but can I die???”

So yesterday I thought, it’s time to do the real deal. I packed up snacks, water, dressed in layers like they told me and of course, brought a wine opener in case someone tried to kill me…I could surely fight back with that, or at least open up some relaxing wine for the event.

But what was so amazing to me, was that the trails were clearly marked, there were people everywhere and this looks like a safe and enjoyable new world! Check out the signs and markings!!!

Clearly marked signage!!
Fabulous Views!

I had to watch myself to not go too far or too high,which is also customary of me jumping into a new thing, so I only went for 35 minutes and I’m sure I’ll still be very sore into tomorrow, and the next three days after that. But this event was far more mental than it was physical.

Remember that blog where I say, “Take a Risk”?

Yesterday, I actually did it. And it’s opening up a whole new world of possibilities. I took action and I couldn’t feel more accomplished. Cheers to jumping in to something new!!!

What are you Chasing?

I read recently that the human drive, one of the characteristics that separates us from all other living things, is constantly chasing something. It’s one of the reasons we’ve survived this long. We, by instinct, are always looking for the next way to make our lives better, that’s the basis of how we innovate forward. It’s also one of the reasons we never feel satisfied and why our lives are laden with stress. Sarah Wilson in First, We Make the Beast Beautiful, calls this looking for “The Something Else”.

I can’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t looking for “The Something Else”. I’ve made a life’s career of it. Sarah notes it’s a characteristic of the anxious. I’m so curious if that is true. If you are not by nature anxious, are you not always chasing the next thing? Of course life always throws you challenges, but is normal life actually peaceful for you on a day to day basis? Do you live in the moment like all the mindfulness books tell you to?

I have to say that finding writing again for me was a big piece of finding my “Something Else”. It was something that throughout my life, the further I went away from it, the more it called me back. So I have surrendered to the fact that it is a large part of my identity. There were mirages I had been hunting down over time, visions and versions of myself if you will, that never came to fulfillment. I imagined myself as someone who would eventually become glamorous, like turning into the proverbial swan. But the effort behind that persona is something for which I have no energy. My real persona can be best described as “comfortable” and I am everyday closer to being ok with that.

How much of what we are chasing is fed to us over time through cinema, advertising or the constructs of fairy tales? Reality can actually become a very comforting place if we allow it to be. It can be warm, inviting and loving if only we give ourselves permission to be there, awake and aware in the present moment.

Or maybe there is a place for the chase, eventually you find out who you were meant to be. But I have to believe you’ve been led there for most of your life, it’s just a matter of whether or not you were listening.

Book Review: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was truly taken back when I watched a Netflix documentary on Joan Didion. I immediately went out and bought as many of her books as I could find. I read The Year of Magical Thinking first. This book was such a quick read with a long-lasting and haunting impact. It was brilliant in its simplicity and its rhythm. Joan’s thoughts on love and life are profound and real. She is able to include all the right, descriptive details without being excessive. The lasting impact of this book comes with Joan’s exploration of the reality of reacting to a profound loss. She puts forth all the irrational deliberations through which she roamed at the risk of everyone thinking she must have lost her mind completely. That method made this book a great example of brilliant and raw memoir.

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Review: How to Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don’t by Lane Moore

How to Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don't

How to Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don’t by Lane Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been reading memoir and self-help for my entire life. I choose these genres to understand the yearnings inside of me and to look for others who share my anxieties. I had no idea when I bought Lane Moore’s How to Be Alone, how much it would strike both chords so strongly. One of the key components of memoir is to be completely raw and honest; she does both exquisitely. Lane describes awful events that she survived in a way that it was all normal, because for her, it was.

What I truly identified with in this book was how much a lack of love in your childhood can cause you to continuously and self-destructively ruin your life through your own choices, and then continuously scratch your head and wonder why. I understand this pattern as I have lived it myself over and over again. But Lane lets us know that we do it for a reason and that it is ultimately not our fault. She issues forgiveness to those of us who most need it, including herself.

The ending of the book is triumphant as Lane finds love in the smallest of packages, which society may not define as the ideal love, but one that is true, loyal and unconditional. Each day is a challenge but Lane has reminded me I’m not alone and together we can find peace.

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Defining Love

And so begins the month of February, where you can find sizable, shiny red heart-shaped boxes filled with all shapes and sizes of chocolate, seizing all the market opportunities associated with Valentine’s Day. Over the last few weeks, I’ve read and watched some incredible books and movies, taking me on a journey through all kinds of love; certainly not the typical definition. Fueled by these out-of-the-box tales, today I’m taking a shot at defining love.

In Bohemian Rhapsody (an incredibly brilliant film), Freddie Mercury is defined far beyond for what he was best known. His gay lovers were presented later in the film, after the central character Mary Austin, to whom he was engaged and defined as his common law wife, was glorified throughout the entire movie. I was so wonderfully surprised by this presentation for so many reasons. For one, Hollywood is displaying love in real life. It reminds me of the many reasons why I love the film Love Actually so much. These movies are not your typical Cinderella meets Prince Charming movie, which I have over the years come to loathe for so many reasons, not the least of which is the presentation of a damsel in distress waiting for her prince to find her.

Bohemian Rhapsody shows how deeply Freddie loved Mary; he continuously refers to her in the film as the love of his life. No one would ever know Freddie like she did. One of the best points of the film is when Freddie quotes to the press, “I am still figuring out love”. Because cultural norms and advertising firms like to present love in a certain way to boost the commercialization of it. But love does not come packaged in these red boxed ways in life and some may search a lifetime for something that doesn’t even exist. This is one of the reasons I so vehemently support the LGBT community. NO ONE has the right to tell ANYONE who they can and can not love. What agony it is to have to hold your heart closed behind a curtain because society might not approve.

Love Actually, which if you have not yet viewed it, is not the romantic comedy it appears to be. It does exactly what its title suggests, it defines what love actually is, in its myriad possible manifestations. It shows a few examples of the “typical boy meets girl, boy marries girl” kind of love. But it also showcases lifetime friendship’s undeniable euphoria, the sacrificial bonds of sibling familial ties, video camera footage of unrequited agony, and the harsh realities of infidelity. It is extraordinary in its message of hope, “Love actually is all around us”, in every wonderful and excruciatingly painful way.

If we are to truly embrace the opportunities that all kinds of love give to us, we must look beyond convention. We must find the hidden, everyday joys which often go overlooked. We must take off the shackles; society’s view of the hour placed upon us. Love’s power stretches far and wide in so many different and legitimate capacities. Love, in each and every form in which it appears, is the answer. We must not try to cram it into a shiny red heart-shaped box. We must allow it to flourish in each and every possible manifestation in which it appears. We must celebrate it, in all its forms, and create it, where there is none. Cheers to love.

In Silence, We are Complicit

There have been so many upsetting incidents hitting the news feed over the last few weeks. From women being killed by their intimate partners in multiple incidents across the country to native American war veterans being mocked by “Catholics”. It all leaves me feeling completely helpless, yet searching for ways to do more. I can’t help but ask myself daily, “What are we doing wrong”.

One of the reasons I write, is to build a platform for change. But I have to always do a reality check, are the right people listening? I get many comments from those in my corner, who believe in what I am saying. But I also get comments from those on the other side, only fired up more to justify their own positions. It is in this light that I view the current state of the country, where polar opposites constantly butt heads. But are we moving forward in any meaningful way?

While I loathe when Trump speaks as it truly makes my stomach turn, I really try to listen to those who support him so that I can understand their perspective. I listen to what their experiences were that led them to their decision. The answer is often the same. They support his platform and view his methodology as a weapon against lethargy, laziness and an assault on basic freedoms. Many supporters will actually admit that his ways are aggressive and uninformed, but they will take that over “liberals” any day of the week.

My view is that the method matters and his instigates the worst of society to rear their ugly heads. My view is that aggression comes in many forms, physical and psychological, both equally dangerous. I ask everyone, in this day and age, is any type of aggression necessary at all? When those whose ideas are not powerful enough to stand question, they simply resort to violence to place others in submission to justify their ego. It is time to strengthen our arguments and raise our voices to extinguish the assaults on our bodies and our intelligence. How will you raise your voice and make a difference?

Bridging the Political Gap

Peace in not the absence of conflict. It is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.    -Ronald Reagan

Many social events I attended during this past fall season were attended by friends and family from both sides of the political fence. I know many people who share my ideologies and I know many people who don’t. I also know of those folks on both sides who have literally shut out the people around them who don’t view the world as they do. As someone whose main goal in life is to change the world, I know this tactic is not the answer.

I am someone who has spent a lifetime delving into the psychology of why people think the way they do.  Charles Krauthammer, the late brilliant essayist, wrote about it in one of his essays published in the collection, “Things that Matter.” He said one of the biggest mistakes we make in trying to change the world is that we assume that just because someone is a human being halfway across the world, that deep down they must have the same beliefs and notions as we do. Unfortunately, it’s just not the case. The reasons people think and believe as they do is because of their experiences in life, the environment in which they were raised and how they are most basically wired within. Without a basic understanding of what makes each and every individual tick, we have no hope to change the world. Change is a process that happens one person at a time. The current political landscape demands that we take the time to truly understand each person’s perspective and why they think the way they do. Me preaching to the choir of the audience that believes what I do is not going to make a shred of difference. Real change can only happen if I can find common ground with the person who believes the complete opposite of what I do.

For those of you new to this blog, I have been in complete defiance of the Trump administration ever since he set foot on television to run for office. But I spent many a conversation this fall asking Trump supporters why they support him so that I can truly gain an understanding of why they do. I don’t believe ignoring the conversation because it might be uncomfortable helps any of us. I had also experienced through many of my blog posts this summer, that once I said I didn’t support Trump, I suddenly became responsible for every democrat’s decision over the last 50 years by the other side. I wanted to make sure I didn’t do that to the Trump supporters, i.e. hold them responsible for every ignorant thing that has ever come out of Trump’s mouth.

I certainly don’t want to give any boost here to any extremists on either side who believe in hate, for that is unacceptable. But there are good people on each side of this debate who are trying to support what they believe is right for the world. The issues are vast and complex; political platforms detail positions on many issues. A great deal of us pick a few that matter most to us and stand on that party line no matter what, because the outcome of those particular controversies have major consequences for us.

I certainly don’t have the answers. But I know that on the issues that matter most to me, there are those on the other side that have supported my causes, even though they haven’t voted in my direction. There are nuances and if we are to move forward in curing our ills, we must find the common ground. Common ground can not be found without civil discourse. Civil, intelligent, grounded and supported conversation is our only way to the future we deserve. Above all else, we must be open to hearing the whys.