Coming Clean

One woman’s honest quest to clean up her unhealthy life for herself and her family.

Monthly Archives: June 2010

Experience Life Magazine

Week 8: Breathe In, Breathe Out

When I was 13, I had a huge crush on Keanu Reeves. I had seen the movie Speed that summer, and I imagined I was Sandra Bullock, driving the bus to save those passengers while I fell in love with that dreamy cop. I cut out photos of Keanu and pasted them to my notebooks, and drew hearts around his face. Then, I began watching every movie Keanu has ever been in — the good, the bad and the horrible, the Bill & Ted movies included — stumbling across a low-grossing little gem that came out in 1993 called Little Buddha.

Most may not recall this under-the-radar flick, so I’ve included a clip
for your viewing pleasure. This scene in particular intrigued me, and so
fascinated me that I began a lifelong interest in expanding my
spirituality. The concept of reaching enlightenment through meditation
– in that I could sit still and block all distractions and gain a
better understanding of myself and this world — has always seemed like
an awesome achievement. I spent my youth routinely returning to the principles of Buddhism, and peppered my education with philosophy and religious studies classes to deepen my knowledge. (And to think my curiosity all began with an infatuation with Keanu Reeves.)


When week 8 of the Take Action Challenge asked us to simply breathe, I thought about my desire to practice meditation on regular basis. It’s funny: As easy and obvious as this challenged appeared, it really surprised me how much I neglect to sit quietly and focus on breathing every day. I think everyone assumes they do this, but consider how often you rest, just rest, without it intended to serve another purpose — reading a book, sleeping or watching TV, for example. I think it stems from the same reason some of us can’t go to the movies alone, or sit and have lunch without reading a magazine. We seem to place value on busyness (or simply looking occupied), and because we are social creatures, when we are busy together, all the better. I’m not saying I’m a shut in or that I don’t adore my friendships, but the moments when I’m alone and the house is quiet are really special. If my city block is also near silence — my neighbor isn’t playing the drums, the kids aren’t yelling down the street, my dog, Chloe, has stopped barking and no one is mowing the lawn — it’s like I’ve struck gold. It’s the perfect time to meditate — and to simply breathe.

On Practice
The Life Time Fitness in Highland Park has been offering meditation classes twice a week with Eddie. This week I went and found this form of “exercise” to suit me well. The hour-long class starts with deep silent breathing, then moves on to audible breathing (saying “om” aloud) and lastly, Eddie walks the students through visualization, incorporating all the practices save the vocalization. I found myself so relaxed that I dozed off — not drooling and snoring sleep, but where my stillness gave way to looseness that surrendered to sleep. Eddie had us create a picture in our minds of where we at peace, and I imagined a pasture near a creek, similar to the one Kyle and I recently visited on a fly-fishing trip in Lanesboro, Minnesota (below). Anytime I feel stressed, I picture this scene and slow my breathing in and out until that lurking deadline or aggravating phone call fades in severity — to be completed, yes, but not to ruin my day.

Pasture.jpgThe End of the Take Action Challenge
I hope, like me, you found easy ways to make big changes in your day — and, in turn, your life — through the Take Action Challenge. When I started this in May, I figured I would be encouraged to run laps or cut out all sweets and do yoga twice a week. (In time, I may run a few laps and cut out some sweets and do yoga once a week.) But what I appreciate about Experience Life and the philosophy of the staff is that small changes do add up. If you are coming from a place like me, where working out is rare and eating processed foods are commonplace, even taking a daily walk seems like work (when will I find the time?!). Although I’ve been more active and munched on more veggies in my past, returning to it or starting fresh can be equally paralyzing. But the little changes add up — and make a difference that is sustainable for a lifetime. And soon nothing feels like a chore (or a challenge), but is instead how you live — a happy, healthy life. Doesn’t that sound nice?    

Experience Life Magazine

Week 7: Foods on the Color Wheel

I’m finding the easiest way to eat more colorful fruits and vegetables for this week’s Take Action Challenge is with a crunchy salad, which I love in the summer. (In the winter, I prefer warmth, so I sauté greens and tomatoes and zucchini in 1 tablespoon olive oil and crushed fresh garlic, then add some sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. If I’m really hungry or if I make this for dinner, I add that to whole-wheat pasta or barley or quinoa, but it’s good enough on its own.)

I happen to work across the street from Lund’s grocery store, and I frequent it for soups, a great deli, snacks, and a large, diverse salad bar. Here was today’s delicious combo:

Cherry tomatoes
Green onions
Dried cranberries
Slivered almonds
Rotisserie chicken

Dressing: Balsamic vinaigrette


Experience Life Magazine

Week 6: Somewhere in That Stack of Papers…

I wouldn’t consider myself a pack rat, but I definitely have a problem. You don’t always see it all because I have it cleverly hidden in places I’ve long forgotten. My parents noticed it during college when I lived in an apartment in Uptown Minneapolis: I collect paper. Newspapers, junk mail, old magazines, receipts. I still have textbooks from college, essays and notebooks from my favorite seminars — my collection of financial paperwork dates back to my teens. The other day, I was cleaning in my closet (a multi-day project for our Take Action Challenge decluttering week), and I found a drawing from grade school that was addressed to my grandparents. I’m guessing they kept it and returned it to me in case I, say, scrapbook (I’ve tried and stalled too many times, but intend to do this glorious expression of creativity when I retire), but still, why I thought to keep it is beyond me.

Even though I keep a bounteous collection of paperwork fit for the Museum of Historical Moments in Courtney Lewis Opdahl’s Life, I still know where most things are. Generally speaking, anything in the land of misfit records is meant for the filing cabinet, but that’s becoming too full as well. Anything that needs action remains near the front door or in my work bag, so that I’m constantly reminded to respond. (Almost all of our bills are done online now, so the digital world has greatly helped decrease my clutter collection.)

But this brings up a good question: What does one keep and what does one toss when it comes to paperwork?

For financial records, I found this interesting article in Kiplinger’s. A few takeaways:
     • Keep you tax returns for life, but only the supporting documents are needed for three years (the time the IRS is allowed to audit)
     • Save all records pertaining to your home as long as you live there or own it
     • Shred or toss your pay stubs after you get your W-2
     • Shred or toss any monthly bills, unless you keep them for tax purposes (which then, I’m assuming, you can discard after you file your taxes, or to be safe, after that three-year mark for possible audits)

In my closet, well, that’s a whole other story. There are multiple sizes of clothes, shoes that don’t fit or are uncomfortable, accessories I no longer wear, a Winnie the Poo blanket I used as a baby and that I’m saving for my future child, and a black feather boa — you know, just in case. I have these twisty hot rollers I bought for my hair after seeing an infomercial, an electric foot bath, and a package of brand-new white athletic socks for when I become a runner. When I saw my basenji, Ladybird, staring back at me from a pile of old pillows and blankets, I became worried. I almost lost my dog in this mess?! She may be comfortable, but I’m not. Cleaning out this closet is a HUGE undertaking, and one that will definitely take me more than a week, but little by little, I’ll get there.

LBblanket.jpegSpeaking of clutter, my diet could use an overhaul as well. You should have (or soon have) your July/August 2010 issue at home or can read it online at I’m committing to the UltraSimple Slimdown by Mark Hyman, MD, after the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Dr. Hyman recommends starting on a Sunday, but I’m going to start Monday the 5th. I attempted the UltraSimple Detox Diet in February and only made it to Day 4, but I have a better plan of action this time, namely to start cutting back on sweets, caffeine and alcohol at least a week in advance, if not two. Here’s your heads up for those of you interested in trying it with me. Find tips for eliminating sweets and more, plus the entire detox here. I’ll be discussing my progress and hurdles on my blog all week from July 5 to July 11.

Experience Life Magazine

Week 5: Meal Planning

One of my favorite discoveries in the past few years was Google calendar. I came to it a bit late (as I do with most technology), but I quickly embraced it. I love planning and calendars and organizing my life into blocks of time. I’m very detailed, breaking down when I will work out, when I will get ready for the day, even when I will eat. I tend to be so scrupulous in my planning that I even give myself reminders in my notes for just how to carry out those tasks. Extraneous, yes, but for me, so satisfying.

I previously used Franklin Covey planners, noting all my tasks and to-dos and daily appointments on paper. While I’m still a fan of Stephen Covey’s system, I found I was becoming discouraged when I had to erase a chore because I ran out of time. I switched to pen, but found I was making a mess of my calendar by crossing off items I couldn’t complete — was I not getting anything done? Or more accurately, was I not getting anything I truly cared about done? Of course, at the time I was asking myself these larger questions, I was too swamped with work to make a change, so I switched to Google calendars where now, if I don’t get something done, I simply delete it. Less guilt up front, perhaps, but overall, I still don’t accomplish everything that I value.

This came to mind for week 5, when we were packing healthy meals, because I found I needed to add a block of time to my Sunday nights: planning my week’s meals. More specifically, planning and preparing the ingredients I would need for the week, and packing meals and snacks in Tupperware so I could add it to my bag and go. Any “diet,” no matter how off base, suggests a set plan for meals, because this is the way to success. Based on my experience with dieting, I agree with this finding completely.

My Weight-Gain Story, Part I
After my high-school graduation, I was looking forward to my first year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I was young and in love with a boy that went there, so, not knowing where else I wanted to attend school or even what I wanted to do other than write, I had applied and been accepted to Michigan the previous year. The spring before I graduated, I winnowed “write for a living” to journalism, which seemed like a good fit — I could make a little money while doing something that I enjoyed, and could move with my work, wherever in the world it took me. Once I discovered that Michigan didn’t have a formal journalism school, I started to reconsider my options (and my relationship — was I going there for him or me?). When I learned I could still attend my safety school, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, which has an acclaimed school of journalism, I made the choice to stay close to home. It took me a few years to realize the U was the best school for me (far from a “safety school,” what was my back-up application encouraged me to grow in ways I couldn’t have imagined), but at the time I made that life-altering choice, I was devastated. My college plan shifted in a matter of weeks — I had made a major decision and I was terrified, and I was going through a break-up. I needed comfort, and I found it in food. I quickly gained 40 pounds that summer and fall.

Lady with a Plan
Now, there were a lot of lessons I learned about that first big weight gain that I’ll share later, but the most enlightening, which pertains to this week’s Take Action Challenge, is: When I don’t have a plan for food, all hell breaks loose. I eat anything and everything in my path like Cookie Monster, usually because I haven’t eaten at regular intervals so when I do, I’m ravenous. I’ll go to the drive-thru at fast-food joints — it appears to my food-consumed mind as a beacon of light in the distance to which my car inevitable steers off course. Or I’ll go to the grocery store, where I head to the deli or frozen-food section, seeking anything warm and creamy and cheesy and ready in an instance, with little prep work required. When I go into my kitchen to prepare a meal, I stare blindly into the fridge while Kyle searches the pantry only to conclude that we don’t have any food. We have all of the ingredients, mind you, but it hardly seems like food yet — the effort to make it into something tasty seems too exhausting. I give up easily. And in the end, delivery or takeout wins.

BUT, when I did loose weight successfully the first time, I was packing all my meals the night before. I was in my last year at the U, but I toted an extra-large refrigerated lunch bag with an ice pack and lunch, snacks — even dinner sometimes — with me all over campus. I ate smaller meals of lean proteins, vegetables, and fruits every two to three hours (I was missing two important food groups, healthy fats and complex carbs, but it was a flawed diet, hence why I gained the weight back and then some). With all that baggage and walking (I also started a light circuit-training program with resistance bands), I lost the 40 pounds in about 4 1/2 months.

Like I said, that’s a little unrealistic — and unhealthy — for most people, and my metabolism is much different now than it was when I was 22, but packing those meals on the go was key to my success. It allowed me to control what I was eating and, unlike my Google calendar, I won’t “delete” a meal — I love food too much to waste it.

When I didn’t pack snacks this week, I would stop at the grocery store and seek out vegetable-broth-based soups, fruits such as bananas or organic apples, unsalted nuts, or sugar snap peas. In a pinch, I found hard-boiled eggs at the gas station (yummy with a little sea salt and pepper or sriracha). If I did stop at the grocery near my work for snacks, I’d grab several to store in our work refrigerator to eat all week.

While it may seem like one more thing on my to-do list, I’m finding it’s the most important task I have. If I can plan and pack my meals for the week, I have a better chance of eating healthy meals and keeping the Cookie Monster within at bay.

Disclosure: I’ve fallen a bit behind with my updates, so those of you on my email list will be getting a surge of updates all at once. They are posted to the corresponding Take Action Challenge week to make sense to future readers.