Your Big, Beautiful, Messy Life
Yesterday, my husband and I went to a party. A PARTY! After fourteen months at home, it felt so strange to dress up, pick up my purse, tell the kids to order Chipotle, and jump in the car. All the guests were fully vaccinated, and it was a small, outdoor Kentucky Derby party. But it still felt strange. And wonderful.
Someone there asked me what I do. Of course. Maybe one day I'll write another post about how I've forgotten how to do small talk, and I'm not sure I want to remember how. I might be done with small talk.
Anyway, after I explained that I'm a health coach and a life coach, he said, "So, you like, tell people what to eat and stuff?" I said, no, I don't put people on programs. I help people get clear on their goals and change their habits to reach those goals. I also mentioned that the vast majority of people who come to me for health coaching really end up here for life coaching. Which includes health, of course, but also so many other things. "Oh. So, helping people get their $h!t together?" Nope. Not that either. But at least we weren't doing small talk anymore.
And it did get me thinking. When you work with a coach, you're not being told what to do. You're being guided to open up to possibility. Your possibilities.
When I was in my early 30s, I was at my gynecologist's office, of all places, complaining to her about my job. I was there because my husband and I had recently decided to start a family. And somehow I ended up talking about how what I thought was important had changed. I didn't hate practicing law, but I felt a little like I was going through the motions. She said, "You know what you need? A life coach!" I was like, a WHAT?! That sounds ridiculous. Especially in 2002, when there weren't many coaches around. The industry, as you know, has since taken off.
Do I wish I had taken her advice? Maybe. But my wonderful life had a way of helping me along. Intuition kicked in when I needed it. I made mistakes. I made just as many wonderful choices. Plus, complex relationships, cancer, children, a global pandemic, for God's sake . . . these things all served me well in their own way.
So what's a coach? A coach is the person who will ask you questions to help you pause and hear your intuition. To open your heart. To be vulnerable. To set boundaries. To seek all the things your heart desires, while walking that delicious fine line between loving and caring for yourself, while loving and caring for your neighbor and your community. To drop the limiting beliefs and silence the vicious self-talk. To dream big and be present for the small.
It doesn't mean life won't bring you heartache and struggle. But you'll be able to face it, to lean on yourself and the people who love you, and to use those moments to build your big beautiful, messy life.
Quarantine & the Happy Hour Habit
There can be a dark side to all the Zoom happy hours and days that feel like Groundhog Day. I posted about it on social media, and then I started receiving lots of comments on my personal Facebook page, plus private texts and messages about how universal that slippery slope can be. So I thought it was worth re-posting here. And by the way, the recipe for the virgin margarita can be found here, and the spritzer was just half Belvoir cucumber mint lemonade and half seltzer, with a few slices of cucumber and a sprig of mint. Enjoy, and read on . . .
Can we talk alcohol for a minute? And bear in mind, this is coming from the wife of a man who works in the industry. But during the COVID-19 crisis, I have found myself pouring a glass of wine almost every night. Sometimes two glasses. And that is WAY more than I would like to be drinking, not to mention the fact that excess alcohol consumption has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer and several other health conditions. And for me, a lot of the pleasure in a glass of wine is really about the ceremony, not so much the wine itself. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes there’s a perfect glass of wine for certain meals. Sometimes, on a hot summer day, a cold glass of white wine or rosé just can’t be beat. And it’s Cinco de Mayo on Taco Tuesday during the coronavirus, for God’s sake. That just screams margarita! But today, I decided to introduce some new non-alcoholic options into my repertoire, so that I can still make a special drink after a long day of homeschooling and working from home. I even ordered some Seedlip non-alcoholic spirits to try out. So, let me know if you’re with me on this, and if so, share your favorite mocktails. And listen ... I’m not going to pretend I’m becoming a teetotaler, but I do want to be more intentional about how often I’m taking a drink. Are you with me?
The Discomfort of a New Habit
This is how much I love you guys. I'm giving you a gallery of Ugly Exercising Face and my extremely dorky happy dance when weight training is over. My children would call it cringey and they'd be right. But I'm hoping it will help me make my point.
Let's back up a minute. This is the month that I'm really pushing a lot of clients and members to step up their exercise game. And I'm right there with you. I've been told by doctors that I need to do more weight-bearing exercise to increase my bone density. Then in October I attended an event where I got to meet Ruth Bader Ginsburg's personal trainer. Y'all. She's pretty much the Coolest Woman To Walk The Earth, and by the way, she's a FOUR-time cancer survivor. She hired Bryant Johnson when she realized it was time to get stronger.
So I'm at this event, and remember, I'm a health coach, so I should know better, but I still asked: What should I do, because I HATE WEIGHT TRAINING and I hate the gym. And he told me like it is. He asked if I cared about my health. He pointed out all the things I do to take care of myself. And finally he asked, "Then why aren't you doing this?" (And then he gave me a big kiss and some free workout equipment! SWOON! But that's a story for another day.)
Since then I've downloaded a great app on my iPad to make it easier to get in some weight-bearing exercise. But I'm inconsistent with it. So this week, I made a commitment to practice what I preach. I put three weight-bearing workouts on my calendar every week. I'm keeping that promise to myself, and I'm making it work for me. Notice I'm working out in my bedroom. Nothing fancy. Me, some weights, some resistance bands, my app and, oh yeah, my autographed copy of The RBG Workout. Because he's right, if she can do, so can I.
New habits are uncomfortable, you guys. They just are. Keep going. Make a commitment to yourself. Make a promise to yourself. And just keep doing it. Do you know how long it took me to make that morning lemon water a habit? Months. Some mornings, it seemed insurmountable. Impossible. I was tired, and everyone was up earlier than normal and asking me for stuff. But I did it anyway. And it got easier.
When that reminder came up on my phone today to go do my weight workout, I didn't want to stop what I was doing. But I did it anyway. Because I know it will get easier. DO IT ANYWAY. Keep going. I'm right there with you.
Yesterday morning I sat down and opened up a new blog post with the intention of writing about what I’ve learned about the health effects of alcohol. I thought this would be a good topic because (1) alcohol is a heavily debated subject in the health and wellness space, and (2) one of my good friends recently asked me a kind of funny, yet meaningful, question about health coaching and wine. Then my morning got the better of me (ie., I had to pay attention to my children) and now it’s the weekend and I’m sitting down again to do this post. However, since then, I’ve participated in an exercise around beliefs with another student in my coaching certification program. And I decided that my post about alcohol is really part of a bigger issue: beliefs around food and health.
So let’s go back to alcohol for a moment. But bear in mind you could substitute other words for alcohol in the next few paragraphs. Sugar, for example. Cake. Deli meat. Processed food. Bacon.
So this friend and I were hanging out poolside while our daughters were at swim team practice. I love this woman, she’s the cool to my hot(flash). While I’m all drama and chattiness and hand motions, she’s all calm and efficient with her words and stillness. My best friend in life is the same way. Clearly, when it comes to good friends, I have a type. Anyway, we were talking about the health coach thing, and she asked, “Aren’t you worried about being under a microscope?” And I was like, huh? And she said, “You know, like people will be watching for a misstep. Like if you have one too many glasses of wine?” Now I don’t know WHAT she is talking about, I have NEVER had too many glasses of wine.
Right, so I basically responded that I don’t really care if someone is judging me for drinking wine, my whole shtick is about balance and moderation, avoiding extremes, progress not perfection, making small changes to get big results, building better habits, etc. etc. But it got me thinking.
I have actually spent a fair amount of time researching this issue over the last few years. The National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and other organizations we generally trust have stated that there is a clear link between alcohol use and the risk of developing breast and other cancers. On the other hand, some of my favorite medical authors, Dr. Kristi Funk and the late Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, have noted that it’s a little more complex than that. How about red wine, particularly pinot noir, with its resveratrol and anti-estrogen properties (quite like the endocrine therapy given to most breast cancer survivors)? Look at that Greek island where everyone has wine with lunch and they're living longer than we are (of course they're also eating a lot of local veggies, herbs and fish, living in community, moving and resting). What if you just have one glass, with a meal chock full of cancer-fighting foods? Could there be some synergy there? Or as one oncologist pointed out, and I’m paraphrasing here, stress is absolutely a contributor to the expression of cancer, so three martinis on an empty stomach, probably not a good idea. But if a glass of wine with dinner is part of how a patient lets go of stress, then it’s probably not a problem.
Now listen, there are plenty of doctors and other medical professionals that would disagree with that statement. They may actually be right. Some medical professionals would also say you shouldn’t have any sugar. Or they’d point to the World Health Organization announcement that processed meats (hot dogs, ham, bacon, sausage and some deli meats) are carcinogenic and are linked to increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancers.
If a cancer patient consumed a fair amount of alcohol over the years, ate hot dogs in the summer, had bacon with breakfast on the weekends and ordered dessert from time to time, did he cause his cancer? That is a very polarizing question. There are some out there that will say his lifestyle probably contributed to his cancer, but that’s good news because he can also contribute to his healing by eating plant-based and anti-inflammatory foods, green tea, mushrooms and all the wonderful phytochemicals out there that act as medicine.
Okay, but what if someone has an unfavorable genetic profile? A predisposition to getting a particular type of cancer or some other disease? Then does it not matter? Bring on the Twinkies and sausage and tequila, he's going to get sick anyway!
But hold on, there’s some really cool stuff out there about epigenetics, the ability to actually change gene expression through diet, lifestyle and other choices. The breast cancer gene is there, but maybe we can keep it from “turning on” by making sure the terrain is healthy. In other words, feed the body and spirit in a way that boosts immunity and the body’s ability to kill off any pesky cancer cells before they become life-threatening.
Is your head spinning yet? Let’s go back to that glass of wine. Or the slice of cake. Crispy bacon. The cheeseburger. Food has power, but our beliefs around food can cause us to give it too much power. I’m actually taking this verbatim from something my friend and fellow coaching student said yesterday. She suddenly realized she had been giving food too much power. And we ALL do that. Especially women. If you think that slice of cake is going to make you sick, fat or both, your brain is taking that in and, I promise: it’s sending danger signals to every cell in your body. Do you know what IS going to make you sick, fat or both? Chronic inflammation from stress. If you obsessively worry that you have cancer (or you're going to get cancer) because you spent your twenties going out for cocktails after work, you’re going to fire up your fight or flight response, your body is going to release hormones and neurotransmitters that cause inflammation, and that will take its toll on your health. Stress is good, in short doses, when we’re really in danger. Not when we’re stuck inside our heads beating ourselves up for what we ate or drank. It’s a slice of cake, not a saber-tooth tiger. But your mind might be telling your body they’re equally dangerous.
So don’t get me wrong. I generally eat pretty healthy, I probably eat more vegetables than a lot of people you know, I get out and move when I can. Sometimes it’s a long bike ride, sometimes it’s just a quick walk around the neighborhood because I have 20 minutes before someone gets off a school bus. I meditate. I pay attention to stress (even if I don’t always manage it perfectly). But I also have learned that if I have a glass of wine or a treat, it’s part of enjoying life. And that’s all it is. To quote one of my teachers, it doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be both and more.
Beliefs are powerful. And so are you.
The Smallest Habits
Today I was listening to an interview of Dr. Frank Lipman. If you don't know about him, you can read more here. He put out a book last year, How to Be Well, which I intend to read ASAP. (You'll learn soon enough that I'm a bit of a wellness book junkie and have been for decades.) In the interview he said, "The small ordinary actions we take on a daily basis, or our habits that we perform daily, have extraordinary healing effects." He went on to list some of those things most of us take for granted, that he believes have really important health effects: walking in the forest, walking barefoot on the beach, being kind to others, practicing gratitude, listening to music, having a pet. Daily actions. "It's not just about a low sugar diet, and going to the gym, and sleeping well, which are all very important, but it's those other little things that people don't associate with health, which are hugely beneficial." Wow. Yes.
My aunt used to say that she could just put her face against a horse, just take in that warm smell, and it would do wonders for her. It must be genetic . . . there was a time in my life when I was under tremendous strain, but by all outward appearances, I was the healthiest girl around. I was on the phone with my father, and I was in this hurricane of anxiety that I just couldn't see my way out of. I was sitting in my car as we talked, and he knew I was at the barn because my daughter had a riding lesson. All of a sudden, he just cut me short (my father never cuts me short, which is saying a lot because I'm a talker), and said, "Nicole, I think you need to hang up and go for a ride. I think this is really important." I argued that it was too late, the lesson was almost over, I had been crying and looked awful, etc., but he insisted. And what that did was INTERRUPT that stress response. The stressors were still there, but by walking away from it and getting outside and connecting with life - of the animals, my daughter, the grass, the air, the insects humming - I was able to derail for a while what that stress response was doing to my health.
It does not have to be a horse. Sometimes I just step out onto my postage stamp of a front yard in my bare feet. Sometimes I lie down with one of the kids on the couch and watch The Loud House with them, or I'll ask my son to play the piano. He doesn't know that's why I'm asking (although, he probably knows why now). It also doesn't have to be about a specific stressor. Even the "little" daily stressors can accumulate and settle into our bodies, sending signals to our brains that result in a whole host of issues, from poor digestion to inflammation to hormone imbalances: text notifications and emails piling up and the to-do list and work and money and traffic and environmental toxins. The list goes on. We are emotionally, physically and spiritually bombarded almost constantly. But if we can establish some of those daily habits Dr. Lipman was talking about, a walk outside, a show of kindness, a moment of gratitude, snuggling up with a person or a pet, he's right . . . it can have tremendous effects on our wellbeing.
By the way, that's our rabbit Clover up there. He's the greatest rabbit of all time. He loves his people, and we adore him. He's very good at interrupting the human stress response.
About those pictures . . .
May 15, 2019
Here's the story behind those pictures you saw on the "About" page. If you follow me on social media, you already know this. As I sifted through photos to find a profile pic for Facebook and Instagram, I started to think about what wellness looks like. It's different for everybody (and every BODY). For me, it’s not about kale chips and the gym. It’s about balance, God, family and friends, moving my body, cheering on the people I love, eating healthy food, sometimes eating that slice of chocolate cake (I'm also a BAKER, for heaven's sake!) or having a glass of wine, being outdoors, being attentive to my body’s wisdom and intentional about my time, and learning from those times when I’m not. For you, it’s a whole different list of things.
A coach isn't your doctor or nutritionist. I'm not here to assess, diagnose and prescribe. I'm here to help you transform your mind set and build new habits to live your best life. And that's not always (or even necessarily) about food. It can be about fitness, stress management, mental health, connection, spiritual well-being . . . so many things. So that's what those pictures up there are about. The giant mushroom. Eating vegetables but also having a treat every now and then. Being around animals, and touching a horse every chance I get. Cheering on my swimmer and my lacrosse player and my piano player and my ice skater. Connecting with my husband, learning a new skill, overcoming physical challenges, laughing at myself. Making mistakes, asking for and granting forgiveness, and trying to keep my heart open. Life is a tapestry: can we accept and embrace every part of it? Because that might be the very first step to health and wellness.