broadsideblog

Posts Tagged ‘stress management’

It’s not just about the calories

In aging, behavior, culture, domestic life, family, food, Health, life, work on April 22, 2013 at 12:07 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m intrigued by what we eat, why we choose it and how challenging it is to eat (and drink!) very differently if you’re trying to lose weight.

Here’s a link to a new book that explains how major food companies carefully engineer things like potato chips so they are quite literally irresistible.

English: A pile of potato chips. These are Utz...

English: A pile of potato chips. These are Utz-brand, grandma’s kettle-cooked style. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2002, I gained 23 pounds in one year, stunning both my GP and ob-gyn.

I hadn’t done anything very differently, (no entire-cream-pie-eating-sessions, for example), but two major events had happened in the same six months — I’d started research, and lots of travel, on my first book and my mother (who survived) was found to have a very large brain tumor.

I went out to Vancouver, British Columbia, (I was in Dayton, Ohio doing book research when I learned I had a few days to get there) to see her through the surgery. Oh, and, I’d discovered some cysts in one breast (turned out to be nothing) that was scaring me shitless.

My point is this — if you’d commanded me, then, to count every calorie I was ingesting, I’d have laughed hysterically. Every ounce of my energy and wits was already in play.

Nor did I have much free time to go to a gym or be intentional about weight loss. I was writing a book about women and guns in America, a topic that was sometimes so dark and frightening I got secondary trauma. I’ve never owned a scale, nor am I the sort of person who stares at herself in the mirror every day pinching every excess inch with self-loathing.

But I do live and work in a wealthy suburb of New York City, where the alpha women are all ropy arms, size 2’s in sheath dresses, their calves the diameter of my forearms. And, in America, being productive trumps everything, so we’re all running reallyfastallthetime, tending to the endless needs of our bosses, clients and families, usually in that order.
Oh…..and our needs as well.

I think this skewed order is very much a part of why so many people are so fat. When the only source of real, cheap, accessible pleasure is something in a crinkly bag you can cram into your mouth while driving/commuting/sitting at your desk, you’re going to take the path of least resistance.

If the only thing that day (or week or month) that is going to make you 100 percent happy, (without a fight or eye-roll or endless negotiation with a whiny toddler), is a doughnut (dopamine hit alert!), odds are higher you’ll reach for the easy, quick and cheap holy trinity of sugar, salt and fat than a pious, low-cal apple or pile of celery sticks.

The Thai versions of Lay's Potato Chips. Most ...

The Thai versions of Lay’s Potato Chips. Most of the flavours are seafood oriented. Why can we not get these flavours in America? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our choices are also deeply cultural. I recently interviewed a senior manager who tried to call a lunch meeting of her staff in Montreal, a city with French values (food matters!) in a nation much more committed to life balance. No one came. I love that!

We are all deeply hungry, throughout our lives, for many things — silence, beauty, kindness, understanding, stimulation, leisure, pleasure, solace. Many of us simply do not have enough of these things in our days, or lives. We under-value them, or refuse to carve out time for them or have made too many commitments to many other people. We’re lonely or bored or overworked or underpaid. Possibly all of these miseries at once!

Food becomes proxy for so many other things we really want but can’t get, often in public moments when we most need comfort or joy: Fries instead of a hug. A Coke instead of a compliment. A bag of popcorn, with butter, instead of ten (six?) hours’ unbroken sleep. A 20-ounce latte instead of 20 minutes’ walk in fresh air with a lovely view.

I’m trying, still, to lose that weight, upping my exercise routine and being more careful about intake choices. So fucking tedious!

English: Snack food (potato chips and the like...

English: Snack food (potato chips and the like) vendors at side of church in Coyoacan, Mexico City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Simply counting all those calories doesn’t address the fundamental and challenging issues of every single choice affected by our knowledge [or lack of] nutrition, our limits of self-discipline, our self-awareness, and the limited time many of us have to choose, prepare and consume affordably healthy food.

I did an eight-day silent retreat two years ago and when I re-emerged into the noisy chaotic world I was much more aware how noisy environments made me unconsciously eat more faster.

Food contains so much more than calories!

Here’s an interesting blog post about how we decide what to eat.

Do you enjoy cooking, and/or eating?

“I failed!” How Google teaches its staffers to breathe deep — and cope

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, education, journalism, Media, Technology, work on April 28, 2012 at 2:29 pm
This is one of the huge welcoming signs for Go...

This is one of the huge welcoming signs for Google plex in the silicon valley. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a story you won’t read anywhere else in the world — my exclusive interview with Chade-Meng Tan, employee number 107 at Google, whose new book “Search Inside Yourself”  was released this week. The story is in Sunday’s New York Times, on the front page of the business section. It’s now up on their website.

It’s about a super-popular course there, which Meng created and has taught since 2005, in mindfulness and meditation. In an environment that drives employees hard to achieve all the time, all the while remaining “Googly” — friendly and collegial — anything to help control stress, frustration and emotion is a helpful tool.

I sat in on one of the SIY classes and learned a lot about myself!

Here’s an excerpt:

One exercise asks everyone to name, and share with a partner, three core values. “It centers you,” one man says afterward. “You can go through life forgetting what they are.”

There’s lots of easy laughter. People prop up their feet on the backs of seats and lean in to whisper to their partners — people from a variety of departments they otherwise might have never met. (Students are asked to pair up with a buddy for the duration of the course.)

In one seven-minute exercise, participants are asked to write, nonstop, how they envision their lives in five years. Mr. Tan ends it by tapping a Tibetan brass singing bowl.

They discuss what it means to succeed, and to fail. “Success and failure are emotional and physiological experiences,” Mr. Tan says. “We need to deal with them in a way that is present and calm.”

Then Mr. Lesser asks the entire room to shout in unison: “I failed!”

“We need to see failure in a kind, gentle and generous way,” he says. “Let’s see if we can explore these emotions without grasping.”

Talking about failure?

Sharing feelings?

Sitting quietly for long, unproductive minutes?

At Google?

I snagged this story when I met a woman who had worked on the class with Meng and who told me about him. Immediately intrigued, I stayed in touch with her and discovered he was going to publish this book. In December 2011 I negotiated an exclusive with his publisher.

I flew from my home in New York to Mountain View, where all the tech firms are based, including Google — about an hour from San Francisco. I spent two days on campus in the Googleplex, which offered me an intimate glimpse into a company most of us know primarily as a verb, whose logo appears on our computer screens worldwide.

The campus is almost unimaginably lush, with every conceivable amenity. There are primary-colored bicycles available and at the entrance to each building are bike helmets hanging on the wall. There are umbrellas for those who prefer to walk. There are 30 cafes offering free food. Heated toilet seats. Apiaries. Swimming pool. Volleyball court. Ping pong tables.

The basic idea, as those of you who follow tech firms know, is to keep all those bright ambitious employees working without distraction — so there are on-site laundry rooms and the day I arrived even a large van containing a mobile hair salon.

While it knows a great deal about all of us who use it, Google, as a corporate entity is not chatty, so the level of access I was granted was unusual. I spent two full days and interviewed employees from different departments. It was interesting to see the contrast between the lovely, spotless physical spaces inside and out — including labeled grapevines and a community garden — and to hear how much Google expects/demands of its staffers, typically hired after an intense and grueling interview process.

The single most compelling memory? It’s not in my story.

Sitting on one of those Japanese heated toilet seats — and seeing a plastic folder on the wall beside me, with a (copyrighted) one-sheet lesson in it, part of their program called Learning on the Loo. Yes, really.

The photos, which are fantastic, are by San Francisco based freelancer, and a friend, Peter DaSilva. I loved having the chance to watch him at work.

The photo editor was Jose R. Lopez — my husband.

Great story and lots of fun to report and write. I hope you enjoy it and spread the word!

Here’s a 54 minute video from Google of Meng talking about his book.

Recession-Stressed? Go Shooting, Fence In Your Driveway, Play Poker…

In business on September 3, 2009 at 8:39 am
Portrait of a boy wearing a mask holding a rifle

Image by Powerhouse Museum Collection via Flickr

Like many of us, I’m really sick of this recession! I lost my last full-time job in June 2006 and some of my wary, strapped freelance clients are paying 60 to 90 days late. Things were slow enough I recently took a six-day break, grateful to be able to stay with my Dad in Toronto, (free, the right price) just to feel human again.

Today’s New York Times business section has my story about how some Americans are managing their recession-related stress of lost/lowered income, disappearing clients, late payers, restricted access to credit. For many of us, it’s not a two or three-month sprint through a temporary rough patch, but a brutal, wearying year-long-plus marathon with no finish line anywhere in sight and tightening your belt means adding a new notch almost every month.

One female contractor in Connecticut heads to the shooting range and blasts off a few cathartic rounds. Another contractor, in suburban New York, who’s had to lay off half his employees, counts on the low-key, low-cost comfort of his longstanding poker game. I found a guy who happily admits he’s seen as a tad eccentric by his suburban North Carolina neighbors, who goes out and fences in his driveway. He’s not putting up a fence — but putting on a fencer’s metal mesh mask and publicly practicing the noble art of swordplay. As a former saber fencer, this makes perfect sense to me. It’s a lovely, elegant, time-tested way to burn off some angst.

If you, too, have been hit hard by this rotten, relentless recession, what are you doing to stay sane these days?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 12,191 other followers