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Intuitive Eating

I’ve spent the last couple of years reading a wide variety of books on women’s health and fertility, holistic approaches to wellness, and the connection between mental health and hormones. But one of my recent favorite books is titled Intuitive Eating by nutritionists Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Simply put, intuitive eating is a way of eating that teaches you how to follow your body’s hunger and fullness signals, which brings you to a greater awareness and increased self-respect for your body. No counting carbs or calories. No monitoring your weight. No diets. It sounds so simple and clear, right? Like, duh.

Months before I even heard about or purchased the book, I was already trying to follow my own approach to intuitive eating–and for the most part, it was working. I stopped stepping on the scale. I ate when I was hungry, and refused food when I was full. I also gave in to cravings every once in a while–and this is the part that tripped me up the most. I often felt terribly guilty for eating a single fry. If I ate a whole burger, you bet I would obsessively think about–and regret–that burger for days. Even though my relationship with food was certainly progressing for the better, I still dealt with body dysmorphia relapses: periods of time when I refused to go out because I was convinced I was too ugly to be seen in public.

Intuitive Eating really is a breath of fresh air. There are no hard rules, but instead 10 principles, and each one of them make perfect, logical sense. Some of the principles certainly resonated with me more than others. The section about challenging my inner food police and critic hit home pretty hard, as did the principle to respect my body and its own unique characteristics. By the time I was done reading the entire book (which, while not boring, is lengthy and I invested a good amount of time in not only reading it, but fully understanding the principles) I felt like I had a great set of tools to help move me forward on my journey of health and well-being.

Bento box lunches add a nice touch to my work day.

Bento box lunches add a nice touch to my work day.

My relationship with food, my body, and my health has changed tremendously just within the past few months. I am no longer afraid of food. I love food. I’ve been taking serious pleasure in cafe con leche on weekends. Greek yogurt sprinkled with granola and topped with strawberries and mandarins has become my go-to breakfast on most weekday mornings. I recently had the most delicious seaweed salad and spring rolls on the rooftop of a Thai restaurant. Food has become the most wonderful, functional art, engaging all of my senses.

Sprats! They might look funny, but these guys taste delicious on crackers with cheese and sun-dried tomato.

Sprats! They might look funny, but these guys taste delicious on crackers with cheese and sun-dried tomato.

Reading Intuitive Eating in conjunction with Moody Bitches (Dr. Julie Holland) and Taking Charge of Your Fertility (Toni Weschler, MPH) especially helped me understand just how much damage I was doing to my body by restricting and starving it out. I dove deep into the different phases of the menstrual cycle and learned that I need to nourish myself each day of the month to be at my best and healthiest. This means brisks jogs during the follicular and ovulatory phases paired with eye-catching salads and light proteins. The luteal phase is a time for me to pause and ask my body what it craves most. This is the time of the month when I need salmon, hard-boiled egg salad paired with chardonnay, pasta, pilates, and definitely, definitely acupuncture. Menstruating calls for quiet. Coffee and writing, meditation. Rare steaks and red wine.

Mmm, thai iced tea.

Mmm, thai iced tea.

This isn’t to say that ever since reading Intuitive Eating, I haven’t had my hiccups. No one and no lifestyle is perfect. I’m definitely curvier now than I was when I was sick, and while some days I love it, other days I still struggle. But I can’t deny that I have more energy than before. I smile and laugh more, I’m less critical of both myself and others. When I nourish my body, I nourish my mind, heart, and soul.

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Cafe

This morning: cafe cubano,
the too-sweet stench
of platanos maduros

on the window sill.
They say I’m too white,
that I cannot lay claim
to my ancestor’s tongue

but they can’t discern
the merry clink of miniature
porcelain cups being brought down
from a high shelf

they can’t remember a land
steaming with hot soil
and a salt breeze;
Ruben at the piano,

old men singing in the streets.
I dreamed it, maybe.
Or was it a story?

Even so, most people forget
that after birth but before white or brown
or woman or man
we hunger for the nearest milk

and, years later, even after
the senna
and the pills
and the wasted time spent wishing
I was not alive

I reach for it:
two teaspoons of guava,
the thick pour of leche de almendras.

This is my story.
When I am hungry
I hold the world of my ancestors on my tongue
and swallow it.

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The Window

The window frame broke the other day
and we are rich like kings;

everything we touch turns to portraits we slip inside
our pockets and carry with us everywhere,

only taking them out for reflection,
refusing to barter or spend.

You know I know my heart too much.
It is too much and asks too much

but the day the window frame broke I ran clear
past castles, piano music

falling from their open windows. I did not stop to look.
None of it mattered

because I was running home to furnish rooms
with poems of you, poems with your portraits

and your music and your windows.

When the window frame broke we swept the splinters from the floor
and thought nothing more of it.

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Song

I have this recurring dream of listening to a song. I’m at the opera, only a few feet away from the soprano onstage, the ethereal highs of her voice backed up by a full orchestra. Or I’m driving, tuning into a radio station, and this familiar beat comes on–I remember this, I think, I know this, and it reminds me of a time and a place I cannot recall, and the name won’t come. Or sometimes I’m singing myself. I’m standing in the middle of an empty cobblestone street at dawn, the shuttered apartments around me glowing pink with the first touch of light. The wind smells like water. I open my mouth as if to drink, but instead I sing. And it’s like I’m singing up the sun.

But when I wake up, I can never remember how the song goes.

 


song

In shamanic tradition, finding your song is an integral step towards becoming a shaman. It’s only by finding, carefully listening to, and then singing your own song that you can develop the ability to truly help and heal others. Being able to sing your song is a sign that you are in harmony with yourself, and thus the natural world.

There is this beautiful quote from Kay Cordell Whitaker’s “The Reluctant Shaman,” where Kay’s teacher tells her:

“Little Stellifa, you breathe so shallow sometimes. That does not feed your life. Breathe slow now and deep, to fill yourself as though your whole body is an empty vessel, leaving no space between breaths. Make this breathing a habit. One can do many things with the breath…it is a carrier of songs and stories…[i]t is the thing we take most into our bodies, assimilate at the heart, and send out with bits of our essence in its current.”

I’ve always been musically inclined, but the energy that I used to put towards violin, voice, and piano lessons I now channel into my writing. Every poem comes to me first as song. That is a poem’s true form. Those first words have a rhythm, a certain cadence, and it is only by being absolutely silent, by closing myself off to the outer world and turning all of my senses inward, that I can accurately and successfully reproduce that song. It is a deep and beautiful meditation. As I’m constructing the poem and going through edits, I sing it out loud many, many times, trying out different tones, annunciations, or speeds. I know the right pitch when I’ve hit it. It’s a feeling of complete accordance. It’s a soft high. My body, all my cells nod, Yes, yes, and buzz with delight.

So this month, I encourage you to travel inward. Find your breath. Remember that your breath, and that the way you breathe, hold so much power. Use your breath to sing your song. Maybe your song is a mixed media sculpture, or maybe it’s a story you’ve been meaning to finish for years. Whatever it is, this month create something that is wholly, fearlessly you from the heart. Then: send it out into the world.

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66

5:18 p.m., on the 66 bus headed East
and everyone is cramped, close, avoiding
contact, craving space. There is a woman.

She is large, her voice, the way she flaps
her hands when she talks as if her palms
are wild birds sure of flight, her body

huge, wedged over two seats and swathed
in bundles of black fur. The woman talks
as if we are all listening, and we can’t help it,

we are, we’re listening to her talk about salad,
how she eats it every day, could eat it for
breakfast lunch and dinner and the more

polite of us doubt, the more audacious
of us snigger openly, for how could this mountain
of a woman eat salad every day, as she says,

eat it every day and not crumble to dust,
not lose her great weight and become
mountain’s shadow, half the woman she is now,

a fleshy resemblance to the greens she so
loves; wilted celery leaf, limp romaine.
I stare down at my own hands

folded like sleeping doves in my lap.
I am envious of the woman, envious of
her weighted body in all its surety;

her body, the lasting memory of first kiss,
first embrace, first grief, the limitless expanse
of all three, the source of joy and sex and sorrow.

Her body, a fierce politic. One day, maybe soon,
she will take a step and shake all of us, wake us
from our lurid dreams of Lululemon and scales

and grapefruit and salad. We will be like newborns,
mouths twisted open in fear or in awe, crying for her,
crying for a woman, a woman’s body without boundaries.

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Definitions

Mary Oliver

 

 

“Poets are among the most fearless of writers when it comes to self-revelation.” – Richard M. Berlin

 

 

There is a wonderful book about the intersection between mental health and poetry that I strongly urge every poet to read. It’s called Poets on Prozac: Mental Illness, Treatment, and the Creative Process. The book’s premise is that, contrary to popular belief, madness does not inspire creativity in poets. The book is comprised of a series of essays from published and well-read poets that have struggled with mental health and their very personal take on how mental health, and consequent healing through medicaton and other therapies, has affected their writing.

What’s even more unique about this collection of essays is that it features each contributing writer’s poetry before, during, and after treatment for mental illness. More often than not, the writing of the poet had improved. They were able to tackle subject matters in their poetry that they’d previously been afraid to explore. Because of their increased attention span, they were able to stay with a poem longer, pulling it through the rigorous edits necessary for publication. And, of course, they found the motivation and courage to publish.

It’s been a couple months since I read that book, but like any book worth reading, I find myself thinking about it, going back to it and re-reading parts, highlighting new quotes. It’s the first book I’ve read that doesn’t romanticize the connection between poetry and mental health, the relationship between the poet and her writing. I started to consider both my work and my illness–previously two separate entities–in the context of these essays. How had my anxiety affected my writing? And the more important question: how had my recovery improved my writing, if at all?

Below is my own essay, written as if it could be published alongside those authors in Poets on Prozac. While sharing my story isn’t exactly something I delight in, I do feel that it needs to be done so that we can begin to lay the groundwork for a safe place to talk about mental health. As always, sending my love.

DEFINITION

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Minnesota

 
 
All the weather channels are saying partly cloudy
and we are sun-dazed, wrapped in the warm folds
of an afternoon whose moon is a polite interruption,
a nail fleck on blue sky, a reminder that this day
will never make history, but will soon be part of ours.

And I think of it, then: our prairie wide as water,
coyote winking through reedy stalks of grass; the faded dirt
path dotted with yellow, ripened kernels precious in the way
only fool’s gold can be. All of it was just outside the walls
of our house, all of it could have been ours

but for the shards of mirror that blocked the front door,
all the words in the dictionary ours but for the senna
that thickened my tongue, all the weather channels saying
mostly sunny, but the shades drawn against the smallest intrusion.
Even the moon could not knock on my door.

You forgive me for the days that did not make our history.
We are far from that prairie now, far from that house with its walls
and its splintered mirror. We are in Minnesota, our bare faces
pointed towards the sun, and we are fool’s gold, earthly flames
marking the worn path towards home.

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