Not Everyone is Going to Like Your Face

doorknob

In 1995, my family lived in a sleepy suburb of the MN twin cities where the lawns were Technicolor green and the trees were so young they needed to be propped up by plywood teepees. Through this neighborhood I walked with my Girl Scout cookie order forms in hand. I was on a roll. House after house, my smile was readily returned, and I bounded down each driveway with more orders and increasingly bouncy skips.

At the end of my cookie hawking loop, I arrived at my next-door neighbor’s house. The couple that lived there were older than the other adults on our street, and childless. Brimming with confidence, I rang their doorbell and was answered by an enormous man whose shadow threw a cold darkness over the front step.  He folded forearms across his enormous chest as he glared down and let me chatter through my spiel.

“Not today,” he said, and firmly shut the door.

Stunned, I swayed on my high-tops and stared at the doorknob. The brass blurred with my tears, and I ran home as fast as I could.

My bewildered mother could not understand my despair. She shook my order forms at me and pointed out that I had sold almost a hundred boxes of cookies. I still could not stop crying. I was so focused on the mean, scary neighbor that I no longer cared about all the neighbors who had been kind and receptive.

“Not everyone is going to be nice to you Mandy; that’s just the way it is,” my mother said. “Not everyone is going to like your face.”

Today, I sometimes catch myself reacting to life and people in the same way I did as a ten-year-old girl. I am sensitive, and I want people to like me and say yes to me. Even in a roomful of people who think I am great, I am apt to focus on the one person who doesn’t like my face.

Depending on the approval and kindness of others cripples our confidence. Confidence is not the deep belief that others will like us, but the knowledge that even if they don’t, we will be okay. We cannot control the behavior and reactions of other people, and hinging our self-worth on the way others treat us is a good way to be constantly insecure and disappointed.

We cannot fulfill our life’s purpose or potential if we are on an exhaustive quest for approval from everyone. It is a waste of our valuable time and energy to sell cookies to people with no appetite. I sometimes have to remind myself not to be the inconsolable child I once was, but instead to turn my focus toward the people who like me and the approval of the most important person in my life: myself.

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Quinoa Tabouleh : The Summer Salad You Can Have For Dinner

tabouli close mandy learo

Ingredients:

2 cups white quinoa

4 cups chicken stock

5 cloves of garlic

1 large seedless cucumber

quart grape tomatoes

bunch of parsley

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

salt to taste

tabouli ingredients mandy learo oknamaste

Directions:

Thoroughly rinse quinoa in a fine wire mesh strainer. Heat a pot on medium low and toast dry quinoa for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and simmer another 3-8 minutes until all stock is absorbed into quinoa. Chop cucumbers, tomatoes, and parsley and combine separately in a large bowl. Stir in lemon juice and olive oil. Set aside. Allow quinoa to come to room temperature before folding gently into the salad. Salt to taste.

tabouli far

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What to Do the Morning After You Eat Too Much

pizza

This morning I woke with a rounded tummy full of rocks and a thudding in my head. As I made my mincing way to the bathroom, I recalled, slowly and in the way of recalling a dream, what I ate last night. Decadent wedges of cheesy pizza, wing after buffalo wing all dunked in blue cheese and torn ecstatically from the bone. Filling my plate again, the tingly poison of Coke Zero. It all came back to me. I looked in the mirror, and this was my face:

oh god why

How can we undo a night’s overindulgence? What is to be done the morning after a regrettable feast?

a) Drink a gallon of lemon water and spend an hour on the treadmill. Eat a head of undressed lettuce for lunch and resolve never to have pizza again.

b) Exclaim, “FUCK IT!” Decide that we are off our diet and may as well stop trying to eat well at all. Wallow in self-pity for a bit, then gorge ourselves again tonight.

c) Acknowledge that we have overeaten but that we are still generally healthy, good people. Resume normal, balanced diet.

The answer, if we want to be in healthy relationship with food and our bodies, is C.

If we go down the A path, we are sure to suffer. We believe that we must undo the damage of overeating or purify our bodies once “tainted.” Thinking and acting this way is called compensatory behavior, and it is in the diagnostic criteria of almost every eating disorder. Compensatory behavior includes any actions meant to compensate for eating and are an attempt to ease feelings of guilt and anxiety. In pathological cases, purging, laxatives, spitting, and other extreme behaviors are implicated. In most people, compensatory behavior exists in less dangerous forms but has the same motivation and psychological nature, and therefore contributes to a relationship with food, weight, and body that is sick and which negatively impacts our lives and general sense of peace. I have said before in this blog that I believe we are living in an eating disordered culture, where we associate food with control and particular foods with morality.

If a maniacal attempt to undo food sins is sick, so too is the attitude in option B. In this scenario, we are thinking of a healthy diet as an all-or-nothing adventure. Either we are garbage cans or temples, and the way we choose what we eat is contingent on which way the switch is flipped. Perfectionism is at fault here, and it is a paralyzing force. We think that if we cannot do something perfectly, we should throw up our hands and not do it at all. What a dangerous operating principle for eating! At least three times a day we must feed ourselves, and if every meal is a measure of how perfect we are, we will surely want to opt out of the contest completely.

This morning I will select C: the sanest and most self-loving option. I had breakfast, and I am meeting my sister for a gentle walk before she leaves town. By 10am, I will have forgotten how much I ate last night, and I certainly will not be ruled or controlled by it. I wish the same for you: to be happy, joyous, and free even in the face of occasional gluttony and imperfection.

Hope you have a great day!

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The Problem with Your “Cheat Day”

cupcakes oknamaste

“Cheat Day” is a dieter’s term that refers to the one meal or day a week when all restrictions are lifted and it is okay to indulge in forbidden food items. Search for #cheatday on Instagram, and you will discover a menagerie of the greasiest, most sugar-laden plates imaginable, a decadent picture parade of all that is “bad food.”

The logic that underlies a cheat day is that if we can contain temptation to a designated time, we are less likely to give up on calorie restriction altogether. It is a reward for a week’s worth of dietary willpower.

Is this a sane strategy for self-motivation, or does it fuel and perpetuate a self-destructive relationship with food?

The problem with cheat days begins with the name itself: “cheat day.” Already we are assigning moral value to foodstuff, neatly arranging choices into the “good foods” we are allowed to eat all week and the “bad foods” we must save for our isolated free-for-all.

Morality and dieting are constantly conflated in our culture, especially among women. Years ago I worked as a server in an upscale restaurant, and I watched table after table of women titter over their desserts, “We’re being so bad right now!” “OMG, I’m gonna be bad and get the cheesecake.” This kind of attitude makes our sense of control and moral goodness contingent on the perceived value of our food choices: when we are eating healthy, we are good, and when we are eating something unhealthy, we are bad. Feelings of guilt and shame follow naturally, and they poison our relationship with food.

Upon deciding that a food is bad, that particular food becomes charged with a special energy, an emotional glow that exaggerates our desire for it. Once we decide that something is forbidden, we become more vulnerable to obsession over it, and if we are enforcing cheat day ethics, we become enslaved by our calendars and our desires. We hold on tight for three days until we are “allowed to have” the forbidden food. We think we have won a moral victory if we can wait, but in the process we have participated in a self-destructive cycle of craving, denial, and over-indulgence.That is no way to eat, and it is certainly no way to live.

Insulin and blood sugar levels have been shone to spike on dieter’s cheat days, leaving them with more cravings, a food hangover, and false evidence that they cannot trust themselves. Cheat days split our holistic selves into warring factions. They are a clear message to the mind, body, and spirit that our desires are suspect, that we cannot trust our hunger or ourselves. We treat the appetite with resentment and resistance, the body as a wild beast that must be corralled and beaten into submission. We reinforce the idea that without strict rules and guidelines, our inner glutton would surely sabotage every meal. We resolve to keep to an ascetic diet until our next cheat day, and the terrible cycle begins again.

Does this mean we should eat whatever we want whenever we want it? Not exactly. But it does mean that if we want a life where our whole selves are nurtured, we should do away with insane feast and famine dieting and eat in moderation. This is not a new idea, and even typing it makes me roll my eyes a little. But moderation is truly the way. It means that if we want french fries, we have a reasonable serving of them, even if we are trying to lose weight. We do not let french fries rent an apartment in our minds, nor do we wait until the day when we can gorge on a pound of them. We simply have them when the craving comes up, and we slow down to smell and chew and savor the food. We remain active and stick to a safe workout regime. Moderation is a practice, and it takes time to get the hang of it. However, this approach and only this approach will heal our relationship to fries, to all food, and to our own bodies.

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Deviled Eggs with Smoked Paprika

deviled eggs

Classic deviled eggs are a crowd-pleaser, and they are the frugal party-goer’s perfect dish to pass. Smoked paprika adds a tiny bit of kick to the traditional recipe without alienating any persnickety palates.

Ingredients:

12 eggs (plus a couple extra in case you tear up an egg or two when peeling)

tablespoon baking soda (optional)

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons spicy brown mustard

pinch of salt

pinch of black pepper

smoked paprika for garnish

Directions:

To boil the eggs, place them all in a pot and cover with cold water. Stir in baking soda (this makes peeling them easier later). Put on high flame until boiling. Cover with a lid and turn heat to low for 1 minute. Then, remove from heat and keep covered for 14 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water, then cool in ice bath.

Crack egg shells and peel under cool running water. Gently dry off with towel and slice in half lengthwise. Carefully remove yolks and transfer to bowl. Grind up yolks into a small crumble with the tines of a fork. Stir in mayonnaise, mustard, salt, and pepper, tasting as you go.

Spoon heaping tablespoons of yolk mixture back into whites. Sprinkle with paprika and serve immediately.

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The Only Yoga Flow I Do Every Single Day

Tabletop Pose

Tabletop Pose: Come to hands and knees with tops of the feet flat on the mat. Align knees under hips and wrists under shoulders. Look down to make the back of the neck an extension of the spine. Gently lengthen the tailbone away from the crown of the head. Gently draw the shoulders flat against the back and away from the ears. 

If I did a vigorous vinyasa flow and advanced asana every day, I would quickly burn out and end up resenting the practice. I know this, because I have tried to be an everyday superstar, and it didn’t work for me.

Rest is important, and recovery is not possible without rest. What constitutes adequate rest is different for every yogi, but for myself I find that I MUST chill out one day a week. If I am injured or going through an emotional time, I do take more days, but in general, one day a week of rest is my personal sweet spot.

However, even on my off day, I do a cat-cow flow. To me, it is a self-massage, and my very favorite sequence. Sometimes, I do it on my living room floor (which my dogs think is very exciting).

Cow Pose:

Cow Pose: On an inhale, let the belly slowly drop toward the floor. Tilt the pelvic bowl downward while drawing sit bones up. Lift the gaze forward. 

Cat Pose:

Cat Pose: On an exhale, press through the hands to round the back. Tilt the pelvic bowl upward and tuck the tailbone. Draw the shoulder blades apart and stretch the skin between them. 

What is your go-to pose for rest days?

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Asparagus Potato Soup

asparagus potato soup

It’s asparagus season, and that means delicious, fresh bundles are available in abundance.

When shopping for asparagus with the intention of making soup, choose the thinnest stalks available as the skin is thinner and will be less coarse and woody once pureed. For a more detailed breakdown of when to buy thick or thin stalks, see this helpful article.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 pounds white potatos, peeled

about 6 cups chicken stock

1 pound asparagus (tips removed)

2 shallots, peeled

1 celery stalk

teaspoon dried parsley

teaspoon dried thyme

tablespoon butter

Directions:

Combine all ingredients except asparagus tips in pot and boil until all vegetables are tender. Transfer to a blender or use a hand blender to puree. Saute asparagus tips in butter and garnish soup bowls upon serving. Good with just a little bit of fresh-squeezed lemon juice if desired.

asparagus potato soup 2

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The KonMari Organization Method for Secret Slobs

marie kondo top drawer messy

Top Drawer Before

Top Drawer After

Top Drawer After

I have a confession to make: I am a secret slob. The areas of my living space that are public (the living room, dining area, kitchen, etc.) are clean and tidy, but my own private spaces are sloppy, disorderly, and often downright dirty. The parts of my house that others might see look great: the parts of my home for my eyes only are mostly horrendous.

Some of my secret slobbishness is related to apathy and laziness- it is easier to throw things around than to take the extra moment to be tidy. Disturbingly though, on a deeper level, the contrast between my “outer house” order and “inner house” disorder seems meaningful, somehow metaphorical. It is as though I am caring only for that which is seen by others, determining that order and beauty are unimportant when I am the sole witness to them.

Inspired by “spring cleaning” and the KonMari method of organization, I decided to address some of my private spaces. I wanted to find out how order and cleanliness in my private spaces would make me feel.

The KonMari method involves removing everything from the space you are cleaning. Because I felt intimidated, I started small and chose to only address my bathroom drawers. I pulled the drawers out and dumped everything on the floor. Naturally, there was a good amount of schmaltz stuck to the bottom, so I scrubbed it off with a stiff brush and then used a disinfectant wipe.

Now, according to KonMari founder Marie Kondo’s selection criteria, I picked up each item and asked myself whether it “sparked joy” in me. This was a strange question for many of my toiletries, for how much joy could athlete’s foot spray be expected to elicit? After awhile though, I got the hang of it, and started gleefully throwing out things I didn’t need. Purple eyeliner from the early 2000’s? Trash! Nailpolish bottle that has fused shut? Trash!

By the end of the process, I was sweaty and kind of grumpy, but also deeply satisfied. It used to be that looking down into my drawers filled me with panic and a sense of rushing, but there is something to be said about how tidiness makes one feel peaceful. It makes me calm to see all my things in order.

Now, to KEEP things in order…

marie kondo messy bottom drawer

Bottom Drawer Before

Bottom Drawer After

Bottom Drawer After

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On Slowing Down

snail

Why do I feel the need to live with such intensity and move with such rapidity? Why do I carry 80 pounds of groceries from my car to my kitchen in one stressful, shoulder-staining trip? Why does every load of laundry have to be folded at warp speed, every slow car in front of me passed like I’m in a racecar? Sometimes, in the evening, I look back and marvel at how I rushed through the day, how I had to do everything balls-to-the-wall and in a hurry. Sometimes, my yoga mat is the only place I can hear myself breathe.

Some of the reason we rush is that we perceive the task at hand as an obstacle, an in-between step between moments of living. We want to hurry up and get something done so that we can do the more meaningful or pleasurable thing afterward. Thinking this way is common, but it’s a fallacy. The daily tasks of life are not a barrier to be scaled so that we can live: they are a part of the living experience. When we are doing the dishes, it is part of our life, and we need to slow down and be with it in the same way we try to slow down and be with more special moments. I want to experience my life while it is happening, and I have to realize that the things I tend to rush through are also a part of my life. We can choose to mindlessly churn through the banal daily grind, or we can slow down and try to be present.

I need to slow down. I will slow down. Stop and smell the roses, as they say. Not everything needs to be done right away, not everything needs to be done quickly. It is my intention this weekend to stop rushing, stop obsessing over the next thing. One day, one minute, one moment, one breath at a time.

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