What Shall We Eat? Part 3: The Physical Aspects

When you start researching Veganism and food chains, it doesn’t take long for your head to start spinning. What’s true and what’s not? It would seem that a claim based on a scientific study would be trustworthy, but if a pretty big claim is based on only one study with no corroborating evidence, then it’s definitely worth questioning.

Not to mention you can probably find SOME statistic to back up just about any claim you want to make. I’ve often been of the opinion that if you look hard enough for evidence to support something, you can probably find it. (Did I mention I’m a skeptic by nature?)

Anyway, as I delved into the research portion of my journey, it became clear that there were some physical aspects I’d need to grapple with. First, how does food physically affect human beings, and second, how does our eating food affect the food we’re eating – namely, the animals that lose their lives so that we may consume them.

Obviously, humans need the energy food provides in order to function. There are generally accepted “healthy” foods and “junk” foods. We all know we should be consuming more of the healthy food and less of the junk. (Although the definition of what’s good and bad continues to change! Remember when fat was the devil and EVERYTHING came out with a “fat free” version, which just meant there were more carbs and sugar instead? And then carbs were the devil, so you just shouldn’t eat them (but your body NEEDS carbs for energy otherwise it eats the protein in your muscles instead). And now we have to discern between “good fat” and “bad fat” and “good carbs” and “bad carbs”).

I honestly find this to be a difficult topic to tackle as only a sub-part of a larger blog post. That’s because how and what we eat in America is heavily, heavily influenced by our culture. We live in a culture that praises thin & fit (and doesn’t acknowledge health at sizes that may not fit into this “perfect” mold) – and there’s always room for improvement, no matter how thin and fit you actually are.  But our culture also praises expediency – if getting thin and fit is the cake, doing it quickly is the icing on top.

This obsession with calories and ease is supported by various industrial food processing organizations. We can buy 150 calorie snack packs of highly processed foods to “keep our waistlines in check.” And yet, as a country, we’re just getting fatter. We keep dieting and cutting calories and getting fatter. (Spoiler alert: diets don’t work long term. There’s LOTS of research to back that claim up! But this is a topic for another day.)

But we’ve lost something here. As a culture, we allow outside sources and forces tell us what, when and how much to eat. No longer do most of us look inward and actually listen to our unique bodies. “It’s noon, it’s time to eat lunch,” we say, without noticing if we’re actually hungry or not. “I am starving, but I only have 2 Weight Watchers Points left, so I’ll just ignore it,” we think, praising ourselves for “sticking to it.” We hear that the latest trend is to juice, or eat kale with every meal, or avoid all sugar at all costs – and we do it because it’s “healthy” and without checking in with our bodies to see what it is our bodies are actually craving or needing.

We’ve lost the ability to to discern when we’re hungry and when we’re satiated. We eat so fast that we don’t even have time to decide if the food actually tastes good. We eat what someone ELSE tells us is best for OUR bodies, or we binge on what we aren’t “supposed” to eat without stopping to think about how it will make us feel physically.

All this matters – and if you decide to start tuning out what everyone else tells you is right for your body, and listen to your own body, you might be surprised. It is at this point you can really decide how eating animal products makes you feel, physically. Do they taste great to you? Are they satisfying? Are there non-animal substitutes that you like just as much, or more?

One of the biggest “phases” of this journey for me has simply been experimentation. Vegan mayo is perfectly adequate for me to make tuna salad. Chipotle Seitan crumbles were yummier in tacos than ground beef to me. Almond milk in granola? YES! Almond milk yogurt? BARF. I wanted to know if I COULD cut out animal products, still feel satisfied, and still enjoy eating – because I believe in eating for pleasure, satisfaction AND health. So I say…listen to your body. And have fun experimenting – there are SO many options available these days.

While it’s important to consider how food tastes and makes you physically feel, we also must understand the physical reality for the animals we consume – and decide if we are OK with it. I confess I had NO idea what the “industrial” food chain really entails, and it’s absolutely horrifying. I’m not going to share overly graphic things here, but some knowledge of the industrial food chain – out of which comes the vast majority of animal products we consume – is necessary. For all of us. Here’s a snippet:

  • Around 6 months of age, beef cows go live on “feedlots” where they are forced to
    feedlot
    A typical feedlot, AKA: wasteland of excrement and corn and future steaks.

    eat an unnatural (for them) diet of corn and grain grown with fertilizers. They are fed this way because it’s the cheapest way to feed them, and because it produces coveted beef cuts marbled with fat and makes the cows fatter faster, thus ready for slaughter and sale sooner. Cows have a second, specialized stomach called a rumen that is designed to digest GRASS. Grain really screws up the rumen, so cows that are forced to eat grain are sick their entire lives. In order to stay alive, they need lots of supplements and antibiotics – which has caused the evolution of “superbugs” – bacteria that often affect humans (think E. Coli and MRSA) and are now resistant to normal levels and types of antibiotics.

  • Dairy cows only produce milk when pregnant; industrial operations artificially inseminate cows over and over again to keep them lactating. They are hooked up to milking machines that cause infections in their udders. Again, antibiotics are used, encouraging the development of superbugs.
  • Chickens are also fed an unnatural diet (and given antibiotics) in order to fatten them for slaughter sooner. Many of them live in cramped barns and they are often gaining weight much faster than their legs develop – meaning even if they have access to small outdoor spaces, their legs cannot support them to get there. Many of the same issues occur with hens that lay eggs – they are kept in confinement, fed unnatural diets, and made to produce as many eggs as possible.
  • Don’t get me started on pigs. I can’t even type some of the things they do to the piggies.

This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what I learned about animal treatment.

I decided almost immediately that I had ZERO interest in supporting the industrial food chain in any way. As I said in an earlier post, though, it’s not easy to opt out of it entirely because in many cases it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to know where your food is coming from. (I suspect this is one reason people instantly go vegan after learning some of this stuff.)

Ok, so even if you reject the industrial food chain with all it’s horrific animal abuse (and it IS abuse – make NO mistake about that), where does that leave you? Some people consider the animal abuse and that’s enough to make them stop eating all animal products. Others (like me) wanted to understand other options.

Organic products are an option – but this doesn’t ensure humane treatment of animals. It only ensures that the animals aren’t being pumped full of antibiotics. An improvement, if you ask me, but not good enough.

Then, there are smaller, local organic options – and stores like Whole Foods that carry local items and products that are clearly marked as “humane” or “ethical.” But even this can be murky, because you aren’t always sure how THEY define humane and ethical.

In an ideal world, we’d still have knowledge of and respect for where our food comes from. In an ideal world where I am consuming meat, I’d LOVE to get meat from a farmer that I’ve met – either at a farmer’s market, or by visiting his/her farm.

Fresh, local, organic, humanely treated products make me feel the best, physically and mentally. I believe that is also the best way to consume animal products, if you’ve chosen to consume animal products. For me, it is important to eat this way as much as possible.

And don’t forget NOT to accept every claim you hear during your research! One of the documentaries we watched claimed that consuming red meat caused cardiovascular problems. However, there was no distinction between meat that came from cows who were fed an unnatural diet of corn and grain vs. grass-fed cows. And in fact, grass-fed beef has actually been shown to LOWER risk of heart disease. This is a typical example of a claim that might be “true” to some extent, but doesn’t tell the whole story. (And another example of the evils of industrial farming. They don’t feed cows grass partly because it takes too long for them to get “fat enough” – even though it’s killing people).

My eating habits have changed a lot, but I’m still a work in process. There’s more to mull over and consider, and it has taken months for me to get where I am now. I suspect I will continue to explore and evolve, and I think that’s good. One thing is for sure, though – I will NOT return to mindless eating, letting others dictate what is best for MY body, or blindly consuming things without at least considering where they came from and what they went through to get to me.

 

What Shall We Eat? Part 2: The Mental Aspects

For me, there were several pieces to this food journey. Of course, the first was an open mind – a willingness to challenge my own actions. Next is the mental aspect: digging in and learning.

Equipped with an open mind and the strongly worded Facebook posts of my friend, I began my journey into food re-evaluation. I wanted to know why she’d made such a drastic change in her diet, going from a meat eater to a very passionate vegan. What effect would the research have on me? Would I change my mind and become a vegan too? I was a little scared to know the answer to that, truth be told (because cheese). Nevertheless, I dug in.

First, Husband and I watched a couple documentaries she recommended: “Vegucated” and “Forks over Knives”. Both of them explore the benefits of a vegan (all plant-based) diet, and potential harmful effects of consuming animal products – for the animal as well as the person eating it.

For some people, veganism is all about a decision not to contribute to inhumane treatment and/or the killing of animals, period. Still others claim myriad health benefits: more energy, reduced cholesterol levels, reduced risk of heart disease, blood pressure issues, cancer and more.

They also argue that never before have we had the ability to purchase all types of produce year-round. In years gone by, people had to rely on seasonality of produce – only able to eat what they could grow in their climate. Now, we don’t really need meat to have a balanced diet – so why kill all those animals?

Of course, there are two sides to every story – my research into veganism proved that well.

I wanted to hear from people that had tried veganism and reverted as well. My research there led me to several blogs and accounts of people who had been vegan, but after some time, decided they didn’t really feel that great anymore and re-integrated some animal products into their diets. After awhile, some said they began to feel tired and sluggish, and some complained of always being hungry and dissatisfied.

My guess is that folks who have chosen a vegan diet because they are protesting the treatment and/or killing of animals are less likely to “convert back” to meat-eaters, although I don’t have any research to back that up!

I also watched the documentary “Cowspiracy” in which it is claimed that animal agriculture accounts for more than half of the world’s total pollution. The documentary explores this claim, and highlights the unwillingness of major environmental organizations to talk about this serious issue.

Of course, being a skeptic by nature, I also read several responses that discredit the “more than half” percentage given in the documentary. These responses claim that the documentary only relied on one study to get their numbers. Make no mistake – the pollution caused by animal agriculture is real and problematic – but many contend the magnitude is NOT as this documentary claims. There’s definitely something shady going on here, though. And it makes a lot more sense after reading the absolute best resource I found about food chain issues: “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

In this book, author Michael Pollan traces the entire food chain of 4 complete meals – andOmnivore's Dilemma then eats each meal. The first meal is produced in the typical “Industrial” food chain, the second by an “Industrial Organic” food chain, the third by a local organic farm operation, and the fourth he produces himself as a hunter-gatherer. I HIGHLY recommend this book as an anchor for anything else you watch or read. I was hooked pretty quickly, and learned SO much valuable, important and interesting stuff.

Suffice to say I cannot begin to sum up everything I learned, but I’m fairly certain it’s not possible to watch and read all these things and come out the other end unchanged. I cannot un-know the things I saw, heard and read. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it all, process it all and come to conclusions – but I’ll save most of that for another post.

Certainly, a lot of this stuff is difficult to read about or watch. Some of it was more sensational (worst of the worst) than others. But at the end of the day, I don’t want to bury my head in the sand about any of it, because it is REAL and it is happening. I believe it’s necessary to ask myself: how should I respond to this?

My initial response was to log into my Hello Fresh app and select the Vegetarian option instead of the option with meat. Sensational or not, the things I learned made me want to eat less meat out of sheer horror.

But overall, this has been a process rather than a knee-jerk reaction. Initially, I was very frustrated that it was so difficult to obtain food with a clear picture of where it came from. Frankly, that’s still frustrating. But for now, I’m settling into the knowledge I’ve gained and am learning what feels (and tastes!) the best for me personally.

Once I educated myself and began dealing with all this information, I of course had to grapple with the physical aspects and claims I was hearing. How does food make us feel and affect our bodies? What effect does it have on the environment and the animals we are eating?

These questions are really anything but simple – and some of them are certainly different for different people. But I’ll be exploring them a bit next time!

 

What Shall We Eat? Part 1: An Open Mind

One of the most interesting side effects of de-cluttering and exploring simplicity in all areas of life is a newfound desire to challenge myself.

I think a shifting perspective on “stuff” and all the discoveries I’ve made about myself, my assumptions and my beliefs has made me more eager to question other areas of my life. Have I been blind to other things? Why do I believe what I believe or assume what I assume in the first place?

It makes sense that we accept as normal what is happening around us when we are young; we don’t really know we have the option to question it. We grow up and realize that we do, and hopefully we do some research before we draw conclusions, but we are still largely shaped by what we’ve experienced – and my experience isn’t necessarily the same as yours.

If we’ve been positively (or negatively) impacted by our experiences, we may become very passionate, based on the intensity of that experience. And then we might want to shout what we’ve learned from the rooftops, in hopes of helping someone else gain (or avoid) something.

It’s easy to get defensive when a very passionate individual is calling into question your

cow-face
Spoiler Alert: This is not what life looks like for the vast majority of cows in the United States.

normal way of being. We might snap at that person, or dismiss them because we feel uncomfortable. But I think we sometimes forget: these folks are usually passionate for a reason – because of an intense experience – and in most cases, they ultimately want to share the knowledge they’ve gained for the benefit of others.

Likewise, it’s easy for the passionate person to vilify the one that gets defensive or is resistant to change. At the end of the day, we all must arrive at change in our own way and time. Can we agree to give each other grace in this area?

All it took was one such passionate individual and her Facebook posts to convince me to re-evaluate what I am eating (Thanks, Erica!). And now, husband and I are adjusting our eating habits. Not in a diet-y, lose-weight-y kind of way, but in a “where does food come from, how is it made and do I want to support that” kind of way.

Having an open mind is so very, very important – even if you don’t end up changing your mind. Along the way, you learn new things, engage with new people in new ways and have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the world around you.

I’m going to be writing a little bit about simplicity as it relates to food and all the things I’ve learned in the past few weeks about where our food really comes from. I’ve felt shocked, disgusted, hopeless, frustrated, sad, angry and, ultimately, hopeful as I’ve delved into this topic. The more I’ve learned, the more passionate (though not extreme nor rigid) I’ve become.

I hope that you’ll read my upcoming posts about this, and maybe somehow these words will impact your food journey for the better as well.

 

 

On Politics, Suffering and Our True King

You guys…all the division, fighting and nonsense. Lately, it’s enough to make me want to bury my head in the sand, or at the very least, swear off social media. But as the endless name-calling and “you’re-on-my-side-so-therefore-you-must-be-smart” gang building continues, I’ve seen some very shiny diamonds in the rough of all the ugliness.

I want to share them here, and share my own thoughts, if only to get them out of my head and onto a page – my preferred method of processing life’s hard stuff.

First, is this article that a friend posted the other day. This is the best, most un-biased description of Trump’s Immigration EO that I’ve seen. It’s so easy to latch on to the parts that one thinks are either worthwhile or completely, er, deplorable. But the parts that each side chooses to latch onto are simply that – parts. We could all do a better job of researching the issues in their entirety and acknowledging all the parts. It doesn’t have to change which side we land on, but man, it sure makes us look a lot less jerky.

Next is this little gem called “The ‘Other Side’ is Not Dumb.” I was having a discussion about something similar with husband just last week. We all tend to forget that our opinions on things are heavily, heavily influenced by our own experiences. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s nearly impossible to view the world without looking through the lens of our own lives. It makes sense; experience is a powerful teacher. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be acknowledging and seeking to understand the life experiences/reasons behind the differing views of others. If your social media feeds are filled with opinions identical to yours, consider seeking out those that are different. Listen. Love. At least consider questioning where your own assumptions and opinions came from. I can’t change the experiences that you’ve had which shape your world view today, and you cannot change mine. But we can seek to understand each other out of love and accept that many of our differences come from our widely varied life experiences rather than black and white or “right vs. wrong”.

And from a Christian perspective, I must comment on the blog of a friend from college in which she’s apologizing for a generalization she made in a post about the Immigration EO. You can read her words here. This is a woman who is passionate, out-spoken, and always encourages helpful dialogue rather than fighting. I commend her for that; it’s not easy! But she is proof that I don’t have to agree with everything someone says in order to find value in their thoughts and opinions and be encouraged to examine my own.

This little blog of hers was certainly thought-provoking. She’s drawn a fabulous distinction between “The Kingdom of Men” and “The Kingdom of God”. Her description of it is beautiful.

But I want to talk about the overlap of these opposing kingdoms, too. I think the overlap between the kingdom of man (namely, governments and the rulers thereof) and the Kingdom of God is significant – especially in the face of division among Christians.

Daniel 2:21 says, “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding.”

Romans 13:1 says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

And Isaiah 9:6 says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

(Here is another short read on what the Bible tells us about government.)

Regardless of who is in power, these verses give me such peace. They were as true of the last administration as they are of the current administration. They remind me who is really in control here. It reminds me that whether I agree with what those in power are doing or not, God has gone before us all, He sees all and He knows all and the kingdoms of man are at His disposal. My job is not to try and figure out what God is up to, my job is to trust God with all my heart, for His ways are higher than my ways. I never, ever want despair to win in my heart, for the Lord has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, of love and of a sound mind. 

This becomes admittedly more difficult as I let my mind drift to the rest of the world; the countries whose citizens are routinely tortured, the refugees, the hungry and the multitudes without the conveniences of life that we Westerners typically take for granted. I often feel so powerless in the face of the world’s realities.

So again, I look to Him. What does God say about this? About suffering, and about how I am to conduct myself in the face of the magnitude of hardship people endure?

One of my favorite verses is John 16:33, which says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

In this world, you will have trouble, trials and suffering. One of the hardest things to accept about suffering is that even it can serve a divine purpose. Without question, the church is meant to care for its communities, to reach out to and provide support for those who are suffering. Yet, we also must acknowledge that suffering can be a mentor, a teacher, and, yes, even a friend to us in our walks of faith.

I just finished reading Kara Tippett’s book “The Hardest Peace,” which illustrates this in such a heart-breakingly beautiful way. Kara passed away at age 38 – leaving behind her husband and 4 children. This book was tough to read, but it and many others like it tell the same story – beauty out of brokenness. It’s the gospel; it’s our Lord’s own story as well. He was persecuted, even to death, that we might live. Broken and beaten only to be raised and glorified.

So let us all prayerfully approach how we balance acceptance and action in these days. Our God is in control, but that doesn’t mean we sit back and do nothing for our fellow man. There is mighty suffering in our world, but in our desire to alleviate it, we forget to consider the notion of God using it to build His kingdom.

I am humbled and overwhelmed by the privilege of living in this country. I am humbled by the huge, big-faith-through-intense-suffering stories of my brothers and sisters. I can’t know their experiences, but I can pray about how to help and how to humbly accept suffering of my own. I know how easy it is to become fearful at the thought of what lies ahead. But when I turn my mind to things eternal, I am also reminded that this life is not all there is. There is eternity after this; glorious and huge and too big to really comprehend. Free of suffering and full of glory – the great reward for all who place their hope in Him.

 

 

 

Why Minimalism?

A few weeks ago, I had the joy of spending some time with my Great Uncle Fred. Though I haven’t spent much time with him in my life, I can safely say he’s a hilarious wealth of stories, travels and a life very well lived. He also happens to read this blog from time to time, for which I am deeply honored!

When we were together at his son Brian’s lake house, he asked me why I want to live a minimalist lifestyle. I said, “Because it helps me focus on what really matters in life.” While this is a true and honest answer, I wish we would have had more time to talk about it. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that someone who isn’t a minimalist can’t focus on what’s important in life, although I think living minimally makes it easier.

I always want to make the disclaimer that minimalism means different things to different

minimalism-definition
Photo taken: The Stephanie Inn; Cannon Beach, OR

people and I believe it’s helpful to provide my definition of it before I can really flesh out it’s full appeal in my own life. I’d define minimalism as “The pursuit of simple living; keeping just enough possessions, things on my mind and things on my schedule to encourage living in and being thankful for each moment.”

Here are the reasons minimalism is attractive to me…perhaps loosely in order of least to most important.

1. Cleanliness and Order. I struggle with anxiety, people. One of the things that always makes me feel more calm is to be surrounded by clean, clear, open and well-organized spaces. I’ve always been a fairly neat/organized person, but as I began to get rid of physical possessions, I realized my time spent cleaning our house went down a good bit. Since I am the maid around here, that was highly appealing to me. The less crap I have to pick up to wipe down the surfaces in my home, the faster I can speed through cleaning. This is also one of the reasons I like the idea of a smaller home. The less time I spend cleaning these worldly possessions that cannot accompany me to the hereafter, the better, if you ask me. And of course, a less cluttered room = a calmer, more contented Sarah.

2. Financial Freedom. Most folks pursuing minimalism are highly motivated by this one. Interestingly, the more things I give away, the less I want to bring into my home. If something is not needed, or being used, I typically consider it unnecessary clutter. I don’t buy as much stuff now because I just don’t want more stuff; it doesn’t matter to me like it used to. Personally, I have found great blessing in wanting less vs. wanting more.  I would much rather use money for things that are more important and more in line with my values as a person – like helping others, traveling and experiences.

3. Rejecting Materialism. Our culture is constantly selling us the idea that we need more, newer, bigger, better things to be happy. Yet, some of the most destitute people in our world are the most content and some of the richest people in our world are the most miserable. I’m not implying that all rich people are miserable. Just that this notion that we’d all be more content if we were richer is a lie. I honestly did not know this deeply and in my soul until I started giving things away. It was only when I consciously decided to get rid of things that I realized how much I actually already had (and how little I really need). This sounds so silly and bratty to me now, but I never considered NOT following a trajectory of bigger and better; apartment to house to bigger house to even bigger house or reasonable car to nicer car to even nicer car. I never would have called myself materialistic before I minimized my belongings; materialism would not have been on a list of my values. And yet, I used to think and behave in a decidedly materialistic way. Minimalism reminds me not to go back to that way of thinking. It teaches me how much is enough for me – and I didn’t know what was “enough” until I gave a bunch of stuff away. I could still give more and not suffer in the least, and knowing that makes me overflow with humility and gratitude.

4. A Personal Response to Global Issues. One of the very first things that led me to pursue minimalism (although I didn’t know that word at the time) was a soul-gripping awareness of how we live here in America as compared to the rest of the world. I’ve always “known” we are mighty fortunate, but after fostering a more global awareness, it finally became real to me. I found myself feeling inauthentic and restless in the face of what others around the world must endure; from extreme poverty to persecution for faith in Jesus. I know I don’t deserve the wonderful life I’m blessed with; I know I “have it better” than so many people in the world. It feels wrong not to respond to that in some way. For me, there’s a fine line between feeling guilty for all God has blessed me with, and being humbly thankful for those blessings. It’s something I must be careful about because ultimately, I desire to live in the moment with a grateful heart. But as I’ve purged belongings, events from my schedule and thoughts from my mind, the clarity I’ve found always leads me back to both generosity and gratitude. I have come to view minimalism as a first step in thoughtfully responding to global issues in my own little ways. It encourages me to continue giving and asking myself and God how else I’m meant to respond.

5. My Faith. For me, this is most important reason to pursue minimalism. I have learned that when I pursue minimalism for calm surroundings, less financial burden, and a deliberate turn from the magnetic pull of materialism, it helps me keep an eternal perspective and see Jesus more clearly. When I begin to strip away my excess, I am more free to pursue the life He wants me to live – not focused on myself or on getting MORE. While we are never in complete control of how much God decides to bless us with monetary riches, we are ALWAYS in control of what we decide to do with whatever money we have. The Bible tells us to be good stewards of what we have (be wise financially!). It tells us to hold loosely to the things of this world and live with an eternal perspective (avoid materialism!). It tells us that the love of money (not money itself) is the root of all evil. It tells us that it is harder for a rich man to get into Heaven. My logic tells me that when I pine for bigger, better things, when I already have more than enough, I am both engaging the root of all evil, and I’m making it harder for myself to live for the Lord. In short – I believe minimalism is a way of living that helps me be consistent with the teachings in the Bible.

Does the minimalist lifestyle appeal to you? What is your own definition of minimalism, and why is it a worthy way to live (or not) in your opinion?

Comparison: The Joy Killer

Few things kill joy, rob us of peace, and promote self-centered-ness like comparing ourselves with others. What they have, what they look like, how they act…there are many areas in which we put others on a pedestal, wishing we “had it that good.”

At the heart of comparison are insecurity and an incorrect focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have.

The funny thing about comparison is that it’s entirely possible for us to banish it in one area of our lives, but allow it to fester, unrealized, in another. Sometimes, comparison becomes so natural that we’ve sized someone up, decided what that says about us, and either felt better or worse because of it – all before we even notice what we’re doing.

I used to struggle with discontent from comparing my “stuff” and possessions to others’ – wishing I had more, bigger or better. But now, I’m learning to hold things loosely and finding great freedom in wanting less rather than more. I’m still tempted to think I need more than I have sometimes. But I’m so grateful that possessions no longer have the power over me they once did.

The one area in which I cannot seem to stop comparing myself to others is my weight and

comparison-kills-joy
Photo Taken: Gibbs Gardens, Ball Ground, GA

how I look. I think most women struggle with this at different times and in different ways. I’ve got a lot of scars from past experiences and my struggle is pretty constant in this area.

But let me drop some perspective on myself. (And maybe someone out there needs to do the same!) I am not sick, and I do not have injuries that render me unable to move or live life freely. I am not the weight or size I wish I was, but I work out 5-6 days a week and I do my best to eat well. I have made and met fitness goals. I continue to try new things (like scary road bike rides in the mountains!) and face fears because I can. What I need to train myself to do is focus on what my body can do rather than compare myself to skinnier people and wish I was different. If I must compare, let me compare myself to someone cannot do all the things I can do.

When I think about my body in this way, it makes all my complaining seem utterly ridiculous. Nevermind the fact that pretty much no one cares what I look like as much as I seem to! If there is someone out there who is critical of how I look, who really cares? Why do I care? God loves me and approves of me and He knows my heart; He knows that I want to take care of the body He’s given me. I have a fantastic husband who loves and respects me and tells me I’m beautiful every day. It’s only my own stubborn inability to give myself grace that pulls me downward into despair about my body.

What are the ways in which you’re most likely to compare yourself to others? Is it your weight? Is it how much money you have? Is it the kind of car you drive? Your job? Your abilities as a parent?

Let me just tell you: you are enough. As you are, right now, today. God loves you; your family and friends love you. Maybe it’s time for you to give you a little love, too.

If you’re overweight and wish you looked different, do what you can. Move, eat foods that will optimally fuel your body and celebrate what you are able to do. If you wish you had a nicer car, start focusing on the fact that you have a car that is getting you around. If you aren’t happy in your job, look for a new one, or think of ways to make the job you’re doing more meaningful and fulfilling to you. Mamas, don’t worry about being perfect or being anyone other than you: you’re doing great!

Comparison is the great joy-killer. Make an effort NOT to engage those comparative thoughts when they come; make a habit of turning them into something uplifting and positive. And whenever possible, turn your mind from your dark thoughts about yourself and reach out to help someone around you who is in need or just say some kind words to a friend. I guarantee you anyone you choose to show kindness to will appreciate it. Just don’t forget to be kind to yourself, too!

Give A Little Grace

I’m sitting here today, a few hours from boarding a flight to Pennsylvania to visit family. I’m excited to see everyone, but my peace has been missing for most of the day.

My travel phobias strike again!

This is frustrating. The flight to PA is less than 2 hours, and I did just fine a couple months ago on a 5 hour flight to OR.

My immediate reaction is to be really irritated with myself, and berate myself for not feeling peaceful and letting these dumb fears affect me in the slightest.

But today, I’m choosing to take a step back and let mindfulness lead. Step 1: WRITE. Step 2: When I can feel I’m starting to be too tough on myself I ask this question: if my best friend were describing my own feelings to me as hers, what would I say?

The short answer is: nothing close to what I am tempted to say to myself.

My usual inner dialogue snarls things like: “I can’t believe you’re letting this affect you AGAIN.” Or, “You are such a failure! I thought we conquered this fear already. You’re such a baby.” And my favorite, “You haven’t changed at all!”

What would I tell my best friend were she having the same feelings as me? I’d say things like: “Don’t be so hard on yourself! You may always have this fear, but remember how many strategies you’ve learned to get through it.” And “It’s OK to feel the fear; you’re going to get on that plane anyway and conquer it.” And “Just think how good it will feel once you’ve got another travel experience under your belt.” And “You’ve done this a bunch of times before, you got this!”

Have you ever noticed how much harder we are on ourselves than we would be on our friends? I’m actually kind of shocked at how stark a difference there is between the two for

minfulness
Photo Taken: La Jolla, CA

me. But self-hatred and perfectionism have an insidious way of creeping in until you barely even notice them. I had these negative thoughts about myself in a split second. They felt so familiar and it would have been easy to just accept them rather than grab them and throw them out.

It takes mindfulness and sometimes, retreating to a quiet place, to recognize harmful self-talk and decide to talk to yourself in a different way. Now, I have the option to re-write my bad thoughts and focus on good thoughts instead. I don’t have to accept whatever happens to pop into my head first.

We could all stand to give a little more grace. Both to others and for many of us, to ourselves. (By the way, I think this works just as well if you catch yourself having less-than-kind thoughts about others!)

Put this little exercise on the long list of reasons I love writing and learning to be mindful! I hope that someday, my immediate reaction to my own struggling or being less than perfect is more likely to be kind than cruel.

After all, I’d never dream of saying the things I tell myself to anyone else. I’m feeling calmer and more centered at that thought alone.