Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Four Agreements of Body Acceptance (Part 3)

This is part two of my series applying the concepts from the book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz to self acceptance and body acceptance.  You can read the previous parts here: 

Part 1
Part 2

Part 3

Third Agreement:  "Don't Make Assumptions" (Don Miguel Ruiz, "The Four Agreements")

Joy Nash has a great sequence in her YouTube Video A Fat Rant where she stands on a sidewalk and verbalizes the assumption shared by a lot of larger women:  "There's no way that guy would be interested in me.  I'm fat!"

Then she really addresses the assumption.  After all, she explains, there are many different reasons why anyone would choose to talk to someone or not, including the band on the other person's tee shirt. It may have absolutely nothing to do with our bodies, and yet we tend to blame them for every negative encounter we experience. 

We have probably all experienced a moment where we made assumptions about how other people feel about us.  Maybe a stranger glared or a teenager giggled in our direction, or someone seemed to snub or ignore us.  This can trigger a litany of self-criticism and recriminations: 

"That staring woman looks really disapproving.  I'll bet she thinks I'm too (old/fat/tall/short/pierced/weird)."
"He walked right past me without making eye contact...he must be angry with me about something."
"There's no way that person would talk to me; they must find me repulsive."
"Those teenagers are laughing and looking in my direction; they must be making fun of me!"

Interestingly enough, it has been found that we frequently assign motivations and emotions to people based on very little nonverbal input. We assume a person is annoyed when they speak loudly, when in fact they might just speak loudly all the time.  They may even have hearing loss.  In addition, we tend to assign more positive and nuanced emotions or motivations to those we like, and more negative and absolute ones to strangers and those we dislike. 

This means that if the guy who bumps into you without apologizing is a friend, we are more likely to think, "he must be having a rough day" or "he must be thinking hard about something."  If they're a stranger or someone you dislike, you're more likely to simply dismiss them as a rude, insensitive jerk. So when making assumptions about what someone is thinking about you, you are more likely to fill in the spaces with your own fears if you're dealing with strangers. 

You are also more likely to assume the emotions and motivations of others are negative if you are feeling negative yourself.  This creates a loop, where you are feeling down about yourself, leading to assuming negative judgement about you by others, which reinforces the negative feelings you have about yourself.  You create your own negative encounter in your mind without ever actually interacting with the other person.

The good news is that you can break that loop and turn it around.

Golda Poretsky on Body Love Wellness addressed this directly.  Her advice is that every time you find yourself wondering what someone else is thinking about you, replace it with a positive assumption.  "That woman's really staring at me.  I must be looking particularly fabulous today!" or maybe "she's jealous because my burger looks so damn tasty". Or maybe "she's wondering if she can get that top in her size".  Or maybe "she's wondering if she should paint her walls the color of my jacket".  It doesn't matter what you substitute, as long as it is a positive reflection upon you and your body. 

By changing the assumptions to affirmations, you can elevate your mood.  This in turn makes it easier to make positive assumptions. 

Your homework, if you choose to accept it, is to put this into practice.  Go out to a place where you have experienced the negative assumption problem.  Notice people who look at you and assign positive emotions (like approval) to their looks.  Practice it, because you are forming new habits and they take a lot of practice.  Work on catching the negative assumptions and either distract yourself from them or turn them into positives.  take careful note of how it affects your mood. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Four Agreements of Body Acceptance (Part 2)

This is part two of my series applying the concepts from the book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz to self acceptance and body acceptance.  You can read part one here:

Part 2

Second Agreement:  "Don't Take Anything Personally" (Don Miguel Ruiz, "The Four Agreements")

This is a huge struggle when it comes to body acceptance. Face it, humans are social creatures and we may even be biologically wired to seek the approval of others.  It becomes even more difficult when someone who you should be able to count on for acceptance (parent, child, lover friend) voices negative criticism of your body or self expression. 

The psychological concept behind this agreement is Humanistic and has to do with each person having their own personal mythology, or story, that defines our self-concept based on our values, experiences, and goals. Part of that mythology is that we assume, on an almost unconscious level, that other people share our story, experiences, tastes, dreams, and opinions.  That is why seeing things from another person's point of view becomes more difficult the more that view differs from our own.

If someone's personal "hero quest" is to reach a certain aesthetic ideal, they are quite often quick to assume that everyone shares in and approves of that goal (or that they should do so).  It helps when the aesthetic ideal is culturally reinforced through the media and arts.  But the fact that a lot of people share a particular mythology doesn't make that mythology true for you.  You have your own, and it is just as true as the mythology of the fashion marketing world. 

Understanding where that criticism comes from is a big step in deflecting it. It becomes easier to understand when put in terms of clothing, because our ability to change our clothing makes our fashion image less emotionally fraught than our body image. Let's say that you're part of the biker culture.  You wear a leather vest, jeans or leather pants, body art, maybe even piercings.  Your very preppy parents ask you constantly (for your "own good") why you can't dress more "respectably."  Our culture reinforces that your style is unlikely to bring you wealth or status.  You may be rejected by potential partners who make assumptions about you because of your clothing.  You get sideways stares in restaurants and malls.

Whose problem is this? 

Our society, and individuals who disapprove of your image would like you to think it is your problem and any negative effects your fault.  In truth?  They are the ones responsible for their own minds and actions.

It is NOT your responsibility to live up to someone else's mythology or expectations.  As a friend once said, "what other people think of me is none of my business."  Your only responsibility is to determine and live up to your own mythology or self-concept. 

Make it part of your mythology that there is nothing wrong with your body or the skin you're in.  That acceptance changes reality for you.  The more certain you can be, the more you are insulated from other peoples' fear.  Because if someone reacts negatively to your body, it is most likely because they have fear.  They may fear experiencing (even tangentially) the stigma of a body shape that does not fit the popular cultural ideal.  They may fear aging and mortality.   They may fear judgement from others.  They may fear some ghost of an experience inside their head that has absolutely nothing to do with you. 

But it is THEIR fear.  You don't have to own it, and you certainly don't have to support it.  It is not your responsibility to be universally appealing or well liked.  If their fear keeps them from having a relationship with you, then you will find other people without fear.  You don't need to engage in scarcity thinking where you examine where you have failed in obtaining approval from this one particular person.  There are billions upon billions of people in the world, and among them are people who would approve of you as you are right here and now. 

That's what it means to not take it personally.  Your mother's concern about your appearance is fear that she cannot make your life free of pain and judgement from others.  That stranger's derisive comment is their fear of becoming or being something else, or bitterness that they are no longer something they liked.  You can choose to pity the person, or educate them, or ignore them.  The only wrong choice is to take on their fear and use it to hurt yourself. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Four Agreements of Body Acceptance (Part 1)

While I'm not a big fan of the writing style and New Age mysticism of the book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz  the core concept of each agreement applies well to body and self-acceptance.  Some people can really identify with the book, but for those of us who can't,  this is a series of posts distilling it down to the practical. 

Part 1

First Agreement:  "Be Impeccable With Your Word" (Don Miguel Ruiz, "The Four Agreements")

The concept here is based in the idea that you are what you do, and that speech is action.  Every time you speak negatively of your own appearance or that of others, you internalize that negativity and it becomes part of you.

What we often don't realize is that the words we say in our heads may not have the same impact as what we say aloud, but it does have an effect and there tends to be much more of it.  We're taught that it's rude to say negative things, so we say them silently, and to ourselves, and more or less constantly.  Most people are not even aware of the sheer volume of negativity in our lives; it has become normal background noise. 

Wrapped up in the problem is that we tend to suspect in others the actions we are most ashamed of in ourselves.  When you keep a running monologue of criticism of other peoples' bodies, it makes it easy to believe that others are doing the same about our body.  From that comes shyness, body shame, and self-criticism around other people. 

Being "impeccable with your word" means watching what you say to yourself as well as to others.  Each time you find yourself criticizing or reacting negatively to someone's body (your own or someone else's), see if you can cut yourself off.  It's okay to simply tell yourself No. 

Of course, trying to not think about something is extremely difficult for our brains.  There's the old playground trick where you dare someone to not think about pink elephants.  The only way it's possible for most people is to try very hard to think about something else.  So when you catch yourself in a negative thought, deliberately substitute a positive thought. Find something about the person to compliment, or that is at least neutral.  If you can't, at least try to think about something else.  How's the weather?

Dialectic Behavioral Therapy is based on this very concept; that the thoughts, body and emotional state are interconnected.  Changing one can often affect the others (for good or ill).  By policing your negative thoughts, you can elevate mood and improve health.  These are the primary benefits of reducing stress in general, and negative body talk can be very stressful. 

This is something that no one can wave a magic wand and fix, but with effort you can begin to head off criticism at the pass.  Eventually you'll find that instead of having to force yourself to think good things about people, it will happen automatically.  The boost in confidence and happiness this brings is well worth the effort. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Recipe Box: Italian Sausage Kebabs with Orange-Ginger Glaze

These are perfect for gatherings that offer a grill, or they can be done in the broiler.  Mix up the fruits and vegetables however you like!

For kebabs:

skewers (8 large (15") or 25 of the little wooden ones
1 pound sweet Italian sausages
1 small pineapple
1/2 pound sweet peppers
1 medium zucchini or summer squash
6-8 oz whole mushrooms (min. 1" diameter)
1 red onion

For Marinade/Glaze:
1 large naval orange
1/2 tsp dried ginger or 1 tsp minced fresh
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Set wooden skewers to soak in water (this prevents them from scorching while cooking)

Chop veggies and meat into 1.5" chunks if using the small wooden skewers or 2" chunks if using large metal skewers. 

Mushrooms and peppers may need to be in larger pieces because they have a tendency to split, but it will depend on the type and ripeness.  Try a few pieces on the skewers before cutting up the whole container. 

The Italian sausage will be easier to work with if you don't thaw it completely first.  Cutting it up frozen will give you neater slices and it will thaw on the skewers as it marinades.

It will be easier if you cut up everything before you start assembling the skewers.  Trust me!  Then you can pace your ingredients so you don't end up with one last skewer that's all zucchini.  Then again...that might be tasty!

add an assortment of meats and veggies/fruits to the skewers.  They don't all have to be the same!  I find that beginning and adding with a pepper or something "solid" will keep things from sliding off while you handle them.  Don't make sausage the first or last thing on the skewer or it may fall off while cooking. 

Set the skewers on a cookie sheet or foil.  You can keep metal skewers from poking through the ends of the foil with wine corks, but remove before baking.

Mix together marinade ingredients and brush liberally over all the skewers. 

Cover in foil and let marinade in fridge for at least 1/2 hour.  Uncover before cooking.

Grill or broil in oven for 15 minutes in a single layer, turning once during cooking to brown both sides.  If you broil the skewers on a cooking sheet with sides it will catch the juices and keep you from having to clean your oven afterwards!  If grilling, you can brush on more marinade 10 minutes before they're done. 

Feel free to sub other materials of course, but look for combinations of sweet and spicy to compliment the glaze.  Try apples and peaches instead of pineapple, or add/substitute hot peppers if you prefer. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Recipe Box: French Chocolate Truffles

Oh yeah, I said truffles.   These are fantastic little sensory parties in the mouth, starting with the first shock of dark chocolate, followed by the smooth texture of cream, and finally a breath of heady cognac.

The original recipe calls for 1 cup whipping cream, but it was intended to be enclosed in tempered chocolate as a center.  I made straight truffles with a coating of cocoa, but they were a little too soft and messy to handle.  I would recommend, if leaving them un-dipped, that you reduce the cream by 3 tablespoons to give a firmer and easier to handle piece of chocolate.  Of course, if you have to leave out the booze, for whatever reason, then you've already reduced the liquid portion of the chocolate and should be just fine with a full cup of cream.

These should be stored in the fridge or freezer.  They're very edible straight from the freezer (like little bites of super-chocolatey gelato) but they lose some nuances of flavor from the cream and liqueur.  You could store the bulk in the freezer and take out a few a day to rest in the fridge to really get the many levels of flavor.

Also, don't use cheap booze.  If you can't afford Grand Marnier or an equal quality brandy or cognac, leave it out.  Don't cook with anything you wouldn't drink straight, because the flavor will affect it significantly. With some hunting, you may be able to get Grand Marnier in a 3 oz "airline" bottle, which will give you enough for this recipe.

Makes about 3 dozen.  


9 and 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
1 cup whipping cream (minus 3 tablespoons if powdering truffles instead of dipping)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter (unsalted)
3 Tablespoons white granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 pound ice cubes

You will also need:

Double boiler (or a pot and a metal bowl that fits inside without tipping, must be at least large enough to hold 3-4 cups of liquid)
heavy-bottomed sauce pan
large bowl or pan (one that holds the pan or bowl used to melt the chocolate with a few inches to spare around the sides)
Cookie sheets
Parchment or wax paper

You may also want (but can do without):

Silicone heat-proof spatula
Pastry bag with large tip

  1. Measure out Grand Marnier into a small cup and set it within reach (but not where you'll tip it over).
  2. Fill the bottom of the large bowl with ice and add several inches of water.  
  3. Cover cookie sheets with wax or parchment paper and make room for them in the refrigerator.
  4. Break chocolate into chunks, either as pre-scored by manufacturer or approx 1/2" to 1" pieces. 
  5. Fill the bottom of the double boiler or sauce pan so that the top rests at least 2" into the water, or the bowl floats

Place chocolate pieces in top half of the double-boiler 

Bring water beneath to a boil then reduce to low heat so that it barely simmers.  Stir the chocolate occasionally until it is melted smooth.

In the meantime, bring cream, sugar and butter to a boil over medium heat, stirring slowly but constantly.  Use a flat edge wooden spoon or silicone spatula to scrape bottom and keep it from scorching. 

Once the cream is boiling and the chocolate is melted and smooth, whisk the cream into it until combined.

Add the Grand Marnier and stir it in.

Place the bowl with the mixture into the pan of ice water and whisk lightly until the mixture thickens.  Do not use an electric beater, and don't beat hard as if you're trying to make meringue.  You should get a medium, steady rhythm going because you could be whisking for a while.  Go until the mixture holds its shape, as if whipped cream.  Replace the ice in the bowl beneath if it melts.

When the mixture is fairly stiff and cool, use either the pastry bag or a teaspoon to drop bite-size dollops onto the wax paper.  They don't have to be spaced out very far as they will not expand. 

Cool in the refrigerator until they are set up (could take an hour or two, but you could leave them overnight at this stage).

When they are set, mix the cocoa powder and powdered sugar in a quart size ziplock bag.

Drop a few truffles at a time into the bag and shake gently to coat with the cocoa and sugar.  Remove to a separate bowl or tupperware.

When the truffles are all coated, store in fridge or freezer, sealed.