Monday, April 5, 2010

Changing habits with a detox: Part 1

I started a detox yesterday that I found in the March 2010 edition of Natural Health magazine. The typical and most obvious reason for doing a detox is to, as the name implies, detoxify the body from pollutants found in food and the atmosphere. You are advised to change the type of foods you eat, and in the detox that I’m doing, the reader is told to meditate, journal, practice light yoga and walking, and go to the sauna during the process.

I had always thought that a detox was not doable for me since I’m diabetic. To me, a detox meant drinking blended spinach drinks and eating grapes. I figured that I would be on the ground in a diabetic coma within one hour with a diet like that. The magazine’s program seems very doable though. As for the food, it advises to: “think fresh, whole, organic foods. Eat plenty of vegetables (choose sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes), fresh fruits, non-gluten grains, beans, legumes, small amounts of nuts, seeds, nut butters, lean, organic poultry and wild fish.” Alas, this detox does not mean starvation. (Disclaimer: I am in no way advising that you do a detox. If you do decide to do so, be sure to read the entire magazine article and check with a doctor first.)

I did not have any goals in mind when I decided to start the detox. It just seemed like a nice idea, a project. But then I slowly formed a goal: Use the detox as a needed push for changing some habits.

I eat healthy most of the time, but I have two weak points during the day: grazing around 4 or 5 pm and late night snacking, after dinner in front of the television. I eat healthy junk, and I weigh and measure it. I don’t feel the guilt inherent in late night snacking because of this. So why stop? Health: Weight loss and better blood sugars. I figured that this detox could train me to stop eating when I’m really not hungry.

Around the same time, I was also listening to a Pema Chodron CD workshop on getting unstuck. Pema Chodron is the first ever female, Western Tibetan Buddhist monk. Pema talks about a Tibetan Buddhist principle called shenpa during the workshop. Shenpa is a feeling which is very hard to define but is translated as attachment. It is like a hook, which you can sometimes feel in your body as tension, and usually occurs as a reaction to something or someone else. And you react to that hook, or attachment, either by going numb, getting aggressive, or having cravings.

Let me give you an example: Someone says something to you that touches a nerve. How do you react? For some, their body gets tense, and they keep their hurt feelings inside and then will talk about the person later, go out for happy hour, or watch television and eat lots of comfort food. Some people will answer with a quick comeback or yell or plead with a statement seeking approval. Some people will drink alcohol or do drugs or completely numb out. That feeling that hooks you is shenpa. Most people seek comfort from shenpa, as I wrote through numbness, aggressiveness, or cravings, but this only brings comfort in that moment. According to Pema, shenpa is the cause of addiction.

I’ve never really thought of myself as having an addictive personality. I hardly drink a whole glass of wine when I do drink. I don’t do drugs or smoke. But I do love watching television. And I love my morning coffee. And I love to snack! Do they bring me comfort? In that moment, they do. But then I’m sorry later. I wind up not losing those pounds that I’m working so hard most of the time to lose, and even worse, my blood sugars wind up being less than ideal.

Pema suggests that the way to get unstuck from shenpa is through the four R’s: recognize, refrain, relax, and resolve. First, become aware – recognize – when shenpa arises. Then, refrain from reacting and as I’m learning, reacting is really quick, momentary comfort seeking. Reacting can mean going numb or craving what you don't have, too, not only yelling or answering back aggressively. So in my case, that would mean refraining from snacking on comfort foods. Relax means to be with the shenpa, with the hook, rather than suppressing it through go-to comforts. Pema suggests breathing with the feeling. It doesn’t go away, but instead of suppressing the hook and possibly causing disease, pain, and anxiety, you are giving it space. Finally, resolve means to accept that shenpa is a part of life, and will continue to arise over and over again. Once you accept it, not pushing it away, you can live life more fully.

After hearing these teachings, I realized that I could use this detox to change some habits and hopefully live a healthier and thus happier life.

Here’s an update from the first day: I noticed that I didn’t feel the need to watch as much television, nor did I check e-mail or visit websites, nearly as much as I typically do. I am finding that I have more time, and so I went for a walk by the river yesterday and have been reading a book for the fun of it. I did watch some TV last night, and found that I began to crave chocolate after viewing a Hershey’s commercial. Otherwise, I hadn’t even thought of eating. I only miss coffee when I think about it.

I hope that by the end of this process I’ll figure out which habits I want to keep and which I will release from my repertoire for the long haul. Stay tuned for "Changing habits with a detox: Part 2" next Monday!

Have you ever done a detox? Tell me all about it! I'd love to hear about the program you did and how it affected you.

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