Organic Melinda

healthy living with a Latin twist


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8 Tips on How to Overcome Emotional Eating


In a previous post, I discussed the causes of and ways to overcome emotional eating through a discussion with Marriage and Family Therapist, Yaritza Zayas and Lori Brannen-Graham, Certified Personal Trainer and Registered Holistic Nutritionist.

Below, I have taken out a section from that post to facilitate readers in finding the tips section.

If you or anyone you know struggles with emotional eating, please try the tips below.

1. Practice Mindful Eating

“Use hunger as your guide and eat until you are comfortably full. Practicing mindful eating can bring your focus and awareness to the food directly in front of you. If mindful eating becomes a habit it will become harder to revert back to emotional eating,” advises Lori.

2. Stay Hydrated

In our phone interview, Yaritza explained to me that our body signals are the same for thirst and hunger. Many times people confuse the two sensations.  If you have eaten in the past hour or so, and, all of the sudden, you are very hungry, drink some water.  If it satiates your desire to eat, then you were thirsty, not hungry.  Staying hydrated also helps you to feel fuller longer.  Most people require their weigh divided by 2 in ounces of water per day.  For example, I weight 129 lbs, so I would need at least 65 oz of water a day.

3. Recognize  Your Triggers

It is important to figure out what triggers your desire to eat or over-eat when you are not hungry.  Once you figure out what is causing you to eat when you are not hungry, then you can begin to stop.

Lori states, “When you are in a moment of wanting to soothe yourself with food, find something else to do. Replace that habit with something new.”

4. Keep a Journal

It is good to keep a journal of your feelings and a log of your food.  By keeping track of your feelings, you can begin to identify the emotions that trigger binging, explained Yaritza.  Keeping a food log makes you accountable to what you are putting into your body.  Keeping a journal has helped me a lot in my own battle against emotional eating.

5. Exercise

Yaritza and Lori are very physically active women.  They exercise almost every day and both commented on the importance of exercise as a tool to cope with stress, anxiety, and other emotions that lead to emotional eating.  Exercise, also, releases feel good hormones into your bloodstream, which can curb negative emotions which may trigger food cravings.

6. Eat Enough

It might seem ironic to suggest that you eat more food when you are struggling with emotional eating, but I found that feelings of deprivation are a major factor in emotional eating.  Make sure to eat high quality, healthy food, and keep healthy snacks around you.  If you are not eating enough to sustain your body and activity level, you will definitely feel unwell, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

7. Switch Out Sweet Treats for Healthier Ones

When I find myself wanting to eat because I feel stressed or anxious, it is hard for me to find junk food in my household.  I really avoid it like the plague, because I know that the momentary feeling of goodness and satisfaction will soon give way to my stomach hurting and feelings of regrets and anger towards myself.

So, instead of feeding my emotions cupcakes and cookies, all I can find in my refrigerator are carrots, hummus, and fruits and vegetables. While this does not directly solve the problem of emotional eating, it serves as a baby-step in the process.

8. Seek Professional Help

It is always a good idea to speak to a therapist or psychologist when you are an emotional eater.  Therapy can provide you with a tool-kit in order to better manage your triggers.

Resources

If you have any more questions on this post or any of my previous posts, please send an email to organicmelinda@gmail.com.

To learn more about emotional eating and how to cope, click the links below.

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

http://www.eatingdisordersanonymous.org/

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The Causes of Emotional Eating and Tips to Stop

With commercials and advertisements constantly telling us to eat, eat, and eat some more, many of us feel hungry all of our waking hours. Yet, what often follows food advertisements is an onslaught of more advertisements about diet and weight loss.

We are constantly being told through media images that we must eat to enjoy life, to be cool, to hang out, BUT we must be fit, muscular, and thin while we do it.  These mixed messages often leave us in a state of confusion.  You add the fact that food is tied to so many of our identities and cultural memories, and eating can often become a blanket of comfort, a tool to deal with pain, and an escape from anxiety.

In this post, I will share information on the causes of emotional eating through my own experiences and those of Marriage and Family Therapist, Yaritza Zayas and Lori Brannen-Graham, a Personal Trainer and Holistic Nutritionist.

Defining Emotional Eating

Yartiza defines emotional eating as, “The use of food (any food) to cope with a feeling state that is overwhelming. This does include feelings that are categorized as “good” or “happy” (i.e. pride, excitement, etc) not limited to “negative” feelings (i.e. sad, upset, anger, etc).”

Lori states, “Emotional eating can be defined as using food to either comfort oneself in times of stress or ‘self-medicating’ through food.”

According to webmd.com, “Eating to feed a feeling, and not a growling stomach, is emotional eating.”

Unpacking the Definition

In other words, we all experience emotional eating.

Emotional eating is not a problem that is only experienced by people who are characterized as over-weight. It is, also, not a problem that is only experienced by women.

Having a celebratory drink or slice of cake after running a marathon or getting a job promotion is a form of emotional eating; as is the stereotypical image of a girl downing a pint of ice-cream and a box of chocolate after a break-up.

Emotional eating can also be seen in fitness models and bodybuilders eating weekly “cheat meals” to deal with feelings of deprivation after a week of strict calorie-counting.

Many people eat when they are bored; this, too, is a form of emotional eating.

When Emotional Eating Becomes a Concern

Celebratory eating is, generally speaking, not a problem if it is not excessive.

The concern with emotional eating rises when it becomes a cycle that an individual cannot break him/herself out of or an individual feels like s/he has little to no control in stopping.

If you eat, and then experience feelings of guilt, anger, or frustration, it is a good idea to ask yourself why you just ate.  Were you hungry or did other emotions spark your desire to eat?

In our interview, Yaritza and I discussed food as an addiction.  Like any drug addiction, food can serve to mediate anxieties, fears, feelings of worthlessness, and can make you feel good.  It has been well-documented that sugar has addictive properties akin to cocaine.

Emotional eating can also be form of self-sabotage and an immediate outlet to cope with unwanted feelings. Survivors of physical and sexual abuse are known to resort to emotional eating as a way to make themselves what they perceive to be physically unattractive or as a way to cope with feelings of emptiness or pain.

So, if every time you are sad, anxious, or angry, you run to the refrigerator, you are probably an emotional eater.

 Causes of Emotional Eating

Emotional eating can start at a very young age, such as when children receive food as a reward for good behavior.  In my conversation with Yaritza, we discussed the prevalence of this behavior in the Latino community. While treats as rewards, in of themselves, are not a problem, they create a connection between good feelings and food, which can last a lifetime.

Here is a free-list of other factors that cause and/or contribute to emotional eating:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • a break-up
  • anger
  • sadness
  • lack of impulse control
  • wanting comfort
  • inability of coping with and handling difficult emotional states
  • feelings of deprivation
  • eating below caloric requirements
  • boredom
  • psychological difficulties or mental illness
  • having an eating disorder

Each of these factors can work together to create an environment conducive of emotional eating.

Personal Stories

Lori shares her difficulties with emotional eating when she was a bodybuilder a few years ago.

 “I had developed ritualistic eating habits and patterns that consequently led to some health issues and the feelings associated with emotional eating. I would restrict myself all week knowing that I had a planned ‘cheat’ on the weekend. During the week it’s all I could think about….I dreamt of chocolate. It was always the same disappointment each time, though. I would spend the following day lethargic and cranky, promising myself to not binge until the following weekend. I led this lifestyle for so long it just became normal to me.”   

While Lori struggled with feelings of self-deprivation and extreme calorie-counting to maintain a competition-ready physique, Yartiza shared her emotional triggers.

“I have battled with overeating and my trigger was anger. I have a quick temper and to avoid getting violent or to calm the anger feelings I’d overindulge to get so stuffed that I couldn’t move and essentially  become helpless and a non-threat.”

I have also struggled with emotional eating as a way to mediate anxiety, stress, and even as a way to stake claim over my body.  Perhaps, the last part was more triggered by anger.  In a previous post, I shared my struggles with having a positive view of my body.  I discussed some of the difficulties that arose from constant name calling, and my mother policing everything that I ate.  At times, I would eat just to defy her.

Anxious and stress-related eating began when I was in college. I had to work multiple part-time jobs while going to college full-time and maintaining a high GPA.  During mid-terms and final exams, I would sit down with a giant bag of chips, a large container of salsa, and a jug of purple soda.  All of the junk food would provide me with a sugar rush that would keep me awake long enough to study and finish papers. However, I would feel the damaging effects of eating so much and so unhealthy for days after these events, especially when I would binge eat to stay awake for 3-4 days straight.  

Dangers of Emotional Eating

Emotional eating, for many, is a coping mechanism to deal with difficult times, but it can actually cause further difficulties.

Certified Personal Trainer & Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Lori explains, “There are many dangers associated with emotional eating, including (but not limited to) many psychological troubles such as self-loathing, guilt, frustration, disappointment, shame, and/or feelings of failure. These feelings can perpetuate stress and keep the cycle on-going. Emotional eating can be habit forming and long term can cause metabolic damage. It can also lead to yo-yo dieting (to compensate for an emotional food binge) and lead to major body weight fluctuations. “

Family Therapist, Yaritza asserts that emotional eating can lead to “lifestyle diseases like obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. [and it can be] linked to other addictive behaviors (not limited to high risk behaviors like drug use, for example).”

Another danger of emotional eating is that individuals might not learn other ways to cope with difficult emotions or times.  It is important to have healthy ways of coping with life’s difficulties and celebrating good times without turning to food.

Tips on How to Stop

Now, that we have an understanding of the factors that lead to emotional eating and the potential dangers, here are 8 tips shared by Lori, Yaritza, and I on how to overcome emotional eating.

1. Practice Mindful Eating

“Use hunger as your guide and eat until you are comfortably full. Practicing mindful eating can bring your focus and awareness to the food directly in front of you. If mindful eating becomes a habit it will become harder to revert back to emotional eating,” advises Lori.

2. Stay Hydrated

In our phone interview, Yaritza explained to me that our body signals are the same for thirst and hunger. Many times people confuse the two sensations.  If you have eaten in the past hour or so, and, all of the sudden, you are very hungry, drink some water.  If it satiates your desire to eat, then you were thirsty, not hungry.  Staying hydrated also helps you to feel fuller longer.  Most people require their weigh divided by 2 in ounces of water per day.  For example, I weight 129 lbs, so I would need at least 65 oz of water a day.

3. Recognize  Your Triggers

It is important to figure out what triggers your desire to eat or over-eat when you are not hungry.  Once you figure out what is causing you to eat when you are not hungry, then you can begin to stop.

Lori states, “When you are in a moment of wanting to soothe yourself with food, find something else to do. Replace that habit with something new.”

4. Keep a Journal

It is good to keep a journal of your feelings and a log of your food.  By keeping track of your feelings, you can begin to identify the emotions that trigger binging, explained Yaritza.  Keeping a food log makes you accountable to what you are putting into your body.  Keeping a journal has helped me a lot in my own battle against emotional eating.

5. Exercise

Yaritza and Lori are very physically active women.  They exercise almost every day and both commented on the importance of exercise as a tool to cope with stress, anxiety, and other emotions that lead to emotional eating.  Exercise, also, releases feel good hormones into your bloodstream, which can curb negative emotions which may trigger food cravings.

6. Eat Enough

It might seem ironic to suggest that you eat more food when you are struggling with emotional eating, but I found that feelings of deprivation are a major factor in emotional eating.  Make sure to eat high quality, healthy food, and keep healthy snacks around you.  If you are not eating enough to sustain your body and activity level, you will definitely feel unwell, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

7. Switch Out Sweet Treats for Healthier Ones

When I find myself wanting to eat because I feel stressed or anxious, it is hard for me to find junk food in my household.  I really avoid it like the plague, because I know that the momentary feeling of goodness and satisfaction will soon give way to my stomach hurting and feelings of regrets and anger towards myself.

So, instead of feeding my emotions cupcakes and cookies, all I can find in my refrigerator are carrots, hummus, and fruits and vegetables. While this does not directly solve the problem of emotional eating, it serves as a baby-step in the process.

8. Seek Professional Help

It is always a good idea to speak to a therapist or psychologist when you are an emotional eater.  Therapy can provide you with a tool-kit in order to better manage your triggers.

Resources

If you have any more questions on this post or any of my previous posts, please send an email to organicmelinda@gmail.com.

To learn more about emotional eating and how to cope, click the links below.

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

http://www.eatingdisordersanonymous.org/


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A Body Under Constant Scrutiny: My Struggle with Loving the Body I Am In

Because I have been on a 20 year journey towards healthy living and eating, some people think that I have perfect eating habits and that my self-image is always at an all-time high.  I am writing this blog post to let my readers know that I understand your struggles with weight, body image, self-loathing, emotional eating, food deprivation, and so much more.  I also understand your journey towards self-acceptance, self-love, and the painful, and I mean painful, work that it takes to overcome the trauma from your childhood.

kid me

me at age 6

My struggle with body image issues began in the third grade.  After a summer of hanging out with some neighborhood girls, whom had recently traveled to their home country, I wound up having a head infested with foreign lice.  My mom and aunts tried every home remedy and commercial brand de-lousing product they could find, but the suckers just would NOT die.

“Córtale el pelo,” my aunt suggested, and cut my hair my mother did.  I had all of 2 inches of hair on my head, which would look awesome on a lot of chicks, but a prepubescent me looked like a hot mess to other people.  That school year was, particularly, brutal as every day boys would ask if I was a girl, and I would have to keep asserting that I was.  It was frustrating to have my sex questioned just because of a haircut.

The fourth grade was a walk in the park compared to what I would experience in the sixth grade – the year I struggled with anorexia.  I had some prepubescent chubbiness, or so that was the perception.  I just had a big butt compared to my 11 year old classmates and I was short.  Apparently, that made me fat.  And by age 11, I was already a vegetarian.

I remember quite viscerally all of those terrible experiences.  People making jokes about my food.  You shouldn’t eat that, Melinda, you’re already fat. How are you so fat if you’re a vegetarian? Give me your food; you don’t need that.  And, then, there was that day, when Robert, this giant asshole of a kid, pinned me down to the playground floor and smeared bologna out of a garbage can all over my face while yelling, “You know you’re hungry, so eat it, fatty.”

Would I have had the strength to actually eat when I was hungry in front of other kids? Would I have had the strength to eat at home?  I wish I could say that the bullying stopped when I walked into the house. But it did not.  Not at all.  My mother’s favorite moniker for me was butter ball, and she made a comment about EVERYTHING, and I mean EVERYTHING that I put into my mouth.  She had her own pathologies and struggles with weight, and over the years, she apologized for all of the emotional and psychological trauma that she caused me with those comments.

But alas, I was being ridiculed in school EVERY single day, and then going home to: Don’t eat that, Melinda, because it’s going to make you fat.  If you keep eating, you’re going to get fat. Come here, butterball.

I was being PUNISHED for being hungry every time I ate, and the saddest part of it all was that I was an incredibly healthy kid who was ALWAYS on the honor roll.  With all of my accomplishments, all that anyone could see was their perceived inadequacies about my body.

Choosing Between Anorexia and Bulimia

Somehow, I had picked up on the existence of bulimia and anorexia as a kid, and I thought about which one I should be in order to lose weight.  Yes, you read right, as an 11 year old child, I debated the pros and cons between being bulimic and anorexic.

At first, I tried bulimia.  I thought it would be beneficial to eat something, and then, puke it up.  I tried, but I just could not get myself to vomit. I remember sitting there feeling overly stuffed and defeated. I used my finger, shoved the tip of my toothbrush down my tongue, and nothing would come back up.  I also really hated vomiting, so I decided that bulimia was not for me.

Anorexia, then, seemed like the easier choice, because I would, then, just not have to eat. I didn’t need to worry about the vomiting and cleaning it up. I didn’t have to worry about explaining it to people, either.  It was, perhaps, too easy to get away with it.  At that age, I usually ate breakfast and lunch in school. I would skip breakfast and I just gave away my lunches to other kids and went to the playground.  When I got home, my mom was usually too busy tending to my little brother to notice if I had eaten.  Or, I would lie when she asked if I was hungry. I would tell her that I ate late in school, at my friend’s house, or that I just ate something else.  She was never the type of parent to force you to sit at a table and eat your broccoli.  So, I didn’t eat much at all.

Once in a while, I would drink water, and I would eat a very small amount to calm the pain in my stomach.  I started losing weight, and, right around the same time, my boobs came in! Yay for boobs!

So, there I was, my waist thinning, my breast growing, and I began to feel so confident.  Everywhere I went people were so excited about my weight loss.  That’s got to be the worst part about having an eating disorder – all of the comments about how awesome and beautiful you look, NOW. They implicitly write a rejection of your total self in their praise of your body while you are standing there hungry and dizzy.

My struggle with total anorexia did not last very long.  I started to get really sick. I had massive dizzy spells and almost fell down the stairs at school a number of times.  I was having incredible stomach pain, and I wound up in the hospital.  I am not sure that the doctors caught on to the fact that I had an eating disorder.  I was always too smart for my own good, and I could lie myself out of anything as a child.  The doctor demanded that I eat or I would get even sicker.  Afraid for my life, I ate.

Still Struggling 

But my relationship with food has always been a struggle.  I will admit that I have had what I call my anorexic days.  When I feel bloated, I will not eat, at times.  My daughter’s birth changed a lot of that, but I still struggle with food.

And, now that I am 29 years old and the mother of a daughter, I wish I could say that my body was no longer under constant scrutiny.

A year after my daughter’s birth, I began to focus back on myself, and work towards getting in shape.  This time, it was for me.  I had lost a lot of my muscle mass and just felt out of shape. I wanted to be able to run, play, and have energy.  I also decided that I wanted to try bodybuilding.

booty

I changed my diet, went to the gym 6 times a week for 2 hours a day, and I began to lose weight.  My pre-partum weight was 150 pounds.  At 9 months gestation, I was 176 lbs.  Immediately post-partum, I was 162 lbs.  After working out and eating well, I weighed 129 lbs.

Once, again, people lauded me for my efforts towards personal health and fitness, but then, came the other comments.  Damn, yo, you lost your ass.  Where did your ass go? Your boobs got way too small.  You’re getting TOO skinny, so stop losing weight.

I mean REALLY? What the fuck, people!

Body Shaming

Women’s bodies are under constant scrutiny.  When you are thin, people tell you to go eat a steak.  When you are thick, you need to put down the fork.  If you’re muscular, you are too manly.

Post-partum bodies are under a special kind of scrutiny.  Do your tits sag? Do you have ugly stretch marks? Is your vagina back to normal?

Why should I even be asked these questions or have an answer prepared for them?  They are embedded with judgments that tell women that they must always have the body of a 14 year old girl.

The standards of beauty that women are expected to adhere to are just unrealistic – big tits, tiny waist, and a giant ass.  Those proportions are only possible with the assistance of spanx or surgery.

I just feel frustrated, and I wonder: Why do women have to constantly apologize for their bodies? And why does this start at such a young age?

I won’t pretend that I love my body every day of my life, because that would be an outright lie, especially, as I adjust to the changes post-partum.  But the shaming just needs to stop.

Most of my meals are healthy, and I love to exercise. But that is who I am.  Sometimes, I am a couch potato, and other times, I want to run 5 miles.

Learning to love myself has been a long journey, and my body is still there to be judged in private and public spaces, constantly.  This is true for all of us.  I find myself judging other women’s bodies, too, and for that I openly apologize.

Our goal should be towards striving to be healthy – spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically.  What good is a thin body, if your soul is dying inside of it?


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10 Tips on How to Balance Your Family Life

I received a Dear Organic Melinda email from a mom who wanted advice on how to balance work, school and family life. You can read my response to her by clicking here.

In order to assist exhausted mommies (and daddies), I put together this list of 10 tips  that describe some of the ways that I have tried to achieve balance as a work-from-home mother.

1.       Stop trying to do it ALL.

Many of us have preconceived notions that if we are not independent women a la Beyonce’s song paying our own bills, maintaining our own homes, and looking like we spend 15 hours at the gym every day, then we are complete failures.  There’s a reason why it takes two people to make a baby.  Nature requires, at least 2 people, to raise it.

It’s okay to leave the dishes piled in the sink for a few days and not fold the laundry as soon as it is done being washed.  And, hey, if you are taking care of a newborn all day long while your partner is working, and you didn’t shower yesterday, it’s okay to go to sleep when the baby does. No one is going to tell the Gods of Hygiene.

It is, also, okay to ask a friend or family member to please come over and watch your baby while you finish up work for a client, a report for your boss, or just take that aforementioned shower you need so badly.

2.       Get your partner/child’s father involved!

Sure, he might not change the diaper as well as you do, and he might leave dishes partially dirty when he washes them, but if I learned anything from my survey and personal experiences is that Daddy (or Mommy #2) is essential to your overall well-being!

While most women play with baby dolls in a seeming wave of culturalization towards motherhood, most men do not have the same experience.  Chances are that his baby is the first baby who he has ever taken care of.  This leaves some men feeling inadequate, and if you point out his flaws in child care, you are going to add to those feelings of inadequacies.

Let him/ her know how important s/he is to raising your child. Say thank you when s/he cleans the house, takes out the garbage, or whatever.  The Ms. Independent claim is a myth that we need to deconstruct because it only leaves women with MORE work to do.

Remember, children need a father figure in their lives (whether biological or not), so be sure to facilitate that experience for them.

3.       Make time for yourself.

I have struggled A LOT with this one.  Because of my family history, I have serious issues trusting others to babysit my daughter. For the first year of her life, I was so adamant about making sure that all of her needs were met, that I forgot about my own needs.

I gave up a lot of my passions, and I found myself, one day, wondering who I was anymore.

I started to carve out space for myself by hiding in the bathroom as soon as my partner came home from work. Yes, the bathroom. I’d go in to pee, and just sit in there for an hour to be alone with my thoughts.

Then, I joined a gym and left my daughter with her father 2 hours a day just to unwind and take care of my mind and body, which leads to Tip 3.

4.       Exercise.  

I know that with everything you have to do, exercising just does not necessarily seem like a priority. But, it really needs to be.

Most gyms, these days, have a free daycare with your membership.

If you cannot bear to leave your baby with someone else or you cannot afford a gym membership.  There are tons of DVDs online that have Mommy and Me workouts.

There are, also, parks with tracks and your neighborhood.  You’d be amazed what a 1 mile walk or jog will do for your mental health and energy levels.

Find ways to incorporate exercise into your current lifestyle so that it does not become another item on your To-Do list.  You can use an exercise ball instead of a chair in your office. I’ve seen quite a few office workouts online, too.

5.       Set specific work hours.

This is a challenging one for us work-from-home moms, because we tend to work while the kids are napping and sleeping. Many of us don’t have our own offices or any staff.

Lately, I have been working almost around the clock on my cookbook, and I have to tell you that I am tired and cranky.  And when I am tired and cranky, the entire household is tired and cranky.

My baby cannot rile me up enough for me to really, truly want to play with her, and I am mad at my partner for relaxing. So, please, set a daily schedule of when you can blog, advertise, write, etc, and learn from me.

For mothers who work outside of the home, do NOT answer emails or phone calls when your work hours are over.  The drawback of the technological boom is that people constantly have access to us.  When you clock out, let your work day end.

To the stay-at-home moms, you, too, get to go off duty. Pick a time every day when it’s mommy time and no one can ask anything of you, which brings me to the next tip.

6.       Turn off all of the technology for at least 1 hour a day!

Yes, I know, how blasphemous, right? Imagine not checking your email, business reports, analytics, or Facebook account for a whole hour!

Many of us are super addicted to our gadgets. How could we not be? We are incredibly reliant on them for work, family relations, and to answer questions we just don’t know the answer to, like how to make vegan cheese from scratch.

However, we are robbing ourselves and our children of quiet time and not really giving undivided attention to the important and necessary tasks of our day.

Sometimes, I am on my phone blasting out emails, editing, and advertising, and then my daughter walks up to me asking for a hug.  In those moments, I realize that she is more worthy of my time than a blog post, so I give it to her.  I try to be more mindful of spending more quality time with her.

7.       Stop pressuring yourself so much!

Related to tip number 1, I urge you to stop being so hard on yourself.  All we can do is our best at any given situation, and for type-A personalities or over-achievers, like myself, we think our best is perfection.  Perfection is a myth.  It’s okay not to give your all to every task that comes your way.

8.       Hug and Play with your children.

This tip and tips 3 and 5 can go hand-in-hand.  My daughter gets a thrill out of me using her as a chest press or holding her while I do squats. Sometimes, after seeing me do squats, she does squats with me.  It’s got to be one of the cutest things I have ever seen.

Children do grow up way too fast, in my opinion, especially when you’re a busy mom.  Make sure not to lose out on this special time of their lives.  If you have a toddler, kick a ball around with them. Remember that children require affection and physical touch in order to be emotionally healthy adults.  Go shopping with your teenager.  Call your college-bound child and ask them if they want to go hiking.

9.       Ask for and Get Help!

Seeing a psychologist, speaking to a friend, getting a support network of mothers are excellent ways to unwind and make sure you are mentally and emotionally healthy.

Often times, feeling unbalanced is a sign that you are neglecting some of your own needs and/or you are not sure how to cope with the added responsibilities and pressures of having a child and being a professional.

I struggled with post-partum depression after my daughter’s birth, and a wonderful psychologist really helped me overcome that difficult time.  I also speak to friends and family when I am overwhelmed.  And, of course, sometimes asking for help means ordering take-out.

10.   Take a 5 minute break. 

When you are feeling overwhelmed by it all, just take a short break.

Put your head in your hands and just breathe.  You’d be amazed how much of a difference this can make, especially in the middle of a toddler tantrum.

Remember to relax, because in the words of James Howe, author of Totally Joe, “Life is short and there will always be dirty dishes, so let’s dance.”


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Mothers, we are NOT super heroes, and that’s okay.

Dear Organic Melinda, 
How do women balance working/going to school and doing various other things while raising a family? I think I’m doing okay but could do better. It’s hard.

Best,

Evita

 ~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Evita,

The day that you sent this question to my inbox, I was immersed in a conversation with another working mom, who was incredibly exhausted.  As an anthropologist trained in research methods and analysis, I did a short questionnaire in a few Facebook groups with high concentrations of working mothers in order to provide you with a full answer, which is divided into 2 blog posts. See here and there.

The first trend that I noticed was that many mothers are absolutely exhausted.

The second trend was that mothers who felt balanced or never really thought about balance exclaimed on how incredibly wonderful and supportive their partners’ were in day to day activities.

The third trend was that some mothers, even with supportive partners, were overwhelmed by work demands as their bosses had increased their work hours due to the declining U.S. economy.  These mothers often struggled with guilt about being away from their children for 45+ hours a week.

A forth trend was that stay-at-home mothers were fed up with people assuming that raising a small child is easy, and therefore, they had no right to be tired. These mothers struggle with raising a baby, taking care of themselves, and then having to cater to a partner’s needs. Many of the pressures came from the fact that this group of women does not bring income into the household, and, therefore, her perceived duty is to maintain an impeccable home.

The fifth trend, which builds on the forth trend, was that work-from-home mothers were even more exhausted than mothers who worked outside of the home, because their lives, too, were perceived to be easier since they got to work while wearing pajamas.  Often, people would make comments like, “but you were home all day!”

Did Feminism Fail Us?

While I read the tales of exhausted mommies and reflected on my own daily struggles with balancing raising my daughter, maintaining a home, and working on my start-up business, I began to wonder if the feminist movement had failed me and, in turn, all of us.

The dozens of books I had read on the status of women throughout the world, who still struggle with owning their own bodies, life choices, and futures, ruminated in my head.  Was Marx right? Did the oppression (read exhaustion) of women begin with the nuclear family?  What about Ortner’s ground-breaking piece, which suggested that the oppression of women was directly linked to birthing and lactation? Are we still caught in the age-old split between the public and domestic spheres?

It appears that, in many ways, while women have gained access to higher education in the U.S., entered the workplace, and became mom-trepreneurs, the majority of child-rearing and household work continues to fall on the shoulders of mothers. But, does this mean that we are still oppressed, and that feminism really did fail us?

In some ways, yes, I believe it did, because the expectations for women, are, now ten-fold what they are for men.   And forgive my hetero-normativity for a second, but it also appeared to me that men’s roles have not drastically changed in the last 50 years as women’s have.

In all of the frustration of Betty Friedman’s Feminine Mystique, I, immediately, wanted to blame patriarchy (read as my partner) for the fact that I am so exhausted or society for expecting me to do so much.  That is, I am expected to have the dishes clean and the house and the baby, and, yet, never complain or look tired or feel exhausted.

Then, I ran across THIS ARTICLE, on a book written by the president of my alma mater, Barnard College.

And, I thought, YES! This is it! Tell it like it is Debora L. Spar.

Lay the pressure off of your shoulders!

The first part of your question, Evita, that stands out to me is that you “could do better.” By whose standards?  Why do you think you even need to do better in the first place?  Who or what is making you feel inadequate?  Are you trying to be a Super Woman?

Forget about doing better. Just do your best.

As Debora L. Spar points out, there are various factors that play into our feelings of inadequacies about ourselves as women, mothers, partners, workers, and friends.

The hard truth is that each of us, in spite of our posters of Rosie the Riveter and social-conditioning, just cannot do it ALL.  We need help, and there is nothing wrong or weak about admitting that you need help, and getting it.

I often feel exhausted and I want to scream, pull out my hair, or run away.  Let’s be honest, at some point, most new moms have missed their pre-baby life.  It’s not because we don’t love our babies or we aren’t grateful of having babies or the life we live.  It’s because it’s been 6 months since you had a full night’s rest, you cannot remember if you showered, today, and you’re hungry but too tired to cook.

Yes, the house is messy, and you need a shower. I know you want to look sexy for your partner when s/he comes home. And, now, the baby is screaming, crying. Oh, no, don’t touch the electrical socket! Ahhhh, take that out of your mouth!

But,just forget about it all for a second.  Sit down with your baby, don’t care about the dishes or the gum in your hair, and read my post 10 Tips on How to Balance Your Life.


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Farm to People: Buying Locally Grown Food – Review of Nourishing Newark Farmers’ Market

Many of the supermarkets in Newark do not have a large supply of fresh fruits and veggies. Instead, most of the supermarkets are full of processed and packaged foods. Access to healthy and affordable fresh fruits and vegetables is one of my main concerns when it comes to food justice, and programs like Nourishing Newark Farmers’ Market exist to address this concern.

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Figure 1

While walking to Question Mart a few weeks ago, I noticed what appeared to be a festival in Washington Park (across the street from the Main Public Library in Washington Street, Newark, NJ). It was not a festival at all; it was the Nourishing Newark Farmers’ Market. I felt like I hit a gold mine. I really, really love fresh foods, and it does not get much fresher than a Farmers’ Market when you don’t own your own garden.

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  Figure 2                                                                        Figure  3

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Figure 4

I walked into the park seduced by the live Jazz music, and immediately noticed the large crates of romaine lettuce, garlic, potatoes, watermelon, corn, peppers, herbs, tomatoes, zucchinis, and various greens (See Figures 1-4). The farmers’ market had all of the fresh veggies that Question Mart was lacking on my visit there. I, immediately, noticed a white sign that read “No GMOs” (See Figure 5) on the Matarazzo Farms stand. Before purchasing food, I walked around and spoke to the various stand employees, but most of the employees did not have opinions on GM foods. When I asked an employee of one stand where he sourced his seeds, he said, “I don’t know. The regular way?” Unconvinced by this response, I went back to the Matarazzo Farms stand.

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Figure 5

The employees at the Matarazzo Farms stand had a lot to say about GMO foods, the politics of USDA Organic labeling, and the need for people to buy locally grown food. I was told that Matarazzo Farms has been run by the same family for almost 100 years. The current head farmer is Jim Matarazzo, who I met on a subsequent trip to the Nourishing Newark Farmers’ Market. Jim is very knowledgeable on the food industry and the infiltration of GM foods into supermarkets. He was very patient with my many questions and provided me with a list of organizations that I should research in order to have a deeper understanding of USDA Organic labeling, which I was informed is very expensive in New Jersey. Many New Jersey farmers grow foods in a way that would be considered organic, but they cannot afford the certification of USDA Organic labeling. In other words, many farms in New Jersey are GMO-free and pesticide-free even though their foods are NOT labeled USDA Organic.

Not only were the employees of Matarazzo Farms well informed on the issues that interest Organic Melinda and my readers, their prices were significantly cheaper than what I have been paying at Whole Foods Market, Pathmark, and Trader Joe’s. It appears that one of the main reasons organic food is more expensive than non-labeled food is to cover the costs associated with Organic Certification. On a Wednesday trip to the Nourishing Newark Farmers’ Market, I spent only $10.00 on a nice amount of produce (See Figure 6). On a Thursday trip, I bought some fresh fruits and vegetables for only $18.50 (See Figure 7). I have paid upwards of $50.00 for the same amount of produce. I am, now, exclusively, buying produce in the Nourishing Newark Farmers’ Market until it ends for the season. The market is inspiring quite a few of the recipes for my upcoming cookbook.

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Figure 6                                                                             Figure 7

The Nourishing Newark Farmers’ Market is available in Newark three times a week. I attend on Wednesdays or Thursdays before 3:00 p.m EST. The Wednesday market is located at Washington Park across the street from the Newark Main Public Library. On Thursdays, the market is located on the corner of Raymond Blvd and Broad Street in the PSEG Plaza.

On my visits, I find that the Wednesday market is smaller than the Thursday market. On Wednesday, I only saw 2 farm stands, a smoothie stand, a honey stand, and a snack stand. On Thursday there were three farm stands and various stands of cooked food and desserts. Both days feature live music.

I am very happy to report that Nourishing Newark Farmers’ Market is available to Newark residents. They accept SNAP/Food Stamp benefits, WIC benefits, and, of course, cash, debit and credit. The Farmers’ Market most definitely received the Organic Melinda stamp of approval!

For more information and to locate a Farmers’ Market near you, visit:
http://nourishingnewarkfarmersmarkets.org/
http://www.farmtopeople.com/
http://www.jerseyfresh.nj.gov/
https://www.facebook.com/MatarazzoFarmersMarket


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Providing Breast Milk Against the Odds – Iris’ Story

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, which was August 1-7, 2013, I want to share Iris’ breastfeeding journey, because, in spite of many challenges, she has been dedicated to ensuring that her daughter, Baby Z, is provided the best nutrition.

Baby Z was born 10 weeks premature, and had to stay in a neonatal intensive care unit for 37 days.  I remember Iris’ stress the day she went into labor as she worried that her milk supply would not come in.

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Baby Z in the NICU

Iris knew that she wanted to breastfeed her baby long before she discovered that she was pregnant.  She was breastfed as a child, and her maternal and paternal aunts also breastfed their children.  She recalls, I grew up watching my little cousins being comforted and fed in my aunts’ laps, both in the home and out at public functions.”

With the unexpected early birth of Baby Z, Iris had to now figure out how to feed her baby.  Due to Baby Z’s delicate medical condition, she would most benefit from receiving colostrum, which is the first milk a mother makes and provides antibodies to protect the baby from diseases. Because newborn babies have immature digestive systems, mother’s milk is best for them, as many children face difficulties digesting cows’ milk.  When a child is born prematurely, their digestive system is further compromised, and the need for mother’s milk is heightened.  For this reason, I quickly volunteered to donate milk if Iris’ supply did not come in.  However, since my daughter was well over a year old at the time, I no longer produced colostrum.  Luckily, Iris’ colostrum came in just in time to feed Baby Z.

Because Baby Z “had great difficulty latching, I continued to pump rather than feed from the breast directly,” remembers Iris. Like Iris, some women experience difficulties with newborns latching on for various reasons.  In Baby Z’s case her mouth was too small.  A lactation consultant can usually help with non-medical latch difficulties.  Iris was able to help Baby Z latch twice by applying a nipple shield, but she has to pump breast milk in order to feed Baby Z.

“Not being able to feed a child directly is a huge blow to a mother. It’s not something you expect when dreaming of having a baby. Exclusively pumping is extremely tiresome as you have to wake up every 3 hours to feed your child and sit up pumping for another 45 minutes to make enough for the next feeding.”

Iris has experienced many challenges to providing her daughter breast milk. She has to pump milk multiple times a day and laments, “While breastfeeding in public is becoming more widespread and accepted, I still have to take my plastic funnels and machine to a nearby bathroom or closet.

Recently, after exclusively pumping for two months, Iris experienced a drop in her milk supply. She tried to supplement with baby formula, but Baby Z was unable to properly digest it. Thus, Iris opted to join the growing number of women who are using donor milk.

“My milk supply began to dwindle around the time my daughter was going through a growth spurt. Unable to keep up with her appetite, I chose to supplement her feedings with formula. After a few days I noticed that she was extremely irritable, gassy, and miserable. With a google search, I discovered quite a few groups online where mothers could find breast milk donors. I loved the idea of relying strictly on breast milk, so this immediately became my number one option. Soon after posting a short description of my situation and location, I was bombarded with messages from women who wanted to help.

“The love was overwhelming. I did not have any fears because it is my belief that it takes an incredibly selfless and wonderful human being to offer their milk to a stranger. So far, I have used donor milk from two mothers and a co-worker has offered hers after I run out of my current stash. My daughter does not seem to notice the difference between my milk and the donors and I am glad she is back to her usual cheery self.”

With the security of having donor milk during supply drops and being able to provide Baby Z with her own milk, Iris is free to enjoy the “the best cleavage I have ever had!” (Her words, not mine!)

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Iris and a flourishing Baby Z

Baby Z is thriving and has more than doubled her weight since birth.  She is an active little girl who enjoys cuddling with her Mom and sleeping on her Daddy’s chest.

I share Iris’ story to let women know that there can be many barriers to breastfeeding your baby, but there are also many solutions.  For mothers who want to feed their babies human milk and cannot do so, there is the option of receiving milk donations as well as having a wet nurse.

Resources on Breastfeeding:

http://www.lalecheleague.org/

http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/

http://kellymom.com/

Groups for Milk Donation:

http://www.eatsonfeets.org/

http://hm4hb.net/