fitness for women

The Power of Intention

I was sitting on my mustard-colored couch in Manhattan, talking to my therapist on the phone. I told her, “I don’t have time to cry.” My grandmother had just died. I felt like I’d lost my guide, angel, and queen.

My therapist had asked how I was handling the loss. My response speaks for itself.

As in so many other areas of life, I thought confronting my reality would make me “lose control.” (This thought pattern also kept me locked in hyper-regimented eating for several years. I'm sure many of you can relate.)

Well, sweeping my feelings under the rug worked. Until it didn’t.

Eventually stuff hit the fan.

I developed debilitating anxiety. I had several panic attacks, complete with cold flushes and heart palpitations. Eating stressed me out so much that I could hardly digest food. I couldn’t sleep for more than a couple hours at a time.

After several months of feeling like I was hanging by a thread, a dawn broke. I started to learn how to heal myself and accept emotions in a way that was magical and enlivening, instead of terrifying. 

One practice that changed the game was intention setting.

Setting an intention simply means deciding on an area to focus your energy and attention on for a given period.

It’s a way of connecting with a way of being that benefits you.

Intention setting can help you do all the good things: enjoy your job more, connect more deeply with the people around you, lose weight, feel happy -- the whole gamut! It's a tool for change, and you choose what changes.

Here are some examples:

  • My intention is clarity. A great one if you're in a career or relationship transition.

  • My intention is patience. I'm sure many of us can use more of this :)

  • My intention is unconditional self-love. Useful if you second-guess yourself, feel unsatisfied with your body, etc.

(Keep reading to learn my practical process for setting an intention.)

A peek into my journal. You can see an intention I set this past December.

A peek into my journal. You can see an intention I set this past December.

You’ll notice that intentions are not goals. Setting intention is not about achieving, straining, or one-upping yourself.

Setting intention is about non-judgmentally witnessing where you’re at, and discerning the mode of being to call in so you feel more at center.

In addition to helping you feel more peaceful and grounded, intention setting can help you transform your body permanently. This practice cultivates self-awareness, which is a key component in making empowered decisions around food, fitness, and self-care. 

Set an intention each morning or week. I find the intention becomes less potent with intervals any longer than a week.

With that, let’s get down to business.

Here are 5 quick, practical steps for setting an intention:

  1. Get quiet. Sit by yourself somewhere silent for 5-10 minutes. Notice where you’re at. Are you stressed? Irritable? Inspired? Are you holding tension?

  2. Let your intention show up. I do this by mentally cycling through words: “peace,” “understanding,” “acceptance,” etc. Most words won’t resonate. Pay attention to the ones that do, and settle on the one that feels right on every level. You'll know you’ve found your intention when connecting with that word feels like complete calm.

  3. Write your intention down, in a complete sentence, on paper. So, instead of just writing "clarity," write: "My intention is clarity." This is the first step in bringing the intention out of your head and into form. 

  4. Keep coming back to it. Your intention is only as good as your degree of focus on it. When you first start intention setting, you won’t be in the habit of remembering your intention throughout the day. So, write it on a post-it and stick it to your laptop. Set an hourly phone alarm as a reminder. Scrawl it in your work notebook.

  5. Don’t overthink it. This is supposed to be light and helpful.

Bonus: Notice if you feel any different after you've set your intention and written it down. I feel more peaceful almost immediately after going through this short process.

There you have it. Simple, quick, manageable.

An important point to address: why not just just declare your intention in your head as you're going about your normal day?

Here's why: change takes effort. If you want to up-level your mindset, it's usually not enough to treat the new thoughts just like any other blip on the radar. It's important to put conscious energy towards the new way.

So, a friendly challenge: set an intention tomorrow. Notice how your day transforms.

Love and light,
Valerie

Next time you’re standing in a dressing room feeling fat, think of this

I was standing at the door of my closet, trying to wiggle into a pair of red jeans. I’d purchased them three months prior, when I was in training for my first Figure competition. I had been dieting hard, and weighed 123 lbs to my normal 145.

Now, they wouldn’t even fit over my thighs. I’d put on weight after competing in my show.

I could feel myself getting flushed with heat. I started to cry.

Luckily, my friend Becky heard me and came into the room.

She realized what was going on and said gently, “Don’t go there, Val. It’s not worth it.” I threw something else on instead.

I know I’m not the only woman who’s gotten upset over the fit of my clothing. Those pants that won’t button at the top… The dress that won’t zip even halfway up the side... The babydoll shirt that used to fit loosely, but now cuts into your ribcage… So frustrating.

I’m interested in how our experience of clothing fit translates to something I call aspirational shopping. What’s aspirational shopping, you ask?

  • Buying jeans in what you think of as your “regular size,” even if they’re a little too small. No biggie (pun intended), you’ll just squeeze into ‘em.
  • Purchasing a blouse that will look great once you lose those last 5 lbs. If you wore it now, you'd tug at it all day. But you're foregoing carbs next week, so hopefully you'll feel smaller then
  • Buying a hot dress that’s too small as motivation to lose weight

What do these scenarios lack in common? Acceptance of the present.

Acceptance of the now is the missing talking point in mainstream discourses on how to transform your body and lose weight. It’s the linchpin. And without that piece, you (and lots other people) will continue to get the body transformation formula backwards.

Here’s what I mean.

Often when we’re not fully satisfied with how life is going, we decide having an incredible body is the light at the end of the tunnel. More guys will want to commit to you, the world will look at you with admiration, and you’ll finally be that thing called “happy” that everyone talks about.

In other words, you’ll accept yourself later. Weight loss → amazing body → acceptance of yourself → happiness in life.

Aspirational shopping is one form of not accepting the present. It feeds the thought loop that says, “My body isn’t good enough yet! But I’ll get there if I just keep pushing.” Add the pressure of putting money behind that thought and you have yourself a toxic behavior.

Here’s the challenge: acceptance has to come first. Acceptance that your thighs touch, your tummy has some fat on it (you need that! Topic for a different day…), you’re not in a job you love, you really want a boyfriend, or whatever else.

Full-on, flat-out, at-first-uncomfortable, sometimes yucky-feeling acceptance.

Acceptance lets you look with honest eyes at the issues at play, and their origins. Because here’s the issue: your body isn’t what's preventing you from getting the body you want (counterintuitive, right?).

It’s your mind. Your mindset.

Once your issues rise to the surface, they receive the light they need to heal. No more running. No more burying. Acceptance → behavior change → happiness in life → weight loss → “amazing body” (if you choose to look at it that way after your transformation ;)

Here’s how to practice acceptance in regards to shopping:

Buy what fits you right now.

Pin this by hovering over the image and clicking the "Pin it" button in the top left corner.

Pin this by hovering over the image and clicking the "Pin it" button in the top left corner.

There is something subtly powerful about telling your body you’ll meet it where it’s at. Then putting dollar power behind it.

Give it a try and notice what shifts.

Love and light,
Valerie

I ate something off my diet, so the rest of the day is ruined

You’re doing so well. Several straight days of eating “perfectly,” whatever that looks like for you. Maybe it’s weighing all your food, and eating within certain caloric or macronutrient boundaries. Maybe it’s cutting out all starchy carbs. Maybe it’s eating only home cooked foods.

Regardless, you’re on a roll.

Then, something tempting crosses your path. Maybe it’s one of your kryptonites--a food that you’ve always loved, and holds meaning in your food journey. You reach for it. You’re probably at the office, or at least outside your own personal habitat. You take a bite. In fact, you likely down the whole thing (that’s kind of a foregone conclusion!). You may not even be thinking while it’s happening.

But afterwards...

Yikes. You messed up. Your mind is probably racing a bit faster than usual, as you weigh what just happened. And then, this conclusion commonly sets in:

“I ate something off my diet, so the rest of the day is ruined.” (That may not be your exact wording, but you catch my drift).

So, the rest of the day, you throw your “diet” to the wind. You have a cookie or three, you order the pasta instead of the fish at dinner, you enjoy two sugary cocktails instead of none.

The “spin” might even last for more than a day, as you careen further off the rails.

Now, for a key mindset reframe that’ll help you move through this pattern (and eventually release it):

You're always one bite away from freedom. When we stop to think about it, we all know the body responds to what we eat per bite, and generously, per meal. The body doesn’t tally what we eat per day, because it doesn’t operate at that obtuse level. It lives in the moment. It’s your mind that makes this irrational conflation.

Letting your eating rhythms be dictated by what you ate in the past is black-or-white thinking (black = I’m fully on my plan, and I’m full steam ahead; white = I made one mistake, and that’s dictating how I eat going forward).

The gray zone is where it’s at. The gray way of thinking is: “Every moment is new. I’m not boxed in by the past. I’m only one bite away from breaking the cycle, and living moment-to-moment.”

 

Here are 3 concrete steps to take the next time you hear yourself saying, “...the rest of the day is ruined!”:

  1. Pause, and before doing anything, celebrate your awareness. I know this may feel unsexy in the heat of the moment, but awareness is one of the most important pieces in behavior change. It’s a huge win already. You can’t move through without knowing that there’s something to move through. You’re already making progress, whether you let yourself see it or not. Mark your "celebration" with something concrete: a smile, a deep breath, by listening to a song...let the acknowledgement come out of your head, and into form.
  2. Take stock of all your options. This will help you remember, maybe more symbolically than anything, that you’re always one bite away from freedom. Let’s use an example. Say you’re at the office, and caved to a slice of pizza for lunch when you’d normally have chicken breast and salad. It’s almost dinner time, and you’re deciding what to eat. Jog through your different options. Go out to sushi with a girlfriend. Whip together steak and veggies at home. Take an hour or two and make your favorite childhood dish. Take 10 minutes and hit up the Whole Foods salad bar. Pick up Turkish food from your favorite neighborhood spot. Get a huge, delicious chopped salad delivered to your apartment. There are so many routes! Feel your freedom.
  3. Decide what to eat, using this filter question: “Is this decision being made from a place of love?” Deep down, you (and only you) will know the answer. It may take some time, but love will always lead you to the right place.

Just to be clear: this post is not an invitation to eat “off track,” then learn to get back on track faster than you normally do. It’s not an invitation to eat restrictively a larger proportion of the time. And it’s not about growing your discipline. Eating "off the rails" is an indication that your eating routine is not sustainable, and therefore that discipline is the opposite direction you should be heading.

It is about moving away from having your past dictate your future. It is about moving away from planning your every meal, and thinking so much about food. It is about looking at the long haul, which, fascinatingly, requires getting 100% present.

That’s it for now. Hope these tips lit something up for you.

Talk to you soon!

Love and light,
Valerie