Intuitive Eating: Giving Your Body What It Wants

“Eating today has become this idea that the food on your fork can either kill you or cure you. It’s gotten to a point of almost religious fervor.” ~ Evelyn Tribole

Babies cry, eat, and then stop sucking when they have had enough milk. Children naturally balance their food intake from day to day — eating when they are hungry and stopping when they feel full. But adults have all types of stipulations on when they can eat, what they can eat, and how much they can eat. At some point, we stop letting their internal clocks guide us in feeding our hunger, and instead rely on society’s norms to guide our nutritional intake. Children have something to teach us about what, when, and how much we eat: It’s called following our intuition or intuitive eating.

In honor of March being National Nutrition Month, I want to talk about our relationship with food. There are so many diets today; Keto diet, Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, South Beach, Dukan, Paleo, Vegan, low-carb and Atkins diets to name a few. There are all sorts of “fad diets” out there that eliminate certain food groups, have you count carbs, measure waistlines, and include a range of rules to achieve weight loss. And while [temporary] success may come from these diets, many individuals and dietitians in the country have found that more often than not, weight that has been lost that way does not stay off forever.  

Have you heard of intuitive eating? In 1995, two dietitians in Southern California grew tired of watching their clients see success in weight loss through dieting, only to gain it back over time. One of these dietitians, Evelyn Tribole, said, “We were banging our heads against the wall because the way we were working wasn’t working. We were sick of the insanity [our clients] were going through: They’d restrict themselves and lose weight, but then they’d gain it back and they’d blame themselves.” So she and her colleague, Elyse Resch, went back to the drawing board and their book, “Intuitive Eating A Revolutionary Program That Works” was born.  

At the time, Americans were just starting to realize how tiresome the shame and fear around food and ineffective weight loss was. In their book, Evelyn and Elyse encourage readers to do something that might sound backwards and dangerous:

Eat what you want, with no rules about what to eat, how much of it, or when.

Intuitive eating has 10 tenets, which I urge you, my readers, to read, ingest (pun), and practice. In a future blog post, I will go over these 10 principles of intuitive eating in greater detail and offer actionable steps. For the purpose of this overview post, I wish to focus only one of these 10 tenets, the one that may surprise you the most about intuitive eating: No foods are off limits, and there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” food.

I imagine you are thinking, woah woah woah, this just sounds like a free-for-all. I see where you are coming from and I validate that concern. But step back and allow me to explain. Often times, the reason you and I crave pizza is because we tell ourselves it is a wonderfully delicious sinful indulgence. But if we look at pizza as what it truly is (bread, tomato sauce, cheese, and pepperoni)–not necessarily anything good or bad…just food!–then the guilt associated with pizza evaporates. Sure, you may gorge on pizza for the first couple days of eating intuitively (and preliminary studies have found this occurs frequently for those new to intuitive eating), but eventually the body will tell you it has had enough pizza and wants something else. It may surprise you how quickly your body will tell you to pass up the post-workout donut and instead eat something nutritious!

It is undeniable that different foods have different nutritional benefits. Tribole and Resch are not aiming to tear down public-health initiatives that tell society to eat vegetables. At the very root of intuitive eating is the training to teach you to pay attention to how food makes your body feel.  If you untangle food from the stress, shame, and labels that society has put on things you eat, how do you really FEEL eating that donut or that celery juice? The fact is that while you may fill up on Five Guys, if you truly pay attention to what your body wants, you will inevitably crave the variety and nutrition represented by the “healthy” foods you once had used as punishment in your dieting days.

Intuitive eating means breaking free from the yo-yo cycle of dieting and learning to eat mindfully and without guilt. Intuitive eating is about trusting your inner body wisdom to make choices around food that feel good in your body, without judgment and without influence from diet culture. You were born with the skill to eat, to stop when you are full, to eat when you are hungry, and to eat satisfying foods. Intuitive eating is a return to that instinctual skill.

Intuitive eating is not a weight-loss program. It is not a diet. It is a way of life, a complete paradigm shift with what you eat and why you eat it. It has been found to improve body image, to promote mindfulness practices such as meditation, and encourage exercise — all of which is intended to better attune people to their bodies. This will allow you to mitigate binge- and emotional-eating tendencies…by listening to your body!

Calorie counting, carb avoiding, and waistline measuring are miserable lifestyles. The lifelong pressure to diet wears people down and does not lead to a healthy relationship with food. Though I am not a certified dietitian, I have experience in helping clients struggling with rules and negative beliefs around what they eat. I have seen firsthand how effective and life-altering intuitive eating can be. If you need help working through unhealthy eating habits, I would be happy to assist you and point you to helpful resources. Please contact me or schedule a session today to get started on the path to a healthier relationship with both food and your body.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Are You Robbing Yourself of Joy?

green succulent plant

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

We all compare ourselves at times.

Quite often, actually. When we are at the grocery store, we price match. Take something common, like cheese, for instance. If we want cheddar cheese, we will compare the cost across different brands but in the same size bag and the same kind of cheese. Because the factors are the same, it is a fair comparison.

Another way we use comparisons, that is not even remotely fair, is comparing ourselves to others. We see our friends jogging in fancy yoga pants, or cooking in a pristine white, designer kitchen on Instagram, or driving into the neighborhood in a new SUV…and we compare our ordinary work out clothes, our outdated kitchen, or our older car to what they have. Although our circumstances, needs, goals, and desires are completely different, we compare straight across–often to our own disadvantage!

Comparisons are almost always unfair. We typically compare the worst we know of ourselves to the best we presume about others.  We overlook our gifts, talents, successes, contributions, and what makes us unique in this world. We waste precious time and energy comparing ourselves to others. Instead of focusing on other more meaningful or productive things, we spend it on the negative cycle of comparisons. And the sad truth is that there is no end to the possible number of comparisons we can make each day; there will always be something—or someone—else to focus on! Comparisons often result in resentment (both towards others, as well as ourselves). In short, comparisons deprive us of joy.

So how can we stop comparing?

Comparison puts focus on the wrong person. We can only control one life—our own. Here are five tips to limit comparison in our lives:

  1. Recognize the harm of comparisons. Reading this post is a great first step! When we take stock of how comparisons make us feel, we will surely recognize when comparisons are not motivating us. Being aware of this leads us to action…
  2. Nod to victories and strengths. If we are going to focus on the highlight reel of others’ strengths, talents, skills, accomplishments, etc, we need to do the same for ourselves. We need to be aware of our own strengths and unique gifts or perspectives. We all have them. Sometimes it is hard to see the good we offer the world, but it is there! (If this step is difficult, do this activity or ask someone you know well for help.)
  3. Accept uniqueness. There is no one else like you or me on the face of the earth. Embrace it! We are different from each other for a reason. Once we can accept that, it suddenly becomes clear and okay that we are not just like our seemingly perfect neighbor or friend. Let’s embrace our uniqueness and put our skill sets, talents, and gifts to good use!
  4. Appreciate more. I have posted about gratitude several times because I believe in its power to heal, to inspire, to motivate, and to change. By practicing gratitude more, we will see the goodness already present in our own lives instead of what seems to be missing.
  5. Compare fairly. If we must compare, compare to no one but ourselves. Now THAT is the only fair comparison we can make as humans–comparing where we were to where we are. Let’s work hard to take care of ourselves physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Let’s commit to growing a little bit each day and then let’s celebrate the little advancements we are making without comparing ourselves to others!

If we find ourselves getting sucked into someone’s curated Instagram feed, admiring their Lulu yoga pants or remodeled kitchen, let’s put the phone down and instead direct our thoughts/efforts towards something truly worthwhile. Recognize the negative feelings associated with comparisons, and replace it with something positive, inspiring, or empowering. Let’s embrace our unique strengths, and capitalize on them! Whether we are a loyal friend/family member, a successful businessman/woman, a fantastic gardener, or an efficient knitter, let’s be proud and know that we are one of a kind!

Comparisons are hard. And sometimes debilitating. And prevalent! Social media has created an accessible way for us to compare others’ highlight reels to our non-Instagram-worthy life. If you need help implementing these steps into your life to cut out comparisons–or just be in control of them–then please contact me or schedule a session now. My door is always open and I would enjoy helping you in this process. Do not let comparison rob you of the joy you deserve!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Self-Compassion: A Neglected Form of Self-Care

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~Buddha

When we look in the mirror, what do we see? We may notice our frizzy hair, crooked teeth, short eyelashes, thin lips, uneven eyebrows or a plethora of other things. Yet when others look at us, they are more prone to see what we overlook–that we are friendly, optimistic, outgoing, hard working, strong, resilient, creative, kind, sensitive, thoughtful… Why are we so much harder on ourselves than we are on others?!

I recently opened a “Marriage Minute” email from the Gottman Institute and read about self-love. This is something that has been on my mind over the last several weeks, and I thought it would be helpful to dedicate a post to a powerful form of self-care that we often overlook: Self-compassion.

Compassion itself is defined as the sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. Compassion literally means to “suffer with.” In order to have compassion, we must first notice that someone is suffering, and then we feel moved by their suffering so that our hearts respond to their pain. When we extend compassion, we feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means we offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Compassion is the realization that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience.

Even though we all need it, self-compassion is so much easier to show someone else than it is to show ourselves! The time has come to focus on extending this kind of compassion to others as well as ourselves.

Practicing compassion towards ourselves is really no different from having compassion for someone else. Self-compassion is…

  • Acting the same way towards ourselves as we do others when we are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something we do not like about ourselves.
  • Being gentle with ourselves when confronted with painful experiences.
  • Cutting ourselves some slack instead of ignoring pain or judging ourselves harshly.
  • Being kind and understanding when confronted with imperfections.
  • Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating (punishing) ourselves with self-criticism.
  • Recognizing that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable.

To be clear, self-compassion is NOT self-pity (being immersed in our own problems), self-indulgence (unrestrained gratification of our desires), or self-esteem (our perceived sense of worth or value).  

Ultimately, self-compassion is an ongoing process of honoring and accepting our humanness, and recognizing that things will not always go our way. It is knowing that we will inevitably encounter frustrations, make mistakes, and fall short of our ideals. This is the human condition–a reality shared by all of us! The more we open our hearts to this fact–instead of constantly fighting against it–the more we will be able to feel compassion for ourselves and all our fellow humans in the experience of life.

Here is my challenge to you: The next time you are tempted to put yourself down, practice self-compassion instead. Recognize that you are doing your best, and that your effort is what counts. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Celebrate your progress. Be kind to yourself. I can assure you that implementing more compassion (towards yourself) into your life will have a powerful and positive effect on how you view yourself, others, and the world. Should you find that you need help working through self-deprecation, please do not hesitate to contact me today. I am always accepting new clients!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Two Secrets for Making 2019 Your Year

“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.” —Earl Nightingale

What do we do each January 1st? We think about New Year’s Resolutions–hobbies we would like to pick up, physical feats we would like to accomplish, places we would like to travel… Some we achieve, some we abandon, and others we half-attempt and get mediocre results. If we want to make serious changes in our lives, build confidence, and grow as individuals, we need to have a plan. Without a clear endpoint in mind, we are wandering aimlessly. A plan allows us to proactively create our destiny, and our goals serve as the springboard.

Last year I wrote about the ins and outs of setting resolutions. Most of us are familiar with the process of setting goals; if you need a refresher course, check out the references included below.. Having or setting goals is not the hard part, though. The hard part is following through with and reaching our goals. We have all had a goal that went unreached for whatever reason. I want to focus this post on what we can do to stay motivated to reach our goals in 2019.

How can we stay motivated to reach our goals? To quote Zoolander, “What do we do when we fall off the horse? …We get back on!” I have two simple suggestions that will help us pick ourselves up and get back to work WHEN we may fall short of our goals:

  1. TRACK PROCESS, NOT PROGRESS. This is an interesting yet intentional combination of words. Have you ever gotten fixated with the before and after pictures of home renovations or of physical transformations? What these pictures do not show is the vast amount of time and effort that went into achieving those results. We must remember that progress is a process. Growth and improvement takes time! We are growing accustomed to thinking we should have a six pack after a week of clean eating or exercising. The truth is that progress takes much, much longer than we like or expect. Instead of obsessing over results, we need to track how many times we did what we said we were going to do. How many times did we get to the gym? How many times did we bring a healthy lunch to work? How much money have we put into savings? If we keep doing what we said we were going to do–going to the gym, eating better, spending carefully–we will inevitably get closer to where we ultimately want to be. 
  2. PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION. Beating ourselves up for our mistakes and punishing ourselves for not reaching our goals will nearly always backfire. This promotes shame, which is limiting and uninspiring. When we are too tough on ourselves we actually hinder our ability to perform. Multiple studies (see references below) show that treating ourselves with more kindness is the best way to gain better results. Those who practice self-compassion are more likely to achieve their goals because they realize that mistakes are bound to happen, but that does not mean they should give up. As we implement more self-compassion into our daily walk and talk, we will find greater happiness, confidence, and progress as we reach our goals. (Look out for a post on self-compassion at the end of this month!)

Those who succeed in achieving their dreams always have one common characteristic: They never give up. This persistence is a mindset we can establish from the beginning and nurture throughout the journey of working towards our goals. Yes, we may fall down or fall short, but we cannot allow that to let us lose sight of what we are working towards. When we are tempted to give up on our goals, let’s remember to enjoy the PROCESS, and to practice a little more self-compassion. Just remember that every day is a great day to try again. Let 2019 be your year!

Something I love about the New Year is that it gives us courage to change. New Year’s Resolutions are revitalizing and we often find a great deal of motivation to do the hard things we may have been putting off.  If current addiction issues, unresolved trauma, or a strained relationship is not allowing you to make the changes you want to make, please do not hesitate to contact me today with questions and/or schedule a session with me. I absolutely love what I do, and have years of experience as a trained, qualified therapist. Please come see me this year and allow me to help you make 2019 your year!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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“Bookending” Your Day With Morning and Evening Routines

We are all aware of using either morning or nightly routines to be productive and either jumpstart our morning or end the day on a positive note. But how many of us use both morning and nightly routines with the intent of reaching our goals? In September, I wrote in detail about nightly routines, and in November I wrote about morning routines. In this post I want to combine the elements from these posts to demonstrate the powerful concept of “bookending” your days with morning and nightly routines in order to reach your goals. It’s almost 2019–it is the perfect time to start being intentional with your routines!

Let’s start by talking about the bigger picture. Many of us have goals or resolutions that give us a trajectory in a given direction–towards what we want to accomplish or who we want to become. In my opinion, goals play a necessary role in our growth; without them we will almost certainly fall short of our potential. On that same vein, just because we have goals written out does not mean we are sure to reach them. We need to be actively aware of what we are striving towards; that requires dedication and focus in order to reach them.  How many of us are giving our goals the attention they deserve?

Bookends are a support used to keep a row of books upright; without them, the books lean one direction or another, or fall down completely. Consider this analogy: Your day is like the row of books on a shelf, and the bookends, or supports, are the morning and evening routines.  A successful person’s morning and evening routines are the “bookends” of a productive life. How so? Because what they include in their routines ensures the really important things get done each day. While we may be unable to control what goes on in the middle of a day, we usually can control how we begin and end the day. We can take advantage of this fact by incorporating our most important tasks, actions, goals and/or behaviors into our morning and evening routines.

For example, many businessmen refuse to check email first thing in the morning–for fear of getting prematurely sucked into work. Instead, their morning routine consists of waking up, getting dressed, and dedicating an hour or so to working on important tasks or working towards a higher goal before going into the office. This may include reading, meditating, exercising, meal preparation, etc. These people are ensuring they accomplish what they want to before the chaos and interruptions of the workday get in the way.

For me, if I fail to exercise first thing in the morning, it is very unlikely I will be able to find time to exercise later in the day. So, daily exercise is part of my morning routine. Similarly, being a better journal writer is another important goal for me. If I do not set aside a specific time for journaling, it simply will not happen. Thus, I have incorporated journal writing into my evening routine (which also serves as a great way for me to unwind before bed!).

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Make or review goals, life plan, bucket list or resolutions
  2. Incorporate elements from step one into morning and evening routines
  3. Adjust routines as life happens (this will become even more vital when you have kids, not the other way around!)

Sounds simple enough, right? Here is a real life example: At the end of 2017, my friend made a goal to participate in a race during 2018 (step one). That goal could have remained written down for her to occasionally glance at, and she may or may not have reached it. But she decided to use her daily routines to reach her bigger goal. Each morning she would review her goals as a reminder for what she was working towards. She broke down her goal to run a race into achievable increments which she then incorporated into her morning routine of exercise (step two). Then, each night, she would make plans for the following day’s exercise goals, and so on and so forth until she was able to run, bike, and swim the assigned distances for her race. She successfully “bookended” her days to reach a goal by incorporating it into her morning and evening routines. She said it was exhilarating to accomplish something so seemingly unreachable through consistent baby steps! This is possible with any goal–whether it be increasing your physical flexibility, mastering a language, learning a new hobby, or traveling to somewhere on your bucket list. No matter the goal, you can reach it as you use routines to bookend your progress.

How can we possibly expect to reach our goals or cross things off our bucket lists if we are not actively working towards them? The concept of bookending our days with morning and nightly routines ensures that we will be consistently focused on our goals on a daily basis.  None of us want to look back and see that we failed to reach our full potential or have missed out on valuable experiences. Make your dreams a reality in 2019 by bookending your days with effective morning and nightly routines. By being intentional with your routines, you will make more progress than ever. And, as always, should you feel you need the help of an experienced therapist to become the person you want to be, schedule a session today. My door is always open–especially for those looking to make 2019 a fabulous year!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area

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Life is Hard–Choose Joy

Life is Hard - Choose Joy - Cluff Counseling - Denton Therapist“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

― Thich Nhat Hanh

Life is hard. We all have bills to pay, relationships to strengthen, jobs to keep, and hardships to overcome. These things are constant. Similarly, the choice of how we will respond to those difficulties is always there. Will we choose to be frustrated, angry, sad, or apathetic? Or will we choose to be happy, cheerful, and strong, ready to face whatever life throws at us?

That choice is ours. We have to choose how we will respond to the rigors of life each and every day. Something I have been focusing on this year–and will continue to focus on in 2019–is being more joyful. Despite whatever circumstances you or I may find ourselves, we can each choose to seek joy. It truly is a choice! And that is a choice we can each make starting today.

But how can we do that? How can we rise above the stresses of life and the contentious times in which we live? Here are some simple actions that will help us in our endeavor to choose to be joyful

  1. Acknowledge worthiness. We each deserve to feel joy. No matter what imperfections we have, we are all worthy of joy and happiness. I firmly believe that life is meant to be enjoyed and that we are meant to be joyful creatures. Acknowledging that we deserve joy is the first step to letting it in.
  2. Stop comparing. Theodore Roosevelt was spot on when he said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” The moment we stop comparing our efforts with those of another is precisely when we will be more content with ourselves. If we want to feel joy on a more consistent basis, we need to stop using others as our measuring stick. We must do our best and follow our dreams.
  3. Practice gratitude. This is one of my favorites. Practicing gratitude is so simple, easy, and accessible, but is also an incredibly powerful way to welcome joy into our lives. Whether we do so by writing what we are grateful for in a gratitude journal, a thank you card to someone who has made a difference in our lives, or by verbally expressing thankfulness, practicing gratitude is akin to seeking joy. There is a direct correlation between the two.
  4. Put a positive spin on your negative thoughts. Instead of “Ugh, I hate my job,” try to re-frame it into, “I’m grateful that I have a job so I can pay my bills.” Responsibilities that seem drab or inconvenient will suddenly be seen as a blessing or a conduit for happiness.
  5. Slow down and be present. This one is so important but simultaneously so easy to overlook. We often think that we will be happier with more–more money, more things to have, more things to do…that sometimes we get in the way of our own joy by overfilling and over-complicating our lives. In so doing we miss what is right in front of us. So slow down. Put the phone down. Be present. Find joy and happiness in what we currently have.
  6. Do what we love. Going along with number five, we need to do what we love. We each have twenty-four hours in a day, so we must be cautious and decisive with how we use it. Meditate. Focus on self-care. Practice a hobby. Paint, dance, cook, read, write, play basketball…whatever it may be, we need to do what we love. When we fill our lives with things and people we love, we are sure to feel joy.
  7. Connect with loved ones. Just as we sometimes fail to make time for the extracurricular activities we love, we similarly prolong or deny ourselves the blessing of being with those we love. Joy is much more likely to be found in a stimulating conversation with a friend or a family member than at the gym or the office. Meaningful relationships bring joy. In like manner, we experience joy when those we surround ourselves with inspire us to be better. When we connect with people who lift, inspire, and bring out the best in us, we cultivate joy.

Joy is not some fictitious feeling in fairy tales or something we can only feel a few times in our lives. No, joy is something we can find and feel each and every day. Joy is a state of mind, it is being content with where we are and with whom we associate. Joy can be constant; it is something we can feel whenever we choose to let it in.  Should you find that it is particularly difficult to feel even fleeting joy or happiness, please contact me today. It is estimated that 16.2 American adults experience some form of depression, and I am here to help decrease that statistic. My greatest goal as a therapist is to help each of my clients find the happiness they seek and deserve. My door is always open; click here to schedule a session.  Let’s welcome joy into our lives today and every day.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Getting Up With the Sun: Morning Routines

Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple, started his days off asking himself, “If today was the last day of my life, would I be happy with what I’m about to do today?” Ensure that you are starting your day off on the right foot with a productive morning routine!

You snoozed through your alarm to work out, woke up late, had no clean underwear, got toothpaste on your shirt, grabbed a fast, non-nutritious bite to eat, and rushed into work. You meant to wake up early, hit the gym, have a protein-packed breakfast, and beat the boss into work, but–yet again–it did not happen. Does this sound all too familiar? If you feel you are stuck in a cycle of good intentions and consistently disappointing follow-throughs, this post is for you. By making a few tweaks and additions to your morning, you can be on your way to a happier, healthier life–one where you are in control.

Last month I posted about nightly routines and promised to follow-up with a post on morning routines. We all know that starting the day off on the right foot is actually quite indicative of how the rest of the day will go. A morning ritual or routine can consist of many activities; whatever you choose, consistency in those activities is the key to jumpstart your day!

The hardest part of starting a morning routine is just that, getting started–both literally and figuratively. Do you know where to start? What type of morning ritual do you want to have in place? What types of things do you want to do? I scoured the internet and read blog posts about all sorts of morning routines, and I found the following six suggestions to be the most recurring:

  • THE GYM. We all know someone who is slightly smug about the fact that he/she made it to the gym before the sun arose. While getting exercise in to start the day does come with various health benefits, there is an additional benefit we all could use:  Focus. A friend of mine who has dealt with ADHD her entire life recently told me she got through the most stressful job she ever had by waking at 5 a.m. to go to barre class. It calmed her down, helped her focus, and allowed her to wean off coffee–which, in turn, reduced her jitters. Hit the gym in the a.m., or simply get out for a walk. You will never regret it.
  • MEDITATION. I have written about the benefits of meditation. Though often used to slow down and relax (before bed, for instance), it can also be used to focus the mind and prepare oneself for productivity. Whether your meditation includes actual yoga and stretching, prayer, spiritual study or simple breathing exercises, being in tune with your psyche will start your day off on the right foot. Meditation lowers stress levels and boost productivity and creativity.
  • NUTRITION. This one will be different for all of us depending on preferences and allergies. Some may have oatmeal, chia pudding, a green smoothie, or maybe it will be eggs, toast and sausage. Give yourself nutrient-rich food and you will be sure to notice heightened energy levels. Fuel up in preparation for a productive day. Take a few extra minutes and pack some healthy snacks to take with you. And don’t forget the vitamins!
  • APPEARANCE. My dad always showers at night because he likes to go to bed clean; but then, he will shower in the morning as well. Showering in the morning wakes him up and helps him feel refreshed, awake, and ready for the day. Whatever you choose, be sure to make time to get yourself looking and feeling presentable. Shower/wash your face, brush your teeth, do any necessary ironing, coordinate your outfit and accessories, so that you can leave your house feeling good and confident.
  • GAMEPLAN. Many nightly routines include making a plan, schedule, to-do-list, etc. for the next day. The reason for that is to streamline that process in the morning. During your morning ritual, review that game plan for the day, add in any specifics, and prepare yourself for any responsibilities you may have. Plan what you will need to take with you when you leave the house, as well as anything you may need throughout the day. This may seem obvious, but taking the time to sit and plan this step will help you feel less like a chicken with its head cut off as you haphazardly grab things while rushing out the door!
  • PRODUCTIVITY. Get right to work. Instead of wasting time idly catching up on your Facebook or Instagram feed (which has been proven to decrease overall motivation and productivity when done at the start of the day), get to work. Start your morning routine immediately.  It will reduce your stress!

Here is an example of a morning routine:
5:30 AM: Wake up, put on gym clothes, contacts, drink 8 oz. ice cold water
5:40 AM: Hit the gym (M/W/F: Weights; Tu/Th: Interval Cardio; Sa/Su: Walk)
6:40 AM: Return home, eat protein shake, shower, brush teeth, get dressed, etc.
7:10 AM: 20 minutes of meditation/prayer/spiritual study
7:30 AM: Review goals and day’s schedule, prepare to leave
7:45: Leave for work

Remember, this is just an example. Your morning routine should work best for you and your lifestyle, and should incorporate your goals. I have covered the basic suggestions to fuel productivity and focus throughout the day.  While this post contains six of the most frequently occurring ideas on the internet, there are so many other options out there! Through my research in writing this blog, I found a neat website, My Morning Routine, where you can sign up to receive a brand new morning routine idea in your inbox every Wednesday. The key is finding what works best for you and implementing that into a pattern you can consistently and happily follow. Should you find yourself with questions or desiring additional help, please don’t hesitate to contact me or schedule a session. And be sure to tune in next month as I talk about ways you can use your morning and nightly routines to help you reach your New Year’s goals!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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You Are Blessed: A Simple Gratitude Challenge

Simple Gratitude Challenge - Cluff Counseling, Lewisville Therapist“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” ~ Melody Beattie

This is the season we always hear and talk about “blessings” and “thankfulness.” What does that even mean? Let’s start by defining gratitude. Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to thinking only about what one wants or needs. Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude by simply counting our blessings and expressing gratitude through words, lists, or written letters of thanks. When gratitude comes from deep within us and is meaningful, it is a proactive acknowledgement that can increase our overall well-being, health, and happiness. Being grateful—and especially expressing it—is also associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy.

We could all use these benefits in our life!  This is why I have put together and am sharing a little activity that I did recently. It really is not difficult to sit down and think of a few things we are grateful for. No matter what each of us have been through, we have things to be thankful for!

If I were to tell you to take a paper and number 1-100 and and write 100 things you are grateful for, it might take you a little while and seem slightly overwhelming… Instead, I have a challenge that will make you think about specific things, people, places, and experiences for which you are profoundly grateful. Let’s get started.

What I want you to do is take a paper and number it one through ten, ten times, leaving a space in between each grouping. Then, insert the following topics in the space you left, as headings:

  1. Write 10 physical abilities you are grateful for.
  2. Write 10 material possessions you are grateful for.
  3. Write 10 people (living or dead) you are grateful for.
  4. Write 10 smells and sounds you are grateful for.
  5. Write 10 things about nature you are grateful for.
  6. Write 10 things about today you are grateful for.
  7. Write 10 places on earth you are grateful for.
  8. Write 10 modern inventions you are grateful for.
  9. Write 10 foods you are grateful for.
  10. Write 10 life experiences you’ve had that you are grateful for.

This gratitude challenge is the perfect introduction into Thanksgiving, and will surely help us keep a positive perspective and a grateful heart. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can often get us feeling discouraged or less-than. Instead, let’s acknowledge and enjoy the beautiful blessings that surrounds us. This activity has helped me remember how much I have to be grateful for.  I know that when you do this challenge, you will feel grateful, too! Make time today for this activity!

Please feel free to reach out with questions, concerns, or to schedule a session. The holiday season is busy for everyone, but it is also a great time to get the help you need!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Battling Baby Blues

Battling Baby Blues - Cluff Counseling - North Texas TherapyMore than half of new moms aren’t getting mental health support during or after pregnancy. Recognizing this problem may be the first step in changing it!

A few of my clients are new moms seeing me for postpartum depression, or another post-baby-related mental illnesses. I wish I saw more moms in this situation, though, because I know how common baby blues are. I recently read an article (included below in the resources section) about how more than half (!) of new moms are not getting the mental health support they need. This post is a call to action; my first hope is to inform my readers on the issue, and then urge them to get the mental health care they need–whether for themselves or for a loved one.

Some say that the solution can begin with the postpartum healthcare professionals–having them step up their game when it comes to screening for perinatal and postpartum mood disorders. Maven found that 54% of the mothers were never questioned about their mental health during pre- or postnatal care. The other half were asked, but never even mentioned feeling “off.” Of the small percentage of women who were asked about their mental health and who did raise concerns to their OB-GYN, 27% were given no concrete next steps to get treatment. There is clearly a gap in postpartum care!

In their defense, OB-GYNs are not trained in mental health, just as I am not trained in obstetric care. They are trained to get a woman through a healthy pregnancy to delivering a healthy child. But it seems our system is fragmented insomuch that OB-GYNs often do not know who to refer their patients to if the patients are having issues; there are many questions at play with insurance, in-network providers, specialty mental health providers, etc. I imagine it would be difficult for the OB-GYNs to detect the need for additional help in a brief, one-time postpartum checkup!

That is why the responsibility lies with all of us–with you and me, friends, family, partners, siblings, acquaintances and neighbors alike. We need to be aware of what is normal and what is not so we can encourage the mothers around us who may unknowingly need help to get medical attention they deserve. As a baseline, it is normal to have the baby blues for about two weeks after a baby is born. It is not normal, however, to be feeling sad and hopeless weeks later. Parental depression or anxiety can look like anger. It can look like fatigue. It can look like sadness. Here are some additional signs to watch out for:

  • Crying spells
  • Indecision
  • Feeling constantly down on oneself, being unhappy about being a parent
  • Losing interest in things once enjoyed
  • Thoughts about self-harm or suicidal ideations.

Depression looks different for different moms—which is why we need to talk about this range of experiences if we stand any chance of giving mothers the help they need. Giving mothers the resources and support to cope with depression is not just a maternal health issue, but one that affects every member of the family. Failure to detect mental health conditions during and after pregnancy has significant consequences: According to a 2017 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suicide is on par with bleeding and high blood pressure as a leading cause of death during pregnancy and during the first year postpartum. Even for those without suicidal ideations, maternal depression has been shown to alter the experiences of mothers and their babies for years to come!

Being aware of the warning signs and then encouraging mothers to seek the mental health care they need is the first step. The second step is ensuring that it actually happens. Although 33% of the moms surveyed who initiated conversations about their mental health with their doctors were referred to a therapist, 43% of them never followed through. Cost and time are barriers to many busy new moms considering traditional therapy, in addition to the obvious obstacle of getting out of the house with a newborn, and other children in tow.

Not only do I encourage anyone reading this to get the help they need, but we need women to talk more about postpartum mental health to raise awareness and promote better access to care. Talk about it–whether that is with your primary physician, obstetrician, mother, friend, or partner –let others know what you are feeling! If you are unable to physically go to a therapist, go online and seek out therapists who offer telehealth services so that you can receive therapeutic care in the comfort of your home.

For all mothers—know there is no guilt in feeling off or distressed. If you are struggling to feel joy during pregnancy or the postpartum period, speak up. You are not alone in this, nor are you a statistic. You are a strong mama who deserves to be heard and to get the help you need. Let’s support each other by knowing the warning signs and talking about maternal mental health. If you have any of the early warning signs mentioned above, please seek help. The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you will feel like yourself again and will be able to be the mother you aspire to be. Please contact me today with questions you may have or schedule a session by clicking here.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Cutting Shame Off at the Knees

Cutting Shame Off at the Knees - Cluff Counseling, Lewisville Marriage & Family Therapist“Guilt is just as powerful, but its influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive. Shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement.” -Brené Brown

Regardless of age, gender or nationality, we all experience shame from time to time. Dr. Brené Brown, an author and researcher, explains in her book Daring Greatly, “The less we talk about shame, the more power it has over our lives. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.” And that is what I want to focus on today–cutting shame off at the knees.

Dr. Brené Brown has dedicated her career to researching shame and vulnerability. She describes shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. The dictionary defines shame as a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. We all feel it; in fact, it was recently found that even babies can experience shame!

It is important to note that there is a distinction between shame and guilt. While shame means, I am bad, guilt means, I did something bad. Shame is debilitating, it can shut us down or emerge in ways destructive to ourselves and others. The remorse and regret that can come with guilt, on the other hand, can motivate us to make adjustments or restitution, and create new paths.

Let’s talk about real life examples of shame. How many of us have ever scrolled through social media to see someone doing something we wish we could do–affording a luxury vacation, building their dream home, accepting a prestigious position, holding a difficult yoga pose, cooking a beautiful multi-course meal for friends, reaching 10k followers, etc? We all have. What was our next thought? For many of us it is, I could never do that, I’m not smart, rich or talented enough! This is shame. Shame holds us back and debilitates is. It tells us we are “bad,” which can prevent us from changing or doing better. Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change or progress. Further, it can lead to addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders and bullying. Because of the powerful implications of shame, we must identify our feelings of shame, understand them and build healthy coping skills against it! Here are five ways to cut shame off at the knees:

  • Bring shame to the light. Know what it is and what it feels like. Recognize when it sneaks into life. TALK about it. Awareness is the first step!
  • Recognize triggers. Shame is good at hitting us where we are vulnerable. A new mom who secretly feels out of her depth is more likely to feel shame when her parenting style is questioned. A husband who worries about providing may see his spouse’s comment about the neighbor’s new car as an attempt to shame him rather than an innocent observation. We must know where our armor is thin and work to strengthen and protect those areas.
  • Stop striving for perfection.  Dr. Brown has said that perfectionism is like a process addiction–the more you do it, the more you feel compelled to do it. Perfectionism is a common ailment among many of my clients, and it is corrosive. It tells us nothing we do is good enough…so why try?  Perfectionism and shame go hand-in-hand. When we work to stop one, we will find there is not room for the other!
  • Practice positive self-talk. The first option for positive self-talk is positive affirmations. These are powerful; by voicing what we believe (or want to believe) about who we are, and what we are capable of, can decrease our feelings of shame. By literally repeating something (out loud) enough we will start believing it. The second option is simply speaking more kindly to ourselves. If we were to talk to ourselves the way we would talk to our children…we would never speak to them as negatively as we do to ourselves! Be kind. Practice self-love through our inner dialogue.
  • Deeply root self-worth. If we define ourselves by what we do, we put the power of our happiness in the hands of others. When separate what we do from our sense of self-worth we will find freedom. When we are comfortable in our own skin, we can look at both praise and condemnation with the perspective each deserves, absorb any helpful critiques, and move on.

Shame is one of the most debilitating emotions humans can feel. It can stunt growth and corrode motivation. It is always looming. Unfortunately, we cannot “beat” or overcome shame once and be done with it. Instead, we must view our relationship with shame as ongoing: recognize when shame is creeping in (know our triggers), speak kindly to ourselves (affirmations), and remember that we are so much more than what we do or look like. Working to cut shame off at the knees is one of the most common subjects among my clients–everyone is feeling it! I fully understand that shame can get in the way of the important things and relationships in life. If you want to more fully understand how shame is holding you back, or if you have questions and would like additional help, I would be more than happy to assist you. Feel free to contact me or schedule a session!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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