Healthy Habits Make for a Happy Garden, Too!

Doing the emotional work to get past body image and disordered eating can feel very difficult, but it is so very worth it. Now that I am no longer focused on changing my body, I have a lot of brainpower and energy available for other areas. At first, that was scary, because I didn’t know how I wanted to focus it.

Right now, I’m really loving focusing that energy into my urban garden. I love both watching my garden grow, and knowing that my more peaceful mindset is what is allowing me to be successful with it this year.

A bit of gardening history: I spent a couple years during my 20s working and volunteering on diversified organic vegetable and fruit farms. So when I first attempted a garden, I would say I had an above-average knowledge of the needs of vegetable plants.

My first garden, I started during a time when I didn’t really have time to maintain it. I had a community garden plot, so it wasn’t right near my apartment. I was working a full time job that required a lot of overtime. I had also just gotten engaged, so I was busy planning a wedding. Needless to say, our garden died.

That same year, my employer made some beds available for employees to plant in. I planted some melon and squash seeds. I didn’t take care of them. Two gardens dead in one year.

Another year, I decided to plant a container garden on the balcony of our apartment. I was super ambitious. I had over 50 types of plants that first year.

My husband and I both worked full time and I wasn’t willing to put in the money or brainpower to figure out an irrigation system that worked. Everything died. I resigned myself to not gardening. “I didn’t need to garden,” I told myself. “It’s not cost effective.” I was back to working on a farm by then, albeit in the office, so it’s not like I needed the produce. I had access to fresh food even if I didn’t grow it myself.

So, even though I had worked on farms and knew how to care for plants, I killed my first three gardens. I tried to do too much, too soon. I did more than I had the time to maintain. I got frustrated and let things die.

A few year later, after I had my son, I learned that there were some community gardens in my city. I got myself on the waiting list for the garden closest to my home. I knew better than to accept a spot in a garden further away. If I had to drive across town with a small child to care for it, it probably wouldn’t get done, despite my best intentions. My previous 3 attempts had shown me that.

The waiting list was long. But the following year I received a phone call. They were going to be opening up a new garden, even closer to my house. Would I like a spot? YES I WOULD! At that point, I was working part time (home with my child the rest of the time). I would have more time to garden. It would be a fun thing to do with my kid. We didn’t necessarily need the produce since I still worked on the farm, but I figured it would be fun to do as a family.

And that was the first year I harvested any food from my own garden. It wasn’t insanely productive, but we got some good harvests and some good practice under our belts. I learned what I liked growing and what I didn’t care for. I learned which foods my family really loves growing for ourselves, and made sure we focused on those foods in our second year at the community garden. I love growing my own tomatoes and so I made sure to plant many more this year. My husband loves growing eggplant. And my son loves pulling carrots up.

This year, we are growing again in the community garden plot, as well as in some containers in our driveway.

Here are some things I learned that help me transition from “farm worker yet unsuccessful gardener” to “successful gardener.”

  • Methods that make the most sense for production scale farms are not necessarily sensible, efficient, or cost effective for small scale gardens.  Instead of planting in rows, I needed to learn new methods like square foot gardening, intensive planting, and companion planting to make the most productive use of a small space.
  • I needed to relearn the way I viewed a “successful” harvest. Last year, I would wait to harvest my carrots until they were all ready at once. Then sometimes I would be disappointed that I only got one bunch of carrots out of a square foot or what have you. Well, I started following a lot of home gardeners on Instagram. And many of them post pics of what they harvest. Many of the harvest pics are a mix of vegetables, rather than a big bowl of all the same (like you would have when you are growing for sale). For example, they might pick a few handfuls of lettuce leaves, a couple swiss chard leaves, a couple kale leaves, a scallion or two, and a couple springs of herbs, and enjoy that as a salad….rather than harvesting an entire bunch of herbs at once that would just go to waste in the fridge if you didn’t use it all in time. For some reason that blew my mind, that you don’t have to harvest a whole bunch of any one thing in order to have a good harvest. You can harvest several veggies directly into your salad bowl and that’s great when you are gardening for home consumption rather than selling your harvest. (Mind blown!)
  • I know it’s okay for some plants to fail. It happens all the time. Some of my plants are successful and others are disappointing. #allorsomething
  • The biggest mindset change I had was about weighing and measuring my harvest and doing cost analysis. On a farm where you intend to sell what you grow, you do all those things because you need the business to be successful. In a home garden, you can afford to blow some money and chalk it up to hobbies and entertainment. That was a huge mindset shift for me. I stopped tracking the weights and values of my harvests. I started noticing more how much I enjoy the process.  I stopped worrying about whether I was saving money by gardening and started viewing it as okay to spend money on myself in that way. Some people spend money on mani-pedis or beer or yoga classes or live music. I spend money on my tomatoes. It’s okay.  I spend time in nature. It gets me outside during a season when I usually hate being outside. Many days of the week I get to eat something I grow.

    More importantly, I am practicing the skills necessary to grow my own produce, and I am passing those skills on to my child at a young age. I can’t expect to be super efficient at it from the get-go…and that is okay and normal and to be expected! According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization,  we’re going to need to increase global food production by 70 percent over the next 40 years to keep pace with population growth. 

    So that means either agriculture will catch up, or the price of fresh produce will go up. If I have the skills to grow my own and I enjoy doing it, it will only serve us well. So I am more than happy to spend money on the education piece while I get some practice.

    Also, community helps! This year is my second year in the community garden, so I am getting to know some of the other gardeners more. I also started a Facebook group for my friends who love to garden, and started following other gardeners in Instagram. I know this helps my garden. I learn a lot by seeing how others grow and what I can apply to my own space. Seeing others grow motivates me to continue even when the daily work of watering feels tedious.

    One of my favorite things about gardening is observing the different sizes, leaf shapes, and growth habits of different varieties of tomatoes. So while I am impatiently waiting for the fruit to harvest, I do get some enjoyment out of simply observing my plants too. I love watching things grow and I especially love photographing the progress of my garden! (Follow @millcitymicrofarm on Instagram for garden photos!)

     

     

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    Prioritizing Connection and Saying “Yes” Sometimes

    Popping back in from a blogging hiatus to share some thoughts about a non-physical element of health: social connection.

    One of the recognized predictors of lifelong health is maintaining healthy social connections.  And yet it seems to be one of the more overlooked elements of a healthy lifestyle. Many people when thinking about their health focus only on food and movement (and possibly sleep), and give very little thought to creating and maintaining healthy social connections.

    Indeed, healthy social connection can be a much more daunting element to tackle, because it relies on other people as well as ourselves. Some people in our culture are privileged enough to be able to have some degree of choice around food and movement, and they don’t need to rely on other people in order to make changes in those areas. They can make changes on their own timetable, without fear of rejection from others.

    Creating and maintaining healthy social connections is not always so easy. We need to coordinate with others. We need to make ourselves vulnerable. We need to try new things. For some personalities, this is not easy. Especially when we think about how many people in our culture don’t settle down in the same area where they grew up. Many people need to, as adults, create a whole new social network, while they are juggling other areas of life that demand their energy, such as jobs and taking care of family. That can leave you with very little time and energy left to devote to forming social connections. Especially when social media is so……easy, compared with strengthening relationships in person.

    All that is to say….I get it. I’ve been there. It is hard. Young adulthood is hard when you are settling into a new community.

    Lately though, I’ve been feeling extremely well and at peace with my social connections in my community. It’s a novel feeling for me, so I looked at what had changed.

    For one thing, I have lived in the same area for seven years now, and even worked at the same company for most of that time (with a break when I had my son).  Before I moved here, as an adult, I had never stayed in one place for more than 2 years.

    Also, I have a kid now (who is almost 5). Before I had my kid, I worked full time. Now that I work part-time, I do have more time to see people and take my kid places (which I realize is a privilege in and of itself!). Also, there are gatherings and ways for families to connect that don’t seem to be as easy to find for adults without children.

    And finally…..about a year or so ago I decided to prioritize connection with others more. It wasn’t an official “habit” that I put on my spreadsheet. I simply decided to treat connection with others as though it was more important to me than I had in the past. For me, that looked like saying “yes” more when invited to do things. Even if I really didn’t always feel like it. I don’t always say yes and I do balance invitations with my other self care needs. Its just that now I recognize social connection as a self-care need in and of itself, so I say yes sometimes.

    It also involved connecting more online, but prioritizing people I actually know in person. This helps me feel closer to people I actually know, than if I had just relied on getting to know people when we were able to consciously make an effort to get together (once every few months or years!). Some friends I only see once or twice a year, and yet it warms my heart to see that we all pitch in and help each other out where there is a need.

    Anyway, I feel really settled and well in this area of life lately. If you are feeling lonely and disconnected, know that small consistent steps can help in this area just like it can help in changing other habits.

    Farewell (For Now?) and Thank You

    Dear Readers,

    You may have noticed you have been hearing from me less often in this space.

    The truth is that I don’t feel the need to write as much.

    I feel satisfied with much of what I have done here. I feel like I made a good contribution to the internet, helping to demystify and de-stigmatise sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment. I feel satisfied to have shared what I learned about developing sustainable, healthy habits without a dieting mindset, and adapting them to fit current demands in my life without moral judgment.  I feel satisfied with having shared my experience as a child who experienced weight stigma at home and school, and the impact that had on my adulthood. I feel glad to have done my part in terms of showing the world that it’s okay to enjoy athletic pursuits as a fat person, and that even if you are not interested in losing weight, there are others like you out there. I feel a bit sad about the fact that this last thing is necessary in the first place, yet I feel encouraged by the fact that this is changing.

    I feel satisfied with how I have grown in the last couple years. How I have gone from a place of self-judgment and shame into a more open minded and curious and patient person. How I am using what I learn through parenting in order to care for myself and my marriage and my friendships. How I have learned to care for myself in a healthy, sustainable way, after spending almost a lifetime in some degree of disordered eating and exercise thoughts.

    One of the reasons I know I have progressed is that I no longer feel the need to share about it very often. Much of it feels redundant. Fewer lightbulb moments; more days of just living my life. The way I feel about my body is less of a focal area than it used to be. Of course, like any woman living in our culture, I still have days when I don’t love the way my body looks. But that matters less now. And it almost never affects my self care.

    I have met many great people through this project. I’ve watched some of them create businesses based on their passion of helping people learn habit-based self-care, intuitive eating, or how to do body image work.

    I considered whether I should do the same. Yet even though many people have expressed to me that they value my writing and find it helpful, something always held me back. At first I thought it was because learning to create a business online intimidated me.

    And to some degree, that was true. I was afraid. So I started learning a little at a time, just like I would with any other new habit or skill. There is still a lot I can learn, but I feel less afraid now.

    But now that I feel less afraid, I realize that fear was never really the heart of the issue.

    Deep down, I think I knew that I would not be focused on my own healing forever. At least I hoped I would not. I knew this work was necessary for me to live a happier life, but it wasn’t my purpose in life. The purpose and outcome of learning to care for myself was not to make myself perfect, but to know that I am worthy of care regardless of the fact that I am not perfect. Regardless of the fact that I don’t fit the cultural beauty standard. I can live my life anyway. I don’t need to focus on changing this. Good enough is good enough.

    Lately, I am finding myself less and less interested in doing this work. As I get older (I think I’ve officially reached middle age?) I find value in simplifying my life. Simplifying where I direct my energy. I want to do fewer things, and do them well. Parenting consumes a lot of energy. My day job consumes a lot of creativity these days, which leaves less available for writing. It’s spring so I’m working on my garden. I value my sleep. Etc.

    I still don’t know if I have a genuine “purpose in life”…..but I do know that Julia Child didn’t start cooking until she was in her late thirties, so I trust that I still have time to figure it out. Recovery from dieting and disordered self-care habits is making the journey much more enjoyable.

    There is still much work to be done in terms of creating a more welcoming world for people of every size, especially fat folks. I’ll be keeping my facebook page active, and continuing to share the work of others as I am able. And since we can always change course, I may decide to come back here, too. I’m leaving that open ;).

    Thank you for your support, encouragement, and loyalty.

    With appreciation,

    Bethany

     

     

    Why KonMari and Dave Ramsey Failed Me, And How I Found What Works

    This post is about how KonMari and Dave Ramsey didn’t quite work for me the way I had hoped, and what I learned from the experience. Before anyone gets all defensive about either of these methods, I’m gonna say that I learned things of value from both the individual methods as well my personal failures with them. In fact, I’m happy I tried both of them, failed, and learned what I did. 

    If you have ever been on a diet/”cleanse”/”detox” (or many), you probably are intimately familiar with the emotional states that motivated you to overhaul your lifestyle. Specifically, the frustration and impatience. “Why is my life such a mess? Oh god, how did I let it get this bad? I need to change everything right now. That’s IT! I’m making a change.”

    And instead of making one change, such as “eating more vegetables at dinnertime” or “going to bed 1 hour earlier,” you decide to make many changes. Maybe you do a Whole 30 or a 21-Day Fix or whathaveyou. You cut out several food groups, count every calorie at every meal, implement a new workout, completely change what you order in restaurants, completely change your meal schedule, try and shop for completely different foods, cook completely different foods, and more…..all at the same time.

    Within 3 months, your habits are back to where you started, and the cycle begins all over again. Maybe you have a case of the “fuckits” (as in, “fuck it; I’ll do what I want!”) for a while until the frustration and impatience builds up again. “Why is my life such a mess? Oh god, how did I let it get this bad? I need to change everything right now. That’s IT! I’m making a change.”

    And on and on it goes…..

    I’m gonna propose that programs like the KonMari method and Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover have much in common with the quick “fixes” of the diet world. Let’s look at some of the similarities:

    Continue reading

    Project Takeout Breakout!

    I’ve set a new habit goal for 2017: cook any recipe from this list 100 times this year. 

    I live in a city with great Vietnamese, Thai, Lao and Cambodian food, and one of the areas I can definitely cut back my spending is on takeout food. I have tried in the past to cut back but never seemed to be able to sustain the change.

    Then it hit me: if I am not excited about the food I am cooking at home, why don’t I just learn to cook the food I want to eat? Many of the dishes I like can be made quickly, cheaply and easily; it’s just a matter of getting comfortable working with the techniques ingredients.

    I already have the cooking skills and the cookbooks and have stocked my pantry with the ingredients I will need, so now it’s just a matter of jumping in and getting comfortable. I made a list of recipes I like to eat, and where they can be found in my cookbook collection. My goal this year will be to cook a recipe from this list 100 times. How’s that for a fun New Year’s “resolution?”

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