Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Finding the Why

This is one of those "thinking-out-loud" posts.  I thought I'd share some of the things that are circling in my mind and hopefully figure out a few things in the process.

I have been blogging now since 2006 about what was originally a quest to lose 20 pounds.  Now it's closer to 30, and I wonder why something that seems so simple on the surface could have become so difficult. As Valerie Frankel said in Thin is the New Happy, continually losing and regaining the same 20 pounds is "not so much Sisyphean as a**holian." It seems just plain ridiculous.

I remember that when I had lost the weight, I felt sort of disoriented. Without the familiar problem, where should I focus my energy?  I had the same feeling when I finished my dissertation, and now, when I have the job that I got that dissertation in the hopes of getting -- that reaching the goal doesn't feel as meaningful as its pursuit.  I look around and wonder, "what next?"  It's easy to think that the answer is to set another, bigger, more audacious goal.  But the fact that I've accomplished some very big goals and still felt empty suggests that accomplishments are probably not the road to happiness.

Peter Walsh's many books have all been about people who try to fill that empty feeling with possessions, but even when their homes are so overstuffed that they don't have room to live, they keep pursuing more.

The Willpower Instinct gives a clue on why we get hung up on pursuing the same things over and over, even when it doesn't exactly make us happy. It has to do with our brain chemistry.  Dopamine is a brain chemical associated both with motivation and with addiction.  It stimulates the expectation of reward, but is not associated with happiness itself. It can motivate us to seek, but dopamine is an excitement junkie. It doesn't stick around for the "happily ever after" part. It tends to send us in the direction of primitive needs: Food, sex, excitement, immediate gratification, status.  It doesn't steer us to things that actually feel good -- meaningful contact with friends, creative activities, time out in nature.

Lately I have been feeling the need for something even bigger than happiness: Purpose and meaning.  I am stuck on the fundamental question: What does it all mean? Why am I here? What will I, or can I, leave behind when I'm gone?  What purpose is my life supposed to serve?

My French teacher was talking (in French) disapprovingly about a women she read about in the news who went parachuting when she was 84. Roughly translated, my teacher's question was, "Why should she do that? She could still live even another ten years."  My question, which I could not articulate in French, was why would another 10 years be better than doing something she apparently really wanted to do right now?

I'm not saying I'm no longer interested in short-term goals. I am. I still want to lose the weight just so that my life will be simpler -- I won't have to spend time trying to find clothes that will make me look acceptable with the extra roll around my middle.  The revelation of  The Willpower Instinct for me was that the fact that a goal is not easy to accomplish is not necessarily a sign that it's not worth pursuing. I want to write a book, not for fame and fortune, but just for the satisfaction of doing something that I have wanted to do for my whole life.  Publishing it is beside the point.  I still want to find a way to make my work feel more meaningful.

But in the process, I do hope to find the bigger why.  Any insights would be most welcome!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Practical strategies from The Willpower Instinct

my earlier review of . I thought I would share a few key insights I've learned from the book.  My husband is probably tired of hearing my "willpower wisdom" by now, so I mostly want somewhere else to collect my thoughts and share them.

The author does not use this terminology, but I am going to share a few "Willpower Heroes" and "Willpower Zeroes," things that either boost or sap willpower.  I found these really interesting and I have started noticing their influence in my own life. The biggest overall instinct is to stop thinking of willpower as something we either have or don't have.  Thinking of willpower as a muscle, a key metaphor in the book, that can be trained but also tired out, is really helpful.  If we evolved in an calorie-scarce environment, it's not surprising that we are drawn to high-calorie foods when our energy is low.

If you like these strategies, I do recommend the book, which is designed as a program to help you build your willpower over time.  Trying to implement all of these at once could be overwhelming. There are a

Willpower Heroes:

  • Sleep: Exercising willpower is an energy-intensive activity. When the brain is tired, it willonserve energy by turning off our ability to resist temptation in the hopes that we will stop being polite and fight our way to the available food. Though sugar can provide a short-term boost, it is ultimately a bad strategy as the resulting blood glucose crash will put us further in the energy hole.
  • Meditation, slow breathing, and relaxation: These are all treated separately in the book, but they seem to go together to me.  Slowing down the breath activates our willpower system.  Meditating is both relaxing and an exercise in self-control.  Relaxation recharges our energy.  The hitch (you knew there was one) is that activities like television and web surfing don't count as relaxation.
  • Exercise: Though like most people, I feel less inclined to exercise when I am tired, exercise can increase both energy and willpower in the long term, for lots of reasons. The most scientific one is that exercise builds "heart-rate variability," a key factor in willpower (read the book for the explanation).  The good news (for those of us feeling tired or lazy, anyway) is that short-term bursts of exercise are enough to increase willpower. Just five minutes of exercising outdoors can make a difference. 
  • A healthy diet: Not surprisingly, eating foods that maintain constant energy throughout the day are more helpful to willpower than a steady diet of blood-sugar-crashing sweets. 
  • Thinking of ourselves as committed to your goals and able to achieve them:  This is why negative self-talk is so destructive.  It actually lets us off the hook and sends us right into the arms of our favorite vice.
Willpower Zeroes:
  • Turning willpower struggles into a battle of good vs. evil: Because we like to think of ourselves as good people, we will start to justify the behavior that goes against our goals as "not that bad." It's more helpful to think of behaviors as supportive or not supportive of our long-range goals and take the moral language out of it. It also makes it easier to turn a little progress into an excuse to indulge because we've been so "good."
  • Feeling bad about ourselves: The more we punish ourselves for our slipups, the more we will think "What the he**" and decide we might as well wait for a "good day" to exercise willpower.  Despite what most people think, shame is a terrible motivator. If we think of ourselves as bad, we're less likely to act in our own self-interest.
  • Stress: Stress keeps our body and brain at high alert and weakens willpower.
  • Giving in too easily: Willpower can be trained. If we start working on saying no to or at least delaying our impulses, we will find it easier to overcome those impulses in the future.
  • Controlling everything: Willpower gets tired, so always saying "no" can exhaust our resources to say no when it really counts. 
It has been interesting for me to think of some of our blogworld debates in terms of willpower theory.  I think many of us have intuited at least some of these strategies. However, I often see people whose lives seem very busy and stressful getting angry with themselves for their small willpower slips. I think that understanding when we are most likely to have problems allows us to recruit extra support for challenging times. 

I know that I have, in the past, fallen victim to the "flip the switch" metaphor and thought that once I conquered a willpower challenge, it would stay conquered. Anyone who has regained lost weight or started smoking again after 7 years without a cigarette knows that just isn't true.  It's unrealistic to think we will never be tempted again just because resolving to change feels powerful.  However, it's more realistic to expect that we will always have some trouble with willpower challenges (especially food, which is universally tempting because of our biology) and do as much as we can to create an environment that is supportive of our goals.  Knowing more about how willpower works is really helping me know how I can set myself up for success.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book Review: The Willpower Instinct

This is a book I purchased of my own volition, with my own credit. I'm sharing it with my readers because I found it interesting and potentially helpful. Like many other bloggers, I use affiliate links when I'm writing about a product, mostly because it's convenient.

, somewhere recently. Probably NPR, as I listen to it a lot. I liked what she had to say, so I bought the audiobook the next time I had Audible credits. Now I'm wishing, as I often do when I like an audiobook, that I also had a print copy so I could refer back to some of the exercises without listening to the whole thing again. I listened all the way through the first time, getting an overall sense of the book and its content and seeing what insights I could get from it while listening casually. Unfortunately, though, it's not really that kind of a book -- it's the kind of book that demands a little more active participation from the listener/reader.

Mcgonigal is a willpower researcher, and has created and taught a 10-week class on willpower for Standford Continuing Education. This book mimics that class and shares insights that can be put to use to boost your I won't power (what most of us think about when we hear the word willpower -- resisting temptation), I will power (the power to do the things you need to do to reach your goals), and most importantly, your I want power, the often forgotten need to remember our long term goals and focus on what we really want in life, not just on our immediate desires.

When I was talking about the book to my husband, he said something that really stuck with me, that willpower "would be the greatest superpower to have." Imagine what we could all accomplish if we could do what we really wanted to do and not do the tempting things that get in the way of our long-term goals. Thinking about it like that takes it out of the realm of "deprivation," which is what most of us think about when we think about willpower.  Thinking about willpower as a superpower instead of as self-deprivation has really changed my attitude about the whole idea of willpower.

The book also, interestingly, talks about the need to indulge sometimes.  Though it's tempting to think that our lives would be perfect if we could abandon all desire, in reality, people who lose touch with their basic drives through injury or constant iron-fistedness end up depressed and unhappy.  It seems that the middle way, one where both drive and willpower play a role, is the way of truth.

My plan is to listen to the book again chapter by chapter to see if I can put some of the willpower strategies to work. I have started with noticing when I'm making a choice, and noticing what thoughts and feelings get in the way of my willpower.  Since committing to this, I've noticed that a lot of times, I either eat things I really shouldn't or avoid exercise and other things I really should do because I'm tired and lacking energy.  I have gotten in a sleep deficit (a real willpower killer, according to Mcgonigal) lately, and also have felt mentally tired from a lot of work- and family-related stress. No wonder I'm not raring to go out for a run or feeling steel-willed when looking at a tempting sweet treat. It has helped me realize that I'm not lazy or unmotivated, I'm just tired.  I need to remember this the next time I'm caught up in a family drama or considering watching just one more episode of "30 Rock" on Netflix.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who has any kind of willpower challenge to tackle.  The audio version narration is good (though it's odd that a man narrates the book even though the author is a woman). The insights are sensible and many of them were new to me, and I read a lot of self-help and "brain" books. As I listen to the book again, I may share a few of them here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Life Well Lived: Bringing the Summer Sun to my Wardrobe

As a part of the Life Well Lived Blogger panel, I was asked to answer the following question: "What are your favorite summer staples? How do you bring the summer sun to your wardrobe?" This question is being discussed on's Life Well Lived page.

It's funny, because I just did some shopping for a few more summer basics. This year I have really been drawn to color.  I spent a little more than I usually do on a skirt today because I tried on this spring green Margarita Skirt and it fit me perfectly.  I have a bright orange cotton cardigan that I have been wearing with everything. Orange is a hot color this season and I am enjoying mixing it with other brights, like deep purple and sapphire blue. I bought a big bright pink bag too.

I usually switch from my normal makeup to a lighter tinted moisturizer and just sweep a little of Benefit Dallas bronzer/blush across my cheeks to give me a sunny glow. I also wear tinted balm or lipgloss instead of lipstick. Heavy makeup never feels right in the summer and I want to look just a little bit better than my barefaced self.

Finally, I like to keep my toes polished in the summer so I can show them off in my favorite . I have a brown pair, a black pair, and a worn-out multicolored pair that I save for the beach.

If you'd like to read summer fashion tips from a real expert, check out the Life Well LIved page. You can also enter a sweepstakes to win an iPod Touch and a $50 iTunes gift card.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Clarisonic Mia 2 update

Overall, my skin is looking good, but I have developed a few weird pimples, in a line across my upper lip. Not so attractive. I assume I was putting too much pressure on the brush.

When I got my , it came with a attached. I got a coupon in the box for $25 off on a purchase, so I ended up buying four replacement brush heads of 3 different types.  I decided yesterday to try the  I had purchased and it seemed a lot gentler.

I fussed and fretted for a while about whether it was worth exchanging the other brush heads for the acne version. Each brush head is around $25, or $20 if you buy it in a twin pack, so I decided to call customer service and just see how much they'd charge to ship the brush heads back and swap them out for the acne kind. They are sending me the new brush heads and a mailing label to return the ones I don't want, no charge, so I am very glad I called. It was worth spending 10 or so minutes on hold for that good news.

If you have acne or sensitive skin and are considering a Clarisonic, consider just starting with the , which will save you the cost of swapping out a brush head you might not want to use.  It also comes with an acne-specific cleanser.  I didn't see this as an option when I shopped, or I probably would have gotten it.

Despite this little hiccup, I am still happy with my Mia 2.  I am now using it with , which seems appropriately gentle for use with this tool.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Taking a breath: Goals for the summer

I turned in my grades Monday and it was like coming up for air.  The end of the school year is always a busy time and this year was no exception. I expected to have to teach this summer, but I had someone ask to take my class at the last minute and I was happy to oblige.

This means that I have the summer free for several projects:

  1. Get fit: This year's goal is to do a 2-3 sprint triathlons while getting into even better shape for next year.  I have a package of fitness classes that is set to expire in June, so I have already booked the next few weeks' workouts.  I also bought a private session with one of my instructors who wants to show me a strength training workout I can do on my own.
  2. Eat right: One thing that the Live Below the Line challenge taught me is that I can stick to a meal plan if I take the time to plan the meals and buy the groceries ahead of time.  This summer I will not be able to fall back on the "not enough time" excuse.  
  3. Get my house in order: The first thing to go when I get stressed out is any attempt at picking up at myself, and my husband is all to eager to follow my slobbish lead. I have already spent several hours in the last few days working on undoing the mess, and I want to get things organized in such a way that it's easier to put things where they belong instead of leaving them scattered everywhere. I want to put most of my work clothes in the upstairs closet for the summer so it's easier for me to put my clothes away instead of leaving them strewn about. 
  4. Start writing daily: I still love my blog but I want to start working toward a book. I used to tell myself that even if I wrote a book, I'd never get it published. This gave me a good excuse not to bother.  Now that Karen's example has shown me that self-publishing is a truly viable option, I can let that excuse go. Besides, I should spend some time actually writing before I worry about what to do with what I produce. I am not even sure what I want to write about yet.  I'm going to try the morning pages as described in
    and see where they take me.
  5. Have some fun: I want to re-engage with my art classes, which I let go because I was too busy. I want to reconnect with my friends and get out of my tight little orbit.  I spend so much time criticizing myself that I feel like I've forgotten how to enjoy the life I have instead of holding out until the better version of myself magically appears. I need to enjoy myself more.
  6. Find some balance: I need to set myself up better for next year so that I'm not spending August through May getting fat, disorganized, and overwhelmed and then spending May through August trying to recover.  
I think six goals is more than enough for three months, so I am going to force myself to quit there.  I plan to post updates regularly.  Please help keep me accountable by bugging me if you don't see them.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Failing at Live Below the Line

I had been afraid that all of my obsessive planning would be for naught because I lack the willpower. Anyone who has been following my blog for any length of time knows that I have had trouble sticking with any kind of diet. My Weight Watchers ups and downs are what started this whole blog. Since then I've tried other things but haven't been able to stick with them for long.

Willpower was not the problem this time. I was determined to stick it out as long as I could and felt no urge to cheat.  Lack of experience being hungry was the problem. I didn't know what I should plan to eat.   I thought we were set.  We had our meal plans all laid out on a . We were going to have pretty much the same thing for breakfast every day and try different kinds of cheap dinners: beans and rice, lentil soup, and macaroni and cheese.

We started at sundown on Sunday and cooked up a big pan of beans and a similar one of rice for two nights' dinner:

The problem here was that I could barely choke it down. Because I was trying to keep my spice use to a minimum, I made the dish way too bland. It was horrible.  I ate as much as I could and gave the rest to my husband, who was happy to have the extra calories.

Breakfast wasn't so bad, I have learned to like oatmeal and we had some raisins for sweetener. I put in a little cinnamon-sugar mix we had in the pantry, but not too much.  I had 1/4 of a grapefruit so between the raisins and the grapes, managed to get a fruit serving in.  I had black tea, since it is much cheaper than coffee.

I saved my teabag for lunch and reused it. I managed to get almost four cups of tea out of one teabag.  Not too shabby. We had bought the cheapest white bread (39 cents!) we could find and a peanut butter sandwich was the main course. I toasted mine because I'm not a big fan of white bread. The first day, I burnt it. It still tasted great.  The peanut butter was about the only fat I had all day, as the beans were made without any oil.

I spread out my lunch, having a snack that I took to work with me.  I drank tap water in that snazzy aluminum bottle.  I found it very hard to work by day two.  My brain got fuzzy and I was tired and unmotivated.

Dinner on the first full day was a repeat of Sunday's beans and rice. I added a little extra salt and pepper and it still tasted bad, but while I was really hungry, I could eat it. Once I took the edge off my hunger, though, I couldn't stomach it. I gave the leftovers to my husband again.  He didn't mind it and we sure as heck weren't going to throw away food. 

I don't have a picture, but we each air-popped 1/4 cup of popcorn and spritzed it with three hits of a cheap canola oil spray and sprinkled it with salt. This was the only other fat the first day. My first day's calories were right around 1100.

On the second day, I had the same breakfast and lunch. Then, because I could not face beans (or lentils) at dinner, I went to the store to look for other deals.  Weirdly, the cheapest way to buy eggs was by the 1/2 dozen, unless I went for the huge two dozen package. I couldn't use that many eggs before they went bad so I went for the 1/2 dozen. I also found milk for $1 for a half gallon.  And I bought a cheap Jiffy corn muffin mix.  The dinner plan was a scrambled egg (cooked in the canola oil spray) and 2 muffins each. We would have leftovers for breakfast. I redid the spreadsheet and the math worked out.

The dinner really filled me up for the first time in two days.  But I was hungry less than an hour later. We had our snack early, and I went to my French lesson. I almost fell asleep during it. I had no energy.  The French teacher had brought some treats, but I said "merci, non," because free food is not allowed.

Because the meal seemed bigger and more satisfying than the first night, I assumed it would have more calories.  Wrong. I did the math this morning and it brought our calorie count for the day to just under 800.  We were both feeling so terrible that we agreed to end our experiment early. My husband is a high school teacher, and I am a professor. Neither of us has been able to think or work as well as we need to. It's the end of the semester and we have a lot of work to do. I have had a headache since the evening of day one. I am toughing it out until dinner tonight to make it three full days.

Today has been easier, knowing it's almost over. I don't feel as hungry. I couldn't finish my breakfast in one sitting so I saved part of it for later.  I feel nauseated and don't want to eat.  I was on campus today for a meeting and I felt lightheaded. We couldn't have made it the full five days.  My husband said he was daydreaming about a big coffee drink with lots of milk and sugar in it.  He drinks his coffee black, so that was kind of weird.  Both of us are going through caffeine withdrawal. That coffee drink sounds amazing right now.  

What did we do wrong? Part of it is that we didn't work out the calories to make sure that we could get a minimum of calories. Plus, we tried to eat like healthy people on a subsistence budget. There is a reason that poverty and obesity go together in this country -- we could have filled up on bread and snacks if we hadn't tried to have some fruit and vegetables. When you are eating them on an empty stomach, fruit and vegetables are nauseating.  And it also hurts that I'm somewhat of a picky eater. The food was just too bland for me.  If I had been able to choke down those beans and rice, I would have had enough calories for my brain to work properly.  I purposely chose something I liked, but I liked those white beans and tomatoes with plenty of seasoning and a nice drizzle of olive oil. Without those, they were so disgusting that I felt my throat close just thinking about eating them. I remember hearing that my grandfather, who grew up very poor, put ketchup on everything. He could eat anything anyone ever gave him because all he tasted was the ketchup.  If I were going to do this again, I would have to budget for some hot sauce or something.

I don't think I will do it again, though. I learned a lot from this experiment, but mostly I learned that I'm not smart enough to live this poor.  It's too much work, too much mental energy, and too emotionally draining.  People (mostly well-off suburbanites) talk about a "poverty mentality." If there is such a thing, I know where the poverty mentality comes from. It's from having to spend so much time figuring out how you are going to feed your family that you don't have the energy to think about anything else. It's about being so hungry and tired from not getting proper food that you can't think straight.  Plus, people who are really poor don't get to quit after a few days, like I did.  

I didn't do much fundraising, though that was part of the goal of the experiment. I posted on my personal facebook page and got one donation, from Debbie. I made up the rest myself -- I figured it was the least I could do.  If you would like to donate to the Live Below the Line campaign and help end hunger worldwide, you can go to the main fundraising page and click on your country, then click Donate. On the U.S. donation site, you can choose a partner charity. They are all good causes, so you can't go wrong.

I bought a lot of different groceries when we were trying to figure out how we were going to eat. Weirdly, our pantry was overstuffed while we were doing this experiment.  In the mail today there was a flyer about the Stamp Out Hunger program run by the United States Postal Service. They are collecting this Saturday. I  have two bags filled and waiting by the door. I don't want anyone's kid to go to school feeling like I did the last three days.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, May 06, 2012

More Live Below the Line preparations

It's amazing how stressful it is for two adults, both of whom have more than a few pounds they'd like to lose, to prepare to live on $1.50 each per day for 5 days. At one point, as we tried to plan our meals, we started arguing about how best to set up the spreadsheets we were using to plan our meals. I have always been a bit panicky at the prospect of being hungry or missing meals, which may explain my inability to follow Weight Watchers or any other diet plan for long. My husband is about the same.  We are also both smart people who are used to being right.

I am guessing that each person who does this challenge interprets the guidelines slightly differently. Here are our house rules:  You can read the official guidelines on the Live Below the Line site.  We actually decided to follow the example of a couple of other #belowtheline bloggers and do our experiment Jewish-holiday style, with the challenge stretching from sundown on May 6 to sundown on May 11. We plan to start with a late dinner tonight and break our fast late on the 11th with a big dinner.  This is cheating a little and makes it slightly less daunting, though still difficult.  Since pooling resources with other teams and pricing out some items in the pantry is allowed, we decided to weigh out and price out the servings of the items we would use rather than counting the full price of packages of things like rice and beans. We allowed ourselves to shop for bargains but did not use coupons.  We left 40 cents in our budget to cover the cost of things like salt, pepper, and spices. No free food or foraging (I read a blog from one person Living Below the Line who looked for shops giving away freebies -- we aren't going to do this).  I expect that the dandelions in our yard are going to start looking tempting but though gardening is allowed if you can account for the cost of production, we didn't really grow them on purpose.

It took four shopping trips plus the aforementioned to plan out our meals.  We made the final shopping trip to make some final tradeoffs. We hit the jackpot with a loaf of cheap white bread marked down to 39 cents.  We had bought a loaf for $1.99. We had most wanted to add some bulk to our lunches. Between swapping out decent bread for our cheap find, swapping cheddar for a pasteurized cheeselike substance, and finding cheaper deals on staples like lentils and macaroni and cheese, we saved enough to buy some apples, celery, and a few more carrots to supplement our meager-looking lunch fare.  Veggies and fruit were the hardest things to fit into the budget.  We are still eating very lightly for the next few days. I didn't calculate the calorie count because I am afraid of making myself nervous. My husband, who is roughly my size, is going to have it harder because men have higher calorie needs than women.  He is getting a few extra calories in the form of grape jelly, which I hate. Here is a photo of our food for the next five days:

Breakfast, all days: Tea, 1/4 grapefruit, 1/2 cup of rolled oats prepared with water, 2 tablespoons of raisins (unpictured here), cinnamon from the pantry.

Each of us plans to save our teabag from breakfast to reuse later in the day to squeeze whatever caffeine we can from it.

Lunch, 4 days: 2 slices of white bread, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter (and a tablespoon jelly for my husband), an apple, carrots and celery

Dinner, to be divided between two nights: White beans made with canned tomatoes, 1/2 an onion, salt, pepper, and some spices from the pantry. Plus white rice.

Dinner one night and lunch another day: Macaroni and cheeselike substance, carrot. Will use pasta water instead of milk to thin the cheese sauce.

Dinner, to be split between two nights: Lentil soup made with celery leaves, carrot, 1/2 onion, and water, with salt, pepper, cumin, and cardamom from the pantry.

Snacks, four days: Air-popped popcorn with oil spray and salt from the pantry.

We have the luxury of unlimited, free, clean tap water, which people in developing countries do not have. We also have a little bit of wiggle room as our cheaper bread and peanut butter means we have a little of each extra in case of extreme hunger. I am hoping to leave that for my husband as he actually has to go to work all five days and I only have to be on site a couple of days this week.

I plan to limit my exercise to gentle activities like walking and yoga this week. I don't see the reason to build an appetite that I can't satisfy.

This whole process has been informative already, and the real test hasn't started yet. It's easy to see why poverty and obesity go together in this country -- it was tempting to fill our cart with cheap bread and snacks that would at least add bulk to fill us up even though they wouldn't be very nutritious. Plus the extra energy and time required to plan meals to the penny really was exhausting.  I can't imagine what it would be like to live this day in and day out.

The Live Below the Line people say that no one under 15 or over 60 should participate in the challenge and that anyone who feels unwell during the challenge should stop and seek a doctor's help.  I think that is sensible, but the 1.4 people who really live like this every day are mostly children and they don't get to stop after 5 days. I am hoping that remembering this fact will help keep my whining to a minimum.

If you would like to donate to my fundraising effort, you can do so through my profile, which will direct donations to CARE. Or you can just go to the general donation page for the U.S. and select the partner charity of your choice, or go to the global page and donate through your home country's link.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Clarisonic users: What products do you use?

It's day two and my skin is already starting to look really good.  I am thinking that I may need to reconsider skincare with my new toy. Is it still okay to use products with retinol, or would that now be overkill? The product directions say not to use cleansers with mechanical exfoliants like beads or shells with the device, but I already avoid those because of my skin sensitivity.  There is a new acne cleanser in the Clarisonic line that is similar to the Burt's Bees acne wash I use, but I'm wondering if I should just switch to very basic products: Gentle cleanser, no-frills moisturizer, eye cream.  I have some CeraVe cleanser and moisturizer, and I will also work on using up some of the many little bottles and tubes of things I have before going out and buying anything new.

I would love to hear from more experienced Clarisonic (or Mia, or Mia 2) users: What products do you use? What was your skin like before and what has changed?  Did you find any products that just did not work with the Clarisonic?

Thanks in advance!

P.S. In case you are wondering, yes, I fully realize the incongruence between my upcoming "Live Below the Line" challenge and buying this expensive skincare device. That's why it should be called the "Eat Below the Line" challenge, because I still get to enjoy all my other conveniences, and just have to put up with the slight inconvenience of not eating the way I usually do.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Clarisonic Mia 2: An unbiased review (with photos)

I say "unbiased review" because I bought my Mia 2 with my own money, without being prompted or paid by Clarisonic or anyone else to do so.

I am 41 years old and I have both the beginning signs of aging (fine lines and some dullness) and the remainder of my teenage acne.  It seems so unfair. Plus my skin is sensitive, so I can't just use any product.  I have seen a dermatologist on my 40th birthday and got some Retin-A for the acne, which helped clear up my skin but also made it very dry and flaky. Plus, the dermatologist wasn't satisfied with just one product, and started recommending a second product, supposedly for rosacea, which made my skin burn and hurt.  I got some facials, which helped a bit, but I didn't like spending so much money just to maintain my face, and quit.  I have a well-documented beauty product addiction, which is fueled by my constant desire to find the right thing that will finally work.

Way back in December, when I asked for beauty product recommendations, Karen recommended the . At the time, I remember thinking, "Do I really need a power tool for my face?" I was afraid that with my sensitive skin, it might make me break out.  I have been thinking about it ever since, and when I got a flyer in the mail from Ulta that said they would give me double rewards points on Clarisonic products, I decided to go to the store and check them out in person.

The original Clarisonic seemed too pricey for me. I did feel the brush heads and was happy to notice that the one that came with the models I was considering was quite soft.  As I was puzzling out the different models, I was assisted by Kristen, a very nice salesperson who explained the different models to me.  She explained that the facialists at Ulta use the brushes for their facials.  Since I had gotten my facial there, I quickly calculated that buying this gadget might save me a lot in $70 facials.  She also said that when she didn't use hers, she noticed that her skin got worse.  She said she had the , which is the basic model, no bells or whistles.  There was a $30 difference between the Mia and the , which literally does whistle to indicate that it's time to move the brush to a different area. I thought that sounded like a useful feature. It also came with a travel case, and since I travel a lot, I decided to take the small upgrade.

I decided that I was going to put this product to the test on my blog, which means no-holds barred -- PICTURES. These pictures are taken in the mirror with my iPhone camera, so the quality isn't terrific. I am not sure that I really see a difference, and I will let you be the judge of whether it was worth posting weird-looking no-makeup photos of myself on my blog for the world to see.

After cleaning with washcloth
My old standby
I read the product directions carefully and charged my Mia 2.  I decided to do a cheek-to-cheek challenge. I cleansed my right cheek first, with my old standby, the terrycloth washcloth, with the cleanser that came with the Mia 2.  After each cleansing, I used a clean cotton round with toner to see if I could find any dirt left over on my skin. I wore makeup yesterday, but by the time I took these pictures, it had mostly worn off.

Despite the salesperson's experiences that she saw dirt and makeup in the sink after cleansing, I didn't see much left over after cleaning with the washcloth.  I don't wear a lot of heavy makeup and I always put moisturizer on first so makeup doesn't touch my bare skin.  I probably also do a decent job of cleansing by hand.  It's hard to tell if that slightly dark spot on the cotton round is dirt or just the moisture from the toner.

My new friend.
After the Mia 2
I used the Mia 2 according to the package directions. That meant 20 seconds on my forehead, another 20 seconds on my chin and nose, and 10 seconds on each cheek.  Even though I had already done the right cheek with a washcloth, I went ahead and did it again, and didn't notice any irritation.  I was glad to have the timer (which is not included on the Mia) because 20 seconds is not as long as I think it is and I could have easily overdone it if I was guessing on my own.  The machine shuts itself off after a minute to prevent that.

I went ahead and did a second cycle on my neck and upper chest, since I want to keep that skin looking nice too. It's really great that this only adds two minutes to my nighttime routine. There was not even a trace of dirt on the cotton round after the Mia 2. I am not sure it shows in the picture, but my skin had a soft rosy glow, like after exercise, and felt beautifully smooth.

Me after
I think that talking about the Clarisonic's exfoliation powers might be a better way to sell it than to make us feel like we're all carrying a lot of dirt on our faces, as if we were the before in one of those old vacuum-cleaner commercials. The thing that impressed me was not the clean feeling, which I think I get with a washcloth, but the way my skin felt baby-soft after just one use.  It still felt that way when I woke up this morning.  Since Clarisonic recommends morning-and-night use, I used it again this morning and I don't feel any irritation or see any redness.

I will be curious to see what the long-term effects are. I will check back in a month or so and let you know.

What I'd really like to do is go back in a time machine and give one of these to my teenage self when I was struggling with acne. I think I might have had a completely different high school experience.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

What's next?

Here is a picture of my vision board for this year. Notice anything?

There is a huge empty space in the middle. I meant to go back and fill it in later, but it's now May and I still feel like I really don't know what I want. I have personal goals on there, but my career goals have felt a bit fuzzy. I have a good job and I know how lucky I am to have it, but part of me is still looking for something more.

Maybe it's just end-of-the-school-year blues?

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"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07