Welcome to the trough

Because explaining what I do as a health coach can be difficult—while the profession is certainly growing, it’s still an alien concept for many—I like to talk about my work using stories, which seem to make more sense than a lot of theory and explanation. You can check out the previous stories in this month’s series here: Where are you hiding? and How do you come to the kitchen?

After the feeding frenzy that Thanksgiving can turn into, today seems like a good day to round out this month with a story I call “Welcome to the trough.”

fair food network

Fair Food coverSince we moved to Ann Arbor in 2009, I have had the honor of working for a local non-profit that does deeply meaningful work at the intersection of healthy food access, sustainable agriculture, and social justice.

If you’ve heard of Fair Food Network, it may be due to our signature program, Double Up Food Bucks, which doubles the amount of money low-income consumers can spend on produce by matching their SNAP benefits (food stamps) up to $20 per day and stipulates that locally-grown produce be part of the equation: low-income families get more fresh produce, area farmers make more money, and the local economy gets a boost.

If you’re interested in this topic, check out Oran Hesterman’s book, Fair Food, which was published just prior to the passing of the 2014 Farm Bill and is a primer for how ordinary citizens can look beyond what’s on their own plates and work toward ensuring that everyone has access to healthful food.

And since it’s the season for giving, please consider donating to this organization.

Over the past eight years, I have filled a variety of roles at the organization and have shifted between part-time and full-time and three-quarter-time and between contractor and employee several times.

It’s been challenging and incredibly rewarding, and until 2018, I contracted part-time for FFN even as I grew my own health coaching practice.

introducing: the trough

Why am I writing about this non-health-coaching part of my life?

Because at the FFN office, there was an area dubbed “the trough,” where all kinds of treats appear as if by magic: someone ran to the co-op for lunch, and suddenly there’s a bag of chocolate-covered almonds in the trough; three o’clock rolled around, and my colleague who “just needs to bite something” at this time every day added a bag of potato chips to the mix, etc.

Finally, in an effort to curb the overflowing trough one year, we decided that we should at least honor our work. We required that only healthful (and preferably organic, fair trade) snacks should appear there. That put a damper on the worst offenders, and yet….

am i at the trough because i’m hungry?

As someone with very little will-power, I was a frequent visitor to the trough—it was right where my desk joined a colleague’s, so it was really easy to overindulge.

There is a technique called HALT that those who work with eating behaviors teach: it trains you to pause before you put anything in your mouth and ask, “Am I eating because I’m really Hungry, or am I Angry, Lonely, or Tired?”

Of course, as my son once pointed out to me, there are a lot of other reasons we snack, such as being Bored, but that doesn’t make for such a great acronym, does it? I understand that now, there’s a newer acronym: BLAAST: Bored, Lonely, Angry, Anxious, Stressed, Tired. Which has eliminated the possibility that we’re actually physically hungry….

So what was going on?

I loved FFN: I loved not only the meaningful work the organization does but also the people, the office space, the chance to work in the food field again after mind-numbing years of being an office administrator. Really, I loved everything about it. But on some level, the situation was not feeding my soul. And I really didn’t love the trough.

Then I discovered my real passion: health coaching.

the aha moment

When I stepped back to being a part-time contractor at FFN so I could grow my coaching practice, I thought that one of pixabay onlinethe major benefits of working from home would be the lack of access to the never-ending stream of bad choices that made their way to the trough.

I arranged my calendar so that I spent certain days on my own practice and other days on my contracting work.

And then I noticed something really odd: on the days that I’m coaching and/or working on building my practice, I often look up to realize that—forget snacking—I’ve worked through lunch!

When I’m fulfilling my contracting duties, time slows to a crawl, I have this incredible urge to jump up from my desk and start a load of laundry, the dog needs walking, or —ooo, I know—I’ll make myself a snack!

Has anything really changed? Well, yes: I now recognize that these situations will occur, and I can tell myself to stay put, butt in that chair until I complete the task at hand. Or I can choose to take that walk or make that snack … and then make sure that I still complete the task.

more reflection, less judgment

I often urge clients to reflect on their own patterns in this way.

There’s no need to get judgmental about our habits and tendencies: that tends to lead to a lot of negative self-talk, a lot of beating ourselves up for lacking will-power, and it doesn’t really change them.

It really just adds to the load: now we’re stupid and weak in addition to being unhealthy! (Because we really do tend to believe those voices in our heads.)

Getting curious about our behaviors, on the other hand, helps us to identify the patterns that don’t serve us, interrupt them, and establish new habits that are more supportive of our health.

And that’s what I do as a health coach: I help you to identify what patterns are sabotaging your health. And I help you replace them with more health-supportive choices.

I help you figure out why you’re visiting the trough and how you can walk away from it rather than diving in.

make the connection

Interested in learning more about health coaching and starting on or changing the direction of your own health journey?

You can book an appointment online for a FREE consultation or, if you wear an HR hat and want to provide employee wellness programming that works, let’s chat!