Sunday, March 06, 2011

Empower. Your. Self

Life seems to come in themes...

As we do new things and meet new people it is natural that we begin to notice more and more of certain 'themes' of media and communication.
Lately on returning to NZ to complete my next book I have been working with several inspiring women helping them to break out of the pattern of eating disorders. I have serendipitously connected with a lot of women in many areas seeking to empower themselves. They've inspired me and I feel blessed to be able to be part of the process of positive change.

But I've also been reminded of how we frame so much of what we strive to do for our highest good in a negative way...and this can be ultimately self defeating.

In social media, on the web and in articles I still see time and again negative and dis-empowering threads and themes. These dis-empowering themes are almost always rooted in extrinsic motivation (or wanting to be a certain way because it is expected by society, and because we have been conditioned to think others will react in a positive way to the image we are trying to create.)
This can be compared with the intrinsic motivation that comes from doing the things we truly want to do, and becoming the person that we really want to be. This is a truly powerful, internal force that leads to continued growth of self - it is eternal...extrinsic motivators are however by nature transient and the likelihood is that we will 'fall off the wagon' and never reach our goals.
It could be said too that even if we 'reach' those goals that we have set (to try and please others) we will never reach any great level of satisfaction or happiness, and as I have written in Time Rich...Cash Optional! this means that the goals we have set are the wrong goals! (The right goals for us are the ones that lead us closer and closer to our highest good!)

The worst examples I see of this are:

Calorie Counting...
I have lectured on numerous occasions (at universities, colleges and major conferences) on the importance of QUALITY of nutrition over QUANTITY. And to be honest if we eat a diet that consists of natural., whole and unprocessed foods we in almost all cases need not worry about calories.

Calories in vs calories out is an outdated model that has little bearing on health.
The inverse negative aspect of calorie counting in food is the counting of exercise calories. PLEASE realize that the calories you expend doing exercise do not equate to how much fat you will lose and how your body will end up looking! (Resistance and high intensity forms of exercise for example, although utilizing less calories and less 'fat calories' in session will result in 9x more fat loss than steady state cardio - when time adjusted!)
I have no clue how many calories I ate today and I have no clue how many calories I expended. I don't care and it isn't important.
I can tell you that I eat a lot of great quality food and I train really hard and I stay lean and strong year round.

  • STOP counting calories
  • If it's pressed into a funny shape don't eat it!
  • Close your eyes and imagine you are walking through a forest - if you see it around you, you can eat it. 
  • Eat when you're hungry, until you are full and when you get hungry! 
  • Focus on honouring, loving and suppporting yourself by eating great quality food!

(For the purpose of this post, and for health I don't care whether you are vegetarian, vegan or omnivorous -  just eat natural, whole, unprocessed, organic food!)

Counting calories and depriving yourself is creating a starvation/deprivation mind-set. Counting calories from working out is simply the 'purge' part of a 'binge-purge' mentality that is not empowering. 

I had a great conversation with an inspiring Cross-Fit athlete in the weekend. She told me how she doesn't follow any particular diet. She just trains hard (because she loves it!) and eats LOADS of great quality natural food (because she has to eat a LOT to fuel herself for her training and life in general!)....and yes....she was lean and in fantastic shape.

Comparisons with others...
I'm seeing this so much with young women I work with.
Constant comparisons with so called feminine ideals (images which I often find unattractive because they are skinny and unhealthy looking to me....but I digress) and saying things like "I wish I were her" or "I'm in pretty good shape...but...I wish I had her abs.."
When I hear and read things like this it breaks my heart. Every time we say something like this we devalue ourselves. We dis-honour and dis-empower ourselves.
It's so sad to see beautiful women post pictures of themselves next to someone they consider their supposed ideal and wish that they were them. (Refer to my previous post - You Are Beautiful Now!)

I understand the value of having role models but people we look up to are quite different to people we wish we were because we undervalue ourselves. Role models provide people that we look up to as guides who have travelled a particular path that we are alsp in some way travelling. Our own sense of self image and worth is left intact when we have positive role models.

I have many role models. I have people I look up to and their guidance helps me. Their exploits and achievements inspire me....
But never have I wanted to 'be' that person. I am me, and in spit of my flaws I'm pretty great! :)

  • Be happy with YOU
  • Love YOU
  • You need not be 100% satisfied with where you are...but at the very least be HAPPY and be PROUD of who you are and what you've achieved. 

Everyone has fought, and is still fighting great battles. 
Honour these  by tasting the sweet fruit of your victories ~ no matter how small. 
Learn from your defeats and take the learnings to make you stronger. 
Our greatest defeats can teach us our greatest lessons and can drive us to even greater accomplishments. 

Above all create a powerful mind-set. A mind-set where you are worth honouring. A mind-set where you KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are worthy of the very best that life has to offer!

☺ Blessings,
~ Cliff


Friday, March 04, 2011

The Feminine Ideal - Frailty or Strength?

While flicking through my Tumblr feed I noticed a great comment from a young woman (someone on a journey of battling her weight and becoming more healthy) along the lines of "I don't want to be a skinny girl with bones sticking out....I wan't to look strong, not empty and frail..."

I thought about this a lot...

So much of the modern archetype of women involves looking looking frail and weak (aka dis-empowered).

This doesn't make sense!

In a natural setting a woman would be physically active and would therefore show the effects of regular, varied physical activity (including walking, intermittent running, pulling, pushing, lifting, dragging and carrying things).
So anthropologically we can assume that a woman looking healthy, fit, functional and strong should be the norm. We obviously don't live in a primal world anymore though (probably on balance a good thing!) but like many other areas of modern life we have taken the 'good' that progress has given us, whilst losing the benefits of more natural living and embracing much of the negative (sedentary living, poor food, lack of connection with nature). In essence we've thrown out the baby with the bath water.

We have perpetuated stereotypes of beauty that dis-empower women, and these should be changed. Thankfully now many women are taking this upon themselves.
I am loving seeing the huge growth in women's kettlebell lifting, All-Round lifting and Cross-Fit.

At our own peril we ignore the fine interplay between the mind and body:
mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a sound body) is not only a call to develop the mind and the body optimally, but I think also serves as a reminder that the health of the body affects the health of the mind and the health of the mind affects the health of the body. The morphology we create in either also has a marked effect on the other, and the physical strength, power and wellness we create within the body must by extension affect the mind and the emotions (positively).
It contributes to a 'power mind-set' and this is so much more powerful than vague and hokey notions of 'girl power' ('girl power' seems a little condescending and contradictory anyway...I mean I loved seeing the Spice Girls jump around in lycra back in the 90's...but powerful? Ha ha ha...)

Women worry that if they train with weights they'll become masculine.
- They won't. They will simply become lean and muscular (in a very feminine and sexy way!)

Many of my patients come from a generation that was told: "Girls just don't do those sorts of things" [physical activity]
But who on earth decided that?
A: A patriarchal society that had a systemic culture of oppression of the TRUE feminine. A culture that decided that women were second class citizens...

So who cares now what was said, and why do we continue to carry around the vestiges of this system?

In the words of the great Zac de la Rocha "Yo, we gotta take the power back!"

Ladies - it's time for strong...

Strong, healthy and functional is the new sexy. 


Thursday, March 03, 2011

Am I Vegan Paleo? (and why I eat the way I eat...)

I know what you're saying...there's no such thing as 'Vegan Paleo'... 

And you know what? That's fine by me because to be honest I think we define and compartmentalize ourselves way too much.
In my bio section I mention that it's sometimes hard to answer the question "What do you do?" and that's because I live an experiential life. I love to try new things and get involved in new, different and exciting things (or new forms of the things I already do.) So when someone asks the ubiquitous meeting question of "...So....what do you do?" I could easily answer "I'm a weightlifter", or "I'm a Naturopath" or "I'm a Mind-Body-Spirit Coach" or as my good friend, entrepreneur and vagabond Julien Emery from Vancouver, BC said: "Cliff you're a happiness coach!" All of these things and more would be true, but nothing quite encapsulates what the essence of someone is. And no one thing can define the totality of someone's existence.
Which is cool too!

We in some instances need to define what we do, purely so that others get an inkling about where we stand, what we do, and why we do what we do! In that way it alludes to some of the important things about us, and allows others to relate and connect to us. But when we get 'hung up' and attach too much to our own labels we can easily paint ourselves as hypocrites if we decide to move slightly outside the bounds of what we consider ourselves to be.

When people ask what type of diet I follow I have to say that I am primarily vegan. They often ask : "Well what does that mean? You're either vegan or not." To which I reply "Well I don't eat meat, eggs or dairy as a rule..." Which confuses them even more....

You see the reality is that I don't see an absolute problem with eating meat in the broadest sense.
We have evolved to eat meat and we cannot get all that we need solely from natural vegetable matter our entire lives, although as adults we need not eat meat. (That may seem contradictory but it's not).
I grew up hunting and fishing but decided to become vegetarian at the age of 15 and followed a vegetarin diet for the next 7 years.
I resumed eating meat as a way (at the time) to aid my recovery from Crohn's Disease and over the last 4 years I have gradually eased back into a vegan diet.

However what I do have a problem with is:
1. The inhumane treatment of farm animals in industrialized farm models
2. The collateral damage (wasted lives) caused by the industrialisation of farming (such as the male chicks killed as a result of the egg production industry)
3. The lack of accountability for lives taken (how many people would be vegetarian if they actually had to kill the animal themselves?) It is enshrined in law in many countries that paying for someone to be killed is on the same level as murder. So is buying it the same as killing it but with the accountability removed?
4. Overfishing
5. Over use of resources to produce meat, dairy and eggs (especially petrochemical inputs)
6. Public health effects of industrialised farming (grain feeding of cattle for example - leading to distorted omega fat profiles - a major co-factor in heart disease, cancer and other illnesses)
7. Collateral pollution caused by a reliance on animal protein foods (esp 'greenhouse gases' such as N02 and methane)

I'm not here to convince anybody of anything, and I don't deride others for their opinions and eating habits. I do however encourage people to become more aware of the effects of their eating habits.
The easiest way for me to help be part of the solution is to not eat meat, dairy and eggs AND to eat natural, whole, unprocessed organic plant foods.

....But enough of that, and back to the title of this piece....

Am I Vegan-Paleo? Although the Paleo crew may have you believe that you can't be Vegan-Paleo I think that the key to eating a good diet is simply to eat natural, whole and unprocessed foods be it omnivorous, vegetarian or vegan.

Paleolithic man would have most certainly eaten meat to survive - about that there is no doubt in my mind.
But would he also have eaten sprouted legumes if he found them?
They can be eaten raw and so easily fit the mold of the Hunter-Gatherer model of eating. They are also extremely nutritious and low in any anti-nutritive factors and irritants.
Would he also have eaten nuts and seeds when available?....
Yep! and fruit...and veggies...and berries!

So my diet - which is based on eating veggies, fruit, berries, nuts and seeds; and with a major protein constituent coming from sprouted lentils, mung-beans, chickpeas etc (almost all eaten raw) could almost be considered Paleo minus the meat!
And seeing as I am lean, strong, muscular and healthy it seems to be working!

Maybe I am Vegan Paleo? - But then again I'd hate to have to put a label on what is simply effective, healthy, natural eating. :)

~ Cliff

You are beautiful! Yes - Right Now!

I've had the pleasure of connecting with a lot of really cool people lately in lectures and via my blog here at and over at my Tumblr blog (

A lot of the people I've been connecting with lately via these media (and those who are coming to me as patients) are women wanting to improve their physical condition and health. I'm continually inspired by these amazing women, many of whom are in the process of coming out of the darkness of depression and eating disorders.

It's all too simple (as anyone who has actually been clinically depressed will know) for people to say "Why can't they just 'snap' out of it?" or especially in the case of eating disorders "Can't they see that they are too skinny?".

Of course are that people who are in the depths of depression most often wish they could simply 'snap out of it', but like any other condition affecting the body-mind complex the influencing factors are many and varied and it takes an integrated approach to treatment. The good news is you can recover from depression and live a happy, joyous, experiential life!
And in the case of eating disorders - no - often the person affected actually can't 'see' that they are 'too skinny' and although they may realise that they are hurting themselves, the pattern of control that the manipulation of food provides, is a 'treasured wound' and has become (on a subconscious level) a survival imperative.

The point of today's blog though is not to delve into the multi-factorial causes, effects and influences of both depression and eating is instead to say:

Right here and right now!

I don't care if you have just woken up and haven't put your make-up on yet....
You are beautiful.

I don't care if you are carrying 15 (or 50!) excess pounds....
You are beautiful.

I don't care if you have a birthmark or a scar...
You are beautiful.

Whatever people say of your glasses, your braces, your tattoos, your piercings, your muscles (or lack thereof), your dress sense....
It just doesn't matter - because YOU are beautiful. 

We may not always be satisfied with where we are in life. We may not always be satisfied with our health and our physical condition, and this dissatisfaction can be a powerful driving force for creating positive change to move closer and closer to our perfect, ideal life of love, joy and wonder. 

BUT - we can be happy, we can be happier moment to moment. And although we may change, progress, grow and evolve over time, we are, in the present moment ALWAYS beautiful. 

Embrace the positive change, focus on loving and honouring yourself - not starving and depriving. Focus on the process, for if we live each moment of the process to the full, our goals will be achieved.