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Thursday, August 4, 2011
Eat Dessert First - The Art of Extreme Self Care Book Review
R. Ann Rousseau
“As much as Americans are portrayed as an overindulgent society, the truth is that when we decide to care for ourselves in a more attentive, proactive, and soul-nourishing way, we’re forced to confront a cultural view that selfish is a dirty word.” Cheryl Richardson-The Art of Extreme Self Care
I have a sign that hangs over my kitchen sink, “Life is Short. Eat Dessert First.” I bought it at a yard sale for something like $1.00. I loved it because it was such a freeing statement. When you think about it, everyone would like to eat dessert first, but why don’t we? Perhaps it goes back to the days when our mother used to yell at us, “You can’t have dessert until you finish your dinner!” In my case, it was pot roast. It was as if we had to punish ourselves by eating something we didn’t like, before we deserved to indulge in something we enjoyed.
I hate pot roast. At age 45, I am now free to make my own rules under my own roof. When you think about it, what difference does it make whether you eat dessert first or last? It’s all going to the same place. As an adult, it’s time to do what you want to do rather than what you think you should do—based on someone else’s values. Perhaps eating dessert could be that one little pleasurably defiant thing you do to assert your independence in between changing baby diapers, doing dishes, and/or attending pointless all day meetings in the office.
In my house, we (that would be me and my cat Max) will have an occasional Hot Fudge Sundae on Sunday breakfast event while I watch my serious political shows--Meet the Press, This Week and the Chris Mathews Show. I call it “Sundaes on Sunday.” It’s a break from having my usual 6-8 grams of fiber accompanied by a serving of fruit…which I try to do every day of every week of every year. The Sundaes on Sunday tradition started some time in the 1980’s and it seems to work for me and my family (that would be Max and I) to get out of the human rut of breakfast expectations. It’s a fun and delicious tradition for both of us. Max loves whipped cream out of the can, but I like making my own from scratch. Sometimes you just have to compromise with family members and that’s OK. The Sundaes on Sunday tradition is a bold move that some of my friends and neighbors might not approve of, but I’m a risk taker. I take the risk of being happy and silly sometimes. After all, this is my life and if this is the most defiant I get, well lock me up…with a hot fudge sundae, of course.
You may have noticed a little epidemic going on out there in the universe. It’s called Dessert Denial. I have no doubt you have witnessed this illness for yourself. You go out to eat with a friend, coworker, or lover. You have a fabulous (yes, I said fabulous) meal, and then the waitress asks if you want dessert. At that point, Dessert Denial kicks in. The affliction combines the intense desire for the pleasure of a divine dessert with a side of intense guilt and remorse followed by denial and then reluctant acceptance. You will immediately be able to identify those who suffer from this horrible psychological condition. When it comes time to order a whole dessert for themselves, they ask their dinner companion if they would like to “split,” the dessert item or they tell the waitress to “bring two spoons,” thus denying themselves and their companion the complete and full experience of a whole piece of cake, pie or pudding. The afflicted cannot conceive of the enormity of eating a whole plate of pleasure themselves. Guilt sets in…they go through a series of emotions such as, “I don’t deserve such a pleasure all to myself; I’m too fat; dessert is eeeevil,” or, “I’m so delicate and small that I couldn’t conceive of fitting that whole piece of chocolate cake into my little ole’ stomach,” and it goes on and on. In the meantime, they go home and scoff down a whole bag of crappy tasting fiber-type chips or hard as a rock chocolate chip cookies from the grocery store—complete Yuck!
To those of us with French blood, this dinner dessert dance can be excruciating to witness and experience. For some reason, the French have the pleasure of dessert in their jeans...I mean genes. We were raised to have and enjoy dessert with our meal. For me to be asked to share it with someone—someone else actually eating out my plate, is like asking me to cut my own arm off. My first (usually painfully silent) reaction is, “You’ve got to be kidding!” Anyone at the table should be able to notice the tortured look on my face. I find it hard to believe that a grown adult cannot swallow, on their own, the sliver of a portion of chocolate cake you typically get in a restaurant.
The problem is that the Dessert Denial ritual is becoming common. Some waitresses even suggest getting one dessert with two spoons-- that’s how common it’s becoming. On one occasion, I ordered dessert but my dinner companion did not. The waitress ended up bringing MY dessert with two spoons! Ugh. If you deny the walking dessert wounded their spoons in your dessert dish, they turn on you and consider you selfish and treat you like you’ve eaten more than your fair share. Ironically, they are usually the same people who look at me indignantly when I tell them I have a completely happy life with no kids. My question is why isn’t anyone speaking up and doing something about this spreading dessert epidemic?!
Well, I found someone who is speaking up. All the suffers of Dessert Denial out there need Cheryl Richardson’s new book, The Art of Extreme Self Care where she talks about allowing in and appreciating the simple pleasures of life. Often, people are so stressed and busy doing things for other people that they feel guilty about allowing themselves the simple pleasures of life like getting a facial, reading a racy novel, having a clutter free home office or eating a beautiful dessert in public. ,”
To me, a great meal including a luscious dessert is a work of art that we deserve and should treat ourselves to daily. If it’s not dessert that you absolutely love, maybe it’s a walk on the beach or game of golf. When we put ourselves first and do the things we love as a practice, it allows us to be fully at peace and joyful in the present moment. Taking time during the day to walk on the beach, enjoy nature in some way, make love, or eat a beautiful dessert is like putting your oxygen mask on before helping others. If you don’t take care of yourself and feed your soul with pleasure on a regular basis, how can you take care of others effectively?
In her new book, The Art of Extreme Self Care, Cheryl Richardson says, “…I’ve learned that when we care for ourselves deeply and deliberately, we naturally begin to care for others—our families, our friends, and the world—in a healthier and more effective way…We tell the truth…We make choices from a place of love and compassion instead of guilt and obligation…The Art of Extreme Self Care takes patience, commitment, and practice. It initially requires a willingness to sit with some uncomfortable feelings, too, such as guilt—for putting your own needs first, fear--of being judged and criticized by others, or anxiety—from challenging long-held beliefs and behaviors.”
Do your soul a favor. Practice The Art of Extreme Self Care. Next time you decide to go out to eat, take a walk on the wild side. Pretend you’re French and order a whole dessert for yourself. Linger over the dessert with wine and feel the intense experience of pleasuring yourself with a little piece of heaven. You’re worth it.
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