In her wonderful book, McQueen studies the patterns of the feminine monthly cycle. Without giving too much away just yet, I will say that she provides her readers with a a blueprint for how to make the most of these phases. Her belief is that understanding them deeply and working with (rather than against) their own cycle will enhance women’s lives.
Most women can easily recognize how their body changes during certain times of the month. Swelling from water weight-gain, feeling hot or cold, and feeling hungry are all symptoms of a woman’s hormonal cycle. Much of what we read or hear about this cycle is negative. The internet is full of images of women writhing in pain from cramps, and articles about how to survive the terrible inconvenience of a monthly period.
Could there be an upside, however? Are there benefits to each phases of this cycle? Can we use our cycle make our lives more productive? Can understanding our own hormonal patterns make our bodies more healthy and beautiful?
McQueen says yes, and uses the analogy of the 4 seasons to explain how each week of a woman’s monthly cycle changes her desires and priorities. During the winter phase, for example a woman may feel like hibernating, being alone, and taking time for introspection. During the Spring phase, they may feel beautiful, outgoing and expressive.
I deeply resonated with McQueen’s analogy and found it helpful to acknowledge these phases.
In a future post I will get more into Mcqueen’s explanation of her 4 seasons analogy and how it can help you understand your body, energy and attractiveness in accordance with your monthly cycle. I also want to explore the incredible potential present in the idea that cycles, seasons, phases and patterns can affect the body, and how understanding them can can enhance health, well-being, and attractiveness.
In a previous post I discussed the book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink. Wansink is a food researcher who explores why subtle factors in our environment can enchant us to eat more than we really need.
As I read through his advice I noticed a parallel between Wansink’s eating recommendations and the dietary habits of the French.
For years the French have been singled out for their magical ability to eat cheese, drink wine and enjoy 4-course meals while maintaining a slender physique. What I’ve read of French eating habits leads me to believe that their food lifestyle has a large role to play in their thinness.
As Jennifer L. Scott Observes in Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I learned While Living in Paris, the French do not snack. Instead, food is primarily eaten at the table during set mealtimes, or seated in a local cafe. Eating time for the French is free from the distractions that TV, books or magazines provide. It is a special time to connect with others and enjoy life’s pleasures.
The French do not eat on the go, or drive their cars with a sandwich in hand. When it comes to food, the French focus.
According to Wansink’s Mindless Eating, distraction is a powerful reason that people overeat. “People who watch a lot of TV are more likely to be overweight than people who don’t,” he writes (102). “Both children and adults tend to snack more when watching television, and they do so even if they are not physically hungry. [ … ] The more we focus on what we’re watching, the more we end up forgetting how much we’ve eaten.” (103)
If you make an effort to eat only while sitting at the dinner table, you may be able to curbing a snacking habit. Another trick would be to resolve to eat only at set mealtimes, and never on the go.
If you simply cannot do without snacking, that is fine. Switching to fruit and vegetable snacks rather than potato chips or cookies will cut down on your calories massively. Grapes and baby carrots can make great TV-watching snack.
Avoid the Spell of Sight
According to Wansink, people are enchanted by the “See Food Trap,” (78). In other words, if people see food, they will eat it!
Let’s say, for example, that a candy dish full of Hershey’s kisses in within sight of your desk. You will eat a lot more of them during the day than if the bowl is out of sight, or requires a short walk to get to. If the bowl is within arm’s reach, the chocolate kiss will be in your mouth before you even have time to question whether or not you really want one.
Arrange cabinets and refrigerators so that healthier foods are more visible than questionable ones. Don’t leave cereal boxes or cookie jars out where you can see them.
Having a fruit bowl visible is actually an indicator of a lower weight, so fruits and vegetables are something you would want to see on a daily basis. An elegant bowl full of colorful fruit may inspire you to eat more healthily throughout the day.
Enchant your Table Settings to cut down on Mindless Eating
According to .Jennifer L. Scott, the French make a big production out of their meals. They eat on elegant dishes and pay attention to the notes and flavors of the food before them. They also take longer to eat.
Since it takes a least 20 minutes for a feeling of fullness to reach the brain, eating slowly can give you more time to process the quality and quantity of the food before you. It’s hard to stop eating when you are full when you are rushed to clear your plate in under 20 minutes. Add to this time-crunch the host of distractions that face American’s while eating (working, reading, watching tv, driving) and you have a recipe for over-eating.
According to Wansink, the French stop eating when they experience a feeling of fullness, while Americans stop eating once their plate has been cleared (53).
Wansink also recommends switching to smaller-size dishes in order to increase your feeling of satisfaction. If you fill up a small dish with food and eat slowly, chances are you will feel full by the time you get to the end of it. On the other hand, if you fill up a large plate with food and become distracted, you can easily eat twice the amount of calories without even realizing it.
Jennifer L. Scott also encourages people to add elegance to their meal times. Beautiful dishes and cloth napkins may heighten your enjoyment of the meal and signal your body that now is the time to slow down and savor the food before you.
Bewitch your Brain
A core belief in Wansink’s book is that diets don’t work. There is a ton of research to support this fact, but the basic understanding is this: if you deprive yourself of certain foods both your mind and body will fight against you. Eventually, you find yourself unable to hold on to the reigns of whatever eating plan you were on and begin to eat excess calories again.
Anyone who has ever dieted knows exactly what I’m talking about. The diet that works great in the short term eventually becomes an uphill battle.
Wansink suggests not dieting, but rather, “re-engineering your food life so that you can eat what you want without guilt and without gaining weight. It’s about re-engineering your food life so that it is enjoyable and mindful.” (10)
The tips above are an example of food re-engineering. I also think that the Weight Watchers Freestyle Program does a good job of this. The new program aims to offer you as much variety and quantity of food as possible so that you don’t feel deprived. At the same time, it re-organizes your food choices so that you loose weight, slowly over time.
I started the program about 4 month’s ago and speak to a weight-loss coach by phone every other week. She is constantly reminding me that the new program is not a “diet.” In fact, a cornerstone of the new plan is that you shouldn’t never let yourself feel deprived. In the 4 months I’ve been on it I’ve lost 14 pounds, all while feeling satisfied and excited about food!
The French do not deprive themselves of good cheese, good wine or good bread. Instead they focus on the quality of the food, the flavors and the pleasure of it. A the same time, they structure their meals so that they aren’t eating all day, but rather at set meal times, at a table.
There are many more factors that affect weight loss, of course, but a few magic tricks couldn’t hurt! Good luck on your journey!
Can the arrangement of your dinner table, the types of plates you use, or the names you give to what you eat have a magical effect on your waistline?
In the book, Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, Ph.D, the author says yes: we often eat for reasons that have nothing to do with hunger. Our surroundings cast a spell on our subconscious mind, and influence our food choices. He writes:
“We overeat not because of hunger, but because of family and friends packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers.” ( 1)
In his book Wansink uses his background in marketing to explain the multitude of ways your environment can trigger you to eat more than you intend.
Though Wansink has recently been called to the carpet for fudging the data on some of his scientific studies, I found myself relating to many of the food traps he describes.
One such food trap is the “health halo.” Basically, if a person perceives a food to be healthy, they will eat more of it than they intend to. You might choose to eat a sandwich from Subway rather than a burger at McDonald’s, for example. Once you get to Subway, however, the idea that you are making a healthy choice might encourage you to add chips and a cookie to your order. Eventually, you will leave having eaten nearly as much or even more than you would have at a “less healthy” food-chain.
Another factor can be the type of music played in the background while you eat. Slow, calming music can cause you to linger at the table and eat more slowly, while fast, hi-energy music will encourage you to eat more quickly.
Wansink offers tips for avoiding the food traps that can cause you to overeat. He asserts that eating from a smaller dish will make you feel more full and keep you from taking in unnecessary calories. Drinking from a tall, slender glass will have the same effect of encouraging you to drink less.
He also asserts that having a fruit bowl on the table is a predictor of a lower weight, as those who have fruit bowls visible in their houses weigh less than people who don’t.
Many of Wansink’s tips coincide with reading I’ve done on the French Diet. For years, authors have explored why the French do not gain weight like American’s do, despite eating quite a lot of butter, bread and cheese. According to Wansink, the French are much better at paying attention to their body and can easily recognize when they are feeling full. I think there is more to it than that, and will discuss french eating habits in my next post: Mindful Eating, The French Way.
I experienced my first tarot reading a year or so after graduating from college. I was working at a small bookstore at the time and had never in my life experienced a reading with a real tarot card diviner.
I’d always had a fantasy about stumbling across a mysterious shop one day and receiving and a life changing message from a gypsy woman, but nothing like that had ever happened to me. Instead I heard tales from friends about “sham” readings they experienced and regretted paying for. Usually the reader got their life story completely wrong or the reader gave them terrible advice.
One work day at the bookstore, however, a part-time co-worker approached me and said that he was a student in tarot and astrology. In a non-creepy way he explained that his intuition had guided him to give me a reading. He even offered me a special discount!
Robert, the tarot reader and part-time bookstore employee, was a far cry from the gypsy tarot-woman I imagined would give me my first reading. Instead he was a just a well-mannered nice guy. For the discounted-rate he said he would charge me, I was happy to hear what he had to say!
Even though Robert was the furthest thing from scary, first tarot readings can be very intimidating. That day, as I walked up to his house I felt my adrenaline start to spike. I’m not really sure what I was afraid of…but the newness of the experience hit me all at once as I stood on his doorstep.
After a couple of knocks, Robert answered the door. Stepping inside his home. I was instantly surprised. The interior wasn’t at all what I had imagined from a tarot reader. There were no crystal balls or mysterious objects cluttering the tables and bookshelves. Instead, the little house was impeccably clean and tidy. Light poured down from a skylight in the kitchen, and the unvarnished wood furniture gave giving the place a feeling of warmth and purity.
I will never forget the smell that wafted from the kitchen as Robert pulled a tray of cardamom-seed cookies out of the oven. He arranged them on a blue plate and set them in the center of the wood table where my reading was to be held.
As I sat down to eat the delicious cookies, I realized how terrified I had been walking into this new experience. Now his hospitality had transformed my terror into pure gratitude. I felt safe and cared for. I still remember the anise-seed cookies as being some of the best I’ve ever eaten.
Without going into deep detail I will say that the reading was very powerful and moving for me. Perhaps more importantly, it sparked my interest in tarot and I would later go on to study the cards myself!
Looking back at that experience I am grateful for what it brought to my life. As grateful as I am for the pearls of wisdom Robert offered me that day however, I am just as grateful for the spell he created with his hospitality.
Looking back I realized that Robert’s magic was not just about his tarot or astrology skills, but in the way he controlled the energy of his house, the way he kept it de-cluttered and clean, and the hospitality he showed me by baking those amazing cookies! His magic spell took my nervous, adrenaline-fueled self and made it feel safe and peaceful.
This is a similar spell to the one cast by Cassie on the Hallmark series The Good Witch. When passersby enter her charming little bookshop the decor pulls them in and encourages them to let down their guard. Once their guard is down Cassie is able to determine what they are really seeking, and to help them find the remedy they need.
If you haven’t watched The Good Witch, I highly recommend it for hospitality inspiration. It is available on Netflix and HERE on Amazon.
A few years ago I read the book: Essence and Alchemy: A Book of Perfume by Mandy Aftel. What I loved most about this little book was how well-written and descriptive it was. Aftel writes about scent in such beautiful language, that the book itself begins to take on a magic quality.
This is fitting for the subject matter, which includes a catalog of the history of perfume. Aftel describes the magical/spiritual significance scent has held for humans throughout time.
“From earliest times,” Aftel writes, “people have taken pleasure in rubbing fragrant substances into their skin. Timeless and universal, scent has been a force in ritual, medicine, myth and conquest. Perfume has helped people to pray, to heal to make love and war, to prepare for death, to create.” (1)
Aftel also makes connections between perfumers and alchemists; old world magicians and scientists who aimed to transform “physical matter into divine essence.” (1)
My first experiences with perfume as a child were unexceptional, though the idea of perfume attracted me very much. The curved glass bottles looked like magic potions.
Expensive perfumes were also one of the fancier presents my Dad would give mom at Christmas time. In my childhood mind perfume appeared to be a valuable, feminine possession.
Sadly, the kiddie perfume and department store samples I came across as a girl failed to impress. I’d spritz them on imagining the powerful allure they would give me, only find myself coughing, or with a headache several minutes later.
In her historical analysis of scent, Aftel describes the commercialization of perfume with the introduction of synthetics. These new chemicals changed the chemistry of the perfume significantly and, I believe, sucked the magic right out of them.
Fortunately, Aftel writes, “The popularity of aromatherapy has introduced a new generation to natural essences of excellent quality and has made these materials widely available for purchase” (2).
My foray into the luxurious world of scent did not begin until a few years ago, when I discovered essential oils quite by accident. My experience with the oils since that day, Has been nothing short of magical. I will detail this experience in another post.
Recently I visited the Natural History museum in Houston, TX and found myself moving slowly through the Egypt exhibit. I was stunned by the artistry that the Egyptians threaded through all of their creations.
The sarcophagi, painted with a unique mix of colors and symbols, seemed to to contain a magic power. The artifacts that had been placed in the ancient burial tombs had a craftsmanship that you rarely see among the everyday objects of our time.
I was drawn to the displays of pots, bowls and jars that would have contained cosmetics and toiletries. It became clear that the daily act of caring for and beautifying the body was a sacred ritual for the ancient Egyptians.
I was reminded of an article that I had read long ago by Judith Illes called Beauty Secrets of Ancient Egypt. In the article Illes writes: “For the ancient Egyptians, beauty, magic and medicine were inseparable.” Taking care of and adorning one’s body was, for the Ancient Egyptians, a magical act.
Music, affirmations and burning incense are just a few ways to transform your daily routine into a magical event…especially if they inspire you. There are many books circulating now about creating your own magic beauty rituals. As I delve more into the significance of such rituals, and how they may help you attain your beauty goals I will continue to post my findings.
I think I’ve always been searching for magic. When I was younger I looked for it in books and fairy-tales, and felt it during the quiet moments when I found myself alone in nature.
There seemed to be some mystical quality present within the leaves of the trees and among the flowers that sprung up from the soil. Nature always felt magical to me and it still does.
It wasn’t until later in life that I began to wonder if the magic I read about in books and fairy-tales could actually work. I wondered if it was possible to harness the energy that I felt from the plants and trees and use it to influence my surroundings.
Mostly I wondered if magic could be used for self-improvement.
Some of the best advice on magic I ever received was from blogger and astrologer, Mystic Medusa. Though I can’t remember her exact words, she explained that one of the most potent magic spells in existence is the simple act of cleaning your house. Cleaning your house with intention can bring luck, cleanse your spirit and even change your life.
The notion that magic could be present in the simple, often mundane tasks of everyday life really struck me.
What I have come to learn is that magic has everything to do with adding intention to your daily life. When you put intention behind your actions, you are casting a spell. Your emotions have a magical vibration, and the words you utter connect you with the universe, and bringing forth your future.
My goal is to present easy tools for using this everyday magic to create beauty in your life. This can be your own physical beauty, spiritual beauty, or even the beauty of your living space and relationships.
Thank you so much for reading. I hope you have a magical day!