What Is Your Best?

A few years ago, I remember arguing with a friend about whether ketchup needed to be refrigerated after the bottle is opened. He asserted that it does, I argued that it does not. My basis for this was that ketchup sits around on restaurant tables all the time without being refrigerated, it tastes fine, and I have never gotten sick from unrefrigerated ketchup. I also told him there is nothing on the bottle that says it should be refrigerated after opening, but my friend disagreed.

Anxious to prove him wrong, I searched my kitchen cabinets for a bottle of ketchup and found none. I ran down to the basement and finally found a large unopened bottle of ketchup from Costco. It had been stowed in a deep storage cabinet for future summer cook-outs. Rushing back upstairs I shoved the bottle at my friend, confident that he would find nothing on it that says it needed to be refrigerated.

He scoured the bottle and after few minutes, began to read, “Best if kept refrigerated after opening.” I was floored. Desperate to save face, I advised that this meant that it didn’t need to be refrigerated, it was only ‘best if refrigerated.’ More like a suggestion…right? His only comment was “Why wouldn’t you do the best thing?” -To that, I didn’t have an answer, but it was a question I was all too familiar with.

What is best?

Being our best is subjective.  By that I mean we subject ourselves to what we think is best based on our perceived capabilities and the information we have at the time. When we don’t value ourselves sufficiently, we can get skewed ideas of what our best is.

I used to think being my best was being thin and eating salad every day.  When I didn’t live up to my idea of this ‘best’, I felt guilty and chastised myself to the point of self-hatred.  For years, I vacillated between being too thin and donning extra weight. I put my health in danger to be my ‘best’ as I thought it should be.

There were times I used to look in the mirror and ask -Why am I doing this to myself?  I felt out of control with disordered eating.  I knew I needed to make a change but kept waiting for a ‘sign’ or something to happen outside of me that would make that change take place.  All the time telling myself what a loser I was for not being my best.

Of course, it wasn’t the eating behavior or the size of my body that was not my best. It was the way I thought about and spoke to myself.  Berating myself for overeating and for being overweight only served to lock my psyche into that behavior. After all, why would I want to help myself if I was such a pathetic loser?  With this attitude, I perpetuated the behavior and guaranteed that I would never really be my best.

It took a few years to figure out that being my best wasn’t about weight loss or eating.  It was more about how I valued myself.  As long as I felt guilty for eating and berated myself, it was a battle to change the eating behavior.  But when I stopped the guilt and self-criticism and learned to appreciate who I was, my eating behavior began to normalize.

To me, this seemed miraculous.  Appreciating and loving myself despite what I looked like or how I ate was the “sign” I had been searching for to bring about the change I needed to make. And I don’t ask myself why I don’t do my best anymore.  My life is not always pretty and perfect, but I know it’s usually my best and I’m okay with that.

Begin Your journey-Binge Free Start Here

 

Accept and love yourself no matter what, and you will do your best.

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Body Acceptance- What Is Normal?

Several years ago, when I was very thin, my best friend took me aside and told me I was too thin and should try to eat better and more normally to gain some weight.  I pretty much told her to mind her own business and continued my careful diet of salad and lean meat.

Fast forward to now and I look at a picture of me with my family, taken at that time, and see exactly what my friend was talking about.  The skinniness that made me happy back then looks sickly and out of place now.  What was I thinking back then?  How could I reason that the thinness I experienced at that time was normal?

Most people with struggles of some kind say, “I just want to be normal.” If we overeat, we want to eat normally, if we are fat we want to be normal, which means thin to us.  If we are depressed or anxious, we wish we had a routine life.

The problem with normalcy is not the regularity itself but the fact that it is subjective.  I will go one step further and say that none of us really wants to be normal, we want to be special, we want to stand out -but in a good way.  We all have a definition in our heads of what that means and when we don’t reach it, we feel like we have somehow failed.

A few weeks ago, I discovered the work of an artist/photographer who traveled the world taking pictures of people’s reactions to her obese body.  She calls her project “Weight Watchers.”  In the photos, she poses herself on busy streets, in parks, on beaches and other places people gather.  For the most part, she doesn’t smile or attempt to interact with anyone.  She just poses or walks.

The looks on the peoples faces appears to show that they are disgusted with the large size of her body.  But I think its a little deeper than that.  Are they reacting to her or to the fact that she appears out of place?  Or the fact that she is posing for a camera on a tripod? Or because she is trying to elicit a reaction?  Or eating on a busy street corner?  Or appears unkempt?

The point is, no one knows exactly what anyone else is thinking and we all have our own ideas of what is acceptable.  Some of the people who appear repulsed are, themselves, overweight. Do they look at themselves the same way when they look in the mirror?

All this got me to thinking about my self perception -how I treat myself and the things I say about myself when I look in the mirror.  I used to see a reflection that didn’t jive with what I wanted to see.  And why did I even want to see something different than what was being reflected back at me?  And how did I change that perception?

Body acceptance is not an easy thing to accomplish, but it is doable.  It is not perfect everyday, but I am much happier than when I was striving to be thin.  And it doesn’t really matter what my size is.  When I was 40 pounds lighter, I still had a desire to be smaller, better, more fit.  The reflection I perceived in the mirror came more from my brain than my eyes.  Meaning that no matter what we see, our brain has to process it.  In this processing, we place a value on what we observe -so the problem is not what is observed, but the meaning we attach to it.

Things that helped me accept my body

1. I purposely look at my body in the mirror each day, taking in all the things that normally would repulse me. I have no thoughts, no judgment, good or bad. This is sort of like desensitization, but it works for me.

2. Buy clothes that fit well. I like my clothes to fit, but not be restrictive. So, no tight clothes, but no baggy clothes either.

3. Begin to appreciate all the things your body can do regardless of its size. It is keeping you alive and functioning. Really get to know the good things your body does on a daily basis.

4. Stop criticizing your body. In fact stop criticizing yourself in any area. We all have things we wish were different or better about ourselves. Just take note of them with no judgment and go on.

5. Just because you don’t feel valuable doesn’t mean you are not valuable. Be honest with yourself. Self pity is not helpful.

Each day I am more accepting and comfortable in my body exactly the way it is.  I don’t have to lose weight to love myself and I don’t think of myself as normal or abnormal anymore.  I think of myself as me and what I have to offer this world.  We all have gifts that are unique to us and that makes us all special…

For article and photos of “Weight Watchers Project” click here.

Bingefree- Start here.

 

                     “Why do you want to be normal when you are already so special?”

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Are You Ready?

April 2014

The Mayo Clinic Diet book has finally arrived!  I ordered the main book, the recipe book and the daily food diary from Amazon.  With shipping, it set me back almost a hundred dollars.

As I skim through the book, it looks to be filled with good stuff, telling me how simple this will be -I just need to change my habits, find my inner motivation and take a test to see if I’m ready.  Wait…a test?  You’ve got to be kidding!  Of course I’m ready, I have been ready my entire life, no one could be readier than me!  I want to skip this part, but I’ll take the test anyway. I’m going to do everything the book recommends….

I answer each question honestly only to find out that the Mayo Clinic thinks I am not ready to use this book since I may have an eating disorder.  What?!!  I just spent a hundred bucks on three books!  You mean you couldn’t have given me this test before I clicked the “order now” button?  It wasn’t even a Prime purchase, I had to pay for shipping!

I do not have to take a test to tell me my eating is dysfunctional.  In the past I have been bulimic, anorexic and now find myself bingeing a couple times a week and gaining weight.  That’s why I bought the book!

So, I don’t care what the Mayo Clinic thinks of my readiness, I will start this diet and no one is gonna stop me!  I’ve got weight to lose, habits to change and motivation hidden in my soul…..

I devoured the book today, but didn’t read much that I haven’t read before –the food pyramid, getting daily physical activity and acquiring good habits.  Preparing menus and setting goals.  How to shop and watching food portions.  Dealing with obstacles and what to do if you relapse.  I know all this stuff.  I know the what, where, when, and how of eating and dieting.  What I don’t know is the “why.”  Why can’t I control my eating?  I keep reading, but I don’t find the answer in this book.

This was written about a year before I began my binge free journey.  The Mayo Clinic Diet book was not the first or the last book I bought to help me come to terms with eating and my body.  When that diet didn’t pan out, I tried the Paleo diet, then Keto (an ultra strict Paleo diet.)  Before those, I spent lots of money on books, programs, therapy, supplements and health foods hoping that something would just click and I would stop craving, stop wanting to eat too much, stop the crazy relationship between myself and food.  And of course, my main goal, lose weight.

I always considered myself an emotional eater.  I not only overate when stressed, I overate when I was happy, sad, disgusted, pleased, angry, glad, or neutral.  You name an emotion and I could overeat or binge from it.  I often thought that I had to come to terms with my emotions to stop bingeing.  And to some extent that may be true.  But when I discovered what really fueled my binges, the emotional piece sort of just took care of itself.

One day, while on the keto diet, I opened the refrigerator and saw some watermelon pieces my husband had cut up.  Standing there, staring at the watermelon, I began to crave it as though it were a piece of rich, mouthwatering, chocolate cake.  How many times in the past could I have eaten a watermelon instead of cake?  Now, when watermelon wasn’t allowed on this keto diet, once I saw it in my fridge, it was all I could think of.

That was the day I learned that my cravings were fueled mostly by restriction.  While my body may have needed some nutrient that the watermelon possessed, more likely I craved it so much because I couldn’t have it.  And maybe that was where my craving for chocolate muffins and thin mint cookies came from.  After a couple of weeks of soul searching, I made a new food rule:

“I can eat anything I want, where I want, when I want.  I can eat now, tomorrow, next month… for the rest of my life. I never have to restrict food again.”

I have spent a lot of time learning to truly believe this, since that seems to be the key to making my peace with food.  And I have not binged since the first day I made this declaration.  It has been almost three years.  And contrary to what you might think, I did not eat myself into a coma and gain tons of weight.  In the learning process, I have lost and gained some weight. But it’s nothing like the fluctuations I had in the past.

For most of my life, I was either purposely losing weight, uncontrollably gaining, or struggling to stay at a ridiculously low weight.  And now, for the first time, I no longer have fat and thin clothes in my closet.  I have clothes of different sizes for my comfort, and sometimes they fit tighter or looser.  But my moods aren’t based on how my clothes fit that day.

The clothes are not the small size I was hoping to wear at this stage in my life, but I don’t need that fantasy anymore.  And after three years, I am learning to love myself just the way I am.  I feel healthier in mind and body in a way that I never felt when I struggled with food.

The change was difficult, but nothing like the impossibility of dieting.  The hardest thing was, and still is, staying true to myself and not succumbing to the pressure of diet talk or even the “healthy food” talk all around me.  I realize that I am in the minority among most of the people I know.

Every day I hear, from family and friends, that they are working to  “steer clear of sugar, control portion sizes, or eat clean.”  And almost everyone I know says they feel bad or guilty if they eat a rich dessert or a piece of candy.  I understand this because I used to be this way.  I used to think that if I didn’t purposely control these things, I would eat unhealthily, get sick, die young, and worst of all -be fat!  How could you not feel guilty for eating anything with this attitude?

Since I have stopped restricting food, I don’t have to force myself to eat healthier or smaller portions.  I now get hungry for better, healthier food and am satisfied with less.  I still eat sweets, but it is a choice, not a compulsion.  I don’t categorize any foods as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy and I feel no guilt for eating any food, even if I overeat, which happens much less often than it used to.

My value has also increased, not that I wasn’t valuable before, it’s just that now I perceive it and appreciate it.  I recognize that I am made in the image and likeness of God, meaning that I am just as I am meant to be.  I don’t have to force myself into someone else’s mold either in my eating or my body size to be happy, fulfilled or to accomplish my purpose on earth.

And the question is not- Are you are ready to go on a diet? or even- Are you ready to change your relationship with food? but- Are you ready to love yourself just the way you are?

Here’s how I began. Bingefree-The Beginning

Bingefree-First Steps

 

 

Body Image -Perception or Reality?

The picture wasn’t valuable, it was just a copy of a painting, but it was my favorite.  It depicted a beach house -not the whole thing, just a partial exterior wall showing two windows and a door.  I loved the colors and shadows.  I felt at peace when looking at it; almost as if I could reach out, open the door and walk into a calm place.

As I took it off the wall to wrap it up, this one last look made me feel a respite from the drudgery of moving a household.  But something seemed different about the picture now, something in the window I hadn’t seen before.  There, almost as big as the window itself was an angel painted in profile.

I couldn’t believe my eyes!  How long had I owned this picture, admiring it everyday when I walked into my bedroom -four years or more?  And I never noticed the angel.  In fact, if I had spotted it before, this art wouldn’t be hanging in my home.  When I purchased it, I was an atheist.  Angels or anything resembling Christian or religious heritage had no place in my house.

But recently, I had recovered my lost faith.  Was this a divine event or a message from God letting me know that the angel was watching over me even while I was an unbeliever?  I wanted to believe this…and in some form, it may have been true.  But in reality, I knew that my perception of the painting was skewed because of my beliefs.  In my atheistic mindset, I didn’t perceive the angel.  I liked the painting and wanted it in my house. Not seeing the angel allowed me to take it home and admire it without compromising the beliefs I held at that time.

We perceive the world based on our mindset and beliefs.  When I was in the throes of an eating disorder, I perceived my body as being bigger than it really was.  In the mirror, I saw a much larger me than reality.  If someone pointed out that my perception was inaccurate, I was convinced they were the ones with the skewed perspective, not me!

My perception of myself was not based on truth, it was based on a feeling.  And that feeling came from a deep-seated belief that I was not good enough the way I was.  It manifested itself in the thought that I had to be thin to be a good person, to be acceptable to society.  I chose to see my chubbiness as a critical defect in my being.

Of course, all these beliefs came from somewhere, some traumatic experience in my childhood or being teased and mistreated because of my weight.  But to me, it doesn’t matter as much how I got them, what matters more is how I changed them.

When I began this binge free journey, my expectation was that I would stop bingeing and overeating which would result in weight loss.  But the further I got into this journey, the more I began to appreciate my body for what it is.  Not struggling with food has given me a new awareness of what it means to be healthy.  I don’t have to be “thin” to be healthy or good looking.  Health and beauty come in every shape and size.

One way I came to terms with my body was to make a list of all the awesome things it can do -like walking, showering, laughing, stretching, even breathing.  All these things may seem mundane, but without a functional body we couldn’t do any of them.  I also found the things below helpful in getting me to appreciate the body I have.

-While looking in the mirror, I say positive things about my body, looking at every part with kindness, not disdain.  I smile while doing this.  I didn’t feel it at first but after a few times, I felt happier in general.
-I take pictures of myself having fun with others.  If someone else takes a picture of me on their phone, I ask them to send it to me.  I look at those pictures with kindness and appreciate that I am having fun.  I don’t criticize my body or tell myself that I need to change anything.
-I don’t make jokes about my size or belittle myself in any way.  If I find myself doing this, I don’t chastise, I just stop the negative talk and go on.

No matter your size, you are a valuable person.  Thin, fat, tall, short, whatever, it doesn’t matter.  If we base our value on our body size, we are missing out on the best part of life. Take a chance.  Be honest.  See the value you hold that isn’t related to your size or what you look like.  When you are open to it, you will perceive it.

First time to my blog? Start here.

Read thoughts on Food Addiction

The Vanity of Change

In my early thirties, it seemed like my life was one big crisis after another.  I was newly remarried with small children.  My eating was disordered and I was convinced that I had to take medication to keep myself together.  One time, wanting some sympathy from my mom, I jokingly told her I felt like I was the family drama queen.  Instead of sympathy, she blurted out, “You are the family drama queen!”

The realization that I did things to get attention was devastating.  What others had seen in me for quite some time, I finally saw.  For most of my adult life, I had staggered in and out of programs, religions and philosophies trying to fix myself.  Now I realized that in the quest for a “cure,” I was making myself crazier.

That made me realize I wasn’t in this thing alone, that my behavior affected my family and friends. I didn’t want to be the family drama queen, I wanted to be the wise one, the stoic one, the lucky one, the happy one -anyone but the one you would roll your eyes at when she walked into the room.

I wasn’t sure what to do.  And for a long time, I clung to the belief that things had to be exactly as I wanted them to be and that I had to be thin to be happy.  But little by little, I began to be honest with myself.  I realized that life could be good even if I wasn’t perfect.

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The further I get into this binge free journey, the more I appreciate my life and everything in it.  Finding peace with food has taken so much stress out of my life that it makes me wonder what I could have accomplished if I had done this many years ago. But since I try not to ruminate about my past or base my value on accomplishments anymore, those thoughts are fleeting.  Mostly I just enjoy the moments I am in and let my thoughts meander in and out of my brain.

If my thoughts are disrespectful to myself or someone else, or negative in some way, I let them come and go.  By not worrying about them or chastising myself for having them, they will fade away.  When I first began this change, I used to purposely replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts -and every now and then I still do this.  But mostly I just let the thoughts be what they are, and my mind will flow in a positive direction.

Being content and happy is a good thing but it can lead to something not so good -pride.  And I don’t mean the healthy kind of pride in ourselves that helps us feel confident, I mean the kind of pride that makes us think we are better than someone else -also known as vanity.

Vanity has a way of seeping into our brains and propping us up with lies about our significance.  It validates our worthiness by pointing out the faults of others.  So, when I find myself thinking how great I am because I ate well today, or having thoughts that I must be better off than someone who struggles with food, I have to stop and check myself.  I am the same value whether I have an eating disorder or eat the perfect diet, whether I am thin or fat or in between.  And this is the same for everyone.

So, I find myself feeling good about where I am today compared to my past.  It could be called pride, but it is more a feeling of relief.  I didn’t work to get where I am as much as I just allowed myself to be.  I now allow myself to be content no matter what I am feeling.  This means giving myself the luxury of wasting time, being wrong, or being selfish or boring  – all things I used to try very hard not to be.

In accepting my feelings and unshackling myself from guilt, I have become more compassionate to others and more productive when I worried about these things.  This is still not to say that anyone else’s journey will begin or end like mine. Or that my way is the only way or even he best way to change.

It was the best way for me because I truly believed it was.  I could have taken a different road, but chose this path.  Just as you will choose your path and you will know it is the right one.

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If you are new to my blog, you can read about how I began this journey and the steps I took to make it happen.

 

Power Of Habit or Bad Hair Day?

For the past two weeks I have been fretting over my hair.  It has lost its luster, gets frizzy for no reason and just doesn’t feel the same.  I have wracked my brain trying to figure out what’s causing it.  Am I just getting old?  Is my body chemistry changing?  Am I eating something bad for me?  Am I in the sun too much or not enough?

Deciding to put all these questions aside and take a nice shower, I step into the tub and grab the shampoo which sits on a shelf to the right.  Wait…uh….. this is not shampoo… this is body wash.  For the last two weeks, out of habit, I have reached to the right to pump out a handful of shampoo, but have been slathering body soap on my hair instead!

I see now the body wash and the shampoo have been switched.  How did they get switched?  And more importantly, why didn’t I notice this?

As far a habits go, this is not a big deal.  I can choose to change my routine and reach to the left for the shampoo or put the bottles back in their places.  Seems easy enough.  But what if I had never noticed this and just went around worrying about my hair and how bad it looked?  I could have driven myself crazy trying to find the reason behind my bad hair days.  I could have spent weeks or months worrying and trying to change things that either made no difference or made things worse.  Seems kind of stupid doesn’t it?

Yet, this is exactly what I did when I was trying to ‘fight’ an eating disorder.  I turned what was a habit into a complicated mess of body shaming, food restriction, and bingeing.  I saw myself as a defective person who couldn’t control herself.   I agonized so much that the disorder became my comfort.

Yes, it was comfortable.  Even though it was a devastating and sometimes life threatening habit, it made me comfortable to do the things I did.  Of course, I did not like the aftermath.  It was like using the body wash on my hair but hating the results.  And how ridiculous it seems to keep washing my hair with body wash and then complain about it.  But that’s what I did with the eating and body shaming year after year.  I kept doing the same thing and hating the results.  I kept looking for complicated answers instead of looking right in front of me.

How I changed

When I decided to de-complicate the binging problem, I had to realize that the disordered eating and body bashing were habits.  They did an excellent job of keeping me functioning and getting me through stress.  Of course they caused a lot of stress too -this is what perpetuated them.

Once I realized that my disordered behaviors were not a part of my personality, but something I did in response to my environment, I let go of the guilt.  I made a choice to believe that there is no ‘good or bad’ involved in eating or being any certain weight or body size.  I began to believe deep down that I was a good person, regardless of what I ate or how I looked.  I re-established my rightful place in the universe. (For me, this meant seeing God not as an entity judging me and keeping score, but as a support and encourager in all I do.)

Then I stopped dividing food into good and bad categories.  I allowed myself to eat all foods with no guilt or shame or feelings of eating something ‘sinfully delicious.’  All food became okay to eat for its own time and purpose.  I also began looking at my body differently.  Instead of labeling it as bad because it held extra fat or wasn’t as muscular as I it wanted to be, I started to appreciate it for the good things it did.

Eventually, I could look at myself in the mirror and not fret over the thighs or wiggly belly.  My body stopped being my focus.  It is now neither good nor bad.  It is just one element of my complete being.  It doesn’t define my status, my feelings, my health, or my personality, it doesn’t make me more or less valuable than anyone else.

And even though others may use my body to make judgments about who I am, I can leave that with them and not worry about it.

I believe we create habits out of necessity.  They allow us to perform activities while our mind is occupied with something else.  Sometimes they end up being good for us and sometimes not.  Making and breaking habits can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be.

Letting go of guilt and self condemnation was the giant first step in changing my life.  If I can do this, you can too.

P.S. The shampoo and body soap got misplaced by my husband when he cleaned the tub and shower.  (Yes, he occasionally cleans the bathroom, but no, he is not available for hire!)

For more steps on starting the binge free journey click here.

For more technical advice on habit and behavior change, read James Clear’s The Paradox of Behavior Change.   Check some of his other articles on habits.

 

“If you judge me for what I look like, that’s on you, not me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bathing Suit Test

Journal excerpt

July 5

We went to the river today.  I wore my bathing suit all day.  I did not put on a pair of shorts to hide my thighs, I did not put on a large T-shirt to cover everything.  With all my big talk about accepting my body and being nice to myself for the past two and half years, today is the first day I wore my bathing suit without being worried about my body or what I looked like to others. 

When I slipped off the bathing suit to shower, I felt like I had passed a test.  Like I reached some milestone in life.  It’s been easy to talk the talk and say how I feel empowered by eating normally and that I accept myself as I am, but the truth comes in hard doses.

The first truth is that I have gained a few pounds since I broke my ankle. The next truth is that my that my daughter is getting married. We have both been busy making plans and reveling in the joy of it all.  But deep in my mind, a pin prick of self consciousness began to grow.  

I began to think about dresses I would wear, how they would look on me and how I would look in pictures.  I mulled over styles and tried to choose the best one to make me look thinner.  

This began thoughts of maybe losing a few pounds, several pounds actually, for the wedding.  This started me thinking about calories, which led to restricting some foods which led to eating more food which led to guilt about eating some ice cream, which led to…..no, I didn’t binge.  But I did overeat for a few days while sorting all this out. 

And it can be sorted out. It takes some time, soul searching, and some confidence in who I am and what I am about.  It takes reassurance and self compassion. Oh, and it takes faith in myself and faith in something bigger than myself -I call this God.  

These past couple months have brought a whole new perspective on what it is to really accept myself. In the face of a wedding and wanting to look as good as possible for my beautiful daughter, I have had to come to terms with what it means to be my best for my children.  If being my best means that I am skinny, but my mind is constantly on my body and weight, how is that my best?

I will look my best when I feel my best.  And I don’t have to be skinny or even thin to feel my best.

My best is when I am happy and confident in who I am regardless of my body size.

My best is being content with myself so that I can fully participate in the life around me.

I’ve had a difficult time writing for this blog when my thoughts have been about losing weight and looking my best for my daughters wedding…

But I have pretty much resolved this issue. And when I wore my bathing suit for the entire day,  it cemented the idea that I don’t have to lose weight for any reason. I am okay just the way I am. I have passed the test.

Now that my ankle is almost healed and I am able to be more active, I may lose some weight. But I will not force this or dwell on it. For the wedding, I will dress in a stylish way regardless of my size, but I will not think about my thighs or my height or whatever else has kept me preoccupied in the past.  I will be happy for my daughter and celebrate her wonderful day.