Beauty Tips From Nuns!
How Sister Shane Lost 65 Pounds
I am very pleased that Issue #3 includes the first of an interview series I’ve been hoping to launch for years: “Beauty Tips From Nuns: Secrets of Inner and Outer Beauty From Sisters of All Faiths.” It features the wonderful Sister Shane Phelan talking about her 65-pound weight loss, and everything else. Please enjoy!
• Kevin in New Paltz emailed a question about my doorman’s rubber band project, mentioned in Issue #2. He wrote, “What's at the center of the rubber band ball? Is it a rubber band knotted up?”
Doorman John Santiago responds: “It’s all rubber bands, I swear! A lot of people start with a marble. I didn’t start with nothing.”
My neighbor Shelly chimed in: “He’s a purist!”
• I am looking for a company to sponsor CAFÉ ANNE. Specifically, I would like to be sponsored by CAFE BUSTELO. Does your uncle own CAFE BUSTELO? Have him contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
IN THIS WEEK’S ISSUE…
• Pigeon of the Month: Robert “Trevor” Robinson
• Weird Trash Heap #2
• Beauty Tips From Nuns: Sister Shane Phelan
PIGEON OF THE MONTH
Name: Robert “Trevor” Robinson
Resides: Brooklyn Heights
Occupation: Information Security Analyst
Pet Peeve: Patchouli
Market Cap: $1.5 billion
P/E Ratio: 16
Personal Passion: One of my earliest memories is a fascination with tractors and construction equipment. On weekends, my parents knew that nothing would make me happier than taking me to a construction site where large equipment sat idle and where I could clamber over the equipment and imagine that I was manipulating the equipment to build some incredible edifice. Forget about toy tractors. I wanted the real thing—it got me very excited to sit in the seat of a large bulldozer.
How I spend my Sunday: I’m out all day, but before I go home I will have eaten, either at brunch or at Malecon, a Dominican place. I try to get home by 7 so I can do a facial. I bought a steamer during the pandemic. I like to steam my face. Sometimes I’ll also do a deep condition of my hair under a heated bonnet. During my beauty evening I might watch something on Netflix. I just learned about Lily Tomlin by watching “Grace and Frankie.” I love her. She’s hilarious.
Motto: “If anything is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.”
Know a pigeon I should profile? Please email your suggestion: email@example.com
Weird Trash Heap #2
Take a look at the sidewalk garbage pile I spotted on Brooklyn’s Montague Street: hot rollers, a rug and a Christmas tree stand. Clearly, someone has just had it!
In Issue #2, I asked readers to send their best trash pile photos. No one produced a pic, but I got several interesting emails.
TOCO in Manhattan writes: “I was walking over in Murray Hill and came to a bathroom scale resting in the middle of the sidewalk. No one was around. But next to the scale was a little cup that said "Weigh Yourself." I thought it was a nice value-added extra experience the city was testing out. Perhaps the Mayor's initiative for drinking less soda.”
Chris H. in Brooklyn writes: “Yesterday, after one of those predictable train-is-out-of-service moments, someone left behind their Burlington Coat Factory bag with their umbrella, eyewear, and spiritual reading inside. Let's just say she didn't live on Central Park West. I agonized for a good 10 minutes before reluctantly depositing the contents in a Penn Station trash can.”
BEAUTY TIPS FROM NUNS: SISTER SHANE PHELAN
Shane Phelan, 64, earned her PhD. in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst before teaching women’s studies and political theory at the University of New Mexico. She left academia to join a New Jersey convent in 2000. She was ordained as an Episcopalian priest in 2009 and served a New Jersey parish for two years before co-founding an ecumenical spiritual community, Companions of Mary the Apostle, in West Park, New York.
So a little about you. On a scale of 1-10, how tired are you of the question, ‘Why did you become a nun at age 44?’
I must not be too tired of it—I’m writing a memoir! I became a nun because I fell for Jesus. I let myself fall in love. I knew I was at an end in my career and I didn’t know what else there was. I was praying to know what else to do and eventually I realized that I wanted to pray, and be with people who prayed.
Then out of the blue I heard this little voice say, ‘You should be a nun’.
How did you respond?
I said ‘God, if this is you, tell me what to do with Max, my dog.’ I went off to school that day and three times I told friends this weird story and three times they said, ‘Well, if you decide to do that, I would take Max.’ Okay, fine!
So now that you’ve been a nun for two decades, what would you say makes a person beautiful inside?
Beauty in a person is the fruits of the spirit: Compassion, generosity, humility. Ease and joy and serenity. The courage to face everything. Honesty. Integrity.
What’s one thing I can practice to get all of that?
Wow. I think one huge thing is really being in an intimate relationship with other people. Whether it’s living in a community or living with one other. That’s where I get to practice.
There’s a saying in religious communities about ‘divine sandpaper.’ It’s that intensity of being accountable to other people for how I am and how I’m being. That’s what I attribute all my growth to. If I were living alone, I wouldn’t notice some of my rough edges. I could ignore them or deny them. I could just go on my way.
For those who live alone, what’s another way to cultivate inner beauty?
Silence. In our community, we wrote a rule: Not just silence in terms of sound, but including all of our devices. So during our hours of silence, roughly 8 pm to 7 am, we try to refrain from using our devices. I might want to check the weather or play a little game. But I’m trying to keep myself centered and open to the world.
And what makes a person beautiful on the outside?
Some of the same words. Serenity and joy are visible in people’s bodies. Ease with oneself. It’s easy to say ‘health’ and all of that. But I’ve known some truly beautiful people who are crippled with arthritis and in wheelchairs. It’s the person showing through their face. It’s in their energy.
You lost 65 pounds. That’s like an entire fourth grader! And you’ve kept the weight off for seven years.
It was a third of my body weight. I started at 210 pounds, now I hover between 145 and 150, and I’m five-foot-ten and a half.
How did you lose the weight?
I lost 50 pounds in Weight Watchers when I was in the convent, but I couldn’t keep it off. Several years later I did Weight Watchers again with an app and lost maybe 15 pounds, but it was excruciating because I was still consuming the foods that make me want more. Mostly sugar and flour.
Then I went to a recovery group for overeaters. My program sponsor basically put me on a boot camp plan, which I didn’t want. No sugar, no wheat, no refined carbohydrates, no artificial sweeteners. I could have fresh fruit but no fruit juice and no dried fruit. And there was a plan for how much to have at each meal.
The first 30 days are virtually carb-free and you’re in shock. But the weight just started to come off. I wasn’t hungry because of the protein and the amount of vegetables I was getting.
I had a mental goal in mind of 160 pounds, and 160 came and went. Finally I asked my sponsor, ‘When am I going to stop losing weight?’ She said, ‘When we start adding stuff in.’ But the important thing was to not change what was working. Instead of adding carbs, we added more protein and fat.
Do you ever eat sugar or carbs now?
I have oatmeal or toast in the morning, and at dinner I have gluten-free pasta or rice. But the trick is I have half a cup of it.
When was the last time you had a real dessert?
Things are so sweet to me now. I can have a baked apple with raisins and it’s like, wow! But the last time I had sugar was February 26, 2014.
Do you attribute your success entirely to the diet?
The other factor is I needed a community around me. My program sponsor said, ‘You’re going to call me three times a week. You’re going to write your food plan every day and send it to me. You’re going to call two others in the program every week.’ So I was enmeshed in accountable, loving relationships from the beginning.
Did you get universal support?
When I stopped drinking when I was 28, it was scandal. Everybody drank. And then when I stopped eating sugar, that was a scandal.
I had some eating buddies. We’d excuse each other having an extra piece of cake. So then they felt rebuked when I didn’t. They’d try to convince me that a little wouldn’t hurt.
Get over it! The food industry has made addicts of us all. So it’s really normal to weigh 50 percent more than you should. And it’s normal to eat all this junk and feel awful. You need a whole medical team to support you. There’s an industry around diabetes. So, I’m a scandal.
You look very happy when you say that.
I’ve spent my life being a scandal. I love it! But yes, I get this sense from others of, ‘You should be able to have a piece of cake now and then. What’s wrong with you?’
What’s wrong with me is I’m an addict and I don’t respond normally to those foods.
It must be a relief to have that decided.
The key for me is surrender. Acceptance and surrender. Yes, it’s really true. I’m better off without.
Some might say that if you’re being rigid and eliminating entire categories of food, that you’re not being spiritual. That you should be ‘eating intuitively’ or ‘listening to your body’.
Right. Would you tell someone who kept kosher that she wasn’t spiritual? That’s a rigid food plan. So is Halal. Those are food plans.
The other part for me is that my intuition was off before I started this program and it will get thrown off by eating certain things. It is akin to saying I’m going to pray every day and pray on a schedule, because it deepens my intuition and opens me to the world. It leaves me feeling clear and unclouded. So that I have intuition.
It sounds as though you’ve found that certain foods block the intuition you need to create and follow the food plan that is best for you.
Right. We need to clean out to know. And then accept what we find. My intuition can also go seriously haywire if I don’t follow the other program practices—being honest and accountable, and all of that.
There’s a lot to it!
Yes! If you want beauty in the world, if you want to be beauty in the world, you gotta do stuff!
Shane Phelan is writing a memoir about her journey out of academia and into the monastic life and priesthood. You can read an excerpt here about her experience serving at Ground Zero.
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