Dr. Stephanie Socks It to Us
with her daily delight
Dr. Stephanie Dunkle Blatter has a daily practice she designed to deliver delight: she wears different festive socks every day. A surgeon with a hectic schedule, Stephanie likens her fun sock (and it’s accompanying yoga) practice to the advice she gives her bariatric patients about losing weight: just start with tiny steps and put one (sock covered) foot in front of the other and keep going.
Stephanie took time between surgeries and elevator yoga to share her process with us.
Rubi McGrory: this newsletter is all about on inspiring people to create healthy daily practices for themselves. Right now, we’re exploring the concept of finding delight as a daily practice. I think you’re doing some amazing work in that area and I’d love to chat with you about it.
Stephanie Dunkle Blatter: I do similar work, but on a medical level. I perform bariatric surgery, and weight loss, so I'm continually talking to patients about the very thing you're talking about, which is “How do I make my day so that I can get in my healthy foods and my exercise.” It’s a challenge for all of us. So yeah, I mean, I'm thrilled to share what I can.
RM: Who are you? What do you do. What's going on with you right now?
SDM: I'm Dr. Stephanie Dunkel Blatter. I am a general and bariatric surgeon. I work in Sydney, Ohio, and I do a range of general surgery. I do weight loss surgery, a lot of weight loss counseling and medical and surgical weight loss. On top of that, I'm a mom, a wife, and a yogi.
RM: Walk me through what your mornings look like and how you set them up.
SDB: Well, the challenge for me in my career is that every day is different. Some days I'm on call. When I'm on call I may have to go into the ER. I sort of have a schedule in that I see patients in the office Mondays and every other Thursday and Friday. But my true challenge is that I don’t have a set routine every day. The one thing I do every day is get out of bed and have coffee. And then I course plan my socks for the day. Because right now I'm doing socks for every day of Thanksgiving, which has just been fun. With just so much stress in my life and my job I just needed something fun, something light.
Being on call is different. It’s a whole other level when you're on call. You just have to be ready for your whole life just being derailed at any moment. And call varies. Some days it’s crazy. Some days I get nothing. So that's kind of the life as a general surgeon and I've been doing that for over 20 years.
RM: How do you fit in yoga?
SDB: That’s been challenging through my career. How do I get regular exercise? A couple of years ago one of my friends challenged me on social media to do a yoga challenge. And it was something different every day. And I hadn't really been doing regular yoga and she convinced me that you know what, even one pose is better than nothing. So, some days I just did one pose for five seconds, but I counted that right? And then it was actually social media that got me doing this every day. And now with the sock thing every day, my personal rule is if I'm going to post my socks, I have to have yoga to post with it. And honestly that gets me doing it every day. That little thing.
I'm not a social media person, I have a private account, I have a few people that follow me every day and if I get one like it's like Yeah, but that gives me a level of accountability, which is often all I do for my patients. They come in every month. They know that I'm going to look at their weight. I'm going to ask them what they're doing.
I think that level of accountability is helpful for all of us. Right? Like if there aren't rewards or consequences. We know in our heads oh if I don't do this, I'm not going to feel good. Having that immediate accountability on social media has really helped me to do yoga every day. I just fit it in whenever I can in my day. Some days it happens on the elevator. Some days it happens in my office. Most days it happens at my home late at night. If I have an easy light day, I'll get to spend more time at home and you know play with my dogs and really make it a thing. But if I just have time for one pose. That's what I do. I heard somebody say if you just do one pose, then you do another. I mean most days I'm only doing like 15 minutes. But even that has helped me feel better. I'll be still more connected. And you know, just to be able to relax and breathe and stretch and move my body
RM: What are your elevator poses?
SDB: I have been in warrior pose and the door will open and I just kind of go Oh, hi, just doing a yoga pose and they're just like, Okay. We're a small hospital so most people know me. And also, it's not like I'm on the on the elevator for 22 floors. It's only three floors. I usually try to walk. But if I just bend over and do one warrior pose or squat down in malasana, I feel like Hey, I just did something.
We do monthly support groups for our weight loss patients and every year I do an introduction to yoga for them with the caveat I'm not an instructor. There’s this misconception that you have to be some pretzel person and skinny to do yoga and that's definitely not true. You can sit and breathe and benefit. So I do an introduction and I've had patients that come back and say, “You know what? I do a pose for two minutes when my foods in the microwave.” That's a win.
RM: Okay, I want to get to the meat of everything, which is the socks. Take us back to the beginning.
SDB: Over a period of many years I’d been gifted a bunch of Halloween socks. I was born in October so Halloween has always been really special to me. I love Halloween. A couple of years ago, I was going through my laundry and discovered Wow, I've got a lot of Halloween socks. So I decided I would challenge myself to wear 31 Days of Halloween socks. By the next year I was on social media, so What a great idea… I'll post this on social media. And I did: 31 Days of Halloween socks.
I wear compression socks alot for long days in the O.R. And after my 31 Days of Halloween socks one of the gals in the O.R said “I've got Christmas compression socks.” I thought what a great idea. So then I started collecting Christmas socks, especially compression socks. And then that year I did 25 Days of Christmas socks. After, I was sad, like gosh, I gotta wait a whole year to do the Halloween socks again. So this year I did Halloween. I'm doing Thanksgiving and I am putting it out there: I am going to do 365 days of socks in 2022.
RM: That is so awesome. How are you going about it? Building themes?
SDB: Once you start looking at socks online, you start getting a lot of ads. My new pastime has been online shopping for socks. Anytime I'm out shopping, I scour the Dollar Store and TJ Maxx. I've had friends gift me a lot of socks, of course because now they know I'm getting into this. And it's really become a fun pastime. Like I have a whole collection now of profanity socks. I'm trying to figure out how to work those in like maybe Profanity Fridays or all of January could be profanity socks.
I got a big tub that goes under my bed. Because 365 pairs of socks is a lot. I made a big Ziploc for every month. And I have Dr. Seuss socks that I put in June to wear on Dr. Seuss's birthday. You know so just as I come across socks, I'm like, ooh, when could that fit in? Right. So I've tried to do every holiday of course, St. Patrick's Day is good for 17 pairs, right? Yeah. So I've got a bunch of fall socks I'm going to do at the end of November. I've got a huge box of just randoms that I don't have a theme for the day. I'll just pick a random pair of socks.
RM: I imagine at some point when you're having a crappy day, you can look down and spy your socks and think Well that’s a spot of delight and joy.
SDB: Absolutely. And in medicine, especially right now, that happens a lot.
RM: Do you have any before bed rituals or practices that you do?
SDB: That’s usually when I'm doing my little Instagram posts. And I brush my teeth. That's about it.
RM: If you're posting your Instagram at night, that's definitely a ritual. Taking and posting the photographs is also its own little practice. You’re planning and setting them up, like the turkey feet one. You had a couple different versions of the turkey feet.
SDB: Yeah, well, you have to show the message right. So yeah, sometimes you have to get creative. Like I have a couple pairs of socks that have a message on the sole of the foot so I'm going have to be laying down to get that. My intention I set at the beginning of the day is I take my pictures of my socks—I put them on and take a picture.
RM: As a creative practice, it’s so much more. Like yes, here's some socks. But wait, also here's an amazing sunrise or sunset in the autumn. Here's an amazing sky, a rubber ducky and like weird like, is it a crossword puzzle? No, it's turkey legs on socks! There's a lot to that, it is art. And it is an art practice, capturing and framing these moments of your day.
But it’s also a little bit of a journal, a timelapse video of your feet as you walk across the hospital or your time lapse yoga video.
SDB: one thing I always talk with my patients is that it supposedly takes 21 days to build a habit and 90 days to build a lifestyle. I really think it's longer. It's really hard. So I mean, that's why you have to start with something doable. And like I started with socks in the month of October, something fun and something silly right?
RM: So how would that translate for your patients with challenges like a giant dietary change. Because for most people fun is food?
SDB: Oh, yeah, well, there's the misconception. So when you're trying to lose weight, you're not giving up everything. It's everything in moderation. So what are you going to replace that second brownie with? Gosh, go check out your socks. Or do a yoga pose.
You know, there's different ways to celebrate. And that's the challenge with weight loss patients: you know you can't have the second brownie so what are you going to do instead?
What are you going to eat instead of that? It’s not you're completely giving up all this food.
It's a complete mindset change, especially when you talk to patients with weight loss surgery. And a lot of times they do actually have feelings of loss because they feel like they're giving up so much. When they get through all that, and they’re feeling better on the other end and eating differently--it's a process to get to that change.
It doesn't happen overnight. It's not easy. And each person is different.
Like, for me, it's the socks. I like the variety and you know, the weirder the better. I love them if they have a message.
For everybody, it's a different little something that means something.
RM: So, when you say it takes longer than 21 days to build a habit and longer than 90 days to build a lifestyle. How long do you think it takes?
SDB: Personally, for me, it's at least double that. I mean, it's hard, and nobody's perfect. So it's not like you just go Oh, yeah, this is what I do every day. I mean, maybe some people are like that. I don't know. But life tries to derail you at any moment. You know, so it's not like you just developed this lifestyle in 90 days and you’re set, right? You always have to work on it.