In my last blog I wrote about 4 reasons not to go on yet another New Years diet. If you read it, it may have made perfect sense, but if you are like so many others you might be asking “if I don’t diet or focus on weight, then what?”
That is a completely warranted and understandable concern given our culture and the world we live in. Diet related thought patterns have become the cultural norm. I think many of us feel like if we aren’t hyper focused on our weight and obsessing about our body size then we are letting ourselves go and giving up on health, but the exact opposite is true.
A big part of the problem with our approach to health and wellness is our all or nothing approach to it. Culture and media are really good at reinforcing this black and white thinking too. We are either on a diet or off (for many over and over and over again), eating “good” foods or “bad” foods, on the exercise bandwagon or not moving at all, eating kale or candy. There isn’t a whole lot of middle ground for many of us when it comes to food and movement, but the middle ground is actually where the sweet spot is.
This all or nothing way of thinking, although very common, is not a realistic or helpful way of thinking about health and food. From a psychological perspective this way of thinking is is known as a cognitive distortion – an unconscious way of thinking that is not based in reality. We may think that approaching health in this way is helpful, but actually in the end it undermines healthy change instead of promoting it. When we set ourselves up with rigid, back-and-white rules we leave no room for error, which is inevitable. By changing our extreme (all or nothing) approach to food and movement, we can actually take better care of ourselves for the long term with positive health markers to show for it.
You may feel exactly like one client who contacted me. In her email she stated, “I’ve dieted my whole life—-WW, and literally everything else, but the older I get, the harder it is to shed even an ounce. I’m just literally exhausted from dieting and worrying about my weight.” In talking with her about possibly taking a different approach and taking the focus off the scale, she asked me “if we don’t focus on the scale what do we focus on?” My answer was to focus on habits and behaviors, health, and well-being, not just physical, but mental and emotional too. Encouraging a shift in focus of trying to change or shrink our bodies at all costs to a focus on respecting and taking care of our bodies.
So how do you find wellness without focusing on weight and find the sweet spot – not too extreme, and not feeling like you are giving up? Becoming more acquainted with the principles of Intuitive Eating is a great place to start. It is a process of unlearning and relearning new ways to care for yourself and listening to your body’s innate wisdom, instead of the external cues of dieting and focusing on weight.
Here are some intentions/goals/resolutions you could make that are in line with this idea of wellness, while not focused on weight.
• Throw out the scale – for many people I talk with the scale rules their emotions. Giving them an inkling of hope when it cooperates and creating a downward spiral of negative emotions when it doesn’t. If your are someone who is negatively impacted by the scale…stay off of it and if you can’t, get rid of it completely. It can seem strange in the beginning if it’s been a long time habit, but very freeing. That number doesn’t define your worth or well-being.
• Find ways to move that make you happy and make you feel powerful and strong vs. moving to burn calories or because you are “supposed” to. Finding joy in movement is one of the best things you can do to help you incorporate it as a lasting habit.
• Take time to feed yourself regularly, balanced meals throughout the day so that you don’t get to the point of feeling absolutely famished and end up bingeing or overeating at night (one of the most common things I see with clients).
• Make sleep a priority. We know how much better and more capable we feel after a good night’s sleep. On the flip side, not getting good sleep either occasionally or on a regular basis feels horrible and impacts every aspect of our lives. Not only do most of us feel cranky and feel like we are in a fog, sleep is one of the strongest predictors of whether or not we eat well and exercise. Paying attention to our bodies signals for needing rest or sleep and honoring those (instead of just muscling through) and having regular bedtime rituals so that you can sleep better are two ways to get better rest. Sleep isn’t an extra or a luxury, it’s a must.
• Notice how you feel after a meal. Do feel like you have the energy to continue through the day or do you feel like you need a nap? Does your stomach hurt or do you feel comfortable? Do you still feel hungry (a sign that you might have had more of a snack than a meal)? How we feel after a meal is impacted not only by what we eat but also how we eat, for instance whether we wolf down a meal on the way to a meeting or find an opportunity to eat in a more peaceful and slower way. Noting this post-meal feeling is a way of becoming more intuitive about our eating and figuring out ways to eat that give us energy and allow us to function at our best.
• Find other ways to cope with stress that don’t involve food. We all eat emotionally from time to time and it isn’t all bad, but it can become a negative thing and create even more issues for us when it is our only way of coping. Taking time out of our life to de-stress on a regular basis is really important. Some examples might include: walking the dog and noticing the “little things” like the trees, flowers, etc., read a good book, listen to some soothing music, take a nap (even a quick one), take a few deep breaths or spend just a few minutes a day meditating, do yoga, or come up with your own list of things that help to lower your stress level. What does that look like for you? Again, it isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity and it matters.
• Take a little time on the weekends to plan meals and shop for the week ahead so that you are prepared. I help clients set intentions around meal planning and shopping and creating a system to make the process easier. Not planning and being prepared is one of the most common things I see with clients that brings them stress and sabotages their efforts to eat in a healthier way.
• Turn off the TV and put the phones and devices away during meals. Being fully present at meals and not being distracted can make meals more enjoyable and satisfying.
• Include a vegetable at breakfast 2 times per week.
• Trade out afternoon candy for fruit 3 times per week.
• Make dinner at home 3 times per week.
So, there you go. A good solid list of multiple things you can do that we know can improve our health and that take the focus off pounds lost and onto habits, which is far more productive. Ultimately all these things I suggested are about taking better care of ourselves, which I’ve noticed with clients is often at the root of their dissatisfaction with themselves and their habits. We have less of an eating or food problem and more of a lack of self care problem in my opinion. Many of our issues and concerns could be improved greatly by simply incorporating more opportunities for basic self care.
How is your self care? Which of these things I suggested could you incorporate into your life? You might pick one to work on each week for the next month to start and just notice how it impacts your overall health and well-being. You are more than worth it.