Thursday, January 08, 2015

Tipping the Scale toward Health

A friend fell off the wagon regarding her diet. She said “I blew it,” and asked how people stay motivated. What follows are some of the thoughts I shared with her, since I’ve found some limited progress after carrying extra weight for many years.

Please note: I'm not telling you what to do or whether any of this will work for your particular body, personality or metabolism. I'm just sharing some of the things that make a difference when I do them. I don't always do them but I do them more often than I used to. Every effort I make increases my quality of life. I am healthier now physically, emotionally and spiritually than I have been in decades and I live with an overall sense of well-being far beyond anything I've ever known. Try what you like, discard the rest. Listen to your own body. Perhaps you’ll find something in this that twigs for you.

A few years ago, I realized I needed to get healthy. I wrote about the entire process in my last post but didn’t elaborate on detail regarding the physical side: fitness, weight reduction, nutrition. In the past year I’ve dropped 30 pounds, slow and steady, without really “trying”.

What finally made the difference?

I decided to focus on feeling good and becoming healthy, rather than weighing a certain weight or wearing a specific clothing size. Being healthy and fit brings lasting satisfaction. Clothing and image are only temporary ego boosters and don’t meet the deeper need of self-respect.

I began to practice self-kindness. My friend didn't "blow" it. One day off track does not signal failure. Watch the language you use when you talk to yourself. Would you talk that way to a colleague? A friend? A spouse? Encourage yourself the way you encourage them. Be respectful of yourself and your own emotions. Think of one thing you've accomplished and express gratitude for it. Treat yourself to non-food rewards. 

Examine nutritional choices. Proven methods bring predictable results. Eat a broad spectrum of food from all food groups but just in smaller portions. Eat balanced meals at regular intervals made from whole foods (anything that doesn’t require an “Ingredients” label), drink lots of water or non-caffeinated teas. Certain foods bring physical cravings and can cause emotional crash. Be careful with the carbs and sugar. They mess up my head and my emotions when taken apart from protein. Like drinking liquor on an empty stomach, eating carbs or sugar without protein gives your system a sucker punch. And speaking of liquor, most alcoholic drinks are high in calories and serve little to no nutritional value. They also remove inhibitions and make self-control more difficult.

Be aware of your body’s monthly cycles. Weight and bloating increase during certain days. Your body is affected by something you can't control, but you can learn to be aware and manage it more effectively by soldiering through the few days when your mood swings are worst.

The bottom line is, you must spend more calories than you consume. Get your body moving, even if it's just a short walk and do short bursts of exertion. Even ten minutes a day or taking the stairs instead of the escalator all add up over time.

Learn to calm or energize yourself to break the habit of emotional eating or eating out of boredom. When you eat, sit down and savor every bite rather than absentmindedly chewing while watching a show or working or surfing online. Try to sleep at least 8 hours per night. Our bodies rebuild and reset themselves in sleep. Watch a movie, write a poem, listen to quiet music, sing, have a long bath or hot pounding shower, meditate, draw a picture, call a friend, take a walk, read a novel, whatever engages your mind and relaxes your body so you are able to focus on something other than your diet.

Get professional help, if needed. 1) See a naturopath to test food sensitivities and nutritional deficiencies. Our bodies crave what we aren’t getting in our diet. I dropped wheat and soft drinks and lost 18 pounds. 2) Engage a trainer to help you find the most effective exercises for your body type and problem areas. I didn’t lose much weight from this but it built muscle mass and increased heart health while sculpting and toning my shape. I still have a long way to go but I'm much more able to move, bend and exert myself now than before. 3) Find a psychologist who can help you work through things that cause emotional eating or binge eating. Many compulsive habits have their roots in old wounds. You can't heal what you don't acknowledge. This was a big one for me. I try not to "emotional eat" any longer. And here's a thought: If you intentionally eat alone or hide what you're eating from those around you, that's a red flag. When you do this, you're only hurting yourself.

Allow for cravings. Denying myself doesn't work. If I crave a Snickers bar, I have one. Just one. Or even just a bite or two. Not often. But I have found when I drink a glass of water and/or eat a healthy item first (apple, orange, banana, small piece of cheese, a few nuts and/or raisins) and I rarely still crave the high sugar option. I ask myself, "Am I really hungry or am I eating out of boredom, habit, compulsion?" Occasionally, I still eat the sweet treat. I savor it but I don't reach for the second or the third like I used to. If you eat absentmindedly, measure out a portion and put the rest away. One naturopath suggests being strict six days per week and eating whatever you want on day seven. I’ve not done this, but she swears by it. Perhaps it would work for you.

Focus on something other than food. Avoid calorie counting or detailed tracking systems – it just keeps you fixated on food. Only weigh once per week and use it as an indicator, not an alarm or measure of success. If you're always thinking about your diet, it's self-defeating.

Hang out with people who are where you want to be, who have proven success, rather than people who are struggling with the same issues or people who don’t respect your restrictions and try to get you to indulge. Keep in mind, everyone is unique and what works for one may not work for everyone. Don’t let anyone tell you there’s a “best” way to do something. Listen to your body.

Remember that every day is a new beginning. New mercy. New beauty. New start. You can do this. One day at a time.


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