I was thinking lately about what’s missing from most diet and exercise programs. You see, if you follow most diet and exercise programs, they will work. The problem is sticking to them and/or returning to a “normal” lifestyle afterward. Our habits and attitudes toward food are so emotionally charged: we celebrate with food, we feel entitled to a glass of wine after a hard day, we bury our feelings in a pint of hagen daaz. Of course, indulgences are fine in moderation but its when we let these relationships with food get out of control that we also lose control of our bodies and our health.
Often times people who struggle with food issues have deeply ingrained psychological and emotional connections to the way they view food and/or their body. As someone who suffered from an eating disorder, I can tell you this was the case for me, even though my problem was not overeating, the root causes are similar. Starving myself was a way for me to show people on the outside how much I was hurting on the inside. Now I have a healthy relationship with food and my body but it took a lot of mental work to get there.
Sometimes eating is a way to cope with uncomfortable emotions: you eat when you are stressed, bored, depressed. Sometimes packing on extra pounds (or losing too much weight) is a way to avoid relationships or creates excuses for facing certain situations. Sometimes we see food as a reward. There are many other ways our mind can affect our relationship with food.
Food companies and overly processed food exacerbate the problem. Refined sugar affects the brain similar to a drug and has similar addictive properties. Supersized portions don’t help either.
Losing weight, loving your body and establishing healthy habits is about more than just exercising and eating right. But diet and exercise programs only seem to focus on the behavior. Its clear why. Not only is it really hard to unwind complex relationships with body image and food, but would you want to buy a program that points out your psychological issues? I can see the infomercial now: “Are you overweight because of daddy issues? Did your mom force you to eat your feelings? Have we got the solution for you!”
Yes, sometimes just the physical act of eating healthier food and exercising triggers a mental change, but if you find yourself on a never ending cycle of yo-yo diets, or hating your body regardless of the changes you’ve made, you may want to dig a little deeper.
If you are looking for a place to start to make those mental changes, I think Susan Kano’s book “Making Peace with Food”. A counselor or therapist can also help a lot.
If you just need tips on how to fit eating healthy into your busy lifestyle check out my free meal prep guide.