Often, we desire to be healthier… but what does healthier mean?
When saying healthier, are we referring to a change in our weight, which sees us trying to reach for an image that we think represents health? Does this mean a 5kg weight loss?
If you feel you need to lose another 5kgs to be healthier, have you considered what you will have to change to achieve this 5kg weight loss and why is losing a few kgs a defining moment to measure your success to health?
When we have a goal, like “I have to lose weight… to be healthier” our minds can become so focused on the weight loss; we restrict our mental and emotional health in purist of a physical achievement. A punishment style of restriction can come into play as we can shy away from social outings; fun moments with our kids (ice creams at the beach); work
functions due to fear of being surrounded by the food we have placed restriction on. We forgo sleep to make early gym sessions, seeing exercise as a chore, but needing to go “to
stay healthy” each day. Our behaviours can become being driven by a fear; fear of failing an image of success. We believe we must be perfect to shift the weight. Yet somehow, we have taken on this belief without even questioning if this is evidence based. We override all logic, deciding our body can be “robotic” like, deleting the human need for mental/emotional health. We chase an image for “health”.
What if I told you that the stress of achieving this milestone is actually making us unhealthy? Maintaining a lifestyle that is surrounded by stress is not only unhelpful, but it means we are aiming for something that is unattainable, not to mention impossible to maintain. This is because the human body is wired with emotions/ feelings and the need for connection. Our bodies need to know they are safe, without threat; they need human connection and relationships. So, when we suppress all of these areas of our health; and push our body in a stress/fear driven way to purse an image of health, we are not actually failing when we can’t maintain the “Monday diet”; it is the diet that failed us.
Stress has a huge impact on our body’s overall health and function. It has been found that when we are stressed, our muscles become tense. If our muscles are tense for extended periods of time it can trigger other reactions within our body, such as issues with our gut health and more specifically the oesophagus, stomach, and bowel. Stress can cause pain, bloating, nausea, and other discomfort in the stomach and bowel. It can also cause an unwanted increase or decrease in appetite and can affect the digestion and what nutrients the intestines will absorb. It can also increase gas production.
How did we manage to get it all so backwards? How did we end up creating a lifestyle built of stress that does more harm than good?
One main reason is social media, constantly filling our minds with comparisons. Suggestions of what we need to look like to be happy/healthy. A ‘good looking or toned or skinny’ body or the perfect gym program does not actually equate to being healthy and more specifically being happy. Health is so much more than a number on a scale, a normal BMI, a certain body shape or look. Perfection does not exist, and we need to stop chasing it. Being healthy has many aspects to it. It includes our physical, social, emotional, financial, and psychological health- not just a ‘look’. Being happy and satisfied within ourselves and of what we are achieving is more than a number on a scale or an image on social media.
While an image can look “healthy”; are we considering the whole picture? I wonder what is her relationship like with herself? Her family? Her friends? Does she sleep at night? When did she last laugh? How much exercise and calorie restriction does this image take? And are we really prepared for the stress associated with chasing this unattainable look? Also- does this ‘look’ even mean I am healthy?
We need to stop and think about what we are trying to achieve and why. What is really behind this desire for the ‘look’? Is it that we think if we ‘look’ like social media says we should we will be happier? Will we be healthier? Will we live longer? Will I like myself more? Will others like me?
Once you really understand what you are trying to achieve you can then look to other concepts to help you focus on and fully buy into the daily process. The daily process of improving your health can be assisted with the use of different mind tools and concepts.
One tool that I find powerful, was developed by Dr Martin Seligman surrounding the idea of wellness and personal wellbeing. He has been at the forefront of research and development of wellness as a concept for our modern-day living. HIs concept called the PERMA model outlines 5 key elements that he feels are the building blocks for health and wellness. These are
· Positive Emotions
How can we apply this to what we eat?
With each meal, ask yourself – does this bring me a positive emotion or enable me to be in a positive setting?
Does eating a cold tuna salad for lunch hit these cores elements for you? Are you enjoying what you are eating or are you doing it for the sake of wanting to be ‘healthy’? Equally, does buying takeaway for lunch leave you with a feeling of accomplishment? Or when you are in the cupboard, bored and looking for comfort, will eating the kids biscuits bring about meaning and add to a feeling of joy and happiness?
Your engagement with your food will influence your engagement with yourself. How food leaves you feeling is important! It will influence your thoughts and behaviours and will bring you greater value than continually chasing (non-existent) perfection. How we see the food will influence us.
One example; could be an apple you might eat this afternoon.
Person A: eats the apple with the thoughts – I must eat this apple as I am on this diet; and I am not allowed other food because I am overweight. I am starving; I don’t enjoy this, but it’s my only option. All thoughts are framed around restriction- I can’t eat other foods...
Person B eats the apple with the thoughts of appreciation of the apple’s health benefits and how this ties to areas of health she value's. Ie she likes to eat the apple, knowing the apple contains nutrients which help to lower cholesterol, improve skin cells; support her liver and improve her bowel health. She enjoys the crunch of the apple and its sweetness. She engages in the apple for afternoon tea as she enjoys the way the apple leaves her feeling. It’s a person choice related to her values; not a choice made on restriction or “not allows”.
This is what we call a food relationship. Food relationships are not wrong, they are personal and formed over many years and often influenced from childhood and obviously social media. Food relationships are individual and depend on what your previous or current experience with food is like. The best thing to know though is that we can evolve these food relationships to be more positive.
A diet won’t fix your food relationship. A ‘diet’ is eating based on a comparison or “I should be doing” vs creating an understanding of food and how you relate to food. We as humans relate to food in more ways than just meeting a physical need. We most often relate to food for a social or emotional connection.
This is where I challenge eating foods based on a set of rules. Setting criteria around what we are allowed and not allowed can lead us to missing out on the needs of our bodies and the messages our bodies are sending. Sometimes we really need the social engagement more than we need the “perfect” plate, sometimes we just need to enjoy some soul food.
Applying PERMA will remind us about why we don’t have to be perfect all the time. Eating some ice cream with our kids at the beach is about creating engagement, memories, and relationships. One ice cream cone is not going to “wreck” anything; and if anything, it’s going to fill your “love tank” with positive experiences and relationships with your loved ones. The positive endorphin’s from this moment will lower stress hormones, telling our
body we are safe. This actually is a moment of "health" as low stress hormones brings our bodies out of the “flight” mode (one of the biggest reason’s people don’t lose weight, is due to high stress levels, and research is providing evidence to support the effects of this). The memories, the laughter, the fun is worth so much more to our health than the calorie’s the one ice cream might have added to your day. Our body is wired to need more than just calories to know it is well.
I love Dr Seligman’s concept, as all 5 aspects play a key role in our food relationships, and how to not only create a sound relationship but also maintain it. Creating positive emotions through joyous memories with food, engagement with how you are feeling when eating and finding what eating means to you whether that is for nutrition, pleasure, or both is key. This can all lead to a sense of accomplishment in your relationship with food. This allows development of positive emotions and attitudes in various aspects of your life surrounding food.
Always be brave in knowing "you are you" and your journey of finding your food / your movement style / your need for rest and fun times is for you to own. No two people are alike and there is no linear or one-method fits all way to achieve this. We are all individuals in our own way and creating our own sense of wellness is unique to us and not the same as anybody else.
So, when you are next looking at that ‘perfect’ image on social media, remember:
· You are your own unique self, with individual needs and your own goals
· Health and wellness mean different things for different people. Perfection does not exist- stop chasing it
· There is no perfect way to eat
· There is no perfect way to exercise
· Chasing perfection is damaging your wellbeing
· P- Positive emotions
· E- Engagement
· R- relationships
· A -accomplishment
· You are a beautiful being who has their own story and journey with food, so if its currently negative, you’re not alone and there is supported to help you turn it into a positive one
· It isn’t a linear journey and varies for everyone, and absolutely can be achieved with support, mental determination, and time
· Make small meaningful changes over time and be willing to adapt; like Making a conscious effort to eat a variety of food to provide your body
with energy to function to the best of your ability is a great start.
· I believe in you, and you are doing incredibly well!
Reach out if you would like to learn more. My restore program might just be the support program you need. I would love to support you on your journey.