Diets work. I love them all. Any time you are in a calorie deficit you will lose weight. Unfortunately, the actual definition of diet is “a temporary food plan.” If you are a person of great willpower, you might be able to follow the often extreme restrictions. You might even enjoy the high you get during the losing phase of the program. But what happens when you reach your goal? Maintenance is way less fun than losing weight. You’re tired of feeling deprived, you’re bored with the menu, and now you “deserve” to eat what you want. This happens because nothing was learned.
Understanding cravings is critical. A deeper understanding of the effects certain foods have on our body can make the process of getting healthy more intuitive. Our body has a complex system of hunger, appetite and satisfaction (satiety) that’s mediated by a network of nerves and chemical messengers. We receive impulses to eat, as well as impulses to stop eating. There are times when we override these signals, eating what we want whenever we want. In these instances, food is no longer just our source of fuel; it carries an additional meaning that has less to do with satisfying hunger signals than with fulfilling an emotional or psychological void. A deeper understanding of the chemicals ghrelin (a hormone that increases appetite) and leptin (a hormone that decreases appetite) and the circumstances that contribute to which one is dominating at a given time can be re-tuned.
Understanding the complexities of your gut is crucial. The gut produces 95 percent of the body’s mood-stabilizing neurotransmitter serotonin, and a healthy diet will optimize this process. You’re not going to look your best until you feel your best.
When you’re presented with a choice between grapes or cake, someone in a good mood may choose the grapes because they can focus on the big picture perspective, and can remember the future benefits of fueling your body with wholesome, nutritionally dense foods. When you’re in a bad mood, you know something is wrong, and you can only focus on the sensory qualities right here, right now. You are unable to focus on more abstract thinking like how nutritious a certain food is.
Our body is naturally wired for optimum health. We become thirsty when we are dehydrated, we shiver when we are cold, we yawn when we are tired. These are our body’s messages to take action to meet our needs in the same way as when we lose our peace of mind. Our body directs us with an action to correct it. It could deliver a food craving for chocolate, which is really a way of saying you need to correct your emotional state of mind (loneliness, anxiety).
If we can learn the difference between emotional and physical hunger we can easily meet our emotional needs and stave off cravings. Emotional hunger is based in the mind—sudden and specific, usually wanting one food. Physical hunger comes from the stomach—slower, and open to a variety of foods.
Learning and internalizing that food is not a reward and exercise is not a punishment is vital to the process. They are forms of self care, and you deserve both! Discovering that taking care of yourself is the single most important connection you can make in your life is a game changer. When you feel calm and in sync with yourself, when you feel sated and neither hungry nor full, when you feel energized by whatever form of exercise puts a smile on your face—that’s when you know you’ve hit the jackpot. A variety of cardio and strength exercises should be incorporated. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat tissue, so you’re going to want more of it.
Exercise, undeniably, is about attitude—not a competitive one, but a determination to submit your body to a physical stress that in the long run will improve your physical stature, overall health and mental energy. You have to believe in the exercise and what it can deliver to you. If you’ve always had an aversion to exercise, you might consider thinking about why you haven’t done it in the past and whether its potential benefits are strong enough to convince you to try. Exercise is often an individual journey, because you begin to learn about your body, spirit and sense of determination. It’s the relationship with your body that you develop during exercise that helps you gain a greater respect for your body’s amazing machinery. The more you work for physical improvement, the more conscious you’ll be about feeding your body healthy foods and keeping fit. Feeling good makes you want to feel even better, and this begins an exciting cycle of working out, losing weight, eating well and staying your course.
My paradigm, think well, eat well, move well, is about changing the mindset. I practice a more intuitive and holistic approach to health and wellness, which means we must go beyond following a menu… We must consider how all areas of our lives are connected.
Hennie Eisen has over 20 years of experience in health and fitness. She holds a professional certification in personal fitness training from NFPT. In addition, she is a certified health coach.