Why food and exercise is only half the answer

wellbeing

Why food and exercise is only half the answer

wellbeing

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Is it just me, or does the amount of information out there advising us on what to eat and how to exercise get a bit overwhelming? I know I had a moment last year where I was completely fed up of reading conflicting information on what I should or shouldn’t be eating, that was why I created the Super Conscious Living Programme. The same goes for exercise, one article will suggest that constant rate cardio is bad for us yet another will say that it’s fine!

The thing is, most of us know how to eat healthily. Yes, some people do need to be more aware of which foods are the healthiest and which foods to eat to support weight loss or a specific condition, but generally healthy eating isn’t rocket science, unless you make it more complicated than it needs to be. Eat a range of whole foods and minimise processed foods kind of sums it up in a simple way as far as what to eat goes. Exercise might be a bit tricker, but again most of us know that moving our bodies a few times a week is good for us. 

What I’ve been finding, particularly in my health coaching practice, is that what to eat and how to exercise are only part of the problem. For many of us, the issue is what goes on inside our heads.

There’s so much information out there on food and exercise, but for health, wellbeing and weight loss, I’m beginning to think a lot of it just misses the point. 

In my own personal struggles, I often focused on what I was eating and how I was exercising, without paying any attention to what was going on inside my head. I realised a several years ago that I was exercising well and eating healthy food, but I was feeling out of control because I couldn’t stop eating. It wouldn’t have mattered if I was eating the healthiest foods in the world (which to some extent I think I was) because for reasons of boredom, stress and emotions I just wanted to keep eating.

That really brought it home for me, it doesn’t matter how ‘perfect’ your diet or exercise routine is, if you don’t deal with the stuff going on inside your head that presents itself through some form of disordered eating or poor relationship with food, you’ll never be able to get to a healthy place that is sustainable. It’s not to say that any kind of over eating or eating from an emotional place is inherently ‘disordered’, we’ve all been out for a meal and ate a little too much or enjoyed some chocolate when we’ve felt in need of a lift. The difference is when that over eating or emotional stuff gets out of hand.

Recognising behaviours with food that are driven by habit, boredom, stress and emotions including unhappiness and in some cases even happiness, then trying to address them, is just as important as what you eat and how you exercise when it comes to your health, and especially weight loss. 

I’ve come to a lot of conclusions on how all of this factors into my own personal relationship with food, which I’ll share in another post. It’s also one of the reasons I jumped at doing a course in CBT this week, with the aim of being able to better support my clients. A few years ago I also did a course in Neuro Linguistic Programming and I’ve found a few of the techniques I learned there have been useful for clients too. We also cover the emotional / boredom / stress side of being healthy in the 12 Weeks to Feeling Fabulous Course. 

I’m not saying that food and exercise aren’t important because they are, but I do believe that not addressing the psychological aspect of our health is leaving a huge part of the puzzle missing.

What are your views on this? Have you been affected by psychological side of eating? 

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29 Comments

  1. Hayley

    Oh my goodness I feel this is so true, honestly I am thinner on a more varied diet where I can have treats and feel no guilt just enjoy life than I am when I am on a restrictive diet. Restrictive diets even if they give you super health don’t give me super mental health and that for me is not a good thing!

    Reply
    • Laura

      I couldn’t agree more! I think it depends on the person but I know that restriction doesn’t serve me at all!

      Reply
  2. PoPpy @ Persistence Over Perfection

    I’m with you all the way on this Laura – this is something I’m working on myself. I’ve got the food and exercise sorted, but I’m a terrible emotional and stress eater, so working on ways to identify when this is happening, and deal with it in a better way is paramount. It’s not always about stopping the behaviour either (this doesn’t work well for me!); sometimes just being able to recognise it, and perhaps adapt the way you respond, is a really good way to deal with it. I think the psychological side of ‘healthy eating’ (not just constrained to weight loss, although this is where my experience is) is often overlooked and more emphasis should be placed on helping people with this aspect in a similar way that you do through SCLP and the Fabulous Course.

    Reply
    • Laura

      I think that being able to recognise the behaviour and what triggers it is the first step, as you say it can then be about modifying the behaviour even if it’s not stopping it to begin with.

      Reply
  3. Zoe

    It’s like you can see inside my brain Laura! I see so much of myself in this post.

    I strongly feel that the psychological side of weight loss is overlooked. This is why my partner and I don’t discuss my weightloss efforts much because it ends up leaving us both incredibly frustrated. He has always been slim and does not understand why I can’t just stop eating so much and exercise more. (I’m simplifying this, but that’s basically his view.)

    I’m working on the emotional eating now and I’m making progress, albeit slowly. I know this is something which will be with me my whole life and the thought depresses me, but if I want to be healthy I know I have to get a handle on it. I currently feel more positive than I have before that I will be able to do this.

    Reply
    • Laura

      I can sympathise with how you feel in your conversations with your partner, people who don’t experience that kind of relationship with food seem to find it very hard to understand when it is so ‘easy’ for them.

      Progress is progress and I definitely get how frustrating it can be to feel it’s going to be with you all the time but it can be managed well I think :-)

      Reply
  4. Ksenija @ With An Open Mind

    You really hit the nail with this lady! I can be happy and healthy without worrying about every bit and morsel I put in my mouth, but when my emotions are off it really gets to me. In times of stress I tend to catch the flue and get terrible headaches, when I am sad I might turn to eating or just lose my appetite completely and boredom is never a good thing. Being more aware of this really helped me personally to deal with situations, though I am still not a pro and pretty much struggle with stress reduction.

    Reply
    • Laura

      Thanks Ksenjia! I have been the same in the past, with emotional events knocking me off. I think the best thing you can do is recognise and work on it, as you say now that you are more aware it has helped you deal x

      Reply
  5. Pip {Cherries & Chisme}

    You know I think the exact same on this! I know what I need to eat, and what my body wants but sometimes it’s hard to listen to your body over your head… Definitely something I am SO much better at though, at it definitely becomes far easier with practice :)

    Reply
    • Laura

      I’m starting to feel that it’s a two way conversation between your head and you body! As you say all of this does become so much easier with practice :-)

      Reply
  6. Cat

    OMG this is so on point – I was thinking about it the other day weirdly, and how you often get the question ‘which is more important: food or exercise’ without the added ‘or mindset’ and personally I think it’s crucial to get that bit sorted first!

    Reply
    • Laura

      Haha I know! I think people who have never had to deal with that side of things – without generalising I think it’s usually men, just don’t see how it factors in!

      Reply
  7. Anna @AnnaTheApple

    Like you said, eating healthy, in theory, is very easy and simple. We all know really that means. But we don’t all like doing it. Eat less cake, less chocolate, not so big portions… all very dull and boring. But we know it works. Eat less crap and move more. Very simple. In theory. There’s so much emotion in involved though and just general stubbornness. Food and emotions go hand in hand. And we all know we need to exercise, but revving up the enthusiasm and energy, and finding the time, to do it can be a nightmare.
    Personally I know for me exactly what keeps me healthy. But I also know exactly what can tempt me and sway me from that. It’s just finding the ways to overcome that – or enjoying a few moments when you just go “oh sod it, I’m going to eat that big fat slice of cake”.

    Reply
    • Laura

      I think the issue for some people is when that sod it I’m going to eat cake happens every day. It’s knowing that a slice of cake now and again is absolutely fine – and I actually think that is where people struggle because black and white thinking is easy – i.e. eat lots of cake or completely avoid it, however the middle of that, or moderation is a harder concept to grasp!

      Reply
  8. kezia

    So true! Healthy eating and living is so much more than food! So much of our health is about our minds and cultivating a powerful awareness in regards to out lifestyle and food choices. Enjoy CBT – let us know who it goes!

    Reply
    • Laura

      Thanks Kezia! Just finished the CBT course, it was very interesting!

      Reply
  9. Miss Polkadot

    Truth. Healthy eating is somewhat natural to most of us but the plethora of experts [real and self-proclaimed ones] writing articles on what’s good, bad and ‘right’ is totally confusing. Deciding whom to believe and what to put into practice in our own lives isn’t easy. Like you said, we can only use this general information to some point and then need to listen to our internal feedback on the recommendations we follow. Personally, I’m still in the process of finding my own balance – physically and psychologically.

    Reply
    • Laura

      Agree with every word of that and I think listening to others wisdom instead of tempering that with our own innate wisdom is where so many of us get it wrong!

      Reply
  10. Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy

    I totally agree. I actually had this conversation in a meeting yesterday. I was saying how magazines make me angry by suggesting that all you have to do is workout and eat salad and you will lose weight and all your problems will be solved. It isn’t that easy at all. Emotional issues is one of the biggest struggles, which is why it is something I try to focus on so much.

    Reply
    • Laura

      You are so right, when you read magazines there is a huge gap of info when it comes to emotional eating!

      Reply
  11. Emma @ Stripes and Snapshots

    Once again you’ve hit the nail on the head. My main meals are as healthy as you can get pretty much, but it’s when I’m bored, stressed, lonely, and tired, I slip and start to make bad decisions. I know if I learnt to recognise I was feeling xyz emotion, instead of hungry, I would notice such a difference in myself, but it’s difficult getting to that stage, and most certainly feeling like I’m denying myself something I deserve. Even when I don’t buy ‘bad’ foods, I still manage to binge on healthier foods, making it unhealthy, because sometimes I can’t say no to myself, which is so silly when I think about it. Sorry, gone off on one a bit, but your posts are always so thought provoking and challenge me to think about my attitudes with myself, so thank you! x

    Reply
    • Laura

      My pleasure Emma! A technique I’ve been learning to use is taking a step back when you feel that urge to eat in that way so that you can try and take the perspective of an observer rather than being in the moment. Conversely another thing I’ve found is the idea of ‘sitting with the feeling’ and actually getting more comfortable with that feeling of the urge to eat until you can rationalise it more.

      Reply
  12. Petra Kravos

    A great article! You’ve done well Laura pointing out a problem which many dieters face. People know that they have to eat less and exercise to lose weight, but do personal trainers and other professionals tell them how to deal with emotional eating? This should definitely be a part of every weight loss plan.
    In the past I found myself emotionally eating and I just didn’t know how to stop. I bought a book to help me deal with the issue called ’50 ways to soothe yourself without food’. It’s a really good book and I do recommend it. It will help you find ways to cope with your emotions, just not by eating. A lot is to do with distracting yourself. It’s good to know in advance what to do if you feel like overeating and this book will prepare you for it.
    I rarely overeat due to emotions these days and I am happy that most of the time I am quite balanced. Taking care of any issues in life, exercising and meditating definitely helps.

    Reply
    • Laura

      Thanks Petra! I will have to check out that book! Glad that you have found a better balance in your own life :-)

      Reply
  13. Maria @ runningcupcake

    This is so true- food is linked to emotions, and also social situations, so although keeping active and eating a balanced diet is not rocket science, combining that with emotions and other things just makes it harder.You are right you do need to think of the reasons why- if you are stressed at work try to address that instead of ignoring it and eating rubbish, but again that is easier said than done!

    Reply
    • Laura

      Of course, social situations is a big one as well! As you say unfortunately some things are easier said than done. Issues like stress at work can be hard to deal with but sometimes a good way to think about it is if you can’t change the problem, change the way you think about it. Again, easier said that done, but sometimes it’s easier to change our approach to something than the thing itself!

      Reply
  14. Sarahf

    As always, you’re spot on! All this talk about the obesity crisis, and still people think it’s as easy as eating less and moving more!

    Reply
    • Laura

      Thanks Sarah, I know I want to scream at the TV half the time!

      Reply
  15. Lauren (@PoweredbyPB)

    This is a great post Laura, and your definitely right it is an issue that isn’t really covered enough, there is so much more that plays into in.

    Reply

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