The holiday season has come and gone and many are left with the familiar feeling of regret after months of lack of exercise and overeating. They feel tired, sluggish, and yes, out of shape and over-weight ... again.
This is what we call the "Holiday Weight Cycle." The problem is that fad diets and extreme exercise routines are often a “go-to” for most people; sometimes they work, but usually they don’t. For most these extreme measures are not sustainable and lead only to frustration or failure. For example, when one "starves" themselves or abruptly starts a daily, high-intensity exercise regimen it often leaves them feeling defeated and they quit; hence the "cycle" continues. The problem isn’t that people don’t have enough will-power, it's the "System" itself. As a society we tend to set unrealistic expectations which pressures individuals to give into unhealthy behaviors such as this "Holiday Weight-Cycle." Will 2018 be your year for change? Or will this cycle leave you one year farther from your goal to be healthy and fit again?
You may be asking yourself, “but how?” How am I ever going to lose all this weight? How can I eat better? Will I ever be able to run five miles again? How could I possibly fit in those old jeans? Many make the mistake of focusing on the work, the challenge, and the effort that lay ahead. They look to outside motivators, such as the fear of becoming sick and disabled or the thought of being embarrassed if seen in a bathing suit. Though "fear" can be a motivator, it is extrinsic, negative and typically short term.
When it comes to long term behavioral changes one must look deeper within themselves to identify what truly motivates them. This is known as intrinsic motivation, or when a person engages in a behavior because it is naturally satisfying to do so, rather than because they feel like they have to. By tapping into how healthy behaviors make you feel rather than relying on fear or negative consequences, one is more likely to want to sustain these behaviors. Examples include having more fun, increased energy, better sleep, reduced stress, and improved function and mobility. By focusing on these types of motivations one can achieve lasting lifestyle change without guilt, pressure or negativity. In order to stop your "cycle" for good, the first step is to clearly identify activities you actually like to do, and find a balance of healthy foods you like to eat.
People often view nutrition as black or white; thinking of foods as either "good" or "bad." While cutting out "bad" foods such as sugar or fat is likely to result in weight loss, it could also lead to binges later. This can leave one with feelings of shame and cause a snow ball effect of emotional eating. In order to find the intrinsic motivation to continue to eat healthy you have to actually like what you are eating. This means eating a balance of all food groups in your diet. Allowing yourself to have the occasional sweet gives you control of the food rather than letting the food control you. Knowing you can have a cookie tomorrow prevents you from needing to overindulge now. With that said, respect your body by eating a balanced diet and feeding it the nutrients it needs to function, grow and heal.
Many people suffer from “mindless eating," especially around the holidays. Learning to be "aware" while eating is a skill worth developing. When you pay attention to what you’re eating, you can make small changes that can make a big difference. Too often, we eat when our mind tells us too, instead of waiting for our bodies to signal hunger. Mindful eating begins when you turn off “autopilot” grazing and actually mentally show up for the meal. This means tapping into your hunger and fullness cues and asking yourself why you are eating. Are you truly hungry? Or just eating out of boredom or stress? If you find you are eating for reasons other than hunger, find an alternative activity to help you cope, perhaps walk the dog, read a book, or call a friend.
Another tip is to learn about is portion control. A simple trick is to change the size of your plate. Larger plates lead to more food, more calories, and an increased likelihood of overeating. Try using a six-inch appetizer plate at your next dinner party; once you’ve finished, check in and see how you feel. Ask yourself, “am I still hungry?” If the answer is yes, go ahead and get seconds, however you may be surprised at how little food it really takes to satisfy your hunger. If you need some help getting control of your eating patterns or want to learn more about proper nutrition, seek help from a Registered Dietitian in your community.
To get your body back in shape again, first start by seeing your medical doctor to evaluate your health. It’s important to be screened for any major health issues as sometimes serious illness can remain silent, or have symptoms that are misinterpreted. Once you have been cleared “medically” by your doctor, then it’s time to get moving again. If you suffer from painful joints or chronic injuries, you should first seek treatment from a qualified physical therapist to help rehabilitate that nagging injury, relieve your pain, and regain your strength and mobility.
Next, and most important, find an activity you enjoy. Start hiking, cycling, yoga, or perhaps join a gym or hire a personal trainer to help you stay on track with your goals. Finding a friend or family member to work out with is a great way to have more fun with exercise and also can provide a sense of accountability. There are also small things you can change in your daily routine to increase the amount you move. Try taking the stairs, parking further away from the grocery store, or perhaps add another lap around Costco while doing your shopping. The key is to keep moving and be consistent. Once you’ve found an activity you enjoy doing, pay attention to the way you feel. Ask yourself; are there any changes in my mood? How well am I sleeping? Look for "non-scale" victories such as your how your clothes are fitting, changes in your energy levels, or how your daily activities have become easier and more productive. With practice, you will discover the positive results that come with joyful movement and mindful eating and you will finally break the “cycle” once and for all.