June 25th, 2015 2:11pm
One of the greatest challenges for many is keeping a fit body. Oftentimes, those with weight issues have had them, for what seems as their entire lives, or they start to get that way as life changes. Theories abound as to causes, whether they are genetic or environmental; so-called nature vs. nurture. In my experience, as a physician for over 25 years, most weight issues are not genetic in origin. Rather they arise from patterns learned during childhood. What becomes so hard is that not only are those patterns locked in, but the actual cells in our body adapt to what they experience as normal or “comfortable”. As many of you know my theory of the Automatic Brain (the AB) causes us to fight or flee that which it detects as dangerous, threatening, or causing vulnerability. Since the cells in our body are “comfortable” in the environment of overweight or obese, our AB actually helps keep them that way—unless something gets them out of their complacency.
This blog is not about anything extreme, rather it is pointing out certain behaviors of those without weight challenges, so that those who have them, can start creating a new normal—a new comfort zone; one from which our AB won’t cause us to flee. Here are some common behaviors I have observed in myself and others who are not overweight or obese. I like to call them lifestyles of the fit and trim.
1. Always aware of calories
Contrary to popular belief, thin people are always aware of calories. No, they are not counting them obsessively, but they are aware of the caloric cost of what they put in their mouths. And yes, it is mostly about calories. A recent study showed that caloric restriction helped people achieve optimal weights more often than exercise.
2. Never “cheat” for consecutive days
One of the biggest contributors to weight gain is what I call the “parley or piling on effect”. Let’s say you go out Saturday night and eat and drink without restriction. Then Sunday rolls around and you find yourself waking up hungry and thirsty—just in time for a big Sunday brunch. A few hours later the family comes over for Sunday dinner. Monday is upon you and although you may not eat a lot during the day, you come home from work tired and yes hungry. All this piles on and the fat storage rapidly accumulates. If I indulge in ice cream or dessert one night, there is no way it will happen the next.
3. Planned eating
If I know I am going to be eating a lot, let’s say on a Friday or Saturday night, I am extremely cautious as to what I eat the day of and the day after. Yes, we’ve all heard the cry about living in the moment. And I am all for that, as you will see with the next tip. However, it is important to know what’s coming up in your eating plans so not to pile on or parley the calories.
4. Eat slowly
The slower you eat, the less you will consume. Why? Because it takes our brain about 15 minutes, give or take, to know that the stomach is full. If you’re wolfing down a sleeve of Oreos or a pound of pasta, your stomach may be full and you don’t even know it yet. Stopping when you’re about 75 – 80 percent full is a good goal. Try closing your eyes while you eat, be present in the moment, and savor the bites.
5. Not emotional about eating
Were you taught to always finish your plate? Or maybe you were taught that thin people are not healthy? Maybe you were told that there were starving children in Africa? Or, that your mother slaved over the meal to feed you kids? These are emotions that can influence how we eat as adults. However, emotions should not enter into eating. We need food for energy and overall survival, not to feed any emotional void or satisfy another’s emotional hunger.
6. Stay active
Always looking for a reason to get off the couch, even when you’re tired, is key. Even when watching television, listening to the radio, or doing work at a desk, there are endless opportunities to get up and stretch or do strengthening exercises using your own body weight. It is about having an active mentality, not a sedentary one.
7. Practice self-control
There’s no way around it, in order to stay fit and trim, you must practice self-control. It is understanding that the short-term pain you may experience from self-control, turns into long-term gain. And the opposite is also true. When you give into the short-term gain of eating without control, it often leads to long-term pain.
8. Don’t view decisions as punishment
Many view having to “watch” what they eat as some type of punishment; self-control as a bad thing. On the contrary, when you are in control of your eating rather than eating in control of you, it is liberating—self-empowering. Being in control of what you eat is not a penalty, it is a reward.
9. Don’t compare with others
Often, I’ve been told by patients, “I really don’t eat much.” And I fully believe that. However, to whom are you comparing yourself? If the people in your comparison group are consuming a couple thousand calories a day more than you, but your base is still a couple thousand calories more than what you need, well then, the statement is true. Self-honesty is as important as self-control.
10. Understand being fit is a lifestyle
As our AB causes us to fight or flee the unknown, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable as you get lulled into your unfit comfort zone this brain fights to keep you there. That’s why you tell the doctor that you did not eat anything for the past two days, didn’t lose a pound, and are now discouraged. But the fact is it does not matter that you ate only salads for the past week and didn’t lose anything. This is about adopting a new mindset, a new view of yourself. When that mindset becomes your new normal, your AB will no longer cause you to fight or flee it. And it must happen every day, every week, every month, every year.
11. Don’t care about skipping a meal
Many people get bent out of shape if they are unable to eat three square meals a day. If you get caught up in an activity and forget to eat, do you find yourself becoming angry at the person or situation that may have distracted you? The fact is, it is likely that you have plenty of reserve for your body to make its own food if you skip a meal. If you are busy, that’s a good thing and you don’t need to make up for it later either.
12. Don't Resist Healthy Foods
Most times when I talk with people about getting into better shape, they will say things like, "I hate salad." Or, "There's nothing that I like other than what I eat." The fact is there are extremely delicious foods that are very healthy. Completely dismissing that which you don't really know much about is a defensive reflex and originates directly from your AB. Become more adventurous, you will be pleasantly surprised.
These tips should point you in the direction of achieving a healthier, fit body. But remember this: your ultimate happiness will not reside in whether you are a size 2 or have a 32 waist. What will contribute greatly to that is no longer believing, trusting, or taking direction from your AB, which is at the center driving most of the causes of being unfit. The journey to get there will start bringing you to the source of happiness. That source exists within us all, whether you are fat or fit. Taking control of what you eat just gets you one step closer to ditching those primal drives and getting closer to the source of true happiness and life satisfaction.
© Dr. Charles F. Glassman, CoachMD