Over the last few years I have been diving deep into the connections between mental health and physical health. As I have been working with mental health clients using physical exercise some surprising interventions have made the most impact. One that continues to be a solid help is eating a balanced diet at regular intervals. Here are some reasons to care and tips to track your own moods as they relate to your food choices.
When we look at the links between blood sugar and mood we see some themes. When one doesn’t eat for long periods of time irritability, depression, sadness, a general feeling of malaise are common. My clients articulate this as “blah” and it makes sense given that feeling low energy often gets tagged as depression in our culture or “what’s wrong with me because I can’t get things done”. Things just aren’t as vibrant, colorful, interesting, or exciting when you aren’t feeling well. When you don’t eat for long periods of time, you don’t feel well.
In the body the brain registers this as dangerous and a slew of chemicals is pumped from the endocrine system to accommodate this threat. Some describe feeling a “little high” or “being detached” from the world and people around them. They report using food to help them achieve these states helps them “numb out” from painful emotions. The problem becomes this behavior feeds its own cycle and often the thoughts around these somatic sensations are distorted. As noted above people label their low energy as depression, the shaky nauseous feeling as anxiety, and the lack of focus as ADHD. However, what’s really going on doesn’t need a psychotropic med it needs a balanced meal.
To begin your own exploration of how food impacts your moods tracking can be helpful. Note what time you eat, what you ate, what emotions you were feeling before and after the meal, and any physical (or lack of) sensations you had. Track for 1-2 weeks without changing anything. This can help you see patterns in your behaviors, moods, and physical sensation. It is important to begin this process without judgment. There is no need to judge, you are doing what you are doing, just allow yourself to objectively see what it is you are doing. From this place of observation it becomes easier to determine what you would like to change and how you’ll be most successful changing it.
Here’s to happy eating and contented feelings!
Food Diary Log Example:
Meal (can include calories or nutrition info if wanted)
Many of us feel the well deserved twang when eating something indulgent after a workout. WAIT!!! Are you self-sabotaging all the hard work? Some of us tend to overindulge and negate the calories we just burned. The result is no weight loss and EVEN WEIGHT GAIN!!!!
If you are eating more calories following a workout than you burned – you are what we’d call a compensator. You eat to compensate for your workout, but may be falling into a psychological trap of rewards rather than refueling. Here are some tips to stop compensating.
First plan your meals, at least for a little while. See where your daily slumps are. Do you need a nutritional snack at 10am? 2pm? to make it to your workout after work? Do you eat every 2-4hours? Small snacks? Get enough protein and fat throughout the day? Are you eating nutrient dense foods so you’ll have the energy to finish your day without feeling deprived?
Next check your beverages. Do you drink enough water throughout the day? How much caffeine are you drinking? Caffeine will set you up for those slumps and create a cycle to feed itself. You’ll need more and more and then not sleep and then need more. See how it works?
Find non-food rewards to give yourself. You may be bingeing because you feel like you deserve something special…and you do, however if food was used as a reward in your life, especially those sweet treats, it may be time to stop that cycle. Find other ways to give yourself a special treat.
It helps to make sure you eat a good pre and post workout snack. AND consider if you burned off 250 calories in a workout, that really only a granola bar. So eating a heaping portion is more than you burned. Often people will be more hungry because what’s called post exercise energy consumption – however if you have planned pre and post snacks and have a solid eating schedule throughout the day usually exercise isn’t a binge creator – that’s the psychological piece of I deserve it.
So you’ve been working hard and know you’re no the right track, but now it’s time to morph your new year’s resolutions into your life. It’s getting hard to maintain the motivation to keep up the new year pace. That sounds great! AND that’s how it happens day by day and new behavior by new behavior. Here is a guideline for losing weight to help you plan for the next few months and bring this lifestyle into your week.
10-12lbs in 12 wks is doable. On average you want to aim for 1-2lbs per week. So you might be better off giving yourself 14wks to allow for set backs. There will be some weeks you lose more and some less. We all cycle so that usually isn’t something to worry about unless you aren’t seeing loss. I find most of my clients (men and women) lose about 3wks a month and gain .5 or so 1 wk a month on average.
Sometimes the last 10 lbs can stick. If this is the case look at diet and see if there is anywhere you might be getting hidden calories or extra salt. Alcohol is another big place to cut down or out when looking to lose the last few pounds toward your goal. Use this as a guideline to help you determine healthy weight loss to keep it off.
Can you make your fitness fit your life? Planning is key. Life will happen. It is important to consider how you will live life as a healthy person. Many, don’t take this into account and create goals set up for failure. Here are two considerations to make when you are planning your new HEALTHY life!
If you can look at your upcoming schedule for the next few months. Note any big things like trips, events, extra work projects, etc – that way you can time your workouts to reflect life rather than trying to make your schedule fit your exercise. This is usually a little less hectic and more successful in the long run.
You can create a workout plan that includes light weeks and weeks of “active rest” (just scheduled activities like on vacation but not a true workout if it’s not available) for the weeks you need more time. The week before you would schedule a heavy workout week – more time working out and the week after a moderate amount. Then you have a plan and don’t fall completely off the wagon for a well deserved vacation.
Planning is key to sticking with healthy living goals. Here’s to a great and healthy 2014!!!
Here’s some apps from Huffington Post to help you track and stay motivated. I just heard a radio spot talking about the success rates of using apps to reach fitness goals. The odds are increased and success rates climb when people are using something to track- apps add another element to tracking – they are in real time, showing calorie breakdowns, exercise benefits, and lots of color to keep your eyeballs happy. Plus many of us keep a phone with us most of the time so our tracking tool is at our fingertips no matter where we are.
One I love that’s not on the list is livestrong.com‘s daily plate. Here’s the list from Huffington Post.
Is your 2014 health goal outside the fitness realm? Adding exercise into your daily routine, increases energy, helps you sleep better, and often leads to more healthy eating. I just read a research article that discussed how exercise cuts cravings for alcohol and makes quitting smoking easier.