Four Common Thoughts about Exercise that are Actually Unhealthy

Remember being a little kid, poking or pinching or prodding at a perceived injury and telling your parent, “It hurts when I do this!” The parent unfailingly responded with, “Well, don’t do that.”

I recently read an article in which the writer was comparing her exercise preferences to her friend’s. The friend preferred yoga, while the author mentioned that she typically only did yoga when she was injured from CrossFit. What got me was this – she was injured from CrossFit frequently enough that she had a routine. It reminds me of what my parents always said when I was little, “Well, don’t do that.”

stairsThere are lots of false notions about exercise, such as that exercising to the point of injury means you’re doing something right. Many of these ideas are indicative of compulsive exercise, a disorder in which a person has a perception that they are only okay/healthy/worthy because they exercise, and because of how much they exercise. A compulsive exerciser uses exercise beyond the point of achieving health benefits to a point where exercise can become both physically and mentally unhealthy.

Here are four common thoughts about exercise that are actually unhealthy:

  1. “I have to exercise to burn off the treat I ate” OR “I have to exercise so that I can go out to eat later.”

Thinking of exercise as an exchange for food is very typical. This thought is perpetuated by “motivation” such as, “Before you eat that candy bar, think of how many minutes you would have to exercise to burn it off!” This may seem harmless, but it cheapens exercise to simply being a means to manage weight by disregarding the other health benefits of exercise. Additionally, thinking of exercise as punishment or permission for eating can be damaging to mental health by growing into an obsession in which a person eats only if they have or will exercise to balance out the calories from the food.

  1. “I should run/CrossFit/etc. to be healthy.”

Some sort of exercise and body movement is important in a healthy lifestyle for many reasons. However, people often get caught up believing that one specific exercise is the best or only way to achieve health.  Even if they dislike running, a person may believe they have to run. The same goes for CrossFit, or any of a number of other exercises. This can be harmful to health in two ways. First, a person may not exercise at all because they dislike CrossFit but they believe they must do it, and thus end up not exercising at all. Another possibility is that a person believes they have to do Olympic weightlifting, and participate even though it is not something they enjoy and may actually dread. This person might develop a negative association with exercise and their overall happiness and well-being may suffer as a result.

  1. “I have to work out every day no matter what” OR “No excuses.”

This is where the obsession piece of compulsive exercising becomes a bit more clear. A compulsive exerciser takes the “no excuses” mantra to the extreme, possibly missing important events such as with their family, or forcing themselves to work out even when distressed such as experiencing loss of a loved one or a divorce. While it is important to prioritize exercise and include it in your lifestyle frequently and consistently for stress relief and other health purposes, this extreme can reach a point of being unhealthy as the person may be using exercise to avoid dealing with other stresses or concerns in their life.

  1. “If I don’t go ‘all-out,’ it isn’t worth exercising.”

Extreme workouts have become very popular in recent years. Exercising to the point of exhaustion and injury is starting to be seen as noble. While we have to push and challenge our bodies to make gains in strength and speed, there is also benefit to be gained from gentler exercises. Taking a walk, playing with children, or going for a leisurely bike ride or swim all count as exercise and are all worth the time to glean well-being value.

Achieving and maintaining balance with exercise can be a struggle. Unlike other addictions, exercise cannot and should not simply be removed from one’s life. Rather, an ongoing re-evaluation must take place to determine whether exercise is being included enough or too much, and in appropriate ways that the individual enjoys. There is no one way to be healthy; many different means of choosing health can be right for any person.

 

For more information about compulsive exercising, please visit the following links:

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/compulsive-exercise

https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/orthorexia-excessive-exercise

 

Have you or someone you know experienced compulsive exercise thoughts or practices? Please share in the comments section below!

 

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False Body Positivity and What to do Instead

People think that I’m immune to certain things because I’m a dietitian. Well let me tell you, I’m not! I think it’s important to be real and honest about those things.

body-imageI often notice a girl who goes to the gym about the same time I do. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for her continuous work to build strength and athleticism. Despite this, I realized I began comparing myself to her and feeling negative about myself. “You need to work harder to be leaner like her,” and “You need to lift more to be as strong as her,” were thoughts that crossed my mind. As if simply comparing myself to her weren’t enough, I caught myself at another, equally dangerous behavior: I started comparing her to myself. “She probably wishes she had my height,” I thought.

When I actually noticed those thoughts going through my mind and recognized what it was doing to me, my stomach turned.

“What’s so bad about that? She probably does wish she had your height,” my champions would cheer.

Well, maybe she does and maybe she doesn’t wish that. What that other girl may or may not envy about me is beside the point. I aim to be okay with myself as-is, no questions asked, unconditionally, in any situation. That means noticing when I’m making comparisons, and digging deeper to find out from where that comparison is coming. Taking a compassionate, non-judgmental perspective can help me explore what I’m feeling and why I’m assessing myself in that way.

Cutting myself down by comparing myself to another person is a slippery slope that will surely to lead to discontentment. Do I really want to feel good about myself by diminishing someone else? If finding fault with another is the only way I can be okay with myself, I need to do some serious work figuring out why I’m in a rut of negativity.

Many who struggle with self-acceptance have heard “body positivity” sayings such as, “Everyone has something they’re insecure about,” or “Even the most attractive person in the world would probably be jealous of something about you.” I am here to tell you these are nonsense. Yes, they might be true, but do they matter?

Essentially, relying on others’ insecurities means that you cannot be content unless others are dissatisfied. Why avoid your own insecurities by taking solace in the fact that others have them, too? Why would you need the most attractive person in the world to be jealous of something about you before you accept yourself? Each of those statements are false body positivity. They are backwards comparisons masquerading as foundations for improved body image and self-esteem.

By relying on false body positivity, you hinge your happiness on something external over which you have no control. What if that foundation is shaken? Where will you turn for your true, unwavering body positivity?

Even I, as a dietitian and someone who encourages self-acceptance and a confident body image, fall prey to these comparisons. I have found two methods to help myself internalize self-acceptance rather than seek it from outside of myself:

  1. Be thankful for what your body is capable of, thankful for the aspects of your health that are good, thankful for the opportunity to improve the negative aspects of your health. Focus on the things you love about your body, not because anyone else should love them, too, but simply because you love them.
  2. Speak for yourself, not against anyone else. Strive to focus on your own merits and improve in the areas where you are weakest. This goes for nutrition, fitness, and health in general, in all aspects of your life. Eating one brownie when your friend ate two does not make you a better person. Stick to one brownie because you feel satisfied and are honoring your hunger, or eat a second brownie if that’s what your body is telling you! Drop the comparison, and listen to your individual needs.

When it comes down to it, how you feel about your body or mind or soul or decisions has no bearing on anyone else. Build your own self-acceptance from the inside for a resilient confidence.

Please share your experiences with comparisons and self-acceptance in the comments section below! How do you practice internalizing a positive self-image?

Life Lessons from Volleyball

This month, I had the honor of watching my high school’s volleyball team compete in the state tournament. Small town sports teams are a close-knit community of learning and growing and bettering oneself and others.

I had a wonderful volleyball coach in high school – someone who guided and molded and shaped me as an athlete and a person. Unknowingly (or, maybe to her full knowledge), my coach provided me many nuggets of advice that have stuck with me throughout the years and have turned out to be applicable in many contexts of life beyond the volleyball court.volleyball

  1. Know your responsibilities, but be willing to go out of your way.

Volleyball meaning: In volleyball, this means a player knows which parts of the court they need to cover. It is that person’s job to make sure no ball falls on that part of the court, and that they are playing the ball in a way that contributes to the team’s goal of making a competitive attempt at scoring a point. There are grey areas, though, which are the boundaries where the zones belonging to two different players meet. In that region, either player could play the ball equally well, just so long as someone plays it rather than allowing the ball to fall to the court. (Side note: This grey area is often known as the “husband and wife” area because lack of communication can lead to failure to make a play on the ball and loss of a point.)

Real life meaning: We all have things that we have to make sure are covered and taken care of in our day-to-day lives: rent, bills, kids, feeding ourselves, and going to work. All the tasks that fall into our realm of responsibility can feel like a lot at times, but we need to be willing to flex on that and even add more tasks. Sometimes a coworker or spouse may need help to get things accomplished, or something unexpected could come up that has to be handled. Taking on that responsibility yourself could mean that you are effectively managing the situation in what would be the real-life version of competitive-ness – doing a little more than just existing and surviving by making that situation just a little bit better and figuring out how to use it to contribute to your overall well-being.

  1. Trust your teammates.

Volleyball meaning: You don’t have to do everything yourself. This is a balance with my previous point. While you need to make sure you’re covering your area of the court and step up to cover the periphery of your area sometimes, you need to trust that your teammates are doing the same. One person can’t effectively cover the whole court. If they could, a volleyball team would just be one person. Trust your teammates, and lean on them to help you.

Real life meaning: There are people in our lives who can help us accomplish everything that needs to get done. A lesson that I’m still learning (slowly, and repeatedly) is that it’s alright to let people help me. It’s okay to take someone up on their offer to contribute to your life even if they don’t have to do it – they wouldn’t have offered if they didn’t want to be taken up on it. It’s even okay to ask for help. The end goal here isn’t to score a point, but to get everyone through life and have each person be as okay and good as they possible, and sometimes (usually) that’s more than one person can do for themselves.

3. TALK.

Volleyball meaning: It’s impossible to look both at the ball and see where each teammate is at all times. It’s also impossible to know what’s going on both on your team’s side of the court and the opponent’s side of the court at all times, and what you can see is often from a different angle or perspective than another person’s. Talking, LOUDLY, is a major part of volleyball. Players go home hoarse all the time from talking so much.

Real life meaning: One person can’t see or know all that is happening, and each person involved in any situation will have a different perspective. As humans, we tend to fill in the gaps in a story with details that make sense in our own minds, even if those details are not true. It’s incredibly and dangerously easy to believe that they are true, not even realizing that we generated those “facts” ourselves with no basis for knowing whether they are real. Talking and communication are just as key in real life to make good decisions and handle situations effectively so that we can do more than survive and exist.

  1. Make a decision and commit.

Volleyball meaning: The best way to play a ball may not always be clear, but one thing is certain: the ball will fall to the court and a point will be lost if we don’t do something. Anyone who has spent much time playing volleyball remembers a moment when their hands felt stuck at chest level because they couldn’t decide whether a forearm pass or an overhead contact would be best with the ball coming at them. Usually, this ends in a messy contact just to keep the ball off the floor, when committing to a technique would have resulted in a ball played more cleanly that would be easier for a teammate to use.

Real life meaning: The same thing happens in real life. Occasionally, we find ourselves waffling on a decision for so long that we end up backed into a corner and having to do something, anything, to get out. Sometimes it is impossible to know all the information we want to know to make a decision. And sometimes, even when we have all the information, we can’t see into the future to know which decision is best. In that moment, you just have to make a decision and commit to it. Maybe you trust your gut, or pray over it, or make a Rory-Gilmore-esque pro-con list. Whatever your method, though, something has to be done. Personally, I would rather know that I made my own choice rather than getting pigeon-holed into doing something I didn’t choose.

  1. Swing through.

Volleyball meaning: This is serving and hitting vernacular for “follow through.” If you’re going to serve or make a competitive attack on the ball, you need to swing your arm all the way through the ball to put as much power behind it as possible. Otherwise, you run the risk of the ball falling short of where you wanted it to go, or that the attack was too gentle and allows the opponent plenty of time to reach the ball before it hits the court. Knowing where you want the ball to go and how you want that attack to end gives direction and a goal to a hit or serve, and swinging through is the action to get the ball there.

Real life meaning: Goals and desired outcomes are great, but a half-hearted attempt is unlikely to have the power needed to see a goal to the end. Committing to a plan and following through with a directed force to achieve those end results is critical. This means going after ambitions with passion and gusto to make them reality!

  1. “Plan B” is not “Plan A – Harder.”

Volleyball meaning: In volleyball, the same set of skills are performed repeatedly to make up a match. If a player makes a mistake in their skills, or is completing a skill incorrectly, it can quickly lead to frustration and attempts by the player to perform the same faulty skill simply with more aggression. My coach always used to say, “I don’t care if you do nothing else right, as long as you don’t x again.” That x could be letting a ball fall to the ground, it could be hitting into the net, it could be serving the ball out the back of the court. Whatever it was, the requirement was never for perfection. It was to avoid making the same mistake repeatedly. Even if I still messed up, I just needed to make sure I messed up in a different way. Breaking skills down this way helped to take the focus off of coordinating everything and doing it all just right, and instead helped to hone in on adjusting just one part of a skill and working specifically on that. This was an excellent way to overcome repeating the same faulty skill with frustration, and instead work on making even a small improvement or change.

Real life meaning: I’ve heard it said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. Even if we add more enthusiasm and desire to a method that hasn’t worked, it is unlikely that it will work just because we’re trying harder. A better method is to re-work that fervor into a new plan to avoid wasting time, resources, and energy on an action that just isn’t delivering the effects we want. Trying a new approach certainly won’t make anything worse, and it might even make things better in ways we never expected!

  1. Better every ball.

Volleyball meaning: In volleyball, it is very common that teammates make mistakes and by the time the ball is yours to play, it is not ideal. There might be a weird spin on the ball, or it might be in a position on the court that’s difficult to finagle into a competitive play. This is incredibly common and happens frequently. Here’s the deal, though – just because you were left with less-than-perfect conditions under which to play the ball, you can’t cop out. If you do, it ends in blame that is destructive to a team mentality. No matter what, you have to do the best with what you have. And sometimes, those plays can be the most effective because the other team doesn’t see them coming!

Real life meaning: Whatever hand you’re dealt, it is critical that you do your best with it. We’re all going to catch tough breaks; that’s just a fact. And they’ll be hard and frustrating and if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably cried. But we have choices. We can just blame the circumstances for our mediocrity, or we can put in work that we’re actually proud of, and maybe find more success than we would have had if things had gone the way we wanted!

 

What lessons have you learned from your sport that you have carried with you throughout your life? Please share in the comments section below!

“Re-challenging and Reintroducing FODMAPs” by Lee Martin, MSc, RD

This review was originally published on Nutrition411.com.

About the Book fodmapcover_resized
The book,  Re-challenging and Reintroducing FODMAPs: A self-help guide to the entire reintroduction phase of the low FODMAP diet, guides readers through the tricky re-introduction phase of the low FODMAP diet. The author, Lee Martin, MSc, RD, writes from a perspective of having completed the diet himself as well as researched the low
FODMAP diet extensively at King’s College London. The book is divided into two sections, the first being the re-challenging phase to determine which FODMAP-containing foods and in which quantities are likely to trigger symptoms, and the second being the reintroduction phase to work tolerated FODMAP foods back into the usual diet. Charts, tables, and flow charts that describe the process and FODMAPs found in foods are included to enhance the narrative.

Dietitian’s Review 
While the low FODMAP diet is relatively new, it is gaining traction and renown as a method to manage symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, due to the youthful nature of this diet, there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the diet and just how to go about it. While eliminating FODMAPs from the diet is straightforward (albeit difficult), the re-challenging and reintroduction phases can be unclear and tough for patients and clients to understand. This book does an excellent job of specifically targeting those trying phases of adjusting to an individualized, IBS-friendly diet.

Lee Martin, MSc, RD, provides an excellent, concise book full of structured guidance. The content is well-balanced with easy-to-understand tables and flowcharts. Practical suggestions for applying the information are discussed in the book as well, effectively bridging the gap between research and pragmatism. Not only does the book explain the scientific aspects of FODMAP re-challenging and reintroduction, the mental component is addressed when the author suggests investigating whether symptoms following consumption of FODMAP-containing food are related to the food itself or the thought of the food. The disclaimer explains that the book is based on current research and clinical practices at the time of publication in October 2015; however, no references to research papers are provided.

This book is one which I will highly recommend to patients and clients who have IBS and plan to follow a low FODMAP diet. I would, however, encourage those following the advice in this book to obtain a food scale, as the serving sizes of some foods are listed by weight versus volume. Additionally, I would suggest that readers read the entire book first so that they have a clear idea of the process before embarking. As brevity and clarity are strong suits of this book, reading it in its entirety is a quick task.

This thorough guide is available in paperback on  Amazon for $17.99 or on Kindle for $7.65.

Adventures in Cooking: A Dietitian’s Discoveries in the Kitchen

Y’all, I’m not a cooking dietitian.

Whew! Glad that’s off my chest.

Really, though. There are MANY dietitians who are great and cooking and passionate about cooking. In fact, a love of cooking is often cited as an attraction to entering the field of dietetics and nutrition. However, cooking has never been my strong suit or something I really enjoyed very much. I always fumbled a bit when patients and clients asked me for cooking tips because I had none.

Recently, however, I have made a point of learning more about how to cook. In addition to my inability to advise others, I am motivated by my own lack of interest and inspiration in the few meals I am capable of preparing for myself. I want to eat veggies in some for other than raw or steamed (because those are the easiest ways to avoid cooking). I want to eat new and different things. I want to create and I want to learn!

I’ve begun my adventure of discovery with meal prep. This way, I only cook once at the beginning of the week, and I usually don’t have to cook again until the next week. (I have yet to overcome my lack of desire to actually cook frequently.) In just a few weeks of consistently doing meal prep, there are a few lessons I’ve learned that have really opened doors for me!

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  1. I’m not the first person to try (or struggle!) with meal prep!

It seems obvious, I know; but to be honest, I felt sort of alone and anomalous among dietitians as someone who would rather hand over the knife and spatula than wield them herself. Simple internet searches, though, revealed so many resources from dietitians who LOVE meal prep and are totally willing to share their favorite tips and tricks! It also helps to remember that what I do doesn’t have to match anyone else – I can use the hacks I find most useful.

  1. A new recipe is only new once.

I find myself intimidated by new recipes. It only just dawned on me recently that a recipe is the hardest to make the first time. The initial making of a recipe takes F O R E V E R and it’s uncomfortable because I don’t really have the flow of the thing. I’ve realized, though, that all subsequent preparations of that same recipe are much easier. This “First Time Challenge” is why I…

  1. Pair one new recipe with one familiar recipe.

It’s much easier to [relatively] efficiently cook my lunch and dinner entrées for the week at the same time if I am comfortable with at least one of the two recipes. This way, I can build my recipe repertoire but cut down on the amount of intimidation and overwhelm I feel about doing my meal prep.

  1. Make YUMMY foods!

Duh. Why wouldn’t you?! Well, I didn’t. I made a whole week’s worth of salad-in-a-jar that I wasn’t even excited about at the outset. I was impressed by the nutrition in the recipe, it called for ingredients with which I was very familiar, and it seemed like something I ‘should’ like, so I made it even though I didn’t really want it. And you know what? I didn’t really care for it. It’s pretty disheartening to put in the time to do meal prep and not even like the results. I’ve since found more salad-in-a-jar recipes that seem more challenging but that actually sound good to me, so I’m going to be trying those instead!

  1. Convenience can be well worth the cost.

I had a thought at first that I wasn’t doing meal prep “right” unless I made everything from scratch. It seemed like the most foodie/cooking-dietitian way to do it. Maybe someday I will do everything from scratch, but it isn’t likely. For me, it’s worth it to use a pre-made pie crust for quiche, or to use frozen chopped spinach instead of buying fresh and chopping and cooking it myself.

  1. Lastly…

I’ve learned that my week is SO much easier when I don’t have to worry every night about what lunch will be the next day (or, let’s be honest, every morning when I’m getting ready for work). I’m learning as I go, and the most important part is that I’m DOING it and setting myself up for a nutritious week!

Have you learned any tips, tricks, or hacks for meal prep? Please share them along with your favorite make-ahead meals in the comments!

“The Real Skinny: Appetite for Health’s 101 Fat Habits & Slim Solutions” by Julie Upton & Katherine Brooking

The Real Skinny cover

This review was originally published on Nutrition411.com.

About the Book

Penned by Appetite for Health’s founders and dietitian bloggers, The Real Skinny: Appetite for Health’s 101 Fat Habits & Slim Solutions provides practical tips and explanations to combat common nutrition roadblocks and misconceptions. From a collection of information about quantities of ingredients are needed for various prepared volumes, to a list of treats that yield 80-120 calories, the focus of this book is to provide suggestions for small changes that can be easily incorporated for big long-term results.

Backed by research, Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD, and Katherine Brooking, MS, RD, exhibit their experience in providing easily-applicable tricks to make positive changes for good nutrition and physical activity an integral part of anyone’s lifestyle. To that end, the book includes nutritious recipes for all meals to help those who are faced with the seemingly ever-present question, “What should I cook?”

Dietitian’s Review
The Real Skinny is a valuable book in that it teaches about the “doing” side of nutrition instead of just the “knowing” side. As a dietitian, I regularly talk with patients who say, “I know what I need to do, I just don’t do it.” This book is packed with handy suggestions to integrate good nutrition and physical activity into daily life. Rather than providing a diet with rules and labels of “good” and “bad,” lifestyle guidelines are the key component of The Real Skinny: Appetite for Health’s 101 Fat Habits & Slim Solutions , which are categorized into different chapters making it easy for readers to find those particular habits with which they struggle, and the “slim solution” that immediately follows. The book is a quick and easy read with a tone that encourages and motivates the reader.