How to Disarm Your Downfall

“Chocolate is my Downfall.”

“Netflix is my Downfall.”

How many of us have used statements like these? We talk about our “Downfalls” as if they’re something we all have, and HAVE to have. As if every human has a kryptonite.

Colloquially, the term “downfall” is used in the context of diet and exercise, and is meant as THAT THING that a person must avoid at all costs, because it leads to their undoing. Interestingly, the term “downfall” is an extremely widespread way to describe this situation. When someone says a certain food (tacos, potato chips, cookies, etc.) or behavior (choosing a nap over the gym, or Netflix over a walk) is their Downfall, they mean that this is the one thing keeping them from their ideal health. They view that food or behavior as a trap that completely derails them from a path they want to follow. The solution? Eliminate the Downfall.

That being said, let’s talk a little about this idea of reaching our ideal health. When we talk about health, do we actually mean health? Or do we really mean weight, or body size, or some other physical aspect of our being over which we have little to no control? Real, genuine health can be fostered through nourishing our body with mindful, intuitive eating, and though movement of our bodies that feels good. Attempts to control weight and body size are where we often find these restrictive food behaviors and rules around exercise that require us to perform certain workouts to try to force our bodies to take on socially favored characteristics. Downfalls don’t have a place in the true version of health, because this version of health focuses on the total being, nurturing the whole person rather than just controlling the calories-in, calories-out aspect of the body.

There is an emphasis in our society on discipline and willpower to follow strict guidelines when it comes to diet and exercise. We are expected to block out everything else, knowing that “this is best” for our bodies and will “make us look good.” Downfalls happen when other parts of our beings need nourishment and care. Sometimes, the part of you that yearns to be social and participate in events wants cake at a family member’s birthday party. Sometimes, your mind needs rest and will beg you to choose an evening of Netflix over going to the gym. Sometimes, bacon tastes good. That’s a lie. Bacon ALWAYS tastes good. And sometimes, commiserating over heartbreak with a friend and a tub of ice cream is what your emotions will need.

What if you were set free from having a downfall? What if nothing held that kryptonite power over you to render you helpless?

Engaging with your Downfall does not mean that you lack willpower and discipline. It means that you are in tune with other parts of your whole being and take care of those parts. It means that you are taking back supremacy over your Downfall rather than letting it control you. You decided when and how much of it you will include in your life, in a way that serves you so that it really isn’t a downfall anymore, at all. Considering all aspects of your health beyond controlling how your body looks is the gateway to including all things that make you feel good, in moderation.

A Downfall can ONLY exist where there is restriction. If all things are included in moderation, especially these foods and activities we find so alluring, that thing loses the power to completely undo you. No one food or exercise is going to make or break your health. Where there is moderation, restriction dies, and with it, your Downfall loses its authority. 

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10 Lies We Tell Ourselves About Health

Our society is highly focused on health and reaching the pinnacle of wellbeing. It is difficult to exist in the United States without coming across messaging about weight loss and diet pills, the newest workouts, social media posts about the nutritious foods friends and celebrities are eating, and photos of glistening athletes smiling as they exercise. While these are the things we associate with vitality and wellness, there is far more to the picture. We buy into many lies about our health that are simply not true. Some of these lies are slowly being exposed as people realize there must be a better way, and even with social media moguls such as JP Sears creating mock accounts to highlight some of the ridiculous exaggerations we believe.

Health is often portrayed as a cookie cutter way of living that we are all expected to live up to as a means to prove our worth in this world. Little space is permitted to think about our own bodies and what they are telling us about what we need and whether we are okay. While the messages we are subjected to about health and wellness are unlikely to change, let’s investigate where these lies are being shared, recognize that they are untrue, and refocus on caring for our whole selves and the many aspects of our beings that allow us to achieve what we feel is healthy for each of us, individually.

Share in the comments below about any other lies you have come across in your quest for health, or successes you have found in in combatting the health lies in you world.

  1. Health has to do with weight and fitness only. The World Health Organization (WHO) (LINK 1) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Though this definition can be (and has been) criticized as categorizing most people as unhealthy due to the use of the word “complete,” it does highlight the importance of a multi-faceted view of health that includes more than just the physical body. Weight and fitness are the most commonly used assessments of health, but mental and social health are also critical factors in a person’s total wellbeing.
  2. A person’s health is indicated by their body size. False. The only thing that the size of a person’s body reveals is just that: the size of their body. Body size does not demonstrate whether a person is kind, has high blood pressure, sits at home and eats cake all day, runs marathons several times each year, loves their body, cares for themselves, is able to find love, has valuable friendships, is intelligent, is mentally healthy, or literally anything else other than the size of their body. Progressively more research supports the idea that people can be healthy at a variety of shapes and sizes. Just because someone is in a larger body doesn’t mean they’re unhealthy, and someone in a smaller body is not necessarily healthy. The Association for Size Diversity and Health is committed to the principles of Health At Every Size ® (HAES) and works to disseminate research demonstrating that people can be healthy in bodies of all sizes (LINK 2).
  3. We have to be on diets to be healthy. There is no such thing as “good” or “bad” food – all foods are created equal and all foods fit a healthy diet. A term coined by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating is a method of tuning into one’s body and caring for it based on those cues, rather than external stimuli, rules, or restrictions. The research is supporting this, too: as more research is conducted on Intuitive Eating, we are learning that it is a great way to find physical health, and to relieve the mental stress of dieting (LINK 3). Anyone who has ever gone through the agony of a diet can attest to the mental and social strain of following strict rules and struggling to enjoy a meal out with family or friends, and many have thought there must be a better way. Intuitive Eating is a better, liberating way.
  4. Health requires intense, painful exercise. In a world seemingly bursting with ultramarathoners and extreme CrossFit athletes, it is hard to believe there is a way to be healthy without immoderate fitness ventures. Human bodies need to move, however, these movements don’t have to be as taxing as commonly thought. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity (think: breathing harder than usual but still able to hold a conversation) exercise 5 times per week for a total of 150 minutes (LINK 4). This can include going for a walk, swimming, dancing, horseback riding, bicycling, and really any activity that includes movement for your body. Listening to our own bodies is the best way to go. Pain is not something to be ignored and “pushed through,” rather, it is an indicator to check in with our bodies to determine whether we are causing damage with the movement we are doing.
  5. Health is dependent on willpower. This is just not true. If we are relying on willpower, we are forcing ourselves into unnatural, non-sustainable behaviors and labeling them as “healthy.” What makes these behaviors non-sustainable? Research shows that our willpower gets worn out. The Cornell Food & Brand Lab has found that, on average, we make over 200 decisions about food every single day (LINK 5). It is easy to see how that could lead to decision fatigue, in which our ability to make food choices diminishes as we tire (LINK 6). The more we depend on willpower and “discipline” to make health and food decisions, the less success we are likely to have as a result, as our brains tire of making these choices. By listening to our bodies, the pressure to decide is relieved and instead we simply respond to internal cues.
  6. If you are healthy, you are more virtuous than someone who is less healthy. This is just nonsense. In our society, health is tied up with being a good person. The healthier you are, the better person you are – especially if you are also busy with a career and family. In that case, you are considered an exceptionally good person if you are also able to maintain health. Truly, however, our health has absolutely nothing to do with our character. They are separate aspects of one whole being, and they do not inform each other. In fact, the National Eating Disorder Association explains that, for those who suffer from an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating termed Orthorexia Nervosa, recovery includes a realization that healthy eating does not make the survivor a better person (LINK 7). Given how reverently we tend to think of those who demonstrate strict health behaviors, it is clear how a person could take this to the extreme of an obsession and disordered eating.
  7. Your health is completely in your control. There is a whole lot about our health that science has yet to figure out. Just read any news on nutrition – it is confusing and seems to constantly change because there is a lot we don’t know yet and a lot we are continuously learning. Additionally, our genetics play a big role in our health, and sometimes, there just is not a whole lot we can do to change that. The WHO explains that several noncommunicable diseases and some mental illnesses are heavily influenced by a person’s genetic predisposition (LINK 8). While there are some lifestyle factors that may impact those genes, it is not possible at this time to know from one person to the next whether or at what dose those lifestyle factors will or will not cause disease.
  8. Weight loss is healthy. There are all kinds of ways to lose weight, and let’s be honest: most of them are unhealthy. Any type of diet that promises rapid weight loss or requires broad cuts of entire food groups is sure to be unhealthy in the long-term (LINK 9). Additionally, there are numerous disease states in which weight loss is rampant (cancer, AIDS, and for example) and clearly does NOT benefit health. It just leaves the sufferer even weaker and less able to combat disease than before. Also, remember that Health At Every Size research from before? It applies here, too (LINK 2). There is no proven way to lose weight and maintain weight over time that will not eventually cause a nutrient deficiency or malnutrition. Further, strict diets are stressful and difficult to follow for long periods of time, not to mention they are frequently expensive and can result in financial strain.
  9. Health looks the same for everyone. Absolutely not. There are myriad ways of being healthy. So you do not like kale? No sweat! No one food will make or break anyone’s health. There are lots of other nutritious options out there. There is no nutrient that is found in only one food, and no one food contains every necessary nutrient in sufficient quantities. That means that, as long as we all eat a variety of foods (LINK 10) to consume the nutrients we need, we do not all have to eat the same foods. Maybe one person prefers to get their Vitamin D from salmon, and someone else prefers to get it from eggs. Either way, both are getting the vitamin. The same goes for exercise: not everyone is able to do the same workouts, and not everyone enjoys the same kinds of body movement. The goal is to move our bodies in ways that we like, which makes us more likely to continue and develop a habit of movement.
  10. Health is important to us. Nope. Our health is not important to us. That sounds outrageous, right? Think about it this way: we want health, but not only for the sake of being healthy. We want health so we can have more time with our families, enjoy our lives more, and feel better while we do the things we actually want to do. We want health as a means to accomplish more with our lives. We want health as a means to achieve peace of mind free of concerns about medical bills and appointments. University of Wisconsin Health encourages people to focus on what gives their life meaning (LINK 11). Health in the here and now really does not benefit us without serving its purpose as a stepping stone to all those things. We each get to choose our own path and decide what matters most to us, and which health behaviors help us reach get there.

LINK 1 http://www.who.int/about/mission/en/

LINK 2 https://www.sizediversityandhealth.org/about.asp

LINK 3 http://www.intuitiveeating.org/resources/studies/

LINK 4 http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/American-Heart-Association-Recommendations-for-Physical-Activity-in-Adults_UCM_307976_Article.jsp#.WZuVr62ZPq0

LINK 5 https://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/research/mindless-eating-200-daily-food-decisions-we-overlook

LINK 6 https://cspinet.org/tip/decision-fatigue-can-lead-poor-choices-what-buy-and-eat

LINK 7 https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa

LINK 8 http://www.who.int/genomics/public/geneticdiseases/en/index3.html

LINK 9 http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/expert-answers/fast-weight-loss/faq-20058289

LINK 10 https://www.choosemyplate.gov/variety

LINK 11 http://www.uwhealth.org/news/why-do-you-want-to-be-healthy/47566

 

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!

 

Then & Now: What It Means to be an Athlete

Then & NowAs I basked in the afterglow of a recent workout, I found myself reflecting on why exercise matters to me and what it really means to me.

I love to feel like an athlete. Several words help illustrate what my perception of an athlete:

Strong

Capable

Determined

Hardworking

Sweaty!

The more I thought about it, the realization dawned on me that I have always sought these feelings through exercise. As a tri-sport athlete in a small-town high school (I participated in volleyball, basketball, and track & field annually), I got my fill of feeling like an athlete through sports. As an adult, I have much less directed or structured athletic endeavors.

From the time I was in high school sports to adulthood, my drivers to reach that feeling of athleticism have changed substantially.

 

Competition with Others vs. Competition with Myself

In high school sports, being an athlete was very much geared toward being a better athlete than my competitors from other schools. I needed to be more than another person – more strong, more capable, just more. Now, I don’t much care where anyone else’s fitness skills are in relation to mine; if I can compete with myself and improve myself and my own fitness compared to where I was yesterday or last week or last year, I’m winning!

 

Stats vs. Health

In order to determine which of two people the better athlete is, sports statistics are used: race times, distances thrown, shots scored, wins/losses, etc. These days, I’m only comparing my statistics to my prior statistics. For me, fitness indicators include running pace, frequency of exercising, and pounds on the bench press bar. A few other numbers have been thrown into the mix, too – mainly, blood labs such as cholesterol and blood sugar that let us know if our bodies are healthy on the inside.

 

What I Can’t Do vs. What I Can Do

In competing with other athletes, it is important to find deficits and correct them to become a better contender. This results in more of a focus on can’t rather than can. For example, “I can’t consistently shoot free throws,” or “I can’t swim as fast as my competitor,” or “I can’t hit through that blocker.” When I compete only with myself, I get to focus on what I can do. Lately, my list includes, “I can run faster than before” and “I can lift more weight than last month” and “I can hold downward dog without wondering when the yoga instructor will let us change positions.” (That last one is a pretty fantastic accomplishment for me!)

 

Don’t get me wrong – sports are great! This simply reflects how my perspective on athleticism has changed over time

Whatever your reasons may be for seeking your version of athleticism, know that those are great and keep fueling that spark!

The Meaning of TRY

The Meaning of TRY

As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”The Meaning of TRY

Far be it from me to disagree with the character of Yoda, but within the realm of health goals, I disagree with this particular piece of advice.

“All-or-nothing” thinking is a common problem among those who have health goals. It is the idea that if you’re going to eat healthy, you’ll have nothing unhealthy, and if you slip up and eat something less nutritious, you give up and stop eating healthy foods altogether. Another example is if you were to set a goal to go to the gym for an hour 5 days a week. If you only have time to work out for 30 minutes, you won’t go at all.

You can see where the all-or-nothing mindset is problematic. Often, you’ll find yourself worse off as a result of all-or-nothing thinking than if you had just allowed yourself a treat and continued on with your healthy behaviors.

From my perspective, Yoda is encouraging this all-or-nothing thinking. And while that may be sound guidance in other aspects of life or in a galaxy far, far away, it doesn’t have a place in health goals and behaviors. In this area, this IS ‘try.’

Try covers the middle ground between do or do not. Try is what you do when you don’t know what you’re capable of and you want to move forward. Try is how you accomplish the small steps to reach a bigger goal. Try is how you keep yourself on track even after slipping up, and try is how you avoid making yourself crazy by being super strict with yourself. Try is brave, because it’s an attempt in the face of possible failAs long as you are trying - honestly trying - it will get easier.ure.

Here’s the tricky part, though – how do you know that you’re trying? It’s important to make sure that you’re truly making an effort and actually taking real steps toward your goals, rather than just skating by on old habits instead of making the decisions to do better, wishing things were different, and labeling it as “trying.”

Try Check-in:

  1. Do you feel satisfied with your effort, or do you feel like you could easily have done better? If you’re at the end of a workout, feeling like you’re making no progress toward your goal to run a 5K, but you still have plenty of energy, maybe you could have run a little harder or a little longer.

  2. Are you using mini-goals as stepping stones to your big goals? If you are a chronic soda drinker and you quit it cold turkey, but find yourself picking up the habit again every time you slip up and drink one soda, it would probably be helpful to set mini-goals to cut out one soda a day each week.

  3. When you have a bad day or a slip-up, are you able to regroup and continue making progress? Health is a lifelong journey, and abandoning good habits because you ate too much cake at a birthday party or you ate out every day while on vacation will be detrimental. Cut yourself some slack and get back on track.

Do and do not certainly exist. But for all the times in between when you don’t know if you can make it from do not to do, there is try. Skip the all-or-nothing mindset. As long as you are trying – honestly trying – it will get easier.

How do you try to meet your health goals?

 

Sources:

Anderson D. Moderation in All Things: How to Avoid the Diet Blues. SparkPeople. http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/motivation_articles.asp?id=729&page=3. Published 2015. Accessed April 2015.

Ways to Get Your Exercise Outdoors

As the weather warms up, we all want to get outside and enjoy it! When daylight is limited, it can be tough to decide between working out inside the gym or relaxing in the sunshine. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive, though – try these ways to fit in your physical activity while playing outside and you can enjoy the beautiful weather without missing your workout.

Even better, you can take the opportunity to play outside as just that: time to go back to your playful childhood days when you stayed out ‘til dark. Here are some outdoor exercises you could try, some serious and some just to have fun and get your body moving:

  1. Go for a walk.girl riding bike
  2. Go for a jog.
  3. Go for a run.
  4. Ride your bike.
  5. Go window shopping downtown – make it into a scavenger hunt!
  6. Play catch with a baseball or a football.
  7. Look for a nearby park with a walking path and fitness stations to test your strength with various obstacles.
  8. Walk to a friend’s house for a visit.
  9. Lay out your yoga mat on the lawn.
  10. Intersperse your walk/jog/run with 30-second intervals of bodyweight exercises like skipping, lunges, burpees, pushups, or anything else you can think of.
  11. Take your dog to the dog park and run around with him/her.
  12. Climb every set of stairs you can find on your walk.
  13. Use a park bench or picnic table for step-ups, jumps, or inclined pushups.
  14. Play tag.
  15. Play volleyball, basketball, soccer, street hockey, tennis, or another sport.
  16. Go surfing.
  17. Jump rope.
  18. Return to your childhood and play hopscotch.
  19. Swim in a local lake.
  20. Grab some friends and do relay races in the backyard – do moves like running, crab walking, and leapfrogging.

So throw on some shorts and get outside to enjoy that sunshine! What are your favorite ways to get exercise outside?