Starting a new exercise routine presents all of us with a challenge and the first days and weeks are the hardest. Recently, I’ve been talking a lot on my Facebook page about challenges and “…if it doesn’t challenge us, it doesn’t change us”. For PW Bootcampers this challenge comes in three parts (for anyone on a serious programme for that matter):
- The first is to show up at eighteen sessions, come rain or shine, and give your absolute all to a new routine of exercise, physical exertion and hard work
- The second is just as difficult – to eat as cleanly as possible for those six weeks, providing your body with the energy and fuel it needs to strip fat, build muscle and keep you feeling happy
- The third challenge is the one that really counts and it is overcoming this that will really make a long term change to your health and lifestyle – to challenge everything we think we know about our bodies, about what they are capable of and what they need: i.e. overcoming those psychological barriers
We should all be asking ourselves about how we view food. Why do we eat? Why do we eat what we eat? How do we feel about different types of food? Our emotions, if we’re not careful and conscious of them, may well start to express themselves in the way in which we eat. Feel stressed; high chance of eating junk. Feel relaxed and swimming in time; more chances we will eat cleanly.
As humans we all need to eat to survive, our body requires fuel to function and its performance and health is absolutely dependent on the quality of the fuel it receives. We are lucky enough to live at a time and in a society where food is not scarce, we are certainly not eating for survival and excess food is all around us. As a result we have moved away from judging food on its primary function – feeding us! So many of us eat what is convenient, what is available fast and what is in front of us when we are hungry. You could argue that this is how humans have always eaten, what has changed though is the pace of our lifestyle and the type of foods that are immediately available to us. Catching a fish or picking fruit has been replaced by new ‘fast food’ – chocolate bars, pizza and other sugary sweets or snacks.
Our relationship with sugar
Our relationship with sugar is often a complicated one, one tied in to our emotional needs and one that is very easy to use to examine how we view food more widely. For children growing up, sugar is often used to reward good behaviour, as a treat or to help children feel better when they are upset. It is really no wonder that in our adult lives we turn to sugar or other ‘treats’ for comfort, to relieve stress and to pick ourselves up when we are feeling down. Put simply, we end up eating to satisfy our emotional needs rather than any hunger or need for food. We eat when we are not hungry – fuelling our body is no longer the primary reason for consuming food.
Using food as a reward or as part of a celebration isn’t always a bad thing – on Bootcamp I will always build a cheat (or sometimes I prefer ‘treat’, it sounds less sordid) meal into our eating plans – something we look forward to and see as a celebration of another week of clean eating (in actual fact the physiological benefits of resetting our fat-burning hormones – T3, T4 and leptin – are the main reason I advise this. Many a good programme has been known to plateau for being too disciplined – it’s a delicate balance, for which some people need to cycle in higher calorie days or carb-cycle every 4 days and some, every 8 days. Some can handle wheat and gluten products, some people can’t. As always, every body is unique… I digress…). However, once every so often, deliberately planning an indulgence is different to making food your first source of comfort and reaching for the ice cream, pizza or chocolate whenever you are upset is not only physically unhealthy but emotionally unhealthy too. It does nothing to solve the original upset and can actually make you feel worse when the regret of eating unnecessary calories settles in! Have a think about how different foods make you feel, think about what foods you crave when you are feeling different emotions and decide how healthy your eating habits are – both physically and emotionally. There is a large movement around ‘mindful eating’ in certain circles these days, which is an overinflated, well-branded way of saying that we need to think before (during and after) we eat, in order that we:
a) appreciate it (turning off the TV, sitting at a table)
b) pay attention to our appetite signals (by taking our time and chewing around 20 times for each mouthful) and thus don’t overeat
c) appreciate what the food is doing to our body (by taking the time and effort required to reflect on what we are eating and why we are eating it exactly)
It might seem like common-sense stuff. Well, it is, but how many of us overlook this in search of a more complicated and scientific answer? If I was to recommend to each client just one habit to adopt for life, it would be the above (oh, and to eat a protein-based breakfast… oops that’s two).
This article is not about alcohol, so I’ll keep this brief but I think it’s important to have a look at. Much like food, people are known to turn to alcohol for emotional reasons (not just because they “like the taste”, as I’ve heard many times). Stress probably being the number one reason why people drink at the end of a long day or long week, there are other emotions which morph in to reaching for the bottle. I would be remiss to suggest that drinking alcohol is good for you, but once in a while, a glass of red wine (with the right grape) can be beneficial. I did however say once in a while and, a glass. Otherwise, there is nothing ‘good’ about it, for your body that is (as good as it may feel at the time). Testosterone and growth hormone levels plummet and fat burning and strength gains (whether you’re male or female) are put on hold (if not regress) as a result of excess alcohol (excess being more than one glass and that’s one regular glass, not a bucket glass). So it’s not the calories per se and the fact that alcohol does become sugar in the body extremely rapidly, it’s also the adverse hormonal effect it has. Be mindful of this (i.e. what it does to the body) and deep down, the reason why you are drinking, next time you pour a glass.
Resetting your relationship with food
By seeing food as fuel we can work to provide our body with what it needs, when it needs it throughout the day – this is a real step away from eating what our mind tells us we need. For one thing, our body does not need any sugar at all to function and neither do you to feel happy (believe it or not). Don’t forget that your eating must support the extra work that you are doing:
– Pre-workout eating needs to support your body through your session, post-workout eating needs to support your body’s recovery from the session.
– Always plan your eating in advance, eat when you are hungry and try to move away from emotional eating remembering that it won’t really make you feel better at all.
– Make sure that you have a healthy snack or pre-prepped cleaner foods to hand for those times when you do need something to pick at and enjoy the feeling when you do avoid eating badly.
Lastly, food is fuel but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring or bland! Get imaginative with your meals, try new things, create your own recipes and as always, share the recipe love.
The bottom line
Be conscious of what you are eating and why you are eating it. Don’t give in to emotional eating. It may make you feel better momentarily but will only serve to make you decrease your sense of self-worth and well-being once that moment’s gone. Rather, think of your food as fuel and what effect that particular meal or snack will have on your body. Stronger, leaner, more energetic with better mental clarity or… or not. To be or not to be…
p.s. let me know by liking this post on my Facebook page, if this makes sense and in some way will help you curb your emotional eating patterns.