Barking Up the Wrong Tree

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Making dietary changes and setting exercise goals in the name of health is often not the way to get where you really want to go.  It might even be holding you back. If you are truly concerned for your health, first, have you gone to a doctor or naturopath and had a full physical and blood work up? Is there something actually wrong with your health?

Ok - so let's say in this case that there is nothing wrong with your health, your blood markers are all in a standard range and yet you still want to have habits that will help prevent an illness or disease.  Or you want increased energy, or you don't want to have more than the occasional ache and pain and you want to feel happy and content and at ease in your life.  These are understandable desires.  How do you do that?

In our culture, most people believe that the way to achieve this level of health is to start eating a certain way that they are not currently eating or start exercising rigorously.  They decide to try the Whole 30, Paleo, gluten free, cutting out  sugar, running, going to the gym, cross fit etc.  For the majority of people, they are approaching each new way of eating from a place of fear and self-criticism.  They often think "If only I could eat "right", I would have more energy and be able to move more and have less pain and I would feel great. Everything in my life would fall into place and be more manageable."

Unfortunately, by approaching new habits in a critical and highly controlled manner, it is unlikely to produce the results they desire. They will set up a whole bunch of rules for themselves and then put added stress in their lives when they are not able to uphold the rules 100%.  Restriction often leads to the opposite of what is desired, namely, overeating and bingeing.  Sound familiar?

People tend to berate themselves when they are unable to maintain the rules they set forth and are not achieving their goals.  They vow to try harder and go off to find the next great "lifestyle" plan that will help them achieve their goals.  They may even end up making  themselves less healthy by adding negative emotions to their lives such as guilt, shame and anger as they try harder and harder to make their plans "work".

There are three things a person might want to keep in mind when wanting to make a change for their health.

One: What change to make needs to come from your intuition and not a book, the internet, your best friend or your doctor.

It's true, some people might benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables and moving their body more  which is the standard advice that everyone thinks is true for them. Other people might need to STOP worrying about food and exercise and bring back peace and joy to their eating experience.  And for some  the change that would benefit them the most might have nothing to do whatsoever with food and exercise. Some people might need to rest more, get out of a depressing relationship, find a new and exciting job, forgive someone in their life and so much more.  There are so many paths for growth that may actually be what will bring a person to a state of health and it has nothing to do with restrictive eating and punishing exercise.

Two: Making a lasting change needs to come from a place of love, acceptance, experimentation, exploration, self compassion and joy.  

 It's not only the actions that you are going to take that are going to make the difference, but the emotional place you are coming from when you take those actions.  This will determine whether new habits will be sustainable or will peter out and fall away.  People often take the actions that they think they "should" take rather than the actions their own body is really calling for. With that, they are starting in a self defeating place.  Muscling through something to achieve a goal is not going to improve your health and will not make a new habit sustainable.   The state of your mind is as important to your overall health as the state of your body, if not more so.

Three: Let's get real.  Are you really talking about your health or are you really simply afraid of being fat?

Boom.  This last one is a minefield that could probably use it's own blog post.  Often what people mean when they say they are changing their habits for their "health" is that they don't want to be fat or they don't want to get fat.  Most people would also read this and say - well duh, of course not because fat is not healthy.

If you find yourself in this place then you need to ask yourself, do I really want to change my habits for my "health" or because  I don't want to be fat? They are NOT the same thing even though everyone thinks they are.  You can be healthy and fat just as you can be skinny and sick. So if the answer is that you want to change your habits because you don't want to be fat, then let's drop the pretense that it's all about health.  And then let's save yourself some time and get down to business addressing that issue without getting all distracted by gluten and kale.

What I am asking people to do here is to think about what they want to achieve.  As I said, do you want to improve your health or do you want to not be/get fat? Then think about how long you have been trying to achieve this goal.  Then think about what you have already done to try and achieve this goal.  How has it been working for you? How long have you been doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result? Maybe it's time for a paradigm shift and a new approach. It might even be time for a new goal.

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

The good news is there are many ways to improve your health and it can be done once you start looking at the food/exercise paradigm differently and when you also start looking outside the box of the food/exercise paradigm; very rarely is it the only thing that needs your attention.  The "I don't want to be fat" concern can be addressed as well.  No matter what size you currently are, you can change how you feel about your body without introducing food and exercise rules or changing your body size.  This is a huge mind set shift for most people but it starts with getting real about what it is you are afraid of and what it is you want in your life.

Whether you are worried about fat (and who wouldn't be since we live in a completely fat phobic and thin obsessed culture) or really concerned with your actual health, it is time to reconsider this notion that rigidly controlling your food and exercise is the answer to all of our problems.  It's time to step back from the "healthy" eating rhetoric and fear mongering and consider the idea that maybe there is a different way.  Too many people are spending too much time barking up the wrong tree and it's keeping them from getting where they really want to go.

Where do you really want to go?  Shoot me an email at elizabeth@elizabethehall.com and let's see if I can help.