Fitness and Food, Your Healthy Evolution (cont.)

Let's recall that your body reacts to the semistarvation caused by dieting by going into survival mode, slowing its metabolism, and even holding on to water. Even when you wise up and stop dieting it can take a very long time to reset your metabolism. Also, you need time for your body and mind to recover from the stress of dieting. Dieting is traumatic. It does place enormous stress on your body, as well as on your mind. Every time you diet you invest energy, pride, and self-esteem in the effort. All of this stress plays a toll on us.

Even the stress that can be caused by the demands of excessive exercise can backfire. Research shows that your body produces elevated cortisol, sometimes called the stress hormone, and changes in cortisol can cause long-term alterations in your appetite and metabolism. A study of 62 women showed that high food restrictors exhibited significantly higher cortisol levels than low food restrictors, a finding the researchers hypothesize is due to the "psychological stress of constantly trying to control and monitor food intake." Studies link elevated cortisol levels to increased appetite, weight gain, and night binging.

It may be useful to look at your exercise regime. Are you allowing yourself exercise that unites your mind and body and reduces stress? Or is your exercise routine consistently harsh and demanding?

I recall, after my second daughter, Jada, was born, for reasons still unclear to me, I had accepted an extremely demanding position as the state medical director for the division of mental health. My work seemed to be nonstop, and my worries even interfered with my sleep. I also happened to notice that my weight loss following Jada's birth seemed to be rather slow. Be sure, however, the thought of dieting never even crossed my mind.

Just after her second birthday, thankfully I left this position and was determined to work three days per week. As shocking as it may be, without any changes in my exercise routine or my intake of food, within three months the 10 pounds my body had been desperately hanging onto in its highly stressed state faded away. Indeed, everything I'd been reading about with regard to cortisol and stress seemed to play out in my own life.

Instead of fighting your body chemistry by harsh exercise, find ways to de-stress and help your body work with you. Allowing time for your body to recognize that it's not stressed or starving allows your cortisol levels and metabolism to adjust.

Member question: all this touchy-feely stuff sounds great: Like yourself, and you have no problems. Well, I do have problems. I need to lose weight, probably 100 pounds. So telling myself that what other people think doesn't matter isn't true, because one of the other people thinking about me is my doctor. I don't want pills, I don't want surgery; I want to lose weight, and that means eat less and exercise. I understand moderation has a better chance of long-lasting results than fad diets, but it's still a form of diet, and that's not a bad word.

Oliver-Pyatt: Whatever works for anybody works for me. Indeed, 3% to 5% of dieters do lose weight and keep it off. Maybe you'll be one of the lucky ones. My philosophy and approach is directed towards those individuals who have recognized within themselves, and within our society, that dieting has proved, in general, to be an ineffective tool for long-term weight loss.

You used the word moderation and somehow link that with dieting, which I would agree with. However, I'd like to point out that what happens when a person relearns to eat based on internal versus external cues, what naturally results is a moderation. When a person learns to redefine exercise in a way where mind and body are connected and exercise becomes something pleasurable and something we want to do from within our heart, this is when exercise becomes a part of our life for life, when the desire to exercise is spurred from something within our heart, and not something forced upon us.

Psychologist Erich Fromm notes, as I point out in step 5, Straight Talk About Exercise, "How does one practice discipline? It is essential that discipline should not be practiced like a rule imposed on oneself from the outside, but that it become an expression of one's own will; that it is felt as pleasant, and that one slowly accustoms one's self to a kind of behavior which one would eventually miss if one stopped practicing it. It is one of the unfortunate aspects of our western concept of discipline that its practice is supposed to be somewhat painful, and only if it is painful can it be good. The East has recognized long ago that that which is good for man (or women) for his body and for his soul must also be agreeable."

Focusing on the process of living your life in the present moment may be more helpful than focusing on the goal of weight loss.

"I sincerely hope you will all reconsider if you are thinking about dieting, and learn to trust your inner voice."

Member question: How do you deal with that feeling that you know how to eat right, and know all the tricks and psychology behind it, but you think, "I can always do that tomorrow" (or next week)? And this goes on for years.

Oliver-Pyatt: I'm curious about your definition about "how to know how to eat right." For the past three decades, our society has become obsessed with focusing on what it is OK to eat and what it is that it's not OK to eat. Eating right or not eating right is somehow constantly connected to what it is that we are eating. Let's focus, instead, on how it is that we're eating and why it is that we're eating, rather than what it is that we're eating.

Clearly, a person has to be ready to want to change in order to begin the process. You mentioned that you're always thinking about eating right at some future point. Perhaps focusing on discovering the difference between physical and emotional hunger and taking the time to respect and nurture both your physical and emotional hunger would be a way to take your physical and psychological needs seriously and to start the process of healing your mind and body.

If "eating right" is something that you see as stressful or in a negative light, perhaps it's because the idea itself represents your disconnecting from what it is that you need. Maybe that's why it is aversive to you. The exciting thing about the approach I am proposing is that it is not about denying your needs any longer; it's about tuning into them and responding to them in a meaningful way. This includes both a physiological need to satiate our physiological hunger, and the physiological need to take our emotional selves seriously.

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