Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Weight – Food – Behavior – Spirit

Years ago, people like my grandfather would say “Cousin Thelma has a weight problem.” Often it would be said in the same tone as “Cousin Thelma has the chicken pox.”  Well meaning relatives told Cousin Thelma to do a few calisthenics like Jack LaLane so she’d “lose the weight” and find herself a man.

A few decades later, conventional wisdom said that the real problem was the food itself. A dizzying array of conflicting reports confused us to the point of not knowing what was safe anymore.  Do you remember when bagels were the darling of the no-fat movement?  There’s not a drop of fat in them, what could be wrong!  Fast forward fifteen years and now bagels are nothing but 700 calorie behemoths that will send you into a gluten-induced death spiral. Every few years there is another food put on a pedestal, only to be sent to the chopping block later.  Don’t eat fat! Don’t eat carbs! Eat only raw food! Juice everything! If you would just follow this 28-day Fat Loss Diet, you’ll be healthier and happier! Food choice obviously matters, but even when a food plan is sane there is a giant chasm between seeing a diet printed in a book and actually following through on putting only the approved food into our mouths.

More recently experts began focusing on behaviors. Weight loss advice concentrated on when and how you ate:  Don’t eat anything after 7:00 p.m. or it will instantly turn to fat on your hips.  Fill up on soup and carrot sticks before going to a party with a tempting dessert table. Don’t go to the grocery store hungry. You can’t eat junk if it's not in your house.  While this is all sound advice, there is still a disconnect between knowing what we should be doing and actually adhering to the plan.

I am not saying that food choices and behaviors are irrelevant, but I believe that for many of us the underlying problem is a crisis of spirit.  You can interpret the word spirit in a bunch of ways, but I’ll start with a basic example. We know that certain foods are better for us then others, so why can some people consistently make good choices when others can’t?  Think back to a day when you realized that you were making healthy decisions easily and almost effortlessly. I’ll bet that it was probably a good day. For me, those days are extremely rare. But when I have those magical days where everything seems to be going right, it’s far easier to also make good food choices.
The rest of the time, when I didn’t get enough sleep, the kids are fighting, the car has a flat tire and customers are running amok at work, it’s really difficult to pay attention to how much better I’ll feel if I skip the drive-thru and eat a sensible salad for lunch. I guess that’s kind of the definition of emotional eating! But when I do things that feed my spirit, like connecting with friends, doing something nice for other people, giving my family some undivided attention and getting enough sleep and exercise, it starts a wheel in motion that naturally brings about more frequent “good days.”

Some people are comfortable taking that term spirit even further.  There is a growing trend that connects a belief in a higher power to the ability to make successful lifestyle changes. Overeater’s Anonymous (OA)  uses the same 12 step program as Alcoholics Anonymous. The foundation of both programs is believing in a higher power of your own understanding and leaning on that higher power in times of weakness.  Don’t let the term higher power scare you. For many people it’s a traditional God, but for many other people it could be the higher power of the group itself, or any other way that they envision a higher power. This is a foundation of many traditional rehab programs. I’ve included a link to OA in the resource section of this blog. If you feel like an alcoholic who eats instead of drinking, check them out.

However you wish to define spirit, it makes sense to include some spirit enhancing activities in your wellness plans. If you want to change your diet,  your spiritual state can either help or hinder your best laid plans. So if you haven’t done it already, start your emotions and eating journal. It’s the research that you need in order to take the next step in gaining control.

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