From a psychological perspective, as professionals in this field, when we look at many of the numerous diets and eating fads that exist today, especially some of the more popular ones, we shake our heads in sadness and disbelief.
The reason we view these “programs” as we do, is because of the negative impact that they can have on their participants. This is because they tap into our fear mechanisms and at best could simply perpetuate them, but unfortunately in many cases they have the potential to ingrain even more deeply self sabotaging behaviours and in some cases, may even be the final straw of some peoples development of full blown eating disorders or worse.
Even down to the seemingly innocent use of the phrase ‘sins’ to quantify food types, on the face of it you may ask what is wrong with this as it is a term in common use in our society today. The issue is that it literally “demonises” food and so anything that goes with it. This is because in many cultures the term “sin`’ is associated with the worst aspects of what it means to be human, such as cheating, guilt and shame and so will often lead to the hiding and denial of such behaviours, even to oneself and so follows feelings of self loathing and an ever deepening and reeferming of personal insecurities, such as being a failure, unworthy of love and not good enough. This, in the cycle of addiction is entirely the opposite of what is required to nurture in regards to living a healthy and happy life free from addiction, abuse and oppression.
Another of the seemingly popular fads is to openly inflict personal castigastions, bullying and self abuse and in particular cases with unhealthy doses of splitting. Some of these methods are even created by Psychologists, albeit with questionable motives and the participants are encouraged to use a defence mechanism that in psychology is referred to as splitting. Splitting is where you identify aspects of yourself that you are uncomfortable with, so attempt to distance yourself from them, often to the point of burying them in your subconscious, because of the uncomfortable feelings that can be felt when observing them in yourself. In a healthy therapeutic relationship the psychotherapist or counsellor will work with you to help you understand why you feel these ways about yourself. This enables you to bring them into your conscious awareness and so you are then able to reintegrate these “split” off aspects of yourself, enabling you to feel more comfortable and at peace with all the aspects of yourself.
Any approach that is taken to encourage a disintegration of the self and to attack it and ridicule it is entirely unhealthy, because you are attacking and abusing yourself. This inevitably leads to lower levels of self respect which manifests into further and ever deepening levels of self abuse and in this way creates a self perpetuating and deepening cycle of self abuse. This cycle of self abuse if left unchecked can often lead to not only a perpetuation of the behaviours that are attempting to be addressed, but could even lead to a worsening of the situation, such as seeking ever more abusive ways in which to treat oneself.
The ways in which we talk to and see ourselves is of fundamental importance to our mental health. The exploitations such as the ones above will inevitably create an almost endless cycle of repeat customers, which is great news for the profits of the companies delivering such methods, but will rarely if ever, result in a positive and lasting change for the participants.
As with so many things, to find a long lasting definable resolution requires personal understanding, because each of us do what we do and act as we act for our own personal reasons. Many of these will be similar to others in many respects, but how we deal with them will come from personal insight. This on the face of it may seem the more challenging option, but when you weigh up the other options, such as the perpetual downward spiral of disappointment and self abuse as felt from the examples above, against the contrast of a happier, healthier and more vibrant you delivered through a journey of actual self discovery, the choice seems a little clearer.
To understand what drives us to continue doing something, including actions that we would like to stop doing, it is important to understand that our brains respond to stimuli and when we are talking about addictive behaviour, we are referring to the way our brains are responding to certain stimuli. So, If you want to change a response, such as reaching for the biscuits whenever you feel upset, for example, it is necessary to consciously develop a new reaction to the feeling of being upset.
To do this effectively and meaningfully it is important to understand how our neural pathways are created in the brain; if a person behaves or responds to certain situations, emotions or events in the same manner over a long period of time, eventually that person builds a neural pathway so that when the activating stimulation presents itself again, the brain automatically returns to that response, because this is now an unconscious reaction. This is how behaviour is formed and this is how addiction is formed.
It is also important to understand that we are dealing with very strong neural connections that formed in the brain over a long period of time. That’s why it seems so difficult to change things about ourselves. The stronger the neural connections, the harder it will be to create new ones that are strong enough to override the old ones. The good news however, is that the brain is malleable and can be changed. This is known as neuroplasticity which sounds more sinister than it is.
As humans, we have the unique ability to stand back and observe what is happening in our personal lives. We are not our emotions, we are not our thoughts and we are not our behaviours. We have emotions, we have thoughts, and we have behaviours and what’s more, we can actually stop to observe each of these within us.
Likewise, we are not addiction. We can have an addiction and we have the ability to observe an addiction. Once we acknowledge this and believe we have the power to consciously rewire our brain, we can begin noticing our triggers. We can identify our compulsions and urges and we can learn to override these urges by making alternative choices and taking different actions or responses to them.
There are generally four components of our addictions; doing, thinking, feeling and physiology.
DOING This is the action you physically perform, such as opening the biscuit tin.
THINKING These are the thoughts we have to justify our behaviour, such as “I have worked really hard today, I deserve these biscuits” or “I’ve eaten five already, one or two more won’t make a difference” or “I’ll run longer on the treadmill tomorrow to burn them off.”
FEELING This is the emotion we get as a result of the thoughts we have just had to justify the ‘doing’. In the case above, you might feel happy or excited after having convinced yourself that what you’re about to do is okay and justified.
PHYSIOLOGY This is the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. These neurochemicals are released as a consequence of the behaviour we just engaged in.
These neurotransmitters create a feeling of pleasure and gratification but we eventually build up a tolerance for them and therefore require more and more extreme behaviour to get the same neurochemical response. To explain, this means that, whereas 5 biscuits may have satisfied you enough last week, as your tolerance levels to the neurotransmitters increase, this week you may require 8 biscuits to experience the same feeling of pleasure and gratification. The more you do this, the more that neural pathway is strengthened and the stronger this pattern of behaviour becomes.
So how do we break this cycle? Most importantly it is necessary for you to acknowledge that a behaviour change is required and then it is important for you to make the decision to want to change this behaviour. For those of you who follow our blogs, you would have already seen our article on ‘6 Steps on How Create Real Change’
In acknowledging your desire to make a change, it is now important to change the components referred to above, that create the addiction. The first of which and the key element to this is to change the ‘doing’ component. If you are able to change the ‘doing’ such as opening the tin of biscuits, we subsequently change the thinking, feeling, and physiological components too. In order to do this however, it is important to be able to observe the thoughts and emotions that lead to the ‘doing’ aspect in the first place. Without this awareness, we won’t know when to change the ‘doing’ component.
Once you have recognised that when you are sad, you generally reach for the biscuits you can then become aware enough to look out for this trigger and your response to it. For example, if something happens and you suddenly feel sad, try to stand back and observe that emotion. Consider and examine it. Then instead of reaching for the biscuits, be deliberate in choosing a different reaction instead such as going for a walk or calling a friend for a chat. Making yourself a drink or turning to a calming App on your phone to use. If you change the ‘doing’ component, you will consequently change the ‘thinking’ ‘feeling’ and ‘physiological’ components, too.
By continuing to make these conscious decisions you will over time, change your neural pathways and before you realise it, a new habit is formed.
This is no easy task and it requires you to remain focused and to make conscious decisions, every day. The longer you do this, the easier it will become as new habits are formed, which in turn will become your unconscious patterns of behaviour.
It takes a lot of effort to change yourself, but once you understand that you can literally train your brain to react differently you can change your neurochemical makeup and new pathways can be created until they become automatic. In that moment after you have the urge to open the biscuits and right before that behaviour is initiated, you have the ability to redirect your attention and choose a different behaviour. It is a good idea to choose ahead of time what that reaction will be so that you are prepared when the moment arrives and choose a behaviour that is realistic for you to do in that moment. The more you do this, the more you strengthen the new neural pathways and the more the old ones weaken.
Every time you practice this new behaviour, you are giving your mind the awareness of the new experience and the old pathways leading to your previous, self-destructive behaviour are diminishing.
It is not easy, it can be frustrating and it does take time so it is fundamentally important for you to be patient, persevere and most importantly, be kind to yourself.
Fear can manifest in many ways, it is an amazing safety mechanism for keeping us from harm but it can also cause debilitating anxiety that can effectively paralyse us and to this effect, it can also be a primary anchor for holding us in the places we currently are. This is because our fears can be triggered by even the thought of doing something differently. The main reason for this is that we have beliefs of how the world “should” be, and we then attempt to get the world to fit this image. Because when it fits this image we can believe, rightly or wrongly, that we are “safe”. This can be because we have an understanding of how to deal with the situations within this world view and so things are in essence familiar to us. This is often referred to as the “comfort zone”, but we have worked with and seen so many people in situations that you would not readily refer to as comfortable, so we refer to this now as the “zone of familiarity”.
For example, a common start to a fear response is “But what if” This can be looked at in many ways. It can be seen as the beginning of a plan to help us navigate the best route we can see to a new destination, or it could be the barriers we place in our own way, so as not to set out on the journey in the first place. This then keeps us in familiar territory because we feel comfortable with our actions within that environment but are scared they may not be effective outside of this “zone of familiarity”. One of the interesting aspects that is not necessarily taken into account, is that you may not even require some of the safety measures you have knowingly or unknowingly put in place if you were to leave your “zone of familiarity”.
There are numerous reasons for this being the case, many of which we have learned growing up. As fear is predominantly linked to our survival instincts and seeing that the people closest to us have survived this long, we adopt their strategies. This cycle has been going on for centuries in varying forms that adapt in part to the changing environment, but so often remaining the same, beneath these superficial changes.
One of the main reasons we now refer to this as The “zone of familiarity” instead of the “comfort zone”, is that our words influence us so greatly. Our words are essentially the labels we place on things so as to be able to communicate what we are referring to with not only other people, but also with ourselves. This is because our thoughts are organised as words and labels, that we use to understand the world around us and the feelings that occurred during the first experiences of this labelling process are also attached to them. So if we label things as comfortable, then this is the story we are telling ourselves about this thing we are referring to and as we have already described, some of these situations can at times be far from comfortable or healthy for us. If we instead refer to them as familiar, this is a more accurate way of describing them and does not attach a connotation of comfort to them and so we are able to look at them more impartially. Creating this more impartial viewpoint allows us to observe a situation from other perspectives and can allow us to see that maybe it is not so comfortable after all. The recognition of this is essential for us to move into a position of acknowledgment, which is a fundamental step in the process of change.
Understanding how the mechanism of fear works is a big step in understanding how we see the world, at an often unconscious level. In understanding this we can begin to see why we do the things we do and follow the patterns of behaviours and habits that we do and have the insight into changing them for ones that are more healthy for us. It also opens the possibility to hand down healthier labels and associated feelings to those that come after us, such as our children, which is a worthy cause indeed.
Everyone is responsible for their own actions, but this does not necessarily mean that people are always aware of their behaviours, as we only see the world through the lens of our own experiences and belief systems. So to an abuser (and to an abused person) it may appear to them that all is normal. This can be because to them, their actions of abusing is normal in their personal zones of familiarity and because they view it as normal behaviour, they are not necessarily aware that their behaviour is anything other than normal.
In this unconscious way of being, it does not absolve us of our responsibilities and the onus is on the individual to address the harm they have caused by their behaviour. In saying this though, it is not always easy to begin to resolve a state such as this; if someone does not recognise their behaviour as abusive, how then do they acknowledge its existence in the first place and if they don’t recognise it and acknowledge it, how do they then move on to the next step of having the willingness to do something about it.
The other thing to consider here is that there are those that behave in an abusive manner with a sense of understanding and knowing. This is a very different scenario altogether. Although it is important to consider that the driving mechanisms of such behaviours could still very possibly have roots in what lays out of the view of their conscious awareness.
Unfortunately, recognising that you may be in an abusive situation can be a challenge and confusing to identify. There are however some characteristics worth looking out for if you feel you are being abused.
You feel you are being abused.
The abuser does not want to discuss opinions with you and or listen to anyone who does not agree with them.
You detect underlying threats contained in many of their communications.
You feel manipulation, coercion or even blackmail tactics are used to get a desired outcome from you.
The abuser has polarised or concrete thinking, demanding that others do what they deem to be the “only way”.
You feel that the abuser is promoting social isolation and that you are being discouraged from seeing your friends, family or any form of social interaction.
You have felt, feel or often feel fearful.
You are beginning to make unreasonable and / or illogical excuses for the abusers behaviour against you.
You have felt, feel or often feel a trepidation of the abuser, a feeling of ‘walking on eggshells’ as a result of never knowing what is going to happen next.
The most important part of abuse spotting is the act of recognition. Without this first step it is unlikely that the following steps of acknowledgment and action are ever likely to occur, so the patterns of behaviour being used against you and your acceptance of them, will more often than not be repeated time and time again. This is because it is important to understand that by allowing the situation to continue is in essence making you complicit and until actions are taken to change the situation, the abuse will more often than not continue.
Once you have acknowledged that you are in an abusive situation there are important steps to take to remove yourself. The most important of which is the recognition that our lives are determined by the choices we make. We can choose to allow ourselves to remain in a situation we are not happy with, or we can choose to remove ourselves.
We entirely acknowledge that by saying you have a choice is an extremely simplified perspective on what can be an incredibly challenging situation. As with all change, things are achieved one step at a time and the important first step in an abusive situation is deciding to take personal responsibility and remove yourself from the abuse.
We also entirely acknowledge that removing yourself from an abusive situation may not be easy and we are not belittling this act on any level. This is the first step of many where we encourage you to start looking within and to start acknowledging your own self-worth and what you are willing to accept for yourself.
There are no step-by-step guides to follow here as everyone’s personal circumstances and situations have their own intricacies. A good first step however, and the one we will leave you with here; look in the mirror every morning and ask yourself, are you where you want to be? Are you happy? And what can you do differently. If the answers are ‘no’ to any or all of these questions, then take a look at our blog 6 steps on how to create real change
We all know that December brings Christmas parties, family gatherings, drinks and get-togethers with friends. Not to mention a kitchen-full of tempting Christmas goodies just waiting to be picked at as you kick back on the couch with a festive film.
It’s a wonderful time for having fun and catching up with friends and family but unfortunately, it’s usually not the best time for those of you working towards a fitness goal and especially difficult for those of you aiming to drop some body fat.
It is easy to trick yourself into believing that second mince pie won’t make a difference and that third helping of Christmas cake won’t really have an impact on your goals. The problem is, eating in this way every day over a period of two, three or maybe even four weeks will most definitely go against your efforts in losing body fat. Especially when accompanied by alcohol, reduced physical activity and a broken sleep pattern.
It is also very easy to make promises to yourself. While you might think you’ll lose those festive pounds as soon as Christmas is over, it doesn’t always happen that easily for the most. Telling yourself that you will revert to wholesome foods straight after Christmas and start training every day as soon as January arrives, is not often followed through. This false sense of comfort that feels so real at the time, is enough to give you the false confidence to believe that what you are doing will not hinder you. However, many people never go on to lose their Christmas weight gain and even for those who do, it can be a slow, frustrating journey back that takes goal setting and planning.
The good news is that staying healthy over Christmas is possible and you are able to avoid gaining excess weight and still enjoy the holiday season, so you can start the new year feeling great
The problem with letting go of all your efforts and self-care over the Christmas weeks doesn’t simply stop with excess body weight. The reduced physical activity, increase in calories, higher levels of alcohol intake and less sleep all have a huge impact on our state of mind and many people experience a downward turn in their mental health post-Christmas. The festive party season often leaves people feeling exhausted, overweight and unmotivated. This can be avoided and for your own physical, mental and emotional health, it is well-worth remaining mindful of how much you eat and how much you exercise over the Christmas period. Perhaps that extra festive cocktail and ‘must-have’ chocolate can wait for another day after-all?
Here are our top five tips to help you have fun at Christmas without hampering your body goals and jeopardising your mental state.
1. Accept that not every occasion is a ‘special occasion’ that requires a ‘special indulgence‘
Friday is not a special occasion. Neither is Saturday and Sunday is not simply the ‘recovery’ day. Much the same, not every day in December is Christmas day.
We all like to treat ourselves and it is very important to do so but where does it say that to treat ourselves is to indulge in something that will knowingly do us harm and result in us feeling bad about ourselves.
Try to find something that you enjoy doing over the festive period that you do not get the time to do ordinarily and that does not involve food or alcohol.
It is hard to avoid that December is typically party season and for many this does mean a series of events surrounded by indulgent foods and festive drinks. This is a perfect time to remind yourself of your goals and to keep focused. Your mind set will be the key to success over the festive weeks and you are the only person who can decide what you do or don’t do, eat or don’t eat, drink or don’t drink. This will be the perfect time to add a measure of restraint and decide, ahead of time, when and where you are going to indulge and when you are going to remain focused on your own goals.
2. Set realistic goals over Christmas
The festive season might not be the best time to aim for your best weight loss result of the year and with some gyms and fitness centres running reduced opening hours over Christmas, your fitness routine can be easily disrupted. It is important to have goals to aim towards and this is true throughout the year but understanding that the Christmas period can be a little unpredictable, for all the reasons discussed above, it would be advisable to keep your goals realistic over this time.
If you have set yourself a goal of going to the gym at 5.30am every morning and relying on nothing but a smoothie to see you through each day in a week where you have 5 Christmas lunches and 14 parties to attend, you will find yourself burning out very quickly. An unrealistic goal is very hard to achieve and when you see yourself falling short of your target, it is often followed by feelings of disheartenment. This in turn leads to you feeling unmotivated and all too often, this leads to your overall goal be pushed aside altogether with a feeling of failure and frustration. Before you know it, you are on your fourth sitting at the cheeseboard washing it down with your fifth glass of your favourite festive tipple.
Setting yourself realistic health goals to see you through the party season will be far more beneficial overall. Maybe your goals for December could be to achieve a minimum number of workouts each week, at any point in the day; spoiler alert, training at 3pm will have the same effect on your body and wellbeing as training as 6am, but not everyone in the ‘fitness’ industry wants you to believe that. When it comes to food and drink, if you go to a party with the expectation of not eating or drinking anything at all, you could find yourself very disappointed in your own efforts as you wake up the next morning hungover and bloated from ‘just one more’ Christmas chocolate. Perhaps instead, before you go, you can decide on a maximum number of drinks you will have and plan your food throughout the day so that you do not arrive at the party too hungry.
3. Stay hydrated
There are so many benefits to drinking water; it helps to keep you focused, it helps with healthy skin, hair and nails, it helps to oxygenate your blood, it helps to maximise your physical performance, it helps your energy levels and brain function and it is worth noting that if you allow yourself to get too-thirsty, your brain will send signals for water that we can often mistake for hunger. This means that, if surrounded by the usual Christmas goodies, you will be more likely to reach for all the extra treats on offer at this time of year.
By keeping yourself sufficiently hydrated will not only benefit you overall, it will also help your body flush out any extra toxins from all that festive fun.
4. Get enough sleep during the silly season
Sleep is massively under-rated at the best of times. Sleep plays a fundamental part in our well-being for so many reasons. It is well-known that a lack of sleep can cause feelings of irritableness and can make it harder for you to work at your best and to think clearly. However, sleep deprivation can be far more serious than that; after just a couple of sleepless nights, the mental effects can become more severe as your brain becomes foggier while your body’s chemical and hormone levels become unbalanced, leading to low moods and even depression and anxiety in extreme cases.
Sleep also boosts your immunity, meaning that when you are getting enough sleep, you are less likely to feel ill.
A little less known reaction is that sleeping less can lead to weight gain. If your body is not getting the rest and recovery it requires while you are sleeping, it becomes stressed which produces increased levels of cortisol. This causes your body to temporarily slow down your metabolism, whilst at the same time causes your body to call out for high-fat and sugary foods, which is what you feel as cravings when you are tired. If that wasn’t enough, a lack of sleep also reduces levels of leptin, which is the hormone that tells the brain you are full-up and increases levels of ghrelin which is the hormone that tells the brain you are hungry. Not an ideal loop to be stuck in when your goal is to lose body fat and be fitter and healthier. For those of you who have read LIFE Fit The Process, you will already know the importance of leptin. And for those of you who have not yet read this book, it is available on Amazon.
So, throughout the party season, if you plan on performing at your best, looking your best and continuing after Christmas at your best, it would be a very good idea to prioritise your sleep.
5. Move every day
Moving your body every day is fundamentally important not just for your physical fitness but for your mental and emotional wellbeing too. Physical activity means many different things to different people. Whether you go to a gym, workout at home, jump in the saddle and cycle, go for a long walk, swim, dance or skip, whatever it is you do, keep doing it. Physical fitness is not an 11-months of the year option. For our over-all wellbeing, doing something to get your body moving will have a massively positive effect on your overall mindset.
Even if you do not continue with your normal fitness routine over the Christmas period, do something, anything that will prevent you from becoming completely sedentary during the festivities. This will not only help lift your mood but it will also help to ease you into January and the fourth coming months with the right mindset, meaning you will be more-likely to slip back into your fitness routine more easily and make the most of the year with the continuation of creating the best you, yet.
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