Diet and exercise! I don’t want to live like that! I refuse to change my diet! I’ve heard these statements and others like it many times. It is a frequent response from those that face the need to lose weight or be healthier. Whether it be for physical attractiveness or health concerns, from the morbidly obese to those that have simply been instructed by their physicians to “get in better shape”. It is as if the words exercise and diet have come to represent the loss everything good in life.
This misconception is due, in part, to popular weight loss television shows that force participants to severely restrict what they eat while being pushed to engage in grueling and lengthy exercise sessions. This presents an incorrect and unattractive characterization of what it takes to live a healthy lifestyle. This is unfortunate especially since science has revealed how simple weight management can be. Research clearly proves that the restrictive dieting – boot camp “just do it” approach does not work long term. In fact, 80% of people who successfully lose 10% or more of their body weight eventually regain it all and then some. Clearly, a different approach is needed.
It is important to understand that, quite often, unhealthy lifestyle habits are physiological, emotional, or psychological addictions that an individual has developed over time to cope with the stressors of daily life. Survival is a powerful drive rooted in the autonomic nervous system. Under stress, the sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates the fight-flight-or-freeze response, takes over control of the body. This results in the release of three key hormones into the bloodstream: cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. These hormones the cause the release of energy reserves from the liver. As glycogen is broken down into glucose it is delivered into the blood stream for immediate use. Prolonged low-level stress causes the activated sympathetic nervous system to deplete the body’s glycogen energy reserves. When this occurs, the body experiences a “crash” characterized by fatigue and later, food cravings. If you have ever dieted and just couldn’t stop snacking late in the evening, this is probably what is going on. Either you have eaten an insufficient number of calories during the day, or you have used up your energy reserves attempting to cope with daily stress. Both situations result in one inevitable and unavoidable physiological drive: to replace depleted glycogen stores. To accomplish this task, the body will override will power with cravings for sugar and fat as the limbic system (the portion of the brain responsible for emergency survival) takes control from the more developed frontal lobe (where willpower and logical reasoning take place). This can lead to strong, uncontrollable, and impulsive coping behaviors (stress eating, emotional eating, Netflix binges…). As a result, the motivation to make healthy lifestyle choices is temporarily disabled and outmatched. Therefore, no weight management program will work if it employees difficult and unpleasant eating restrictions or excessively difficult physical activity as the body and mind perceive these activities as additional stress.
Therefore, the lifestyle behaviors that an individual adopts must be enjoyable and easy to implement. The good news is that science is proving that staying physically active and eating well are actually easier than we once thought. For the general pubic, it is even counterproductive to use very long exercise sessions and restrictive diets in an attempt to reach your health and fitness goals. If you want to be healthy, get fit, and live better, all you need is to start by making a few simple changes.
In short, pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs are okay! BUT… you must CHOOSE healthy versions of these foods. To make it easy, follow a ready-made nutrition plan complete with grocery list to save time, energy, and stress. Start your fitness journey with an easy to follow exercise program that begins with walking and stress reducing stretches. Stay away from activities you find a struggle to engage in. Dance, walk, hike… whatever is FUN for you! Make small, steady changes to your eating habits and try to replace unhealthy coping strategies with healthy ones. By nature, humans develop addictions as coping mechanisms. So, GET ADDICTED to healthy stress coping mechanisms. Find healthy ways to “blow off steam”. Before long, you will find that you don’t crave the unhealthy ones as much. This is key to breaking the unhealthy lifestyle habits that keep you from achieving your weight loss or fitness goals.
Extreme diet and grueling exercise…No, you don’t have to live like that! Even if you have tried before, you can be healthy, get fit, and live better. Choosing the right science-based exercise and nutrition programs is key to living better, longer.