“Now there are more overweight people in America than average-weight people. So overweight people are now average. Which means you’ve met your New Year’s resolution.” – Jay Leno
Battling Your Weight
Millions of people in the United States constantly battle their weight – and “battle” is the appropriate word. We are at war with our bodies, and our emotional health suffers as much as our physical health does. America is the fattest country in the world. Being overweight or obese has consequences reaching far beyond appearance, so it is important that each of us take a look at this issue – and at the mind body connection involved.
Being overweight or obese is more than a matter of appearance; it’s a matter of physical and spiritual health. When you carry more than your ideal weight, you may be putting yourself at risk for the following:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Heart disease
- Sleep apnea
- Gallbladder disease
- Complications during pregnancy
- Fatty liver disease
- Certain types of cancer
From the time I was 14 until I was close to 30, I vacillated between the extremes of 110 pounds and 160 pounds, so take it from me, I know all about weight problems. Since my late twenties, my weight hasn’t deviated more than three pounds, and I’ll share the secrets of my success with you later in this piece. I also write often about this topic in my newsletter; if you’d like more information about it, CLICK here.
Obesity also can have devastating effects on our emotional health. A study done of morbidly obese people found that a vast majority would rather be blind or have a leg amputated than be obese. They would rather be poor and thin than rich and overweight. Add to this the perception that overweight and obese people “make” themselves this way and are to blame. This creates emotional pain, including self-hate, low self-esteem, and a host of other psychological problems.
A 1991 study found that obese people believe they are unattractive, that others make rude and negative comments about them, and that they are discriminated against in the workplace. Many also felt that they were treated disrespectfully by their doctors, the very people who are supposed to help them. And this is not paranoia. One-third of doctors who responded to a recent survey said that they show a negative response to obese patients. Yet another survey found that 66 percent of doctors and nurses would describe their obese patients as lacking in self-control and lazy.
Imagine battling your weight and having such an enormous lack of support from the people who are supposed to be your biggest allies. It is not surprising that many obese and overweight people suffer from low self-esteem. They also have a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders.
Let’s take a look at some other effects of weight:
- University of Texas at Austin researchers found that girls who are obese are half as likely to attend college as thin girls.
- Obese and overweight people are less likely to engage in physical activity. And despite what many people think, it is often not due to laziness. They feel uncomfortable in gyms, changing in locker rooms, or walking down the street because of their size and because of the fear that people will make fun of them. Of course, this only compounds the problem and makes them less likely to undertake self improvement measures.
- Twenty-four percent of women and 17 percent of men would trade three years of their respective lives to be thinner, according to Psychology Today.
- A study led by Dr. Merrill Elias of Boston University found that obesity can actually affect the brain as well as the body. Obesity was shown to decrease brain power, particularly in the areas of memory and learning. In addition, related conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease exacerbate the problem.
- The Texas Department of Health found that children who were obese faced short-term effects such as teasing, bullying, and name-calling and were often targets of rumors and lies. Long-term effects for these children, even if they lost weight, included lower education attainment, lower marriage rates, and disparate treatment in the job world.
Many people who are overweight or obese hate their bodies. Since there is really no way to disconnect one’s mind and spiritual energy from their physical body, this bleeds over into their own levels of emotional wellness.
Unprocessed Emotion is a Leading Cause of Weight Gain
Stress is Another Major Cause of Weight Gain
When even medical doctors perceive overweight and obese people as lazy, overindulgent, and unable to control themselves, we indeed face a very difficult and stressful struggle toward self-healing. There are so many factors that play into weight. That is not to say that we cannot undergo a personal transformation, nor is it an excuse. It is an appeal for understanding and compassion. If we can understand the contributing factors, perhaps we can engage in spiritual healing and overcome this challenge.
Adelle Davis was an early nutritionist who advocated for whole, unprocessed foods as being necessary for health. Of obesity, she said:
To say that obesity is caused by merely consuming too many calories is like saying that the only cause of the American Revolution was the Boston Tea Party.
Let’s not ignore the whole story and continue to perceive ourselves and others in a harmful, negative light that can damage emotional renewal efforts. Let’s work to get to the root of obesity and overweight in order to renew our levels of spiritual health.
Forget thinking that all your hurrying and worrying is helping you lose weight; it’s just the opposite. Worry causes stress, and stress is the major factor in weight gain. How do you deal with emotional stress? Have you thought about it? Do you work too much? Drive a lot in heavy traffic? Don’t get outside in the fresh air enough? Constantly fight with your partner or kids or family or co-workers? Have friends or family that are critical or jealous or obnoxious? Can’t pay your bills? Lose your retirement account in the financial upheavals? These are all stressors, and stress symptoms often lead to physical problems.
I find that nearly everyone I work with these days shows symptoms of stress, which indicates that they are overworking their adrenal glands. The adrenals are supposed to be there for emergencies, but many of us use them chronically, every day, just to survive. When we were cave people and we faced danger, our adrenals would shoot cortisol into our bodies to give us the boost of energy we needed to escape. Cortisol, a hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands, helps regulate glucose metabolism and blood pressure, releases insulin, and maintains immune function. It has been shown that cortisol helps boost memory function and immunity and can also lower sensitivity to pain in crucial situations. It is also released during periods of stress.
When the body feels that it is in crisis, a primal “fight or flight” response takes over. Cortisol and adrenalin flood through the body. When even small amounts are released, cortisol can give a person the energy needed to deal with the crisis. Our ancestors dealt with stress by exerting themselves physically, and after returning to a normal state, they would eat. Our bodies today do the same thing, even though we do not exert ourselves in the same way. Our ancestors may have had to run from a lion, while we may be stressed out about traffic. Yet our response and urge remains the same: to fuel up on carbohydrates and fatty foods, which are then stored as fat for the next emergency.
Today, that same hormone that let our ancestors flee the wooly mammoth instead fosters fat deposits, especially around our middle. Worse, both stress and cortisol increase our appetite in its effort to replenish the fats and carbs our body thinks it used to escape that predator, which makes it doubly hard to cut calories. Whether you’re under too much stress at work or at home or truly in danger, your body can’t tell the difference. The relationship between stress and health is quite serious. When your body feels emotional stress, it makes a shift in your metabolism and blood flow in case you need that extra energy.
Dr. Pamela Peeke of the University of Maryland School of Medicine says:
In today’s modern world, this elegant survival mechanism may be an anachronism that causes the body to refuel when it doesn’t need to. Sustained stress keeps up cortisol, that cursed hunger promoter, elevated and that keeps appetite up, too.
Yale researchers studied two groups of women. One group stored fat mainly in their abdomens. The other group stored it in their hips. Those with more fat in their abdomens were more apt to be threatened by emotional stress and experienced more symptoms of stress. They produced more cortisol, which seems to be stored in the abdomen. A greater proportion of weight in the midsection is an indicator of heart disease in women.
Higher levels of cortisol contribute to food cravings. As we have discussed, our bodies crave high-carbohydrate, high-fat foods. Prolonged high levels of cortisol also cause the metabolism to slow. This means that even if you do not change your eating habits, you may gain weight because your metabolism is not allowing your body to burn calories and fat as efficiently.
But, as with anything in life, it is not that simple. We cannot blame weight on stress or cortisol. We may be predisposed by our brain chemistry to react to high levels of cortisol by eating, but the response is also learned.
Dr. David Ginsberg of the Behavioral Health Program at New York University Medical Center says:
Under stress, there’s an impulse to do something, to move, and often, eating becomes the activity that relieves the stress. It’s easy to do and it’s comforting.
Dr. Riccardo Perfetti, director of outpatient diabetes services at Cedar Sinai, says:
During the first couple of days following a stressful event, cortisol is giving you a clue to eat high-carbohydrate foods. Once you comply, you quickly learn a behavioral response that you can feel almost destined to repeat anytime you feel stressed.
While we can’t blame weight issues on emotional stress alone, it does appear to be a big contributing factor. An important part in self-healing and reaching a healthy weight is to reduce emotional stress. While we may sometimes think that it is not possible, what with children, jobs, obligations, and the world in general heaping loads of anxiety upon us, emotional stress relief is attainable. More than that, it is necessary.
There are myriad ways to relieve stress symptoms; the key is to do it in a way that is good for your spiritual health. We may feel a temporary sense of emotional pain relief when we eat sundaes or have a few drinks, but this actually contributes to the problem and to our respective weight. Instead, we should choose activities that encourage personal growth. Exercise, writing, crafts, reading, meditation, deep breathing techniques, guided imagery and visualization will help a great deal with the process of holistic healing. Find something that works for you. Attend an energy healing workshop. Find a wellness expert that can help. Read a self improvement book. Whatever it is, take the time to treat yourself to relaxation and spiritual healing. If you’d like to read more about stress, here’s a LINK to an article I’ve written on that subject.
Sleep Deprivation: Another Major Cause of Weight Gain
A 2005 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that half of Americans report getting good, restful sleep only a few times per week. Many reported only getting good sleep a few times per month. There are many reasons for sleep problems, of course, but one side effect of a lack of sleep that may be surprising is that sleep and weight loss are connected.
Eve Van Cauter of the University of Chicago said:
We know the obesity epidemic is due to overeating – too big portions, too much rich food and too little activity – but why do we crave too much of these rich foods? [Maybe it is because] we are sleep-deprived and unable to curb our appetites.
How does sleep affect your weight? Sleep deprivation affects two key hormones: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates appetite. Higher levels cause people to feel hungry. Leptin causes a feeling of satisfaction and fullness. Leptin sends the message to your brain that you are full. Sleep problems cause higher levels of ghrelin and lower levels of leptin; your body is not getting the message that it is full, so your appetite increases. Van Cauter calls ghrelin and leptin “the yin and yang of hunger. One is the accelerator for eating, and the other is the brake.” Sleep deprivation causes an imbalance in this system.
Researchers at the University of Chicago conducted a study in which twelve healthy men of normal weight slept at a hospital lab, eating dinner and breakfast. During one session, the men were given only four hours of sleep for two consecutive nights. During another session, they were allotted ten hours. The findings? After the sessions of four hours of sleep, levels of leptin were 18 percent lower and levels of ghrelin were 28 percent higher. Those with the most drastic changes reported feeling very hungry. They craved foods that were high in fat and carbohydrates.
The emotional effects of sleep deprivation are huge because sleep refreshes our bodies and minds and can also help keep us at healthy weights. How much should you get? Experts recommend that you get between seven and nine hours each night. You may think this is too difficult with your schedule, but see what you can cut out to increase your sleeping time. Skipping an hour of television is no big sacrifice, especially if it will help with your weight. Budget in time for sleeping because sleep and weight loss are very interconnected.
Good sleep is about setting the mood. Don’t nap more than 20 minutes during the day, and make sure to get some exercise before evening. This makes for a much sounder sleep. Also, make sure you turn down the lights an hour or two before bed so your senses are not over-stimulated. Don’t watch TV an hour before bedtime and never in bed. The bed itself should be reserved for sex and sleep. Do something calming and relaxing before you go to sleep: read, listen to soothing music, meditate, pray, or just enjoy a few minutes of quiet. If you have a hard time getting to sleep, try taking a warm bath at least two hours before bed. Make sure your room is dark and cool. Watching television, working, and even reading can delay sleep or make it more difficult to fall asleep.
SAD, Sadness, and Weight Gain
Just as we draw spiritual energy from other people, we also draw it from the world around us. Sunlight, for instance, is an important source of energy for many of us. If you have ever felt the winter blues, you know that your spiritual energy is often reduced and you feel sadder than usual. This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Millions of people experience this depression between the months of September and April but particularly during December through February, when the days are shortest and we are exposed to the least amount of sunshine. This causes an imbalance in the hypothalamus gland and produces feelings of depression, irritability, and lethargy. It can also cause quite a drag on your spiritual health.
SAD creates serious emotional pain in about 5 percent of the population, but as many as 20 percent are affected in general, even if they are not prone to depression during other times of the year.
One of the effects of SAD is that our appetites increase and we typically crave foods that are higher in carbohydrates. This may be due to the change in serotonin levels (less serotonin is produced in the winter). Weight gain is very common, especially because we often feel too tired to exercise. We also tend to cut back on more functional fitness-type tasks, such as yard work and short walks, because of the weather. This contributes both to our lethargy and weight gain.
On the positive side, the effects of SAD reverse when spring comes, and much personal growth can be experienced, but for people who are overweight, any weight gain is both disheartening and unhealthy. What can you do to keep SAD weight gain to a minimum or even lose weight during the winter months?
Increase your exposure to sunlight. Even when it is dreary out, you can get some benefit from a short walk. Put on a coat and hat and get out there. You will receive some important rays of light as well as necessary exercise. Some emotional renewal will be experienced. Try to do this every day, even if it is only for ten or fifteen minutes at a time.
Many people also find relief with full spectrum lamps and light boxes. They are designed to mimic natural sunlight. Studies have been conducted throughout the world, and patients have seen holistic healing when exposed to these lights. Usually, improvements are seen in about a week. To maintain self healing in this manner, consistent exposure to the lamps was needed throughout the fall and winter months. They are inexpensive and easily available online and at stores nationwide.
Use your cravings for carbs to help keep your weight in check. Carbohydrates increase levels of serotonin. Because serotonin helps regulate mood and appetite, you do need them in your diet. Instead of filling up on empty carbs like sweets, ice cream, white bread, pasta, and rice, incorporate more fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Trade white bread for whole wheat. This will help your body produce more serotonin, keep you full longer, calm cravings, and keep weight from creeping on.
Exercise. It can be very difficult to get moving in the winter, but even a little increase in activity can be very helpful. If you don’t want to drive to and from a gym, invest in a few home workout videos. There is an immense variety available, and you can do them in the comfort of your own home. Personal growth is possible with a simple video or DVD. Start with a few times a week and work your way up. You will find that you feel better and have more energy. Your weight will stabilize or decrease, as well.
Eating Our Feelings
“Gluttony is an emotional escape, a sign something is eating us.” – Peter De Vries
Have you ever eaten when you weren’t hungry? Most, if not all of us, have at some point, and for some it can have devastating effects. Emotional eating – eating in response to feelings instead of hunger – is a major factor in overweight and obesity. We may eat to relieve boredom, as a form of self healing, to allay feelings of anger or sadness, and to calm anxiety, and the foods we typically turn to are high in fat, calories, and empty carbohydrates. When you’re sad, you don’t often crave vegetables or lean meat; you want comfort food.
Dr. Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab at the University of Illinois, says:
Comfort foods are foods a person eats to obtain or maintain a feeling. Comfort foods are often wrongly associated with negative moods, and indeed, people often consume them when they’re down or depressed, but interestingly enough, comfort foods are also consumed to maintain good moods.
Whether we are trying to find emotional pain relief or maintain a level of happiness, eating when we’re not hungry contributes to weight problems and encourages unhealthy habits. Everyone does it once in a while, but if that is how you reduce stress and maintain mood on a regular basis, then you will gain weight or sabotage any efforts you are making to lose it.
It can be hard to tell at times when you are eating emotionally. There are signs that will help you recognize if you are doing it:
- Often comes on suddenly and is urgent.
- Has you craving specific foods (studies have shown that sad people, for instance, reach for ice cream while those who are bored tend to prefer potato chips). Craving unhealthy foods is a sign of emotional eating. This is because emotional eating is in your head, not your stomach.
- Is usually accompanied by unpleasant feelings or events.
- Is subconscious. You may get a bag of chips to eat while you watch TV. Before you know it, you’ll look down and see that they are gone. You’ve eaten without being conscious of it.
- Doesn’t stop when you are full.
- Causes guilt. We often feel regret and guilt when we eat for our emotions. Ironically, this can sometimes cause even more eating.
If you eat because of your emotional pain instead of hunger, the first step in conquering this pattern of behavior is to be aware of it and identify why you are eating. Are you bored, lonely, sad, angry, depressed, or anxious? Do you eat too much when in social situations? When you’ve experienced emotional stress? When you are alone watching television? At night? Identify when and why you engage in emotional eating; this is half the battle.
When you next feel the urge to eat, take a moment to think about whether or not you are hungry. This can be very difficult to do, but close your eyes and focus. Does your stomach feel empty? Is the feeling of hunger in your belly as opposed to your head or throat? If it is, have a snack. If it is in your head, try doing something non-food related until the craving goes away. You can:
- Take a walk. Exercise often stops cravings, and has the added bonus of being a great way to lose weight and restore the mind body connection correctly.
- Call a friend, play with your children, clean, write a letter, take a bath – anything that is productive and requires you to keep your mind occupied.
- Keep healthy snacks in your home.
- Don’t refer to food as “bad.” There are no “bad” foods, only bad amounts! Moderation is the key. But for those of us who don’t even know how to spell “moderate,” it may be impossible to just eat one cookie. I’m one of those people, and I’ve learned that I need to stay away from certain foods altogether.
It can also be helpful to make a list of times when you are prone to emotional eating and prepare some things to do when hunger strikes. Knitting while you watch television can keep you from reaching for a bag of chips; taking a bath when you get home from work can keep you from relieving stress with food; going for a walk or run helps you release anger without compromising your health and weight loss goals.
The key here is to be aware of the mind body connection when you eat and to persevere. It is easy to eat because of emotions, and it is easy to let the habit continue. It takes hard work, persistence, and awareness to break this habit, but your health, happiness, and well-being are at stake. This is an important step in getting your weight under control.
Cheer Up, Have a Cookie
Jane Jakubczak, a registered dietitian at the University of Maryland, says:
Oftentimes when a child is sad, we cheer them up with a sweet treat. This behavior gets reinforced year after year until we are practicing the same behavior as adults. We never learned how to deal with the sad feeling because we always pushed it away with a sweet treat. Learning how to deal with feelings without food is a new skill many of us need to learn.
The habits we learn in childhood stay with us much longer and can be difficult to break. Eating is one of the most fundamental things we learn, and we learn it from our parents. If they taught us to use food as emotional pain relief or gave us sugary treats when we were good, this reinforces emotional eating.
Today, 17 percent of children ages two through nineteen are obese, and an additional 16 percent are overweight. One of the major factors is overeating. Researchers at the University of Illinois, Michigan State University, and Iowa State University found that children who lived below the poverty line and whose mothers experienced emotional stress were far more likely to overeat in response to stress than other children. They sought refuge in high-fat, high-calorie, sugary comfort foods.
Not only does this create emotional pain for children, but it also encourages unhealthy eating habits that will last into adulthood. Many of the habits we learn that contribute to overweight and obesity are obtained in childhood. These include:
- The amount of television we watch. It has been shown that children who watch more television also eat more. In fact, as adults, we are more prone to be overweight if we watch two or more hours of television each day.
- Not concentrating on what we eat. This can mean either wolfing food down or eating subconsciously while we do something else, like watching television, driving, or talking on the phone. Regular sit-down mealtimes can make a big difference when it comes to our long-term weight.
- Not making exercise a priority. Children naturally love moving their bodies, but along the way, many learn more sedentary habits. If physical activity is not emphasized or considered important, they are less apt to engage in exercise as adults.
Don’t blame your parents or upbringing. Despite the habits we learned, it is up to us to take find a method of self healing as adults. Blaming others will not help you lose weight, and it may keep you in a victim mindset where nothing is your fault. While you may find some measure of emotional pain relief in this, it doesn’t help you achieve your goals.
Turning the Tide: Eat well, eat often
“Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”– Mark Twain
We have discussed many of the emotional health factors that contribute to the epidemic of obesity in our country. Now what do we do about it? How can you break yourself out of your current eating and lifestyle habits in order to lose the weight that is holding you back? Body, mind, and spirit each plays a role in your life, and each holds the key for weight loss.
One of the important things we must realize when we struggle with weight is that food is not the enemy. In fact, food is essential to holistic healing; we can’t do it without good nutrition.
One of the nutrients your body needs to get is protein. Protein is a nutrient comprised of amino acids. There are twenty amino acids and, in different combinations, they create different types of protein. Our bodies produce eleven of these amino acids, and we need to eat in order to supply the remaining nine. Animal and soy proteins are “complete” because they contain all nine amino acids. Vegetables, nuts, and legumes are “incomplete” because they lack one or more. Eating a healthy variety of food, then, is important to our getting the protein we need. Why eat protein? It is essential for good health; proteins play a role in immune function, sleep, digestion, and ovulation. They also curb appetite, which is crucial for those struggling to create a personal transformation and lose weight.
A study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when fat was reduced and protein was increased, participants were less hungry. People in the study followed a diet in which fat comprised 20 percent of their calories. Protein made up 30 percent, and carbohydrates made up the final 50 percent. They were less hungry and reported feeling more satisfied. As a result, they ate 441 fewer calories per day. At this rate, they would lose about one pound per week, which is optimal for healthy weight loss and holistic healing.
Researcher Dr. Donald Layman of the University of Illinois conducted another study in which participants followed a high-protein diet combined with exercise. This promoted weight loss as well as lower levels of lipids (fats in the blood, i.e. cholesterol and triglyceride). Dr. Layman said:
Our research suggests that higher-protein diets help people better control their appetites and calorie intake. Diets higher in protein [and] moderate in carbs, along with a lifestyle of regular exercise, have an excellent potential to reduce blood lipids [and] maintain lean tissue while burning fat for fuel without dieters being sidetracked with constant hunger.
British researchers found that protein intake releases a hormone called PYY, which, when released into the stomach, reduces hunger. Interestingly, obese people have to eat twice as many calories as thin people to release PYY, so eating protein may help them cut calories.
In yet another study, this one published in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that people who ate lean protein at breakfast (eggs and Canadian bacon) felt sated throughout the day.
Timing, in addition to the actual protein intake, may play a part in its efficacy in this mind body connection. Most people get sufficient protein throughout the day, according to the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). The Institute of Health’s Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) recommends that anywhere from 10 to 35 percent of calories come from protein. In an 1800 calorie-per-day diet, you could eat between 45 and 218 grams of protein. Good sources are lean meat, legumes, nuts, and eggs.
As mentioned, timing can be very important, and this applies to your meals as well. In our culture, we typically have three big meals a day and snacks in between. Breakfast is usually the lightest meal, and dinner is usually the largest. Changing the way you think about meals can help you undergo a personal transformation and lose weight. The key is to eat smaller meals more frequently. You can eat five or six quality meals per day. This has numerous benefits for your health. First, it helps keep you from getting too hungry. You know that long stretch between lunch and dinner? Most of us usually fill it up with snacks. Instead, you could be eating a little meal that would keep you satisfied. Despite the increase in the number of meals, you actually consume less while staying satiated.
Some people believe that eating smaller meals throughout the day helps boost metabolism. There is no direct scientific evidence to support this, but if you do not let your body get too hungry, you run less risk of overeating. You also do not feel deprived, which is the downfall of many a diet. It also helps stabilize blood sugar, which can help you maintain energy and keep you from reaching for sugary, starchy, carbohydrate-loaded snacks.
Interestingly, a study done by researchers from the University of Cambridge found that people who ate smaller meals throughout the day had lower cholesterol levels (about 5 percent lower) than those who ate according to a more traditional model. Americans are notorious for our big portions. To lose weight and maintain emotional health, it is important that we change our thinking about food. Smaller meals can be just as satisfying if they are comprised of quality foods and are eaten slowly and thoughtfully.
Exercise: Great for Personal Growth
“Lack of activity destroys the condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” – Plato
We all know that exercise is important; we all know the benefits to our bodies and minds. So why don’t we all do it? Why aren’t we out moving our bodies? There are a number of excuses: “I don’t have the time.” “I can’t afford a gym.” “I feel uncomfortable exercising in front of people.” “I get tired too quickly.” “I’m so tired from work.” “I have children.” But these excuses are just that, and there is absolutely no reason why we should not exercise. It’s a major part of personal growth.
Even people with physical conditions that prohibit strenuous activity can do some modified exercises to maintain their health and weight. For every excuse you can think of, there is a solution. Can’t afford a gym? Go for a walk outside. Don’t like to exercise in front of people? Buy a video and do it in your living room. Have kids? Perfect! They can exercise with you, or you can chase after them in the park for an hour. There is no other way to effectively lose weight and undergo the personal transformation you’ve been searching for.
If you need a little motivation to start exercising, consider the benefits. Your mind body connection will be restored; you will feel stronger and leaner. You will find that going up a flight of stairs isn’t a challenge anymore and that you do not get short of breath walking down the block. You will cut down on emotional eating because you now have an outlet for stress. You will feel freer because you are loosening the bonds of weight and finding a measure of self empowerment you didn’t have before. All of these benefits and more await you when you exercise. Yes, it may be difficult at first, but anything worth doing is. The best exercise advice in the world is “Just Do It.” Just get up and do something, and the self healing can begin.
When you are getting started, the best exercise is the one that you will do. Find something that you enjoy and do it. Walking, for instance, is enormously popular because you can do it anywhere, it is free, and you already know how to do it. There are also various fitness videos that may interest you on anything from dance to kickboxing. Start out with short sessions – about twenty to thirty minutes each, three times a week. As your body gets used to it, and you start seeing results, increase the duration and frequency. Your emotional pain relief will improve too.
It is important to set goals but not expect too much from yourself at once. For instance, a great goal when you are beginning is to exercise three days a week. It is manageable, and it will provide you with much needed success early in your process. Setting a self improvement goal of running five miles during your first week of exercise is setting yourself up for failure. This is a great goal, and one you can shoot for once you have established your exercise routine and increased your fitness level. But for beginners, it is discouraging. Start small, give yourself chances for success, and keep building on them. Personal transformation really is that easy.
Schedule time for workouts. You would make time to help a friend with a problem; why not treat yourself as well? Find a time that works for you and stick with it. Having an exercise partner can often help you keep your “appointments.” Also, many people find personal growth with a reward system. This can be as simple as giving yourself a checkmark or a star on your calendar for each day you exercise or getting a treat when you’ve met a goal. Make sure it is non-food related. For example, when you’ve exercised five times a week for four consecutive weeks, buy yourself a new outfit or treat yourself to a massage. It can even be something free, like having a bubble bath or going for a peaceful nature walk.
Your doctor can advise you about exercise, and you can find a lot of help and support from self improvement books, personal growth seminars, the internet, and other people who are losing weight. An excellent site is www.sparkpeople.com, which gives you a way to track your calories, your exercise, download exercises you can do at home, and join active support groups. But ultimately, like much in life, it is up to you. The only way exercise works is if you do it. The great thing about exercise, though, is that you will enjoy it. No, really! It helps relieve emotional stress, and it releases endorphins into your system. You will feel such a sense of accomplishment after you exercise, and while it is energizing, it is also relaxing. There are too many benefits available to skip exercise.
Walk Away the Weight (and the Blues)
We mentioned walking as one of the best exercises, especially for beginners. Walking can reduce the incidence of cancer, heart disease in women, stroke, diabetes, and depression, and it can curb the loss of bone density, increase good cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, and much more. It can even slow the aging process. Dr. Jon Connelly of the Abilene Regional Medical Center’s Heart and Vascular Institute says:
A person can have two risk factors for heart disease, and yet be less likely to [be] affected than a sedentary person with no risk factors. Activity level is a real risk factor in heart disease and other areas of prevention. You can do a lot for yourself by just getting up and getting moving.
Walking is the perfect way to do this. A study done by Harvard researchers found that walking at a moderate pace – about three miles per hour – for a total of three hours per week decreased the risk of heart disease in women by up to 40 percent.
Walking also benefits those who suffer from depression and emotional pain. University of Texas researchers measured the moods of two groups of participants. One group walked for thirty minutes on a treadmill. The other sat quietly. They were questioned five minutes before their sessions, and then questioned again five, thirty, and sixty minutes after. Both groups reported emotional pain relief, but the group that exercised actually felt happier.
John Bartholomew, who was the lead researcher, said:
It’s not something you have to do for ten weeks and it’s not something you have to do at a high intensity. You should derive a benefit very early on in the process, and hopefully that is the kind of thing that will motivate them to continue to engage in the behavior.
To maximize the benefits of walking, always increase the duration and intensity. When your body gets used to your current level, it is time for a new challenge, whether it is adding hills, moving at a brisker pace, adding intervals of running, or carrying small weights. Remember, though, to start slowly. Walking for even twenty minutes three or four days a week at first will confer great emotional health benefits.
Breathing Techniques for Weight Loss
Many times we can become so consumed with losing weight and spiritual healing that we forget the most basic thing we must do: breathe. Proper breathing can help us exercise more efficiently, feel more relaxed and calm, and invite in healthier energy.
Chi is the energy of life, known as prana in Indian culture. In fact, in Sanskrit, “prana” means both “life” and “breath.” To draw in as much prana as possible, it is important that we breathe. This is calledpranayama, which means “breath control” or “breathing techniques.” Part of the yoga tradition, this method of breathing can help one maintain a healthy weight and even lose weight.
Dr. Anand Shetty of Hampton University studied high school students over the course of three months. One group practiced yoga and pranayama breathing techniques four times a week for forty minutes. The breathing was, according to Dr. Shetty, “quiet, deep, breathing.” The students in this group lost an average of six pounds. Moreover, their BMIs decreased by about 6 percent, which can mean the difference between being obese or overweight and being of normal weight. Dr. Shetty says:
I recommend 30 minutes of pranayama and yoga, three to four times a week. This also can easily be incorporated at home during leisure time with other family members.
Pranayama has many benefits for our emotional health in general and also for weight control specifically. It can help boost metabolism, utilize oxygen more efficiently (which helps with exercise and metabolizing food), increase lung capacity, regulate the release of carbon dioxide from the body (so you do not get fatigued as quickly during exercise), and aid the body in removing toxins. All of this can clear the way to weight loss and personal growth.
There are different types of pranayama breathing, depending on what you wish to accomplish at that time. For instance, abdominal breathing requires one to breathe deeply using the diaphragm, returning the breathing to the belly. This is a good way to begin to change our current, shallow breathing patterns. The dirgha breath is used to expand lung capacity. This brings a higher level of oxygen to the blood stream. Typically, no matter what style of breathing techniques you practice, you inhale and exhale using your nose and maintain fluid, regular breaths.
Because we tend to breathe very shallowly, not even using all of our lung capacity, it is important to start pranayama gradually. Stop if you feel flushed or faint; you need to get used to allowing the prana in. The benefits, though, are physical, mental, and spiritual. This is one of the most important aspects of weight loss, because it incorporates all these areas. We cannot separate mind from body, so our weight loss efforts need to address all of our needs.
Final Thoughts on Weight
Weight is an issue for so many people, and it goes far beyond appearances to affect our emotional health and our well-being. In addition to being burdened by weight, we are burdened by shame, self-hatred, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. But the light of hope does shine for millions of people. You have the power within you for self improvement. You can change your weight and live healthily and fully. It is hard work, and many of the people on diets regain their weight. You do not want to diet; you want to change your life permanently for the better. You cannot do this by treating the body alone. There are so many psychological and spiritual energy factors regarding your weight that to do so will only perpetuate failure. Address your body, mind, and spirit, and you will begin to turn the tide in this battle. If you’re having a hard time getting started, come to one of my events and I’ll help you “jumpstart” your metabolism. Sometimes, all we need is a little boost and the pounds start to fall off!
If you’re interested in a self improvement workshop to help you get started, or you think our monthly newsletter might help you find the spiritual energy needed to continue, please click here for more information.