health

Comfort Eating

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Comfort Eating

A brief look at what comfort eating is and how you can manage it

What is comfort eating?

It is not uncommon for people to eat when they feel sad, angry, hopeless, bored or lonely. Eating may even make you feel better in the short term. Some foods, such as chocolate, affect the chemicals in the brain that regulate your mood. For that reason, you often feel better right after you have eaten chocolate but these feelings usually don’t last for very long. Eating as a response to certain emotions, particularly if you are not hungry, is known as comfort eating.

Eating your favorite food occasionally when something upsets you is OK and many people are likely to do this from time to time. Comfort eating may become a problem if you regularly feeling sad, angry, hopeless, bored or lonely and continue to use food to cope with these feelings. If this is the case, it may be a good idea to talk to someone about your feelings and find healthy solutions for managing these emotions. If you are eating when you are not hungry and you feel guilty after eating, it may also be a good idea to talk to someone.

You can contact your medical doctor, dietitian or nutritionist, or psychologist, counselor or other mental health professional for more information. By talking to one of these professionals you should be able to work out some of the reasons why you may be comfort eating and discuss different ways to manage this behavior.

Other ideas for managing your eating

If you are concerned about overeating in response to certain emotions, here are some recommendations about what you can do in addition to finding a professional you can talk to:

Be aware. It is helpful to look at your eating patterns and try to understand what is causing you to eat for comfort. Sometimes, when food is readily available or already on the plate, we may not even realize how much or why we’re eating. This is called ‘unconscious eating’. It’s possible you may be eating because you are feeling sad or stressed. If you experience these feelings often, then you may need to find other ways of managing these feelings. Keeping a diary about what you eat and how you feel before and after you eat can help you to see what triggers your eating. Mindfulness exercises may also be beneficial.

Explore other ways for managing feelings. Comfort eating involves eating to help you deal with your feelings. Try to find other coping strategies to deal with your feelings such as exercising, drawing or writing. Expressing yourself can help you release your emotions in a positive way.

Make a plan for dealing with boredom. Many people have a tendency to eat when they are bored. If you find yourself doing this regularly, it may be useful to find some other activities to participate in when you are bored. You could call a friend, participate in sports, read a book, or go for a walk.

Eating healthy food. If you are using food to cope with your feelings, this may be a long-standing pattern and it could take time to adopt other methods to manage your concerns or stress. A change you could make right away is to eat healthy foods rather than those high in fat or sugar.

 

For more information on health eating habits, check out the nutrition website provided by the US Department of Agriculture.


Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Dieting, Weight Loss, and Finding Peace in Your Body

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Dieting & Weight Loss

A closer look at the misconceptions of weight and health, finding out your body’s natural weight, and learning to find peace with the body you already have

From diet tips in magazines to snack food commercials that emphasize calorie counts and weight loss above all else, the pressure to be thin and the resulting “fat phobia” can be hard to avoid. We often pick up messages from the media about how we should look and the measures we need to take to get there. This message says to us that we aren’t good enough as we are, a message that can be detrimental to our self-esteem. The contradictory information around dieting, weight loss and body image can make it difficult to know what is healthy and how we can eat well, live in and celebrate our bodies as they are.

Body weight and health

Despite what popular culture tells us, body weight alone is not an indicator of health. This means that someone can be at a higher weight and be healthy, or at a lower weight and be unhealthy. To say that everyone who appears overweight is unhealthy or that anyone who looks thin is healthy is an inaccurate generalization. To accurately assess health, we have to take into account a person’s natural set point weight range (see more below), height, muscle mass, bone structure, body fat, genetics, activity level, eating patterns, and relationship to food.

There is also strong evidence of childhood trauma or traumatic experiences being associated with obesity and the development of binge eating disorder. It’s important to remember that body weight is not only associated with physical health, but also with mental health. If you think your body weight may be connected to trauma in your past and it’s something you’d like to heal from, it’s important to talk to a trusted mental health professional.

Natural set point weight range vs Body Mass Index (BMI)

Set point weight theory says that our weight, like our height, settles at a natural range due to our inherited biology and genetics. Once settled, this is the weight range that our body will continue to work to maintain, despite our efforts to alter it. Therefore, the vast majority of people who lose weight on diets will regain that weight. Although our body will gravitate towards its set point, movement within a range is normal due to fluctuations in activity level, seasonal changes in eating patterns, or illness. Because of the variance among set points, standardized weight charts can be misleading and unhelpful.

On the other hand, Body Mass Index or BMI (sometimes also referred to as Ideal Body Weight) is the ratio of your weight (in kilograms) to your height (in meters) squared and is defined as a measure of body fat based on weight and height. Because BMI does not take into account muscle mass, bone structure, genetics, biology, metabolism, or activity level, BMI can portray an inaccurate, unhelpful picture of your physical health.

So how do I know what a healthy weight is for me?

Throughout your growing years, your body is still building bone and muscle, so your weight increases steadily. If your body is still growing, you may not have reached your natural range yet. However, if you have yourself weighed at the doctors, they can tell you where your height and weight averages for your age range. This may give you some insight, but remember, you’re growing. Your body can experience a lot of fluctuations in a short amount of time.

For the rest of you, one way to think about a healthy weight for yourself is to ask what weight range your body has naturally settled in for long periods of time. Pay special attention to times when…

  • Maintaining this weight was natural (e.g., you did not have to under or overeat to achieve it)

  • You were eating well (in good health, not preoccupied with thoughts of food)

  • You had the physical and mental energy to do the things you wanted

The weight your body settled at during these times is likely your healthy weight range.

I want to lose weight, is there a healthy way to do so?

That depends.

If you’re eating a variety of foods according to your body cues, exercising for fun and health, and maintaining your current weight, your body is probably at a healthy weight for you. In this case, it is unlikely that there’s a healthy way to lose weight because your body is already at a healthy weight.

Trying to lose weight at this point is likely to disrupt your internal body cues, slow your metabolism, increase likelihood of binging, decrease body image, increase obsessive thoughts about food, lower self-esteem, and/or increase risk of developing an eating disorder.

Instead, you might benefit from focusing on the feelings driving the desire to lose weight and improving your body image through self-acceptance and compassion. You can also change things up while still maintaining healthy habits by trying new recipes or attempting a new sport.

Perhaps instead of losing weight, you actually mean you’d like to become more fit. Muscle mass itself is heavier than fat, so if you start working out and building muscle mass, you may see an increase in weight with a decrease in body fat. That’s another reason not to become obsessed with the number on your scale. It is just the relationship your body has to the gravitational pull of this earth. If you decide you’d like to become more active, try following some fitness plans online or meeting with a personal trainer at a gym for more information. Moving your body and working towards a specific goal with it (so long as it’s coming from a healthy place) can increase your self-confidence and strengthen the relationship you have with yourself.

If you believe your body is at a higher (or lower) weight than might be natural for you, you might want to change your eating or activity patterns. This type of weight change might occur due to inactivity, over or undereating, illness, or disconnection from your internal body cues. In this case, try not to focus on weight loss (or gain), but rather on restoring health.

You may want to try:

  • Practicing intuitive eating

  • Avoid dieting through set foods and restrictive eating

  • Being mindful while experimenting with small, simple changes will be helpful in this process

Check out our Eating Well & Feeling Healthy article for more information.

Can your set point ever change?

Although our natural set point weight range tends to be rather steady, certain conditions can shift it over time. Chronic dieting, aging, overeating, or not getting enough activity can all increase your set point. Having a poor diet or overly restricting your caloric intake can cause a person’s metabolism to slow, resulting in lower calorie requirements to maintain the same weight. For people who have experienced increases in their natural set point, restoring their set point may be possible through increasing awareness (mindfulness) of internal body signals (e.g., hunger, fullness), the experience of eating, and through becoming more active if not already so.

Recovering from an eating disorder and wanting to lose weight

If you’ve recovered from an eating disorder, developing a healthy relationship to food, eating and your body was hopefully a part of your journey. If you’re engaged in eating well, listening to and respecting your body, then chances are your body is at a healthy weight and the urge to lose weight is an important emotional signal to pay attention to and understand.

For example, we are often taught that when we feel uncomfortable in our body, we should do something to change our body. Sometimes we transfer emotions to our body and try to resolve them through the way we eat or treat our bodies. These are important issues, but they are not resolved through weight loss.

If, on the other hand, you are not engaged in eating well and are having difficulty listening to your hunger and fullness cues, it might be tempting to turn to a diet or weight loss to structure your experience and “get things back on track”. The issue with this, however, is that diets ultimately alienate us from our bodies, overriding our body cues and making it difficult for us to eat intuitively and mindfully.

Rather than focusing on a diet or weight loss, if you’re struggling, try shifting your focus to restoring connection to and trust in your body, restoring health, and if needed, seeking out support from others—including, if necessary, a therapist, nutritionist, or doctor.

Steps for seeking support around weight loss

If you’re curious about losing or gaining weight or have questions around your natural set point, it’s a good idea to consult a health care professional. Your local doctor, nutritionist or dietitian should be able to help you with this information. With support, you can focus on mapping out  healthy, sustainable ways of eating that don’t just measure success through weight loss.

If you are working on changing your eating patterns, it may be helpful to check out community health centers or a nutritionist for information about what products or programs they offer. Before spending money, become fully informed about the weight loss program and check out the safety and credibility of the program or product you’re considering. If you have a complaint about a program or product, address your complaint directly to the company involved, so they are aware of the problem and have an opportunity to fix it.

Finally, if you ever find yourself becoming obsessed by the desire to lose weight or maintain a certain weight, it’s important to seek help. There are often underlying emotional issues behind this drive and support can help you address both the emotional and physical components.

Information for this article was provided by:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com

Benefits of Activity & Exercise

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Staying Active

A closer look at why moving your body is important and what you can do to stay active

The benefits of exercise and being active

Being active helps you to stay healthy, happy and fit. You can enjoy the benefits of a healthy life in a way that is fun and suitable for your lifestyle. There are many different ways you can get active and finding the activity that suits you is an important first step.  You may enjoy walking, running, dancing, surfing, going to the gym, swimming, yoga, Pilates, hiking, playing a team sport or a number of other activities.

Whatever activity you choose, some of the benefits include:

  • Improving your strength, fitness, and confidence which can help you to achieve your goals in life

  • Enabling you to become involved in fun new activities

  • Increasing your energy, flexibility and mobility

  • Helping you to manage stress and anger

  • Increasing your self-esteem

  • Helping you sleep better at night

  • Improving metabolic rate which prevents weight gain and allows you to manage a healthy weight

  • Exercising can be a good way to clear your head if you have a lot on your mind

  • Playing a team sport or joining an exercise center can introduce you to new people

Suggestions for becoming active

Everyone has a different level of physical fitness and finding a pace that is right for you is important. Exercise doesn’t have to be painful; it can be fun and require minimal organization and money. If you have medical difficulties or are feeling pain when you exercise, it is a good idea to talk with your doctor about what type of activities are best for you.

Here are some suggestions that may help when you start exercising:

Start gradually. Try not to do too much too fast. As a general rule, you should be able to hold a conversation, but not be able to sing while you are exercising. Remember that any amount of exercise is beneficial. You could start by using the stairs instead of the escalator or going for a 5 - 10 minute walk. As being active becomes easier, you can increase the time and intensity of your activity. Try not to become discouraged if you find yourself becoming pretty sore after starting your workouts. The more you do it, the easier it’ll become and the less you’ll feel sore. Think of it as really putting the work in and use that as encouragement to keep going.

Make it social. It can be more inspiring, helpful and fun if you exercise with a friend.  Having someone else join you may increase your motivation and give you the opportunity to catch up socially. You could go for a walk, run, or swim together or you could join a group activity together.

Make it part of your routine. With the busy lives we lead, it is sometimes difficult to include exercise into our routine. A great way to start would be to set aside a time in the day for exercising, such as before or after dinner or before school or work. Other options include incorporating exercise into your daily life, like walking to school or work instead of catching the bus.

Make it fun. If you choose something you enjoy, being active and exercising can be a fun part of your day. You may want to kick a soccer ball with friends, play tennis, go dancing with a group, listen to music while walking or running or take the dog for a walk. Also, playing a team sport or joining a group activity will enable you to make new friends while still being active.

Where to go if you want to start to get active

Go to your local YMCA or YWCA. A YMCA or YWCA is a great place to go to work out or join a health or well-being program. Unlike a typical gym, the YMCA is catered towards activities and programs for young people and families. You could go just for a swim, take a class, and join a longer-term program or any number of other activities.

A gym. Even if you can’t afford going to the YMCA/YWCA, there are still fairly inexpensive options for gyms. Often times gyms can set you up with a personal trainer to help design a plan to meet your fitness goals and offer a variety of classes to learn from. If you’re intimidated by all the weights or machines, a personal trainer or gym employee can help explain how to use them safely. There are also videos online that show you how to have proper form when using free-weights like barbells, dumbbells, and kettle-bells, or when performing exercises on the machines.

Your local park. There is a good chance your local park has organized team sports.  Joining a community team could be a fun, casual way to exercise and play your favorite sport. If you are worried about your ability to play the sport, these sorts of teams are usual more relaxed than a school or college team. Parks also sometimes hold events such as tournaments, festivals, yoga lessons or other activities that could be a different way of exercising. Also, a park is always a great place to go for a jog, ride a bike, exercise alone or play a sport with your friends.

Your school. Many states require physical education in schools by law. Taking a physical education class at school is a great way to get your daily exercise and start forming healthy exercise habits early on. If physical education is not a requirement, you may want to take a class anyway, especially if you are too busy with schoolwork and external activities to exercise outside of school. Another great way to exercise in school or college is by joining a team. You can do something you love, make a new group of friends, and have fun all while increasing your health! At the college level, many universities have fitness and recreation centers with a ton of options for exercising. Stop by your college’s fitness center and check out everything you could do there!

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Eating Well & Feeling Healthy

Making healthy eating choices

A closer look at some guidelines to follow when it comes to eating well

If you’ve ever found yourself confused by what it means to eat well, you’re not alone. For many, this is a sensitive area that often brings up issues related to weight, body image and self-esteem. Conflicting media messages around health and food can also raise a lot of questions around what to eat. This fact sheet is intended to help you better understand the connection between eating well and your physical and mental health.

If you or someone you know struggles with eating issues, you may also want to read our fact sheet on overcoming an eating disorder and the steps you can take towards recovery.

Why eat well?

Eating well plays an important role in determining how healthy you feel both physically and mentally. How you eat can make a huge impact on how you feel on a daily basis, influencing your emotional well-being, social support system, stress levels, and self-esteem.

Many people believe that all the chemicals playing into our mood originate in the brain, but it was found that about 90% of your serotonin is produced in your gut! Serotonin is a chemical that influences your mood, sleep, memory, learning, appetite and digestion. It’s easy to see why it’s so important to give your body the nourishment it needs.

Eating well provides you with the fuel you need for physical and mental energy. By providing yourself with the necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrients; you enhance your immune function, stress response, and mood.

What does it mean to eat well?

Eating well is not about following a set of rules, but rather about learning what your body needs. It has two components: “what you eat” and “how you eat”.

When it comes to “what you eat”, ask yourself:

  • Am I meeting my nutritional needs by eating a variety of vegetables and fruits; whole grains; legumes (beans), seeds, and nuts; healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, or flax seed; and healthy sources of protein like fish or lentils?

  • What about enjoying dessert from time to time and taking pleasure in the social aspect of eating and meals?

When it comes to “how we eat”, think about:

  • Trying to have a flexible approach to eating that doesn’t cut out food groups or label foods “good” or “bad”

  • Using your sense of hunger and fullness as a guide to what and when to eat

What are the benefits of eating well?

Eating well can strengthen the positive relationship between our body image and food. How and what we eat often reflects how we treat our bodies more generally and if we learn to eat well (i.e. intuitively and without rigid restrictions), we may also start feeling better toward our bodies.

When we treat our bodies respectfully by listening to and meeting cues of hunger and fullness, we are not only eating well—we are practicing self-respect and self-care. When we refrain from restricting certain food groups and practice a flexible approach towards food, we are practicing self-compassion, which in turn can increase positive body image.

Tips for eating well

Your eating patterns, like any behavior, take time to change. If you have struggled in the past with eating, it’s natural to have questions or feel nervous. Being patient and kind to yourself as you try to make changes is a key part of the process.

Here are some ideas that might help you in eating well:

Dieting vs Lifestyle Changes: Dieting is an approach to eating that prioritizes making rules for what, how, and when you can eat. It doesn’t alleviate the origins of the eating issues and research has found that many people will regain the weight they’ve lost on a diet because it was not a sustainable change. Many diets will lead you to ignoring your body’s signs of hunger and fullness, which decreases our understanding and awareness of our bodies. Shift your mindset from going on a diet to making a new lifestyle choice that includes making healthier choices about what you eat. In practice, it is better to make adjustments to your diet and eating habits slowly, so as to not overwhelm yourself and will help you create long-lasting changes you can stick to.

Practice intuitive eating: Eating intuitively is the idea that you should “eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full”. Mixed messages from peers and the media, past eating habits, and previous dieting practices might make it difficult to identify and respond to inner body cues, making it difficult to distinguish between physical and emotional feelings. Some of the principles of intuitive eating include: rejecting the diet mentality, honoring your hunger, making peace with food, challenging ideas of “bad” foods, and respecting fullness. It also includes differentiating between physical hunger and the urge to use food to cope with stress, loss, lack of control, or anxiety. For more on intuitive eating, click here.

Be mindful: Intuitive eating is based in learning to be in tune with your body so that you can accurately detect sensations of hunger and fullness--and differentiate these from emotional feelings. One way to do this is “eating mindfully” or paying intentional, non-judgmental attention to the experience of eating and drinking. It might seem strange to pay attention to the taste, colors, textures, and flavors of our food, but this attention, combined with mindfulness regarding the way we think about food and the way eating affects our mood and emotions, allows a greater awareness of body cues and eating patterns. It can also be an effective grounding tool that keeps you present with your body.

Start small: You may want to change certain eating habits like eating past the point of fullness, ignoring or not noticing hunger, or not paying attention when you eat. Lasting change happens from many small changes made over time. So, as you make efforts to change, try to start small and simple. If you’re working on paying attention to hunger, experiment with carrying snacks with you so you can eat when you feel yourself becoming hungry. Or if you’re experimenting with noticing fullness, eat slowly and wait in between additional helpings. Give yourself time to notice how full you’re actually feeling, perhaps drinking some water as you wait.

Taking an interest in what you eat: Taking part in planning what you eat and cooking your own food is a great way to connect to the experience of eating and self-care. As we become aware of the food we eat, where it comes from, and how it’s grown, this awareness can motivate us to make healthy choices. Planning, cooking, and other forms of preparing our meals (doing the dishes!) are all places you can practice mindfulness.

Self-compassion: Give yourself permission to eat and respect your body.  Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds—and be committed to learning what it is that makes you feel well! Remember that your worth is not dependent on what you eat and that you don’t have to eat a “perfect” diet to be healthy. Eating well is about your relationship to your body and food choices through balance, flexibility, ease, and enjoyment. Progress, intention, and mindfulness matter more than the illusion of perfection.

Get support: If you’re finding it challenging to make changes, you may find it helpful to talk to your medical doctor, a dietitian, or a nutritionist. With support and resources, you can develop a realistic plan for eating well and being healthy.

Information in this article was provided by:

For more information on health eating habits, check out the nutrition website provided by the US Department of Agriculture.


Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com