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What’s Your Food Issue?

What’s Your Food Issue?
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    Cheesecake-a-holic

    So, what’s your food issue? Come on, you can tell me. It’s just us. Is there just one issue or are there several? Is it a constant or does it come and go? Do you over-eat? Under-eat? Perhaps you alternate between the two? I have in the past. Is your issue minor or major? Do you lie about it? Have you? I have. Does it have a negative impact on your emotional and mental states? Your life? Relationships? Career? Is it worse in certain situations or under certain circumstances? Are there specific triggers? That cheesecake photo doesn’t help! Do you ever feel out of control? Weird? Ashamed? I have. Are you ever preoccupied with food? Only when I’m awake. Have you started and stopped a bazillion diets? Like… totally. Do you eat one way when people are around and another way when you’re alone? What hidden chocolate? Do you eat when you don’t need to? Yep. Do you medicate with food? Reward yourself (or maybe your kids) with it? Are you ever defensive about your eating habits? Am not, you are.

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    A Common Issue

    In my humble opinion (and it’s almost impossible to verify and quantify this educated guess-timation), almost everyone has some kind of food issue. It might be some occasional (and relatively-minor) over-eating, it could be a full-blown eating disorder (with potentially life-ending consequences) or it could be anything in between. There is indeed a lot of space between disordered eating and an eating disorder. If a score of ten on the Healthy Eating Scale (the one I just invented for this post) is perfect eating (does it actually exist?) and zero is total dysfunction, I think the majority of us live someone between three and seven with occasional visits to one and nine. These days, I mostly live around seven to eight but back in the day, I spent plenty of time in the vicinity of three. So, where do you (mostly) live on the soon-to-be-world-famous Craig Harper Healthy Eating Scale?

    Honesty

    When it comes to exploring and dissecting people’s eating habits, one of the most elusive things to find is total honesty. Complete transparency. Why? Well, lots of reasons but mostly because we don’t want people to think we’re freaks. So, in order to look and sound normal (which is a myth anyway) we lie our arses off. Ironically, we actually lie our arses on.

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    Think about it.

    And it’s this lack of honesty (that is, deception of others and deception of self) that is probably the biggest barrier to health, healing and transformation for most of us. As long as we keep bullshitting ourselves and others (about our eating habits, behaviours and decisions), we fail to address the underlying issues (they’re always there) and we continue to inhabit our make-believe world. We also fail to deal with our food issues in a logical and practical manner and finally, we keep the cycle of mental, emotional and physical destruction in motion.

    A Story

    A few years back, I worked with a woman who would wait until everyone was asleep (husband, kids), roll her car down the driveway, start the engine on the street, drive to a twenty-four hour store and buy herself a large tub of ice-cream. Following her purchase, she would sit in the car and shovel in four litres (a gallon-ish) of ice-cream with a spoon she had brought from home. She would then dispose of the evidence and drive home. Usually in tears. She ‘enjoyed’ this nocturnal ritual at least three or four times a week.

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    When I met her, she had been doing this for years. After a month of reading her (largely fictitious) food diary (the one I asked her to keep), I knew she was lying about her eating habits and I told her so. That went down well.  One day in the middle of a rather heated and emotional exchange, she blurted out the truth to me. I was the first person she had ever told. Tears, snot, anger and finally, some acknowledgement and honesty. And a little relief.

    Progress at last.

    I later discovered that the ice-cream trips were just one part of a destructive eating cycle that had been going on for years. It started when she was a teenager and continued for two (and a bit) decades. The day she told me the truth was the last time she ever binged and the first time she had been totally honest with anyone (about her eating issues). Yes, I’m sure. It was also the catalyst for significant (and lasting) weight-loss (over 20 kgs). When she revealed her secret to me, I didn’t judge her, criticise her or question her. I simply hugged her and told her I was proud of her for being courageous and honest. We then put our minds to creating a practical plan for her to do better. Her embarrassment, fear and shame simply fizzled out of existence as we consciously and constructively went about the business of change. It’s amazing what can happen when someone receives love, acceptance and support rather than (the anticipated) judgement, condemnation and criticism.

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    Doctor Who?

    To illustrate how broad-reaching this issue is, I’ll share with you an interesting fact about my client: she was (and still is) a doctor. That’s right; intelligence, education and knowledge don’t necessarily have anything to do with how we complex creatures behave around food. Knowing what to do and doing what we know are very different things. Her career was a big contributor to her embarrassment about her eating habits. When she started to communicate with me like a person with issues – rather than a qualification with a reputation – the floodgates opened and the wheels of progress rolled into action.

    While I don’t have an eating disorder (as such), I have certainly been a skilled exponent of (periodic) disordered eating over the years. Apparently forty-ish year-old (am so) endomorphs don’t need a slab of cheesecake each day. Who knew? So not fair.

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    While there’s no simple answer, quick-fix or one-approach-fits-all solution to this problem, a good place to start is honesty, awareness and acknowledgement. Not self-loathing or self-pity, just total honesty and a genuine willingness to do and be different.

    Now, I know you have thoughts, ideas and experiences you’d like to share on this topic, so start writing. Even you Scaredy-Cats who never comment. We don’t bite.

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    Craig Harper

    Leading presenter, writer and educator in the areas of high-performance, self-management, personal transformation and more

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    Last Updated on November 18, 2020

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)
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    It’s okay, you can finally admit it. It’s been two months since you’ve seen the inside of the gym. Getting sick, family crisis, overtime at work and school papers that needed to get finished all kept you for exercising. Now, the question is: how do you start again?
    Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You just go to the gym, there is no force involved. But after a month, two months or possibly a year off, it can be hard to get started again. Here are some tips to climb back on that treadmill after you’ve fallen off.

    1. Don’t Break the Habit – The easiest way to keep things going is simply not to stop. Avoid long breaks in exercising or rebuilding the habit will take some effort. This may be advice a little too late for some people. But if you have an exercise habit going, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble.
    2. Reward Showing Up – Woody Allen once said that, “Half of life is showing up.” I’d argue that 90% of making a habit is just making the effort to get there. You can worry about your weight, amount of laps you run or the amount you can bench press later.
    3. Commit for Thirty Days – Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month. This will solidify the exercise habit. By making a commitment you also take pressure off yourself in the first weeks back of deciding whether to go.
    4. Make it Fun – If you don’t enjoy yourself at the gym, it is going to be hard to keep it a habit. There are thousands of ways you can move your body and exercise, so don’t give up if you’ve decided lifting weights or doing crunches isn’t for you. Many large fitness centers will offer a range of programs that can suit your tastes.
    5. Schedule During Quiet Hours – Don’t put exercise time in a place where it will easily be pushed aside by something more important. Right after work or first thing in the morning are often good places to put it. Lunch-hour workouts might be too easy to skip if work demands start mounting.
    6. Get a Buddy – Grab a friend to join you. Having a social aspect to exercising can boost your commitment to the exercise habit.
    7. X Your Calendar – One person I know has the habit of drawing a red “X” through any day on the calendar he goes to the gym. The benefit of this is it quickly shows how long it has been since you’ve gone to the gym. Keeping a steady amount of X’s on your calendar is an easy way to motivate yourself.
    8. Enjoyment Before Effort – After you finish any work out, ask yourself what parts you enjoyed and what parts you did not. As a rule, the enjoyable aspects of your workout will get done and the rest will be avoided. By focusing on how you can make workouts more enjoyable, you can make sure you want to keep going to the gym.
    9. Create a Ritual – Your workout routine should become so ingrained that it becomes a ritual. This means that the time of day, place or cue automatically starts you towards grabbing your bag and heading out. If your workout times are completely random, it will be harder to benefit from the momentum of a ritual.
    10. Stress Relief – What do you do when your stressed? Chances are it isn’t running. But exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, releasing endorphin which will improve your mood. The next time you feel stressed or tired, try doing an exercise you enjoy. When stress relief is linked to exercise, it is easy to regain the habit even after a leave of absence.
    11. Measure Fitness – Weight isn’t always the best number to track. Increase in muscle can offset decreases in fat so the scale doesn’t change even if your body is. But fitness improvements are a great way to stay motivated. Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, sit-ups or speed you can run can help you see that the exercise is making you stronger and faster.
    12. Habits First, Equipment Later – Fancy equipment doesn’t create a habit for exercise. Despite this, some people still believe that buying a thousand dollar machine will make up for their inactivity. It won’t. Start building the exercise habit first, only afterwards should you worry about having a personal gym.
    13. Isolate Your Weakness – If falling off the exercise wagon is a common occurrence for you, find out why. Do you not enjoy exercising? Is it a lack of time? Is it feeling self-conscious at the gym? Is it a lack of fitness know-how? As soon as you can isolate your weakness, you can make steps to improve the situation.
    14. Start Small – Trying to run fifteen miles your first workout isn’t a good way to build a habit. Work below your capacity for the first few weeks to build the habit. Otherwise you might scare yourself off after a brutal workout.
    15. Go for Yourself, Not to Impress – Going to the gym with the only goal of looking great is like starting a business with only the goal to make money. The effort can’t justify the results. But if you go to the gym to push yourself, gain energy and have a good time, then you can keep going even when results are slow.

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