Monday, December 29, 2008

Go Zen for the New Year

Starling Fitness recently expanded on a post by Zen Habits about the 7 keys to turning bad habits into good habits. I would argue that diet is one of our most ingrained habits. These tips are useful for dealing with cravings that don't represent true hunger. We may get used to turning to food when we are bored, or angry, or upset. After all, we are creatures of tradition. We tend to establish a pattern, and stick with it.

The tips are:
For each habit, identify your triggers. 
Is it boredom? Loneliness? Does tv make you want to snack when you're not hungry? It will be helpful to write them down.

For every single trigger, identify a positive habit you’re going to do instead. 
For me, it's best to try to do something productive, such as blogging or working on my internship applications for this summer. But it could be anything, like calling a friend, writing a song or reading.

For at least one month, focus entirely on being as consistent with your triggers as possible. Perfect timing for a New Year's Resolution, perhaps? In this amount of time, your goals will be well on their way to becoming new habits.

Avoid tempting situations. Laura at Starling Fitness points to parties or buffet dinners. As the holidays wind down, maybe it will be spending too much time on the couch that will lead to overeating. Maybe it will be late dinners and drinks with friends. Suggest you try sushi instead of steaks and fries, or a wine bar over beer and appetizers.

Realize that your urges will be strong, but they will go away after a few minutes
It's important to realize that true hunger will not go away. Leo at Zen Habits suggests, "Find strategies for getting through the urges — deep breathing, self massage, eating frozen grapes, walking around, exercising, calling a friend who will support you."

Ask for help. It may feel like the hardest thing in the world to talk to your loved ones about food issues, but more than likely, they will be willing to support you if they know it's important to you.

Staying positive is key! You will, at times, feel like giving in to old habits. If you mess up, bounce back. You didn't undo days or weeks of effort with one slip-up.

Bonus: If you fail (and many of you will, at least once), don’t give up. Bad habits have been ingrained into your daily routine for years. It will take longer than a month to truly give them up. Best of luck!

Fitness Goals for 2009

College Candy has posted some tips for stepping up your workout, New Year's Resolutions That Work. They're good tips for any time of year. 

Personally, I've found that even listening to new music while working out can be a little extra motivation. I especially like listening to the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, or No Doubt (just picturing Gwen Stefani works too.) 

Do you plan to step up your workout as a resolution this year?

Photo courtesy of J.C. Rojas.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

After the Holidays, Now What?

     Did you overindulge during the holidays? Let's face it, most of us do. My carefully-orchestrated plan didn't quite work out as planned. I was going to spend only a few days home for the holidays, but ended up going home shortly after finals ended. As a result, I have been surrounded by the savory smells of baking and my family's constant snacking for a week.I have kept up an exercise routine, and I have tried to only give in to foods I will truly savor, like traditional holiday favorites rather than fattening snacks I could have any other time of the year.
     But still, there were times when I did overeat. So I now have to come up with a new plan. As someone who suffered from an eating disorder, I know that dieting, for me, is just not going to work. I will instead try to eat even more healthily than normal, by choosing the healthiest option at each meal. I will still choose foods I enjoy, but when faced with several options, I will choose to most filling for the lowest calorie count. I will probably be eating a lot of soup and salad. But I will no longer allow myself to go hungry as a sort of "punishment" for my sins.
     If you've also had problems with disordered eating and gained some weight this holiday season, you know that it takes 3500 calories to make a pound. Even if a single dinner came to 3000 calories (which would assume you had no reservations about partaking of everything), that still doesn't equal a pound of weight gain. If your weight is up, a majority of it is probably also bloat. Try to eat especially well for a week or so. It will be helpful to get back into a normal weight management routine, and then assess the damage, rather than assuming you've gained weight by believing the scale right now. Remember the average American only gains a pound during the holiday season. And keep in mind that small dietary changes are ultimately more beneficial than any crash diet.
     And even if you've never had an eating disorder, it's really not necessary to diet for a pound. By just resuming your normal diet and exercise plan, one pound will melt away on its own. The stress of school will be here all too soon. Cash and home-cooked meals will soon be scarce. Enjoy the rest of your vacation!
     So have you gained any weight over the holidays? Or were you able to stick to a plan that worked for you? 

Saturday, December 20, 2008

My Favorite Posts

I've compiled a list of my favorite posts of the past and added it to the sidebar for new readers. I hope you'll take a look and comment!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Are Carbs Really That Bad?

College Candy posted a useful post yesterday about the why we shouldn't avoid all carbs. Check it out! 

I like Kelly's realistic perspective, although I also agree with commenter Coco's perspective on pizza. 

What do you think? Have you ever tried a low-carb diet?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Navigating the Holidays for the Eating Disordered

Newsweek has a much-need article right now on "Holiday Help for Those with Eating Disorders." The tips are aimed at the families of the eating disordered. For those whose parents don't know, I hope they at least suspect, and will take the tips to heart. They are:

1. Strategize. 
"(sometimes just having such an abundance of food can trigger bulimic episodes) So plan ahead. Whether it's making some foods available or just making others less obvious."

2. Don't Force.
"Insisting that an eating-disordered family member attend the big Christmas brunch or pile on another few slices of ham can be very harmful."

3. Don't Focus on the Food.
"The season's focus on food and cooking means that people with diagnosed disorders feel that their eating habits will be watched closely, and people who are trying to hide disorders will be especially worried about being caught."

4. It's Not Personal.
"The rest of the family will dig in, so if you're a host or hostess, don't be offended if a particular guest has a light plate."

These are excellent, appropriate tips for family members, and I would have had a much easier time in years past if my family had followed them. But my family, while I assume they suspected, has never confronted me about my disordered eating habits. So, I will modify these tips for those of you in similar situations. 

1. Strategize.
This advice still applies. Start thinking now about how you will handle the holidays. In my case, I will not be spending the week surrounding Christmas with my family, but only a couple nights. I don't want to be surrounded by that much food for that extended period of a time. I realize this is not the most healthy behavior either, but right now, it's right for me.

2. Don't Force.
Plan ahead exactly what you will say if you are being pressured to eat when you're full. A simple, assertive "No, thank you, I'm not hungry," should do the trick. 

3. Don't Focus on the Food. 
The holidays are filled with downtime. I try to pack my day with activities like shopping, visiting with friends, and watching movies. If your mind is on socializing, it won't be obsessing about the food and the calories in it.

4. It's Not Personal.
If you do want to have a light plate of food, just be sure to tell the hostess how much you loved everything. In a time of year that can be so triggering for disordered eaters, you need to be prioritizing your own well-being. Your eating does not have an effect on other people.

What are your plans of attack?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Finals Stress and Your Perception of It


     There are a variety of forces colliding right now that could really make a college student stressed out. The economy is crashing, and I'm definitely feeling it. The weather is dull and dreary, and it makes me want to stay on the couch instead of going to the gym. And at my school, it's dead week, meaning finals are just around the corner.
     As I've discussed, we know stress can wreak havoc on a healthy diet, as it has a negative effect on health in general. We hear a lot of advice about how to deal with it. We know to get enough sleep, eat well, and take study breaks. But there are a few other ways to manage stress that are less often discussed. When we have a lot to deal with, how we handle it is all about perception.
     In small amounts, stress can actually be a good thing. According to MSNBC, moderate amounts of stress can help people perform tasks more efficiently and even improve memory. "Stress is a burst of energy," says psychiatrist Dr. Lynne Tan of Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "It’s our body telling us what we need to do." 
     Whether we react negatively to stress depends on our perception of it. If we regard it as motivation, we won't be as bothered by it. If I consider the weather to be "bad," my mood will be down, but I've actually been using it as a reason to give myself permission to relax.
     While it may seem like the final exams comprise a huge chunk of course grades, your GPA will reflect the entire semester's worth of effort, not the "cramming" at the last minute. 
     And your GPA is not as important as your mental health. No one is going to ask you your GPA when you graduate; putting it on your resume is optional. Realize that many people take 5 years to graduate, and 12 credits a semester shouldn't be out of the question. Don't worry yourself about things that aren't going to matter 10 years from now.
     If you've had problems with disordered eating, this time of year may present new challenges, so be prepared. It may be tempting to use studying as an excuse to "forget to eat." To keep myself from doing this, I try to remind myself that starving myself will catch up with me. And I don't want to be tempted to overeat later, especially during the holiday season. Whatever your own challenges are, try to come up with an actual plan of action rather than pushing the thoughts out of your mind.
     Surviving College Life has some excellent tips for tackling finals. 
     WebMD has a list of foods to combat stress. Hint: complex carbs is a big one.

What other tips did I miss?