As a health psychologist, I’m big on exercise! It helps regulate your mood, keeps your body in shape, and improves health. But regular exercise can also really improve your sleep! The key is to exercise at the right times, namely in the mornings, afternoons, or early evenings. Regular exercise helps regulate and deepen our sleep overall. However, exercising tends to amp us up for a few hours afterwards because of the hormones it tells our brain to release. So if you’re one of those people who like to hit the gym or go for a run late at night, this may be contributing to your sleep difficulties. Instead, make sure that you exercise at least three hours before bed or earlier.
I’m blessed to live very close to the beach, but it was a warm and busy holiday, and I had to give up on finding parking. I was frustrated and annoyed, because I love my beach walks. Since it’s a holiday, the gym was closed too. And it was far too hot to take my alternate walk. So I pulled out my yoga mat and retreated to the backyard for a self-directed yoga session.
My heart wasn’t in it, and neither was my mind, but I decided to trust the process and just engage in the practice. I didn’t feel like sitting, standing, or, quite frankly, doing much of anything but Shavasana (corpse pose). But I persevered. I thought my restless mind must be a symptom of internal imbalance – I felt like I must be DOING something, in spite of it being hot, in spite of not being in the mood, in spite of it being a holiday.
I gave myself a push and decided to do Vrksasana (tree pose), which is one of my least favorite poses, because I’m not good at it. I’m strong and I’m flexible, but I’ve always had a problem with balance, and tree pose requires balance. As with most yoga poses, there are many possible adaptations, and the underlying lesson is always tolerance of what IS in this moment.
In some classes, the teacher will suggest placing a finger on the wall to promote stability. I didn’t have a wall, but I had a huge, beautiful avocado tree with a large canopy and a readily accessible knotty knob, conveniently situated just above my stubborn head. So I touched the tree, and the tree stabilized me. Nice adaptation!
As I was lying on the ground, looking up at the tree’s expansive canopy, I was thinking about the nature of the tree. It’s a great tree. It provides plenty of shade, as long as it’s not over-pruned. Some years it gifts me with four avocadoes, and some years a few hundred of the most delicious, creamy, organic Fuertes you can imagine.
It does what it wants, without malice. The tree is heavy, sturdy, perhaps even stubborn. It doesn’t change much over time – it gets a little bigger, a little smaller, a bit more fruitful, or perhaps not so productive. It continues on its path, affected by the elements and its human caretakers to be sure, but essentially unwavering. It expects nothing more of itself. We expect nothing more of it. How lovely. The tree is simply the tree. My tree – my pose – is also simply my tree. Nothing more, nothing less. No judgment from the pose; all the judgment is mine. The focus on imperfection is mine.
As is customary, I ended with Shavasana, a pose that requires complete relaxation and emptiness of mind. It too is a lovely pose, no more or less than the tree pose. And finally, a silent Namaste (“I bow to the divine in you.”) to my partner, the tree, for its guidance and inspiration.
When most of us hear the words “eating disorder,” they think of a bony anorexic, a young teenage girl, who over-diets her way to extreme skinniness. Or perhaps a bulimic, who binges and purges by forcing herself to throw up. Or maybe you even say (only half-jokingly), “wish I could have just a touch of that!” But there are many forms of eating disorders and they’re all dangerous. Eating disorders can damage or destroy your esophagus, teeth, metabolism, bowel function, fertility, skin/hair/nails, relationships, mental and social functioning, and even your life. And a lot of times, they don’t even make you skinny – a lot of risk for not a lot of payoff. Before you think you don’t fit into this category, consider the following eating disordered behaviors, in addition to the classic forms of severe calorie restriction and purging:
Binge Eating Disorder – this one’s often a precursor to full-scale bulimia, but basically involves ingesting enormous quantities of food in a short period of time, typically high fat/high carbohydrate combinations that trigger happy feelings in the brain while, at the same time, stimulating ever more craving. Without the balancing effect of purging, significant weight gain may result, which often contributes to the development or exacerbation of mood disorders (anxiety and depression), decreased self-esteem, and other self-injurious behaviors.
Exercise Bulimia – you love the gym, you are a super-consistent exerciser, you’re proud of doing something that’s good for you (hey, not everyone can do 90 minutes on the stair machine!), you HAVE to go the gym, or else…you get irritable, anxious, nervous, critical, and start obsessing about how to fit in some alternate exercise time. If you routinely spend more than an average of about one to 1.5 hours a day exercising, this may be an issue for you. Or, if you go ahead and eat that scone with your non-fat latte, but then make a point of exercising it off, down to the calorie, as soon as you can, this may point to a problem. Unless you’re a professional athlete or competitive hobbyist in training, or on a medically supervised weight loss program, about an hour a day at moderate intensity and occasional bursts of higher intensity activity, six days a week, is a healthy limit.
Excessive Tracking – with all the really cool apps for your iPhone, and internet programs like Daily Plate, it’s easier than ever to keep a food diary, with calculations down to the last calorie, nutritional breakdowns, etc. But how much time do you spend inputting data, analyzing the results, and tweaking your next bite as a result? Instead of being conscientious, you may be exhibiting eating disordered traits.
Food Restriction – by color, shape, size, type, etc. – it’s normal to favor some foods, and dislike others, even intensely. But when you eat only fruit, or eliminate all orange foods, or require that vegetables be cubed into measurable perfection, again, you may be looking at a problem rather than a preference. Food fads run in cycles, and right now, gluten-free is a hot topic and product segment in the supermarkets. It’s also often a cover-up for an eating disorder. Veganism is a frequent suspect in eating disordered people as well – sounds healthy, but is often an excuse or disguise for eating-disordered behavior.
Being a Champion Dieter – you may not be losing any weight because you’ve become so skilled at calorie restriction from all those years of dieting that your metabolism has slowed to a crawl. Active, average-height, healthy people require a substantial daily input of calories in order to remain health, or even to lose weight. Routinely consuming less than 1,500 – 2,000 calories/day may well impair your ability to lose weight, slow down mental functioning, and leave you too weak to exercise. Some women require as many as 2,000 – 2,500 calories/day in order to actually start losing weight, and some men may require even more! Do yourself a favor, check your actual daily consumption, check in with your doctor or nutritionist or a very detail-oriented TDEE calculator, and see if you might not be better off consuming more instead of less. Furthermore, it is not normal to be on a diet every single day of your life, regardless of your weight. Our bodies require rest, nurturing, healthy input, and balance – the antithesis of many popular diets. What you learned about weight management as a teenager may not be working for your mature body now.
The psychological issues underlying most eating disorders are complex and best treated by a licensed mental health professional with training in eating disorders, endocrine disorders, or women’s health issues. If anything described above sets off your alarm bells – about you or a friend or family member – change your behavior. If you can’t do it alone, get help. Your body and your relationships will become healthier, if properly nourished.