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.
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.
I’m writing this post on my birthday, and I’m having a great day. I’m doing a little bit of work at home, with the windows open and the cat on the couch nearby. Well-wishers have been popping into my consciousness all day via FaceBook, phone calls, e-mail, and text messages. My partner is taking me out for a special dinner tonight (he insists all this dining out is not chronic-illness-friendly, but I’ll make it work!). I scored an emerald-green sweater I’ve been wanting for weeks – on sale – and the last one in my size! Best of all, I decided that I’m wearing sequins all day because hey, it’s my birthday!
If you’re not into your birthday, I understand. But I’m like a small child in my delight around my birthday, and my friends know how it is with me, and honor it. It’s great to have people telling you you’re wonderful, fabulous, and deserving of health and happiness all day long. Who needs gifts with that kind of input? It’s really buoyed my mood. And what if every day was like this?
I love the symbolism of my birthday as well. It’s a new year, sure, in an old body, but it’s also a great time to recommit to your own personal wellness goals. This morning, after I went to the gym and ate a low-glycemic breakfast, I saw my dietician, who validated my efforts with some solid numbers and explanations. I took a long walk from there down to the store where I landed the green sweater. This being Los Angeles, of course it’s “sunny and 72,” and I felt good. I felt strong, healthy, happy, purposeful, and supported in my efforts to be the best I can possibly be in this 49-year old body that yes, happens to be plagued by chronic illness. I am reminded that every day is a birthday of sorts, and an opportunity to recommit to doing my best.
Even if today isn’t your birthday (and happy birthday if it is, from one birthday princess to another!), I encourage you to think of each day as a birth day of sorts. It’s a chance to start over. You don’t have to wait for Monday, or July 1st, or until the walking shoes you need go on sale. Do something. Anything. Make it count. Share it with the world. Get it validated. Keep it going. Play! Wear some sequins, so you can bask in your own reflected glory. And when the evil voices pop into your head (the ones that say you’re no good, you’re too fat, this chronic illness is gonna’ get you anyway), replay the messages that came in on your birthday, and think about how true they are the other 364 days of the year.
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Today’s message is about staying healthy while you’re grieving:
To your health!