Psychology of eating and exercise

Anyone can learn the technical aspects of healthful eating and exercising, but the psychology of food and exercise remains one of the biggest barriers to change.

Personal trainer and elected Councillor Dean Hill recognizes how powerful emotional eating is when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight. 

One of the main motivations of comfort eating is to relieve a negative emotion (stress, boredom, sadness, etc.).

That’s when eating becomes an emotional act instead of one related to hunger.

Stressful emotions trigger people to eat higher calorie foods – anything that gives them a sense of pleasure, says Hill.

A lot of people do that, he says, but it’s okay to have negative emotions and not try to erase them.

“We don’t always need to be happy.”

The words “diet” and “exercise” trigger negative connotations and can make people immediately think of pain and suffering, and therefore, resistant to even start changing their lifestyle, he says.

“We need to have a good relationship with those words. You’re already beating yourself before you even try.”

He says people predict they’re going to sacrifice the good feelings that come from eating delicious foods and therefore, don’t want to change their diets.

Hill doesn’t even like the word “diet” because that signifies and end point and diets should’t be temporary.

“You just have to slowly readjust lifestyle.”

Many foods release feel-good chemicals in the brain, especially carbs, which is known to cause weight gain if it not burned off or used for energy.

Other comfort foods – like sugar – disrupt your body’s hormones (insulin) and lead to diseases like type 2 diabetes.

Sugar disrupts the body’s hormones related to feelings of fullness and hunger. Eating sugar releases a hormone that makes you feel more hungry and want to eat more.

Leptin is the hormone that tells us we’re full, grhelin tells us we’re hungry.

Sugar disrupts both, leading to overeating.

Hill advises practicing delayed gratification when craving sugar.

“Discipline and willpower are some of the greatest things that will help…through anything in life.”

Another tip is not to buy sugary foods or keep them in the house, which can help curb the temptation to eat them.

Snacking is another form of emotional eating, because it’s done out of boredom.

Two tricks, he says – drink a bottle of water when you feel like snacking. The second trick is to go look for something to make and if you don’t feel like making it, you’re not hungry but just snacking out of boredom.

“I keep a bag of frozen vegetables. If I’m hungry enough to cook up bag of frozen vegetables – if I don’t want those vegetables, that tells me I’m just bored.”

Hill says even he is not immune to craving sugar and snacks but diet drinks help him ward off those cravings without actually consuming sugar.

If you’re immediately hungry and don’t want to overeat while cooking a healthy meal, Hill suggests keeping protein bars and protein shakes on stand-by for quick hunger satiation.

Vegetables and popcorn are also good snacking choices, he says. Crunchy vegetables satisfy the desire to snack and the fibre in popcorn helps with feeling full.

“Sometimes I will have a diet pop,” says Hill. “I still love sugar. I’m addicted to sugar. We all get them (cravings). We’re all human. I try to find all these tips and tricks so I can not deprive because that’s how you start to hate this lifestyle.”

Minty gum also helps satisfy the urge to snack, says Hill.

Traditionally, he said, Haudenosaunee people didn’t have to worry about weight gain because they led such an active lifestyle, hunting and gardening.

Modern technology has made modern living so comfortable, nobody has to work off their daily caloric intake anymore and people have to find ways to burn it off now, he says.

“We’ve made life so perfectly easy. Our brains are more efficient than our bodies need to be. We need to make ourselves work out.”

When it comes to exercising, there’s valuable benefits besides burning calories, though, says Hill.

There are psychological benefits, like stress reduction, and it also acts as a natural painkiller.

Various chemicals are released in the body during vigorous exercise, and some of those chemicals can result in a natural “high” even.

Some recovering addicts even say they’ve replaced substance addictions with exercising instead.

“Exercise can be a drug if you do it properly,” says Hill. “Change the vice to exercise.”

Even if you don’t have a gym membership or live far from a track or trail, you can exercise in your home, says Hill.

He recommends jumping jacks, squats, sit-ups, crunches, push-ups, and other bodyweight exercises that can be done in the comfort of your own home.

“Something is better than nothing,” he says.

When all is said and done and a person adopts a healthy new lifestyle, other psychological changes happen, too, he says.

People become more confident and make positive changes in other areas of their life, too, once they start living a healthy lifestyle, says Hill.

“I can attribute almost everything I’ve ever done to exercising or my weightlifting. That’s another thing I teach my clients as well. One of the fastest ways to build self-confidence is exercise. It just grows from there. That growth mindset transfers to other parts of your life.”

Hill wants to help the community get healthier and will be working with the Two Row Times this spring for introduction to fitness events so stay tuned and get busy with making small changes until then!

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