The benefits of exercise

So, I know this already, but it doesn’t hurt to remind myself sometimes. Especially the impact that exercise has on other areas of my life – not just my physical health.

I remember when I was really ill nearly two years ago that my doctor told me I needed to do some form of exercise everyday to increase my metabolism and lose some of the weight the medication I’d been taking had caused me to gain. I was so desperate at the time that I followed her advice and was soon running, swimming and spinning as well as going to yoga and body combat.  I need to get back in that frame of mind. I have the time to exercise since I reduced my hours at work so I have no excuse. I just need to decide to do it and follow through.

  1. Improved ability to think – better impulse control, faster processing and better memory.
  2. Improved energy levels – increased feelings of energy and reduced feelings of fatigue.
  3. Improved physical function – improved sleep, strength, balance and agility.
  4. Protection from illness – including lifestyle diseases and boosted immunity.
  5. Improved well being – reduced stress and depression, improved self-esteem. Studies show a positive correlation between our mood and the amount of fruit and veg we eat. We also feel more life satisfaction on the days we exercise.
  6. Increased opportunities to socialise and have fun – cooking with friends, running group, gym classes.
  7. Increased self-discipline – willpower and self-control are like a muscle, the more you work it, the stronger it gets. Regular exercise is linked to improvements in other areas e.g. spending, studying and emotional control.
  8. Slowed ageing – improves appearance and protects against loss of muscle.
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The Weight Escape

I started reading a book called The Weight Escape earlier this year. It’s based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which I found helpful working through depression so I wanted to see how it applies to food. I started working through the book enthusiastically, but haven’t been back to it for a couple of months – so much resistance!

ACT is based on taking actions that bring you closer to the things that you truly care about – the things that you value. I value my health – physical, psychological and emotional – so I considered how a healthier relationship with food would improve my health:

  • It would free up time for other more satisfying things, like socialising, art, reading, exercise – it would generally make me more available. Even this weekend I’ve declined plans with friends in favour of going home to binge.
  • It’s good for my mental health – if my relationship with food is under control, I feel more in control in other areas of my life and more motivated to do other things like looking after myself and my home, cooking, exercising. What I eat effects my mood.
  • I feel better about myself – both how I feel in my body and how I look.
  • I care about my physical health. I want nice skin, to feel energised, to sleep well and know I’m eating a healthy diet with all the nutrients my body needs.
  • Eating the right foods and being lighter makes exercise feel easier. I enjoy running with a group.
  • Freedom from the guilt – food never satisfies me, yet I binge again and again. I want to be free of that.
  • It’s better for me financially – the money I waste on unhealthy food could be spent on food that is more nourishing.
  • If I can get on top of my relationship with food, I’ll feel less dependent on external support.
  • I’ve struggled with this for 15 years. I don’t want my whole life to be like this.

The book also encourages you to reflect on your values. Whilst we have lots of different values that are likely to change over time, I’ve focused on three that feel important right now and motivate me to improve my relationship with food:

  1. BEING FIT AND ACTIVE
    • It feels good
    • Looks after my body
    • Sense of achievement
    • Feeling part of something – running group and gym classes
    • The willpower it takes to exercise has a positive impact on other areas of my life
    • Connection to others
    • It’s good for my mental health
    • Taking care of myself
    • Helps me sleep
    • Makes me more likely to eat well, or at the very least off-sets it a little bit
  2. EATING FOOD THAT GIVES ME SUSTAINED ENERGY AND HEALTH
    • So I don’t have to spend so much time feeling guilty, craving and desiring
    • Feeling sustained and satisfied
    • It’s good for my body – giving it what it needs
    • Gives me the energy for other things that are important in my life
  3. LOOKING AFTER MY MENTAL HEALTH
    • I read somewhere that there are some lessons that we can’t afford to learn again. That really resonated with me, as I worked so hard to get where I am, I don’t want to have to do it all again.
    • I’ve had some of the best help and support available – don’t let that go to waste
    • So I can enjoy life and achieve the things I long for

I’ll try to post some more as I work through the book and hopefully I can remember to look at what I’ve just written when I feel tempted.

Healing addiction – de-conditioning the hungry ghosts

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I listened to a podcast by one of my favourite Buddhist teachers, Tara Brach, called ‘Healing additions – de-conditioning the hungry ghosts.’ She talks a lot about food so I decided to take notes!

In Buddhism, there’s an image of ‘hungry ghosts’ – creatures with thin necks and large bellies – symbolising desire that can never be satisfied, the feeling of never having enough or being content. That’s something I can relate to.

Tara explains that when basic needs aren’t met, e.g. safety, love, security, desire gets riveted to something else that is available – in my case food. Whilst meditation won’t get rid of desire it can help us to see it as a habit. It can help us to de-laminate from the desire and meet ourselves with kindness and compassion.

She talks about the three layers of suffering from addiction:

  1. The first is that the fix is temporary and never cures the real, deep need. I get caught in a cycle of craving, reaching for sugar to satisfy the craving, getting a temporary feeling of pleasure which then feeds the cue to binge again and get the reward again.
  2. The second level of suffering is SHAME and SELF-AVERSION which feeds the cycle. This addiction turns me against myself. I hate that it goes against my healthy values and is so visual. It’s obvious when I put weight on. I see myself as fat, lazy and weak-willed and think that everyone else can see that too.
  3. The third layer is not being present and missing out on so much of life being preoccupied with the addiction. It makes me sad when I think of how many moments I waste obsessing about food and thinking that I need it to feel better. All the moments spent feeling like something is missing.

Tara gives the following advice for working with the three layers of suffering:

  • What is the message the shame most needs?
  • How can you work with the shame?
  • Watch the looping and identify the cues. For me it’s loneliness, not feeling seen, not feeling valued or good enough and finding it hard to tolerate difficult feelings at times.
  • When you are wanting a fix, what is it you are really wanting? For me it’s intimacy, closeness, someone to hug, hold my hand or stroke my hair. It’s relief and soothing.
  • Plan ahead -what activity might turn me towards what I really desire? For example before eating the food, read something, send a loving message or email, eat some fresh fruit and yoghurt. If this strategy was to work 50% of the time it would be a big improvement. I think I have the idea in my head that I will just stop one day and that will be it. However if it was that simple, I think I would have done it by now. Instead I think I need to see each day that I don’t binge as an accomplishment.
  • Believing that it’s possible to change and overcome the habit makes it more possible. That belief comes from others – knowing others have walked this path and taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. I’ve been really touched recently by a dharma friend who has opened up so honestly to me about her battle with food. She’s been reminding me that it is possible to overcome on the days that I haven’t been able to hold that belief myself.
  • Whatever we practice is strengthened. Notice the craving, choose to pause and bring tenderness to the parts that are feeling shamed and make fresh choices.

I’ll end with a quote from the Buddha that gives me hope it’s possible to change:

“whatever we frequently think of and ponder, that will become the inclination of our minds.”

HOW HAS IT BEEN OVER THREE MONTHS?

Wow! How has it been over three months since I last posted. It’s been something there in the back of my mind that I wanted to do, but have been feeling very resistant to this and generally engaging in anything that’s good for me.

I’ve been caught in a binge cycle for a few weeks now and the weight is piling back on so decided that I need to take some advice that I’ve been given many times before:

Don’t wait for the motivation to come for healthy behaviours. Take action and the motivation will follow.

It’s so true, yet I’ve found it easier to follow out of desperation rather then when things aren’t so bad, yet could do with improvement if I don’t want to go down the same path again.

I prove to myself time and time again that I can’t have any binge foods in the house. I tell myself that it will be ok this time, I’ll eat in moderation and just have one, yet that has never happened and each time I feel like a failure. So I need to not put myself in that situation in the first place – I wonder if I can frame that as something I can do out of kindness towards myself rather than deprivation. To plan my food shopping and meals so I don’t even need to carry my purse with me and face the temptation to buy food at work or on the way home.

I have at least starting running again. I’ve been feeling lonely and needed to be around others, and runners are such nice encouraging people – even when I’m at the back of the group regretting whatever I binged on half an hour before.

I’m probably going to end up posting a few things at the same time now,  but like I’ve said, I primarily write this blog for me, to remind myself of things I need to remember and if it helps someone else along the way, then that’s great too.

So, reminders for the next two weeks until I speak to my therapist again – it would be good to have something positive to report. I’m also having surgery in two weeks time which will mean no exercise for at least a couple of weeks so I need to break some of my unhealthy habits so they don’t become worse when running isn’t an option.

  • Wake-up at the same time everyday and get out of bed so I don’t feel like a failure before the day has even started.
  • Plan when I will exercise. As soon as I don’t exercise I draw conclusions about what it means and my other habits start to unravel.
  • Focus on one thing at a time – e.g. focus on breaking the binge cycle, not on loosing weight. That will follow naturally.
  • Put my phone away at least an hour before bed and only check the news and social media a couple of times a day.
  • Remember to ask myself if there is anything constructive I can do. If so, do it, and if not park the worry.
  • Get back to my routine asap if I slip – don’t write the whole day off.
  • Refuse to believe that it will be like this for ever. I’m in control and have the resources and support to manage it. I am and will be ok.
  • Make a plan for each week – food, exercise, admin, housework etc and stick to it.