Food for thought

ImageYou’ve had a long day, you come home and quickly put some food together, collapse onto the couch, flick on the tv and minutes later deposit the empty plate and dirty cutlery onto the coffee table.  Sound familiar?  Well for many people, that is a familiar night time routine.  If that describes the last meal you ate, consider the following questions:

What did the food look like? What were its colours, how did the colours blend as the different food came together?
What were the aromas of the meal?  Did it smell spicy? Zesty? Fragrant?
How did it taste?  Your first mouthful – was it fresh? Hearty? Light?
The texture – was there a crunch? Was it smooth? Contrasts between the food?

Mindless eating occurs when we lose connection with our food.  We eat without awareness of the flavour, we rush and eat more than we need, and we don’t enjoy our food as much as we could.  Mindless eating makes it difficult to recognise the difference between hungry and non hungry eating,

Mindfulness also allows us to be aware of why we are eating: are we hungry, tired, bored, excited or all of the above?!
In contrast, mindful eating occurs when we pay attention to the eating experience.  Considerable research has emerged supporting the importance of  mindfulness in the enjoyment of food, portion control and subsequent weight control.

Things you can do to enhance your mindful eating experience:

  • Turn off the television.
  • Slow down – eating fast means eating more.
  • Put your cutlery down between mouthfuls.
  • Consider quiet – even if not for the entire meal
  • Set realistic goals.  You might initially like to commit to eating mindfully to one sit down meal per week.
  • Start a herb garden or grow your own vegetables.  We pay more attention to our labours of love.
  • Chew slowly – whilst not always easy, taking time to chew our food completely slows down the whole experience and increases our awareness.
  • Reflect on all the work that went in to getting the food onto your plate: the growers, pickers, truck drivers, store owners …. gratitude for all that contributed to your meal.
  • Decorate your environment.  Sitting at a table where there has been some level of consideration to its ambience (eg. Candles, music, tablecloth) all adds to the experience.

Above all eating is best experienced as a pleasurable endeavour.  Mindful eating will allow you to slow down, maximise the taste, and enjoy your food more.

Don’t act on NY Resolutions until you’ve read this!

2011-year-resolution-400x400The temptation will be strong over the next week to join in with others and declare your New Years resolutions for 2013.  An admirable gesture for sure, however the reality is that the majority of people leave their resolutions long behind by March.  So how can you be different? What can turn your good intentions into sustainable long-term behaviours?

The truth is that whatever the new behaviour is (eg. Starting to exercise, stop smoking, flossing your teeth) it’s something that you are currently NOT doing as you would wish …. hence the need for the resolution!  So, whatever it is there are reasons you aren’t doing it.  Unless you know what they are and have strategies to overcome them, you are wasting your time declaring your upcoming change.

The well known phrase fail to plan, plan to fail’ is 100% correct.  Most psychologists view behaviour change as occurring through a series of steps or stages.  We may initially be resistant to change, then we contemplate doing things differently and many people make some quick plans and then launch themselves into whatever the new behaviour is.

STOP.

You rushed it and that’s why so often it doesn’t work.  Successful behaviour change comes about when you think and plan, then think some more, and then do some more planning!

Let me illustrate two quick examples of how you can considerably increase your chances of changing your behaviour.  I’ll use examples of both starting a new behaviour and stopping an existing one.

Starting a new behaviour – Going to the gym

Why do I want to start exercising at the gym?

  1. It will improve my cardiovascular fitness and strength
  2. It will help me to lose weight
  3. it will help my confidence?

So why haven’t I been going to the gym?

  1. I haven’t been prioritising it into my weekly schedule.
  2. When I have the opportunity to go, I do something else, for example when the alarm goes off in the morning, I roll over and go back to sleep.
  3. I think about going to the gym and then I tell myself it’s going to be hard, and I will be sore, and I’ll probably make a fool of myself.

What do I need to do differently to overcome these obstacles?

  1. Prioritising – Get out my diary and make an appointment with myself to go to the gym. Decide whether mornings or evenings will suit me and the family better.
  2. Not seizing the opportunity – go anyway! I know I don’t feel like it, but I know it will feel good once I’m done.  I also need to have my clothes out ready to make it easier. So I’ll lay them out the night before for a morning session. Or I’ll put them in a bag in the back of my car in the morning so I can go straight from work.
  3. Negative self-talk – challenge the helpfulness of what I’ve been saying to myself.  “Yes, it will be physically uncomfortable at first and I might be sore, but long term it will be really good for me to go”.  “I might feel self-conscious, but I’m a long way in front of all the people who stayed home in bed!”  “That’s why I’m going to get a trainer to plan out a program for me initially, so I can learn what to do”.

What resources do I need to change my behaviour?

  1. sandshoes,
  2. gym shorts and a tshirt
  3. a gym membership,
  4. access to a personal trainer to design my initial training program.

When will I start?

I’l ring the gym now and schedule to get a program from a trainer.

How will I know when I’m successful?

I’ll be regularly going to the gym 3 times a week and I’ll notice a difference in my appearance and how my body feels.

What if I relapse and stop going?

  1. I’ll first forgive myself!
  2. I’ll then review why I haven’t been going and make plans to overcome those obstacles.

Behaviour 2 – Stop eating high sugar and high fat desserts every night.

Why do I want to stop eating the desserts?

  1. They are calories I don’t really need.
  2. I’ve just started my gym program and this isn’t helping my efforts.
  3. I don’t feel good after I’ve eaten them.

Why do I currently eat desserts every night?

  1. They are in the freezer!
  2. Habit
  3. My partner eats them with me
  4. It’s what I do when I watch tv to relax.

What do I need to do to overcome these obstacles?

  1. In the freezer – throw them out and don’t buy any more!
  2. Habit– Change the habit, think about something I would rather eat instead like a piece of fruit or some yoghurt and have those foods available.  Remember you don’t need to totally abstain!  Perhaps you might have your treat dessert twice a week.  Plan which nights that will be and have that then.  Reducing your intake from 7 nights a week to 2 will make a big difference.
  3. My partner eats them too– talk to your partner about your decision to make a change and see if your partner would like to make the change too.  It will be easier if they do, but if they don’t, make the commitment to do this for yourself.
  4. It’s what I do to relax– Remind yourself why you are making this change.  Enjoy the fruit or whatever alternative you go with.

What resources do I need to change my behaviour?

  1. A dessert alternative

When will I start?  

I’ll go grocery shopping this afternoon and buy some fruit alternatives.  When I get home I’ll throw the old desserts out (or put them to the back of the freezer for my two allocated nights).

How will I know when I am successful?

When I have been regularly eating healthy options for my dessert.

What if I relapse and stop going?

  1. I’ll first forgive myself!
  2. I’ll then review why I haven’t been going and make plans to overcome those obstacles.

SO WHERE DO YOU START?

First I’d like you to copy the questions I have listed below and put them into a word Healthprocessing document.  Take the time to go through the questions and answer them for yourself.  Print the answers off and put them somewhere where you’ll see them and start moving towards change.

  1. Why do I want to stop/start                               ?
  2. Why do I currently                          (insert the current barrier here)?
  3. What do I need to do to overcome these obstacles?
  4. What resources do I need to change my behaviour?
  5. When will I start?  
  6. How will I know when I am successful?
  7. What if I relapse and stop going?

Don’t think of the Eiffel Tower!

I am writing this whilst sitting down the back of the room where my son is participating in a music ‘workshop’.  I promise I sat attentively for the first 50 minutes, but I can fortunately multi-task so now am writing whilst listening!  Whether they be musicians, coaches, or teachers I am always interested to hear the language used to instruct and encourage students or athletes.

Within this particular class the instructor is trying to get the students to play the piece smoothly.  Unfortunately his delivery isn’t going to assist the children in achieving that.

Phrases that have been said thus far include:

  • Who made mistakes in that piece?
  • No gaps
  • Don’t come in before one
  • No wrong notes please
  • Who played some strange notes in that piece?
  • If you play a wrong note you have to stand up
  • Not one wrong note please
  • Don’t overlap your notes
  • Don’t make that too long or too short

Language is very powerful in its ability to create a visual image.  By example, “Don’t think about the Eiffel Tower”.  The problem for our brain is that there is considerable effort required to process the word don’t. Particularly when time is of the essence, our brain tends to skip the word don’t and only hears the remainder of the sentence.  So, “Don’t come in before one” becomes “Come in before one”, which is exactly what one young 8 year old has just done 5 times in a row in this workshop.

So what does the instructor need to be doing?  The key is to put the positive image of success into the persons thinking.  “No gaps” and “Play smooth” are the same instructions with two very different resulting images. Just as when speaking to an athlete, “Safe hands” vs “Don’t drop the ball” have the same intention, with two quite different outcomes.  When we hear “No gaps” or “Don’t drop the ball” we need to interpret the meaning and then translate it to the intended action – essentially it is additional work for our cognitive processing – and more often than not we don’t do it.  If you’ve ever been with a 3 year old carrying a glass of water across a room, all it takes is for Mum or Dad to say, ‘Careful, don’t spill it’ and you will soon see the mop coming out to clean it up!

If you want to enhance the instructions that you give, tell the person what they need to do rather than what they need to avoid.  I’ll say that again, if you want to enhance the instructions that you give, tell the person what they need to do rather than what they need to avoid.  Do is so much more effective than don’t.  Listen out for when you use don’t in a sentence and rephrase it so it is very clear what you intend – what is needed rather than what is to be avoided.

  • Catch the ball
  • Come in on one
  • Play smoothly
  • Good articulation
  • Carry with two hands

So back to the piano class.  The instructor is getting some of it right, I’ve just heard. “As smooth as possible”, and “I heard some lovely sounds”.  However poor little miss 8 has just played the starting note early (again), I hope the teacher isn’t surprised.

As Alfred said to young Master Bruce Wayne, “Why do we fall?” To which Bruce replied, “So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

A recent discussion with friends raised the question as to whether the current generation of children are over protected by their Gen X parents? The criticism being that in protecting children from failure and praising them for every action (deserved or not) they are in fact making them ill-equipped for later in life when the reality of the ‘real world’ kicks in.  Parenting effectively can certainly feel something of a balancing act that we don’t always get right.  There is no doubt that the intentions of most parents are to give their children opportunities to experience life in a positive, rewarding and enriching way, we do need to be careful however that our intentions don’t in fact harm our children in the short and long term.

There are two parenting styles that don’t do our children (or their parents) any favors:
The helicopter parent – hovers on the periphery of their child’s activities and at the slightest hint of disappointment or disapproval being directed their way, the parent swoops in and attempts to rectify the situation. This may include telling the child they were wronged (“the judge is hopeless, you were clearly the best”); manipulating behind the scenes (organizing for the child to get another opportunity when that is outside the scope of the rules or Imagewhat is fair); or giving the child feedback that is positive, yet unwarranted or undeserved.
The lawn mower parent – spends their time smoothing the path of life for the child, pre-empting what may go wrong and fixing it long before the child comes anywhere near it.  Such as speaking up for the child (for example to a teacher), when the child really needs to take that responsibility.  Often the child will be ‘protected’ without even knowing what has happened in the background.

So if these are the approaches in parenting that we need to avoid, what is the preferred way for us to speak to our children?

The way we understand and subsequently explain our world is known as our causal attributions.  It is these attributions that result in an emotional response and drives our subsequent behaviour.  Broadly, the explanations of our behaviour will fall into one of four categories: ability, effort, task difficulty and luck.

Ability is a characteristic that can certainly change, but may do so at a relatively slow pace.    The difficulty of a task will vary according to who we compete with and the situations we are placed in. And luck, even when considered the combination of preparation meeting opportunity, is at times exactly that, luck.

What then of effort?  Well effort is within our control.  We decide the intensity with which we engage with an activity.  We decide whether our effort will be high or low.  And in a world where people frequently struggle when life feels out of control and unpredictable, effort is our best shot at feeling like we are making a difference.

So when offering feedback and encouragement to our children, this distinction is important to remember.  Our children can not on any given day do too much to drastically change their ability, they can however completely control their level of effort.  So with your feedback, encourage and recognize effort over ability.  Certainly it is a great moment when children demonstrate success and mastery within their sport or academic endeavors; however self-esteem is best encouraged and enhanced when effort is acknowledged.

The important point to remember in setting goals, and setting out to achieve, and trialling new things is that with that effort invariably comes some level of disappointment.  Whilst many would react to using the term ‘failure’, the reality is that not achieving our intended goal can bring about some level of disappointment.  And in building our resilience, this is the most important part!  When we fall down, when we ‘fail’ we have an incredible opportunity to reflect on why it didn’t work and what we can do to be more successful next time.  As parents our role is usually not to make it all better and make the hurt go away, but rather to be the soft place to land so that our children can dust themselves off and have another go.  We only learn from our mistakes and if we deprive our children from this opportunity, we are not helping them in the long term.

The evidence is clear that in the long term, a healthy self-esteem facilitates performance.  So encourage your children to give their all, to strive for their personal best and let them make mistakes.  Through their best efforts, this is their best opportunity.

The psychological effects of diet pills

This article was first published in Inshapenewsflash.com

In addition to the physical effects of taking diet pills, the potential psychological consequences should also be considered.  For most people, the necessary loss of weight results in feelings of happiness and increased confidence from working towards a weight goal.  However if this is not carefully monitored from a medical perspective, things can soon get out of hand.  One of the more concerning is psychological addiction to diet pills.

Unhealthy weight gain can occur for a multitude of reasons (hormonal, inactivity, over-consumption of calories, and social and psychological factors).  For some people, insufficient physical activity and an unhealthy diet may be in response to coping with some form of stressor for the individual.  A loss of job, relationship break up, and depression are all reasons why people may turn to the pantry and the couch for solace.  So when resolving to lose weight, the person may include diet pills as part of their strategy.

Diet pills also feature prominently as a weight loss strategy for those with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa.  If the person experiences success with the diet aids, a psychological dependence can soon develop.  Diet pills do not keep you under control over the long term; they can be addictive, and potentially very dangerous.  Most of these products act as a stimulant to the central nervous system, with common side effects including mood swings, chest pain, and tremors.  More serious reactions may include increased anxiety, hallucinations, insomnia and cardiac arrest.  Its effects can be serious, even fatal.

When addiction occurs, treatment from a trained professional is necessary for recovery.  Part of the treatment will be in uncovering what is being masked by the use of the pills.  Healthier and more productive means of coping will need to be taught.  When seeking treatment you should source an appropriately registered professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker.  It would also be advisable to ensure the person has sufficient expertise and experience in working with weight-related issues.  A multi-disciplinary team that includes the mental health professional, a dietician and your GP will enhance your likelihood of success.

How can I stop people picking on me about my weight?

This blog was originally posted on InShapeNews

This month’s question is asked by reader

Peta Hendrick:

“Hi. I have a problem. I get picked on about being overweight. I was just wondering how I can stop this? It makes me feel really bad about myself and the way I look.”

Hi Peta. I am saddened to hear you are picked on about your weight.  People often underestimate the impact of their words and the cruelty of their message can be long lasting.

Unfortunately we can’t control what others say to us, only our reaction to it.  I have often been approached by people asking me how to deal with people who are difficult, either through their

actions, words or their attitude.

Most of us have someone in our lives whose behaviours we don’t appreciate.  People who perhaps act or speak in a way that doesn’t make us feel valued or appreciated.  So how best to handle these situations?

Unfortunately to manage this kind of scenario we have to turn the mirror back on to ourselves and ask ourselves an important question: What is it that I am doing, that is allowing this to happen? Because the truth is, that we teach people how to treat us.  If someone is continually doing something to us and we let them, don’t be surprised when the behaviour continues.

So, if someone feels they have free reign and can make comments about the way you look I would be interested to know how you are responding in that situation.  I know that it is challenging, but being assertive in this situation is the best way to communicate your needs and minimise the likelihood of repeat occurrences.

To be assertive you are exercising your rights, without impacting on the rights of others.  Being assertive is very different to being submissive and aggressive, which are both manipulative forms of communication.  Such phrases as, “It hurts my feelings when you speak about me like that.  Please don’t do it anymore”, take courage to say, but their impact can be substantial.  When you communicate assertively, try to

1. Use ‘I’ statements: this is about you and how you’re feeling and how you communicate that message – “I feel hurt …”

2.  Describe the behaviour: “…when you say I am lazy …”

3.  Specify the change you wish for: “I would like you to stop commenting on my weight and behaviour.”

Be mindful of your body language when being assertive. Use open gestures and warmth that is appropriate.

Being assertive doesn’t guarantee that the person’s behaviour will stop.  However, it will put you in to a position of knowing that you have done all you can.  Assertiveness takes courage and practise, however you will feel better within yourself the more you use it.

When timing is everything ….

Image

© Maxxyustas | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

We’ve probably all done it: lain awake at 2am thinking about how we wish we could return to earlier in our day and change something we have done or said.  Or perhaps it is something lying ominously in wait for us in the future that at this moment we cannot control, yet is keeping us from our slumber.  Or maybe we have driven through a set of traffic lights …. And then further down the road wondered whether the lights were green.  Or sat in a meeting with someone only to realize you haven’t been listening for the last 5 minutes and have no idea what they have just said and now they are waiting for you to respond!

A key to us making the most of life’s experiences is to ensure we are in the optimal time orientation.  So what is time orientation?  There are three different passages of time:

Past

Present

Future

 Our past is important as it holds our memory, our history, all of our times – both good and bad.  Who we are today is largely shaped by our experiences and the influences of our past.

The future is important as it where we turn to our hopes and aspirations.  Our goals sit on the horizon giving us reason to make our decisions for today.

The present is right now.  It is where you are as you read this blog, it is what you think about as you read these words.  You may be completely absorbed (I hope so!) or skimming through whilst you think about what you’re cooking for dinner tonight – sorry, now I’ve distracted you!

An important part of the present is that it is the only passage of time where you hold any control.  The ‘now’ is where you behave, feel and live life.  The now is where you can live life in a fulfilling way, if you have ever sat down to eat dinner in front of the tv – I wonder to what extent you actually tasted your food?  Eating is such a sensory experience and to ingest calories without savouring it’s aromas, tastes and textures is to miss many of the psychologically fulfilling aspects of the meal.  In fact the literature on mindful eating and it’s impact on weight is something I will need to address in a future blog.

So the challenge for us all is to be more mindful of our present experiences.  Wonderful or painful, life is lived and experienced most fully in the moment and experience tells me that most people would benefit from directing more of their attention to the moment.

For athletes at training or in competition, being focused in the ‘now’ is what allows you to perform at your best.  If 100kg of opposition is running at you at pace and your attention is on the mistake you made 5 minutes ago (the past) or on where you’ll be going after the game (the future) then you’re not going to maximize your attention for the task at hand (the present).

Of course the past and future are very important in our decision making.  If we are planning a holiday we may reflect back on previous trips to think about what went well in the pastWe should also think ahead to the trip and those things that we need to organize to make the trip go smoothly (such as travel insurance or booking transport). However when we are on the trip, to stay immersed in the moment looking at the scenery or tasting the food or laughing with friends is to live the moment and live life more fully.

If we are playing golf and walking to the tee, we may recall playing that hole last time, the club we used and how we played it (past); we play the shot focusing on what is relevant to the task (body positioning, breathing, swing, contact, follow through) (present); and then as we walk towards our next shot we may plan ahead to how we’re going to get to the green and what club we may use when we’re closer to the green, and how good a cold drink will taste at the 19th hole (future)!

When we are able to match our time orientation to the requirements of our situation we will engage more fully with the task and will be much more likely to optimize our chances of success.

My experience is that most people don’t spend enough time in the present: life passes us by without us experiencing it in its full complexity and beauty.  The past has gone, the future will come, but for now live in the moment and experience the benefits.

In my next blog I will offer some strategies for you to stay in the present.