In parts 1 & 2, HERE and HERE, I introduced how your thoughts and relationship with food has a flow on physical effect. This is priority #1 when looking to improve nutrition. I then discussed priorities to address and the plan of attack. So, before we get going on how exercise influences what we eat, I will wrap that part up by talking about why most diets fail, based on a great study in the Journal Of Health Psychology, with research from chronic dieters and health professional. Play along at home and see how many of these you have experienced when trying to diet.
Why diets fail (1)
The focus on losing weight is only for appearance, no other reason
Purely physical based goal setting never addresses intrinsic motivation, and therefore never work long term. A common occurrence is when you reach your target weight, and then have no further motivation so ‘fall of the wagon’ and return right back to where you started. It is just a temporary state until you reach a certain point.
Use self-criticism as a motivator
Abusive self-talk is the hall mark to this, “Come on you lazy sod, get off the couch and move/stop eating chocolate”. We are pleasure seeking beings, this just attacks your own confidence, creates guilt, and belittles your own self efficacy.
Rigid thinking, all or nothing approaches
It’s a million miles an hour or stopped dead. “I need to completely cut out this, run 100km a week, and go to the gym 6 days a week for 90 minutes”. It’s not sustainable, it’ punishing. Think always something, not all or nothing, moderation.
If you fall off your strict diet plan, you think you have failed, so go nuts
“Well that biscuit was not in my strict Paleo plan, so I guess today is a write off, may as well eat the whole packet and start again tomorrow”. We’ve all done it. Being so restrictive and extreme with food avoidance type diets causes this response, and it happens again and again until eventually you just stop the plan entirely.
Self-esteem is tied to dieting success
You tie your self-worth to the success of the diet. Your dress size or lack of 6 pack abs has nothing to do with who you are as a person, but often our self-esteem is linked to the success of the latest diet we try.
Eating plan has nothing to do with rest of life, “on a plan” vs “off a plan”
Your 12 week juice cleanse works for this particularly time in life, but is no way manageable when you go on holidays, your kids get sick, you have a busy period at work or you need to care for an ageing parent. You are “on a diet” or “off a diet”, when are you just eating and being healthy?
Trying too many diets at once, Keto, paleo, vegan, cleanse
Throwing the kitchen sink at, combining so many different approaches thinking 1 + 1 = 3, so you will be more successful at your diet. How is that simplifying things at all? How long do you think this complicated approach will work? Certainly not a life time.
Whatever happens you hate your body
This is a big one, and one you need to be speaking with a psychologist about. No matter what diet you are trying, how successful you are or not, you continue to be critical of your own appearance, to never be happy with where you are. No eating plan will ever work in this mind set.
So, with the nutrition component now completed for this article, if we are talking about improving your health then we must talk about exercise, my favourite bit! But something to consider first, and linking it all together, is to understand how our exercise selection influences our nutrition.
How working out causes weight gain
As kids we stayed lean, healthy and active, we played, chased, climbed and ran around the streets keeping active without even realising it, well my generation did, growing up pre-playstation and smartphone era (that’s a whole other topic). As adults, we exercise, punish, sweat, grind, “no pain no gain”, we think that excruciating exercise and activity are one and the same. We force ourselves through a punishing bootcamp where we are not really learning anything, just getting yelled at, and it’s merely a means to an end to lose a beer belly. It’s not considered pleasurable to us by any means and therefore we train away and still don’t reach our weight loss, health, or muscle building goals. Here are two key reasons related to nutrition why you may be hitting all your exercise goals but not reaching your health goals:
We are pleasure seeking beings as mentioned many times before, so if the exercise we do is perceived as punishment, then we will seek pleasure elsewhere, and this is normally food. So often the nutrition selection around “punishing” workouts will be sub optimal, calorie dense foods because of the search for pleasure.
I earned this
Following on from the hedonistic response to seek pleasure in food after punishment in the gym, comes the justification of “I have earnt this”. We’ve all done it, participated in some great exercise, then in the following hours or days after told ourselves “I can eat that whole packet of chips, I did that big workout this morning”. The challenge here is we severely under estimate the energy consumption of a workout vs the density of calories in poor nutritional choices. It’s really part of the hedonistic response, but just to get an idea, doing burpees continuously will burn about 10 calories per minute. To put that in perspective, to burn off just 3 Tim Tams you will need to do burpees continuously at a fast pace for 30 minutes straight! You can’t out train poor nutrition.
Exercise and activity that works for the long term
So, what kind of exercise should we be doing to maximise the benefits for our nutrition, activity and health? First and foremost, it needs to be enjoyable and pleasurable to you, it needs to be intrinsically motivating, not extrinsically. Examples of this below:
- Inner reason, interest, joy, doing it for the process not the result
- Feeling a beautiful squat pattern through improvements you have worked on in mobility vs focussed on the numbers you lift compared to someone else.
- We don’t feel the need to be compensated for doing the act
- Sustainable long term
- External validation, seeking approval, a trophy or a medal
- Getting ‘ripped’ for a school reunion to impress other people
- Less enjoyment in the process as focussed on outcome, less pleasurable
- Not sustainable long term
To make sure your exercise and activity work well with your nutrition, and are sustainable for you to achieve long term health goals, the number one priority is enjoyment. Whether that be because you love the exercise itself, or the environment, coach or people you do it with bring you pleasure. Your selection should involve learning, skill development and education, not just following a drill sergeant blindly. This is where things like Olympic lifting and strength training with a skilled Performance Coach are fantastic ways to exercise and to get involved with, as there are always new skills and techniques to build on, develop and progress.
Improving nutrition, activity, and therefore overall health and wellbeing is something we should all strive for, and something that people will struggle with at different levels, over different times in their lives. But having a greater understanding about what is important, you learn how even little habit changes can have profound effects for a life time of health. Having a good relationship with food and yourself is the starting point for all.
What is important to note though is that doing it on your own is hard, very hard, so don’t beat yourself up about it. You should always seek advice from people like a psychologist, dietician, allied health professional or performance coach, depending on what areas you are struggling with. A great one will be able to do more for you than produce a magic prescription, they will help you develop skills and accountability to get you through a life time.
To find out more on how the expert team can help you, call us on 03 8547 4830, or email [email protected]
Written by Co- founder and Head Performance Coach David Smith
- Buchanan, Kiera, and Jeanie Sheffield. “Why Do Diets Fail? An Exploration Of Dieters’ Experiences Using Thematic Analysis.” Journal of Health Psychology 22.7 (2015): 906-915. Web.
- Werle, Carolina O.C., Brian Wansink, and Collin R. Payne. “Is It Fun Or Exercise? The Framing Of Physical Activity Biases Subsequent Snacking.” SSRN Electronic Journal n. pag. Web.