I received so many good questions from readers about weight and exercise during the holidays, I'm devoting another column to the subject.
Next time we'll tackle the thorny issue of New Year's resolutions.
Determine what's behind urge to binge
I have problems with bingeing and the holidays make it worse. What can I do about it?
A binge is different from overeating. When we overeat, we're just eating more than our bodies need for the day. With bingeing, the eating is accompanied by emotions such as anxiety, fear and a feeling of being totally out of control. The binger doesn't want to eat but feels compelled to. He or she tries to keep from eating. But the harder they try, the likelier it is that they will break down and eat uncontrollably.
Contrary to simple overeating, the binger's eating is rapid, without savoring the food. Rather than enjoyment, the binger just experiences relief from the effort of trying to stay in control — but not for long. Guilt and shame follow the binge.
Overeaters, on the other hand, enjoy food and stop when they don't want any more. Bingers stop only after they can't fit any more food into their stomachs, or they feel forced to hide their behavior.
While overeating is common during the holidays, the binger has particular problems during these times. Fear about losing control of eating goes up, both because the foods they forbid themselves are more available, and because they are putting an inordinate amount of pressure on themselves about eating and appearance during this time. Bingers tend to be perfectionists, expecting superhuman things from themselves. No one is able to withstand this kind of pressure without breaking down in some way.
The way to get rid of bingeing is not to find the "right'' diet or focus more on food, but rather to address the causes of bingeing. Psychological barriers and rigid, cyclical dieting are at the core. Bingeing behavior can be a symptom of an eating disorder that requires professional assistance to overcome.
For now, understand that it's not your fault. The best thing to do is to let up the pressure on yourself during the holidays. Use this time to do research about bingeing and find a professional that can guide you through ridding yourself of the problem once and for all. It's not about weight loss or food and it's not about self-discipline. It's about getting natural control over food back in your life. You might start by getting information from my blog, www.FatMatters.com.
Eliminate barriers to exercise
I find it either too hot or too cold here in Florida to exercise regularly. Do you have any suggestions?
Central Florida has beautiful weather, but it can have long stretches of very hot weather — and as we've seen this past week, cold spells, too. The first step is to decide that you want to have a lifestyle that includes consistent exercise. If you don't want it, you'll find excuses not to do it. But, if you really want it, you'll find ways around any difficulty. Make activity a priority in your life and leave room for it on your schedule.
Secondly, think about everything that can interfere with exercising outside — rain, cold and heat — and make sure that you have tools to address those obstacles. For example, good rain gear will allow you to walk in the rain. Have a piece of equipment in your house that you can use on those days when it's too dangerous to be outside (like when there's lightning). It can be as fancy as an elliptical machine or as simple as a set of resistance bands. Whatever you choose, make sure it's ready to use, no assembly required. Learn how to layer clothing for cold days so you can gradually remove layers if you feel too warm; on hot days, plan to get outside early, before the sun heats things up.
Finally, find something that will make activity even more enjoyable, such as listening to your favorite music or podcast. I'm sure that if someone offered you a million dollars to exercise outside every day for three months, you'd find ways to deal with the weather. Find the incentive and the solutions will come to you.
Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached at (813) 240-9557 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book, "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management," is available at FatMatters.com.