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Eating healthy is a marathon, not a sprint

"I messed up again! Now I'm back to square one. What's the use!"

Sound familiar? That's the self-defeating voice that tells us to quit our healthy eating program whenever we're less than perfect. It gets louder than ever during the holidays.

It's a stressful time and stress is known to push us to eat mindlessly. It's also a time when we're rushed, making it hard to have regular meals at home. Then there are the scores of party invitations and the high-calorie, high-fat foods crossing our paths continually.

Maybe it's time to adjust our expectations of ourselves, and consider a new way to manage weight and health during the holidays.


The verbal "recordings" that become embedded in our minds through the years and are played over and over again can have a huge impact on our lives.

But these recordings can be edited and even deleted if we're willing to face them.

I like to think about losing and managing weight as more like a marathon than a sprint.

The marathoner must first train in order to gain fitness and endurance. This includes feeding the body well and knowing when to rest. Running a successful marathon requires pacing. Running too fast means risking injury and possibly having to quit. Winning runners know that they must ignore others that may pass them and keep focus on their own pace.

All of which should sound a lot like weight management. Yet many people treat it more like a sprint, resorting to fad diets and expect large, fast losses.

This sprinter's mentality applied to a marathon event like weight management sets the dieter up for failure. Familiar self-defeating thoughts then take over. "What's the use? I failed again."

The holidays are particularly tough for people with the sprinter's mentality about weight. Their unreasonable expectations extend to thinking that even during the most elaborate feasts, they'll pass up all the goodies. They inevitably disappoint themselves and give up.

If they had taken the long-distance runner's perspective, they would hang in there during the tough times, just like the marathoner gets through the "wall," and continue past the holidays without losing motivation.

Perhaps they don't lose weight during the holidays, and maybe they aren't "perfect,'' but they are far more likely to maintain rather than gain. They're also more likely to enjoy the festivities.

Above all, dieters with more realistic expectations and proper pacing don't quit. They can continue successfully managing their weight for life, one progressive step at a time.


So how about replacing the old, self-defeating thoughts with these:

• "I'm not going to try to do anything extreme during the holidays this year."

• "I'll pace myself, stay calm, and focus on the positive."

• "I won't let myself get too hungry before eating, I'll make physical activity a priority, and I'll feed my body nutritious things.

• "What I do will be more important than the number on the scale and if I'm able to maintain my weight instead of gaining, I'll consider that a success and continue on."

So, think of the changes you want to make with weight — and other health goals — like the long-distance runner thinks of the next marathon. Stay calm and pace yourself.

Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. Contact her through her website,, or at (813) 240-9557.

Eating healthy is a marathon, not a sprint 11/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 18, 2011 3:30am]
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