It's time again for a few questions from readers about weight, exercise, eating and becoming healthy and fit.
How do you get back on track when you've fallen off the wagon?
There will always be times when you don't perform well. You're not "off the wagon" if you take the attitude that changes in your eating patterns are all part of the course of your life, don't put any more meaning into it, don't judge and gradually (and kindly) work toward your previous pace. If you can't do it immediately, do it one step at a time. The better you get at this approach, the easier it will be the next time. You will also find that this approach helps to prevent "falling off the wagon" in the future.
I would also recommend that you stop labeling these times as "falling off the wagon." It's more constructive to say, "I'm not eating as healthfully or being as active as usual."
How do I convince myself that I don't need that Twinkie and that my long-term health is more valuable than the instant gratification of consuming a Twinkie?
It's always hard to postpone gratification. All humans (and even other animals) have a tendency to focus more on immediate rewards than long-term benefit. But it's also true that we can get better at putting off an immediate but small pleasure in order to get a bigger payoff in the future.
The key to developing this skill is to find methods of reminding ourselves consistently of what we're trying to achieve and why we want to achieve it. The long-term goal must have deep meaning to us. That's why people who strive for health are more successful with weight-loss goals than those that are focused solely on weight.
I am successful at everything else in my life. Why do I repeatedly fail at dieting?
This is a common question. People who are used to being able to control events in their lives are especially frustrated when they can't control their eating and exercise to their satisfaction.
You're dealing with the human body and mind, and how its programming has evolved over thousands of years. Therefore, you can't necessarily deal with your eating behavior just as you would any other issue in life.
But it is up to you to decide whether you will work with your body or against it. Learning about your body and choosing methods that are consistent with how the body and mind work will lead to greater success with weight management. The next question is a good example of this principle.
Do I have to starve to lose weight?
Starving yourself is a good way to make sure that you're not successful with losing weight and keeping it off. Not only will deprivation make you more focused on food — usually the more caloric foods — it makes it harder to eat in a way that produces weight loss. It makes your body resist getting rid of fat. Isn't that the opposite of what you want? Successful weight loss happens when we use methods that are healthy, easy to follow and encourage the body to burn fat rather than store it.
Does exercise really factor in that much in trying to lose weight?
Absolutely! The people who are the most successful with managing their weight and health are those that make activity a major part of their daily lives. As I've mentioned many times before, exercise is the best fat-burning tool available to us. So, why wouldn't it be a major factor in trying to lose weight? True, most of us don't burn enough calories exercising to make up for consistent overindulging. But if we try to lose weight by dieting alone, we slow down the metabolism and burn less fat. Exercise keeps the engine burning, and so is a key tool — along with sensible eating — to lose weight in a sustainable way without feeling deprived.
Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. Email your questions to [email protected]