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Mind and body

You don't need unhealthy 'fun food' to have a good time

Everyone loves Ellis. When Ellis is present everyone has a good time. He's funny, and he makes his friends feel like he is focused on meeting their every need. Who wouldn't want to be around someone like that?

On a personal level, Ellis is proud that he has shifted his eating lifestyle through the years to one centered on nutrition and health. The only thing that frustrates Ellis is that he seems to always have the same extra pounds around his middle. Ellis isn't obese, and his excess fat isn't visible in clothes, but he really wants to lose that small spare tire. Most of the time he doesn't think about it, but sometimes when he's getting dressed he pulls on his skin and thinks, "I really want this gone. Why can't I get rid of this when I've been eating and exercising so well for so long?"

It's true that Ellis does a great job of exercising regularly and eating well overall. He also doesn't have an eating disorder. His real issue has to do with rationalization and just wanting to have fun. Ellis' personality is getting in the way.

Every personality characteristic has an upside and a downside. Ellis' love of having a good time and showing others a good time clouds his focus when it comes to weight management. Having a good time to Ellis, whether it's in a social situation or on vacation, means totally letting go — no rules. To Ellis, having to focus on what or how much he's eating when it's supposed to be fun time is incompatible with his enjoyment.

Ellis also thinks he's responsible for other people's fun. In his mind, that means that he needs to provide people with tasty food (usually high-caloric treats — "fun food") and lots of it. So, when he's the host, he tends to buy the wrong foods and excessive quantities of food, which is inconsistent with his usual healthy mind-set. The end result is that Ellis eats way too much in these situations in an effort to simply have fun. It's no wonder that spare tire hangs on. In addition, because Ellis is paying more attention to having fun than to his long-term intentions for his health, he doesn't realize what he's doing and later repeats the question: "Why can't I get rid of this?"

Here are a few ways in which Ellis is going wrong:

• The types of foods he associates with fun are foods that set his health plans back. In addition, he thinks that people will find healthy foods boring at a gathering.

• He feels too responsible for whether other people have a good time. If he put less pressure on himself, he can be more mindful of his own goals.

• He thinks you're a bad host if you don't have large quantities of food for your guests. This usually results in leftovers he feels compelled to eat to avoid being wasteful.

• He thinks you can't have fun unless you let go completely. He doesn't realize that you can savor normal portions of flavorful, nutritious food and relax while still honoring your health intentions.

Because Ellis hasn't learned how to have fun while staying focused on other things that also are important to him, he remains "stimulus bound." People who are stimulus bound too easily change their behavior according to their surroundings.

Because of the way Ellis thinks about food and social gatherings, he is vulnerable to the stimuli around him. At gatherings, this includes excessive, unhealthy and fattening foods. That's why Ellis doesn't feel well, physically, the morning after he has hosted a party. His guests may not feel that well, either. And then, there are those leftovers. It would be nice if Ellis realized that everyone would still have had a great time with better food and less of it. He and his guests would have the bonus of a happy tummy, too.

Ellis is definitely a fun guy, and he has most weight-management concepts down pat. With a little tweaking when it comes to having fun with other people and food, he should finally be able to say so long to that small spare tire.

Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Contact her at drrod@fatmatters.com.

You don't need unhealthy 'fun food' to have a good time 01/21/16 [Last modified: Thursday, January 21, 2016 6:47pm]
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