Balance Life and Eating

Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals and values are in balance. - Brian Tracy

Many people find that when they are "stressed out" or have a hectic schedule, their eating suffers. Often, imbalances in lifestyle can lead to excessive eating or eating when not truly hungry. In order to change this pattern, you have to take a look at your life, make an honest assessment and then decide what changes you are willing to make.

Balance is an important part of many aspects of healthy living. For example, a balanced exercise program includes cardio, strength training, and flexibility. A balanced eating plan incorporates healthy fats, protein, complex carbohydrates and appropriate calorie control.

Let's talk about what happens when life is not "balanced" and how that can impact weight loss or gain. Interests, activities, how time is spent and relationship patterns all influence eating patterns and the role of food in our lives. Often, our lifestyles are more likely to encourage excess eating rather than to support healthy eating. Many people striving to lose weight minimize the important role lifestyle change has in reaching their goals. They believe that motivation and willpower are all that matters. In the long run, imbalances in lifestyle will trump motivation and willpower. Thus, a balanced life in three essential areas – work, self-care and relationships – will go far in helping one to reach and maintain a healthy weight.

Research has shown that individuals who have been successful with their weight loss journeys were able to make small and incremental changes over time. In other words, losing weight is a process and a journey. Developing new habits does not occur overnight!

WORK. These activities provide meaning and purpose to our lives. While money may be earned, "work" is not limited to things which earn income. Hobbies, interests, passions and volunteering can meet the essential needs we have for structuring time, having a sense of purpose, forming community, developing skills, learning and growing.

SELF-CARE. Self-care does not imply being selfish. The "healthy self" needs care and maintenance – just like your car! Without self-care, the "addictive self" will emerge and food will become a dysfunctional form of self-care. Self-care includes relaxation, time to think and plan, getting enough sleep, exercise, healthy diet, mental stimulation and spiritual growth.

RELATIONSHIPS. Through our relationships we meet our needs for community, companionship, validation, appreciation, approval, guidance, feedback, touch, trust, encouragement, challenge, mentoring, empathy and acceptance. All of these needs are not likely to be met by any one person. We need depth and breadth. When these needs are not met in a healthy way, we can be at risk for using food as a replacement for love and nurturing.

So…what to do? Make an effort to honestly assess your life. Where are the imbalances? Like invisible cracks in a tooth, lifestyle imbalances produce symptoms (overeating and poor food choices) that will get worse over time if ignored. Imbalances can range from "under-doing" to "over-doing" within each of these three areas.

For example, an under-doer in the area of work finds that work is boring and empty. That person finds that he often has too much time on his hands and turns to food for stimulation, for "something to do," for "fun." The over-doer is overly busy, possibly a workaholic, and leads a hectic pace. That person uses food to relieve stress, relax, as a reward or as an escape.

An under-doer in the area of self-care often procrastinates, lacks a structured eating plan, and may graze throughout the day. An over-doer may be a compulsive dieter and a person of extremes – either all or nothing – "If I can’t walk for an hour, I won’t walk at all."

In the area of relationships, the under-doer often feels isolated and lonely. Food becomes of source of love and nurture. The over-doer can be the caretaker and rescuer. This person has no time for self and does not prioritize healthy eating and adequate exercise.

Again, be honest with yourself in indentifying the areas of imbalance and how they might be affecting your food intake and weight. Consider options for change. Develop a plan to restore greater balance. Tell yourself "I will" and not "I will try" when it comes to developing healthy lifestyle habits!

Kathleen Baskett, MD is the Medical Director of Weight Management at St. Vincent Healthcare. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the author of “Moving Forward: The Weigh to a Healthier Weight”.