Last week, I introduced how nutrition and fitness can have a positive impact on mental health. In the same way, physical health and mental health can have a negative relationship. At one time or another, we have all reached for something sweet to eat in the midst of a stressful situation. Yes, we find it comforting to ‘reward’ ourselves, but we actually need more physical energy when stressed (whether the stress is emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual) and sugar gives us that quick burst of energy. Nearly all our coping skills are developed because at one point they served their purpose well. Unfortunately, anything done in excess can eventually inhibit functioning. Seeking sugar or other comfort foods in response to any stressor is also less than nutritional. Although it may give a quick burst of energy, it doesn’t provide the enduring energy needed to address the stressor; it’s a quick fix, not a solution. Too much of this quick fix will actually decrease energy long term.
There is another side of this also. Sometimes food and even weight have served another purpose in your life, helping you to avoid certain thoughts or situations. Extra weight can be a protection from change, growth, or achievement. It can be as simple as feeling unable to compete with an athletic sibling or as complicated as avoiding one’s sexuality after a traumatic experience; the extra weight is the reason why you can’t compete or the protection from an uncomfortable situation. It’s like “the funny fat guy” that uses humor to cover his own discomfort with his appearance. Much of the time these reasons are unconscious (you didn’t purposefully gain weight), but the reasons can be recognized when one is willing to take an honest look at him/herself.
If weight has helped you avoid something difficult or painful, you may find that something you’ve been avoiding is suddenly in your face when trying to live a healthier life. Physical health and mental health are so interconnected that to be healthier in one you need to be healthier in the other as well.
What habits help you cope with stress that may be interfering with your fitness and nutrition? Has extra weight helped you avoid something? Are you ready to face that something? Is that something getting in the way of achieving your fitness goals?
September 9th, 2008