Good Intentions Gone Awry: How to Keep Your Health Habits in Balance

For many people, moderation is the key to a healthy, happy life. After all, how much fun would life be if you swore off M&Ms forever, or if you always chose exercise over other activities and relationships?

For some people however, the quest to adopt a more healthful lifestyle progresses from earnest to overzealous. In the end, it does more harm than good.

The Influence of Media Messages  ^

Magazines and websites are brimming with health information. Those same publications often feature stick-like models and celebrities who have often had their photos altered to make them appear thinner. The message? No matter what your size, you can—and should—be thinner. As a result, some people become overly concerned about their eating and exercising habits.

The media can have a negative effect on how you feel about your yourself. Most people cannot attain the level of weight loss they see in media. When you feel badly about yourself, you may change your eating and exercising habits to reach a false goal. This overconcern with weight loss can be detrimental to your physical and mental health.

When "Too Healthy" Is Unhealthy  ^

When people exercise too much or eat too restrictively, they set themselves up for physical, mental, and social problems.

Overdoing exercise can cause overuse injuries. People may also become so fatigued that their usual exercise routine becomes difficult. Their immune systems may also weaken, making them more vulnerable to common illnesses, like colds and the flu. They may even experience depression, nausea, and sleep problems.

Likewise, eating too restrictively can deprive people of valuable minerals and vitamins, such as iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin E. Without these nutrients, they risk developing osteoporosis, anemia and protein deficiencies, and other problems. An eating obsession can also lead to eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia.

The solution is recognizing the problem and then working to achieve moderation.

Living in Moderation  ^

Knowing when your eating and exercising habits have gone awry involves paying attention to subtle signs.

To check your exercise habits, evaluate if you've felt depressed, been unusually fatigued, or experienced increased illness or injury. Perhaps you've begun choosing exercise over other activities, like getting together with friends or family or going out to eat. Maybe you have difficulty skipping even one day of exercise, which may be causing problems at work as well.

Problems with eating habits may manifest themselves in behavioral problems. Notice if you've begun isolating yourself from people and eating alone. Have you started getting into patterns with your eating, such as never eating certain foods together or pushing food around on your plate? Do you think about food constantly? Have you divided food into good and bad categories and eat only good foods? If so, you may have a problem.

To introduce moderation into your eating and exercising habits, follow these tips:

  • Eat with others. Friends may help you look at food in a different way, helping you change your bad habits to good ones.
  • Eat smaller portions.
  • Don't banish certain foods from your diet.
  • Make changes slowly.
  • When you do exercise, remember why you're doing it. Don't get caught up in negativity. Exercise is meant to relieve stress, not create it.
  • Find exercises that you like to do. Even if it means you have to push a bit harder to get results.
  • Find a workout buddy. Plan and work toward your goals together.
  • Expect the unexpected. Life will get in the way of working out, which may result in you missing some workouts for days or weeks at a time. When you return, forgive yourself and start up slowly. You'll be surprised how fast your body will respond.
RESOURCES:

American Council on Exercise
https://www.acefitness.org

Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
http://www.eatright.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology
http://www.csep.ca

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Anorexia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116253/Body-dysmorphic-disorder. Accessed October 10, 2017.

Blowers LC, Loxton NJ, Grady-Flesser M, Occhipinti S, Dawe S. The relationship between sociocultural pressure to be thin and body dissatisfaction in preadolescent girls. Eat Behav. 2003;4(3):229-244.

Griffiths MD, Szabo A, Terry A. The exercise addiction inventory: a quick and easy screening tool for health practitioners: Br J Sports Med. 2005;39(6):e30.

Healthy eating. Help Guide website. Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/healthy-eating.htm. Updated June 2017. Accessed October 10, 2017.

The media and body image. Mirror Mirror Eating Disorder Help website. Available at: https://www.mirror-mirror.org/the-media-and-body-image.htm. Accessed October 10, 2017.

Last reviewed October 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD  Last Updated: 1/16/2014