What Does a Hyperfocus on health look like? (WIAW)

  Mar 21, 2018  |  #Intuitive Eating

Hi friends! I’m back at it today with another post on intuitive eating and showing some intuitive eating eats!

I think part of the reason people are hesitant to include intuitive eating principles into their lifestyles is because they think it means they are not focusing on their health. But, these things are not mutually exclusive. In other words, being an intuitive eater doesn’t mean you are depriving yourself of health. In contrast, intuitive eaters usually have improved health indicators, like lower BMI, better psychological health, and possible improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Many people don’t realize this because with intuitive eating, they may only see, “eat the donut, skip the salad!”

We need to remember that being hyperfocused on health doesn’t make you super healthy. Likewise, taking the strong obsession off health doesn’t jeopardize your health.

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There’s a gray line between the two – this is not black and white.

Hyperfocusing on health

People who are intuitive eaters can feel happier and less stressed about food. When we stress about things like food choices (yes, even this kind of stress can raise our cortisol), we’re changing our hormonal patterns and internal stress hormones. When our cortisol rises, our cells flood glucose into our bloodstream, making us more insulin resistant. Normally, since we’re not running from a bear or a tiger, we don’t need that glucose right away.

Breakfast – avocado BLT toast

As a matter of fact, most of us are sitting at our desk or at a restaurant stressing about what to order. We think we’re doing miracles for our health by ordering the salad when we really want the pasta. So, instead of using this influx of glucose, we just store it as fat. That’s part of much more complex biological system of how stress impacts health and biochemical reactions in our bodies. This is one of the by-products of chronic stress.

Furthermore, intuitive eaters know what they need in the moment. There’s something to be said about eating a salad when you’re craving vegetables, vs. eating a salad because you think you should. People worry that intuitive eating means you’ll always crave donuts or a cinnamon bun, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Intuitive Eating means allowing yourself to enjoy those foods when you want them. But, if you’re truly having them when you want them (vs putting them off and thinking your craving will subside), you’ll soon realize that you won’t always want them. Our bodies seek balance if we learn to listen to them.

Yes, You can crave vegetables and still be an intuitive eater!

All foods have a place when we trust our intuition. I usually find myself craving veggies and fiber after extra cookies the day before. Or, maybe some of my prior meals weren’t very balanced or didn’t have any veggies. Or, maybe veggies just sound good! You don’t always need a reason.

Whole Foods
Whole Foods Salad Bar – I always go here when I just want random veggies to mix and match.

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I am in no way saying it’s not important to care about our health. I think we should all care very much about our health. But, we don’t want to hyperfocus on our health.

Hyperfocusing on anything can be dangerous and damaging. It can become obsessive and stressful, and can easily take over your life. Here’s where I want to differentiate focusing on our health vs. hyperfocusing on our health.

What does Hyperfocusing on our Health Look Like?

Only eating “clean foods” because you fear one fried food or form of processed sugar will give you cancer or diabetes

Doing 45-60 minutes of exercise every day, no matter how much sleep you got or what you have to sacrifice to do so

Never allowing yourself to eat out because you can’t accurately track the calories, macronutrients, and you don’t know what ingredients they use

Meal planning to a T each week so each meal is pre-weighed and pre-portioned and there are no surprises throughout the week

Making food choices not based on how you feel, but based on the food label and whether something has added sugar/sodium, etc.

Avoiding any hunger cues because it’s not the time your meal plan says to eat, or the only snack you have isn’t “healthy”

Haberdish

In Contrast, Here’s how those examples could be oriented around health, but not hyperfocused:

Ordering a salad for lunch if you want one, but not stressing about ordering a fried chicken sandwich if you want that. You know that a fried chicken sandwich will not send your body into diabetes risk or territory, because that is an extreme, obsessive thought. Overall, you make pretty balanced choices. You don’t need to exert extra stress on worrying about eating a form of processed foods. 

You didn’t sleep well last night so you skip your AM workout for more sleep. In doing so, you are honoring your health by getting sufficient rest and not further raising your cortisol. A night of bad sleep + exercise (both of which are stressors) can be double damaging.

Eating out on occasion and enjoying the social aspect of food. Yes, this contributes to health. Being able to enjoy time with others can have drastic measures on improving our health and happiness. Understanding that you can order anything off the menu that sounds good to you, whether it be a salmon with vegetables, or a pasta dish.

Meal planning when you have the time and it’s helpful for your weekly routine. This also includes understanding that some days, you may just want to eat out with your coworkers or say yes to a spontaneous dinner out with a friend without feeling guilty.

Making food choices based on your hunger/fullness and what you actually want in the moment (regardless of the food label).

Acknowledging hunger cues as an important sign from your body, listening to them, and nourishing your body with a snack or what you have on hand at the moment

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Dinner- leftover chicken quesadillas, turmeric parsnip fries, spinach + roasted zucchini + balsamic + avocado

Health is worth working towards and it doesn’t just come naturally. It’s worth educating yourself about healthy foods and balancing blood sugar. Knowing the best foods for pre vs post workout or foods for heart health. Especially if you have a family history of chronic disease. Being informed is important.

But, taking a balanced approach to health is also important. Any hyperfocus on, or stress about health is just that. Stress. Stress can be so damaging to our health. It will harm us more than just eating the pizza or the ice cream ever will. Stressing about our health takes us away from how we truly feel. It takes us away from what our intuition tells us.

 

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

13 responses to “What Does a Hyperfocus on health look like? (WIAW)

  1. I love this! A year or so ago, I read an article about a new (or now it’s been given a name) eating disorder for when people become too obsessed with food and/or working out. I think it’s way more important to give your body what it wants in the moment otherwise you’ll overindulge in cookies later on.

  2. “We think we’re doing miracles for our health by ordering the salad when we really want the pasta.” —– ahhhh the ironies. I wish these believes never got so instilled in us. They are really hard to fight against when everything around us in media is telling us the opposite. But I’m happy that more research is coming out about the affects of stress – and how just mentally stressing over food choices can negate the benefits of that salad.

    1. It is a shame that they did get instilled in the first place and take us out of any intuitive nature we may have already had. But, like you said, strides are being made and more and more research is being done!

  3. I am so much healthier now that I have been working on intuitive eating. My social life has improved because I can go out to eat with friends, order what I want, and stop when I’m full. My workouts are a million times better because I a) do the type of exercise I feel is enjoyable and b) eat plenty of carbs because that’s what my body likes.

    1. I am so happy to hear that Eileen. There is so much more research about how our social lives intertwine with our health as well. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I enjoyed your examples Sarah. I had felt kind of “ick” recently and believe that feeling my best starts with relationships and then food. I feel confident in my friendships, so through talking to them, my coworkers, we kind of were all feeling the same way. So, we decided together to change how we were eating, very subtly and just a bit. I haven’t actually restricted anything, but started listening to what my body wants. Instead of eating something because it’s there, I asked myself what would make me feel good, what tastes good and what gives me energy.
    I actually started eating oatmeal and peanut butter for dinner and more chocolate! Weird right? I haven’t had one sala or smoothie. I haven’t cut anything out. I just started to give my body what it wanted.
    Actually, I don’t really think about health much, I figure it’s built into my lifestyle, so I try my best not to worry about it 🙂

    1. So glad that you and your friends are tuning in. I tell my clients that it really doesn’t matter what they eat at a meal (ie – oatmeal and PB for dinner) the first few weeks, it’s more about honoring your body and developing that trust!

  5. I loved how you described the difference between a hyper focus and incorporating things like meal planning as something that you do when you have time, eating a salad when it sounds good, not because you have to, doing exercise not because you have to after a night of bad sleep; I’m guilty of several of those behaviors. Meal planning has not been as much my jam, but this past year I think I’ve encountered the lie of not being able to eat at a certain time, even if I’m hungry, or squeezzing in that workout even if I didn’t get good sleep. This was a good reminder.

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