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

IMAGE 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?

But for some people, the quest to adopt a more healthful lifestyle progresses from earnest to overzealous, and, ironically, these people may end up doing 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. 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 nervosa .

So what's the solution? 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.
  • American Council on Exercise

    http://www.acefitness.org

  • American Dietetic Association

    http://www.eatright.org

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Public Health Agency of Canada

    http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

  • Blowers LC, Loxton NJ, et al. The relationship between sociocultural pressure to be thin and body dissatisfaction in preadolescent girls. Eat Behav. 2003;4(3):229-244.

  • Easy exercise tips. Helpguide website. Available at: http://helpguide.org/life/exercise.htm. Updated December 2013. Accessed January 16, 2014.

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

  • Healthy eating. Helpguide website. Available at: http://helpguide.org/life/healthy%5Feating%5Fdiet.htm. Updated December 2013. Accessed January 16, 2014.

  • The effects of social pressure to be thin on body dissatisfaction and negative affect. Untiversity of Texas website. Available at: http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/HomePage/Class/Psy158H/PrevHonors/Fall00/Z25/litreview.html. Accessed January 16, 2014.