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Yes, Eating and Exercise Are Different from Other Behaviors

Eating and exercise are in a class of their own when it comes to behavior change

Key points

  • Eating and exercise are impacted by cultural influences, heightened emotional meanings, and high-maintenance logistical needs. 
  • New brain-based theories explain why we want to avoid our well-planned healthy choices and what we can do differently.
  • When our mindset-change strategies are designed out of the right emerging science, we can achieve lasting changes in healthy eating and exercise.

We so easily—and often, and over and over—decide to make changes in our eating and exercise behavior as if this is as simple as developing a flossing habit. But it’s not.

In a Class of Their Own

Despite the fact that many change experts toss them together with other types of behaviors, eating and exercise are in a class of their own when it comes to behavior change—and for a very important reason: In our society, both behaviors are inextricably tied to losing weight. This infuses goals to eat better and exercise more with any number of negative and complicated experiences and associations that our life history has firmly planted in our memories, minds, and bodies. This long list may include powerful emotions like angst, shame, stress, fear, anger, and rebellion. Cut out sweets? Run after work? Ack!

Here’s a thought experiment: Consider how you might feel about deciding to get more sleep, trying to meditate, or engaging less with social media. These behavioral aspirations may give you a twinge of excitement or trepidation, but do they hold the same deep emotional charge for you as thinking about cutting out high-calorie desserts or exercising? Most people tell me no.

Now, in addition, think about how healthy eating and exercise plans are affected on an almost daily basis by unanticipated changes in your real-life responsibilities. That's right, we need some different thinking here.

Eating and exercise are in a "change" class of their own because of the cultural influences, heightened emotional meanings, and high-maintenance logistical needs they have. Yet—and this is important—we can't lump them together: They are very different behaviors with their own distinct change needs.

New Ways to Understand

I am very excited that new theories just about exercise and just about eating are coming to the forefront of science as scholars create new ways for us to understand them through the complexities related to culture, bodily experiences, and how our brain functions. We can better adopt healthier eating and regular physical activity in sustainable ways if our mindset and strategies are designed out of the science that really "gets" their unique and distinct natures and needs.

In the next post, I'll give you a quick peek into two emerging frameworks that offer us exciting insights we can use to rethink our approach to sustainably including healthy eating and exercise in our busy lives.

During the next two weeks, try to become aware of the thoughts and feelings that pop into your mind when you think about eating in healthier ways or exercising more. If you want, email me what you notice. (Whether you notice negatives or positives, I bet you'll discover that they map onto the two new frameworks we'll be exploring next time.)

Here’s the deal: If we don’t understand the most strategic ways to change a behavior based on the essential nuances of that actual behavior, our efforts can’t be as focused and successful as they have the potential to be. My blog will help you learn these nuances so you can not only become successful with creating changes that last but also actually enjoy the journey!

You can learn more in my new book, The Joy Choice: How to Finally Achieve Lasting Changes in Eating and Exercise.

Stay safe and well.

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