It’s been said before, but it’s always worth a reminder that negativity can be toxic. Think of the most negative person you know – the ever-pessimistic, “glass is half empty” person. Do you think that person is happy or fulfilled? Even if he or she actually is happy, that person’s words and actions don’t express it to others – if they did, you wouldn’t be thinking of that person right now. While a person’s negativity can affect the people around him or her, your own negativity can have unfortunate consequences on your own life, as well, particularly when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. At times, we’ve all felt guilty about foods we ate or exercises we should’ve done but didn’t for whatever reason, but it’s important not to beat ourselves up too much for these failings.
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Chelsi Cardoso says too much negative self-talk can become a viscous cycle. “As people, we’re naturally inclined to believe that if something is wrong, we should fix it,” Cardoso said. “So, we think that reflecting on how much we ate or how lazy we were being when we skipped our workout will inspire us to eat better or actually do the exercise next time. And while that certainly can be true, dwelling on our failures actually can lead us to eating more and being more inactive. For instance, if you say to yourself ‘I’m sick of this diet because I can never eat what I want,’ odds are good that you’ll defy it and snack more. That indulgence, then, can lead you to the thinking ‘I shouldn’t have done that, now I’ll never lose weight,’ which makes you feel bad and could potentially cause you to eat more because you’ve already accepted failure,” Cardoso explained. “It’s a self-defeating cycle, and the first step toward getting out of it is to learn to combat negative thoughts with rational ones. Recognize when you’re being negative toward yourself, put a stop to it, and choose better, more encouraging ways to look at the situation,” she added.
Cardoso says emotions also can interfere with healthy eating and activity. “Often, people find themselves in a habit of overeating and being inactive due to how they respond to certain feelings,” Cardoso said. “For instance, negative feelings such as boredom, anger, frustration, guilt, anxiety, sadness or stress can trigger both overeating and inactivity because we’ve developed patterns of behavior to comfort ourselves when we experience negative feelings. It’s tricky, though, because positive feelings also can cause eating and inactivity, such as when we reward ourselves with a break from our diet or exercise routine,” she added.
For most of us, though, stress is the biggest factor. “Stress can absolutely get in the way of a healthy lifestyle,” Cardoso said. “Many people overeat or are less active in response to stressors such as family or marital problems, a death in the family, job problems, moving, illnesses, deadlines at home or at work, or relationship tensions. Stress can also make it more challenging to stick to a diet or exercise plan. You might think ‘I don’t have time to exercise today, I’m too busy’ or ‘I have too much to do already to make a meal at home today, so I’ll get fast food.’ This can cause us to delay our plans until we’re less stressed, but when was the last time you had several weeks in a row in which you had no stress and life was easy? We can help ourselves avoid added stress by practicing saying ‘no’ to people or activities that are going to cause us more stress. Try setting goals that are attainable, and getting organized to take charge of your time. If you find you can’t avoid feeling stressed about something, try to take 10 minutes for yourself to take a deep breath or maybe take a walk. Any time you can take to relax and do something for yourself can help you de-stress,” she said.
“Taking steps to re-train your brain to respond to negative thoughts, emotions and stress can save you from falling into that viscous cycle and derailing your progress toward achieving your goals,” Cardoso added. “Remember that setting a healthy lifestyle goal is a good intention, but we want to make sure that those inevitable negative aspects of life don’t cue behaviors that make those intentions more challenging to turn into realities,” she said.