Recently, at a dinner party, friends of mine told me about their visit to a nearby children’s science museum. In one exhibit, they walked through a short hallway while an image of their body was taken, and at the same time, data on how many grapes’ worth of calories they burn per minute of walking based on their gait.
They joked about how horrible their bodies looked on the image and that they’re now focusing on walking more efficiently for better calorie burning.
I was amazed. A real world eating disorder/body image machine.
Is this what a children’s museum is teaching kids?
Walk in lackadaisical, and walk out anxious and shameful. Why? Oh, I know – because of the “obesity epidemic” whose underlying message is “lose weight or else”. Sounds like a true motivational message…yeah right!
Related Article: Is the War on Obesity Worth Fighting?
Here at Green Mountain in our “Diet Stress” class we talk about how that intake/output formula is old and has many missing pieces.
It’s not just about calories in/calories out. There are many other factors that play a part in body and weight, one of which is stress. Obsessing over how much food we’re taking in and how many calories we’re burning is stressful.
When we’re stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is activated (aka the fight-or-flight response), causing many physical changes to happen in our body to destine us to survive the danger.
Monitoring and restricting calories with dieting puts us into this stress cycle and actually creates a physiological environment in our bodies that interferes with weight management. Fat is stored, appetite is stimulated, etc., for the explicit purpose of surviving the famine.
Our body doesn’t know we’re trying to manage our weight; it just knows it needs to survive.
Related Article: The Binge Eating Diaries: Dieting Makes People Fat
Mindful Eating & Movement
As far as exercise goes, participants here at Green Mountain practice mindful movement and have opportunities to try a range of activities to develop a love for movement. It’s not about burning calories.
Think about it, when a dog goes for a walk, does it first put on a Fitbit, log into Fitness Pal, slip into high tech sneakers? No! Dogs just LOVE to walk, so they get excited and go. When we move regularly in a way we enjoy, it becomes a lifelong pleasure.
Similarly, by practicing mindful eating we learn to eat what we want by noticing and managing hunger, and eating with awareness. Doing so allows us to have what we want as well as what we need, because we’re paying attention to and caring for our bodies.
So instead of obsessing over the ‘efficiency of your gait’ or your calorie intake, go for a walk (if you enjoy that)… oh, and have some grapes while you’re at it too.