Eating and Exercising for your Future Health Sucks

Feel good NOWPerhaps I am a naughty dietitian for saying so, but I think doing “healthy” stuff now to ward off vague future health threats is a terrible motivation for behavior change.

There. I said it. So sue me. But first let me explain.

I think we humans tend more toward hedonism than toward future thinking in that, most of the time, we just want to feel good in the immediate here and now.

This has been gleaned anecdotally by me in a not-at-all scientific way but I’m standing by it right now because 1. That’s how I am myself and 2. That’s how my clients are and 3. That’s how my friends are. So, with only a few exceptions, that is, like, everyone I know! Yeah, people want to be healthy but more importantly they want to feel good.

Somewhere along the way to feeling good and feeling healthy, weight became the stand-in for both, perhaps because it has immediate, visible results that let you know if what you are doing is working AND you feel good because everyone tells you nice things about how you look. But weight is a poor barometer of health and we know now how poorly weight loss works and so now the thing we implore you to do is “eat for your health.”

But I gotta say, that sucks. Even *I* don’t want to do that. And I’m a great planner. So what to do then?

Well, how about a little something I like to call feel-good-now-nutrition?

Let’s say you’re mastering intuitive eating, dieting is a thing of your past, and now you’re ready to try this business of eating healthier. You eat “virtuously” because you don’t want to get diabetes or heart disease, but then you keep forgetting about your reasons for eating this way because it’s a future thing. And who wants to be scared all the time worrying about conditions you might not – or worse, might – get? It’s too depressing, so you put it out of your mind. And I don’t blame you! Aside from some basic (and, sigh, I’m guessing inadequate) retirement planning, I don’t want to think of a future where I may be infirm in any way. I just want to enjoy living in the now.

And that’s where feeling good becomes your new guideline. For example, one of the best reasons to stop overeating is because the feeling of being overly full is just plain unpleasant. When you are in the middle of a meal, then, it makes sense to pause and not think about how healthy you’ll be in 30 years if you stop now, but how uncomfortable you might be in 30 minutes if you don’t stop now. Our internal cues around hunger and satiety are designed to make us feel good. Getting to that hungry-and-ready-to-eat point? Feel good. Getting into hangry territory? Feel bad. See? Simple!

Our bodies seek balance. After even a day of “treat” foods, I find myself craving a pile of vegetables. And when I have them – ones that I like, prepared how I like them (i.e. in a non-diet way) – I feel good. My stomach doesn’t feel weighed down or bloated, and I like that feeling. Or sometimes I want something “heavier” like comfort food, because that’s what makes me right as rain at that moment. Our bodies crave variety so that we get all the nutrients we need from a range of foods. Yes, vegetables are healthy, so there is definitely an advantage to including them in your diet. But there are a ton of feel-good-right-now reasons to include them in your diet, taste being one and bowel regularity being an important other. Can’t poop? Feel baaaad. If you’re not a vegetable lover, try experimenting incrementally with different veggies using recipes that combine them with favorite foods (like green beans sautéed with bacon fat, Stilton blue cheese, and walnuts – thank you Jamie Oliver!).

This works for exercise as well. I only exercise now when I feel like it and I only do what is fun or what helps me to clear my head and loosen my joints. After years of experimenting, it turns out that I feel good getting some sort of movement most days of the week. All of those days aren’t spent at the gym – at most I want to be there two days a week, and others not at all. I’ve found other forms of activity that make me feel good for a variety of reasons. Most recently this has been a line dancing class at work, which feels good not just because it is movement but because it’s totally fun, goofy, and social. Exercise doesn’t have to be about the sweat at all if that doesn’t make you feel good.

So to recap: Feeling healthy = Feeling good right now. Math portion of the post now complete.

Finding the “healthy” foods and the right movement is important, but they have to make you feel good in the moment. We are creatures built for happiness now first and foremost, so let that be your biggest motivator for being healthy. Because after all, our happiness is the most important part of our health!

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8 thoughts on “Eating and Exercising for your Future Health Sucks

  1. jodietitian July 14, 2015 / 7:02 am

    I just love this and I can relate! I feel the same way, especially about eating (too much does not feel good at all, and not eating enough does not feel good either!). Seems so simple, doesn’t it? Same with exercise, people seem so wrapped up in doing a certain amount of whatever, and I am with you! Today it probably will be gardening and a fun walk with a neighbor, this weekend it was dancing on our friends boat! I may have to share this post!! so good : )

    • GlenysO July 14, 2015 / 8:14 am

      Right!? Whatever happened to people just living life and having fun? Is that a thing of the past? Let’s bring it back!

      Thanks as always for sharing!!

      • I hate ED! July 15, 2015 / 7:28 pm

        Excellent article! Thanks! My daughter’s anorexia had me thinking a lot about the way I eat and I probably had some sort or eating disorder too! I have changed my thinking around food and thus my entire relationship with food has changed. I’m on the right path to a healthy body and mind! This is proof that good can come out of bad. Luckily, she’s getting better. She’s on the recovery path! Hugs, J.

  2. jodietitian July 14, 2015 / 7:05 am

    Reblogged this on Joanne Arena MS, RD and commented:
    Another great post from a fellow dietitian who promotes a non-diet approach. Glenys O describes a different way of looking at diet and exercise that I hope will make you think….enjoy!

  3. Erica July 16, 2015 / 9:44 pm

    Great post! As dietitians we can sometimes focus too much on the future repercussions of food (hello, heart disease) when in reality, people eat for pleasure NOW. It makes sense to use a similar motivation to eat healthier.

  4. Nicole Geurin, MPH, RD February 21, 2016 / 6:37 pm

    Glenys – I totally agree and there is scientific research to back this up! Check out the book No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness by Michelle Segar, PhD. She essentially comes to the same conclusion, and shares research to support the theory.

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