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Physical vs. mental health

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#1 Datrys

Posted 04 September 2018 - 10:40 AM

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and a chat with my GP this morning prompted me to think about it more seriously, so looking for the wisdom of others.  Note: I'm being very honest here about some stuff around which I'm very vulnerable, so please respond with that in mind!

I'm overweight.  I have been for a very long time, and I know basically what I ought to do to shift some of the weight; eat better, move more, etc.  It's probably not rocket science in my case.

But... I have complex PTSD due to childhood abuse.  Although my mental health is really quite good at the moment, it's good because I've learned to avoid triggers and manage my own moments of distress.  Unfortunately, some of the habits I use to do that are not good for my weight... I eat too much (of the wrong things), use sedentary habits like reading for escapism, and almost any kind of exercise is emotionally distressing (who wants to work hard at the gym for an hour and walk out fighting back tears?) so I struggle to be consistent about it.

I'm at the point where I seriously want to address my weight, but I don't know how to do that without seriously de-stabilising my mental health, or at very least removing some of my most effective coping mechanisms.  I really don't want my mental health to deteriorate; I like being in a place where I can function working full time, as a mum, etc; and the last time my PTSD was not well-managed was a very dark place that I don't want to revisit.

So I'm at a bit of a loss.  I imagine that I'm not the only person on EB who's had to contemplate the trade-off between mental and physical health in this sort of way, and wondered if anyone had any insight to share?

#2 unicycle

Posted 04 September 2018 - 11:15 AM

I, too, read to escape the negative noise in my brain and a solution I have found is to read while i exercise. Either an audiobook or a podcast on a walk or I bring a book or ipad with an ebook to the treadmill/elliptical trainer. It isn't as efficient as a workout without it, but I exercise for far longer than usual because I get so engrossed in the story.
I get the audio and e books for free through my local library service ( I'd be broke if I had to buy books at the rate I go through them).

A decade ago, I found an accidental close friend by walking. It was a slow burn friendship that we only realised was so important to both of us when one of us moved away. Walking and talking makes the time go so quickly, but it can be hard to find someone who is equally committed.

Gentle exercise is very useful for me. It releases feel-good chemicals. After a walk, I am so much calmer and more able to face the day- or night- ahead. Exercise doesn't need to be energetic or uncomfortable to be effective. I am living proof of this.

Also I give myself permission to stop exercising without guilt after 10 minutes if I am not enjoying it.

Do any of these strategies seem possible for you?

#3 teaspoon

Posted 04 September 2018 - 11:17 AM

Reading your post, it sounds like over time you've created a sort of false dichotomy between physical and mental health? That you can't have both at the same time.

Does it help you to re-read your post and change the 'but's into 'and's? To help start to dismantle the either / or thinking happening.

Then maybe start slowly and switch a couple of sit down meetings to walking meetings, make sure you drink a couple of litres of water a day (fill a jug next to the sink so you can keep track) and have fruit for snacks?

#4 zenkitty

Posted 04 September 2018 - 11:21 AM

How do you go with walking as exercise? I find listening to podcasts ‘distracts’ me so I’m not just wrapped up in my own thoughts while walking. Sometimes I’ll even walk an extra 5 mins to finish a particularly good episode uninterrupted. Audiobooks might give the same active escapism.

The other exercise I do is clinical Pilates. Doing it with a physio is more expensive but there is no focus on pushing it, just gaining strength and tailoring the program to you. They usually say do 20 of X exercise at a time so you are keeping count which helps me focus. I do it in a group of four and it’s all mums or older ladies, not gym bunnies.

Good luck x

#5 Ruf~Feral~es

Posted 04 September 2018 - 11:31 AM

Would it help to focus purely on the food, before contemplating the exercise?

Just small changes - baby steps - carrot sticks and healthy snacks whilst you read, nuts to snack on after dinner, and healthier meals with smaller portions at mealtimes?

I have lost a fair bit of weight doing this, and exercise seems a bit easier once you see the scales start to shift.  IME, the eating has more effect on the scales than pounding the treadmill or riding a bike.

If you can find the positive mind-set for yourself, with the added bonus that it's good for your whole family, you might see some changes in your weight whilst still avoiding the triggers?

(Even air popped popcorn gets OK once you forget how good the cinema popcorn is!  :rolleyes: )

#6 Ruf~Feral~es

Posted 04 September 2018 - 11:32 AM


The other exercise I do is clinical Pilates. Doing it with a physio is more expensive but there is no focus on pushing it, just gaining strength and tailoring the program to you. They usually say do 20 of X exercise at a time so you are keeping count which helps me focus. I do it in a group of four and it’s all mums or older ladies, not gym bunnies.

That sounds good too.

#7 ~J_WTF~

Posted 04 September 2018 - 11:44 AM

Just focus on one thing at a time.

Start with food and make small manageable changes. They will all add up!

When you are feeling up to it add in some exercise.

The biggest thing with exercise is finding something you enjoy. If you enjoy it, you will be more likely to keep it up.

It’s a bloody mind game, the other stuff is reasonably easy but getting you mind to play fair is the hard part!

#8 zenkitty

Posted 04 September 2018 - 11:49 AM

View PostRuf~Feral~es, on 04 September 2018 - 11:31 AM, said:

Just small changes - baby steps

I agree with not trying to overhaul you entire life at once. Make a positive change in one area and see how it goes before changing something else. It’s less overwhelming and you can also pinpoint if something isn’t working - e.g. if all at once you start restricting calories to 1200 and are making yourself walk an hour a day and getting up earlier to do so one day you’ll be feeling low about it and give up on it all. Try saying ‘I’ll walk for 30 mins three times a week for the next month’. If that feels ok you could increase it, if you hate it try something else. A bit like an elimination diet where foods are reintroduced slowly so you can see what causes a negative reaction and can stop it quickly.

Also don’t worry about making changes slowly. You’ve spent your entire life getting where you are, your habits won’t change overnight. Slow and steady.

#9 ECsMum

Posted 04 September 2018 - 11:49 AM

I could have written the majority your post.   Because I am a hard a*se to myself, rarely cutting myself any slack I just say it's cause I am lazy why I don't do what I know I need to do to lose weight.   Being a sole parent who works full time also adds to my list of reasons (excuses) I can't exercise.  

But what seems to be finally sinking in for me is life is not black or white, all or nothing.  Baby steps is what I need to take - I can find 15 minutes in my work day to take a walk - in actual fact I could take 30 minutes but I am going to take baby steps.  I also realise that my mental health (GAD) will benefit from the baby steps rather than the oh I need to lose 30kg and then feeling like a failure because I have actually done nothing to reach the goal.  Take one day at a time - one chocolate bar you don't buy, one healthy meal you choose to cook etc etc.

#10 Expelliarmus

Posted 04 September 2018 - 01:06 PM

I lost ten kilos over the last 18 months just by changing my eating. I didn’t go on a diet or ban anything, just tried to make healthier choices. I started doing hello Fresh meals which works for me because they have way more veggies than I would normally cook with. Healthier food is more interesting and I am getting a better sense of a healthy portion size. The sauces and cheeses etc are all way smaller portions than I would have thought to use so it’s been educational as well.

I have yet to tackle exercise because my feet are bad and walking makes them worse. So I’m hanging out for the pool we are putting in and hope that will help me get moving better over summer. If it does I will attempt to go to the local indoor pool regularly over winter but that is challenging so I’m going to start where I can manage.

So I would definitely recommend starting by changing small eating habits. And then, once that is doable, picking a small movement thing to focus on.

Edited by Expelliarmus, 04 September 2018 - 01:08 PM.

#11 Kallie88

Posted 04 September 2018 - 01:30 PM

When I've successfully lost weight my biggest things have probably been eating fresh as much as possible (so mostly cutting down take out), eating regularly (bad habit of mine, just not eating enough) and not cutting anything out (I limit so if I feel like I need a pick me up I'll have it but not then give up on the whole endeavor). My issue tends to be after I've lost though, my brain goes into a bit of a panic state that I've lost my "protective layer" (the fat) and I end up self sabotaging. So when I try again next year I'll be looking at working with my psych through more of those issues. I kinda think you need to address the mental health first of that's what's holding you back, or at least concurrently.
I also try to find exercise that I enjoy (swimming is my fave, very relaxing), I've also enjoyed zumba in the past, and walking with music (i can escape into the beat and switch off a bit). I've never been to the gym, but have lost 20-30kg several times doing my own thing

#12 SplashingRainbows

Posted 04 September 2018 - 01:39 PM

I find just changing one small thing at a time helpful. If I go “too hard” I can’t keep it up and fall in a big emotional eating binge.

I’ve been doing clinical Pilates for almost 13 months. It’s something *I* really wanted to do, for some time. Actually starting was terrifying. But it’s been amazing. If I’m too sore after workouts I tell my trainer and he adjusts.

My physical ability, stamina, strength is amazing. Better than it was as a hold. And now I can do so many other skills I’ve never been able to master. Yesterday I drew a face (was mucking around with my daughter) and it just worked. I actually drew a face I thought wasn’t bad. And was in proportion. It’s like the connections between my mind and body are actually working now.

I also swim which is something I love to do. I can swim 2km in just over 45 minutes and I do so most weekends.

By doing the exercises I love I’m having a hugely healthful impact on my body and it has become ‘me time’ not a chore.

One day I’ll be brave enough to dance. I always wanted to. My mother told me I was the wrong body shape to wear a leotard..... one day. I’ll get there.

Weight wise, weight watchers is the thing that usually works for me. I still have enough freedom to live my life while on it.

Ps please don’t quote as I’ll delete his later.

#13 Numpty

Posted 04 September 2018 - 02:09 PM

I have CPTSD and severe anxiety.
I found (as suggested by PPs) that making small changes, getting comfortable with that change, then making another small change was what works for me - I don't get totally overwhelmed.
I still have weird noises in my head, I find podcasts and audio books really help me ignore the chatter.

Good luck.

#14 Ruf~Feral~es

Posted 04 September 2018 - 02:09 PM

SplashingRainbows - have you heard of this?


  OP - I have also found Weight Watchers helpful in the past..... having said that, I have also had a history of eating disorders, so I have to be very careful.  

I think Weight Watchers is great for a lot of people, but could be triggering for some.  Some people find weigh-in's demoralising, but I have found them very supportive.

You can also do it online, which might be a positive and private way to help you look at food choices and intake, without the pressure?  Their magazines, cook books etc I find inspiring.

#15 SplashingRainbows

Posted 04 September 2018 - 03:29 PM

Ruf no I hadn’t. That’s cool! I’ll have to find out if there’s one near me. Thanks for sharing.

#16 71Cath

Posted 04 September 2018 - 03:59 PM

I'm overweight and have been so since my late teens.

I see a cardiologist for a million other issues I have and she has started me on the 5:2 diet.

Don't get me wrong, fasting days are bloody hard.  But it seems like a lifestyle I can stick to (doctor is very careful not to call it a diet).  I've lost 5kg in 3 months which is super slow.  I only get weighed when I see the cardio (scales are very triggering of my anxiety, so I don't keep them in the house).

I guess my long winded point is that I have found it easier to stick to this "lifestyle", and that is helping with the anxiety about trying to do something about my weight.  When I've tried diets before they have been so restrictive and I end up depressed and anxious (and then comfort eat).  If you can find the small change that feels ok, that helps I think.  I'm even mentioning it to other people whereas diets have previously been a great source of shame for me.

I hope some of the ideas here help OP.

#17 Mollycoddle

Posted 04 September 2018 - 04:47 PM

 unicycle, on 04 September 2018 - 11:15 AM, said:

Gentle exercise is very useful for me. It releases feel-good chemicals. After a walk, I am so much calmer and more able to face the day- or night- ahead. Exercise doesn't need to be energetic or uncomfortable to be effective. I am living proof of this.

This exactly.  I started walking a few times a week to lose weight but I've found that my mental health has benefited just as much if not more than my physical health.  That's what has really kept me sticking to it.  I don't know if it will work for you OP as one of the upsides for me is that it gives me time to be alone with my thoughts but this sounds like it might be more of a downside for you at the moment.  You could try listening to feel-good music or podcasts while walking.

I'm pretty time-poor so don't get out walking as much as I'd like due to not being able to leave kids at home alone, people have suggested stationary bike or treadmill or other forms of indoor workouts I could do at home but these don't really have the same appeal and mood-lifting effects as getting out into the fresh air and sunshine.

Edited by Mollycoddle, 04 September 2018 - 04:48 PM.

#18 nup

Posted 04 September 2018 - 06:30 PM

It sounds like you might not even consider it but the good inpatient treatment programs include an exercise program. Can you treat it like it's a holiday?

#19 LittleMissPink

Posted 04 September 2018 - 06:45 PM

I managed to find a very Women's health friendly personal trainer, who also runs friendly Zumba classes as well. Ive had nothing but awesome support from them, and they have become like family to me and my children, as I them.

Forget the big noisy intimidating gyms. Look for a personal trainer, that pushes you to be a better person, and train, but not too hard to start with. Who will work with you on a personal level, rather than just a client.

Excercise doesnt have to be tears-inducing and humiliating. It can be calm, enjoyable and beneficial, IF you find the right place to do it!

#20 MooGuru

Posted 04 September 2018 - 07:04 PM

I enjoy walking, a friend and I started walking around the park rather than going for coffee. We started doing one lap then getting a coffee. The last time we did it we did 3 laps (about 6km) and only had our drink bottles. It was nice to have the company and we ended up catching up every week for about 2 months rather than struggling to find the time because going for a walk felt less indulgent than going for coffee.

I also think you may prefer pilates or aquarobics to the gym. The aquarobics the average age was about 70 and most are overweight - not that you really see bodies whilst you are in the water.
The pilates definitely go to a physio or proper pilates studio I did some at a gym and it was all super flexible and beautiful gym bunnies. At the proper pilates studio I've had a class with a professional ballerina, a heavily pregnant woman and a man in his 80s recovering from hip replacements. And the instructor just tailored our exercises to each of us.

Good luck. And remember even the slightest change is good and don't let a bad day take away from the effort you did the day before. Just push it aside and try again another day.

#21 Tyfle Hour

Posted 04 September 2018 - 07:27 PM

It is so interesting that you see mental health and physical health as an either/or scenario, when really everything we know indicates exercise and good nutrition both have positive effects on mental health.  

You have flagged your PTSD and childhood abuse, and I can't help but wonder if there is a connection with somehow not seeing yourself as worth the time and inconvenience to others (particularly family) associated with taking care of yourself in this way.  But let me tell you, you absolutely are worth it!

I agree with pps. about walking. It is such a mentally soothing form of exercise, especially when combined with social interaction with a friend, or out in nature.

With food, my suggestion would be to think more carefully about what you are worth.  Treat it your body well, and give it the quality nutrition that is deserves, looking at what great stuff you can add - rather than depriving yourself of anything.

#22 Appleaday

Posted 04 September 2018 - 07:52 PM

I am in a similar situation overweight with mental health problems. I have started doing a sprint 8 program at the gym which is 20 minutes three times a week on the exercise bike. I also get repetitive thoughts when I exercise but for some reason I am OK doing the sprint 8 program.

hugs OP I suggest you try dance and see if you can find something that you don't find triggering.

#23 Grrrumbles

Posted 04 September 2018 - 09:02 PM

I think its not that it is an either/or for mental/physical health it is just that you use a lot of mental energy staying mentally well and changing habits, pushing out of your comfort zone and doing ‘hard’ things is difficult to do on top of all that.

My DH has severe mental health issues. I was overweight before they got worse but the weight has just piled on since his hospitalisation and long recovery. I am trying to eat less chocolate, not none but just less. That is my first step - not buying it every time I go to the shops. My life is hard, that’s the reality so I need to go easy on myself.  But my physical health is suffering so I need to try and improve it.

#24 JinksNewton

Posted 04 September 2018 - 09:05 PM

Thinking about the mental health/physical health tie-in, i wonder if something like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy might be the way to go, before you try to make any big practical changes. As long as comfort is associated with the wrong kinds of food and exercise with trauma, you are going to be sabotaging yourself (probably completely subconsiously) every time you try to change. So maybe it's the associations you make in your mind that need to change first.
Personally I would say the food one might be the best first step, if you can change the idea of what comfort food is, it might help a great deal (no judgement here, by the way, I'm the first person to run for the chip packet when I'm bored/stressed)

#25 Malkin Slinkhard

Posted 04 September 2018 - 09:10 PM

You can buy pretty cheap exercise equipment at Kmart. I bought an exercise bike and some weights for practically nothing. When I wasn’t being slack I combined using them with using an exercise app on my phone - sworkit - and also walked all while listening to audiobooks. Much more pleasant than the gym environment. I ditched that recently and have been doing pole dancing, which I realise isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I find exercise easiest if my brain is occupied so it worked for me.

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