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Exercise from within?!?!? Recently researchers in Portugal searched the globe for the latest research in exercise and healthy eating motivators with particular reference to the outcome of these habits on personal self-worth and body image. Researchers discovered negative body image and low self-worth are linked to people who exercised based on external motivators. External motivators such as the praise of others and the perception of their bodies weren’t the greatest motivators for exercise when it came to their mental health. Those that were motivated more intrinsically, connected to what this meant to them as a person won out in the self-worth and positive body image stakes. Focussing more on ‘quality of life’ as an outcome rather than an image of their body or calorie burn were seen to have greater intuitive eating habits (i.e. eating connected to their feelings of hunger), enjoyment of exercise and felt better within their bodies. The researchers suggested in their conclusion that exercise and healthy eating habits be encouraged under three main principles to promote positive body image and self-worth. These three were autonomy, competence and relatedness.

Autonomy refers to the link of that individual action to be aligned with that person’s values and ‘adding’ to their life consistent with those values. Such an attitude is in direct contrast to the approach most adopt toward exercise. Those memes after a public holiday come to mind; ‘do the crime, do the time’. The implication that “I ate badly; therefore, I need to suffer the consequences”. Competence through the reinforcement of that individual progressing through their action in the direction of their choosing, constant feedback and reference to those goals is essential. As health professionals, we must provide that feedback and sell the value of that individual action to that person’s life. One veggie is better than none, and one walk is better than another night on the couch! Finally, relatedness summarises the individual’s opportunity to achieve their goals in an environment that they can relate to. We are social creatures, an environment free from judgement and pressure is highly likely to help you achieve feelings of higher self-worth and efficacy. An encouragement of effort and consistent action without the additional layer of guilt and overwhelm through comparison to others within the environment is an essential layer to the good life!

So in short, if you want exercise and your eating habits to serve you:

First figure out what it is you’re exercising and eating for, what matters to you? To quote an overused phrase, What’s your WHY?? What are we fuelling and firing you up for? Here is a big tip, try not to answer with a NOT, I’m not going to be…. sick, lazy, a grumpy old man, like this forever. “Wanting to be a positive role model for my son with self-respect and setting an example through action” is one of the best I’ve heard.

Secondly, make sure you start at a level from where you can build your confidence. Through competent action, we build rather than implode. The overwhelm of the start line we have all felt in many areas of our lives. You only have to run the marathon once, don’t start trying to run 42.195kms on day one. Just take the first step, and then add another tomorrow.

Finally, assess your social environment, if it’s one of encouragement and a source of inspiration then wonderful, we’re off and racing! If it’s one where you feel belittled and patronised and compared to others, then we need a new environment for you. You will never relate there because you will never feel like you can be yourself. Remember being your best self doesn’t mean changing; it means you draw on the best parts of you that are already there. You can choose an environment that does that.

Try answering these questions:

Who do you want to be? Why?

What does that person eat like?

What does that person do for exercise?

How often do they do it?

Where would they start?

Where can you do it, where you can be yourself?

What action can you take that you are competent of right now? A walk, a run, a push-up, a vegetable in your dinner, eating breakfast, skipping the drive-thru?

Remember our habits are daily votes for that person you deserve to be!

Here’s to the you that you deserve to be!

Sean Cornish

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