In this article, we’re going to meet someone we know very well. Let’s call her Lauren.
Lauren has heard it before from her friends, from her doctor, and definitely on the internet - “just move more and eat less!” - when she mentions that she’s trying to lose a bit of weight.
Now, Lauren is a scientist. She understands and respects the calories in - calories out equation. And she’s very well versed in the laws of thermodynamics.
So why is it that every time Lauren tries to do this, that is, eat less and move more, it’s so gosh darn hard? Hard to a point where she ends up in tears almost every time.
She does all the right things.
She fills up her fridge with lettuce, cucumber, broccoli, chicken breast and sweet potato. She saves YouTube videos and schedules workouts in her calendar as if it was a team meeting. She sets off on the right food and hits the ground running - quite literally.
But at the end of the week, she has a fridge full of bad vegetables, expired chicken breast and a calendar full of unkept workout meetings.
She flops on the couch and cries to herself, “what is wrong with me!?”
Well, absolutely nothing.
Lauren forgets that she’s a multitasking, highly effective, wildly successful (in so many areas), woman. But there are some circumstances in Lauren’s life that make it extremely difficult for her to stick to the “eat less, move more” prescription.
And there are different parts of her life that either contribute to lesser activity due to stress, lack of resources, or physical inability. Or an increase in appetite due to stress, hormones or lacking in food quality.
For example, Lauren works 50+ hours a week as a top researcher in her field. Because of her long hours and high stress, she’s less active and her cravings increase.
Lauren’s Mother also loves to call her and vent about her days. She’s a bit of a complainer. This usually leaves Lauren feeling deflated and exhausted. Another reason why her cravings and desire to order food increases.
Maybe related to her work stress, Lauren doesn’t sleep that well. She’s worried about all the to-do’s on her list and what tomorrow brings. Sleeping 5 hours a night leaves Lauren with little desire to work out or cook a healthy dinner.
Lauren has a wonderful partner. He’s so supportive in everything Lauren does but loves ordering Thai food and pizza multiple times a week. After a delicious pizza on a Friday night, Lauren is usually left with that “screw it!” state of mind.
Lauren also has shared custody of a 4-year-old. And with child-care so unreliable lately, she’s left working from home with her hands full (quite literally) some weekdays and most weekends.
On top of it all, Lauren experiences some knee pain due to a previous injury and some additional weight gain over the last year. So getting a workout in some days just isn’t even possible.
To manage all the stressors and anxiety in her life Lauren takes anxiety medication daily which makes her feel a thousand times better, but increases her appetite.
So when you take all of the above into consideration - her roles, duties, responsibilities, stressors, limitations - no longer does “eat less, move more” really make a ton of sense. It’s not that it’s wrong, it’s that it’s not enough.
The fact is that eating less and moving more is likely not where Lauren should start.
Realizing that Lauren was struggling on her own, she reached out to a coach that took into consideration all the moving parts in Lauren’s life and never once told her to just eat less and move more.
After just one session with her coach, Lauren was set off to complete three things:
1 - Have a tough but totally necessary conversation with her partner about the amount of takeout that comes into the house each week.
2 - Start a nightly emotional dump that allows Lauren to calm her mind before bed.
3 - Start a food/feelings journal.
Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself…
Uhm, Robyn, where’s the top-notch super-advanced nutrition and exercise advice?
Stick with me here, because here’s what happened after a couple of weeks of executing these things.
Lauren was worried about how the conversation would go with her partner. She felt sad and guilty as if she would be taking away something her partner really enjoyed. So after putting it off for a few days, she finally sat him down and had the talk. She was pleasantly surprised when he almost immediately said “Babe! You think I’d choose Thai over you!?”
That same week, they made the decision to reduce the number of times they ordered food from 4 times a week down to 2. This gave Lauren the spark she needed to get a bit more creative in the kitchen and create some meals for her family. Because of her increase in veggies after just 2 weeks, she had more energy to increase her steps and was now regularly getting 6k daily.
Lauren was starting to get consistent at her emotional dump before bed every night. This was her opportunity to take 5 minutes and write down all her feelings, thoughts and ideas from that day and also plan out some of her action items for the next day.
Lauren started sleeping more peacefully only after 1 week and her sleep increased from 5 to 6 hours.
As for her last task, Lauren created a food/feelings journal where she would write down any emotions she had before any meal. It became very apparent quite quickly that Lauren would crave take-out after her busiest and most stressful work days. She neglected to eat all day and by the time she got home was not only exhausted, but ravenous.
Lauren now keeps a banana and a protein bar in her car for her commute home from work so that when she got in the door her hunger was curbed and she wouldn’t reach for Uber eats.
With this momentum, Lauren is now well-rested, less stressed, adding more protein and veggies in her meals, and walking more.
And while the “eat less, move more” advice may be true and while we may be drawn to it because of its simplicity, Lauren knows that humans are complex, emotional, and busy.
And often times when we give someone the “eat less, move more” prescription, we have to look a lot further than just diet and exercise.
Because when someone is having trouble with their exercise and eating habits, it’s likely due to poorly managed stress (or time), anxiety, a lack of sleep, or poor recovery.
It’s important we look far beyond what someone has on their plate, and instead ask why is this what they choose to eat.
And yes, it may seem like a detour or a waste of time, but focusing on sleep, mental health and recovery before nutrition and exercise can give someone the confidence and foundation they need to keep going… for life.