How to think yourself super fit and healthy

Posted by Olderiswiser Editorial

Wellness brand Healthspan recently conducted a survey of 2000 Brits to find out our most annoying habits - stress and comfort eating were right up there but what else made the top 5.

living healthy

We talked to the Healthspan experts behind the findings to find out the psychology behind unhealthy eating patterns and lack of exercise and look at how you can break the cycle and take the next steps to a fit and healthy lifestyle.

Psychologist Dr Megan Arroll explains: “One frequently mentioned cause for overeating is feeling stressed. Some foods trigger the release of feel-good and calming neurotransmitters in the brain, so it isn’t an illusion that certain foods make us feel good – for a short period of time anyway.”

“But for the long-term, these mood boosts can lead to crashes which makes us crave more of the bad stuff.”

Eating unhealthy foods as a way to cope with stress or negative feelings isn’t new, this could have been reinforced in childhood when you’ve scraped your knee, or even as a reward for being good – which obviously sends a mixed message and encourages eating when you’re not hungry.

The types of hunger

“We are surrounded by food and there are over 30 reasons as to why we eat, physical hunger is just one of them!” says Dr Jen Nash, food psychologist, “We eat in response to three types of hunger: stomach, heart and eyeball.”

“Heart hunger describes the internal triggers to eat, which are usually based on our emotions, feelings, thoughts and memories.” This can be linked to comfort eating when we’re feeling stressed; one of our first instincts is to eat something yummy – which is usually unhealthy – to make ourselves feel better.

While eyeball hunger describes the external triggers to eat – seeing and smelling delicious food and experiencing a physical craving. “Stomach hunger is the home of true physical hunger,” Dr Nash explains, “We feel it as a physical feeling of emptiness in our stomach; being able to work out if you’re eating in response to stomach, eyeball or heart hunger can help when trying to lose weight.”

Overcome your stress

Being able to overcome your stress, your eyeball or heart hunger will help you in your weight loss journey.

Dr Arroll recommends mindful practice as it’s been shown to help people manage stress and reduce both the stress hormone cortisol and bodily inflammation, “Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment, rather than trying to avoid unpleasant feelings such as stress.”

“By using the following mindful technique, you’ll be able to manage stress without having to turn to food.”

Bring a moderately stressful situation to your mind. Focus on the small details of the situation and how it makes you feel. The picture needs to be vivid for the technique to be useful.

Now scan your body for sensations – is your heart beating a little faster, breathing shallower, muscles tense? Zoom-in on these physical manifestations of stress.

Now turn your attention to your emotions. Find where the emotion sits in your body – is the anxiety in your chest? This may take a bit of practice but will get easier as you become more attuned with the interaction between your mind and body.

Gently lay your hand on this location as you would touch a good friend in distress, i.e. with compassion and care. Breathe in deeply and connect with the sensation.

Once you’ve explored all the emotions associated with the imagined stressful experience, count to three and bring yourself back to the outside world.

Overcome your eyeball and heart hunger

Being able to recognise whether your hunger is stomach, eyeball or heart will help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, according to Dr Nash: “While this can feel tricky at first, pausing before you snack to ask yourself ‘What am I really hungry for?’ can assist you in tuning into your stomach area and rating your feeling of fullness versus emptiness on a scale of 1-10.”

“Generally, most people rate true physical hunger around a 4 (with 10 being so full you’re ready to burst and 1 is ready to faint), so if your rating is above this; you’re probably hungry for something else.”

Tip: try drinking some plain water or something fizzy/flavoured to give your mouth a taste sensation as this might just hit the spot!

Work smarter, not harder

Crawling isn’t just for babies you know! Nicola Addison, Healthspan personal trainer, suggests including crawling in your workout routine: “It’s a huge core workout; it includes bending, extending and twisting the torso – working those muscles hard and creating a spike in your heart rate.”

Follow the ‘Get Crawling’ work out routine, starting from 4 reps for each move, completing it once, “As the moves get easier, aim to do more reps, so up to 10 of each move and maybe twice around. Try to have as little rest between moves as possible,” recommends Addison.

Get Crawling

Crawl to press

Stand tall, bend from the hips and crawl out into a high plank position (on hands), lower onto elbow’s, push back into high plank and return to standing. Repeat.


Feet wide, hands on the floor in the middle of feet. Step one foot back, then second foot back so into a plank. Step one foot forward, step the second foot forward, look forward, bum down, chest up, stand up and repeat.

Step back/hip dip/step up

Bend at hips and take hands down to the feet, step right foot back, thread left leg knee under right leg and dip hip to floor, bring left leg back, plant the foot and stand up (using left foot only). Repeat alternating legs.

Toe touch

Start in a high plank. Under control, touch left hand to right toe. Alternate and that’s one rep. Try not to twist hips and go slow.

About the authors

Dr Jen Nash is a food psychologist at Healthspan.

Dr Megan Arroll is a psychologist for Healthspan and author of The Shrinkology Solution.

Nicola Addison is a consultant for leading health and fitness brands and regularly contributes to the industry press.


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