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Brain Food Column Month Ten: On the run

Every month Amerley Ollennu challenges you and herself to road-test research and healthy strategies to help change the way we think about food once and for all

by Psychologies

fun run success

Four years ago, I was on a mission to lose weight. I went to the gym six days a week and trained for three hours a day and I enjoyed it. I gave up alcohol, reduced my food intake and ate healthily, and I was happy. Exercise focused me, and my weight loss helped me feel like the ‘real me’.

But after hours of therapy, I learnt that the break-up I went through at the end of 2010 shattered my long-held belief that if I were thin, I would be loved. On realising that wasn’t the case and believing that there must be something wrong with me (big or small, it made no difference), I quickly slipped back into using food for comfort.

The challenge

Knowing that dieting wouldn’t address my need to emotionally eat during times of unhappiness and stress, I thought long and hard about what I enjoyed doing during the happiest times in my life. Sports ranked high on my list; there is something about pushing yourself mentally and physically and being a stronger, more self-aware person as a result that appeals to me. So I decided with the help of personal trainer Sam Burrows, to stop approaching workouts with weight loss in mind, and start approaching them like an athlete. I signed up for my first ever run – the Sure Run to the Beat 10k. It’s no marathon, but for someone like me who only ever runs for the bus, it was a ‘SMART’ goal. Burrows believes: ‘Fitness goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and with a time-frame. This way, you’re not reaching for the unattainable, which will only result in negative feelings of failure or resorting to unhealthy behaviours to achieve your goal.’

The experience

My first step was to enlist Burrows in devising a new workout plan for me that along with his motivational style of training, made for a winning combination. Unlike the previous months when I had gone to the gym after a long day at work and ended up wishing I were elsewhere, I felt a sense of excitement as well as commitment to the run each time I walked through the doors of Fitness First. This comes as no surprise to Dr Barbara Mariposa as, ‘setting goals, and overcoming barriers to achieve them, strengthens our internal muscles of resilience, determination, self-confidence, focus and mental stamina.’ Training with a goal in mind helped with my emotional eating triggers, too. I began to become more in touch with my body, noticing how it moved and reacted better when I ate well – and how that benefited my workouts.

The result

I completed the run in 90 minutes, and as I got to the finish line, I had designs on doing it again very soon. Mariposa explains: ‘A sense of accomplishment strengthens our sense of self and motivates us to go further.’

The following week however, I felt lost. With nothing to train for, my eating became less structured and I missed the gym for most of the week as I ached all over. Come the weekend, I felt out of balance, disconnected and unmotivated to exercise. This led to a comfort binge which, although disappointing, spurred me on to join a netball team and sign up for another run. In future, I will create a goal timetable so that I’ve always got something to work towards.

Amerley Ollennu is Beauty and Wellbeing Editor. Find her on Twitter @AmerleyO

Photograph: iStock

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