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Why Are 'Bad' Habits So Hard to Change?


Editor's Note: Obesity expert Dr. Martin Binks contributes regular guest posts to the dailySpark.

Changing hard-to-change habits or behavior is among the greatest challenges we humans seem to face. In our modern society we tend to call anything that falls into the category of "hard to change" and or "damaging" an addiction. Apparently, as a society we are 'addicted' to everything from Facebook to shopping, to cheating on our partners or staying in bad relationships. I even heard a famous mother of 14 describe herself as "addicted to having babies." Rather than debate this newfound tendency to label everything an addiction, let's look beyond the label and speak to what we are really trying to say when we label a behavior an addiction. What we are saying is we are feeling stuck in a pattern of behavior that is in some way damaging to ourselves, our way of life, our health or our happiness. We are saying that despite being rational, well-accomplished, intelligent and loving individuals, some thing that we are doing has a hold on us and despite persistent effort to change, we feel we are failing.

Posted 5/31/2011  6:25:24 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 19 comments   14,578 views
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You Don't Have to Do It Alone


Editor's Note: Obesity expert Dr. Martin Binks contributes regular guest posts to the dailySpark.

Long-term change in how one cares for oneself can seem like a long and lonely road. It doesnít have to be! Having the support of people who care about you can make it much easier. Support comes in many forms and is unique to each person. What you may find supportive could be seen as intrusive by another person. For example, a patient of mine recently expressed annoyance at a friend walking up to her while she was exercising and offering unsolicited motivational comments, yet for another person this might have been seen as helpful. It is essential that you become the CEO of your support team to ensure you get what you need from them. It is equally important that you recognize this when supporting your friends.

Follow the steps below to get the help you need from your support network and to help you to understand what might go into your providing good support to others.

Posted 3/9/2011  3:38:54 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 27 comments   11,511 views
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Calming Your Inner Emotional Eater


Editor's Note: Obesity expert Dr. Martin Binks contributes regular guest posts to the dailySpark. Links to products and services contained within do not necessarily imply endorsement by Dr. Binks.

All too often both men and women fail to recognize a core issue that interferes with successful weight management: Emotional Eating. We spend our time looking for the next "right" diet plan or the perfect workout to control our weight when in fact the caloric damage from emotional eating accounts for so much of the struggle with weight for many people. Of course balanced and satisfying meals help control REAL hunger, but rarely when eating off plan is true hunger the primary culprit.

More often, even if we donít fully realize it, we are using food to meet some type of emotional need. Now this might be as simple as seeking pleasure and a sense of camaraderie (such as is the case for example at a Super Bowl party or July 4 picnic); however at other times we use food to cope with our baseline stress levels, high stress events, boredom, loneliness, anxiety or sadness rather than to satisfy genuine hunger. We learn this skill very early in life when food is used to soothe, comfort, reward, and console. This learned response becomes more automatic as years progress (as we practice and perfect it) until it happens so automatically we donít even recognize that we are doing it. Turning to food when you have emotional needs that are not being met becomes part of who we are and it can be very effective. Who hasnít pulled out the delicious dessert after a bad day at the office and felt better or shared some ice cream with a friend to mourn a break-up. In the case of the break-up, unless you dump your mate every week, who cares about that ice cream, one day every once in a while wonít hurt your health. Unfortunately, if itís being done every day to cope with daily issues, now THAT IS a problem. So you be the judge. How often is food your emotional enhancer or moderator? If the answer is "often" then we have some ideas below that will help you get off that chocolate-covered emotional roller coaster!
Posted 2/8/2011  5:07:27 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 47 comments   15,306 views
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How Do You Set a New Year's Resolution That Actually Sticks?


Editor's Note: Obesity expert Dr. Martin Binks contributes regular guest posts to the dailySpark.

We have all been there. The new year rolls around and we take stock of our lives and the way we live them. We decide that this year is going to be different. This year we are going to keep those New Year's resolutions and take on a healthy lifestyle! Then we set a goal: I am going to get healthy. I am going to lose weight. I am going to start exercising. We set the date: January 1, of course. After all it is a brand new year, the first of the month--perfect! Then we go about our holiday of choice celebrating with family, overindulging a little and forgetting all about our new ďplan" until we wake up New Year's Day without any real plan to accomplish the goals we have set out. The goal itself is often unrealistic too. It often involves setting up a strict and unforgiving diet that does not allow for a variety of foods or planning to do some ridiculously overexerting several-hours-a-day gym routine.

Then of course we realize that January 1 is still a holiday and think we might as well delay until the second. After all who can watch football or the NHL's Winter Classic without snacks and beverages? Good, so tomorrow it is! January second is still just as good as ďNew Year's." However, on that date we realize we still have all sorts of wonderful holiday treats in the house. Leftovers, food gifts, beer, wine and so forth. It's a shame to waste all that, so the logical choice is to wait a week or so before getting started. Now it's January 6, and you realize that it is no longer a fresh start to the year, you can't boast to friends about keeping your resolution and what you are left with is about the same as that with which you struggle every year, the need to adopt a healthier lifestyle on a regular old day without any fanfare.

So does this mean New Year's resolutions are a bad idea--of course not!
Posted 1/4/2011  2:24:24 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 50 comments   14,470 views
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Advice on Coping with the Holidays, from an Obesity Expert


Editor's Note: This summer we interviewed renowned obesity expert Dr. Martin Binks, and, due to the overwhelming popularity of that post, he has agreed to contribute regular guest posts to the dailySpark. We're thrilled to have him!

NEW: Dr. Binks shared a video on this same subject!

By Dr. Martin Binks

So the holidays have arrived with all the promise of Norman Rockwell-like family celebrations, joy, good cheer, gift giving and spectacular feasts and festivities Ė maybe. At this time of celebration our expectations are often quite high and our responsibilities and schedules seem to grow exponentially. On top of all the normal day-to-day things like going to work (or in light of our current economy, looking for a job), getting the kids to school and extracurricular activities, and basically living our already full lives, we find ourselves juggling budgets to buy gifts, attending extra family and work-related social events, decorating, cooking--and the list goes on and on. Then if we do all this successfully, we are blessed with the actual holiday, where people you may only socialize with or even see once a year come and judge your party-giving skills, your cooking and the quality of the crystal ball reading you were required to do to find the "perfect gift." In all of this commotion itís often too easy to forget that self-care is still important. In fact "me time" is often last on the list and frequently postponed until January.

Now donít get me wrong, I love the holiday season and truly believe it can be a wonderful, rewarding and fun time provided we approach it in the right way and donít get overwhelmed. Through my work with patients and families I have come to understand some ways that this stressful time of year can remain joyous. I would like to share some general perspectives that seem to have helped folks with whom I work. I will also be reminding you of some core skills that can make coping with and even enjoying this season a little easier by allowing you to focus on realistic self-care goals during this busy season.

Posted 12/7/2010  6:16:26 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 37 comments   19,751 views
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An Obesity Expert Tells Us What Really Works with Weight Loss


One of the perks of writing for a living is being able to sit down with various experts on behalf of our readers. Recently, I chatted with Dr. Martin Binks, a clinical psychologist, obesity expert, and Clinical Director & CEO of Binks Behavioral Health, and Assistant Consulting Professor at Duke University Medical Center.

Sometimes it's difficult for non-scientists to sift through the abundant research on obesity, health, and wellness. It's equally difficult for some researchers to try to distill these complex studies and findings into a format that will both inform and educate the general public. I was excited to have a chance to talk about weight loss with Dr. Binks in a straightforward way--no dry data or journal articles, just a conversation. Here are some of the highlights:

Should we use special occasions as motivators?

"There's a good reason why people use special events, such as a family reunion or wedding as motivators," he said, they work in the short-term but too often people do unhealthy things, such as crash dieting, pills, or detoxes to achieve their goal which can be dangerous. In addition, "once the event is over, they often go right back to overeating and other unhealthy habits" and regain the weight.

"It's about a lifestyle change," he says of using milestones as motivators. "Use those things in a way that's sensible and well thought-out using good nutrition, healthy physical activity and most of all make sure you have a plan for your health the day after the event."

"It's hard to motivate yourself," he says. "For many people, the best way to stay on track is to have an event to aim toward." He likened it to how an athlete spends months or even years training. This usually involves a series of athletic events with Ďoff-seasoní training in between competitions. "Why shouldn't the average person use periodic events to boost their motivation as part of an ongoing healthy lifestyle plan in the same way athletes do?"

Is it better to set one large goal or smaller ones along the way?

"You don't get there if you just set the target as the final long-term goal," he said. "It's important to set daily, weekly and monthly goals as part of a complete plan, with one goal building on the next to achieve the larger, long-term goal."

Years ago, during one of his earliest year-long obesity studies, participants were given walking goals: "We started with walking a certain distance in 30 minutes. Initially each week they would walk the same distance, but with a goal that was 15 seconds faster. Once they got comfortable with that, we added more distance."

"We would encourage people each week to improve either the intensity or alternate that with walking a bit farther," he said. "We kept pushing people week by week to achieve those immediate goals that eventually led to their longer-term target."

And it worked.

Posted 7/5/2010  6:16:38 AM By: Stepfanie Romine : 229 comments   124,192 views
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