Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Exercise Addiction

Posted: May 9, 2011 in Psychology

Anyone who’s felt the full-body buzz and calm mind that comes after a real soaker of a workout knows that the feeling is comparable to a great glass of wine in the way it will keep you coming back time and again. And research bears it out—exercise has an undeniable effect on feel-good hormones. In other words, those happy feeling are real, and some would even propose that those feelings are as addictive as a drug like heroin.

As a fitness professional, I consciously avoid using the word “addiction” to describe most people’s relationship with exercise and combat it whenever the word is thrown around casually. A person with a healthy but passionate relationship with exercise might make sacrifices of time, money, sweat, sleep, tears… and even the occasional bloodletting… that others find hard to understand, but that are firmly on the spectrum of “normal” and “healthy.”

Yet, while many people struggle to exercise as much as they would like, there are others—like Actor Jake Gyllenhaal, who “came out” about his struggles with exercising too much in the March issue of Men’s Health magazine—who might be using exercise in an unhealthy way.

There are some red flags to keep an eye out for if you are concerned that your exercise habit might be becoming problematic:

It’s impacting your family or work obligations. If you find yourself getting in fights with your spouse or missing work to get a workout in, or if you are working yourself to a point of not being able to be fully present for those responsibilities, it’s time to rethink your priorities.

You are working out to the point of injury or diminished returns. Remember, health and fitness adaptations and improvements happen when you give yourself the time to recover.  If you are constantly going longer/harder/faster in the search for that endorphin high, you will start breaking down your system.  Chronic injuries, fatigue, depression are all signs of something called “overreaching,” which, if not corrected, can lead to a condition known as “overtraining syndrome” that can take years to recover from.

You feel an overwhelming amount of guilt or regret over missed workouts. We all have those days when something gets in the way of our workout. When that happens, it’s natural to find yourself really missing the energy and focus you would have gotten from it. But you probably want to rethink your relationship with exercise if one missed day finds you dealing with overwhelming feelings of guilt, panic, or irrational fear of lost fitness, or if you simply cannot “miss a day” and find yourself working out in the middle of the night or when ill/injured or in other situations where a skipped day would have been the wiser choice. You might even suffer withdrawal symptoms such as sleep problems, changes in appetite, mood disturbances and depression.

You are getting in financial trouble. Some sports are notoriously costly. Driving a junker car so that you can have a top-of-the-line triathlon bike is one thing, but proceed with caution if you are skipping out on your mortgage or accruing high-interest debt to feed your habit.

You are using exercise for unhealthy reasons, or taking drugs to further your goals. You are definitely well into the danger zone and would be wise to speak with a mental health professional if you are using exercise to make up for binge eating behaviors, or taking illegal substances to further your performance or physique goals.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “moderation is key.” This applies even moreso to fitness pursuits where progress absolutely cannot happen without an appropriate period of rest and recovery.  If you find yourself wondering whether your relationship with exercise might have crossed into the unhealthy zone, I encourage you to speak with a doctor or mental health professional.

Resources: Heather Hawkins Addicted to Exercise? How to tell when healthy habits go too far Retrieved from,


Common eating disorders

Posted: December 30, 2010 in Nutrition, Psychology

Eating disorders refer to a group of conditions characterized by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of an individual’s physical and emotional health, binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa being the most common. In Singapore, there was a six-fold increase in eating disorders among teenagers from 2002 to 2007. But only 10 to 20 percent of them are seeking treatment. In fact, more than eight in ten want to change the way they look, while six in ten feel bad about themselves because of looks or weight.

Anorexia Nervosa

Many people with anorexia see themselves as overweight, even when they are starved or are clearly malnourished. Eating, food and weight control become obsessions. A person with anorexia typically weighs herself or himself repeatedly, portions food carefully, and eats only very small quantities of only certain foods. Some who have anorexia recover with treatment after only one episode. Others get well but have relapses. Still others have a more chronic form of anorexia, in which their health deteriorates over many years as they battle the illness.

According to some studies, people with anorexia are up to ten times more likely to die as a result of their illness compared to those without the disorder. The most common complications that lead to death are cardiac arrest, and electrolyte and fluid imbalances. Suicide also can result.

Other symptoms may develop over time, including:

  • Thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Dry and yellowish skin
  • Growth of fine hair over body (e.g., lanugo)
  • Mild anemia, and muscle weakness and loss
  • Severe constipation
  • Low blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse
  • Drop in internal body temperature, causing a person to feel cold all the time
  • Lethargy

TREATING ANOREXIA involves three components:

  1. restoring the person to a healthy weight;
  2. treating the psychological issues related to the eating disorder; and
  3. reducing or eliminating behaviors or thoughts that lead to disordered eating, and preventing relapse.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food (e.g., binge-eating), and feeling a lack of control over the eating. This binge-eating is followed by a type of behavior that compensates for the binge, such as purging (e.g., vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics), fasting and/or excessive exercise.

Unlike anorexia, people with bulimia can fall within the normal range for their age and weight. But like people with anorexia, they often fear gaining weight, want desperately to lose weight, and are intensely unhappy with their body size and shape. Usually, bulimic behavior is done secretly, because it is often accompanied by feelings of disgust or shame. The binging and purging cycle usually repeats several times a week. Similar to anorexia, people with bulimia often have coexisting psychological illnesses, such as depression, anxiety and/or substance abuse problems. Many physical conditions result from the purging aspect of the illness, including electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, and oral and tooth-related problems.

Other symptoms include:

  • Chronically inflamed and sore throat
  • Swollen glands in the neck and below the jaw
  • Worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth as a result of exposure to stomach acids
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disorder
  • Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
  • Kidney problems from diuretic abuse
  • Severe dehydration from purging of fluids

As with anorexia, TREATMENT FOR BULIMIA often involves a combination of options and depends on the needs of the individual.

To reduce or eliminate binge and purge behavior, a patient may undergo nutritional counseling and psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or be prescribed medication. Some antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac), which is the only medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating bulimia, may help patients who also have depression and/or anxiety. It also appears to help reduce binge-eating and purging behavior, reduces the chance of relapse, and improves eating attitudes.

CBT that has been tailored to treat bulimia also has shown to be effective in changing binging and purging behavior, and eating attitudes. Therapy may be individually oriented or group-based.

Binge Eating

Binge-eating disorder is characterized by recurrent binge-eating episodes during which a person feels a loss of control over his or her eating. Unlike bulimia, binge-eating episodes are not followed by purging, excessive exercise or fasting. As a result, people with binge-eating disorder often are overweight or obese. They also experience guilt, shame and/or distress about the binge-eating, which can lead to more binge-eating.

Obese people with binge-eating disorder often have coexisting psychological illnesses including anxiety, depression, and personality disorders. In addition, links between obesity and cardiovascular disease and hypertension are well documented.

Patients with binge-eating disorder also may be prescribed appetite suppressants. Psychotherapy, especially CBT, is also used to treat the underlying psychological issues associated with binge-eating, in an individual or group environment.

To conclude, eating disorders are influenced by psychological factors such as having low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, anger or lonliness.

and/or social factors such as a history of being teased for looks or weight, cultural pressures which glorify “thinness” and place value on obtaining the “perfect body” or norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance and not inner qualities and strengths.

Additionally, eating disorders can be prevented and can be cured. For tips on how to eat in the right way, refer to this post by clicking here!



Posted: December 23, 2010 in Psychology

Modern life is full of hassles, deadlines, frustrations, and demands. For many people, stress is so commonplace that it has become a way of life. Stress isn’t always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price.

If you frequently find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. You can protect yourself by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.


Stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. When you sense danger – whether it’s real or imagined – the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction, or the stress response.

The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life – giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident.

The stress response also helps you rise to meet challenges. Stress is what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV.

But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life. Use the graph below to help you understand better the effects of stress, and why some amount of stress is essential for us to achieve something but too much can be detrimental.


Some of the signs and symptoms of stress are below. However, it may vary from one person to another.

These symptoms may also be signs of depression or anxiety, which can be caused by long-term stress.


Can stress affect my health?

The body responds to stress by releasing stress hormones. These hormones make blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels go up. Long-term stress can help cause a variety of health problems, including:

• Mental health disorders, like depression
and anxiety
• Obesity
• Heart disease
• High blood pressure
• Abnormal heart beats
• Menstrual problems
• Acne and other skin problems


How can I deal with stress?

Learning to deal with stress effectively is a worthwhile effort, even if you already consider yourself capable of handling anything life sends your way. Many of the most common long-term stressors—family illness, recovery after injury, career pressures—often arise without warning and simultaneously. Stress management is particularly valuable if your family has a history of hypertension and other forms of heart disease.

Identify the cause. You may find that your stress arises from something that’s easy to correct. A psychologist can help you define and analyze these stressors, and develop action plans for dealing with them.

Monitor your moods. If you feel stressed during the day, write down what caused it along your thoughts and moods. Again, you may find the cause to be less serious than you first thought.

Make time for yourself at least two or three times a week. Even ten minutes a day of “personal time” can help refresh your mental outlook and slow down your body’s stress response systems. Turn off the phone, spend time alone in your room, exercise, or meditate to your favorite music.

Walk away when you’re angry. Before you react, take time to mentally regroup by counting to 10. Then look at the situation again. Walking or other physical activities will also help you work off steam.

Analyze your schedule. Assess your priorities and delegate whatever tasks you can (e.g., order out dinner after a busy day, share household responsibilities). Eliminate tasks that are “shoulds” but not “musts.”

– Set reasonable standards for yourself and others. Don’t expect perfection.

– Share your stress. Talking about your problems with friends or family members can sometimes help you feel better. They might also help you see your problems in a new way and suggest solutions that you hadn’t thought of.

– Get help from a professional if you need it. If you feel that you can no longer cope, talk to your doctor. She or he may suggest counseling to help you learn better ways to deal with stress. Your doctor may also prescribe medicines, such as antidepressants or sleep aids.


Share with me what are some of the “stressors” you face in daily life and how you cope with them. On the other hand, share how has stress actually helped you achieve your goals you set out to accomplish!

Biggest excuses for not exercising

Posted: December 16, 2010 in Psychology

EXERCISE EXCUSES. We’ve all heard them – and we’ve all used them. In my health and fitness career, I’ve heard anything and everything used as reasons for neglecting one’s health and fitness. It’s always easier to put off starting a new workout regime – especially when the word “work” is involved. More times than not, it’s misinformation or lack of understanding that rears its ugly head and leads people to believe they can’t or shouldn’t exercise.


Excuse 1: “I don’t have time to workout.”

First off, it’s a ridiculous statement. Every person has the same amount of time in every day. You may be busy, but not too busy to take care of yourself. We spend more time taking care of our cars, houses, and other material possessions than ourselves. Where are the priorities? This is primarily driven by the fact that people tend to think exercise programs need to be several hours long, or 7 days a week to be effective. Not true, three hours per week is manageable, maintainable, and provides amazing health benefits. Who can’t find 3 hours in a week? You can start by putting off passive leisure activities such as watching television, using the computer or even sitting in your couch procrastinating whether or not you should exercise.

Excuse 2:”I don’t have access to a gym.”

Guess what people? You don’t need to go to a gym! This is another poor excuse driven by ignorance and supported by massive marketing campaigns within the fitness industry. With ground to stand on, in your house, backyard, at a park and with some household items like your stairs, even a sledgehammer or tire, and a minimal investment in some resistance bands, you can have an incredible workout and fitness routine sans the gym. You do not need machines, or to pay a monthly fee! Ever! I will be posting a post about how you can work out in a 15 minutes at home in soon!


Excuse 3: “I’m not fat; I don’t need to.”

Being thin, or appearing to be in shape does not mean you are healthy or fit. It doesn’t mean anything. Every body needs exercise, both to maintain and improve health. Exercise can correct muscular and postural imbalances from daily living, as well as increase longevity and quality of life through numerous adaptations. Don’t be so naive to think, if you are young, if you play a sport, if you look good, if you are thin etc, that you don’t need a regular, intelligent fitness program. You do! Health and fitness for life!


Excuse 4: “I don’t like to workout.”

This one is a simple misconception and experience issue. With all of the available different forms of exercise, there is one you are bound to enjoy. You need to try different things. This excuse usually comes from a bad experience, and like getting bad food and service at a restaurant, you just don’t want to go back. First impressions in fitness are huge. And if by some chance, you hate it all, too damn bad. Suck it up. Life is full of doing things you don’t want, but have to. Wrap your head around the fact exercise is not a choice, it is a must.


Excuse 5: “I don’t want big muscles.”

hear this mostly from women, but I have on occasion heard it from men. Women have an incredibly tough time building big muscles. They just don’t have the hormonal makeup to support them. What is much more common is when women appear to have bigger muscles because they may have lost a bit of body fat, which allows the muscle they have to be seen more easily. So for all you women, no need to worry about big muscles, and guys, you should be so lucky to have a big muscle problem. Anyway, once you hit your desired fitness level or physical appearance, all you have to do maintain the exercise intensity to preserve your gains! Abeit for your lifetime. If you find this troublesome, look at excuse number 3.


Excuse 6: “I walk everyday”

Walking is NOT exercise! I’ve said this a million times. When I meet clients for the first time I always ask “are you currently exercising?” I’ve heard “yes I walk” way too many times. Unless you are so out of shape that walking brings you into your training zone, its difficulty level just does not provide enough stimulus to get a reaction from your body. Yes, it burns some calories, so does gardening, that’s not a suitable replacement for working out either. Walking in daily life is how we get from point A to B. Even if you walk an hour a day at power walking speeds, it’s still not enough to give you significant benefits to your body.


Excuse 7: “I have too many injuries/health problems.”

It is really frustrating when you can’t exercise like you used to, or without limitations. I understand that. But truthfully, no matter how serious your issues are, you can still find modes of exercise to work around your injuries, or medical conditions. And you can always improve your fitness and health. Of course if you need medical clearance, you should always consult your doctor and seek the guidance and supervision of a qualified fitness professional. Believe it or not, even serious heart issues don’t necessarily always preclude an exercise regimen. No excuses. In fact, if you do not exercise, you will just enter a vicious cycle and your condition will worsen. After all, exercise is medicine.


Excuse 8: “I’m too tired from work/school/taking care of the kids.”

Ironically, exercise releases dopamine in the brain which improves mood, reduces fatigue, and guess what?- boosts energy. You’ll have more energy to chase those kids, show the boss you’re a top producer and not feel lethargic during lessons. With a regular fitness program, your body becomes more efficient at energy production and converting nutrients into fuel. It’s hard to break the cycle and start-up, but once you get going you’ll feel a noticeable improvement immediately. Get moving!


Excuse 9: “My schedule is irregular and/or I travel a lot.”

What is “regular” anyway? As I’ve said previously, you don’t need much to exercise. Waking up 45 minutes earlier while away is easy to do. Some push ups, jump rope, resistance band presses and rows and a whole lot more can all be incorporated into a routine wherever you are. As for timing, exercise is not rigid and restrains you to exercise only at a certain timing. Consistency is what you’re after. Shooting for 3 days a week is completely do-able, even for the traveling workaholic.


Instead of looking for excuses not to exercise, look for reasons to exercise to counter these excuses. Do share below your personal favourite excuses for exercise and the reasons you are exercising. “We are what we repeatedly do. Therefore excellence is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle.

Goal setting and motivation

Posted: December 12, 2010 in Psychology

Goal setting is defined as “A process for thinking about an ideal outcome, and for motivating yourself to turn this vision of the future into reality.” It plays an important role in your journey to health and fitness because it encourages you to continue to improve and gives you a standard measurement of your progress.


How do you set goals for yourself? Firstly, we would set a long-term goal that you would see yourself achieving that in probably 1 to 2 years. Then we would break this goal down into smaller goals called short-term goals that you can see yourself achieving in 1 to 2 months. For example, let’s say that a person wishes to lose 12kgs in a year. When we break this down into smaller periods, it would come up to be about 1kg a month. This can help you to track your progress. Most people set a long-term goal for themselves but fail to set short-term goals. This could possibly cause them to give up because the long-term goal seems like such a tall order to them! By breaking it down, we can make it seem more achievable and in a planned manner too.


Next, we will to set smart goals for yourself using the SMARTER principles! Your goals set must be:

Specific – Instead of “I want to lose weight”, use “I want lose 2kgs.”

Measureable – How are you going to record your progress?

Action-oriented – Identify the steps that you will take to achieve this goal.

Reasoned and realistic – Ask yourself why you would want to achieve this goal? Also, is this goal set realistic?

Time-based – Identify how long you will take to complete this goal. For example: “I want to have my 6 pack abs” vs “I want to have my 6 pack abs by Chinese New Year”.

Enjoyable – Are you goals set enjoyable? If it is enjoyable, it can help to shorten the time taken to achieve the goal.

Resourced – Identify the resource you would need to achieve your goal (time, money, support, information, etc.) and list down any sacrifices you would have to make.


Now that your goals are set, how are you going to motivate yourself to achieve these goals? As we know, motivation is the driving force that helps us to achieve our goals. Motivation is said to be intrinsic or extrinsic.

Intrinsic Motivation: Refers to motivation that is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on any external pressure. For example: I like to go for long distance running because I enjoy the runner’s high.

Extrinsic Motivation: comes from outside of the individual. Common extrinsic motivations are rewards like money and grades,  and threat of punishment. For example: I’m going to train hard for my NAPFA test because of the $400 I will have if i get a Gold Award.

A person can have both intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors. One example would be: I’m doing this to beat my personal best record and at the same time, win an Olympics medal.


To sum up, first identify your long-term goal, break it down into short-term goals and then identify your motivational factors that can help you achieve these short-term goals, eventually completing your long-term goal.

What is your long-term goal and how would you go about achieving it?