By Laura Captari

Whether it’s the “holiday blues” or festivities with family and friends, we are all prone to turn to food to meet our emotional needs. Obesity is one of our nation’s greatest health challenges, and a significant concern for those in the helping field. The statistics are shocking:
• More than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) are obese.
• Approximately 31% of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are obese.
• Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled.

There a number of well-documented health risks associated with extra weight, including asthma, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and diabetes—not only among adults, but also children. However, obesity is not just a physical concern, it’s also an important mental health concern—and a spiritual concern, as well.

It’s no surprise that the APA’s Monitor on Psychology this month features an article on this very topic. Author Kristen Weir reports, “The repercussions of excess weight extend to the brain…linked to changes in brain structure as well as changes impairments in learning and attention span.” The emotional and cognitive aspects of overeating are important considerations in treatment planning with this population. Oftentimes, stress, emotional difficulties, and faulty self-perceptions fuel overeating and must be addressed in counseling.

Understanding the connection between physical and mental health, where can we start as Christian counselors? How can we empower our clients to develop a healthy lifestyle—emotionally, physically, and spiritually? Here’s several suggestions:

Include the whole family. “The most successful ways to…shed pounds are interventions that combine diet, physical activity and behavioral recommendations,” the article notes. When an entire family recognizes the importance of physical, spiritual and emotional health, they can begin developing a family culture that promotes these values, developing new traditions and routines.

Build a healthy home environment. “The trick is to help parents engineer healthy home environments—removing TVs from bedrooms, limiting computer time, making physical activity a routine for the entire family, and teaching parents how to find and prepare nutritious food on a budget,” Weir shares.

Encourage a healthy, active lifestyle. Preventing and treating obesity isn’t as simple as avoiding “junk food.” While most interventions focus on the negative—telling people what not to eat—it’s important to emphasize the positive as well, such as nutritious holiday foods and ways to incorporate exercise into Christmas activities.

Find emotional support. Meaningful relationships are an important factor in weight loss or maintenance. How easy it is to turn to food, rather than God or other people, when we are hurt, confused, overwhelmed or lonely. As with any other area of change, accountability is critical—not only for exercise, but also to control overeating and find healthier ways to cope with stress.

Incorporate a team approach. Exercise may be helpful, but without addressing the emotional and cognitive issues often underlying compulsive eating, it will likely be difficult to keep weight off. By the same token, the best therapy in the world without appropriate lifestyle changes will not be thoroughly effective either. Building healthy communities requires collaboration between counselors, medical doctors, dietitians/nutritionists, physical trainers, health coaches, and more.

As Christian counselors, we must remember that God’s Word has quite a few things to say about lack of self-control when it comes to eating. In fact, Proverbs speaks strongly about the destructive nature of overeating: “And put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite” (Prov. 23:2). By contrast, we are encouraged, “[W]hether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

How can you help your clients honor God in their eating? This Christmas and New Year’s, encourage your clients to evaluate their holiday lifestyle. More than any other time of the year, the holidays are a season for overeating and overstressing, while exercise and sleep often fall by the wayside. But long after the “holiday cheer” has come and gone, the negative impact of these lifestyle choices can affect our mental, emotional, and even spiritual health.
Laura Captari serves as the Director of Professional and Public Relations at the American Association of Christian Counselors in Forest, VA. To contact her, email

Prepare Your Mind and Get the Right Attitude | weight loss diet information, dieting and weight loss, weight loss for men and women · December 11, 2012 at 12:57 am

[…] Weight loss is simple: burn more calories than you consume. But if it's so simple, why is it so diff…a very powerful thing – depending on your mindset, you will either succeed or fail. So before you decide on the details of what to eat and when to exercise, you need to decide to have the right mindset and the right attitude. First of all, you need to commit to being healthy and leading a healthy lifestyle. However, commitment doesn't just mean writing down your goals and telling your friends you want to lose weight. Commitment means you wake up every day and decide to be healthy. It's a decision you make every time you have a choice between being unhealthy, and being healthy. Here are some things you can do to stay committed: Motivate yourself: Don't forget your goals. Remind yourself throughout the day about what you would like to achieve. Have a friend call and remind you or set alarms. Remember your goals: It's easy to forget the big picture among all the details. Remember your long-term goals, and remind yourself that the details do add up! Plan and Prepare: Weight loss can be a big lifestyle change, one that you're not used to. Try to make things easier for yourself. For instance, plan your workout the night before and lay out exercise clothes. Decide what you'll eat the next week and buy groceries accordingly. Pack your lunch the night before. Be Accountable: When you achieve your goals, reward yourself. When you skip that workout, or indulge in unhealthy foods, have consequences ready to deter yourself – miss your favourite TV show, for instance. In addition to being committed, you need to be disciplined. There's a saying, "Plan your work and work your plan" – this does hold true for weight loss. Do the things you've planned – whether it's exercising or eating healthy. Here are some tips for being disciplined in your approach to weight loss: Make it a habit to exercise: Don't think about whether to exercise or not. Have a set plan and stick to it. For instance, decide that you'll go for a run every morning, or you'll attend the daily aerobics classes at the gym. If you make it a habit, you won't have the chance to think about it, and decide to maybe not exercise today. Get help: It's much easier to make a lifestyle change if you have some help. Ideally, you should have an accountability partner. Even if you don't have someone to buddy up with during your weight loss journey, try to get support from your friends. For instance, try to become friends with someone at the gym, and plan to workout together – you'll place more importance on going to the gym if you know there's someone waiting for you. Just do a bit: If you don't feel like exercising, make a deal with yourself that you'll just do a bit. For example, if your regular run is 30 minutes decide to go for 10 minutes. Most of the time, you'll find that the first step is the hardest – once you've taken it, you'll want to keep going. Put things off: If you feel like dessert or an extra, unhealthy snack, put it off for a bit. Tell yourself that you'll have that chocolate after an hour or so – often an hour later you'll find that you don't want that chocolate. If you're serious about losing weight, you'll find that preparing your mind and having the right attitude will make it much easier for you to stick to your weight-loss plans. […]

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