Table of Contents
- Why Dogs are good for your Wellbeing
- #1 Sniff Out Self-Love: Pay Attention to Your Personality, Not Your Weight
- #2 Unleash Optimal Well-Being: Be Comfortable with Your Needs
- #4 Unleash Joy: Exercise Because You Love It
- #5 Dreamy Dog Naps: Get Enough Sleep
- #6 Barking Your Truth: Express Yourself
- #7 Paw-sitive Reinforcement: Celebrate Your Achievements
- Final Thoughts
- Frequently Asked Questions
So why are Dogs are good for wellbeing? Did you know that you can get amazing lessons on healthy living from your dog?
When it comes to binge eating, stress eating, or any kind of emotional eating, the real problem is not food. It is what is eating at you, what is going on with you. When we don’t know how to soothe ourselves, comfort ourselves, or respond to ourselves in a healthy way, we often turn to food for relief.
Creating a healthier relationship with yourself has everything to do with stopping binge eating. And when it comes to taking care of ourselves, we can learn a lot from dogs.
Let me tell you what inspired this philosophy. My Great Dane Zane, is 165 pounds of pure love and sweetness, and we can all learn a lot from him and from all dogs.
If you have a dog or you know someone who does, think of how life would be if you treated yourself as you treated your dog or the way your friends treated their dogs.
Why Dogs are good for your Wellbeing
Here are seven specific ways that show why dogs are good for well-being:
#1 Sniff Out Self-Love: Pay Attention to Your Personality, Not Your Weight
Do you know anyone who is focused on how much their dog weighs or how good their dog looks in any particular leash, color, or outfit?
Maybe they say their dog is a pudge, but they usually say it with affection. Usually, people talk about how smart their dog is, how feisty, funny, or how goofy or shy, or qualities like that.
They don’t say, “My dog is too overweight to even be seen in the company of other dogs. My dog should not eat in front of others, ever.”
What if you focused on your personality, not your pounds? How would you describe yourself? What qualities do you like and appreciate about yourself?
#2 Unleash Optimal Well-Being: Be Comfortable with Your Needs
If your dog is hungry, do you say, “What's wrong with you? God, I can't believe you're hungry again. Okay, you can have a little food but not too much.”
No, you feed your dog. If your dog needs to go out, you take your dog out. You don't say, “You know your basic needs are just too much. You are just too much to handle. I can't deal with you if you're hungry.
Why not give yourself permission to eat, too?
So many of us battle ourselves and fight our hunger which of course often leads to overeating or bingeing, because the anticipation of deprivation leads to you wanting more of something, or because you starve yourself and you get so ravenous you can't stop once you start.
Physical deprivation leads to starvation so by the time you finally let yourself eat it is hard to stop. And psychologically, if you think you can't have something well of course you're going to want it more. So don't make a character issue out of hunger.
#3 “Tail-Wagging Presence: Be in the Moment”
Act like a dog (not in the sense of “men are dogs” which is so stereotypical and wrong, but that’s a whole other story), but in the sense that dogs are fully in the moment, they are attuned to themselves, they naturally engage in self-care.
Vets often say you should put a bowl of dog food out at a particular time, and then take it away 10 minutes later, so the dog will eat it all at once. That helps with training.
And, you know, what happens is if your dog thinks the kibble is going to be taken away, they eat it out of “uh oh, I better get it while it's here” kind of mentality.
But if you DON’T take away that bowl, and you leave it out, and dogs know that food will be there, dogs only eat until they're satisfied.
The same thing with humans. If you think this is the last pizza or ice cream or cookies, or hamburger or fries, or whatever it is, this is the last forbidden food that I am allowed to have until I lose weight, then you are probably going to eat more of it than you would otherwise again, deprivation leads to bingeing. That is for both physical and psychological reasons.
If you think I can have this anytime I want, then you can decide whether or not you want it. Case in point, Halloween, some of you know the story of my my daughter and the Halloween situation. Actually, both my daughters had a Halloween situation.
My older daughter had a friend whose parents were those people who said, Oh, you can only have two pieces of Halloween candy. And then we're going to take your candy and we're going to give you two pieces of candy a day. And that's all you can have.
So naturally while we were all trick or treating (without the parents, by the way) she snuck candy and ate it until she was sick. She actually got a stomachache.
Whereas our daughter knew that she could have as much candy as she wanted. So she had a few pieces and she was done. She knew she could have it so she could decide if she wanted it or not.
Then my other daughter years later, went trick or treating with a friend whose parents had the same mentality. The friend was sneaking candy all night and at the end of the night my daughter said, “I’m hungry.”
My husband indicated the pillowcase filled with candy that she was carrying and suggested she eat some. She looked askance. “I’m not eating that,” she said. “I want real food.”
When we know it’s going to be there, we don’t want it so much.
Okay, back to dogs.
#4 Unleash Joy: Exercise Because You Love It
What about exercise? Dogs go out and have fun. They don't think, “I really have to make myself go on that walk. It's good for me. it'll burn calories. I have to do it. I have to go on that walk. I've got to go exercise.
No. Dogs think (or so I imagine), “I get to go out. I get to go out. Out, out, out. I get to play I get to run around. It's gonna be so awesome. Yay.”
So, find something you love to do. Something you love, whether it's running or walking or dancing or yoga or weight training or whatever it is. Find something you love and do it because when you do it, you're not going to feel like you are exercising, you're going to feel like you're doing something you love.
And by the way, if you've ever picked up a leash and had your dog look very indifferent as if to say oh no, I am not moving an inch off this doggy bed. No, no, no. Or in Zane’s case, this couch, this other couch, or this bed. Guess what? dogs do not beat themselves up.
They don't say, “I am so lazy. I can't believe I don't want to go on a walk. What is wrong with me? I suck.” No. They just don't go on the walk.
Don't make it a character issue if you don't want to exercise. And by the way, if you are telling yourself that you are lazy and that there is something wrong with you, you are going to feel bad because you are shaming yourself.
And when you feel bad because you've just made yourself feel bad because of the way you're talking to yourself. Guess what food is? Food is going to help you escape that and feel better.
#5 Dreamy Dog Naps: Get Enough Sleep
Dogs always get enough sleep. It is the understatement of the century to say that dogs get enough sleep.
But you know what, when they're tired, they sleep. It sounds so simple. But how many times have you been tired? And instead of getting some rest, you eat something with sugar in it to pep you up.
Food is not the answer to being tired. Rest is, sleep is, but lots of people eat when they're tired. They think it's going work like caffeine and wake them up. But all they do is end up eating more and more and more because it wakes them up and then they get the crash.
And then they have to eat more sugar, sugary something and they get the crash. So if that sounds familiar and you can relate to that, tap into your inner dog, your inner Zane. Next time you're tired, take a nap. Even 10 minutes can make such a difference or get some sleep as soon as you can.
#6 Barking Your Truth: Express Yourself
Dogs express themselves so easily. If they're happy, you know it. And if they are not happy, you know it.
Dogs don't think, “Oh, I really love my person. I love this person so much. But I don't want to show it. I don't want to show it. Because what if I show that I love this person, and they don't feel the same way and they don't love me back…
And what if that means I’m too much? Or what if they think I'm weird? And what if and what if and what if? “
What “if” is fear about the future and causes terrible anxiety in the present about a situation that doesn’t exist, and it can leave you feeling stuck.
Dogs aren’t caught up in analysis paralysis. They just lick you and wag their tails and show you how thrilled they are to meet you or to see you.
And if they're upset, they show it they grow, they bark, or both? They don't think, “Oh, it's wrong to be angry and upset. This is not a good thing. I'm a bad dog because I have these feelings of anger.”
If someone treats a dog badly, dogs do not deny their anger. They don't think, “I'm not angry at this person. I'm sure there's a perfectly good reason why they treated me in that terrible way. I have no anger. No, it's really upsetting me is the fact that I ate a bagel for breakfast. That's when I'm mad. I'm so mad at myself.”
Dogs don't do that. Dogs just say, “Hmm, that person did not treat me well. And I am not happy with that person. I don't like that person.” They bark or growl. And if they're afraid, they lean up against you or they shy away to show that they are frightened.
They don't say, “I am such a wimp I need to man up here.” Dogs express their feelings. Feelings are a reaction to a situation, not character flaws. You cannot eat away feelings, you cannot push them away, drop them, and you cannot positive-think them away–you can only feel them.
#7 Paw-sitive Reinforcement: Celebrate Your Achievements
Dogs respond really well to positive reinforcement. This approach isn't just effective for training our furry friends; it's a powerful tool for boosting our own motivation and self-esteem.
Dogs wag their tails in delight when praised or rewarded because it feels good to get that acknowledgment. We can also benefit from recognizing our own successes. It’s important to recognize the significance of our personal achievements.
Often, we overlook the small victories in our daily lives, focusing instead on larger goals or the setbacks we encounter. Yet, it's the accumulation of these small wins that pave the way to bigger triumphs.
Dogs don’t say, “This feels good to be recognized. Am I being narcissistic? Am I taking attention from other people? Is this okay?”
They just bask in the recognition and the attention. As a result, they’re not hungry for love or starving for attention. They allow themselves to feel happy in the moment.
Celebrating achievements can take many forms, from taking a moment to acknowledge a job well done, to sharing your success with friends or family, or even treating yourself to something special.
This act of recognition serves as a mental ‘pat on the back', reinforcing positive behaviors and decisions.
Also, by acknowledging our progress, we create a sense of momentum. Each achievement, no matter how minor it may seem, is a step forward in our personal growth and journey. It builds confidence and cultivates a mindset that appreciates progress over perfection.
So, in the spirit of “Paw-sitive Reinforcement,” make it a habit to celebrate your achievements. Whether it’s completing a challenging task at work, sticking to a healthy habit, or simply managing a stressful day with grace, each accomplishment is worthy of recognition.
Like our canine companions, let's learn to thrive on the positive reinforcement that comes from celebrating our own successes.
When you pay attention to your basic needs, your emotional needs, and focus on your personality instead of your weight, and when you express yourself and connect with others, you will feel better. And when that happens, you don't need food for comfort or distraction.
Remember, if you're returning to food, you are turning away from something else. It’s essential to look at what is eating at you, not what you are eating. Be curious about your “why” and and ask yourself:
If I were not thinking about food or about my body, what would be on my mind?
What would I be thinking about? What would I be worried about? What would be bothering me?
That's what's eating at you. And when you deal with that, then guess what? You don't eat for comfort. You don't eat for distraction. You don't eat for any other reason, other than it's breakfast, it's lunch, it's dinner. Or you're hungry. That's it.
It stops being a way to manage something internal.
Frequently Asked Questions
From stress reduction to improved physical health, social connections, and a heightened sense of security, the positive influence of dogs on our lives is both heartening and scientifically supported. Whether you're a seasoned dog owner or considering bringing a canine companion into your life, this FAQ section aims to unravel the many facets of why dogs are good for wellbeing. Let's embark on this journey to discover the undeniable benefits that come with having a furry friend by your side.
1. How do dogs contribute to stress reduction?
Dogs have a calming effect on their owners. Interacting with a dog, such as petting or playing, can trigger the release of oxytocin and serotonin, which are neurotransmitters that promote relaxation and reduce stress levels. The routine and responsibility of caring for a dog can also create a sense of purpose and routine, helping to manage stress.
2. Can owning a dog improve physical health?
Yes, owning a dog often leads to increased physical activity. Daily walks, playtime, and other outdoor activities with your dog promote regular exercise, contributing to better cardiovascular health and overall fitness. The active lifestyle associated with dog ownership can also lead to weight management and a lower risk of certain health issues.
3. How do dogs help with social connections?
Dogs are natural icebreakers and can facilitate social interactions. Taking your dog for a walk or visiting a dog park provides opportunities to meet and connect with other dog owners. This shared interest in dogs can lead to the formation of friendships and a sense of community, which is beneficial for mental wellbeing.
4. Can having a dog improve mental health?
Yes, the companionship of a dog can have a positive impact on mental health. Dogs provide a sense of purpose, reduce feelings of loneliness, and offer a non-judgmental presence. For individuals dealing with conditions like depression or anxiety, the emotional support and unconditional love from a dog can be therapeutic.
5. How do dogs contribute to a sense of security and safety?
Dogs are known for their loyalty and protective instincts. Having a dog at home can create a sense of security, knowing that they can alert you to potential dangers or intruders. The presence of a dog can also provide emotional comfort, especially for individuals living alone.
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Dr. Nina Savelle-Rocklin is a psychoanalyst, author and radio host specializing in binge eating disorder. She is the author of The Binge Cure: 7 Steps to Outsmart Emotional Eating and Food for Thought: Perspectives on Eating Disorders, and co-editor of Beyond the Primal Addiction. She hosts The Dr. Nina Show radio program on LA Talk Radio.