Is Miniature Painting a Fat Trap or Healthy Hobby? (Editorial)

Is Miniature Painting a Fat Trap or Healthy Hobby? (Editorial) - banner

Painting miniatures is a sedentary hobby where you don’t exert a lot of physical energy. I’ve wondered whether the activity that we spend hours doing is unhealthy. Miniature painting is not exercise. Sure it’s great fun but the key question is whether our mini painting hobby is contributing to unhealthy habits with food and our overall health.

In this article, I highlight a few insights I learned while researching this topic. Read on to find out whether painting miniatures is a contributing factor to excess weight gain, e.g., obesity, or an overall healthy activity.

Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional. My opinions expressed in this article should not be considered professional medical advice.


Painting Miniatures is a Sedentary Hobby

A sedentary hobby is one that doesn’t require much movement. The word sedentary means to sit, which means that it can be hard to lose weight with this type of activity. That said, there are many sedentary hobbies that do not contribute to weight gain.

Excess weight gain is when you put on too much body fat. The American Medical Association defines obesity based on an individual’s actual height and weight, which at the time of this writing was a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 (source).

Is Miniature Painting a Fat Trap or Healthy Hobby? - body mass index image chart
Body mass index (BMI) gives us a measure to understand how weight is related to health (source: CDC).

Some sedentary hobbies are not bad for you. A person could be an avid couch potato watching television all day, but still manage to exercise daily by walking back and forth to the kitchen or bathroom.

To some extent it is up to the individual how much excess weight they gain (although genetics has a hand in this as well). I have seen people gain weight, yet manage to stay active because they do not become couch potatoes.


When Painting Miniatures is a Health Problem

Painting miniatures is a hobby where you can easily gain excess weight. I’ve seen this in myself and others.

So, when does a sedentary hobby become a health problem? There are two ways in which painting miniatures may affect your health.

The first way is by having an indirect impact on the amount of exercise you get. It’s possible that painting can inhibit one from getting exercise.

You can’t go for a walk in the park when you’re painting all the time. You’re not going to the gym if you’d rather sit at your desk with your hobbies.

The second way painting miniatures may affect your health is by changing how you eat (and/or drink).  Food and beverages are connected to our emotions and memories, which means they can be comforting.

When we associate activities with comfort food, it becomes harder to lose weight. For example, you may drink more as you paint or eat unhealthy foods as a reward for finishing a model (or part of one). This can lead to excess weight gain and obesity over time.


Why Painting Miniatures Can Decrease Exercise

For me, this is a very real potential problem of painting miniatures.  It’s possible that the activity itself decreases your desire to get out and walk around. In my case, I have been known to become engrossed in painting a model for hours at a time. When you spend hours painting a model, you have to take breaks. When I take those breaks, they tend to be spent watching TV or playing video games.

In the past, this has been a problem for me as it led to hours of sedentary behavior. The activity itself (painting) led me to reduce my exercise. The end result was less time spent walking (or whatever exercise it was available to me) and more weight gain over time.

If you are painting miniatures, I advise that you develop habits that counter this potential problem. For example, take frequent breaks to stretch your legs or go for walks. This can be as simple as standing up every 30 minutes or so. When you go for walks, try to challenge yourself. Walk fast enough that it’s difficult to talk while walking at the same time.


How Miniature Painting Can Lead to Overeating

Painting miniatures can also have an indirect influence on how much food and drink you intake.  You are more likely to relax with a beer or soda when you paint miniatures. You are also more likely to eat unhealthy foods while you paint.  There are many reasons for this, but in my experience it’s simply a habit I formed over time.

Painting miniatures can also lead to food and drink as a reward for painting.   It’s possible that you will want to reward yourself with a sugary drink for finishing part of a model. Sometimes you may not even realize you’re doing this. It’s a habit. When you are rewarded with food or drink, you are being conditioned to have unhealthy habits.

This part of the psychology of habit, in particular, piqued my interest. Read on if you want to see what I learned and think about the psychology of eating and health–it’s related to miniature painting, I promise!


The Psychology of Eating Too Much

What about weight gain? Gaining weight is the process of increasing numeric BMI. Weight gain is simply the result of eating too many calories (energy consumption).

To gain weight, this usually requires consuming more calories than you burn through daily activities and exercise.

Here’s my thought on the whole problem with our modern relationship with food in Western Countries. I think there is over simplistic view of food that we’ve learned (in a bad way) that leads to problems with our eating behavior.

There is no such thing as a “bad” or “good” food. Food is food.

When I crave a cheeseburger, I’m going to find a cheeseburger. If I feel guilty thinking the cheeseburger is “bad”, that negative thought will actually make me feel like eating more…I eat to feel less guilty, and thus, I eat more.

So, I will eat the cheeseburger, but not the extra stuff that comes with it, e.g., french fries, sugary soda. By staying mindful of what I really want to eat, I can satisfy certain cravings without feeling bad about it.

It’s a vicious struggle when you start thinking something is bad for you. Yes, there are healthier, more nutrient-rich foods that aren’t full of engineered calories–refined sugar and all that. But, they are no more important than any other kind of food you need to feel satisfied and full: mentally, emotionally, and physically.

The purpose of food is to fulfill physical, mental, and emotional needs.

Not all foods can satisfy you in all three dimensions. A bag of french fries will fill you up mentally and emotionally; but they will fail you physically. You can’t trick yourself into eating a salad with all the fixings, when you actually just want a taste of chocolate.

Is Miniature Painting a Fat Trap or Healthy Hobby? physical hunger and emotional hunger differences chart
There’s a clear difference between physical hunger and emotional cravings for food. Don’t use the wrong food to satisfy your different types of hunger. Making the proper associations will help you understand your relationship to food and your emotional and physical needs. Image credit: Texila American University

The Relationship Between Painting Miniatures and Food & Drink

The reason for this is because we learn habits over time through repetition. Repetition reinforces neuro-pathways in our brain that convert the activity into patterns of thought and behavior. The more you repeat an action, the easier it becomes to do that action, or something similar.

Is Miniature Painting a Fat Trap or Healthy Hobby? miniature painting and psychology of habit
Painting miniatures is more than just art; it’s a science, too!

It’s not so difficult for this to happen with painting miniatures. I formed a habit of painting minis over the course of years. I’ve repeated this activity over and over. It became easy to do, in much the same way that you learn how to ride a bike when you’re young. The first time riding a bicycle is difficult because you have no experience doing it–you don’t know what to expect.

After repeating the activity for so long, I formed the habit of painting miniatures everyday at night. It was something I did, regularly (before I had kids). I used it to relax and cope with daily stressors.

Every poor relationship is formed through unhealthy associations.

Interestingly, I think for a long time, it was easier for me to paint miniatures than it was to do other activities, such as go for a walk or help my wife with the dishes. In fact, I had to exert extra mental effort to switch gears away from the hobby desk!

In many ways, painting miniatures (was) is an escape from all kinds of responsibilities and daily activities.

The relationship with food you build up over time is the same. You eat because it’s a daily activity. You form a routine around food and your emotions as well as physical needs are involved.

If you associate feelings of hunger (the physical need to eat) with negative emotions that evoke the need to “escape”, “find reward”, or “distract from anxiety”, then you’ve got a maladaptive behavior toward eating that is controlled by poor habit.

Food is easy and cheap to find in our society, and is therefore easy to indulge in whenever and however much we want.


Painting Miniatures and How to Break a Habit?

In order to break a habit, you have to remove all the reasons that cause the routine from being repeated.

The reason for this is because habits are formed through repetition of an action (as mentioned above). In order to break a habit, you need to change the routine and get rid of any triggers that maintain or strengthen negative habits.

Although I’m not a huge fan of certain therapies, there is one that I should highlight as it is well studied: Cognitive behavior therapy. Cognitive behavior therapy is all about identifying your triggers and thought patterns and then working on replacing them with healthier behaviors.

For example, if you want to stop eating too many sweets, make sure there’s no candy within reach of where you work or live. If you eat at night because it’s lonely or depressing, replace that activity with anything else–go for a walk instead of sitting.


How Can You Apply Cognitive Behavior Therapy Through Miniature Painting to Lose Weight?

Wow. Did I not earlier say that painting miniatures can contribute to poor eating habits? Well, isn’t this an interesting contradiction….

Here, I’m now saying that you can use miniature painting as a tool to control your eating habits or slowly break the bad associations you built up to actually help you lose weight.

There are three major ways that you can lose weight while painting miniatures:

  1. Emotional fulfillment
  2. Stress reduction
  3. Appetite suppression

You’ll notice from the above that the activity of miniature painting can address the mental, emotional, and physical reasons for why we seek out food and drink.

Is Miniature Painting a Fat Trap or Healthy Hobby? can you lose weight painting miniatures?

First, the fact that it is repetitive work may cause the person to release endorphins in their brain, sometimes called “painting high.” These are also released when working out or when you feel genuinely happy–leading to increased energy expenditure over time, e.g., more calorie burn (source).

Second, making art also reduces stress hormones in your body, research shows (source). As we all know, stress eating is a major reason many people overeat. Eating helps us cope with stress and anxiety. So, by engaging with miniature painting and the related activities of working in your hobby space can reduce your cravings driven by stress by calming you down.

Third, because precision work in miniature painting requires patience and concentration. Miniatures often take hours to paint, and many painters like myself get into a flow state where we lose track of time and feel wholly satisfied within an activity.

(Fun fact: I know from experience that I tend to forget to eat meals when I’m in the throes of writing articles for this site.)

Is Miniature Painting a Fat Trap or Healthy Hobby? Flow state book of psychology "optimal experience"
A fabulously detailed book about how our conscious experiences shape our behavior in the world, and more…

In flow, a miniature painter is not easily tempted to snack as frequently as somebody who is reading a book, watching TV, or surfing social media feeds. Flow reduces your awareness of things like time, people, pain, distraction, and hunger (Here’s a recommended book about flow psychology in psychology).


Conclusion

Miniature painting is a fun hobby that can potentially help you lose weight if you consider it a therapeutic tool. Painting miniatures reduces stress, satisfies an emotional need to accomplish things, and can even help you achieve a flow state, which has all kinds of psychological and physical benefits.

Of course, as Ursala Le Guin–one of my favorite fantasy authors once wrote–“To light a candle is to cast a shadow” (source). When you indulge in any activity, even an innocent one with seemingly great benefits, too much can still harm you.

And, to avoid overstating wisdom you’ve already heard, I’ll just say that almost any activity may be permissible, but not always beneficial. Try not to let any bad habit take you over.

Is miniature painting a fat trap or healthy hobby? Well, I think there’s data to say it’s both!

Did you enjoy this article? Let me know with a comment below!

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