Do you struggle to eat a healthy diet? In today’s food environment, it is actually perfectly normal to find it hard to avoid junk foods and to stay active and healthy. The problem of maintaining a healthy weight and staying fit is very serious. In fact, governments around the world are investigating what is known as “obesogenic environments.”1
Too Much Food, Too Little Activity
The term “obesogenic” describes how the environment that people live in make it easy for individuals to be quite sedentary. This is often accompanied by unprecedented access to calorie-dense, highly-palatable foods.2
Research into this area has increased a lot over the last decade. It is clear that the environments that people spend the most time in and the habits they have (e.g whether they walk or drive to school) can make a significant difference in their overall lifestyles.3
Your Food Habits are Not Entirely Accidental
If you look at the foods that you eat compared to what older people eat, you may notice some significant differences. This is no coincidence. The proliferation of snack foods and fast food is something that has only become a problem in the last couple of decades.
Big food companies actually invest a lot of money into the development of foods that are considered to be hyper-palatable.4 These foods are engineered to have exactly the right balance of salt, sugar, and fat to make people want to eat more of them. Some are even designed to have a flavor that is enjoyable while being eaten, but that isn’t quite strong enough to persist afterward. The food is not satisfying and people want to absent-mindedly eat the whole tube or packet. These hyper-palatable foods are designed to be addictive.
Addiction and Obesity
It is this addictive nature that is such a huge problem. Obesity is on the rise in most western countries. Many people struggle with the idea of going on a diet because they are, effectively, addicted to food. They are bombarded with marketing messages telling them to eat foods that are not filling. Their gut microbiota has been exposed to those foods for a long time to the point that now the bacteria in the digestive tract are ones that thrive on those foods. This compounds the cravings.
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They are, essentially, addicts. Only unlike a drug addict or an alcohol addict, it is not possible to quit food cold turkey since eating is necessary for survival. The people who are struggling the most with food addiction often lack the education or the confidence to break away from bad food habits. It is harder for them to eat reasonable portion sizes of whole foods instead of excess quantities of processed goods.
Breaking Bad Food Habits
Researchers accept that food addiction is a genuine and serious issue.5 The challenge is finding ways to escape the lure of hyper-palatable foods and to regulate disordered patterns of eating, such as binge eating. This will help to establish a healthy relationship with an essential part of life.6
The good news is that it is possible to retrain your gut microbiome and to form new, healthy food habits. It takes time to do this, however. Some of the top ways bad food habits and tips for busting them are highlighted below.
Beating Sugar Addiction
Sugar addiction is one of the most challenging parts of beating bad food habits since sugar is in so many different things. It is not just in chocolates and candy, it is also added to sauces, pastries, snacks, and even some pre-packaged sandwiches. Sugar is addictive, and it spikes blood glucose levels, which prompts an insulin response. Then, when the “sugar high: wears off, you feel hungry and have low energy again.7
For a lot of people, the best way to beat sugar addiction is to try to go cold turkey as much as possible. Stop adding sugar to your drinks. Instead, opt for water instead of soda, try dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, and avoid sugar-laden cereals. For the first week or so, it is normal to crave sugar. But the cravings will pass and you will find that you feel more clear-headed afterward. If you avoid replacing your sugars with artificial sweeteners, then you will also find that you do not crave the taste of sugar either. Once you have gotten through a few weeks without eating sugar, you can start to reintroduce it gradually. The idea is not to deprive yourself forever but simply to get out of the habit of craving so much sugar.
Controlling Constant Snacking
Snacking between meals is a food habit that a lot of people have and that can contribute to the consumption of far too many calories over the course of each day. A lot of the time, people snack because they are bored or because they just want to eat instead of actually being hungry.
You may find that you can beat those cravings by keeping a tissue with a few drops of essential oils on you at all times. If you feel the urge to snack on something sweet or savory, simply sniff the essential oil, and the olfactory stimulation may help to beat the craving.8
Peppermint and vanilla essential oils are great choices for this. For an option that is even more convenient than a tissue, try using these essential oils through a personal diffuser like Happy, Healthy, or Vibrant MONQ.
Another useful and amazingly effective option is to simply keep snacks out of reach. If you have to get up, go to another room, and take a single portion out of a bag in order to snack. This way it is much harder to do so mindlessly, so it may not happen.
Practicing Portion Control
Portion control is another interesting issue and something that many people struggle with. A lot of people were brought up being told that they must “clean their plates.” Over time, this means that they frequently eat past satiety. This can actually stretch the stomach meaning previously accurate satiety signals become less useful. This makes practicing intuitive eating difficult. It is no longer useful to simply eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.
Practicing portion control over a long period of time can, in theory, help to “shrink your stomach.” This phrase is a bit of a generalization. The fasted size of an adult’s stomach is actually quite small regardless of what the adult weighs. However, people who routinely eat large portion sizes have a stomach that can stretch quite a lot. Watching what you eat, consistently, for a month can help to make your stomach less stretchy.9 This means that you feel full sooner and will want to eat less.
There are lots of tricks that you can follow to break the habit of loading up with too much food. Try drinking a glass of water 30 minutes before your meal so that your stomach fills up with water and you “feel full.” Eating slowly and putting your fork down between bites can also help achieve a similar goal. You may also find that you are satisfied with less food if you simply eat from a smaller plate.
One reason why people fall back into bad food habits is that they assume that going on a “health kick” is a temporary change. It is not. If you want to live a healthy lifestyle, you need to make changes and stick to them. That does not mean that you have to deprive yourself, however. You can enjoy a healthy lifestyle and still indulge in pizza, burgers, candy, and other treats. The trick is to make sure that they are treats.
It becomes a lot easier to eat responsibly once you start taking the stance that you can eat anything you fancy in moderation. Rather than binge eating because you fear you won’t be able to eat that delicious snack again for a long time, you can simply eat a small amount now and save the rest knowing you can have more at another time.
That one simple change to how you think about food can make a huge difference to your day-to day-habits and happiness levels. If you know you can eat whatever you want, but that some choices are better than others, the good choices won’t feel like deprivation. Instead, they will feel like an investment in the future. You will be able to enjoy the benefits of a healthy lifestyle—a clear head, better mood, and better overall wellbeing. And, you can still be social and go out for treats with friends or have a slice of cake or pizza at work.
Forming good food habits takes repetition over a long period of time. If you make a few bad food choices along the way, don’t just give up. Accept that one bad decision and get back to work. This will help you avoid going off track and give you a better chance of long-term success.
Photo credits: ChrisBence/shutterstock.com, SedovaY/shutterstock.com, JoseLuisStephens/shutterstock.com, Lightspring/shutterstock.com