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Why do we eat the unhealthy foods?

Diets don’t work – at least not forever. I believe that long-term weight loss can only be achieved by changing to healthy food and increasing the amount of regular exercise. Even those not wishing to lose weight can benefit from reviewing the food they eat and substituting more healthy options wherever necessary. For weight loss clients, making major changes to their eating habits (what and how they eat) can mean sustainable weight loss without feelings of hunger and deprivation.

However, working with clients (and reviewing my own food intake!) highlights the problems many of us have with cutting out our ‘favourite” unhealthy foods - so why is that? There are many possible reasons and rarely just one single reason. For me, carbohydrates are a major problem. Bread and other wheat products tend to make me feel mentally and physically sluggish yet there are times when I crave them. This may be that my body (or more likely brain) is telling me that I actually do need them but there are other reasons that apply to all types of food and most people:

  • I believe that there is a level of addiction going on and have personally been told by a doctor that I am a ‘carboholic’!
  • ‘Treat’ eating is often habitual and certain foods can be associated with:
    • A particular time of day
    • A particular mood – sad, angry, happy, excited – it doesn’t have to be a negative feeling
    • Reward - often originating in childhood. The sweets for being ‘a good girl’ fairly easily translate into the glass of wine/ cup of tea and biscuits after a hard day at work (the adult version probably also comes under the previous two categories so there is a triple hit!)
  • Lack of time/energy to plan and shop in advance so a healthy meal is replaced by what’s in the fridge/cupboard (which may only be crisps and chocolate!) or a take away.
  • Eating without noticing. Food does more than satisfy hunger and we don’t get the ‘I’m full’ message until 20 minutes after eating. Eating in front of the computer or TV, while reading or checking Facebook means the food is often gone before we realise we’re eating…so we eat more. It helps to:
    • Focus solely on what we are eating
    • Take time to enjoy the colour, texture and aroma of our food before we even start.
    • Eat small mouthfuls and chew them slowly to allow out taste buds and noses to really get the flavours.
    • Take time between mouthfuls to allow our stomach the opportunity to tell us when we are comfortably full.
    • Allow eating to be a full sensory experience rather than a fuel intake pit stop. Eating a humble (but healthy) meal like a gourmet enjoying the finest cuisine can help you to avoid or manage the urge to snack unhealthily
  • Not waiting until we’re hungry. Many of us eat to a timetable (often not from choice) and rarely feel real hunger. Others are afraid of being hungry, sometimes because they really knew hunger at some time in their lives. However, hunger helps us to get even more enjoyment from our food and sometimes what we believe to be hunger may, in fact, be thirst because most of us are not drinking enough water. Both eating only when hungry and drinking water can help manage the desire for unhealthy food
  • Skipping meals or eating late at night. Waiting until we’re hungry does not mean going from a 7am breakfast to dinner at 8/9pm without anything in between. We tend to eat more (and the unhealthy foods) when we are over hungry and tired. Also going to bed fairly soon after eating may cause poor quality sleep and the resulting tiredness affects our food choices the following day. The jury is still out about whether eating after 8pm causes increased weight gain (it does in mice but not in monkeys!) but there is a view that we do not metabolise food so well at that time.

So am I proposing cutting out favourite, if unhealthy, foods forever? Definitely not – and it would be pointless to do so. What I am suggesting is enjoying a basic healthy diet every day and then choosing limited ‘treats of your choice’. In fact, I’m told that a couple of squares of dark chocolate or a glass of red wine are still regarded as treats with health benefits! It’s a question of changing habits – swapping healthy for unhealthy food for most of the time.

If you believe that you are already eating healthily you may be right but it’s always worth keeping a food diary for a couple of weeks just to check what you REALLY are eating. I advise my clients to keep up the food diary while they are aiming to lose weight and also ask them to record how hungry they were on a scale of 1 to 10 and why they ate. The diaries can make interesting and informative reading! Finally, if you need help with dealing with any (or all!) of the above reasons for unhealthy eating then please call me on 07881620 586