What we eat impacts not only our weight, but also our happiness, vitality, and longevity. Unless you continuing to revel in your college eating habits, eating healthier is probably on your to do list. And yet, when we’re looking at the menu at our favorite deli or restaurant, we often leave a choice that makes us happy in the moment, but unhappy and depleted in the long term.
Why is there such a disparity between what we want to eat and what we actually eat? The short answer? Bad habits.
Our eating habits are so deeply ingrained that now matter how hard we want to change, our lizard brain often takes over encouraging us to make the same unhealthy choice we’ve always made.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common bad habits when it comes to eating healthy.
1. Making drastic and immediate changes
We all want quick fixes, easy hacks, and instant results. We want an incredible beach body, and we want it now. We want to give up chips and soda today and replace them with salads and water today.
This is why we see so many extreme diets and workout regimens promoted in the market place. Companies make false promises playing to our base instincts. And while it’s great to harness motivation when it arises, trying to do too much too quickly is a proven recipe for burning out and falling back on your old habits that got you where you were before. When it comes to food, quick and dramatic changes almost never work.
In fact, one study showed that only 5% of people who lost weight on a diet kept the weight off for 5 years. 1
To make your diet changes work, you need to enjoy the ride and find sustainable habits because healthy eating doesn’t end once you lose that extra ten pounds or make it through your 21-day diet. To see the true benefits of healthy eating, we need to sustain our habits for months, years, and decades. This is only possible if we find joy and abundance in the foods we eat instead of crash dieting only to return to the same old routine.
Things like replacing simple carbs with complex carbs, adding more protein to your diet, or learning to make salads that you actually look forward to eating can all go a long way in helping you change your eating habits.
(P.S. if you’re incredibly serious about cutting a food group like candy or chips out of your diet, you may want to look at the Pavlok. It’s extreme, but it seems to really work)
2. Eating out and ordering in
The convenience factor makes this one of the easiest habits to fall into. Proximity and speed often trump quality when we’re looking for a quick meal. The unfortunate reality is that we often can’t be sure what we’re eating. Fat, sugar, and salt hide expertly in places we’d never expect, not to mention other additives like preservatives, colorants, and artificial flavors. Cook your own meals, and your body--and wallet--will thank you.
The best way to do this actually prepare your food in advance, when you know you’ll have time. Prepare your meals for the week on Sunday, or prepare tomorrow’s lunch the night before. That way you won’t have to worry about ordering out of convenience, you’ve got your food ready.
And if you want to take food prep out of it, you can actually sign up for a meal kit delivery service, which sends you all of the prepackaged ingredients for a meal to your door.
3. Too much sugar
Sugar use has skyrocketed in the last century, and it’s not just in candy and soda. Sugar is found in all kinds of foods whether they’re sweet, savory, or spicy. Sugar is also highly addictive and can also wreak havoc on your blood sugar, throwing off the hormones that regulate appetite.
The reason sugar is so addictive is because it spikes dopamine in our brains. However, just like a drug, we get used to one dosage of sugar, and our body craves more. Over time, long-term consumption of sugar can actually lead to a reduction in overall dopamine levels. Without sugar, people may find themselves in a mild state of depression. 2
Look at food labels and see how much sugar is in all the food you buy, even the salty items. You’ll be surprised. Also be aware that fat-free foods often contain added sugar to make up for the flavor lost when the fat is removed.
If you have a real sweet tooth, try to savor small doses of sugar, like a square of chocolate. It seems cheesy, but if you can get the same amount of pleasure out of less, your body will thank you (and if you can't, the Pavlok may be the solution)
4. Careless shopping
The grocery store is where the foundation is set for a nutritious diet. As I mentioned, making meals at home is imperative for healthy eating. But this doesn’t do you much good if your kitchen is filled with junk. When going to the store, have a list of health-supporting foods and stick to it. Planning that out in advance makes a huge difference on what you walk out of the store with.
Sometimes it’s not practical to have everything planned out on a list. In this situation, pick a couple of aisles to skip altogether. By avoiding the chip and candy aisles (there’s nothing in those aisles you really need anyway, right?) you dramatically reduce the likelihood that you’ll end up with a cupboard full of temptation. Another great way to avoid impulse buys is to eat before going to the store so you don’t shop hungry.
Another option is to actually skip the grocery store altogether by ordering your food online. By ordering online you won’t be tempted by impulse purchases as you’re walking to the checkout register, giving you the highest chance of succeeding keeping unhealthy foods out of your house.
5. Emotional eating
Food affects our mood in powerful ways. A meal can bring feelings of joy and comfort and reinforce our bonds with those we care about. Food can also be used to overcome feelings of anger, sadness, boredom, and stress. This temporary fix comes at a great cost because the underlying causes of the negative feelings remain after the good feelings from the food have subsided.
Emotional eating can compound the problem because we often pile on guilt or shame about the food we ate. This habit can also occur subconsciously and automatically. We experience some emotional trigger, and it sends us over to the pantry for some comfort in the form of chips, candy, or other damaging foods. It’s helpful to pause for a moment before indulging and asking yourself, “Am I eating this because I’m hungry or for some other reason?” If it’s the latter, take a breath, assess your emotional state, and wait a few minutes before eating to let yourself calm down.
Eating out, careless shopping, emotional eating, drastic dietary changes, and excess sugar intake are five of the most common habits stifling our goals around healthy eating. Keep your eyes open to where these creep into your life. In order to begin tackling these habits and replacing them with better ones, we first need to become aware of which ones affect us and when.