hamburgerIt is difficult to have a healthy relationship with food in this culture. We are invited to consume food of every kind by every media source on a 24-hour basis. The sale of cookbooks and gourmet items has sky rocketed in tandem with warnings about the health hazards of overeating and the nationwide crisis of obesity. A recent study raises the question of whether billboard Ads make people fat!

Many of us try to “ eat healthy” by adhering to a list of healthy foods only to find that the list keeps changing. Even more have stories of diets tried and failed–ranging from no carbs to no meats, to grapefruits, to eating by blood type.

While most of us love food, we often hate what we do with it or what it does to us. When you add personal histories, the plot thickens and the urge to give up and stay unconscious about what we are eating increases.

A Simple Step

In reality, while the goal to healthy eating is this culture is not easy–it is not impossible. Change of any type becomes more likely when we simplify the plan and make success possible. One simple first step is to recognize the roadblocks that sabotage most people’s efforts to eat less or to eat in a more healthy way. Once informed we are a step closer to motivation and mastery.

The Roadblocks:

Convenience

  • While the causes for overeating or eating problems are complex and personal, research finds that one factor that bears on most people’s eating is convenience.
  • Be it at home, at work, on a plane or at a wedding, if it is convenient– we are more likely to eat it.
  • In A Pew Research telephone survey most people reported convenience as their reason for eating junk food.
  • Food researcher, Brian Wansink found that the farther away a candy dish was from the secretaries’ desks, the less they ate– a difference reflected in 225 extra calories a day. In the debriefing, the secretaries revealed that the longer the distance, the more time to talk themselves out of eating another piece!

 A little inconvenience can reduce a lot of eating.

Visibility

  • You have probably heard comedians say they are on the “See Food” diet–eating everything they see.
  • In reality, they are correct. Research reveals that visible foods trigger eating in a way that is difficult to resist. Neurochemically, the anticipation of food trips secretions that add to our craving and our overeating.

Hide the candy and put out the fruit in a glass bowl!

Multi-Tasking Equals Multi-Eating

  • In our continued attempt to multi-task, we pay a price-especially when it comes to eating. Because we eat in front of TV’s, computers, while texting, working at our desks and talking on the phone, we eat without focus.

One woman who frequently spoke on the phone while grabbing something to eat, reported that the trail of wrappers, crumbs and containers were often the only indication of her eating. She hardly remembered eating, much less feeling satisfied.

  • Anything that takes our focus off the food makes us more likely to overeat or eat poorly because we are eating in a mindless way.

The value of those advocating Mindful Eating, is an invitation to take the time for focus on food. Be it the shake you are having for breakfast or the twenty-minute lunch you purposely take away from technology, a routine to actually experience eating will be more filling and fueling.

Sleep Matters

The next time I am staring into the refrigerator at midnight, I need one of the milk cartons to say –”You don’t need to eat–You need to sleep.”

  • A frequently overlooked obstacle to healthy eating is lack of sleep.
  • A study measuring the brain activity of healthy, normal weight adults aged 22-26 found that a lack of sleep causes brain signaling to significantly increase in areas associated with food acquisition.
  • We need food to survive. When we are tired, our cells think we need more energy, which triggers a powerful subconscious urge to eat.
  • When we don’t sleep enough, cravings related to addiction and reward come in to play.
  • Even in children, lack of sleep is associated with weight gain.

Are you famished or fatigued?

  • Be mindful of your body states by deciding if you are really hungry or really tired.
  • Managing you sleep by aiming at 7-8 hours of sleep time will help regulate eating.
  • If you know you have gotten too little sleep or your sleep will be disrupted, be prepared to eat protein and high-energy foods to stave off your hungry need for energy and catch up on sleep as soon as you can.

The Influence of Others

  • There is hardly a culture or a person that does not seek and savor the opportunity to share food with others. For most, it is central to their family and social connections. As such, it is understandable that both friends and family have an influence on our consumption norms and expectations.

 Consider breaking the family’s “ clean plate rule” or replacing the family’s use of ice cream as a stress reducer.

  • Researchers found that having a friend who is gaining weight makes you 57% more likely to do so yourself. Professors Fowler and Christakis reporting on social contagion suggest that consciously or unconsciously, people use what others are eating as a gage for themselves-be it the oversized fries or the chocolate dessert.

The occasional evening of food and fun may be well worth having. Being swept into mindless overeating and overdrinking is physically and emotionally costly.

The more aware you are of your own body as a gage for what you want and need, the more present and secure you will feel as you enjoy sharing a meal with family and friends.

Recognizing the roadblocks to healthy eating is a step that may activate you motivation,  increase your mastery and improve your relationship with food.

 







    Last reviewed: 13 Mar 2013

APA Reference
Phillips, S. (2013). A Simple Step to Improve Healthy Eating: Recognize the Roadblocks. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/2013/03/a-simple-step-to-improve-healthy-eating-recognize-the-roadblocks/

 

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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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