Past experiences, the choices we face daily, an infinite stream of information – these are just some of the factors constantly shaping our individual psychology. Our knowledge and beliefs, in turn, greatly determine the behaviours we demonstrate.
Sometimes this paradigm works in our favour, but often it doesn’t. Constantly pushed to live on the go, jumping from one deadline to another, we often put our health aside while pursuing something seemingly more important, such as career goals or managing a family.
Add the constant overload of ads praising the latest fast food deals and picturing lean individuals indulging in chocolate and ice cream, and you are heading down for a disaster.
In his recent talk , Dr. Howard Rankin B.A., M.Phil., PhD has revealed shocking statistics, pointing out we are “in the midst of the health crisis”. Apparently, up to 70% of the American population are overweight or obese, with morbid obesity and lifestyle induced type 2 diabetes being extremely prevalent. Keep reading to find out how the United Kingdom isn’t much different.
You can watch it here and I highly recommend you do!
The United Kingdom is catching up too. The data I found from the UK on overweight and obesity among adults (defined as people aged 16 and over) are mainly from the Health Survey for England (HSE). Results for 2014 showed that 61.7% of adults were overweight or obese (65.3% of men and 58.1% of women)
Excessive weight is a serious risk factor in the development of many dangerous health conditions, and costs of extra kilos for the healthcare system are enormous.The cost of obesity to society was estimated to be almost £16 billion in 2007, which is predicted to rise to £50 billion by 2050 if obesity levels continue to rise. Therefore, we must step up and battle the obesity epidemic – one household at a time.
In this article, we will have a closer look at mind tricks that may lead to weight gain, and provide some powerful solutions to help you become the healthiest you possible.
Why Is Changing Your Eating Habits So Difficult?
What is a habit?
According to the definition, a habit is ”a usual way of behaving; something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way” . In other words, habits are our automated activities. Lacing up your running shoes, taking a common route, washing hands after using a bathroom – these are just some of the behaviours often performed without much thinking.
Forming a habit is a mechanism our brain uses to work as quickly and efficiently as possible. The patterns we repeat the most become tightly imprinted into our neural pathways, forming shortcuts by leaving out processing and analysing, and getting straight to action. This is exactly why old habits are so difficult to break, and the new ones may be extremely hard to form.
How do food habits differ?
Food is undoubtedly very important. It nourishes our bodies, providing energy and nutrients that get us through the day. Food is also an essential part of many cultures, and the process of eating has a very strong emotional component.
Just like everything else, behaviours related to food quickly form habits, which may become a part of your daily life you hardly ever notice. It’s not always possible to label such a habit “good” or “bad” without the context – for instance, indulging in blueberry muffins may not be the best option for an obese pre-diabetic middle-aged individual with a slow metabolism.
If it’s, however, the only thing a malnourished 80-year old lady is able to hold down in a day, no sane health professional will try to stop her and swap muffins for carrots.
Generally, however, it’s easy enough to separate helpful, healthy eating habits from the ones that do more harm than good. For instance, if you habitually order the same large triple cheeseburger meal from a fast food venue at every single lunch break, or munch on an entire packet of choc chip cookies in front of the TV every night, your food habits are likely, not ideal.
If your weight is definitely above the recommended limits and/or keeps steadily creeping up, your nutrition habits definitely need to be evaluated.
Simply put, your food intake is 80% of your weight management strategy, and the rest is only 20% altogether. Therefore, if you’re struggling to get rid of a few extra kilos, nutrition must be your primary focus of attention.
The bad news is eating behaviours are one of the hardest to modify. The good? Hard doesn’t mean impossible!
Is food addictive?
Considered controversial for a long time, today the concept of “food addiction” is sufficiently backed up by science.
A recent review published in Current Psychiatry Reports  confirms that in many cases, overeating behaviours related to chronic overconsumption of highly processed foods are a valid, diagnosable disorder. Food components such as refined carbohydrates, fats, and salt may trigger compulsive behaviours in people with certain genetic profiles .
The explanation lies within our physiology – for some people, consumption of certain highly palatable foods stimulates the pleasure centres of the brain, which are also responsive to addictive drugs like heroin and cocaine. This results in immediate release of “happiness hormones” such as dopamine. This prompts regular consumption of such foods to feel better, even when no hunger is present.
Restricting access to such foods may lead to mild withdrawals and anxiety – so essentially, food can become an addiction , which likely has both behavioural and physiological components .
It is important, however, to put things into perspective – caffeine addiction is also a proven phenomenon , but will anyone die after skipping their morning coffee? Probably not. So don’t use the likely extremely mild addiction to nasty foods as an excuse to ignore the unstoppable waist growth.
Common bad eating habits on the way of losing weight
No one has a 100% perfect diet – even dietitians and other health professionals indulge in doughnuts and pizzas (believe it or not!). The problems start when occasional drift-offs become harmful habits.
A registered dietitian Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, has put together a list of some of the most common bad eating habits which often sabotage weight loss . The list includes items such as:
- Overindulging in highly processed foods
- Consuming too much sugar mindlessly
- Eating to battle boredom
- Not concentrating on eating (e.g. eating on the go or in front of the TV)
All these habits are extremely common and often contribute to steady weight gain, especially when we reach our mid-thirties, and metabolism slows down considerably.
How To Change Your Mindset To Lose Weight
As we have covered before, bad eating habits may be extremely hard to modify, but at the same time, making this effort is a necessary step towards achieving optimal health. Don’t let the fear block your way; to quote Tony Robbins, a famous motivational speaker and self-help author, “See things as they are but not worse than they are. Your problems are really just invitations to step through fear.”
The 3 tips below, inspired by Tony’s philosophy, will help you break the habits and change your weight loss mindset:
- “Just do something”. Don’t expect yourself to go from daily fast food to kale smoothies overnight. Set realistic goals, such as making 2 weekly trips for fast food instead of 5, or getting smaller meals. The slow consistent approach leads to sustainable long-term results.
- Be flexible. Something in your perfect plan didn’t work? Not quite hitting your weight loss goals yet? Be flexible and set new ones to stay satisfied. Tony has something to say: “The results you get in life aren’t from one single decision, but from what you do after you make the decision.” Every person is unique, and it’s important to embrace your own dynamics.
- Find support. Tony says, “Your life is a direct reflection of the expectations of those around you.” Find a team of inspiring people to share your journey with, being that family, friends or a local park run group. Share recipes, cook healthy meals together, set goals together – and you all will get to the destination and far beyond in no time.
Hopefully, we’ve inspired you to start an exciting journey of building better, healthier eating habits and breaking the naughty ones once and for all. In conclusion, we would like to share a few final tips to set you for a good start.
- Decide why you want to make a change. Don’t pick a generic reason – think of something that truly inspires you. Want to keep up with your children? Would love to go hiking with your friends on weekends but get out of breath quickly? Is your stomach tired of greasy foods? Any reason, big or small, is good if it makes you want to get up and do the work.
- Take Action. Stop blaming your partner, your cake-eating colleagues or a Chinese restaurant next door! Take responsibility and take at least one positive step towards your goal every day, even if it’s as little as having an apple instead of cookies as a bedtime snack.
- Take the first step towards change by working with a personal trainer. Seeking professional help is an excellent investment when it comes to your health and wellbeing. A personal trainer will help you with all the components of your weight loss journey – nutrition, physical activity and goal setting. Just make sure to find the one that’s right for you!
I hope you’ve found this article informative, and with a little help from our tips you’ll achieve your weight management goals very soon!
- Rankin, H., How Balancing Your Brain Balances You. 2014: TEDxMindStreamAcademy.
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 2015.
- Carlier, N., et al., Genetic Similarities between Compulsive Overeating and Addiction Phenotypes: A Case for “Food Addiction”? Curr Psychiatry Rep, 2015. 17(12): p. 96.
- Albayrak, O., et al., . Z Kinder Jugendpsychiatr Psychother, 2015. 43(3): p. 173-81; quiz 182-3.
- Budney, A.J., et al., Caffeine Withdrawal and Dependence: A Convenience Survey Among Addiction Professionals. J Caffeine Res, 2013. 3(2): p. 67-71.
- White, D.A., Top 10 Worst Eating Habits, in Food Networks’s Heathy Eats. 2011.