Changing unhealthy eating behaviours can feel like an immense challenge. Sometimes we may be so focused on the end goal, that we may lose site of the benefit of simply achieving a daily or weekly goal. It is the small goals that lead us to the eventual ‘end goal’ that we are aiming for. Let us look at some basic principles that will help us to achieve a healthier eating regime.
Here are some common elements that I would initially offer a client who is seeking to change their eating behaviour:
Think about what you are buying.
We eat unhealthily not just based upon what we are thinking and feeling, but also based upon availability of the food. For example, if you stock your cupboard, fridge and freezer with food that is unhealthy, you have made that food ‘easy to reach’. This will make it harder for you to overcome a craving, for it is so easy to access the food. A helpful way to shop for food is online. Shopping in store means you come into contact with special offers, attractive packaging and food that is unhealthy but that looks so attractive to put into your shopping basket. The temptation to make an impulse buy may be hard to overcome. You may also be hungry while shopping and so you may be more inclined to put things into your shopping basket simply because your hunger pang increases your likelihood to be tempted to make a spontaneous purchase.
Shopping online is different, for you can stick to a strict list, you are less likely to come into contact with attractive packaging and special offers that influence you to touch them and also the food on the store shelves is not within your own easy reach. Above all, think about whether the food you have listed contributes to a change to healthier eating or whether it contributes to keeping you trapped in unhealthy eating behaviours. This conscious thinking about what you are doing in that moment is called ‘Mindfulness’ or ‘Mindful Thinking’.
Plan your meals.
It is generally an accepted principle to eat three meals per day, allowing yourself one or two snacks between meals. It need only take 10 minutes to plan a menu for the week ahead. Think mindfully about healthy ingredients and ensure that snacks are also healthy. There are so many healthy snacks for sale in stores now, that there really is no reason to snack unhealthily. Planning ahead means that you can easily write a shopping list and that you can avoid ad-hoc purchases that are based upon craving or temptation. Planning ahead means that you can feel in control of what is in your cupboard, fridge and freezer.
What is healthy food?
It is widely accepted that healthy food is a balanced diet of fresh ingredients, instead of processed food, that the sugar, salt and saturated fat levels within the food are low and that simple carbohydrates are also a relatively low part of your diet. Plenty of fresh vegetables are recommended.
I grow a small range of vegetables at home, which can be very satisfying. Here are some photos of the small, simple veggie patch I keep.
Where meat is concerned, the meat should also ideally not be smoked or processed; at least the intake of smoked or processed meats such as bacon, ham and sausages should be kept low, as an occasional part of diet only. We are also encouraged, here in the UK, to eat a minimum of 5 portions of fruit/vegetables each day. This figure is even higher in some other countries. My mum grew these delicious strawberries in a little pot on her patio last year, but they can easily be picked up in stores and fruit makes a great alternative to sweets.
Think also about portion size. Portion size, over time, may have grown. You may have bought a large packet of food, but that may be considered ‘family size’ or there may be an indication as to how many portions/servings the pack contains. Do not ignore that guideline. Stay aware by being mindful. Try to bring your portions back in line with the weight/size/amount described for a serving on the packaging
Consider seeing either a Nutritionist for advice on a healthy diet or you may wish to see a Dietician, who may help you create a regime for not only eating healthily but also changing eating behaviours to achieve a specific goal or to address/support a health issue. Part of a healthy eating regime includes drinking plenty of water to remain hydrated.
How to start?
A good way to start is to keep a journal and to begin to observe your eating behaviours. Think about what you buy, how you buy it and why you buy it. Keep a log of what you eat each day. What do you notice about that? Are there any patterns to unhealthy eating? Think about the times of day, the situation or circumstances in which you eat unhealthy food, think about how you are feeling or what you are thinking when you eat unhealthy food. By keeping these observations as a record in a journal; a simple way to practice mindful thinking, you will start to become aware of the things that ‘trigger’ you into eating unhealthy food.
Self-awareness then offers the opportunity to decide how to change. You could, for example, look back over your journal and decide to make one change, from unhealthy eating to healthy eating, in the following week. Once you achieve that goal, you could decide on an additional change for the week after and so on. If you experience a difficulty achieving that goal to change, you could write that down in your journal and then think about a plan to overcome that difficulty. This is where talking with a Counsellor or Psychotherapist can be helpful, particularly if the difficulty was caused by a deeper underlying matter that needs to be explored and worked through.
This is a large subject and this Blog post is simply an example of a few considerations that can help start the process of change. I do recommend further reading on the subject of changing eating behaviours, on what constitutes a healthy diet and on the services of Nutritionists and Dieticians.
(C) Dean Parsons.