Food: everybody loves it, and almost everyone has some sort of struggle with keeping a proper diet. The challenging thing about food is it offers so many things to us, and we all have our own habits when it comes to what we eat. Comfort is one big thing that nutrition brings us, as it makes us feel good in many ways. Food also gives us a chance to be social. Sharing recipes, or bringing a dish to pass has been a part of social culture forever. Food is essential for our survival, which is why it can be so hard for most of us to look at it objectively instead of subjectively.
We all have a certain relationship with food and look at nutrition in our own ways. Most of the time food has an emotional tie to it, which can alter the way you view your nutritional choices. The majority determine their nutritional choices by the way a certain food tastes to them, or by an emotional response a certain food may have in the body. However, the best way to view food is by listening to your body, instead of your mind.
Nutritional choices should be determined by the way certain foods make you feel after eating them, not emotionally, but how they make you feel physically. After eating, do you feel sluggish, have a stomach ache, and are hungry an hour later? Or when you eat, do you feel energized, replenished, and content for hours after?
The way foods make you feel, and the sustenance they provide you, tells us so much about what foods are good or bad for you specifically. Often, we make nutrition overly complicated, each diet having its own “secrets” of what foods to eat, and what foods not to eat. It gets even more challenging when each diet has opposing viewpoints, and each “expert” has their own idea of what foods will bring you to the promise land, and which foods will bring you to your demise.
To make things simpler, we should all look at food by the way it makes our body feel. If you feel tired, sick, and hungry, then what you are eating is not the right choice for you. On the contrary, if you feel great, full of energy, and ready to conquer the day, then odds are your food choices are great for you. Ultimately, your nutritional habits will determine the way you feel, and will physically determine the person you become. There is a multitude of habits when talking about nutritional choices. A few important ones to consider are cravings, snacking and comfort foods, as well as food preparation habits.
We all get them, and they can be seriously hard to ignore. When dealing with cravings, it is important to understand why you are wanting a certain food, as well as understand the difference between a craving and hunger. Hunger is your body telling you nutrition is needed in the near future – it is a mechanical stimulation in the body. On the contrary, cravings are your body communicating with you, and telling you that you could be lacking something in your diet.
Sometimes, cravings can mean you are lacking a certain vitamin or mineral, and it is your body saying, “I need more of blank”. However, cravings can be misleading, and not actually satisfy the nutritional deficiency. For example, a craving that is common for people is craving chocolate. It has been found that the craving for chocolate has been linked with a nutritional deficiency in magnesium. Eating chocolate will not solve the nutritional deficiency, but raw cacao, whole grains, beans, nuts, or certain greens and fruits could. It is important to look at your cravings objectively, instead of subjectively. Meaning, don’t let your nutritional deficiencies guide you into making poor food choices with low nutritional value. Instead, recognize these cravings, and use healthy foods to void the gap in your nutrition, to avoid the harmful cravings we all get.
A link to an article discussing what common food cravings can tell you about your nutritional deficiencies, written by Ben Greenfield, can be found below.
This is another nutritional habit that can be hard to break or improve upon. There are several types of snacking, both good and bad. Good snacking can be having a small, healthy snack between meals. Healthy snacking might look like a Greek yogurt between breakfast and lunch, or a handful of almonds to get you through that mid-afternoon hunger rush. There is also unhealthy snacking, or mindless snacking.
Mindless snacking is a very common habit that many people struggle with. Snacking can be mindless, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t underlying reasons for the behavior. Often, mindless snacking can be linked with our emotions. Boredom is one very common cause of snacking. How many times have you been on the couch watching TV, when all of the sudden the thought pops in your head, “I need something to eat, maybe I will go get some potato chips.” Most of the time, you are not actually hungry, but bored. Food makes us feel good, and snacking is something we can do when we aren’t busy, as it will make us busy.
Simple things you can do to avoid mindless eating are doing things with your hands, such as drawing or coloring, crafting, or playing games. So, be conscious when you are bored, and think “Am I actually hungry, or am I just bored?” Put down the pretzels, drink some water, and get busy.
Another emotion that can cause snacking is sadness or feeling down. When we are sad we look for anything that can make us feel comfortable, and often that comfort is food. “Emotional eating” is a common problem with people that are overweight. Many times, a past trauma in their life is underlying their nutritional choices. The subconscious can even be responsible for emotional eating when we are not even aware of it. This type of eating becomes a habit, and often we go for “comfort foods”. Comfort foods can trigger an emotional response that brings us closer to a past memory. Maybe it is a dish that your mom made when you were a kid or a feeling you had when you were eating a certain type of food. Controlling emotional eating can be challenging, but the most important part is to recognize the “hunger” or “craving” as emotionally driven.
Realizing that your emotions are making you feel hungry is the first step in changing your habits for the better. When you feel this emotional draw towards food, action needs to take place other than eating. Writing in a journal, and acknowledging the emotions felt is important. Understand what triggered the emotions and try to break it down to its core. Instead of running from the emotion with food, face it head on and try to conquer the urge to eat.
Snacking and emotional eating is a very hard habit to break. The thing about breaking a habit is it takes one step at a time. A small victory like recognizing why you have a craving or what emotion is causing you to want food is the first step to breaking the habit. Replace bad snacking habits with good ones, instead of chips, eat almonds. Have healthy snacks on hand, and hide or get rid of the bad ones. Small changes in your habits lead to huge changes in your health. Consistency and effort will get you further than anything else. So, try and keep trying, and soon you will have better habits when it comes to snacking.
Maybe it’s lack thereof food preparation is another huge thing that determines success with nutrition and overall health. Food prep is scary and overwhelming for so many people, but I assure you it can be easy. The hardest part about food prep is just forming the habit. Once you’ve got that down, the options are endless. Food prep allows consistency and structure when deciding what to eat. It is always hard to make healthy choices when you are starving, which is why you might want to eat everything in sight. Food prep will definitely help when it comes to making choices, especially when you are hungry. Instead of choosing to grab something quick from the drive-thru after a long day of work, it is much easier to know you have a pre-made meal waiting for you when you get home.
Many people get frightened by the idea of meal prep. They think they will only be eating out of plastic tubs, chicken and broccoli and quinoa galore. This is a huge misconception. Once you start meal prepping, you can turn the meals into anything you want. Easy ways to start prepping meals is just cooking more at once. Instead of making meat for dinner that night, prepare meat for the next three days instead. Buy foods in bulk instead of single servings. Preparing more at once will make cooking less frequent, and give you healthy options that are already to go. Another easy way to start prepping is pre-slicing or pre-preparing foods such as vegetables. By simply slicing all your vegetables for the week at once, it will make it much easier for you to use them in each meal. Using a pair of kitchen shears makes this job even easier.
A great idea for prepping without getting bored of the same foods is by making a large number of base foods, that you can spice up and prepare differently each day. An easy option would be to prepare pre-cooked and sliced chicken breast and pre-cut peppers. With just these two ingredients you can make an endless list of healthy meals, such as chicken tacos, chicken fajitas, salads, soups, and basically anything else you could think of. Getting into the habit of having healthy options on hand will give you more structure with your diet, more time with the rest of your day, as well as make it easier to avoid going out to eat and making bad choices. Block out time every three days or once a week, and prepare some food. It is easy and fun, especially when you put on a TV show or a podcast you like. Get your family to help you out, this is a great opportunity to teach your kids how to cook, get your significant other to do more with you, and create good habits for everyone.
Creating healthy nutrition habits can be intimidating. Finding where to start, what to eat, and how to stay motivated makes us all nervous. But, just like any good habit, it just takes the first step to get the ball rolling. Nobody loses or gains weight in a day. It takes weeks, months, or years to gain or lose weight, just like it takes the same amount to gain or lose good eating habits. Education is an easy way to start improving those habits. With all the information available to us today, there is no excuse for being ignorant to what your body needs. Talk to friends who have good eating habits, consult with professionals, and do your own research. Listen to your body: what foods make you feel good, and which ones make you feel like crap? Balance is key when making nutritional changes. It is ok to have bad foods once in a while; it keeps us sane.
The way you feel after eating bad foods again when you haven’t in a while will make you remember why you started eating healthy in the first place. One step at a time, you can make a difference in your own health, and you can make a change for yourself. Don’t think about going on a diet, focus on changing your way of thinking, developing a lifestyle that allows you to be healthy, as well as enjoying the things you enjoy about life. Take this article and run with it, because you are the only person that is going to make a difference in your habits.