Nobody’s perfect. Especially when it comes to eating habits. Every single one of us has a nutritional Achilles heel that can derail us from our healthy diets. It is important to recognize what your food triggers are and come up with strategies for staying strong in the face of temptation. Here are some common bad eating habits and some ways to resist the urge to over-indulge.
The Speed Eater
Do you find yourself looking down at a clean plate and barely remembering what you just ate? Do you hardly taste the food that goes into your mouth because you are wolfing it down so quickly? Eating too quickly is a bad habit for a few reasons. When you gulp down your food, you are often gulping down excess air as well. This can lead to bloating and gas pains. Also, it takes your brain a good 15 to 20 minutes to get the signal from your stomach that you are full. If you eat too rapidly, you may find yourself overeating because you haven’t yet realized you are actually full. In addition, your body relies on saliva to begin the process of breaking down food. If the food you eat is in your mouth for too short a time, your digestive tract will be forced to pick up the slack and you may experience indigestion.
The fix: Slow down! Focus on chewing each bite of food and take note to actually taste what you are eating. Count to 25 with each bite you take. Chew your food until it has broken down completely in your mouth. Research shows that people who increased their number of chews with each bite ate approximately 15% less at each meal.
The Breakfast Skipper
For many breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Breakfast provides us with fuel to start our day and gives our metabolism a jump start. It also prevents us from over-eating later in the day. Many people still find it difficult to take the time to eat a healthy breakfast each morning. For some, they complain that their bodies aren’t hungry in the morning. For others, it is the frenetic hustle to get out the door in the morning that prevents them from grabbing a quick breakfast. Whatever the reason, you are doing your body a disservice by skipping this meal.
The fix: Plan ahead. Come up with some on-the-go options that appeal to you. There are many high-protein, low-sugar breakfast bar options on the market that come a variety of flavors. Greek yogurt with fresh fruit is another light and energy-packed breakfast that you can take with you and eat at your desk. If the thought of a breakfast ‘meal’ turns your stomach, consider a small bag of almonds or a piece of fruit.
The Emotional Eater
This is a huge one. So many people use food as a pick me up when they are upset, angry or depressed. And it actually works. Temporarily. When you reach for that bag of pretzels or that box of cookies, your body turns those carbohydrates into tryptophan. The brain uses this amino acid to manufacture serotonin. Serotonin will boost your mood, but when that tryptophan wears off, you will experience a sharp drop in mood which can leave you feeling worse than you felt before you indulged.
The fix: Take a minute to think about why you are eating. Ask yourself if you are truly hungry or if the food you are about to put in your mouth is a source of comfort. If you find you are using food as a coping mechanism, consider finding some healthier options. Music is a mood-booster for many people. Crank up your favorite tunes and have an impromptu dance party in your living room. Get a change of scenery and some fresh air by stepping outside for a walk. Pick up the phone and call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Learning how to overcome emotional eating is an important and empowering lesson that will serve you well on your quest for a healthy lifestyle.
The Take-Out Queen or King
You are always on the go. Your day starts at the crack of dawn and does not end until late at night. You spend hours in your car, shuffling between work, after-school activities and play-dates. So, when you get hungry, the easiest solution is fast food. It’s quick, inexpensive and virtually everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s usually really bad for you. Most quick-service restaurants are packed with calories, fat and chemicals. Even the ‘healthy’ menu options come with high-calorie salad dressings and toppings such as bacon bits and croutons. It should come as no surprise that studies have shown that these foods actually have addictive properties that keep us wanting more.
The fix: Build time in your day for meals. Add a ‘to do’ on your calendar that says ‘Lunch Break’, ‘Healthy Snack’ or ‘Dinner Time’. Spend Sunday afternoon preparing and packing healthy snacks and lunches so you don’t find yourself resorting to fast food as an option. Look at your schedule the night before and figure out when you will have a chance to sit down for 15 minutes the following day and eat your food.
The Sugar Fiend
Your go-to snack is a bag of M&M’s and you can never resist the jumbo sized Kit Kat at the movie theater. When you feel yourself crashing at 2pm, you reach for an Oreo….or 5. Sugar is an addiction, like any other. Your body will crave it and you may feel physical symptoms such as headaches and lethargy when you skip a day or two of eating it. Snacks loaded with sugar are also loaded with empty calories. Candies and cookies rarely have any nutritional value and that energy surge you get after downing a soda or candy bar will quickly be followed by a post-sugar crash.
The fix: Sugar-lovers know that quitting cold turkey can be almost impossible. A more realistic game plan is to reduce the amount of sugar in your daily diet. Replace high-sugar snacks with foods containing natural sugars such as dried fruits or dark chocolate. Get the sweets and sugary drinks out of your house to make it easier for you to resist temptation. Read food labels to get an accurate idea of how much sugar is actually in your favorite snacks and save the candy and cookies for special occasions.