Healthy Food Habits

Written on 03/09/2020
Jamie Gilliam

So many people struggle with their relationship with food. Being surrounded by food and convenient options puts us in an environment that can easily overtake us.  We need to be aware and think carefully about what we put into our bodies. However, there's a fine line between thinking carefully about what we put into our bodies and obsessing over it or restricting it dangerously. 

Whether our particular issue is emotional eating, binge eating, disordered eating or we just can't seem to get a handle on the whole nutrition thing, we can all stand to learn a few things about managing our nutrition and being in control without being OCD with food. Check out some things to think about below: 

1. Eat Mindfully.
Our body has some pretty significant built-in cues to tell us when to eat -- and when to stop eating. But we're not always listening. The practice of engaging all of our senses to guide our eating-related decisions is called mindful eating, Mindful eating can help us acknowledge our response to food without getting into judgement.  Basically, listen to your body and pay attention to how it reponds to what you put into it.  One of the biggest problems many people face is the signals from your brain saying, "I'm full," are shut down.  Often, this stems from infancy and early childhood with learned behaviors taught by parents and caregivers.  Bottlefeeding until the entire bottle was finished, requiring the entire plate of food to be eaten prior to desserts, rewarding kids with food...these are all actions that cause kids from a young age to ignore the "I am full" feeling.  The signal simply stops working.  However, mindful eating is a start to retraining your brain to fire that signal and communicate with your body what it needs and when it needs it.  

2. Everthing in Moderation.


No food is forbidden. Foods are not intrinsically 'good' or 'bad.'" French Fries are just French Fries. Morality attached to food may stem from the fact that some religions do have prohibitions when it comes to food. Most likely it stems from the diet industry conditioning society to believe foods are good or bad and that we are good or bad based on what temptations we do or do not "give into". 

An affirmation you can speak daily to help you retrain your thought process about your nutrtion is: "'Eating is a chance for me to nourish and nurture my being."  What many of us tend to say to ourselves is something like: "I have to eat this way or those foods or I am a failure." So much begins with changing your thought process. 

3. Timing has to be right.
If you do decide you're in the mood for fries or pizza or chocolate, enjoy your pick at a time when you're not hungry for a full meal, so you don't overdo it. If you're starving and then you're confronted with a favorite food, you'll consume a lot more of it,  This has been proven time and time again. For example, If you have it for dessert (which I recommend you cut back on calories within your meal if you go for the dessert), you already had your meal, your tummy is full, you can really appreciate that chocolate without going overboard. 

4. Eat When Physically Hungry.
Emotional eating is typically to soothe unpleasant emotional arousal. We get upset or anxious, which causes a hormone response, and we want food and lots of it. That hormone response also causes us to crave high calorie, high fat foods.  We end up overeating in food and in calories.  

When we use food to try to soothe an emotion,  we mask what that emotion is trying to teach us, and instead replace it with regret or guilt for eating whatever we grabbed.

If you tend to overeat when stressed, drink a full glass of water when you feel it coming on.  Then, opt for healthier options that still satisfy your cravings.  I tend to go for air popped popcorn when I feel the stress munchies coming. You can also go for a walk or do some kind of activity that gets you moving.  

5. Stop Eating When Comfortably Full.
Hunger and satiety both start off small and grow bigger and louder. Some of us don't hear hunger or fullness until it's screaming in our ears. But being more tuned-in while eating can help us "hear" better as well. Mindfulness is saying, 'I'm going to listen harder to my hunger and hear it when it's not yelling at me, and I'm going to listen harder to my fullness so it's not yelling at me [either]." Both hunger and fullness change after every bite, so eating slowly while enjoying your food...then listening in can help you find the level of fullness where it's comfortable for you to stop eating, she says.

6. Eat Breakfast.

Studies show that breakfast eaters have more energy, better memories and lower cholesterol. They also feel healthier overall and are typically leaner than their peers who don't eat a morning meal. I believe this is largely due to starting your day off with a healthy meal leaves your more satisfied throughout the day and helps ward off binge eating and overeating in the evenings. Starting your day with a healthy, balanced breakfast with proteins, fats and carbs and not high in sugar is the key to healthy eating.

7. Don't Keep Problematic Foods In The House. 
Once you know your specific patterns of emotional eating, you can take small steps to redirect them. One strategy is no longer keeping a particularly tempting food in the house, so you'd have to leave home to get a taste. If, for example, you really love ice cream, rather than having it sitting in the freezer calling your name, go out for a kids cone once or twice a week. I know this is difficult if you have small kids and teenagers in the house, but honestly.....you should be teaching them to grab a piece of fruit or healthy snack as much as possible and to save the treats for special trips once or twice a week. 

8. Don't Sit Down With the Entire Bag. 
Hitting up your local ice cream shop also has the benefit of providing your treat in a single serving size. If you have a cup or a cone you know when you're finished, as opposed to sitting there having one spoonful after another straight out of the carton. Buying single-serving packages of your favorite chips or cookies can also help, he says, as can simply serving yourself in a cup or bowl rather than sitting down with a whole family-size bag of chips.

9. Know the Difference Between a Snack and a Treat.
Letting yourself get too hungry is a recipe for overeating -- especially those foods you most want to keep to smaller portions. Snacking is a smart way to make sure you're not ravenous come dinnertime. But snack choice is crucial to both keeping you full and keeping your healthy eating plans on track. A treat is purely for enjoyment, while a snack is something you eat between meals to stave off hunger. Nuts, fruit, veggies, a protein shake, etc. could be a good snack.....but chocolate? Chocolate is a treat.

10. Give Yourself Permission to Enjoy Eating.

These tips aren't plausible if we don't make time to value our relationships with food. So many times we forget to take the time to eat, and eating does take time. Look ahead at your day and make sure you have enough time carved out to eat, rather than plan to scarf something down in the three minutes you have between afternoon meetings. We make it three minutes, and that may feed you, but does it nourish you? And it's not about feeling guilty for missing something else by making time to eat. It's about truly believing we are worth sitting down and eating food.  We are able to take time to enjoy the foods we eat that nourish our bodies. 

11. Don't make up for a meal.
When we find ourselves feeling guilty about a food choice, there's this instinct to make up for it by either overdoing it at the gym or being very restrictive at the next meal. Instead, think of this process as a more subtle "balancing out". People with healthy relationships to food will have a lighter meal later in the day if they decide to indulge at brunch, for example, but they won't restrict that later meal so much so that they end up binging later because they've made themselves excessively hungry. You can balance out slowly over the course of a week, but you can't make up within the same day. 

12.  Don't Eat For a Number on the Scale.
Ideally, we'd all eat what makes us feel good. We'd pick the foods that gave us energy to fuel our daily activity, and we'd avoid foods that, say, gave us indigestion, regardless of how good they tasted, rather than restructuring our eating plans to make the number on the scale change. I, myself, and many people have gone to unhealthy extremes to see a number decrease on the scale.  Your goal should be to nourish your body as much as possible with foods and movement vs. being fixated with a number on a scale. 

13. Don't Be Afraid to Feel Hungry.
One of the most restrictive patterns of thought I see among clients is a fear of eating too much and consequently gaining weight. People who have a sense of what their body needs and eat mindfully and intuitively when they can, they're not as afraid of their hunger. What's there to be afraid of? If you get hungry, you just eat something. 

14. Don't Let Your Diet Interfere With Your Life.

After a long list of rules and habits like the above, even the healthiest eaters might feel a little overwhelmed. The key to taking in all this advice healthfully is remaining balanced. Being too rigid, restrictive or strict about nutritious eating can also cause problems, including disordered thoughts or behavior that could be classified as orthorexia. Scheduling a date with the gym is one thing; scheduling a date three evenings in a row when your best friend is visiting from out of town and you don't make any time to see her may raise red flags. If you're missing out on normal social engagements or sleep in order to maintain a certain lifestyle, you need to re-evaluate your relationship with food.  Take a deep breath and understand that balance is key and is what works long-term for life. 

Happy Eating!