And Why Is It So Hard To Switch To Healthier Eating Habits?
The short answer to the question posed is: evolution and marketing. But the solution is easier than it used to be: Personalized nutrition = no tracking calories and macros by yourself!
We will return to that later.
- On the one hand, our environment often makes it difficult – salt and sugar are everywhere and are addictive. Processed food is, by and large, toxic – but it can satiate our hunger quickly.
- On the other hand, it’s usually hard to know what exactly you have to change when you don’t even want to in the first place – different diets offer different methods and purportedly seek the same solution: weight loss.
- Finally, bad habits are simply hard to break, because we are literally wired on a desire / reward axis.
The key central point is number 2. How do you actually know what’s best for your body? Science shows us that diets, like your overall health requirements, are not 1-size-fits-all.
Plus, you might never make a habit out of something you don’t enjoy, unless you feel compelled to adapt – for example, with Keto.
Gary Taubes argues persuasively in his book the Case for Keto that people who are prone to the metabolic disorder of excess fat accumulation must embrace Keto even though it means the entire carbohydrate food group is off-limits.
We will cover slightly different ground here and advise in particular on the one tool that could aid your health goals and implementation much better LINK.
What We Can Control: Our Biology And Our Habits
But not necessarily our environment.
Most habits are extremely hard to change because they have become part of our character through endless repetition. We will never be able to change those habits until we realise its bad and need to do something about it.
We just need to realize, appreciate and enjoy that we have healthy alternatives.
But let’s face it: The odds are stacked against a healthy diet:
- Unhealthy foods (high in sugar or salt, high in fat and calories) are addictive, while healthy food is not. To maintain good eating habits requires will power and discipline (difficult to maintain during emotional stress). Changing unhealthy food habits is comparable to a smoking cessation program.
- Advertising is mostly for unhealthy foods
There is no advertising budget for a vegetarian diet. Food companies and restaurants are generally interested in profit maximization, but not in the health of their customers.
- Keeping good eating habits is difficult because most convenient and cheap food is unhealthy.
For instance, eating a healthy vegetarian diet outside of your home is a great challenge and expensive, while fast food restaurants with cheap hamburgers and french fries are found at every corner.
And whenever you set serious restrictions on yourself – not eating until lunch or a ban on chocolate, it usually backfires; most people inevitably break down.
But what if, instead of looking at the negatives, you focus on the positives?
This means allowing yourself to indulge in healthy foods and forgetting all the clickbait “10 Reasons why fruit is bad for you” nonsense, because once you learn to switch from donuts, pie and chocolate to yogurt, salmon, and avocado, it is far easier to just cut those out.
You have to see it not as limiting yourself, but improving yourself. Addition, not subtraction.
For instance, you aren’t saying “Only one chicken wing because the batter is full of fat and salt” you’re saying “Extra blueberry because it’s a delicious source of antioxidiants and makes me feel younger”
Going straight to a 200 calorie, heavy exercise diet will not yield long-term results: what will provide results is:
- optimizing your unique metabolism and
- habit-changing lifestyle adjustments.
Effects Of Unhealthy Eating Habits
However, we are fighting one of the most evolutionarily-conserved learning processes currently known in science, one that’s conserved back to the most basic nervous systems known to humankind.
This reward based learning process is called positive and negative reinforcement and basically goes like this, according to Judson Brewer in The Craving Mind:
We see some food that looks good. Our brain says, ”Calories! Survival!”
We eat the food, we taste it, it tastes good. And especially with sugar, our bodies send a signal to our brain that says ‘Remember what you’re eating and where you found it.”
We internalize this context-dependent memory and learn to repeat the process next time. ‘See food, eat food, feel good, repeat.’ : Trigger, behaviour, reward. Simple.
But after a while our creative brains say, you know what, you can use this for more than just remembering where food is. You know, next time you feel bad, why don’t you try eating something good, so you’ll feel better.”
We quickly learn that if we eat ice cream or chocolate when we are sad or mad, we feel better. So – same process, just a different trigger.
Instead of a hunger signal, we are responding to an emotional signal – feeling sad – triggers that urge to eat.
So with these same brain processes, we’ve gone from learning to survive to literally killing ourselves with these habits.
How To Minimize Bad Eating Habits
What if instead of fighting our brains or trying to force ourselves to pay attention we instead tapped into this natural, reward-based learning process – but added a twist? Instead we got curious about what was happening in our momentary experience? No forcing, just curiosity. Really taste the food. Slowly. See how it makes you feel. Feel what it is doing to your body, how you are responding to it.
When we get curious, we step out of our old fear-based reactive habit patterns. Notice the urge, get curious, feel the joy of letting go, and repeat.
Studies have also shown that goals are easier to reach if they’re specific (“I’ll walk 20 minutes a day,” rather than “I’ll get more exercise”) and not too numerous (having too many goals limits the amount of attention and willpower you can devote to reaching any single goal).
Another recurring theme is that it’s not enough to have a goal: You also need practical ways to reach it.
For example, if your goal is to stick to a low-calorie diet, have a plan in place for quelling hunger pangs (for example, keep a bottle of water or cup of tea nearby, or chew sugarless gum).
Research has also produced models that help account for success and failure, and explain why making healthy changes can take so long.
What is key to remember is that any effort you make in the right direction is worthwhile, even if you encounter setbacks or find yourself backsliding from time to time.
At this stage, you know you must change, believe you can, and are making plans to change soon — say, next month.
You’ve joined a health club, bought a recipe book and added a key tool to your arsenal LINK
At this stage, it’s important to anticipate potential obstacles. If you’re preparing to cut down on alcohol, for example, be aware of situations that provoke unhealthy drinking, and plan ways around them.
If work stress triggers end-of-day drinking, plan to take a walk when you get home. If preparing dinner makes you want a snack, plan to have carrot sticks lying around – for example.
At the same time, create a realistic action plan with achievable goals. If you’ve been sedentary and want to exercise more, start by making it your goal to avoid using the elevator or just walking 20 minutes per day.
Then you work your way up to more ambitious goals.
At this stage, you’ve changed and you’ve begun to experience the challenges of life without the old behavior. You’ll want to practice the alternatives you identified during the preparation stage.
At this stage, it’s important to be clear about your motivation; if necessary, write down your reasons for making the change and read them every day. Some people benefit from “self-talk” to boost resolve.
Once you’ve practiced the new behavior change for at least six months, you’re in the maintenance stage. Now you’re working to integrate the changes into your life. That may require other changes, especially avoiding situations or triggers associated with the old habit. It can be tough, especially if it means steering clear of certain activities or friends while you work to fully assimilate your new, healthier habit.
How To Optimize Your Metabolism and Stop Counting Calories
First you need to understand your metabolism . And how that works generally.
Your metabolism is just the sum of all biochemical processes that take place within you – including breathing, fat storage, muscle building, digestion, and circulation of the blood. Your metabolic rate is the rate at which our body burns calories, whether at rest or during exercise. Metabolic rate can be influenced by food consumption, exercise, the temperature of our surroundings, age, sex, gender, emotional state, hormone levels, etc.
In short, it’s complex and more importantly, unique to you.
This is the tool that can teach you about your metabolic health and make meal planning easy to understand and maintain, as long as you’re willing to make it a part of your daily routine. Instead of just telling you to eat a certain thing and work out a certain number of days, it explains how your body reacts to your diet.
And that is not just useful – it also satisfies the curiosity component we discussed above. It’s actually extremely revealing – and fascinating.