We make about 200 food choices every day and the vast majority of those decisions are made unconsciously… they’re habits.
Unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look at it, our disease risk is closely linked to our diets.
That’s fortunate, if you eat a healthy balanced diet.
If not, it behooves you to break those habits.
As I see it, there are two ways that you can begin to make healthy food choices. You can either turn your unconscious food decisions into healthy ones, or you must become more thoughtful about every food choice you make.
Let's look at each of these.
First being thoughtful about every food choice you make.
That's basically what a diet is. A diet requires you to examine everything before you put it in your mouth, and decide if it is on the diet or not.
This can be very successful for part of the time. When the diet ends, which all diets do, then you go back to your regular eating habits. No real change has taken place. Even worse, your weight goes up, because if you lost weight you no longer need the same number of calories that you are in the habit of eating. Your metabolism has adjusted to your new lower body weight.
Another problem with relying on being thoughtful about every food choice is you need to use willpower. Willpower is finite. You wake up with a certain amount of willpower every morning and you use it with every decision that needs to be made throughout the day. That includes restraining yourself from losing your temper with your children, and resisting the temptation of Facebook when you have work to do.
So, not only are you attempting to use willpower to maintain your diet but you're also using willpower in your interactions with other people, and to prevent procrastination, among countless other choices you face daily.
Now let's examine the other option...
Making unconscious healthy choices
How do you do that? How can you possibly change what you eat without thinking about it?!
To be honest, at first you do have to think about it, a little bit. It involves only small, strategic changes in your food choices, one step at a time.
Small, strategic changes
For example: breakfast. Let’s say you decide you're going to start with having a healthier breakfast everyday.
So rather than having your bacon and pancakes for example you decide to start having oatmeal with fruit.
This is what I did. I cut out the refined flour I was having in pancakes or toast or boxed cereal. I changed that one habit. After a week or maybe a couple of weeks that became a habit.
Then you can change another behavior and other food choices. If you try to change too much at the same time, it becomes a diet. It won't work long term.
It may take months or even a year to change all your habits around food. It does take a lot of time to change each habit, but once they are changed, they stick. Its sustainable.
Another way to change your habits around food is to examine the thoughts that you have before you eat. When you catch yourself craving a snack, or a food that isn’t as healthy as you would like to be eating, Ask yourself if you are really hungry. And if not,
“What am I really feeling right now?”
So for example let's say mid-afternoon you have a habit of reaching for a candy bar for a snack. When you examine why you are grabbing a candy bar in the afternoon, maybe you realize it's because you're feeling sluggish.
In that case instead of getting a candy bar, since you're not really hungry, you can go for a quick walk or maybe have a laugh with a friend over the phone or in the office. Either of those activities will release hormones that will make you more alert, solving your sluggish problem. And they also have healthy bonus effects too!
Cravings are often the result of feeling bored, sad, or lonely. Clearly, food won't solve the issue.
Examine food beliefs
There are also beliefs that we have about ourselves and our relationship with food. We may not be aware of these beliefs, but we all have them. For example I always have said that I have a sweet tooth. I actually said that out loud. So when there were sweet things around I naturally wanted them.
However, now I tell myself that I like healthy foods. That I prefer fruits and vegetables over a piece of cake. In fact I do, because I like the way I feel after. I don’t feel stuffed, or slightly ill as I do after having too much of a decadent thing.
I’m not suggesting that I never eat sweets anymore. Far from it! You can indulge at times. But, the habit is broken.
Again this takes time. It is no quick fix. Quick fixes are temporary.
It may be necessary to have someone to help you. Maybe a friend, or your spouse. If you know someone else who would like to partner with you in changing their own habits, it will be much easier than going it alone. You can make it a game, and hold one another accountable.
One caveat: Keep it positive and without competition.
Or, it may take someone who's actually trained in helping people change these habits and examining beliefs. That would be a health coach.
I happen to be a health coach.
I work with women to help them finally succeed at creating a healthy lifestyle that they love, so that they can feel great in their body, have more energy, and live a long healthy life. If you have some habits you'd like to change, I'd be happy to talk to you about how coaching may be the answer you are looking for.