There is a large emphasis on WHAT we eat, and diet trends reflect that. Recently we have seen Whole 30, elimination diets, Keto, veganism and whole foods diets on the rise, especially as social media influencers push products related to these food trends. But how we eat, and our eating habits, can be just as important for our bodies as what we put in them. Our eating habits, from timing to portion control, say a lot about our health and wellbeing, both physically and mentally. Being conscientious about our habits is important. We might discover that we need to make a change, and changes occur when we are more aware of the fact that dietary issues often indicate deeper problems.
Here are some common eating habits and how they may be affecting your wellbeing, as well as ways to turn those habits into something good.
How Fast Do You Eat?
Are you a sprinter? Do you race to finish your food? Or maybe you linger at the table, savoring every bite. Whatever you do, how fast you eat may say something about your wellbeing, and be affecting your health. Our society glorifies speed to the point of eating competitions. But while we often think that faster is better, that isn’t the case when it comes to how we eat our food.
Unfortunately, while you may feel like quickly finishing your meal satiates your hunger, studies show that eating too quickly can lead to feeling less full, which often causes people to overeat. Eating too fast also causes more dramatic fluctuations in glucose, which can lead to insulin resistance. This trend was documented in a study done by scientists and doctors in Japan. They found that fast eaters were more likely to develop metabolic syndrome than those who ate normally, with people eating slowly showing the lowest risk. Fast eaters put on more weight, gained more around their waistline, and demonstrated higher blood glucose.
If you find you eat quickly, you may also want to take a moment to recognize what’s on your mind. You may find that you are stressed and feel pressure to do things quickly, like eat.
Fortunately, the solution to this problem is simple: eat more slowly. Take your mealtime as an opportunity to slow down and enjoy the moment as you enjoy your food. You may find that eating slower offers a moment of peace during a hectic day. Ideally, meals should take at least 20 minutes. Eating slowly can help you enjoy your meal more, lead to less overeating, and ultimately improve your weight and heart health.
Eating on the Go
If you find that you eat quickly, you probably also frequently eat on the go. Eating on the go means that food has to be ready quickly and easy to consume…which is why many people who eat while on the move end up eating junk food or fast food. If you don’t eat throughout the day and make it to dinner starving, you may be more likely to overeat.
Consider making a schedule for your meals. People who eat on a schedule have an easier time paying attention to what they eat and are more likely to make healthy choices. You may find it easier to form healthy eating habits and manage your weight. It is also just a good opportunity for a mental break. People who take time for their meals generally have a healthier relationship with food and come away from meals happier and more fulfilled.
If you have a busy schedule that requires you to eat your meals on the go, make time in your week to meal prep so that you have healthy food on hand so you can avoid reaching for unhealthy snacks or fast food.
When you eat
Speaking of scheduling, knowing when you are going to eat may help combat overeating and help you get the energy you need throughout the day. This may look different from person to person, so it is important to get to know your body and what works best for you. For some people, three meals a day does the trick. Others find that smaller meals throughout the day helps monitor portions better and keeps them more satisfied. Then there are some who have managed their weight better through intermittent fasting. However, if you find you are prone to mindless snacking scheduling your meals or practicing intermittent fasting may help curb that habit.
For some people, skipping breakfast as part of a fasting regiment may be essential to maintaining weight and managing energy levels. But for many people, skipping breakfast imposes negative consequences. The most common is that it leaves us ravenous for our next meal, leading us to overeat. Studies show that eating breakfast is important for getting the nutrients we need to get us through the day and that while it reduces the number of calories or energy we consume, it does not actually help manage weight. Breakfast eaters consume a wider variety of foods and have an overall better quality diet, while those who skip breakfast are less likely to get all the nutrients they need.
Oh, comfort foods. We all have them. However, some people eat for more than just satisfying hunger. Emotional eating is using food to fulfill an emotional need, whether it’s as a reward, or more commonly, as a way of dealing with the stress of sadness. Unfortunately, the foods people usually turn to are not healthy and are usually consumed in unhealthy amounts. Not only that, it doesn’t usually work; if anything with the originally emotional issue left unaddressed you feel worse than before, and many people feel guilty. If left unchecked, emotional eating can turn into an eating disorder.
Using food as a treat or celebration is not a bad thing. Problems arise when food becomes a primary coping mechanism instead of actually dealing with the issues we face. Some people eventually find themselves in a bad cycle of eating to deal with problems, subsequent guilt, and then more eating to deal with those negative emotions. This creates more problems and leaves the real problem unaddressed.
This can leave you feeling out of control and powerless: both in terms of your emotions and relationship with food.
You may have a problem with emotional eating if you
- Feel powerless around food
- Depend on food for comfort and relief from negative emotions
- Eat when you are bored
- Frequently eat until you have stuffed yourself
- Eat even if you are not hungry
Whereas physical hunger comes on gradually, emotional hunger comes on suddenly, and usually for a particular food. It usually leads to mindless eating. It also is not satisfying when you are full: to desire to continue eating is still there.
Emotional eating can lead to a variety of health issues, the most common being obesity. But if you find that you eat emotionally, you have a lot more than your physical health to think of. There are problem unresolved emotional triggers that need to be worked through. You may be eating because of stress or emotions that you wish to ignore (sadness, loneliness, anxiety) by eating instead.
The solution: recognize when you are eating for emotions, identify what you are feeling and find a different way to satisfy that need. If you are bored: do something active or mentally stimulating. Find another way to relax. Talk or journal about how you feel.
If it is becoming unmanageable, talk about it with your doctor and a mental health care specialist. You may benefit from the added support.
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You Are How You Eat
Managing health is all about managing your habits. It is easy to feel discouraged when you slip into bad habits, but don’t forget: good habits begin with a single, good day. It just takes a little effort and time. Your mind and body will thank you for the extra love and care, and you may find that slowing down to really enjoy what and how you eat leaves you happier and more fulfilled. Your relationship with food will change for the better!