Fist off a couple of facts that are worth bearing in mind:
- Our food provides the energy we need to go about our daily lives. Ideally our energy input (what we eat) should equal our energy output (daily activities). If we consume more than our body needs, excess energy will be stored as fat for a later date. If we consume less energy than we need our bodies will break down our fat stores.
- Our bodies must break down or digest what we eat in order to ‘extract’ the energy for our bodies to use. Some foods are easier to breakdown than others. For example, highly processed, high sugar foods such as cakes, or crisps are broken down quickly. If the energy released is not immediately required it will be stored as fat. This means you will experience an initial burst of energy, followed by a significant drop in energy levels. You will feel hungry much quicker and so the cycle continues and fat stores begin to build up. Alternatively, it takes the body much longer to break down foods such as sweet potato or porridge. This means energy is released more slowly over a longer period of time, keeping you fuller and your body fueled for longer.
I am not a nutritionist or dietitian nor am I a psychologist so I will not be delving too deeply into the issues associated with food relationships. I merely wish to shed some light on my own personal experiences and musings of my relationship with food and reasons why I tend to over eat.
So here goes…
1. Convenience - If I'm hungry or in a rush I tend to grab whatever is quickest and easiest. This usually means crisps, cake, chocolate or a combination of. Not good! As mentioned above this will release energy quickly, most likely increasing my fat stores and won’t keep me full for very long. Planning meals in advance and making sure I have healthier snack options available helps cut impulse eating.
2. Boredom - Probably my biggest reason for over eating. When I don't have much to do or am doing a task I don't particularly enjoy I'll head for the snack drawer. Eating is very good for killing time and procrastination. I now try to use food as a reward for motivation. For example, I am allowed my planned snack item at 11am or when I’ve completed a particular task. In other words, I haven’t tried to cut it out completely I just try and regulate it a little better.
3. Comfort eating – Due to stress, anxiety, sadness etc.. There’s a whole range of feelings and emotions that lead people to comfort eat. I’m sure there are lots of psychological explanations why food is seen a source of comfort. Whether it links back to having a pacifier as a child or looking for a way to regain control or the fact that something that tastes nice brings immediate (however short lived) gratification. For me comfort eating tends to fall on a bit of a spectrum depending on the severity of the situation or intensity of emotion. Initially a certain level of stress or sadness will cause me to over eat. As these feelings becomes more severe I tend to go the other way and not eat (which is just as bad). I once lost 1.5stone in 3 weeks. This is an unhealthy rate of weight loss and prompted me to seek professional help for the stress I was experiencing at the time. I think this issue requires a bit of discernment. If it’s just one day, I’ve felt a bit low so I’ve eaten a bit more than I should, I tend not to get too worried. But if it is something happening regularly over a longer period of time perhaps it’s a sign of a deeper issue that needs professional intervention.
4. Lack of self control – Sometimes I see something in the cupboard and I just want it. I know I’m not hungry and I know I don’t need it but I eat it anyway. Or I’ll be hungry so I’ll eat everything in sight. I think the real test is how you react after these moments. Do you start on a prolonged downward spiral and say ‘well I’ve had all that so I might as well have this as well’? Or do you get back on track with a healthy balanced diet?
5. Lack of awareness of feeling full - I struggle with knowing when I'm full until I'm so full I cannot physically move. Again this goes with the self control issue but I have been trying to train myself to eat more mindfully and to recognise when I no longer feel hungry rather than when I feel full.
6. Portion sizes – When I cook a meal I generally have no idea how much to put on my plate. Particularly if it’s a large plate, I’ll dish out until the plate looks full. As I mentioned above I struggle to know when I’m full so I will eat everything on the plate. In other words I probably eat far more than the recommended portion size. This is where a bit of education comes in. Knowing the calorie content and suggested portion sizes of different foods will make it easier to construct a healthy plate. Also if you’re trying to lose weight you don’t necessarily have to cut out foods altogether, just decrease the portion size.
7. Chocolate - Deserves a category all too itself. My weakness, my downfall, whenever there is chocolate I must eat it! Apparently switching out milk chocolate for smaller quantities of dark chocolate helps to combat cravings but….dark chocolate is gross sooo…I have yet to find a solution for this.
In my experiences education is key. Knowing about what’s in food, how your body reacts to different types of food and how much your body actually needs has really helped me keep better track of my eating habits. That’s not to say there aren’t days when I still struggle; every day you have to make a choice. It’s about keeping a healthy and balanced perspective so you can enjoy going out for a meal and have the odd treat without having to worry.
If you are wanting to make changes towards a healthier lifestyle don’t try to change everything all at once. Just change one or two things at a time and set realistic targets. This will make any changes you make much more achievable and sustainable.
Perhaps you can relate to some if not all of the above. Hopefully this may help you understand your own eating habits a little better. Let me know if this has been helpful and I'd love to hear your own experiences.