Obesity is the biggest health problem of our century, ranked as No.2 biggest killer in Western countries and contributing to a wide range of illness, health and mobility problems. But diet and food relationships are not only a physical problem, but is deeply embedded in psychological attitudes and behaviours. As a modern society we seem to be obsessed with food and health. Yet why are we struggling more than any previous generations to understand our bodies and eating?
There’s hundreds of fad diets such as Paleo, gluten-free, no-carbohydrates, the Atkins diet and raw food diets which focus on selective eating and excluding. Diets usually also include a blanket ban on all things “bad”; such as fast food, sugary treats and snacks. The downside of restrictive diets is that they can be impractical, time-consuming and expensive. Often once decided a food is totally off limits it only makes it that much more desirable. Diets also act to bring food to the forefront of your thoughts; the more often you are thinking about food, the more often you are likely to act on it. Giving up entire food groups can even have withdrawal like symptoms that can increase cravings.
Misinformation and Confusion
In today’s media we are swamped by information on what is the right and best way. Much of it is contradictory, confusing and sometimes even dangerously wrong. Often people undertake self-styled and interpretations of fad diets which lack understanding of nutritional necessities. So-called “diet”, “fat-free” and “sugar-free” foods can often be laden with unhealthy flavours, additives and preservatives.
Many people find comfort in eating food. Good tasting food provides a pleasurable experience both physically and mentally releasing endorphins. Guilty eating can also be an addictive reaction when a diet doesn’t match a persons lifestyle or willpower. Michelle May, MD, author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat, describes this as the “eat, repent, repeat” cycle; whereby a person gives in to temptation, binges and is then filled with regret and self-loathing.
Many pleasurable things can be okay in moderation and unhealthy or dangerous in excess. It can be easy to claim that we can’t help ourselves but learning self-control is an essential part of being an adult. Learn when to say NO, when to say ENOUGH, and when it’s ok to say YES.
This is a sneaky one we’re all guilty of. Snacking between meals and during the night can seem harmless, but those bite-sized pieces can add up. Often we’re not even hungry but are simply bored or feel the necessity to do something with our hands whilst watching TV, at work, or chatting with friends.
Finish Your Food
A psychological hangover from childhood is the necessity to finish everything on our plates. With increasing portion sizes in restaurants and even plate sizes at home (now 25% larger than 50 years ago!) this can be an unhealthy mindset. Our stomachs are only the size of a single fist when unexpanded, yet in Western countries we often consume up to twice as much food as we need to.
For those struggling to understand and control negative eating habits, nutrition and overeating help and advice can be found through nutritionist, psychologists and your local doctor.