Eating is a complex process that requires a number of different systems in your body.
Muscles, enzymes, organs, hormones, and neurons are just a few parts that must work together to help you get the nourishment you need.
What and how much you eat are directly related to your brain – your thoughts, mood, and cravings decide what you end up having for dinner.
This gives eating a psychological aspect, and explains why humans experience related issues, such as eating disorders, weight fluctuations, and obesity.
Changing the way you think may change the way you eat.
Some food for thought to help you on your way toward eating better:
• Get in the right mindset: make it a goal to eat healthier for good reasons. For example, you could think about changing your eating habits as punishing your body for looking a certain way. However, you could also focus on the health benefits that a good diet can bring. The second mindset is more positive and may make it easier to change.
Did you know that many chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease can be prevented by eating well and regular exercise?
These three issues often stem from unhealthy diets that are high in fat, sugar, and energy.
Paired with inactive lifestyles, this can lead to being overweight and obesity, risks for disease.
Did you know that a healthy diet and physical activity can give you more energy and improve your mood by providing your body with key nutrients it needs to function at 100 per cent? These are only a few reasons to start eating right.
• Get the food facts: because eating is something everyone does, people tend to hand out nutrition advice based on their own experience and opinions.
It’s confusing: your neighbours say they avoid gluten at all costs, while your high school friends on Facebook are looking better than ever on high-carb diets.
If you’re feeling lost in the sea of a thousand diets, go back to the basics and evidence-based information.
A basic tip: fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit, a quarter with protein, and the other quarter with grains.
Don’t forget to include a serving of dairy.
This ratio recommended by dietitians and outlined through the MyPlate model from the United States Department of Agriculture.
• Listen to your body: are you actually hungry? Or are you stressed, thirsty, bored?
Harvard Health Publications explains that stress eating occurs when the brain releases certain chemicals that trigger cravings for specific foods, those usually higher in fat and sugar.
Although these comfort foods appear to lower stress levels, they can lead to weight gain over time.
Preventing stress eating means going back to the root of the problem.
Harvard Health recommends exercise, meditation, and social support to improve mental health and avoid giving into junk food cravings.
Thirst and boredom are often confused with hunger signals, as well.
Check yourself by asking key questions: ‘I just ate a big lunch 20 minutes ago, am I still hungry, or actually thirsty?’; or, ‘I’m feeling bored and am procrastinating, am I really hungry or trying to find something to do?’
• Don’t be so hard on yourself: We all mess up from time to time. Feeling shame or guilt may worsen your eating patterns and actually prevent you from trying to eat healthy.
How you eat, like any other habit, has developed and become an innate part of you slowly over time. Undoing all that will take time and effort. It’s okay to fall down as you get back up.
Joyce Chang is a graduate of the dietetics program at McGill University and has experience in clinical and community nutrition in hospitals and schools (email@example.com).