Everyone has an unhealthy eating habit. However, not everyone has identified it as a problem or knows what to do to avoid it. Even more so, not everyone is ready to make the change.
According to Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIH’s National Institute of Drug Abuse, “Habits play an important role in our health. Understanding the biology of how we develop routines that may be harmful to us and how to break those routines and embrace new ones could help us change our lifestyles and adopt healthier behaviors.”
What Risks Do Unhealthy Eating Habits Pose?
Unhealthy eating habits pose a great deal of risks to the human body. In essence, unhealthy eating equals poor nutrition, and poor nutrition can cause the following:
- Tooth decay
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease and stroke
- Type 2 diabetes
- Some cancers
- Eating disorders
What are Some Examples of Unhealthy Eating Habits?
Unhealthy eating habits include but are not limited to undereating or overeating, choosing unhealthy foods over healthy ones, consuming harmful amounts of food or drink, or choosing to indulge or abstain at the detriment of health.
Some of the most common forms are:
When breakfast is skipped over, the body’s fasting window increases, which can make a person feel sluggish and more likely to overeat.
Tip: If time is a factor – an excellent way to make breakfast easier is to prepare what can be set out the night before or make a healthy breakfast that could be eating while on the go.
Snacking All Day
It is typical to want to snack throughout the day, especially when stuck at home surrounded by all the things we like to eat. Snacking, in general, is not bad. It is when we choose to snack on something unhealthy that we run into problems.
Tip: Instead of snacking on that bag of potato chips or that stash of candy, set up healthier options that can be grabbed throughout the day, like small portions of cut-up vegetables, fruit, and nuts.
Using large dinner plates or eating straight from the container or packaging is a surefire way to overeat.
Tip: Instead of eating meals on dinner plates, choose a salad or dessert plate. It will limit how much food the plate can hold and will look like a significant serving to trick the eye. When the food is in a large package or container, open it up and separate it into smaller containers for healthier portion sizes. Another good tip to curb overeating is to give your body time to process the helping it just ate. Ten minutes is a reasonable amount of time for the brain to decide if it is full or not.
Eating Too Fast
Society seems to be moving faster and faster each day, and we are constantly rushing to get from one place to the next. In a rush, we tend to eat meals at warp speed. Besides not being suitable for digestion, eating too fast makes it so the brain does not get a chance to receive the proper signals it needs to know when the stomach is full, making it more likely to overeat.
Tip: Take a cue from the Europeans and savor the meal. Make a conscious effort to chew slower, take longer breaks between bites, and relax.
Stress is inevitable. It is a trigger that pushes people to indulge in food that brings on a dopamine release.
Tip: There are other ways to trigger a dopamine release that does not involve food. These include exercising, engaging in an enjoyable physical activity, or listening to music. Journaling and meditating are also helpful ways to relieve stress and anxiety.
This happens when a person is not aware of what or how much food they are consuming. Distracted eating usually occurs when someone is eating while watching TV, browsing the internet, scrolling through social media, or having a distracting conversation.
Tip: Turn off the TV, put the phone and laptop down, and eat. Make a conscious effort to keep mealtimes just for eating. Eat at a designated eating space and without distractions.
Late Night Snacks
It was once believed that eating too close to bed led to weight gain due to calories taken in without burning them off. However, today, it is believed that “a calorie is a calorie,” regardless of when you eat it, and that what causes weight gain is simply eating more calories than you burn. Therefore, if there was enough physical movement throughout the day, don’t worry about grabbing a small snack as long as the choice is healthy. However, eating too close to bedtime can cause indigestion.
Tip: Examples of healthy late-night snacks are fruits, nuts, protein smoothies, crackers and cheese, trail mix, and yogurt. If snacking at night is a habit you want to break, try brushing your teeth right after dinner. This might discourage you from eating afterward.
Lack of Sleep
According to the CDC, adults aged 18-60 need seven or more hours of sleep a night. Besides sometimes causing psychological issues like paranoia and anxiety, consistent lack of adequate sleep leads to an increased risk of ailments such as heart disease and diabetes mellitus.
Tip: Create a relaxing and comfortable place to sleep. Remove the TV from the bedroom and put the electronic devices down. Avoid consuming large amounts of caffeine or exercising too late into the evening and stick to a routine. When we create a bedtime routine and fall asleep around the same time each night, it trains our body and makes it easier to fall asleep in the future.
Why are Habits so Hard to Break?
Once a habit is formed, it is hard to break, especially if it is a habit that triggers the reward center of the brain. When a behavior is enjoyable, the brain releases a chemical called dopamine. When that happens over and over, it strengthens the need to perform the habit. If we try to break free of that habit, the brain feels a loss of dopamine, and in turn, it creates the craving to do it again.
However, humans are remarkably adaptable creatures and good at altering their behavior when they want to. All it takes is some time and effort. Self-control is like a muscle – exercise it, and that muscle gets bigger and stronger.
Successfully Label a Bad Habit and Change It
Breaking a bad habit is not easy. It takes time, effort, and discipline to see it through.
Despite popular belief, there is no exact time frame for creating a new habit. Successfully breaking a habit involves consistent effort. The time it takes to break a bad habit could depend on:
- How long the pattern has been around
- Whether it is an integral part of your life
- What rewards the brain or body might be receiving from it
- The motivation to make the change in the first place
Taking time out to think about the habits in our lives is an excellent place to start. Recognize what is good and what is not, think about what causes the bad habits, and list healthy alternatives that are realistic.
The following steps will help to create a solid plan with the ability to see it through:
- Identify unhealthy eating habits.
- Expand on why they happen.
- List ways to effectively stop them or replace them with healthy choices.
- Create a routine that lends itself to healthier choices.
- Do things in moderation. Don’t be too restrictive. Treat yourself but in moderation.
- Find someone to tackle this with, an accountability buddy.
- Be flexible and forgiving – no one is perfect.
Remember: The key to turning unhealthy eating habits into healthy habits is to be patient, flexible, and take things in moderation.