HEALTHY HUSKY: Psychology of healthy eating
Published: Thursday, October 3, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 3, 2013 22:10
Some of the greatest challenges associated with adopting healthy lifestyle choices are purely psychological.
The driving force behind many of our bad habits, particularly eating, is the mindset we develop concerning food rather than a physiological need. Many of the simple tricks that you hear about dieting that are usually dismissed as hokum may actually provide the tipping point to your success. By simply approaching food and meals a little differently you could find yourself eating healthier and feeling better.
The prodromal foundation for some of these tricks is through the study of food psychology. There are labs, even buildings at universities across the country that are devoted to this very topic; how subtle modifications in both how food is presented and how we think about food can drastically influence our overall caloric and nutrient intake. One of the most famous of these was a mock restaurant at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign that was written about in the book “Mindless Eating” by Brian Wansink. Wansink’s lab, a mock restaurant, would open up each week for diners to enjoy meals, not knowing the subtle changes in the restaurant week to week were being evaluated for how they affected the patrons eating patterns. Changes as simple as the color of the tablecloth to complex soup bowls that never emptied were utilized to see how we could change our food environment to improve eating habits. Often, not only were the results surprising, they were substantial.
The broad take away from experiments like Wansink’s is that how and where you eat can sometimes matter just as much as how much you eat. One of the first steps to take if you struggle to adopt healthy eating habits is to remove any emotional association you have with food. This may seem trivial, but we all use food as rewards or comforters, even if subconsciously. By simply paying attention to poor food habit triggers, you can pinpoint the reason and seek a healthier alternative. That’s not to say enjoying food is not part of the healthy eating psychology, rather that like anything it should be in moderation and in context of your goals.
Another tip often offered up is to take less than you think you would eat. Specifically, Wansink recommends 20 percent less and provides the data to back it up. When you couple this with another common tip, chewing your food slowly and deliberately, you could feel just as full with 20 percent less calories consumed. In an average diet 20 percent fewer calories will result in about a pound of weight loss each week.
Finally, a helpful strategy is to eat more frequent, albeit smaller meals throughout the day. This plays into the same role as taking less. By playing that balance between feeling full and stuffed you can more acutely listen to how your body is feeling in regards to hunger. Not to mention, eating frequent meals helps even out blood sugar spikes and nadirs that can cause mood swings and headaches.
Eating healthy can be a huge mental obstacle. One of the best things you can do to overcome it is to fight back against your brain and take control of your eating habits, even those you hide in your subconscious. The subtle psychology of food can be used in you favor and take the stress out of trying to make a diet work.