These days we hear a lot about healthy eating, and more often than not what’s being referred to is healthy eating in the physical sense. In other words, what’s best for our body – things like high fat vs low fat foods, high GI vs low GI foods, natural foods vs processed foods, and so on.
But what about healthy eating in the psychological sense? We don’t hear so much about that. Psychologically healthy eating is by far a more important issue however because it forms the whole basis for your eating decisions.
What that means is that if your eating psychology is bad, your eating decisions will be poor, and your physical health will then suffer as a result. So in reality, as far as eating goes psychological health leads to physical health.
Eating can be psychologically unhealthy in a variety of ways, and it can occur at both ends of the spectrum – by not controlling your eating enough, OR by controlling it too much.
There are two simple questions you can ask yourself which will tip you off about whether your eating habits may be psychologically unhealthy:
- Do I generally make controlled eating choices, or are they often in response to feelings or needs inside me?
- Is there anything about my eating habits that can be considered a little extreme?
The second question is particularly telling – anything done to extremes is more often than not unhealthy, and usually isn’t sustainable in the long term.
So let’s take a look at some of the major ways in which people develop unhealthy eating habits.
The first and most obvious unhealthy eating habit is not controlling your eating enough, in other words, overeating. Overeating always has a psychological cause at its root, and there can be a number of reasons why people do this.
Some of the more common reasons are:
- Emotional eating – people can overeat because they use food as a drug to manage their emotions.
- Addictive eating – people can overeat certain foods because they develop a strong dependence, or addiction to them. Most commonly these foods are high in sugar, fat or salt.
- Big eating – people can often simply develop a habit of eating huge portion sizes, or even eating until they feel they can’t eat any more. This habit is usually instilled in them through their upbringing or through friends and peers.
If you feel that your eating habits aren’t ideal and you would like to find out what type of eater you are, you can take our free Eater Typing Test by clicking here.
People who overeat are almost always aware that their eating habits are less than ideal, but what they often don’t understand are the reasons why they overeat.
If you fall into this category then thinking about what’s prompting you to eat each time you make a decision to do so will help you to learn more about your eating habits. To assist you in doing this, you can download our Food Report sheet by clicking here.
Each time you eat or drink something substantial, print and fill out a Food Report. Do this over a period of 7 to 14 days (the longer, the better).
It’s somewhat similar to keeping a food diary but more in-depth, because it doesn’t only keep track of what you’re eating. It looks deeper into why you’re eating and studies background factors that come into play in your decisions.
So what about eating habits that are too restrictive? These can also be extremely harmful.
Of course we are all very familiar with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia that involve restricting calorie intake to dangerously unhealthy levels. These are very serious and usually require professional help to overcome.
There are less extreme behaviors however that are also very harmful and can even lead to more serious disorders such as these. Maintaining a starvation diet for the sake of getting lean or staying lean is not only extremely unpleasant, it’s difficult to sustain and also leads to an unhealthy relationship with food.
Food is not the enemy, and it doesn’t need to be avoided. Our bodies were not designed to operate on extremely low calorie intakes and it’s harmful to do so. The right approach is to understand the healthy way to lose weight or maintain weight, where your metabolism it kept at a healthy level, and eat appropriately.
Limiting your calorie intake to unhealthy levels is the kind of extreme behavior that leads to yo-yo dieting and a life-long losing battle to control your weight.
Almost as detrimental as starving your body of calories is starving it of carbohydrates – another pet fear of many people. Low carb diets have actually been shown to be very difficult to maintain long term however, and also to be associated with a high rate of rebound (weigh gain after dieting).
Carbohydrates (mostly processed ones) are being over-consumed by the population, leading to health problems and obesity. This is what gives carbohydrates a bad name. But just because too many carbohydrates are bad, it doesn’t mean that too few are good. Once again, the optimal case is somewhere in the middle.
Another psychologically unhealthy eating habit is restricting yourself to just a handful of so-called “clean” foods. While it’s true that some foods are more nutritionally beneficial that others, it’s not necessary or even desirable to avoid all less-than-perfect foods religiously.
Firstly, by restricting yourself to only a small variety of foods, your body inevitably misses out on many nutrients.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, by being so strict with your diet that you can never experience some of your favorite foods from time to time, you stand a high chance of giving in to binge eating and of quitting on your diet. Once again, extremism is not the answer.
Losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not always easy, especially at first, so in the beginning you should expect it to be a little tough. But if you’ve been eating what you believe to be healthily for some time you should ask yourself whether you can see yourself maintaining that lifestyle for the next 3 years, 5 years and 10 years.
If the answer is no then that’s a perfect indication that your diet is not psychologically healthy and you need to make some changes.
So many eating problems are the result of people trying to force their body to comply with their wishes, by making choices that are unnecessarily drastic. Our body is designed operate in a happy, harmonious zone that really doesn’t respond well to extremes.
And the problem with unhealthy eating habits is that they are self-perpetuating and lead to more and more extreme behavior, and the cycle continues.
Here are 7 rules of healthy eating that you should always try to stick to in your diet:
- All your eating decisions should be conscious choices, not the results of cravings or desires.
- Food is not the enemy, and carbohydrates are not the enemy.
- If something is good, more is not necessarily better.
- If something is OK only in moderation, none is not necessarily better.
- Avoid extremes, the best case more often than not lies somewhere in the middle.
- Don’t try to force your body into doing what you want, instead, learn to work with it.
- If you can’t see yourself eating the way you are now, five or ten years from now, you need to change something right away.