Another year has passed and here we are in 2017 recovering from all the festivities of December. January is historically a time when we start to look at how we can change certain aspects of our life and make some resolutions for the year ahead. It’s this time of year that many people decide to embark on a new job or career path, move house or book an exotic holiday, but very often the resolutions and changes we make at the start of a New Year involve good intentions to improve our health. Gym memberships go sky high, sales of healthy food and diet books increase and increasing number of people take part in ‘Dry January’ remaining alcohol free for this first month of the year.
So for those people wanting to make 2017 a healthier year, let’s make sure you get off to the best of starts by reminding ourselves of four bad eating habits that we probably all know about, but can easily forget through the course of a year. Identifying unhealthy eating habits can really make us aware of how we can make even small changes, which can, over the course of a year, make a big impact on our health and weight. So which ones are you guilty of and will you be changing them this year?
We have heard it before, but breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. How can you expect to function optimally when you have no fuel in you for over nine hours since your dinner the night before? It’s like expecting your car to win the grand prix when you only have enough fuel in the tank to do one lap of the track! Don’t set yourself up to fail, you want to give yourself the best possibility of feeling good throughout the day. Not only will skipping breakfast leave you feeling hungry, but it will also make you feel tired and affect your mood negatively and let’s face it, no one wants to be around a grumpy person, especially a hungry grumpy person! When we eat, our body breaks the food down into a form of energy the body can use, which is glucose.
Glucose is the main source of energy for the brain and central nervous system, so if you are avoiding eating or you are skipping meals, the supply of glucose to your brain reduces. This results in impaired concentration, reduced focus and memory and low mood.
If you are on a weight loss mission also this year, then a lot of research has indicated that if you skip breakfast (or any meal for that matter), you do not lose weight as effectively as those people who eat meals in a consistent manner at fairly regular times. Make sure you choose the right breakfasts though and don’t just grab a quick sugary snack. Eggs, kippers, smoked
salmon, avocado on rye bread, no-sugar cereal, peanut butter on corn crackers or toast, all make great breakfast options and should give you plenty of choice to give you variety throughout your week. And, if you haven’t tried porridge yet made with Delamere Dairy goats’ milk, with a small side of maple syrup and blueberries, you are really missing out!
Eating too quickly
Most of us can be guilty of this, especially in today’s fast moving world, but eating too quickly is not beneficial for health for a number of reasons. Over the last few years there has been a continual increase in the incidence of a whole range of digestive disorders including IBS, reflux, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
There are of course a number of reasons for this increase and if you are someone who suffers from digestive disorders you will be one of those people who could benefit from slowing down your eating and giving your digestive tract a little more time to process the foods you are eating.
The actual process of digestion starts in your mouth, where we chew our food and it is mixed with saliva. This is a very important first step in digestion, as an important digestive enzyme (Amylase) is found in the mouth saliva that starts to digest carbohydrate based foods. Saliva also contains antibacterial agents, which help kill bacteria found in foods and also provides relief for inflamed intestinal tissues, which many people can have. If we don’t give ourselves time to chew our food properly and mix it well with saliva, we are swallowing foods without giving salivary amylase a chance to start the digestive process. The average person produces a total of about 600 millilitres of saliva per day, so start using it more! Also, if we don’t chew our food enough to break it down into smaller chunks, it is not as easy for our stomach to break these larger bits down and will certainly take longer to digest.
Eating quickly can also cause a lot of air to be taken in with the food, which can lead to stomach bloating and excess gas, two main symptoms that many people suffer with and which can cause a lot of discomfort. Acid reflux is also shown to increase when food is eaten quickly, so slowing down your eating should help to reduce the incidence of reflux too.
Eating more slowly is also beneficial for weight loss. This is because when we eat food fast, the mechanisms that tell our brain we are full are overridden. It roughly takes twenty minutes after you start eating for a message to reach your brain to tell you to stop eating as you are full. Therefore if you are gulping down food at record speed you are likely to overfill your stomach and continue eating even though you are actually full. This is certainly not beneficial if you are on a weight loss mission.
So if you are one of those people who does everything fast and is constantly rushing around, at least use meals times as an excuse to slow it down a bit and take time to actually taste your food.
Comfort eating / mindless eating
If you are someone who turns to food at times of stress, anxiety or fear in the hope of controlling these emotions, you are using food as a comfort as opposed to using it for a genuine physical need, i.e. hunger. This is a slippery slope and one that can have negative consequences on your long term health.
There are a few ways in which this habit of mindless eating can be stopped, but the main way to curb this is to question your hunger when you feel yourself reaching for food. Be truthful with yourself at this time and every time you then question if you are hungry (and the answer will often be no), your brain will start to make a healthier connection with food and you can help break the habit of associating negative emotions with eating.
At times when you want to eat for comfort, have a mint or clean your teeth as the taste of mint often eliminates the desire to reach for food as it can often taste bad after mint anyway and it also changes and refreshes the taste on our pallet. Mint is also an appetite suppressor so can curb the desire for food and make you less likely to reach for it.
Huge portion sizes
Over the past twenty years our diets and eating habits have changed considerably in terms of both the quality of foods we eat and the quantity we consume. On average we are now eating 20-25% more calories than we did in 1970.
Portion sizes in restaurants and fast food chains have grown massively, with many popular meals doubling in calorie content compared to twenty years ago because of the current portion sizes that we now consider to be ‘normal size’. Many people have the ethos ‘the bigger the better’ but unfortunately this is not the case when it comes to food. Portion sizes are out of control, which is one of the big factors fuelling weight gain and the global obesity epidemic. So how can we eat less without feeling hungry?
One tactic commonly heard about now is to eat your meal off a smaller side plate and not a large dinner plate. The mind is an amazing thing and having a full plate of food, all be it a smaller side plate, will still psychologically result in you thinking you have had a big meal, yet your portion sizes will be far more controlled. Just don’t create a food tower instead!
Drinking a large glass of water about twenty minutes before a meal can be very helpful for weight loss and making you eat less.
Much research has shown that drinking water in this way, results in less calories been consumed at a meal, as we will reach the point of fullness far sooner. This strategy will also help increase your daily fluid intake, which many of us fall short on and as dehydration is one of the main reasons why people suffer low energy, it is a win win situation.
One easy rule is to make sure that most of your plate, around 50% of the plate size, should contain vegetables. Try think out of the box here, don’t just stick with eating the same vegetables week in and week out, be adventurous and make a goal of eating one new vegetable a week as part of your daily diet. Some vegetables that are not eaten regularly in most UK households are aubergines, cabbage, cauliflower, courgette and leeks and filling up on these will certainly decrease the amount of room you have for other foods that are not quite so good for you.
Whichever habit you want to stop this year, the above four are a good starting point and are not too hard to change either. Many of us fail by starting with unrealistic goals that are often far too big to tackle outright, which can often make us fail and then feel deflated. Achieving small goals, like kicking the unhealthy eating habits above, will have positive effects on your health and give you confidence to approach some of the larger challenges you may want to tackle this year. Good luck!