Most people “know” what it means to eat healthy (at least in a general sense). Most people “know” that the majority of processed, packaged, fast foods are not as healthy as vegetables and fruits. Most people “know” that sugar-sweetened beverages (i.e., sodas) are not as healthy as water. Most people “know” that stuffing themselves with typical restaurant-style meals and desserts is not as healthy as eating home-cooked meals made with fresh ingredients until they’re just satisfied.
Simply put, eating healthier isn’t really about a lack of information. Most people “know” enough to move the needle in a healthier direction. If knowledge was the only thing that was needed, then we’d be doing our job by saying things like, “Eat less and move more” and “Eat real food, not processed garbage.”
The reality is that we don’t just eat because we need to. Most of us store more than enough energy (in the form of fat) to fuel our metabolisms for extended periods. The truth is that we eat for many reasons other than metabolic need, and a big one is that food is a coping mechanism for most people. And if we want to change our eating habits, we need to find new, healthier ways to cope.
The first step in doing that is understanding how and why we use food to cope. Here are 8 of the most common examples:
- Stress eating. Instead of resorting to so-called comfort foods when you’re stress, how can you cope instead? Meditation, yoga, taking a walk outdoors, and breathing exercises are a few examples.
- Emotional eating. When we’re sad or depressed, we often reach to food to pick us up. What can you do instead? Call a friend, talk with a therapist, or journal.
- Reward. We often reward ourselves with food. How else can we reward ourselves when we’ve done something good?
- Social reasons. Social gatherings almost always center around food. That’s okay. Instead of focusing on the food, focus on the people.
- Boredom. How many times have you caught yourself elbow-deep in a bag of something while watching TV? How often do you go to the fridge or pantry when you’ve got nothing else to do? We can think of countless ways to better spend your time, like writing a thank you note, reading a book, or taking a walk.
- Anger. We often eat because we’re angry. How does that usually work? Typically, it makes us feel guilty on top of anger. What are some better ways to deal with that frustration?
- Pleasure. Are there healthier ways to find pleasure instead of food? Or, can we eat more mindfully and still get the pleasure we seek?
- Love. We often equate food with love (something we learned from an early age), and eating can even become a substitute for love. Where else can you find love?