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Nowadays it is easy to get information about healthy food but at the same time there are more and more different kind of eating problems and obesity has become one of the biggest problems in the modern world. Why is it so hard to eat healthy food if we already know how we should eat?  Usually the answer lies within the psychology of eating.

The following steps can be helpful in changing unhealthy eating behaviours and thoughts:

Monitor your behaviours:  Research is clear that people who write down what they eat in a daily log are more successful at losing weight. Record your thoughts, feelings and information about the environment such as where you ate, when and what you were doing. This will help you understand your eating behaviours and identify areas to change.

Track your activity level:  This is another important aspect of self-monitoring. It includes not only how much you exercise but also the extent to which you move around during the day rather than remaining seated or inactive. One helpful tactic involves using a pedometer to record the number of steps you take each day.

Eat regular meals:  People often skip breakfast with the thought they are reducing calories or can “save up” calories for later. But skipping meals can slow your metabolism, make you prone to later eating binges and have a negative effect on your health.

Practice “mindful” eating:  Research shows that individuals with eating problems often don’t pay attention to whether they are really hungry when they eat. Mindfulness exercises can heighten your awareness of hunger levels and make eating more enjoyable.

Understand the things you associate with food. Behaviours are habitual and learned. Sometimes people may associate certain emotions, experiences or daily activities with particular behaviours. For example, if you typically eat while watching TV your brain has made an association between food and TV. You may not be hungry, but in your mind TV and eating are paired together. So, when you watch TV you suddenly feel the urge to eat. You can begin to break this association by not eating while watching TV.

Identify your emotions. It’s important to figure out what is happening emotionally while snacking, overeating or choosing unhealthy foods. Identify the feeling: is it boredom, stress or sadness? Patients need to determine if they are really hungry or just responding to an emotion. If you aren’t hungry, find another way to meet that need.

Modify your unhealthy thoughts and behaviours. Reinforcing healthy behaviours is important to achieving your weight management goals. Too often, people have negative thoughts and feelings about changing their health behaviours and see the process as punishment. Some people have an “all or nothing” attitude and think about weight loss in terms of being “on” or “off” a diet. It is also shown that thinking positively about yourself and your body makes weight loss easier. So instead of punishing and criticizing yourself, give yourself compliments. You are worthy as you are, and your weight has nothing to do with that.

References: Ollikainen (2011). Syö mitä mielesi tekee. (Eat what you want).

Vilhelmiina Välimäki is a Finnish psychologist, who moved to Malta 2018 and has been slowly but surely adjusting to the Maltese environment and culture. She works at Willingness as a Clinical Psychologist and she is specialised in offering support to individuals from different age groups, couples and families.  You can contact her on vilhelmiina@willingness.com.mt or 9944 9910.