Have you ever caught yourself mindlessly eating only to regain focus and be shocked by what or how much you ate? We make so many decisions in a day that sometimes choosing something healthy to eat when we are in a rush is the last thing we focus on. Instead, we focus on eating anything that will get us through our hectic schedules – regardless of whether or not it is healthy.
Back in 2009, I had a lot of anxiety around food choices. I often found myself in “analysis paralysis” situations because my criteria list was so extensive it prevented me from making a simple decision. At the time, Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz was recommended to me – and it was life-changing. I started to understand how marketing and the infinite availability of information on the internet were affecting my food decisions. The abundance of choice was making it harder for me to know what I truly wanted.
Are you the victim of food marketing?
Have you seen the new Canada’s Food Guide? While many people are pleasantly surprised by the new plate graphic, the inclusion of more plant-based protein, and a reduction in dairy food, I believe the most important message is to be aware of food marketing. Since starting my career as a business owner, my eyes have opened to the world of food marketing and the endless ways that marketing targets consumers.
When I was in the prepared food business, I came across a local company that was marketing their meals as organically focused. Many people are attracted to the word organic. What I learned was that this company manipulated the public’s desire for organic foods by using a term that was not regulated. By saying their product was “organically focused,” consumers believed they were buying organic, but in fact, the product ingredients were not exclusively organic. Specific health claims are regulated by Health Canada but not all, and it is the consumer’s responsibility to be aware and review the claims being marketed to them.
Food marketing is pervasive. I would venture to say that everything is marketing. It is becoming increasingly difficult to know when you are being marketed to. It’s all around us from a social media post, a contest, to a celebrity endorsement.
Make food decisions without guilt
The Paradox of Choice gave me strategies to make decisions that were right for me without guilt and confusion. For example, creating a short list of my top criteria for any given decision guides me to choose only those solutions that meet those specific needs and nothing else.
How does this apply to food and eating? I am often reminded that “hunger leads to bad choices.” Have you ever found yourself eating to satisfy your hunger? When I skip lunch and come home at the end of the day, I find myself starving and tend to mindlessly eat a lot of food that is within my reach and ready to consume. Shamelessly, this could be four muffins or a big bag of chips or lots of chocolate (my personal weakness). The thing is, I am never left satisfied. I end up with a stomach ache and guilt for all the so-called “crap” that I just ate to satisfy my hunger and cure a headache from missing a meal.
For me, mindless eating occurs when I am hungry. For others it could be at a social event, eating out in a restaurant or some other environment.
How to change your eating behaviour
How can we make behavioural changes? Here are eight steps to changing your eating behaviour and stop mindlessly eating:
- Choose one behaviour goal. Think about the times and environments when you tend to eat mindlessly. Dig deep to understand what is behind your food choices. Focusing on one change at a time will lead to greater success and long-term outcomes. An example would be: In the next 30 days, I will focus on eating nutritionally balanced portioned sized dinners.
- Plan three steps that you can do to reach your goal. Three changes could be: plan all dinner meals on the weekend, use a consistent plate size for dinner, and limiting eating out in a restaurant to once a week.
- Form a simple plan around your goal thinking. Think about what you can easily do within your lifestyle and be realistic. Don’t look for another tool or diet but work with what you have available to you. For example, not all dinner plates are created equal just like not all take-out containers are identical. Using a consistent size plate to give you a visual cue on how much to eat and prevent overeating by overloading the plate.
- Write your plan down and commit to 30 days of small steps.
- Take ownership of your change and find an accountability partner to cheer you on and help you reach your goals.
- Monitor your progress and modify your plan after the first month to ensure long term success. During your month you will learn a lot about your behaviours and environment. You will know what works for you and only you.
- Seek guidance or support from a Registered Dietitian to improve your understanding of healthy eating and ways to expand your food and nutrition skills.
- Ask yourself why are you eating a particular product? Be mindful of what you are consuming as food and as marketing.
Small changes will always lead to lasting results if you commit. I wish you the best on your healthy eating journey. If you have any questions or feedback, please reach out. If you would like to learn more about navigating a healthy eating lifestyle, book a free 15-minute consultation. During the consultation, you can ask questions and discuss whether nutritional coaching or a meal plan is right for you. Book a time that works for your schedule by clicking here.