Updated: Feb 8, 2022
According to a Precision Nutrition survey, the top 8 nutritional challenges people face are:
1. Emotional/stress eating
2. Lack of planning
4. Snacking when not hungry
5. Eating quickly
6. Sweet tooth
7. Eating out frequently
8. Large portions
What may be surprising is that "not knowing what to eat" doesn't rank on this list.
That's probably because confusion about "what to eat" is NOT THE #1 THING holding you back from making the changes necessary to lose weight and feel healthy in your body.
Most of the time when you're struggling with food and exercise habits, you need help with self-sabotaging behaviours.
#1 I Can't Stop Stress Eating
Emotional eating is usually part of a pattern of behaviour that’s triggered by a specific experience - a thought, feeling, or situation. First comes the urge (craving), followed by the behaviour (finding a food that satisfies the craving), then the reward (eating the food you wanted). The more often you reward your brain, the more likely it is to stimulate the craving, and the stronger the craving becomes. Finding your triggers is a critical part of breaking this cycle. So what do you do?
When you feel a craving creeping up, stop and note:
Where are you?
What are you doing?
What are you craving?
Who are you with?
What are you feeling?
What are you thinking?
Notice your urge to snack, then sit with it for five minutes without taking action.
Often this pause is enough to let your conscious mind say, ‘Hey, I’m in charge here!’ and you can make a rational decision, rather than a reactionary one. Distracting yourself with a change of activity can help cement the choice to do something else other than eat.
Breaking the chain of emotional eating takes practice but identifying patterns and creating diversions will help you manage these urges and start making more conscious choices.
#2 I Don't Plan My Meals
There are SO many benefits to meal planning!! You feel prepared, you create more healthy meals, you snack less, and you save money. If you have a family, just knowing what's for dinner tonight reduces a ton of stress and mental space. It also lets you grocery shop knowing what you are going to need for the week ahead. Here are some small ways you can start on the path to more organized food routines:
Scheduled days: Monday=casserole, Tuesday=tacos, Wednesday=pasta, etc.
Pre-cut your veggies for the week
Fresh food delivery service for times when you're extra busy
Make extra and freeze it
Use a crockpot/instantpot. There are tons of great recipes online!
And remember, we are looking for improvement, not perfection. Finding small ways to make healthier choices adds up over time.
#3 I Eat Too Quickly
Slow eating is usually the first practice I give to new clients. That's because it's super effective and can be implemented immediately - you don't have to change what you're eating at all. Just set your utensils down or take a deep breath or sip of water between bites. 🐢🐢🐢
When we consciously slow down and start paying attention to the taste of the food and how we're feeling, we usually find we can eat less without feeling deprived.
And as an added bonus 🌟, we spend more time chewing our food which leads to better digestion and nutrient absorption. We also start to reconnect our mind and body and improve our appetite awareness. With practice this trains you to eat when you're hungry and stop 🛑 when you're full.
#4 I Have a Sweet Tooth
Does your love of cookies, candies, and chocolate lead you to the Dark Side? 😈 Well you're not alone: about half of people struggling with weight loss feel like they are sabotaged by the abundance of sweets - and their availability. Remember: If a food is in your house, eventually you will eat it. If a food is in your house, eventually you will eat it! And while we don't recommend labelling sweets as "bad" or "off-limits", it is a good idea to set yourself up for success by reducing their presence in your home and filling your cupboards/fridge with more healthful alternatives.
#5 I Eat Out a Lot
While you may feel like you are in pretty good control of what you eat at home, going out to a restaurant can be a whole different ball game. The temptation of so many delicious things to try THAT YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO COOK YOURSELF can cause even the most resolute of us to break down. So let's loop back to #2 and talk about planning again:
a) Is this a special meal or occasion where you want to indulge?
b) Do you want this meal to align with your healthy eating practice?
Either decision is fine, so long as it's a conscious choice. Most menus are now online so it's a good idea to check them out before you leave and plan ahead. And no matter which strategy you choose, remember #3 and eat slowly 🐌. Enjoy that triple decker chocolate cake so much that there is no guilt or shame! Stop eating when you're 80% full and get the rest packed up for tomorrow's lunch.
#6 I Eat More Than I Need
In North America the abundance of food and "mega" or "supersized" portions has left many of us out of touch with what an appropriate-sized meal should look like. Following #3 and eating slowly will help you start to judge how much food your body actually needs. A good rule of thumb for beginners is to stop eating when you're 80% full. As you practice being mindful with your eating, you will become more in tune with your body's satiety signals and can adjust your portions accordingly.
#7 I Don't Have Time
Let's be honest - preparing 3 balanced meals plus snacks 7 days a week can feel exhausting, particularly when you've had a long day at work. Planning ahead (#2👆) can go a long way in saving you time and energy throughout the week, but recognize that nobody is perfect. Real, lasting transformation happens one step at a time, not by changing everything overnight. Have a look at what you are doing now and try to improve a little bit. Maybe one more home-cooked meal per week. Or a roasted chicken from the deli instead of drive-thru. Find a balance that works for you and what you can handle right now. As with most habits, the more you practice it, the easier it gets and the more confident you will be taking another step forward.
#8 I Drink Too Much
For those of us that live in the Okanagan Valley, wine is a way of life! Aside from being a key factor at most social events, a drink or two at the end of the day often seems like a good way to "take the edge" off. Even if you don't consider yourself to have a "drinking problem", your habits could be interfering with your goal to lead a healthier lifestyle by increasing "empty" calories, interfering with your sleep, and lowering your inhibition around food choices. I'm not telling you to stop drinking altogether - I'm just asking that you be aware of your alcohol intake and how it effects you and your body.