Understanding your eating habits! Keep a food diary!
What purpose is food serving you?
Eating habits can only be changed when we understand their mechanisms. What exactly do I mean by this? For every behaviour we exhibit there is a purpose for it. There are cues for that behaviour, a habit that follows and an end reward. A lot of people blame themselves for having a lack of willpower for not being able to make healthy changes in their life permanent, without understanding the purpose of the original habit. This form of self-blame can lead to feelings of shame or guilt which are both damaging to long-term change if you allow them to influence your eating behaviour.
I believe that 50% of change comes from understanding why we do what we do. Gaining a level of self-awareness into current eating behaviours can take a lot of the stress away that clouds your decisions and drives people to make choices which aren’t in line with their goals or values. Observing your eating behaviour non-judgementally is a much more effective strategy. It gives you the opportunity to identify patterns of behaviour without having to make any immediate changes.
This can be achieved through keeping a food diary (2009, National Institute of Health). By recording what you eat, where you eat, why you eat (mental, physical, emotional) and who you eat with, you are able to gain an understanding of your eating habits. Maybe you have fallen into bad eating habits at certain times during the day? Perhaps you are eating in response to a thought or feeling? Maybe it’s through the influence of somebody in your life? Maybe you are going for extended periods of time without eating and end up having anything you can get your hands on? These are all just possibilities, but when you can establish why excessive calories may be a part of your routine, you can then begin to understand the purpose it is providing in your life.
What do I mean by purpose?
I will give you an example. A lot of people use food as a coping mechanism for painful thoughts, feelings, emotions and experiences. When they turn to comfort food, it delivers to them in that moment by targeting the reward centres of the brain. It is a mechanism used to avoid uncomfortable feelings. This is what would be described as the reward part of any habit. If you are using food to regulate how you feel, this does not make you a bad or damaged person. Acknowledging that this is a clever mechanism that has provided its purpose in life up until now is the first part of change. I challenge you to keep a food diary for one week, in a non-judgemental way to begin to identify your own patterns of behaviour.
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