Why pizza wins again (Part 2)

April 29, 2019

Last week we explored the four facets of our eating decision process.  In the continuation of this two part article, we’ll discuss ways to make healthy choices and how to make those choices easier.

There are four components that affect our food choices: physical, emotional, societal, and convenience.    They each challenge us in different ways when it comes to eating.  Knowing the challenges each component presents is half the battle.  (See part one of this article for details.)  The other half is being armed with tools to overcome those challenges and have positive influences that help you make healthy choices.

The key to using the physical component of the decision process to your advantage is to be mindful about eating.  Your body will usually tell you what it needs if you listen.  The trick is to distinguish between what your body is asking for in terms of macro and micronutrients and what your taste buds want.  Sometimes that will mean eating a salad.  Other times it will mean eating salmon or strawberries.  Being mindful about your food choices and learning to hear what your body is asking for takes practice.  Be patient with yourself.  The key is to block out the other factors as much as you can.  Your normal eating habits may try to trick you into falling into your routine instead of listening to your body and making a different food choice than normal.  The emotional and societal components will also try to exert their influence here.  It’s important to block them out, at least while you are trying to hear what food(s) your body is calling for.

There is no doubt the emotional connection to food is strong.  It rarely aids in making healthy food choices.  (That’s not to say there aren’t circumstances where it is beneficial to follow the emotional component.)  The best way to keep the emotional component in check is to understand how it plays into your specific eating habits.  Once you are aware of your habits, you can make a conscience choice about what to eat knowing what is motivating you to make a particular food choice.  For example, certain foods and tastes become linked to memories and routines.  If you often ate a bowl of cereal with milk before bed as a kid, you may find yourself having cereal with milk in the evenings if you are craving comfort, even if you aren’t hungry.  The cereal and milk brings you back to a simpler, calmer time.  Maybe the best thing for you that evening is to be comforted by the milk and cereal, or maybe you would be better off changing the routine and skipping the bedtime snack.

The societal component is impossible to avoid.  It is everywhere!  No matter where you look, food is there: restaurants, news stand snacks, coffee shops, vending machines, happy hour, coworker’s birthday cake, neighbor’s summer BBQ invitation, etc.  The social component can be a tough one to face.  The key is to be comfortable with your food choices regardless of what other people think or say.  You don’t need to justify your choices to anyone.  If someone makes a comment about your food choices, simply start a friendly dialogue about food.  Explore what the other person thinks about their food choices, and share what you feel comfortable sharing about your food journey.  Once you start talking about your food choices openly and confidently, the societal component will not have as much of an influence over your choices.  Another key tool is to have healthy options available when you are in a social setting.  Take going out for dinner as an example.  Choose a restaurant that has at least one item on the menu that you feel good about eating.  If you’re not finding a suitable dinner option, call ahead and ask the manager or chef if they can accommodate you.  Many restaurants can and will modify a dish to accommodate your dietary needs.  Going to a friend’s house warming party is another example.  In that situation, bring a snack to share or even a single serving of something for yourself.  The key is to have options available that are good for you, so you will be less tempted to make poor food choices.

The last component is convenience.  Depending on your dietary needs, convenience could be a non-issue or a major hurdle.  The key here is to make sticking to your diet and making good food choices as convenient as possible.  This means knowing what options you have when you eat out, having options ready for eating at home, and packing snacks and/or lunch for when you’re out.  Find a handful of restaurants where you can order a dish that is a good choice for your dietary needs.  If you’re traveling, call a few restaurants in the area ahead of time.  Also know what healthy grab-and-go options and snacks are available  as well as what stores keep them in stock.  That way when you don’t have time for a sit down meal or have the munchies, you’ll know exactly where to go to get your fix without compromising your diet.  If it’s difficult to find healthy options, just pack them and bring them with you when you go out.  For eating at home, keep staples on hand that are quick and easy to prepare.  Also do a little meal prep during the week or weekend, so that a healthy meal is fast and easy to make when you’re hungry.

Understanding the factors behind your eating decision process and knowing ways to change it are a great place to start making healthier choices.  For more tips, make sure you’re following the ETP Blog.  The real secret weapon to change is prioritizing your health over the emotional, societal, and convenience factors.  That shift in mindset will lead to lasting changes.

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