Over time, food has become less about fueling our bodies and more about convenience. Maybe technology is to blame, or maybe it’s the abundance of quick, easy junk foods that make cooking real meals seem like too much work. So many of us take an unhealthy approach to mealtime, but — even worse — most of us aren’t even aware that we’re doing it!
Here’s the list of bad eating habits you should stop right this minute:
1. Eating “Diet” Food
It’s got the word “diet” on the packaging — so that must mean it’s good for me, right? WRONG. Food that has to announce that it’s low-calorie, low-fat or low-whatever is in the title should be avoided. Most of the time, pre-packaged “healthy” meals aren’t going to fill you up and leave you satisfied. I don’t remember the last time I felt truly satiated after eating a frozen dinner. Shortly after I eat one, I usually end up reaching for a snack. Secondly, and even more importantly, our bodies burn about 50 percent more calories metabolizing whole foods than they do processed foods. So in the time it takes you to absorb that tiny portion of frozen dinner, your body could have been digesting a whole plate of lean protein, veggies and a salad!
2. Not Listening to Your Stomach
Here in America, many of us are raised being told to eat everything on our plates. This ends up becoming a bad habit. Just because food is in front of you, doesn’t mean you have to finish every last bite. Unfortunately lots of us ten to listen to external cues (Is my plate clean?) versus internal ones (Am I still hungry?) when eating, even when the food isn’t that good. Instead, check in with yourself throughout your meals to rate your hunger level. Stop yourself when you’re full, not stuffed, and not just because your food is all gone.
3. Making Meat the Star
There is nothing wrong with meat, so I am certainly not suggesting that you avoid it. However, making meat the focus of your meals isn’t ideal either. Meat is packed with plenty of essential vitamins and minerals, but it’s also higher in total calories and fat than other nutrient-rich foods like vegetables. Try thinking of meat as a side dish instead, and at any given meal, eat twice as much produce as you do meat.
4. Eating Directly Out of the Box
Paying attention to portion size is one of the most important healthy-eating habits out there. If you’re snacking right out of the package, you’re bound to eat more than one serving. When you transfer your food in an appropriate portion onto a plate or bowl before you start eating, you’ll be much more aware of what you consume. Look at the serving size of packaged foods and eat all of your snacks and meals off of real dishes and preferably at the table.
5. Not Setting Your Silverware Down Between Bites
I hate seeing people chowing down too fast. It’s a surefire way to pack on the pounds. You have to give your brain and your stomach time to catch up to your mouth. Your brain doesn’t start to recognize the signal that you’re full until about 20 minutes into your meal. Instead, practice mindful eating. Set your fork down after each bite before you pick it up again. Or you can count your chews — ideally, you should chew your food 15 to 20 times with each bite — to slow down and really taste what you’re consuming.
6. Being Fat-Phobic
Lots of people live in fear of fats. It’s time to change that. Healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, coconut oil and nuts are an important part of any diet. Not only do they enhance the flavor of dishes, but they delay stomach emptying, keeping you full longer. Plant-based fats also increase appetite suppressing hormones and have been shown to boost metabolism. So don’t be afraid to drizzle olive oil on your salad or snack on a handful of nuts.
7. Eating at Your Desk
This may come as no surprise, but distracted eating leads to overeating. People who multitask (I am guilty of this!) during mealtime underestimate how much they eat by 30 to 50 percent. They also rate their level of fullness as less than those who focus solely on their food while dining. And, no surprise, the multitasking eaters end up consuming more calories later in the day.
8. Keeping Junk Food in Sight
We are human and we are weak, especially in the face of high-sugar, high-fat foods, which have proven addictive qualities, not unlike cocaine and heroin. One of the worst eating habits you can engage in is testing your ability to resist temptation. That’s not to say you need to purge everything out of your life, but when it comes to junk food, “out of sight, out of mind” can work in your favor! Keep healthy foods front and center in your fridge and stash the potato chips (my favorite junk food) in the back of your pantry. Bonus points if you keep them out of the house!
How do you get the better of your bad eating habits? I’d love to hear it!