Technically we are what we eat. But, to take it a step further, we are also very much a product of what we think. My point is that our mindset, our personal set of attitudes or settled way of thinking, is what leads to a certain pattern of behaviors, including our food choices. In fact, study after study, confirms that a healthy mindset leads to healthy choices. And conversely, a negative mindset leads to poor food choices.
Why is it that some people are able to make lasting changes to their diet and others can’t? Even when they are given the same information, one individual could make lasting nutritional changes, while the other quickly reverts back to old habits and tendencies. This is what made me realize the significant impact of mindsets on how we approach eating.
Mindsets vary from one individual to the next. You might simply find it overwhelming to start a new healthy eating program. You may believe you don’t have the time required to plan and prepare food. Or you might simply find that it takes too much of your mind space to eat healthily. Perhaps you start your week preparing healthy food, but like many, your busy life gets in the way. In turn, you find yourself gravitating towards your familiar comfort foods, especially in stressful situations. So you just give up! Are any of these resonating? Well, they are all examples of mindsets that lead us to certain behaviors that define our difficulties in achieving our nutritional health goals. So, I’d like to offer you a few simple tips to help you overcome the pitfalls of these negative mindsets.
FIRST, it’s important to be aware of your personal mindset and how it’s impacting your food choices and ultimately your eating patterns. If we’re honest, each one of us can put our finger on a certain prevailing eating pattern that may be hindering our health goals. Some of us are emotional eaters as we tend to eat more with a change in our emotions (eat when you’re sad, angry, stressed). Some are chaotic eaters, we tend to be too busy to plan ahead so we eat whatever is available, and make poor choices as a result. Some are distracted eaters, we eat on the go and are distracted so we have no idea how much we’ve actually eaten. Some are chronic dieters, we’re on the prowl looking for the next diet to fix our poor body image. Some of us are uninhibited eaters, unable to control our eating around our favorite food. Others of us are waste-not eaters, we’ve been taught (very well) to eat until our plate is clean. Just recognizing our mindset will help us to begin the process of breaking the cycle.
The NEXT step is to begin to identify some of the gaps in your current mindset and begin to address those gaps by making one small but important change at a time. Take the chaotic eater for example. Many of us can identify with feeling busy and overwhelmed by life and find it hard to plan ahead. So we eat whatever is available, which often leads to poor food choices. Instead of overhauling this person’s style of eating entirely, it would be more reasonable to make one small change. The change could be something to address what specifically contributes to their chaotic eating. For example, if it’s an issue of not having enough time, then quick meals and snacks that could be literally thrown together might be the solution. Or perhaps we start by planning ahead for one meal. The key is basically to find the number one thing that’s getting in the way and begin to address that. Long term, we would need to address the belief that they don’t have time or that their health doesn’t warrant the investment of time. But making a small sustainable change is the best place to start and build upon.
FINALLY, surround yourself with a support system. People who find the most success in their health goals are typically those that surround themselves with like-minded friends and family, who can coach and motivate them, and influence them in positive ways.
A health and nutrition coach, for example, is another great way to maintain accountability and ensure you don’t backtrack into your old patterns of thinking.
*The above descriptions on eating patterns have been adapted from the text Intuitive eating by E. Tribole and E. Resch.
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