Most of us have likely at one time or another resolved to eat better – to cut out all the foods we think we ‘shouldn’t’ be eating. We believe by sheer willpower alone we can ‘eat right’ to lose weight, improve our health and feel better. But after a few days of this resolve (if we can last that long), we find ourselves reaching for the potato chips or whatever foods we determined to cut out. And because we ate some, well, why not eat more? After all, this is the last time we’ll eat them, right? We’ll renew our resolve tomorrow, and one day, we’ll be able to cut out potato chips once and for all.
Healthy Eating: The First Step
This all-too-familiar story is repeated daily for millions of Americans and other people around the world who struggle with healthy eating and weight. Rather than changing what we eat to end that struggle, however, the first logical step is to change how we think about what we’re eating. What we really need is an attitude adjustment because once we change how we think about something, a change in how we act is soon to follow.
Can Healthy Eating Include Doughnuts?
Consider this scenario. Mary thinks she can’t eat doughnuts without overeating them. She calls them ‘fattening junk food’ and never allows them in her house. Still, she likes the way they taste. Is she setting herself up for a fall with her attitude about doughnuts?
It seems so because each time someone brings them to work, she rationalizes, “Well, I’ll have these doughnuts here because I NEVER have them at home. And I may not be able to get them again for a long time so I better get them while the gettin’s good!” Her belief that doughnuts are not an acceptable food to have at home creates a belief that they are off-limits or rarely available. Her belief that eating doughnuts will make her fat further sets her up for overeating them with the attitude “Well, I had one and the damage is done. I might as well eat more.” Hence, her difficulty in eating doughnuts in moderation when they are readily available.
The problem in this scenario isn’t the doughnuts. It’s the way Mary views them. If she believes that no food is off-limits, and that no individual food will make or break her healthy eating efforts, she can much more easily tune into her internal cues that tell her what she really wants to eat and how much of it. Her internal cues can tell her if doughnuts make her feel well when she eats them, thereby telling her whether she really likes them or not, which can play a major role in her decision to eat them. If she does decide she truly likes them, her internal cues can tell her when enough is enough so that she eats them in a way that doesn’t leave her feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. Unfortunately, internal cues can be drowned out by attitudes about food that stem from what we’ve been told (they’re unhealthy, they’re fattening, etc.) instead of what we experience for ourselves.
Examining Our Attitudes about Healthy Eating
If you find yourself time and time again experiencing a similar struggle to Mary’s, examine your attitudes about your food.
- Do you feel some foods are ‘good’ and others are ‘bad’?
- Do you think that if you aren’t avoiding certain foods, it’s inevitable you’ll overeat them when they are available?
- Do you believe once a binge starts there is no way it can end until all the food is gone?
- Do you believe if you aren’t eating “perfectly,” you’re not taking good care of yourself?
- Do you believe there is such a thing as “perfect eating”?
Changing these beliefs and attitudes about food and eating are critical to developing a healthy relationship with food and creating permanent and positive changes in the way we eat. In the absence of a positive attitude about foods, becoming more educated about nutrition is unlikely to have much effect.
Change Your Thinking
Whether it’s our attitude or beliefs about food, nutrition, exercise, health or body image, when we undertake lifestyle change, it’s important to consider our attitude about the subject at hand before jumping right into making changes. Often the most meaningful and successful lifestyle changes start with changing our mind first.