Unhealthy eating habits: How to overcome them and form healthier practices
When it comes to your health, it's the little things that can make a big difference.
Some habits are good for us — like making better food choices and focusing on physical activity more than once a week. But, not all habits are worth keeping around.
Maybe you skip meals sometimes because you get too busy or end up overeating as a coping mechanism. We're not here to judge, but we hope we can help.
When it comes to your health, it's the little things that can make a big difference. Changing eating habits is a simple way to approach eating healthier — not just to lose weight, but also to improve your overall health.
Here are 5 poor eating habits that are surprisingly common. Plus, 3 healthy eating habits that you can replace them with.
Explaining eating habits
All of us have individual eating patterns — including our food choices, our motives for eating, and any diets we follow. Some of these eating habits are good for our health, while others leave a little to be desired .
In a study of over 2,000 people in France, researchers wanted to understand which habits were more likely to lead to weight gain. Certain habits, like using a large plate, eating in front of the TV, eating at night, and engaging in emotional eating were linked to higher weight .
But the thing is, habits don’t form overnight and they don’t make you gain weight overnight either. Most weight gain is gradual — just a small amount each year, which adds up over time .
One of the reasons that diets don’t work is they think short-term. They are about quick fixes and immediate weight loss. But, when you stop your diet, unhealthy habits can return.
Instead, it’s good to focus on sustainable weight loss — which means changing your daily eating habits so that they support you in a healthy lifestyle.
Experts recommend a 3-step process for changing eating habits: reflect, replace, and reinforce .
This step is about understanding your eating habits and whether they are healthy or not. You could try keeping a food journal or ask trusted friends and family for some advice.
We’ll be explaining a few common bad eating habits next if you need some ideas of what to look for.
The next step is finding ways to swap your bad habits for healthier eating habits. For example, your food journal might show that you often eat even when you’re not hungry. A good way to start to change this habit is a tool like the hunger scale, which can help you get back in touch with your hunger cues.
Finally, you should remember that eating habits take time to form (and change). Be patient with yourself and don’t get upset if you miss a beat. It’s normal to falter, just try to get back on track and keep reinforcing your new habits until they feel natural.
Common poor eating habits
We may not realise that the eating habits we have formed are bad for us. And, we may not realise that we have turned them into daily habits either. Here are 5 common eating habits that may be doing more harm than good.
1. Skipping breakfast
Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? It depends on who you ask.
Studies have found some evidence that skipping breakfast can lead to weight gain, but they are not definitive. Most of the research findings also apply to children and teens, rather than adults .
Some people just don’t like breakfast and skipping it won’t have a huge impact on their day. But, if you find yourself constantly hungry or craving unhealthy foods — you might not be fuelling your body properly .
A healthy breakfast is an important morning ritual that can give you the energy you need to tackle the day (and stay full until lunch).
If you want to change this habit, try to make food a priority in your day. Make sure that you are sitting down to eat at a regular time, which means it’s a ritual that you won’t forget .
It can also help to avoid combining eating with other activities — like work or scrolling socials — as this means your whole focus is on your food.
2. Eating too quickly
There’s another reason that it helps to focus on your food — it helps you eat slowly. A Japanese study found that fast eaters were at higher risk of weight gain, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar .
Why? Because when you eat too fast, you don’t notice what you’re eating. And, you don’t give your body time to register that it is full.
Food signals take around 15-20 minutes to reach your brain, which is too long if you spend just 5 minutes devouring a meal.
Further studies in Japan and China have found a link between eating too quickly and consuming more calories. If you eat slowly, for say 15-20 minutes, it gives your brain time to register what you’re eating and stop you from overeating.
If you struggle with eating too fast, experts say the key is to chew more. Chewing your food 20-40 times can help you decrease your calorie intake by up to 10% .
Other options include sipping water between bites and not waiting until you’re absolutely starving to get yourself a meal.
3. Engaging in emotional eating
The main purpose of food may be to give us energy, but it can also make us feel better. When we’re feeling sad, lonely, stressed or even bored, it’s common for us to crave a little treat .
While the occasional emotional support food is nothing to be ashamed of, making a habit out of it can impact your health. Research shows that emotional eaters are more likely to overeat and are at higher risk of obesity .
There are a few strategies you can try on your own to avoid emotional eating :
- Try not to keep unhealthy snacks in the house, which can help you push away a junk food craving if it comes
- Use meditation or breathing exercises as a healthier option to combat stress
- Think about whether you’re thirsty or tired — would drinking water or taking a nap help?
If you find that emotional eating is not manageable on your own, it’s important that you seek professional medical or mental health support.
4. Overeating or binge eating
It's not always our fault when we overeat. Research shows that when people are served more, they tend to eat more .
It may not be our fault, but it’s still a habit that it’s better to kick. Research also shows that having large portions or more than 1 portion is linked to weight gain .
In good news, getting rid of this habit may be as simple as watching your portions. At home, this could mean eating from a smaller plate. When you’re out at a restaurant, it might mean sharing food or using your hunger cues to recognise when you feel full.
Sometimes, eating large amounts is more serious than the occasional big meal. Binge eating is a mental health disorder that affects both women and men .
It is different to overeating because it is a compulsive habit — one that can disrupt your life and cause great distress.
If you are struggling with compulsive eating, it is important that you seek professional help. We recommend speaking with your doctor who can guide you to the appropriate support, like a dietitian or mental health professional.
5. Having takeaway because it’s easier than cooking
At the end of a long day, we know it can feel hard to prepare a healthy meal. Which is why many of us just order takeaway .
There’s nothing wrong with takeaway itself, but sometimes there are issues with how we view it. We often link takeaway meals with a treat which means throwing away our healthy eating plans.
We also tend to eat more since they offer large portion sizes, or we order more to avoid not having enough food.
One way to turn around your takeaway habit is to try batch cooking. Prepare lots of food in advance and freeze the leftovers, so you have a healthy meal on hand at short notice.
Portion sizes are another important part of healthier takeaway eating. We know that some people really don’t have time to cook. So, if takeaway is a regular part of your life, try to keep an eye on how much you eat at each meal .
Healthy eating habits to try
Maybe you’ve fallen prey to some of those unhealthy habits before, or maybe there’s another habit that you’d like to kick to the curb. Either way, these 3 healthy habits are a good place to start.
1. Practise mindful eating
This is an area that so many of us could do better at. Whether we are watching TV or busy on our phones, mindless eating means we forget to take stock of our food and notice how much we are eating .
Mindful eating, on the other hand, is about paying full attention to your food. It’s about noticing the little details — like the texture, smell, colour, and flavour of your food.
Research even shows that practising mindful eating can help you enjoy a healthier relationship with food and cut back on overeating .
2. Stay hydrated
It may surprise you to know that your drinking habits matter too. For example, drinking water can help support weight management. There are lots of ways this works, but 2 important ones include:
- Drinking water helps boost your metabolism, meaning your body burns more calories while at rest
- Drinking a glass of water before a meal can help you feel satisfied with a smaller portion since the water fills up your stomach
There's also the fact that water has no calories, unlike a sugary drink. Whether it's a soft drink or fruit juice, sugary beverages add extra calories to your day but do little to satisfy your hunger .
When we are slightly dehydrated, we are more likely to reach for a sugary drink too. As our body feels tired, we crave a pick-me-up. So, not only will drinking water mean fewer calories, but it might also mean craving fewer sugary drinks as you stay hydrated.
We are big believers in everything in moderation — so a glass of fruit juice or a small can of soda is okay sometimes. But, most of the time it’s better to stick with H20. There’s always lemon water if you want more flavour.
3. Creating structure around food
A lot of unhealthy eating habits start because we don’t have enough structure around our food. Like skipping breakfast because we don’t have a set meal time, eating too fast because we are in a rush, and boredom eating late at night just to pass the time.
Bringing structure back to your life is a healthier way to treat your food. For example, eat breakfast at the same time each day so you don’t forget about it. Or give yourself a full half-hour to eat so that you can slow down.
When it comes to boredom eating, structure can work too. Rather than just watching TV and snacking, try splitting your evening into activity blocks . This might look like:
- 1 hour for a healthy meal
- 1 hour for chores
- 1 hour for watching TV
- 1 hour of social or family time
Keeping busy, but not overwhelmed, can help you feel less restless or bored which in turn, can help you stop reaching for food when you’re at a loose end.
How to approach weight loss holistically
For so long, the approach to weight loss has been ‘eat less and move more’. But, that’s not telling the full story.
Holistic weight management goes beyond the calories-in-calories-out thinking. It considers the complex emotional, hormonal, and physical aspects that contribute to losing weight and maintaining weight loss .
At Juniper, we take a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach to weight loss with our Weight Reset Program.
Part of your journey with Juniper might be medication, but there’s a lot more to our program. You’ll also get support from health practitioners, health coaches and a weight loss community so you can build sustainable habits for losing weight which you can actually stick to, even if you stop using the medication.
When it comes to higher-weight individuals, there’s also a lot of stigma from health professionals. Plus, a tendency to blame and shame people for their weight .
No matter what path you take to lose weight, it’s important that there is a focus on self-esteem and belief in your ability to succeed — not ideal weights or body shape .
Thousands of Australian women have found new confidence with Juniper.
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