Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why do we eat the way we do?

     Continuing to look at eating habits - 'WHY' would probably be the most profound question you could ask yourself.

     If you think about it, why is it that you eat at the times that you do? why do you eat slowly or fast? Why do you hate/love certain foods? Each and every food behaviour you display has an origin - maybe an unpleasant incident [your mom yelled at you when you were eating dal palak (spinach in lentils) put you off greeens for good and now you wouldn't touch them with a ten foot pole.] 

     Just kidding, but seriously, if you start analysing, it'll never end. We humans are creatures of habit and most of our eating habits are developed in response to our circumstances - eg. packing for lunch whatever you had for breakfast because that's simpler than cooking a  whole lot of items before rushing to work or skipping lunch altogether because of your work load or even skipping dinner because you had a heavy evening snack.

     Why do you think kids love junk processed food like chips, cookies, jams, etc ? They watch ads in between their favourite cartoons and are thus influenced to demand that their parents buy those products and once they taste something they like - they want it over and over again. See, response to stimuli - don't believe me? 

     Look at what you eat - if you kept a food journal [refer my March 25th post], it would be simpler to observe. We rarely make any extra effort to include a whole lot of healthy items in our daily eating and if you do eat a lot of healthy food and very little junk - either you or someone in your family put a lot of effort into creating those habits.
     Most often we're more amenable to making changes in what we eat only when we get those blood test reports indicating high cholesterol/blood pressure/blood glucose levels, etc. For some people, complete transformation of eating habits happens only when they're diagnosed with Diabetes or suffer from a heart attack - talk about a wake up call!

     Speaking of eating in response to stimuli - ever heard of 'emotional eating'? That's when you give in to your food cravings which are stimulated by sadness/ grief/stress and worry/loneliness,etc.

     The mind seeks to do something pleasurable to divert attention from the problem and most often succeeds only for a little while. When the satisfaction gotten by fulfilling the craving is over, the emotion returns, and along with it brings an experience of guilt. Instead of dealing powerfully with the problem, you're now dependent on your 'quick fix'. This is true for many men and women and non food addictions may also develop like smoking, alcohol and drugs. 

     So start observing how much of your eating is related to an emotion/mood. In extreme cases the following develop:

     Anorexia and Bulimia are eating disorders. Anorexia is a condition in which a person desperately tries to control /lose weight by resorting to greatly decreased food intake, taking diet pills, etc. Bulimia is characterised by binge eating and then 'purging' either by self induced vomiting or abuse of laxatives. Both of these are destructive food behaviours which originate from low self esteem, more common in teenage girls and women in their early twenties. Be on the watch for children suddenly eating less food, becoming conscious of their weight and spending a lot of time in front of the mirror and bathroom. Both conditions are psychological in nature and require counselling as well as nutritional management.

      You being the creator of your healthy food habits as opposed to being at the effect of circumstances and external stimuli is a powerful experience and addictive [in a good way]. The good news at the end of the day is that, since we are such creatures of habit, it's pretty simple to cultivate healthy habits such as eating balanced meals and exercising regularly. 

     First of all, you've got to be willing to take these small consistent actions daily. And then it takes a little will power, discipline and a general knowledge of what's healthy and relax, even I wasn't born with all of the above, it takes practice over time, like everything else in life [hey - you were toilet - trained as a kid this way]. Allow yourself to be inspired, have fun with it and you'll see that healthy habits created this way are sustained over a life time.