Time and time again I see people who want to eat healthy food succumb to competing pressures. Whether it is price, convenience, time, mood, stress, work, temptation, or any other factors that influence our eating patterns, when push comes to shove, eating nutritious food falls down on the list of priorities. For many, it is only when we experience a health scare that we truly become aware of what, where, and how much we are eating.
It is no secret that the majority of people want to maintain and improve their health and wellbeing, and eating nutritious food is a big part of that. However, there is a huge gap between the nation’s desire to eat healthy food, and increasingly unhealthy eating patterns.
The stats for Australian adults are pretty alarming:
Less than 4% of Australian adults consumed the recommended number of vegetable serves.
Over one-third (35%) of Australian adults total daily energy comes from foods and beverages classified as discretionary (e.g. alcoholic beverages, cakes and muffins, confectionery, pastries, sweet biscuits and sugary drinks).
Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016
If eating nutritious food was really a top priority for Australians, we wouldn’t see stats like these. When what we eat is overshadowed by so many competing factors, many of us are on mindless autopilot when it comes to making food and drink related decisions. In this scenario, we overeat, pick, nibble, graze and binge on foods that aren’t necessarily health promoting.
Now it’s important to note that we all do this from time to time. It’s impossible to avoid given the food environment in which we live. However, those that truly prioritise eating nutritious food are more mindful of what they eat more often.
Now I’m going to jump off my dietitian soapbox and confess that my usual eating pattern isn’t perfect. Nor do I want it to be. Eating healthy food 100% of the time would be exhausting and certainly not sustainable. Life is a marathon, not a sprint after all. Subject to allergies, intolerances, and disease states, all food has a place in people’s diets, just some foods more than others. Except maybe for oysters, but that’s just me.
Nobody is perfect and it’s healthy not to be. It’s ok to have the odd mindless eating experience. What’s important is that you learn from the experience.
Mindless eating fail #1
Tonight is dinner and a movie night. I enjoy a lovely 2 course meal with my wife and head straight to the cinema. It’s tradition to buy a choc top ice-cream every time I go to the cinema. Even though I’ve had a filling two course meal, I step up to the snack counter, purchase the ice-cream, and knock it down during the movie. I feel tired, sluggish and bloated.
Mindless eating fail #2
I’m at the fish pub looking at the menu, trying to decide between the standard battered fish and chips, or the grilled ‘fish of the day’. It’s my turn to order. I choose the battered ‘fish and chips’ because it’s cheaper ($10 less). By the time I go home I’ve consumed two pints of beer ($22) on top of the meal. If I was mindful, I would have had one less beer and ordered the grilled ‘fish of the day’. Instead I’m left feeling lethargic, bloated, and really thirsty.
Can you think of a time where you didn’t prioritise your eating and it backfired?
Eating is one of the greatest pleasures in life. So the take-home isn’t to restrict foods and food groups, or follow a strict set of rules around food. It is not to go on a 28 day intensive diet and exercise program, or eat like a caveman.
The take-home is to make eating healthy, nutritious foods a top priority. With this shift in priority comes mindfulness, and with this mindfulness you will naturally seek out foods that are both pleasing to you, and nourishing to your body. This can positively impact your day-to-day performance, just as much as it can help prevent disease. It’s empowering! Oh and you can still eat go out for a burger from time to time.