Food has come to have meaning, and perhaps that's the problem. Isn't food just fuel for a healthy body? When did food become more than just nourishment? Doesn't healthy eating mean eating the necessary food groups in an enjoyable way to maintain a normal, stable weight?
People with psychologically healthy eating habits use food for energy and fuel, a vehicle for social connectivity, and sometimes even as a source of pleasure. They may be motivated by health and beauty, or their desire for weight loss or maintenance, and live a life that emulates Hippocrates' advice "Let food be thy medicine, and medicine shall be thy food."
Isn't it just food?
Psychologically healthy eating means "eating without meaning." It is important to remember that what we eat affects how we feel, and how we feel and think affects how and what we eat. Unfortunately in today's world, what and how we eat is influenced by a number of factors, such as cultural norms, environmental messages, social pressures, and familial issues. This causes us to irrationally see food as a coping mechanism, while the truth is that using food to deal with stress, boredom, anger, depression, or anxiety will only make us feel worse in the long run.
We have lost our minds when it comes to nutrition, and in the meantime, we've gained weight. Big packages, plates, glasses and "supersize meals" are everywhere we look, fooling us into believing that bigger is better, and not only better, but normal. Think you can resist the "Buy Two, Get a Third Free" offer? You can't, and in fact, you'll probably buy more than you would ordinarily buy thanks to psychologically arranged supermarkets designed to keep your mind confused and completely out of the food shopping process. The "healthy aura" of psychologically sophisticated labeling and psychologically organized restaurants and menus numbs your mind and only makes you think you are eating well. For the psychologically unhealthy, eating is a spectator sport or a secondary activity to do while doing something else, but in all reality, it's one big psychological nightmare.
The how and why behind our eating
There's a well-known study that demonstrates how psychologically healthy eating is trumped by the irrational "mind in the stomach." In the study, participants were fooled into eating from a bottomless bowl of soup that was pressure-fed through the bottom of the table as they ate. Convinced that the bowl was normal, they rationalized by telling themselves that they were just eating slowly and savoring the delicious flavors, which in turn, caused them to mindlessly swallow 73 percent more soup than those who ate from the normal 22 ounce bowls. While our eyes may be bigger than our stomachs, our minds will gladly play along to convince us that we're just "eating slowly" instead of gobbling from an endless trough of soup. A similar scenario occurred when testing shapes of tumblers. Those who drank from short and wide tumblers consumed an average of 27 percent more than those who drank from tall and slender tumblers, thanks to the deceptive horizontal-vertical illusion.
Psychologically healthy eaters are free of erroneous, dysfunctional thoughts that lead to unhealthy food choices and eating styles, such as the following:
- "I've had a bad day—I deserve to feel better." or "A little taste isn't so bad." (justification)
- "I have zero willpower!" (exaggerated thinking)
- "I ate that cookie—I may as well just enjoy the rest of today and start again tomorrow." ("all or nothing" thinking)
- "Never waste food." or "Good foods have fewer calories." (unhelpful rules that lead to eating far more calories than you realize)
Psychologically healthy eaters are mindful of the singular purpose of eating – health. They easily recognize emotional triggers, know how to stop eating when they feel full, and are overall more internally driven than externally driven. They are very aware of food's taste, texture, feel and temperature, as well the importance of proper chewing. Psychologically healthy eaters don't eat to meet an emotional need or escape an unpleasant feeling, thought, or situation, following Ben Franklin's advice, "One should eat to live, not live to eat."
Tips for becoming a psychologically healthy eater
If you're ready to fight back against psychologically unhealthy eating and regain control, begin by establishing conscious eating and creating a fail-proof environment with these simple strategies:
- Decide how much you are going to eat before you eat
- When eating a larger meal, use a smaller plate
- Move healthy food to eye-level in your pantry
- Always eat in the kitchen or dining room
- Be the last person to begin eating at group meals
- Eat slowly and put your utensils down between bites
- Make snacking and eating seconds a major inconvenience
- Never eat "dangerous" foods at home
- Always choose quality over quantity.
When practicing these steps, keep in mind the importance of balance. Today, being overly concerned with healthy eating can be diagnosed as "orthorexia nervosa." In Latin this means "nervous about correct eating" and is yet another form of unhealthy eating.
Interested in more ideas on how to make healthy eating a regular part of your day? Check out these easy to follow recipes for delicious and nutritious meal ideas!</e
Michael Mantell earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and his M.S. at Hahnemann Medical College, here he wrote his thesis on obesity. He’s served as the Chief Psychologist of Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego and the Chief Psychologist for the San Diego Police Department. He provides breakthrough strategies to help business leaders, athletes, individuals and families create healthy, fit and happy trajectories in life. He is the Senior Consultant for Behavioral Sciences for ACE, an international behavior science fitness presenter, an Advisor to numerous companies and fitness organizations, on the Sports Medicine team of The Sporting Club of San Diego and is featured in many international media outlets. He is listed in the greatest.com 2013 “The 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness.”