Sometimes, simply eating well isn’t enough for you to be happy and healthy. What you eat is important, but how and why you’re eating are just as essential. There is a reason why fad diets and detoxes don’t work, even when they put you into a calorie deficit. They overlook some of the most important factors – how you’re eating and why. When you have a food intolerance it also can seem like the most important thing is food avoidance, when how and why you’re eating also plays a role.
How you eat
Mindless eating vs mindful eating
We’ve all experienced this kind of eating before. You’re sitting in front of the TV with a packet of chips or a tub of ice cream. The next time you look down, it’s all gone – and you have next to no memory of eating it. Or you’re quickly gobbling down a snack while working away at the computer or in front of the TV.
But the good news is that flipping over to a mindful approach to eating can have a variety of benefits. Research shows that mindful eating is associated with reduced stress levels and improvements in mental wellbeing. If weight loss or healthy eating is your goal, studies suggest that mindful eating can lead to improved dietary choices, modest weight loss and improve gut symptoms such as bloating and flatulence.
Why you eat
When we experience negative emotions, we’ll look for anything that can soothe us. For many, that means turning to food. This is often food that we were given as children when sick or upset, but it may also just be our favourite foods. Unfortunately, very few will turn to a salad or piece of fruit when emotional. It’s more likely to be foods high in sugar, salt and/or fat like a burger or cake.
But research has suggested that people who eat emotionally can take action to minimise the impact. Exercise, mindful eating and coping strategies for reducing stress can all be beneficial for an emotional eating situation.
This one is often attributed to kids, but as adults, we’re just as likely to eat out of boredom. Although boredom eating can tie in with other eating patterns like emotional eating, it also can exist on its own. When you feel restless or dissatisfied, your brain seeks out sensation and excitement. For many of us, food serves this purpose, particularly less healthy choices.
The good news is that eating junk food when you’re bored doesn’t have to be inevitable. Research shows that choosing more exciting healthy options like fresh fruit can be just as satisfying for the bored brain. Try a healthy muffin recipe, so you can snack better.
There are other factors that influence how you eat that can be beneficial or harmful, depending on the circumstances. People who are involved in sports or bodybuilding might take the approach of ‘food as fuel’. While it is fuel for your body, this approach ignores the other influences that food has. Food is not just fuel, it’s also social, cultural and often emotional.
Food intolerance and food fear
Eating for wellness and health benefits is often a good approach, except when taken to extremes. Sometimes, an obsession with the health benefits of food can lead to disordered eating and conditions such as orthorexia in vulnerable people. For example, when trialing a low histamine elimination diet, we want to start challenging foods again after 4-6 weeks.
Many of us can get stuck with only 3 or 4 foods to eat, and food fear develops. Food fear is totally understandable due to reactions we may experience, but no one should be that restricted for a long period of time. Our gut microbiome is dependant on eating a wide variety of foods, and strict limitations can cause beneficial bacteria to reduce, or even disappear. If you get to this point it’s time to work with a nutritionist to heal underlying issues causing reactivity and widen your food choices.
This is why it’s important to find your balance with food. Many people find that an 90/10 approach is best. 90% of what you eat can be healthy and beneficial for your overall well being. 10% can be more about indulgence. This doesn’t mean you go off and eat 3 slices of bread if you’re Coeliac, or tomatoes if you’re histamine intolerant. But it might mean having the occasional high histamine treat at an event. Which you then balance out with a low histamine diet before and after to lower the possibility of symptoms.