When understanding how healthy our eating habits are it is probably unhelpful to compare yourself with those around you. Our brain is designed to seek out information that confirms our own biases and that may mean you end up justifying your bad eating habits as opposed to recognising the damage you are doing.
Furthermore social media, diet culture and big businesses are misleading in their claims that the perfect body is an actual thing that can be achieved quickly and simply.
So let's be clear. The perfect body and yes that includes your brain, that usually gets forgotten about as you can't see it in the mirror, yet it is responsible for your entire physical and mental wellbeing, is the body that serves you best. It is a body that functions at its optimal state and enables you to enjoy life to the maximum effect.
The consequences for poor eating habits cause physical, psychological and cognitive deficiency and disease. Disordered eating is likely to reduce the quality of our life experiences, our relationships and success in the workplace. Yet many of us continue to engage in the abuse of our wonderful body's and mind's and feel powerless to change.
In this article I will identify 5 signs that you are causing lifelong damage to your body and mind and give 5 ways to fix them. Let me be clear. These are not quick fixes, anyone who has battled with disordered eating and won, as I have, will confirm there is no such thing.
Being significantly over or under weight.
Being overweight puts pressure on your heart, your joints and your bones. You are likely to suffer other health conditions like diabetes and depression, your quality of life is likely to be considerably diminished. Being under weight is likely to have a negative impact on all your vital organs, you are likely to suffer digestion and reproductive issues and are more likely to suffer dementia as you get older. Those who are severely underweight may also suffer are more likely to suffer emotional numbness due to the low cognitive function of a malnourished brain.
How to Fix Your Weight
Whilst Body Mass Index (BMI) is not always something I agree with, knowing many people who would show to be overweight but are healthier and fitter than I, it is a good indication of where you are in terms of being a healthy weight, especially as mirrors and friends will often lie!!! Go to your GP and establish your BMI (Not Your Weight). Do not then change your diet so dramatically it puts your body into some kind of shock. Instead stock fridge and cupboards with healthy foods and when I say healthy, think Mediterranean, foods. Fresh fruit, veg and fish, natural yoghurt, cheeses, sourdough bread and olive oil. Stay clear of processed foods and anything that purports to be a diet food. Start eating three varied and balanced meals a day. Bulk cook and freeze meals for days when cooking seems too much and the temptation of a take away might overpower your will power.
2. Emotional Disregulation
Our brains are the most complicated computers on the planet. They need high quality fuel to perform at their optimal state. Poor eating habits can negatively impact the neurotransmitters in our brain which lead to emotional imbalance. While food can evoke emotions of happiness, emotional eating is likely to inhibit the brains natural ability to regulate itself.
How to Regulate Your Emotions
In order to regulate your emotions you need to firstly meet your brains nutritional needs. Essential fatty acids found in fish, seeds and nuts act as a lubricant for our neurotransmitters which mean our chemical reactions will become more effective. This means our brain will release and transmit those happy hormones more freely. Serotonin, a mood stabiliser, dopamine our reward chemical, oxytocin our love hormone and endorphins our natural pain killers. All of these are sensitive to diet but serotonin is particularly sensitive. Once you have your diet in order, a great tool to help avoid emotional eating is to spend 5 minutes at the beginning and end of each day, to check in with your emotions. While this can be difficult. Many of us turn to food or the abstinence of it, to avoid dealing with our emotions. It is a powerful tool, to be able to sit with the uncomfortable feeling of negative emotions and harvesting the power of positive emotions helps us with that process. If the emotions feel overwhelming remind yourself that they will pass by themselves and need no intervention from you.
3. Poor Digestive System
The causes of poor digestive systems can be complicated, stress and medication may also play a factor. Eating too little or too much puts considerable strain on your digestive system and in many cases, it will take years of healthy eating to undo the damage caused as a result. Eating highly processed foods cause stress on the digestive system as does a lack of movement. Food intolerances may also play a role in poor digestion, if you feel that may be a factor, seek medical advice.
How to Improve Your Digestive Health
A healthy, balanced diet of wholesome, unprocessed foods is likely to promote gut health. Food rich in microbiomes is also likely to aid digestion. Yoga has been proven as a successful treatment for conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. A Sedentary lifestyle slows our metabolism and stress aggravates it. So gentle, regular exercise and breath work is the most effective way, along with a healthy diet, to improve your digestive health.
Fatigue can be an indicator of many things however, physical and emotional fatigue can be caused by poor nutrition and a lack of physical exertion. This can result in a cycle of poor food choices, which lead to further feelings of physical and emotional exhaustion. When we are tired we tend to crave high carb, high sugar foods, which may fix the problem temporarily but then cause our energy levels to crash. This state of tiredness may also reduce our willpower causing us to make further poor food choices.
How to beat fatigue
You guessed it! A nutritionally balanced diet is the best way to beat fatigue. Do not be tempted by carb free diets, carbohydrates are a crucial part of a healthy diet and help beat fatigue, as with all things eats carbs in moderation. 1/4 of any meal should be carbs, 1/4 protein and half fruit and veg. Fat should make up a small measure in any meal. Exercise increases our metabolism which is the transition of fuel into energy, even when we are not exercising, so long as we exercise regularly, our metabolism will constantly work well. Getting quality rest is also crucial to ignite the parasympathetic nervous system. Again breath work and meditation can make is feel more rested. Good quality sleep is also key. Turn of all devices at least an hour before bed, do not eat too late and get yourself in bed and ready for sleep at least half an hour before you intend to sleep. Reading a book...an actual book.. is a good way to get the brain ready for sleep.
5. Feeling Anxious and Controlling or lacking control when it comes to Food
The chances are, that if you are anxious about what you eat and control how food is prepared, then eating is not an enjoyable experience. The release of stress hormones whenever it comes to eating is likely to have the most detrimental impact on your health. It will impact your weight, inhibit the release of happy hormones, resulting in emotional disregulation, it will cause issues with digestion and exhaust you. If you lack control your mind will constantly be at war with itself as you try to fight the compulsion to binge.
How to beat food anxiety and relinquish control
Having been in this position myself I know only too well how difficult it is to overcome these issues, but I am living proof that you can enjoy eating out with friends, family gatherings and birthday cake made by your 5 year old! The trick is to relinquish that control a little at a time. Start with small things and build them up over time. Do not be tempted to revert back to old habits when things get tough, and they will. Envisage what it would be like to go to a restaurant with friends and ask the waiter to bring you something they recommend off the menu or something else that would ordinarily be enjoyable. Really imagine it and hold onto it. That is your goal! If emotional/binge eating is the issue imagine understanding your hunger queue and eating with all the pleasure and no guilt, while maintaining a healthy body and mind. These things are all achievable with time, commitment and perseverance.
If the causes of your eating habits are deep routed then you may benefit from counselling, therapy, or coaching and I would strongly advocate you get the right support. I had a great deal of support, which has sustained me for many years of wellness. Your body, brain and mind are your greatest assets and I would implore you to do whatever it takes to treat yourself better. To nourish yourself with good food, self love and personal growth. Getting the right kind of help with that can create positive changes that last a lifetime.
If you have found this blog beneficial in any way I would love to hear from you. Not because I want to sell my services to you, but because I want to ensure what I write is useful.