Overcoming the 4 Barriers to Healthy Eating: Habits, Dieting, Eating Disorders, and Emotional Eating

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The food you eat can have a big effect on your overall health, including your mood, weight, energy levels, libido, thoughts, sleep, vitality, and even IQ. Eating a healthy diet not only lowers the chance of getting serious diseases like cancer and heart disease, but it can also help with depression, menopause, endometriosis, and even boost fertility. For example, research has shown that women who eat 30 grams of fiber per day have half the risk of getting breast cancer compared to those who eat less than 20 grams. Most women only eat 12 grams of fiber per day, which is too little. You can easily get to 30 grams of fiber per day by making small changes to your diet, like eating a high-fiber breakfast and adding whole grain bread, fruits, and vegetables to your meals. The next question is how committed you are to changing your diet and putting your health first. If you’re reading this book, it’s likely that you want to make changes for the better, and the goal of the author is to get you to start eating healthier.

The goal of a healthy eating plan is to give you tasty food that keeps your energy and mood up, meets your body’s nutritional and energy needs, helps you stay at your ideal weight, speeds up healing and recovery from illness, reduces inflammation, keeps you from getting sick, and helps you reach your full physical, emotional, and mental potential. In short, eating well helps you grow and get better as a person.

But even though it sounds simple and ideal, it’s not at all like that in real life. Most people think that healthy eating means only choosing healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. However, based on my experience, there are four possible challenges or obstacles to healthy eating that need to be dealt with to make it more likely that a healthy eating plan will be followed. Some of these problems are habits, diets, eating disorders, and eating out of emotions.

Healthy eating barrier I – habit

Many of us have regular ways of eating. For example, my patient Lorraine always had cereal with milk for breakfast, a tuna or ham sandwich with yogurt for lunch, pizza, meat and potatoes, or fish, chips, and vegetables for dinner, and often ice cream or a chocolate bar for dessert. When I asked her how long she had been on this diet, she told me it had been 15 years. After telling her how bad her eating habits were for her health and how important it was to have a varied diet, we used a holistic health technique called the Emotional Freedom Technique to help her stop eating the same foods. This method worked, and within two weeks, she had completely changed her diet and was able to keep it up even when she was stressed. If you tend to eat the same things over and over, here’s what I suggest:

  • Make a list of the reasons you eat the same things over and over, like habit, not wanting to try new things, taste preference, convenience, etc.
  • Write down what you usually eat when you’re feeling stressed.
  • Make a list of all the reasons you might want to try new foods and eat more variety.
  • Change the way you eat by using the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). You could say something like, “Even though I always eat Cheerios for breakfast, I deeply, completely, and without judgment accept and forgive myself.” Try EFT on your main eating habits and watch how it changes them. If this is hard for you, you might want to talk to a therapist who specializes in EFT.

Healthy eating barrier II – Cravings

When you have a craving, you really want a certain kind of food and can’t stop thinking about it. One study found that 91% of women have these kinds of cravings. People usually feel tense before giving in to their cravings. After eating the food they want, dopamine and other chemicals that make them feel good flood their brains, making them feel happy and relieved. To get rid of food cravings for good, you need to figure out why you want to eat. From what I’ve seen, the main causes that need to be found and fixed are:

  • Blood-sugar imbalance/insulin resistance;
  • Stress;
  • Hormone changes caused by PMS;
  • Lack of sleep;
  • Genetics Eating disorders

Healthy eating barrier III – Eating disorders

One million and one hundred and ten thousand people in the UK alone have an eating disorder. Up to 20% of women with an eating disorder may die because of it, which is very sad. If you have any of the signs of the most common eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, you should get professional help by visiting the eating disorders website listed in the Resources section.

  • Anorexia Nervosa: Which affects 1% to 2% of women and is a severe, potentially life-threatening disorder in which people starve themselves and lose a lot of weight. Even though they are underweight, people with anorexia nervosa are very afraid of gaining weight or getting fat. They also have a distorted view of their bodies, fear that food will make them gain weight, and don’t want to stay at a healthy weight for their age and height. They may starve themselves, work out too much, or purge in order to lose weight and keep it off.
  • Bulimia: One to three percent of women have bulimia, which is when they eat a lot of food and then feel like they have no control over their eating. People with bulimia also do things that aren’t healthy to try to make themselves feel better, like making themselves throw up, abusing laxatives or diuretics, fasting, or exercising too much. They also worry way too much about their weight and shape.
  • Binge: Binge eating disorder affects about 2% of women and 15% of mildly obese women. It is characterized by binge eating of foods that are thought to be “fattening,” feeling out of control, feeling guilty and remorseful after eating, being obsessed with food and weight, and then trying to deal with the effects of overeating by starving, dieting, exercising, and weighing.

Eating disorders are complicated diseases that affect the whole person and need to be treated by experts who know what they are doing. Like with any other illness, it’s important to look at eating disorders from many different angles, such as the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. If you have an eating disorder, it’s important to get help from a qualified health professional or team of professionals, which usually includes a nutritional therapist and a psychotherapist, counselor, or addiction specialist. They can give you the individualized care and support you need to get better and get your life back on track.

Healthy eating barrier IV – Emotional eating

Emotional eating is when someone eats food over and over again to change how they feel. It’s a simple way of saying that you use food to numb and control your feelings, often because you want instant gratification and want to get away from yourself. It’s a common problem that affects about 80% of the patients I work with. Even if you know how to eat healthy and are motivated to do so, using food to deal with stress is likely to ruin your efforts. If you think you might be an emotional eater, I suggest the following:

  • For the next 24 hours, watch how you eat without criticizing yourself.
  • Pay attention to how you use food to change how you feel.
  • Make a list of the foods that make you feel better, like bread, chocolate, or biscuits.
  • Write down the things, thoughts, or images that make you want these foods.
  • Think about how long you’ve been using food as a way to deal with your problems.
  • Write down how your life and health have changed because of how you eat when you’re upset.
  • You might want to read tips three and four to learn how to deal with your feelings better.