It’s something we all know. Eating fruits and vegetables is good for you. It makes you healthy and it prevents a number of diseases in the long run. So why do we then order greasy takeaway for dinner, follow it up by a piece of cake for dessert and top it off with a glass of wine to really indulge ourselves? The common justification would be... we're simply feeding the soul. You have to break the rules once in a while. While all of that is nice and partially true, indulgence in unhealthy foods affects the mental just like the physical health. How exactly? Keep on reading to find out!
A spoonful of sugar helps the bad feelings go away When we’re sad, frustrated or anxious, we are more likely to turn to food for comfort. Especially junk food is often viewed as sort of a safe space. Foods rich in simple carbohydrates such as candy, pastries or sugary drinks, temporarily improve your mood and gift you with a fleeting moment of joy. What the lazy and sneaky sugar does however is leave you even worse off after it has done its job.
On the other hand, when we’re happy we are more likely to choose healthier options. While the long-term benefits of a healthy diet are undeniable, eating fruits and vegetables actually has a positive short-term effect. On the days when people ate fruits and vegetables they felt happier, calmer and more energetic. The effect even lasted during the following day as well!
Why we eat what we eat Stress has a huge effect on your eating pattern. High levels of stress have been found to be connected with consuming larger quantities of food. What’s even more interesting, is that when we’re stressed we prefer sweet food. It’s simply a part of our biology. Already as babies we show a preference for the sweet taste.
What food we choose to eat largely depends on our culture and the environment we live in. Imagine all of your friends became vegans (if they have not done so already…). Wouldn’t you at least consider becoming vegan as well? Your dinners together would suddenly look a lot different. The eating habits we adopt are closely connected to the people around us. Just like when you go to a party you know you will likely end up munching on some crisps and drinking beer.
The hungry inner monster The fact that we’re cranky when we’re hungry is true for adults and children. With an empty stomach, you’re likely to experience feeling of arousal, alertness and irritability. Snickers demonstrates this perfectly in their diva commercial with Betty White. After a meal, humans and other animals as well become calm. If you had an especially heavy meal you might feel lethargic or even fall asleep.
But there is more to your hungry state than just crankiness. Not planning your meals at all and putting yourself into a state of utter starvation will make it more likely for you to eat something unhealthy once you finally get the chance. Another hungry danger is going to the supermarket on an empty stomach. Suddenly everything looks appetising and you want to buy it all. Looking at the bill of a hungry shopper, it may often seem like they did indeed buy everything.
The hungry inner monster is actually a part of our biology. From an evolutionary perspective, fatty and sweet food were the most beneficial because they gave you a lot of energy in a condensed form. That is why our tastes have evolved so that we prefer these types of food. However, this does not longer work in today's world of excess. I guess someone forgot to tell our genes that it would be more beneficial for our health to crave a kale smoothie rather than a chocolate bar...
How to change your eating pattern We’re creatures of habit. The food we eat and the time of the day we choose to eat our meals at depend on what we're used to. We spend a lot of our days on autopilot and often do not second question our decisions. This is completely natural and normal. Decision making requires effort and if we spend too much energy on deciding on the healthiest meal option, we’ll have less willpower for the following decisions later on in the day.
Planning is the key to success, so try to take a minute to evaluate your eating pattern and look for ways to make it better. Have a healthy option at hand for situations when you’d usually grab a junk food snack. Make your healthy eating the new standard and let it become an effortless habit.
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