Despite enjoying a plentiful supply of food in the Western world, many of us eat extremely poor diets resulting in a variety of health problems. Why are we choosing foods which are bad for us?
Many women’s lives have never been busier; working full-time, often with a long commute, looking after the family and home, caring for elderly relatives, the list goes on and time is in short supply. Junk food; sugary, fatty and salty foods which are high in calories are convenient, taste good and provide a quick boost when we feel tired.
Organisation is key to sticking to a healthy diet and taking time to plan meals in advance pays dividends for your health and bank-balance. Always make time to eat a proper breakfast to boost energy levels and prevent a slump in blood sugar triggering cravings for sugary snacks. Take a healthy lunch to work, maybe homemade soup or salad and use a slow-cooker to return home to a hearty hot meal. Avoid situations where you are liable to make bad food choices; most burger chains sell a salad, but honestly who buys them?
Food can be used as a way of dealing with emotions; grief, frustration, boredom. Maybe you were treated to food as a child and associate treats with feeling loved. Emotional eating can fill a gap when basic human needs aren’t being met, or you feel stressed and upset about things. However it can quickly turn into binge-eating becoming a vicious downward spiral with post-binge feelings of disgust triggering another binge.
Try to address what issues cause comfort eating and look for non-food solutions; a creative activity such as painting helps if you feel a lack of stimulation, enabling the expression of pent-up feelings whilst physical activity elevates mood and feelings of self-esteem. Don’t use food as a treat, book a beauty treatment, buy a glossy magazine or the latest paperback, enjoy a film or see a theatre show.
A daily fix of caffeine, chocolate or alcohol can be very difficult to manage without; the Danish pastry at morning tea break, impossible to resist chips in the canteen for lunch, 3:30 pm chocolate bar for energy until you get home, a large glass of wine to unwind after you’ve battled through traffic and finally get through the door, another chocolate bar whilst your favourite soap is on TV. These habits become engrained and are difficult to break.
Have you ever wondered why it's so difficult to drive past your favourite fast-food restaurant, or ignore the slice of chocolate cake you know is in the fridge? Fat and sugar increase dopamine levels; this chemical motivates our behaviour, driving us towards food and increasing our focus on obtaining that food. Brain activity is also stimulated by food cues which suggest the food is nearby; the signal predicting the food generating the dopamine response. Each time you act on these cues you're rewiring your brain and eating becomes a habit.
A period of change in your life is ideal time to break bad habits triggered by daily routine. Your mind is in “change mode” and the absence of cues which normally prompt this behaviour can be used to positive effect. For example if you start a new job you can ditch the chocolate and start eating fruit, your colleagues will think you always eat healthily.
Food is an emotional quick-fix her things masking feelings of grief and frustration and the physical effects of lack of sleep and alcohol consumption. Junk food acts like an opiate (painkiller) on the brain but the effect quickly wears off leaving you desperately craving more.
The combination of sugar, fat and salt makes junk food 'hyperpalatable' arousing the appetite; it often requires little chewing and goes down easily. The food stimulates brain neurons which release endorphins making us feel better.
Try to avoid cravings by eating a regular healthy meals, keeping well-hydrated (drinking plenty of water) and taking regular exercise or engaging in an enjoyable non-food activity. When hit with a craving make an effort to resist the urge, phone a friend for a chat, do some household chores, take the dog for a walk.
Future Health Problems
The effects of junk food are not immediately obvious; we don’t see arteries clogging and internal organs getting fatty and weak. We don’t associate tiredness, anxiety, depression and skin problems with junk food eaten during day. The health problems creep up slowly; type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver disease and hypertension resulting in heart attacks, strokes, organ failure, and death. Eating plenty of whole nutritious foods and avoiding processed foods will improve health and increase life-expectancy.