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Issues with healthy eating? Nudge yourself!

Have you ever had a burger or a plate of French fries and regretted it as soon as you finished it, promising yourself that the next day you would spend 30m on the treadmill? Or that you would eat only salads to make it up? Yes, we’ve all been there. For most of the population, eating can sometimes be stressful. If you are a college student or someone that does not have the responsibility of cooking for others, you know that the process of cooking more healthy and balanced meals can be more exhausting than just frying an egg, or a burger and eating it with bread or a bit of rice. And so, we end up choosing the simplest rather than the best way.

What you may not know is that there is a whole psychology behind this quite common behavior.

Why do we eat unhealthily?

In many instances, we eat unhealthy food or what is often referred to as junk food since our bodies crave salty savory bites or sweet treats. Whenever we crave it we gravitate toward fast food, chips, sweet chocolate, soda or the pint of cookie-dough ice cream that is waving at you as you’re walking past the frozen foods aisle shouting your name. What they all have in common is that they are high in energy density and contain large amounts of sugars, fats and carbohydrates and they are quick to eat.

Here are some of the reasons why we eat unhealthy food (maybe some of these reasons are familiar to you):

1. Opportunity-induced eating

2. Coping with negative emotions

3. Enjoying a special occasion

4. Rewarding oneself

5. Social pressure

6. Gaining energy

As its name implies, opportunity-induced eating occurs when you are presented with the opportunity to eat or snack. For example, when you are at a party with a buffet with a lot of unhealthy food. You are presented with the opportunity to eat unhealthy food and you take it.

Coping with negative emotions is also a reason why we eat unhealthy food. For example, when you are feeling sad or depressed you might eat unhealthy food to make yourself feel better. Other reasons may include being disappointed, tired, or just plain bored.

Have you ever said to yourself that after you are done with your exams you are planning to reward yourself with alcohol, junk food or just eat whatever you want?

Often the problem with eating junk food is less that it is unhealthy by nature but more that we tend to binge eat it. We are devouring large amounts of calories in a very short period without even realizing it. If we do realize what we've done, it's usually too late - we've eaten too much and feel guilty, and the cycle continues.

How can we nudge ourselves on eating healthier

If only there was a way to make eating healthy more of a habit and less of a punishment… Feel lucky today because there is not one, not two but three main strategies to practice nourishment and moderation instead of indulgence and regret.

The first and the most efficient one is meal preparation. It is the process of preparing your meals in advance, so you do not have to cook every day. It saves you time (this is for you, college students), lowers your stress level and you will be able to manage both the portion size of your meals and what type of food you are eating. The second one is about placing healthier options at eye level. Always keep a basket of fruit on your desk, juice in your fridge, or a healthy snack in your bag in case you feel hungry while out and about. Another thing is to invest in a good breakfast. A good starting point is to have a breakfast that will feed you with not only energy but happiness. There are a lot of aesthetic healthy breakfasts that will give you motivation and willingness to continue with the habit throughout your day.

Finally, there is always the option of having the calories of each meal in mind, so you do not cross the line. But this sometimes can be a toxic approach. The problem is that eating and having a healthy lifestyle does not mean that you will be always eating in a calorie deficit with no carbs. It is all about balance in life: doing (eating) what we like and doing (eating) what is needed. Eating a pizza or a burger sometimes will not make you unhealthy. Quantity is the key aspect here. Eating too much of one thing is bad, even salads. The consumption of tasty, but not healthy food can sometimes benefit your mental health, but it is all about preference in the end.

Wrapping up

Eating unhealthily can be a bad habit that we sometimes slip into. But it is not impossible to change it. The key is to be aware of the reasons why we eat unhealthy food and to find a way to overcome them. The strategies that we have mentioned above are a good starting point. But, in the end, it is all about you and your preferences. Starting a habit is not easy, but it is not impossible. It is all about finding the right motivation and the right way to do it. The key is to find the right balance between the two. And remember everything in moderation.

Written by: Natízia and Siripong


Aukje A.C. Verhoeven, Marieke A. Adriaanse, Emely de Vet, Bob M. Fennis, Denise T.D. de Ridder,

It's my party and I eat if I want to. Reasons for unhealthy snacking,

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