Most people know they have at least one unhealthy eating habit they’d like to break, and despite popular belief, a lack of willpower isn’t always the issue. Some bad habits are so ingrained in our day-to-day lives that we don’t even realize they’re harmful. However, stacking up poor food-related practices can lead to overeating and weight gain, not to mention other, related health issues. Recognizing and taking steps to kick these bad habits is a great way to keep working toward improved wellness.
Leaving the TV On
One of the worst mealtime habits a person can form is eating while watching TV, a movie, or anything visual that takes some focus away from the act of eating. This encourages many unhealthy behaviors that contribute to overeating, poor diet, and weight gain. Not only are TV shows constantly showing food advertisements or similar imagery, but they also affect emotions and stress levels. These factors can all encourage snacking, even while not hungry.
Passive or Distracted Dining
Another unhealthy dining habit is eating passively or while distracted. This can occur in many situations but is, again, particularly common while watching television. Essentially, having a meal or snack without focusing on the food leads to less satisfaction and makes it easier to miss cues that indicate fullness. Combine this with other issues, such as “family size” bags of snacks, and it becomes much easier to overeat.
Eating Because Other People Are Eating
Humans are social animals and we regularly take cues from others on the proper way to behave in specific situations. Because of this, a person is more likely to eat if other people are doing so, regardless of their hunger or desire. Additionally, sometimes seeing other people enjoying food triggers false cravings.
Including certain foods in a diet is an easy way to become healthier. However, food exclusion is just as important as inclusion. Research shows that excess sodium, processed meats, red meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages dramatically increase the risk of death from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. Cut back on foods like bacon, sausages, hot dogs, and cured meats like ham or roast beef to reduce sodium and processed meat intake. Replace juices and sodas with water and unsweetened teas.
Standing while eating is a habit with a multitude of negative effects. A person is more likely to eat quickly if they are standing, which can cause them to miss the cues that they are full. Additionally, sitting signals to the brain that it is a “real” meal, whereas standing does not send the same cue and can lead to future snacking. Having a meal while standing also increases the risk of indigestion, bloating, and heartburn.
Skipping meals, especially breakfast, is extremely common when trying to change a diet, lose weight, or balance a busy schedule. However, this omission causes the body to feel hungrier at the next meal, leading to overeating. It also drains energy, impairs concentration, and raises the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
“Clean Plate” Syndrome
Many parents encourage their children to eat everything on their plate. This behavior often continues into adulthood and becomes a potentially dangerous habit. It is healthiest to stop eating when you feel full, not when your plate is empty. Cleaning the plate is one cause of passive eating, which can encourage other detrimental habits.
Managing Emotions and Stress
High stress levels and strong emotions often trigger cravings for snacks and other food. While many people think of this as a habit, it’s also a physiological response. Cortisol levels increase due to stress, but high cortisol levels encourage more food consumption and weight gain. Because it is often difficult to completely stop stress eating, experts recommend starting by replacing unhealthy snacks with low-calorie alternatives.
Fast Food and Take Out
It can be a struggle trying to find the time or energy to prepare a healthy meal. Fast food and take-out make it easy to grab dinner, and this can lead to a habit of frequently eating out. However, these options are often lacking in nutrients and have much higher calorie counts, not to mention they place a strain on finances. Regular fast food consumption has strong links to weight gain and insulin resistance, indicating that it increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Eating Before Bed
Conventional wisdom says to avoid eating before bed, though the reasons are not a rooted in digestion as people might think. Evidence shows that it is not the time of day that matters. Instead, a snack before bed is simply an additional meal and more calories. Eating before bed also enforces a rhythm where a person is less hungry after waking up and more hungry in the evening. This cycle can easily lead to overeating, especially in combination with unhealthy snack choices.