12 Bad Eating Habits You Need to Break ASAP
Many of us think we’re eating healthy and just can’t understand why that extra weight (and more importantly, body fat) won’t budge. We may start blaming a slow metabolism, a busy schedule, or serious stress (which can, of course, also impact weight loss). But there may be something happening that we’re not even aware of: unconscious bad eating habits.
From night-time snacking, to drive-by eating, to falling for health claims… Here’s a look at 12 of the most common bad eating habits and, more importantly, how to break them!
Bad Eating Habits & How to Break Them
1. Ignoring Serving Sizes
Whether you’re noshing on pistachios, popcorn, or potato chips, if you just grab the whole bag and drag it with you to the couch, you’re likely to eat too much. One study, for example, found that when movie-goers were given extra large containers, they ate 49% more popcorn than those given smaller containers—even though they contained the same amount of popcorn. 1 This was true even when participants didn’t even really like the food they were given. 2
Solution: Use your containers to your advantage. Serve vegetables, for example, from larger plates and bowls. For snacky foods—especially those that are less healthy—choose smaller dishes. To help even more, serve your snack (or any meals, for that matter) on a dish that has a contrasting color. For example, for white or light-colored foods, use a brightly colored plate, as this has been shown to help people eat less. 3
2. Wolfing Down Your Food
There’s too much to do in a day, but you still gotta eat. So, you grab something quick, and eat quickly to get back to your day. Unfortunately, while this is a common eating pattern for many, it doesn’t allow your brain to catch up with your belly. That is, it takes 15 to 20 minutes after you’ve stopped eating for your brain to register that you’re full. By rushing through your meal, you’re likely to eat way more than you need to feel full.
This can be made even worse if you grew up being encouraged to clean your plate at every meal. You may no longer even be in touch with what it feels like to be full.
Solution: Take the advice of Simon and Garfunkel and “Slow down, don’t move too fast.” Make your meals last by giving yourself time to eat, taking smaller bites, putting down your fork between bites, and mindfully chewing each bite. Take a few breaths between bites or even a sip of water. The goal is to give your brain time and space to actually recognize your hunger and fullness cues.
3. Noshing at Night
No, not all calories eaten in the evening will turn into fat. In fact, a healthy nighttime snack may help improve sleep and muscle recovery. The problem with filling up the plate in the evening is often the food that’s chosen. Say you’re catching up on (er… binge-watching?) your favorite TV show, if you find yourself wandering into the kitchen, you’re likely going to grab something that’s easy and not that healthy. Or, you’re not eating because you’re hungry but rather because you’re bored, tired, stressed, or it’s just a bad eating habit.
Solution: If you do tend to get hungry in the evening, make sure you have healthy foods available. Good choices include high-protein foods like casein-containing protein powders, Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese. A small serving of fruit and/or nuts or smart carbs like potatoes or oatmeal may also promote more restful sleep.
If, on the other hand, you find you aren’t eating due to hunger but you’re just mindlessly noshing, put up the closed sign in the kitchen and brush your teeth right after dinner, as eating with minty breath tends to turn people off. 4
4. Eating to Soothe Emotions
Let’s face it, food can help you feel good. So, if you find yourself destressed, you may head towards the fridge or pantry for some comfort. Unfortunately, if you’re trying to lose or even maintain weight, this isn’t such a good diet strategy. Worse, the boost you receive from food is temporary and can often leave you feeling even lower than when you started eating.
Solution: Invest in a better stress-buster than bad eating habits: for example, take a walk, get some exercise, play with a pet, call a friend, stand barefoot outside, meditate, take a shower or sauna, or simply sit with your feelings. Even delaying emotional eating for a few minutes as you release stress can help you beat this bad eating habit. Be mindful, compassionate, and curious with yourself as you discover new ways to let it go.
5. Round-the-Clock Snacking
Snack drawer at your desk, in your glove compartment, your gym bag, and pantry? If you find yourself surrounded by snacks, you’re likely going to be eating “just because.”
Solution: Regular snacking has been linked to increased weight. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to let yourself get too hungry between meals. However, before you eat, ask yourself if you’re really hungry or if you’re just thirsty, bored, or uncomfortable.
If you really are hungry, then choose healthy foods. Make it easier by keeping healthy foods in more convenient places (such as fresh veggies and hummus in the fridge or air-popped popcorn near the front of the pantry). Then move the usual junk food from plain sight, or get rid of it completely to help you break this bad eating habit.
6. Surrounding Yourself with Temptation
The kids need snacks, your partner loves ice cream, you regularly host neighbors or friends, so you have to keep tempting treats around your home. Or do you? It’s hard—if not impossible—to resist temptation if it’s always around.
Solution: Clear out the pantry and get rid of the junk to bust these bad eating habits. Instead, keep healthier options on hand for the kids, your friends, your partner, or neighborhood or school committee. If you find that it’s just easier to keep the peace with food offerings, store them out of sight. Stash them in a downstairs or garage cupboard, on the top shelf, or hidden in the back of the fridge. Then bring the fruits and vegetables to full view. Have a bright arrangement of fruits on the counter, and keep pre-chopped veggies front and center in the fridge.
7. Distracted Eating
Find yourself scrolling through your phone at breakfast, eating in front of your computer at lunch, and parked in front of the TV for dinner? These are very common bad eating habits as they make it more difficult for you to tune into your feelings of fullness or satisfaction with your meal. This can lead you to continue eating past hunger.
Solution: This is a one of the most difficult bad eating habits to overcome—especially if you find that you have little time to spare during the day or the habit is deeply ingrained. Aim to start with one meal a day to eat mindfully as you focus in on your hunger, the taste and texture of the food, and how you feel before, during, and after you eat. Then continue adding more meals until you discover how much more enjoyable meals are without all the distractions.
8. Skimping on the Protein
It’s easy to eat enough—or more than enough—carbohydrates or fat, but it can be challenging to consume enough protein. Studies had found, for example, that nearly a third of older adults don’t eat enough protein to maintain lean body mass or muscle strength. 5 Here’s how to find out if you’re not getting enough protein.
Solution: Luckily, it doesn’t take that much effort to ensure you’re eating more protein. Some simple steps you can take include: starting your day with a quality protein shake, choosing protein-packed snacks like Greek yogurt, nuts, or veggies with hummus, and then eating a high-protein food with every meal. For example, toss some fish or chicken on a salad for lunch, or eat beans or legumes for dinner. While many people only think of meat for protein, there are many other options, including seeds and nuts, spirulina, and seafood.
While it can also be easy to consume enough fat, ensure you are getting more healthy fats from foods like avocados, olive oil, and fatty fish and avoiding refined fats that are more than likely to harm health.
9. Avoiding the Kitchen
Sure, it’s so convenient to grab your next meal from your favorite local restaurant or have it delivered, but cooking at home is good for your health and your pocketbook. Sharing a meal—both cooking and eating—is also a great way to bond with family and friends.
Solution: Try your hand at some simple healthy meals like these tasty ones from Coach Cristina: Easy-to-Make 500-Calorie Meals. As you gain more experience and confidence in the kitchen, you can expand the healthy recipes you decide to try. There are hundreds of great choices right in the recipe section of this blog!
10. Sampling As You Cook
If you’re already cooking at home, you have a leg up! And of course, you may need to taste a recipe before serving to ensure the spices are right. But if you find yourself sampling the food throughout the food prep, you may be eating many more calories than you think. A slice of cheese, licking the peanut butter spoon, or having a spoonful (or two or three) of chili, spaghetti sauce, mash potatoes, or whatever you’re cooking does add up.
Solution: Keep your sink filled with soapy water as you cook, and drop your spoons and bowls right in as you’re cooking, so you aren’t tempted to take a taste or help with the cleanup. As you cook, keep a glass of water to sip on and maybe even chew some sugar-free gum or a clove, so you don’t find yourself over tasting as you cook.
11. Believing All the Marketing Hype
It says, right on the front of the box, that it’s filled with whole grains, fiber, or protein. Maybe it’s all-natural, non-GMO, or organic. So, it must be healthy, right? Unfortunately, many of the common claims found on packaged foods don’t mean a thing. An organic cookie is still, after all, a cookie.
Solution: It’s simple: ignore the claims and flip the box over. Read through the Nutrition Facts and the ingredients list to see what you’re really eating. Watch for added sugars, chemicals, and trans fats.
12. Beating Yourself Up
No one, absolutely no one, is perfect! And even healthy people eat just for pleasure at times. Yet many of us define a particular food as “bad” and then think we’re “bad” if we eat it. We may think shame will help us change our behavior. Except shame is probably the least effective way to change. In fact, judging ourselves and our behaviors can ultimately impede weight loss. In short, shame isn’t helpful.
Solution: Instead of focusing on what not to eat and judging mistakes, change your focus to mindfully eating foods that make you feel good and support your health. And if you do eat something not on plan, be gentle and forgiving and allow yourself to get right back on track. Don’t be afraid to start with one bad eating habit at a time and slowly but consistently improve.