More and more research highlights the undeniable connection that exists between our brain and physical health. And the fact remains – our thoughts and attitudes towards food (not to mention our body) very much affect our overall health and wellbeing. The way we eat and our every day lifestyle habits can reveal a lot about how much (un)balance we have around food. And truth be told, I believe many of us have areas where we could benefit from more balance – whether we struggle with eating too much and too unhealthily or too little and too restricted.
The following ‘eating types’ represent what I feel are some of the most common mindsets and patterns of behaviour that can affect people having a healthy and balanced relationship with food. Some of you might identify with more than one, and thats ok. The main objective here is to recognise what eating type(s) you identify with the most, in order to help you become more aware of where balance is lacking, and why. Whether your challenges involve emotional eating, binge eating or being too controlled and restrictive – once you recognise and understand your obstacles better, you are also empowered to more effectively implement healthy changes that will last longterm. And so, your focus will shift towards the solution rather than just the problem. In my experience with clients, I find that once people understand more about their mindsets, the easier and more effective changes become. And even without a nutritionist by your side, you can use this “test” as a tool to help you become aware of some perhaps unhealthy mindsets, habits and triggers that prevent you from enjoying a balanced relationship with food. And, more importantly, to then use that to set yourself a new goal which has less to do with “what to eat” and “what NOT to eat”, but everything to do with “how to eat what you eat, with a HEALTHY mindset”. To make balance – not a size – the primary goal.
Which of the following do you identify most with?
The avid dieter
There are always new diets with all kinds of tricks and promises to seduce you. You try every new diet and isn’t interested in nutritional content, but view food (or lack thereof) as a vehicle to weight loss. This results in frequent diet-hopping and a yo-yo weight that has you feeling frustrated and unbalanced in your relationship with food, your body and your overall health.
Goals include: stop dieting and counting calories and make “balance” the main objective. Relearning your body’s signals for hunger and fullness is essential as these may be suppressed from previous regimented “diet programs”.
The controlled eater
You have an obsessive focus with eating “right” and healthily to the point where it can be distressing for you to eat something outside that category. And it may even affect your social life in many ways too. Part of your motivation for following such a strictly “healthy” diet may be partly caused by a rigid exercise regimen, and may involve cutting out entire food groups – causing you to potentially miss out on essential nutrients and feeling low on energy and with low mood. This type can be subtle and vary in intensity and is not necessarily centred around losing weight and counting calories. Yet still, there is an element of obsessive behaviour that is anything but balanced and that can be hard to admit to.
Goals include: learning to trust your body and the fact that relaxing and eating + exercising less restrictive at times can be very beneficial for your overall health.
The secret eater
You are modest with your eating habit in public and around your friends, but shamefully eat too much when alone – and often high carbohydrate foods, sweets and junk foods. These so-called binges derail all your good intentions and can have an addictive effect, that besides disturbing your blood sugar balance, can start a vicious cycle of binge eating followed by restrictive behaviour, which can be discouraging and isolating and also affect your metabolism.
Goals include: balancing out the restrictive eating that follows binging and addressing any triggers is essential. A healthy diet rich in plant foods and good fats while low in sugar and processed foods can be very helpful for balancing out hormones and re-establishing a healthy metabolism.
The multitasking snacker
You graze continually, is often in a rush and find yourself eating while on-the-go. You rarely have 3 square meals a day, but often nibble on foods and snacks around you without giving it much thought. Meals, when not eaten on-the-go, are often consumed in front of the TV or while answering emails, checking up on social media or doing something else, making you oblivious to chewing your food properly and recognising when you’re actually full. As result, you might struggle with bloating, indigestion and other symptoms caused by an impaired absorption of nutrients, which can lead to food sensitivities and irritable bowel syndrome.
Goals include: implementing a daily schedule where you create space to enjoy your meals and learn to chew properly is essential. This will help you de-stress and boost your body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients much more effectively.
The stressed eater
You often eat for emotional reasons and find yourself using food to switch off, relax and distract yourself from what is really going on. Eating/snacking may have become a stress relieving activity that seem to give you a (false) sense of comfort. Unlike the multitasking eater, you might eat and prioritise healthy main meals, but still feel the urge to snack in between meals and especially when feeling sad, stressed, lonely and/or frustrated. This distraction often involves sugary and carbohydrate-rich foods, such as sweets, cakes, chocolate and carbs, but ironically these foods cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate, leaving you feeling even worse in a crash of energy slumps and mood swings.
Goals include: realising triggers is essential and should be followed by alternate stress relievers that don’t involve food. Creating a habit of having proper meals and pre-portioning out healthy snacks is helpful too and will benefit your digestion and overall sugar balance. Following a whole food diet, low in sugar and processed foods, is key and will allow you to learn to become more aware of your body’s signals for hunger and fullness.
The balanced eater
You have a relaxed relationship with food and enjoy eating socially as well as alone. You eat only when you’re physically hungry and know how to stop eating when you feel satisfied – not overly full. You don’t tend to snack and eat out of boredom and don’t turn to food when you feel stressed or upset. You eat everything in moderation and also enjoy indulging at times – and when you do, you don’t overdo it or beat yourself up about it afterwards.
This last example outlines what a truly balanced attitude to food and health looks like. It is not about perfection, but about realising that, despite the fact that we all have different mindsets and challenges, we were all meant to enjoy food and be healthy. Sometimes we think it is impossible to enjoy food and be healthy at the same time. Or that being healthy comes at the expense of enjoying food and indulging a little from time to time. But let me tell you, the two go hand in hand and are entirely possible. And coming from someone who has been too relaxed and oblivious (and in the process eaten enough sweets for 2 lifetimes), and who, on the other hand, have also gone through a season of being way too restrictive and obsessive about nutrition – balance is possible no matter where you’re at. And even though it may be a process, it’s well worth it and never too late to change and set new goals. Once balance is the goal, everything else often falls into place naturally.