Maybe you haven’t actually asked yourself this question. Maybe you have always eaten well, or maybe you don’t care to eat well. Or maybe you decided once that you’d eat better, and since then you’ve never looked back *nod of respect*. If so, this article probably isn’t for you, but you are still more than welcome to continue reading along with the rest of us mortal beings!
I want to say, though, that if you are desperately seeking the answer to this question now you will definitely not have a specific, quick-fix magic bullet solution by the end of this post.
My hope, instead, is to give you back some of the power you might feel you’ve lost over this area of your life. That some of the frustration and despair around this question will have dissolved, and in its place will be a little seed of motivation and curiosity. And a blueprint to guide you towards asking more questions – better questions. Questions that will encourage you to start really learning to eat well for yourself for years to come.
So, take five minutes for yourself, grab a cup of tea if that’s your thing, and let’s get into it!
TO DIET! ..OR NOT TO DIET?
I’m sure that 99.999% of you, at some point in your lives, thought to yourselves, “I really need to eat better… That’s it, I’m doing this, starting from tomorrow”. And this time, of course, you meant it…
I’m also sure that this decision was closely followed by some thoughts along the lines of, “I just need to stop snacking on bad food,” or, “I’ll get up early and organise healthy lunches for work every morning”. Admirable goals, all well-intentioned, your motivation was high, and you felt really good about your decision.
Until, that is, “tomorrow” came.
Or, if you’re especially motivated, perhaps it was day three, or even day seven of your “new you” routine where, suddenly, things became too hard and every other priority in your day started to creep back up into first place. Right on back to the natural order of things.
IT’S NOT JUST YOU
Well, as my initial paragraphs would have suggested, you are definitely not alone.
Is it comforting to know that it’s more common for your health-kick journey to play out this way, than not? Yes, it is.
Is this helpful knowledge? Mostly not.
Because, even knowing this, we will (most likely) still wind up back at square one feeling guilty, depressed, annoyed at ourselves and, more importantly, feeling unhealthy. However, this information does have the potential to help us, if we actually stop to ask the question, “Why is it more common than not?”.
WHAT’S REALLY INFLUENCING YOUR DIETING SUCCESS?
Yes, everyone has their own way this story plays out, and their own unique reasons for “why”, but on a more fundamental level there may be some common themes undermining our chances of success.
I think now is a good time to point out that our food choices and general dietary habits are shaped by many, many factors outside of just us making one decision on what to eat (or whether to eat healthy) in any given moment.
These factors are referred to in the scientific community as the determinants of food choice, and they are a significant study topic within the field of health and nutrition.
And for good reason.
Can we really expect someone to succeed with their goal of eating better without first acknowledging all of the parts of themselves and their life that are continuously, and unconsciously, playing a part in their dietary choices?
Can you really expect to permanently alter a lifetime of thoughts, behaviours, and habits by just casually choosing to swap in one food and swap out another?
It would be akin to repeatedly repairing the top layer of a poorly built wall as it fell out of place over time, instead of taking a moment to look lower down for the poorly laid bricks beneath causing the issue.
Don’t get me wrong, both methods are challenging, but one is a Band-Aid solution requiring never-ending, continuous effort and limited improvement while the other has the potential to be exponentially more effective, offering more permanent and reliable results. I know where I’d rather put my efforts.
HOW DOES KNOWING THIS HELP US?
Well (good news), even having just this basic awareness of the various factors at play in our decision-making processes can aid us in identifying the things that are currently hampering our efforts to eat well!
So, instead of kicking ourselves for failing again and then pressing repeat on that whole tiresome process, allow yourself the fails, but use them to your advantage. Turn them into an opportunity to ask yourself the right questions, like “why?”.
The more understanding we gain around our own determinants of food choice, the more likely it is that we’ll be able to start implementing actions that truly support our goal of healthy eating – not just temporarily while we’re motivated to diet, but long-term by establishing foundations for unconscious healthy habits that exist synergistically with our lives.
SO, WHAT ARE THESE “FACTORS” IMPACTING MY DIET THEN?
Let’s start with some obvious ones.
Taste, appetite, and hunger are three examples of what are called biological determinants that influence our food choice.
It may (or may not) surprise you to know that there are six categories of determinants (shown below), each containing multiple factors (also shown below) that are recognised to have shaped, and continue to shape, an individual’s current dietary habits.
The Determinants of Food Choice:
- Biological: Appetite, hunger, taste
- Physical: Time, skills, access to food
- Economic: Socioeconomic status/income, food cost, food availability
- Social: Family, peers, culture
- Psychological: Mood, guilt, anxiety, stress
- Attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge
Factors that influence an individual’s food choices
USE THIS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
Hopefully, this shows how complex the task is to simply “eat better”!
I hope not to overwhelm you with this, but to give you the opportunity to actively choose to invest more into the process, and to invest in a way that really pays off.
If you’re ready to get to work, start by running through the list of factors above and think of the ways in which they are impacting on your current dietary habits. If any speak loudly to you, grab a piece of paper and list them out stating whether its impact is neutral, positive (eg. great cooking skills) or negative (eg. too busy). Listing both the strong negative and positive influencing factors will help you by identifying the strengths you already have to support your healthy eating, and the obstacles you need to account for when planning to change your dietary habits!
If this task seems too daunting, that’s ok, too. Remember, we are up against a lifetime of unconscious habits and big change won’t happen overnight. Take comfort in knowing that, for now, you’ve gained an awareness that will aid you on your path.
Over the next few weeks, we will start to touch on some of the “common themes” of failed dieting that I referenced earlier, highlighting the determinants commonly facilitating these “fails” with the aim of offering insight and some alternative approaches.
So, if you’re ready to start working on building solid healthy eating foundations and improving your food “ knowledge” (super important determinant!), I’ll see you here again next Monday for, “Um, Of Course I Know What “Healthy” Means..”!