Healthy choices... the struggle is real

Helen McGillivray is a psychological therapist with over 28 years of clinical experience, including 14 years providing psychological therapies. She specialises in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Helen is accredited with

The BACBP, the leading organisation for cognitive and behavioural therapies in the UK.

In this blog, Helen talks about the how to avoid eating 'mindlessly' and start paying more attention to what we're eating.

We all know what we should do to stay healthy. We are bombarded with information about what’s good, what’s bad, superfoods, hot yoga, cold swimming, vegan, paleo, keto… it’s endless. Perhaps the battle is not with ourselves but with how we react and respond to all this information.

In our modern world we have become more and more dependent on convenience—grabbing food on the go and not paying attention to, or connecting with, our food and the body it goes into. How we feel about ourselves and our emotional state has a massive impact on the food we choose to eat and our eating behaviour.

How we feel about ourselves, and our emotional state, has a massive impact on the food we choose to eat, and our eating behaviour

According to Healthy Nibbles, almost 65% of employees report that they do not eat a healthy diet. These poor diets cost the UK 97 million work days. So how can we be more mindful about what we eat?

Humans are hardwired to like and crave things that make us feel good and to choose the path of least resistance—it’s part of the human condition. We are also conditioned to compare ourselves to others. We no longer have only small tribes of our ancestors to compare ourselves to, but massive online communities—some of whom we have never even met. With this in mind, it seems even more important to pay attention to ourselves and notice how we react to these external pressures.

Who can relate to eating 'mindlessly'? Mindless eating means eating food just because it’s there, not because we are hungry, and we’re often not even being aware we are doing it. When we don’t pay attention to our body, we are likely to miss hunger cues. It’s so easy to grab some crisps out of a bowl, or snack on some chocolate in the afternoon when our blood sugar dips. Modern life makes this easy—especially in lockdown.

We don't think about the putting the food in our mouths; we just do it—without being mindful

Mindful eating means paying attention to how your body feels, your emotions when you eat, and also paying attention and connecting more fully to the food you are eating. When we focus our attention on what we're eating, we are more able to make better choices. It's not a habit that's easy to adopt. A lifetime of mindless eating, snacking and even drinking isn't going to go away with the snap of a finger. Instead, keep the following things in mind as you seek to improve your eating habits—and pause before you take your next bite!

Here’s some tips for adopting mindful eating:

  • Link your choices to your core values. Focus on the reason why you would like to modify your eating behaviour, e.g., I would like to be healthier so I have more energy to play with my kids.

  • Tune in to how you are feeling and the sensations in your body, e.g., hungry, full, stressed, tired, thirsty. Notice also how you speak to yourself when you make choices.

  • If mindful eating is new to you, take a few days and write down everything that you eat. This will highlight your personal habits and areas for improvement. You can do this with paper and pen, or use one of the many food log apps available on your smartphone.

  • Focus. Take time to notice the food you are preparing, how it smells, looks and feels. Sit down when you eat, turn off all electronics, eat slowly, chewing thoroughly and enjoy your food one bite at a time!

  • Eating regularly and choosing foods that release energy slowly will help to keep your sugar levels steady. Slow-release energy foods include pasta, brown rice, oats, wholegrain bread and cereals, nuts and seeds. Drinking more water will help reduce fatigue and improve concentration.

Tuning into our bodies and minds, while connecting with our values, may help us navigate more steadily through the storm of convenience and consumerism that we find ourselves in. Taking the time to slow down and appreciate our food is a great way to connect with ourselves and improve the health of ourselves and our families.

At OK Positive, we've partnered with Healthy Nibbles, who provide healthy snacking options at both individual and corporate level. Their snack boxes can be tailored to meet dietary requirements such as gluten-free and vegan as well as any allergens. These are the perfect idea for taking a proactive approach as an organisation to support employee health.