6 reasons you keep eating food that makes you feel pants

I'm going to be honest. Christmas was a bit of a nightmare for me. I can say that now I'm nearly three months on, with a little bit of hindsight. 

Despite all my good intentions and so much positivity abounding on social media I succumbed to a lot of food I just knew was going to make me feel like a pile of cr*p. 

As a result I suffered some of my worst symptoms in months.

After being so consistent for a year with eating whole foods and cutting down on sugar and processed meats Christmas felt like the total reverse. 

So I got to thinking - what am I doing to myself? Why, after everything I've learned about eating better, am I resorting to eating poorly? I did some soul searching and some reading too, and I've figured out six reasons: 

1. Because it's okay to eat what you want! 'Cheating' is a load of sh*^e and the wrong way to think about eating 

After all the backlash to clean eating in January (I wrote a response here) I've put this reason to the top of the list. 

I don't always eat strictly from a set list. And that's okay. Personally I am not allergic to any foods. 

My sister has been dieting lately and doing some brilliant ass kicking at the gym to prepare for her wedding. But one thing I can't really stand (sorry Ella!) is the talk of 'cheat days' or 'cheat meals.' 

Some more of my sister's incredible creations at  Ella Rose Cakes

Some more of my sister's incredible creations at Ella Rose Cakes

I believe eating well should be a life-long set of habits. Not a short-term diet for quick fixes. If you're going to see all the benefits you want from a healthier diet like improved focus, more energy, better skin, fully functioning gut etc. etc., then you need to be living / breathing / eating / doing it most of the time. 

"Consistently good, not intermittently great" is a brilliant mantra I heard from fitness, health and nutrition coach David Mulqueen at The Edge at Clontarf. And another great article to read on this is from registered nutritionist Laura Thomas PhD on the Huff Post about diets disguised as a health kick. And my go-to for nutrition advice Eve Kalinik preaches a 80/20 approach to eating healthily (eating well 80% of the time, in case you're wondering....). 

It's just when it starts to tip the other way. That 20% becomes 30, or 40 or 50%.... 

2. Because you want to fit in 

This is a big reason for me that the balance seems to tip, and Christmas definitely makes it hard to resist.

I don't want to look like the kill-joy turning down chocolates and canapés, and I don't want to miss out. You're not 'fun' if you're watching what you eat: go on, let your hair down - it's Christmas / your birthday / a Friday! 

Can't. Stop. Eating. Ham. Arghhhhh...... (photo ©  Mode & Motif )

Can't. Stop. Eating. Ham. Arghhhhh...... (photo © Mode & Motif)

But this is where you have to remember - the voices on this are largely in your head. If you say no to a canapé at a party, no-one's going to judge you. They're going to pass the plate on to the next person! If you ask for a particular dish or drink, or bring your own to suit your diet, no-one really cares. And you know what? If they do have an opinion it's probably "s/he's looking after their health" or "wish I'd been strong enough to choose that." And that's a great thing! 

There's actually a brilliant article / podcast about this topic and getting your loved ones to support your healthy lifestyle on Precision Nutrition - find it here. 

But perhaps you're not out at a party, you're on your own. And there's a pack of biscuits calling to you from the cupboard when you know you could eat carrot sticks instead. What's the deal with that? No social pressure, so why am I caving? Well that's.... 

3. Because cr*p food makes us happier than healthier foods 

After falling into the pits of despair one night (not being able to sleep until 2am didn't help the mood or weight over the holidays, read more on this here) I Googled "why do we keep eating food that's bad for us?" 

Where I should be going for pick-me-ups...

Where I should be going for pick-me-ups...

There I found this brilliant blog entry by Clean Food Dirty Girl's Molly. I love her style of writing (frank and funny) and many of the things she said made a lot of sense.

Molly is a student of the Plant Based Nutrition course at eCornell and T. Colin Campbell Foundation, and Campbell's The China Study has some very mixed reviews by peers. So, seeking you out a more reputable expert, let's see what psychologist Dr Leigh Gibson, Reader in Biopsychology at Roehampton University has to say about why we crave junk food:

'Cravings... are an overwhelming sensation of desire for a certain food. There are a number of chemicals in the brain that are associated with this.

'First, there is dopamine. This works in tandem with other brain chemicals called opioids, which give us feelings of enjoyment and pleasure. The combination of these two factors mean that the brain associates certain activities with pleasure, and it teaches us to do them again and again.

'From an evolutionary point of view, junk food cravings are linked to prehistoric times when the brain's opioids and dopamine reacted to the benefit of high-calorie food as a survival mechanism.

'We are programmed to enjoy eating fatty and sugary substances, and our brains tell us to seek them out.

See the full article here. 

Unsurprisingly then carrot sticks don't release as much dopamine, so we don't reach for them in the same way that we do for a big bag of greasy, salty calorific fries. 

So the reason I'm eating cr*p food? The dopamine made me do it! 

But it's also despite this NEWSFLASH:

4. Because will-power doesn't actually exist 

The Guardian ran a series at the start of the year on will-power, to help with those New Year's Resolutions. And I found this article in particular fascinating. Here's a quote: 

"The received wisdom, for nearly two decades, was that willpower is like a muscle... meanwhile a new consensus is gaining ground: that willpower isn't a limited resource, but believing that it is makes you less likely to follow through on your plans... Some scholars argue that willpower is better understood as being like an emotion: a feeling that comes and goes."

So willpower is sort of a big con, or worse a total excuse for you not eating healthily or in fact doing anything else you don't seem to be able to muster the energy for. "Oh well, I just don't have the will-power" overrides because it takes so much damn effort to have it all the time. It's so much easier for your brain to tell you there's none left so just have that doughnut already.  

This theory also taps into my current journey into mindfulness with brilliant app Headspace which is:

5. Because you're telling yourself you CAN rather than you ARE

Headspace guru Andy Puddicombe speaks about mindset and positive thinking in the current series of Headspace exercises I'm doing on focus. You can do different exercises depending on your aims, if you want a free month trial code for Headspace let me know and I can share the love with you! 

Making yourself every day, hour or minute repeatedly think "I CAN DO THIS!" "I AM STRONG!" " I CAN FOCUS!" is actually pretty exhausting for your brain. And it also opens up the possibility for that other little voice in your head to go "Errrr... no you can't." And so doubt creeps in. 

I CAN drink gin!! :)

I CAN drink gin!! :)

If instead your approach is simply "I am doing this" "I am strong" "I am losing weight / eating better / being good to myself / listening to my body / doing some exercise every day" then suddenly your brain doesn't have to try so hard. 

It's a subtle difference - I can vs. I am. Try it and feel your brain go "ahhhh.... thanks for that reassurance." Suddenly you're more positive about sticking to good habits. 'I am' is so much easier than 'I can'. Because it means you're already there.  

It's the opposite of... 

6. Because you're coming from a place of negativity 

Maxine Ali wrote about this at the beginning of the year and I think it was a bit of a wake up call for me in her blog entry about what's really preventing you achieving your goals. 

I can't, and in fact won't, eat well consistently if I approach it loathing my body and feeling anger and resentment about feeling rubbish and having gained a few pounds. 

You have to come at healthy eating and loving your body from a positive place. There's a lot of talk, quite rightly I think, about the benefits of both mindfulness and gratefulness. Being kind and considerate not only to others but also to ourselves. 



What do you think? Do any of these ring true with you?