We are hard working Brits and many of us strive for the next step. We prioritise life to ensure our businesses see the most of us, that our clients get our attention and we are responsive to their immediate requests for service. Depending on your generation, we are brought up to achieve better than our parents and many of us interpret that as working harder and longer hours. Coupled with living in a world of ‘faster’, a world of ‘now’ and a world of increased demands/
So, my ramblings are for a reason, the point is that we prioritise everything other than ourselves and we come last. This includes our food choices. Whilst the majority of us have a basic understanding of which foods serve us well and those that don’t add any nourishment to our bodies, we struggle to take action on our thoughts.
Why might this be? Could it be because we can’t physically see the damage we are doing to our bodies and therefore it’s difficult to accept the damage we doing? Could it be that we don’t value ourselves sufficiently and therefore we don’t value our food choices? We value, materialistic success, we value status, we value financial reward, we work long hours and get stressed. Why do we value these? Is it because they all suggest we have worked hard and put the effort in.? Why does society place a ‘reward’ on each of these compensations? How does society actively value good health? What social recognition is put on good health? How does society ‘reward’ healthy food choices? Sadly, we live in a society where this doesn’t happen, so it’s not surprising that most of us don’t value nutritious food. Interestingly, we have saying s like, ‘you don’t have anything unless you have your health’ , but I’m not sure that we actually believe this or take steps to work towards this, unless something, usually a life changing event , poor medical test results or a disease diagnosis prompts us to evaluate what we are doing. Regrettably, a poor diet and lifestyle will catch up with all of us in the end.
I find it interesting that in the UK we tend to value family time less. It seems apparent to me that in places like Spain, France and Italy there seems to be a higher value placed on spending time with children and family members. This is a very generic observation but appears to hold true from what I’ve seen. This has a knock effect on our life, we don’t switch off, we don’t allocate time to relax, we perceive cooking as a chore and certainly not something that brings a family to together and provides a relaxed environment where families chat about their days activities around the dinner table. How many families these days sit and eat at table, how many families eat as a family together? How many working parents eat separately or get reheated meals or ‘shove in the oven’ meals? Does this influence the way we think about food? Is food another job to get done in our busy lives? Is food an opportunity to share love and spend time communicating? What emotions do mealtimes evoke with you?
A 2015 research paper found that families that placed a higher value on convenience did indeed have a lower nutrient dense food. Those families that allocated time for food preparation had a higher intake of fruit, vegetables and salads. Less time spent on food preparation was also found to be associated with higher levels of money spent on food outside of the home. Why this doesn’t necessarily need to be a problem, it is normally linked to poorer food choices. Further studies have also found that more time spent on food preparation was associated with higher levels of confidence in preparing and cooking food. A 2016 study found that lower self-confidence and planning abilities in cooking meals was directly related to buying pre-packaged, processed meals. We know that pre-packaged foods are generally higher in calories/energy, sugar, salt, saturated fat and artificial additive intakes. Time spent on food preparation has declined significantly since the 1960s with one study finding the average American spends 33 minutes on prep and clearing up. The power of marketing cannot be underestimated, today are supermarkets are packed with readymade foods and fresh produce takes up very little space in our supermarkets. Could this be contributing to a perception that readymade foods are ok? could this be why they are now more socially acceptable? Could this be a clear example of where the value is placed on convenience rather than healthy habits? Some studies have found that limited time as the primary reason for not following a healthy diet. How long does it take to prepare healthy meals? What ways can we plan ahead to ensure we get a healthy meal? So, the question arises again why the value is placed on convenience rather than health. Have people thought about how a healthy meal can be prepared quickly? This finding is possibly what has given rise to the wealth of recipe books written about making nutritious meals in under 30 mins.
So, when you think about changing your food choices, what happens? Most people go through a series of thoughts over weeks, months or even years before the thought turns into an action. Initially, there may be a fleeting acknowledgement that your food choices are not serving you well for the future. These may pass and not be thought about for some time. Next, the thought may develop a little and turn into ‘I really must do something about this’ as change will lead to better health outcomes, but then disappear and again not be acted upon. Next the thought may turn into ‘right, I’m going to change my choices, I just need to decide when’. Finally, you will eventually get to take action and take steps to put a plan in place. But, why does it take so long for us act on what we know to be true.
The next stage is often particularly challenging for people and this is the actually sticking to the change phase. Why is this? Could it be the unrealistic expectation we place upon ourselves? Do we expect not to make mistakes, do we expect that we will make unbelievable progress? Our brains like to persuade us that healthy food doesn’t taste as good, that its not as filling, that its more expensive, that its really difficult. There’s a couple of points in here, the use of herbs and spices is what makes recipes tasty, if you’ve not used them often, this will take time and trial and error. Our taste buds get used to the choices we make and will initially be more accustomed to processed options, but they change with time. Sometimes there are physiological signals which make us want sugary, salty, carbohydrate rich foods all of which will subside with healthy choices. Then there is the whole social conditioning element as well. If we go out to friends depending on the time of day, there is an expectation of tea and cake, a glass of wine or a pint of beer. So why do we struggle to reconcile a decision that we have already made with the social pressures and norms felt. Maybe it comes down to how we value ourselves and our food choices. In these situations when we give into social expectation, we are valuing others perceptions of us higher that the value will place on ourselves. Often, we dress this up as a ‘treat’, but is it a treat or is it just the easier option. After all, the phrase a treat implies we want to reward ourselves with something good. Why would we reward ourselves with something that doesn’t serve us well?
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the 80/20 rule, but this should be done mindfully.
The rise of the healthy food industry and health fanatic communities really don’t help if you are not part of them. Largely, these groups actually don’t offer balanced choices, and many are led by cherry picked science. In other cases, they offer short term non sustainable options which may only serve to increase the rate in which weight piles back on and some more. For me, my two biggest concerns with these types of eating patterns are that what may be a theoretically balanced diet, end up being something completely different because its just too difficult to follow. The other is that one diet can not possibly suit everyone. Furthermore, those that recommend these diets somehow become emotionally attached and tunnel vision about the approach, promising success and quoting remarkable results with almost every conceivable symptom or alignment known to man. Just a word of caution on any food marketed as ‘healthy’ check out the ingredient and look for sugar, check the nutrient table and look at carbohydrate content and sugar. Look at how much protein is in it, consider your own meal choices, do you really need all that extra protein on top of your normal meals? Probably not. Look at the fat and calorie content – even healthy good fats are energy dense and your cumulative energy intake soon mounts up. In short, anything marketed as healthy or low fat/low sugar probably need closer examination.
So, in conclusion, I’m happy to work with people who have already pondered a change, already decided its now and more importantly have already switched their perspective and have internalised the value they place on good health. These people can feel how a change will make them feel and are already engaged in the process of making it work. Everyone will traverse this road at their own pace. Some will make greater changes more quickly, but that’s ok, some will encounter more obstacles than other, but that is ok too.
If you are ready to improve your health and make long lasting sustainable changes at your own pace get in touch.