Healthy eating – what holds you back?

For the last month I’ve been working with The Co-op on a healthy eating challenge. I’ve written about our slightly suspect diet, and the high proportion of chocolate brioche in Belle’s diet, Belle has made a tomato soup video, we’ve shared recipes, and switched from white to brown bread.

Great, that’s all good. Easy peasy you might think.

But if it’s so easy, why aren’t we all eating well?

The challenge has really made me think, not just about what I put in my mouth, but why. We all know the theory after all – we all know that too much sugar is bad for us, that we need to eat more fruit and vegetables, that fibre is important – it’s a no brainer. We know that by eating rubbish we are risking our long term health, and yet most of us still do it.

We make excuses of course – we’re too busy, we don’t have time to cook from scratch, good food is more expensive – but when it comes down to it, all of these things are just excuses. Changing your diet isn’t about just switching to wholewheat pasta and filling up the fruit bowl, because if it was that easy, we’d all do it.

It must be something else.

healthy eating

What we eat is, for me at least, far more deeply entwined with how we feel. I eat different things for different reasons, and until we can shift these relationships with food, we won’t be able to make sustainable changes to our diet.

Let’s take a few examples. Writing these things doesn’t make me feel good about myself, but
they are true, and I need to face up to them if I am going to make long term healthy choices:

Firstly, it’s the idea of food is a reward or comfort. This has been ingrained in me as a child, and as much as I might want to criticise my mum for it, I do exactly the same. When my children are feeling ill or sad or tired I want to fix it. I can’t always fix it, and so I look for something immediate that will take the edge off – more often than not, this is food. Similarly, when they have done something that makes me proud, or if I have worked hard and want to reward myself, I turn to food.

This might not be so bad if the food I turned to was a brown rice and kale salad, but it’s far more likely to be a Jaffa cake, because of point number two:

‘Bad’ foods are a ‘treat’.

When you look at the logic of this, it’s ridiculous. How can eating something that inherently does you harm be seen as doing something nice for yourself? And yet it is. If I’m feeling lacklustre, I’ll stop at Starbucks for something sugary as an act of kindness. How stupid is that? Instead now, I sometimes stop at the truck in town that makes fresh juices, but I have to change that thought process as well as the action.

These associations make me feel guilty of course – both for myself and as a parent – and yet the guilt is often not enough to change my behaviour. It’s this, not the availability of seasonal vegetables or healthy recipe ideas, that holds us back.

I feel sure that this can’t just be me. What holds you back when it comes to eating well? Is it really logistics or is it something far more complex?

jaffa cakes

Images – Vankad/shutterstock, HandmadePictures/shutterstock
Produced in collaboration with The Co-op



  1. 10 November, 2015 / 2:06 pm

    So true! I love your honesty because if we were all that honest we would probably say exactly the same. I definitely think I don’t have time to cook healthy meals from scratch all the time but then I also know given the option between a sugary ‘treat’ and a salad I’d pick the one that’s bad for me!

    Clare x

    • Jo Middleton
      10 November, 2015 / 6:32 pm

      Thanks Clare – I don’t feel like an awesome parent saying these things, but they are true at least.

  2. 10 November, 2015 / 9:04 pm

    Cheese, Jo, cheese holds me back. No, seriously, I’m definitely in the bad food club. A high premium was placed on treats when I was a kid so now I’m all ‘because I’m worth it’ but I think I’m worth it every night. I’m trying not to make foods treats for my son so he doesn’t fall into this trap.

    • Jo Middleton
      11 November, 2015 / 11:45 am

      Haha! I know what you mean Charlene – we’re SOO worth it that we’re worth it every single day!

  3. 10 November, 2015 / 10:13 pm

    It’s easy for people who aren’t parents to say “I will raise my children to think that carrot sticks are a treat!” but seriously, life doesn’t work like that, or we would all be doing it, as you said. I also think you’re a dead good parent if that’s any consolation.

    It seems like all people want to do these days is blame the media and the government when they are also capable of making food choices themselves, so it’s nice to see someone actually own up to using their own mind to decide to eat 10 jaffa cakes in a row.

    • Jo Middleton
      11 November, 2015 / 11:47 am

      There are a lot of things that people without children think they would do if they were parents! The reality of being a parent I guess is that you just try and do what feels right at the time. If we all did it perfectly then the therapy industry would be out of business and then think of all those people who’d lose their livelihoods? I’m basically being charitable.

  4. 10 November, 2015 / 10:25 pm

    My biggest issue is since I hit the menopause I cant eat raw fruit or veg. I love apples and bananas and carrots to munch on but any of these cooked just do not have the same satisfaction of the crunch or crispness or taste.
    My other issue is lunch times when I am out and about I tend to take a packet of crisps and a packet of belvita biscuits with me and eat them between jobs.

    • Jo Middleton
      11 November, 2015 / 11:44 am

      That’s interesting Elaine – so your actual experience of textures and tastes has changed with your hormones? I never even knew that was a thing, so that’s really interesting.

  5. Jonet Middleton
    10 November, 2015 / 11:44 pm

    If comfort eating is caused by family background, why do siblings vary in their eating habits, I wonder?

    • Jo Middleton
      11 November, 2015 / 11:41 am

      Well it’s obviously far more complex than that! I would imagine that the personality type side of things is really where it comes from – and that makes you more susceptible to different food issues and influences. I do all the things as a parent that I probably shouldn’t! But then it’s the job of the mummy to give the children something to complain about later in life :-)

  6. Sharon Arnott
    11 November, 2015 / 11:19 am

    This is a subject close to my heart and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I have a very bad, almost dangerous relationship with food. It stems back to my childhood where I used food to comfort myself. It gained momentum as I reached adulthood and I found myself using it as a punishment as well as a treat if that makes sense? I have very complex problems as a result of my childhood and food is at the very centre of it. Sweets, burgers, crisps and all the other junk food isn’t a treat, it’s a death sentence if it isn’t handled properly. I was rewarded with things like this and it was what I turned to bigtime when my problems began, 47 years on and despite all sorts of help I haven’t managed to break the cycle but I have never given up trying.

    • Jo Middleton
      11 November, 2015 / 11:37 am

      Thanks for your comment Sharon. It’s scary isn’t it? Food can seem so harmless and yet it’s actually at the root of all sorts of complex issues. It’s definitely not a case of simply ‘eating better’ is it?

      • Sharon Arnott
        11 November, 2015 / 11:56 am

        No it isn’t and unfortunately if you look at what the majority of people deem as treat foods they are all addictive substances such as sugar and salt. My advice to anybody would be don’t use junk food as a regular reward or comforter for a young child find other ways because the younger they are moulded the better chance they stand of having the right relationship with food.

  7. Naomi
    11 November, 2015 / 10:08 pm

    I really strongly believe that it is up to is consumers to demand replacement ingredients in our favourite snacks made by the big companies. The hardest thing I find is being able to buy healthy snacks quickly and locally. If our favourite biscuits and muffins were made with protein flours, whole grains, nuts and less sugar so they were sweet but not sickly sweet we would be SO much better off…

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