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.
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?