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Why you fail at making healthy food choices and how to become better at it

It may require some work at first until it becomes natural

If anyone told you eating healthy is easy, feel free to give them a dope slap, because it’s bloody difficult. Take it from someone who’s tried several diets, juice detoxes, took a DNA test and went through tons of trial-and-error efforts to see what works best in a long run.

Key phrase here: “in long run”. Even if you think a diet seems to be working for a month or so, it’s not necessarily true for years and years to come. And that’s because your body is changing over time, life happens, and peer pressure gets in the way.

So with all these in mind, here’re four ways you might fail at making the right choices and four ways to actually become better at it.

Decision fatigue

One thing I’ve learned all through these years is that making healthy food choices has to come from a clear mindset and via conscious decision-making process. We make decisions every day from mini- to mega-choices, each likely to be affecting the next one. And, that can be exhausting.

Why do you think we’re more likely to indulge in buckets of ice cream and cookies in the evening as oppose to in the morning? Our brain gets tired. Decisions are made in the brain, (more specifically in the prefrontal cortex — the front part of the brain where logical thinking and the use of willpower takes place to overcome impulses), and it works similarly to your muscles. And what happens when you activate a muscle over and over again? You got it — it gets tired. Hence, the more decisions we make throughout the day, the later it gets, the less likely we’ll make good ones. According to research we make more 200 decisions about only food…every day. No wonder the brain gets tired. Imagine how you’d feel after 200 squats?!

Then one of two things tend to happen.

One, a tired brain makes impulse decisions. You think of eating a cookie, you go eat a cookie. Your brain will not have the energy to fight your craving and sweet impulse and give you a legit reasoning that you don’t need that sugar at all.

Two, you make no decision at all. Let’s say you have to decide whether to do laundry or prep lunch for the next day. An alert brain will tell you, put in the laundry and while that’s going, you’ll prep food. But a tired brain will be like: “let’s just sit on the couch and watch Netflix.”

How to fix it

Practice mindfulness. Every time you want to give in to the devil on your shoulder after a long day, just take a deep breath, or two, or five and let the thought leave your mind. Focus on long-term goals and the reasons why you it’s important to you to fight that impulse.

Plan ahead. Plan out your day as much as possible — meals, meetings, gym, commute, shopping, etc., so you won’t leave wiggle room for your mind to play tricks on you. If you happen to have an hour to kill between meetings, it’s easy to sit into a café for an afternoon pick-me-up. What you could do instead, however, is to go for a walk. Most of us spend our days slouched behind a computer for hours at time, so you’ll do your body a favor by going for a stroll.

Ignorance is a bliss

Oh yes, it is. If you don’t know what’s in it, but it tastes good, it was a good choice… BEEP, wrong. If you think you’re choosing well does not make it so. We, humans are great at rationalizing everything. We make up excuses for making bad decisions or even blame somebody else for our own stupidity. “I ate the whole chocolate bar, because you ate yours too.” Sounds familiar? Or “I’ll just finish this ice cream bucket, so I won’t have the temptation to eat it again tomorrow.”

Not knowing what you eat and how much of it, or even worse, not caring are two of the biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to eating healthy.

How to fix it

Read nutrition labels and pay attention to your body: Get into the habit of flipping products and reading their nutrition content. Once you know what you consume, you can track your body’s response to certain nutrients and ingredients. Ask yourself these questions: Do I get a headache after eating too much sugar? Do I get bloated after eating dairy? Do I feel jittery after too much caffeine?

This way you can create an overall awareness around your body and its relationship with food, and you can start making smarter choices. Not to mention, you’ll to learn to avoid processed foods and meals that are filled with preservatives and artificial flavorings.

Too much distractions

Amidst indulging meals on your social media feed, think #foodinspo and delicious bakery goods in cafes, controlling your cravings can be a challenge. Especially when most people around you are most likely eating whatever they feel like without questioning if it’ll raise their blood sugar too high, if they’ll crash after, if their stomach will hurt or if they’ll get bloated.

I remember when I did a 30-day no sugar challenge, the hardest part wasn’t the cravings, but hearing everybody question my reasoning, and despite my dedication they still offered me sweets. At times like that I really learned to tune out peer pressure.

Humans will be humans, and we like sharing. Well, most of us do anyways. It’s inevitable to be around people who will offer you something you know you shouldn’t have, who will get upset if you didn’t try something they made, and who will judge you for your dietary commitments. But remember, you do that not for them but for yourself. There’s no reason for you to quit doing something just so you can please someone else. If they care about you, they’ll understand, and heck yea, they’ll even support you and be proud of you.

How to fix it

Remember why you started. Every time a temptation, be it a person, a photo, a video, or that cupcake in front of you, wants to set you off track, take a step back and give yourself five reasons why you started that journey in the first place. When I did the 30-day sugar detox, my five were better mental focus, clear skin, stable glucose levels, better energy and weight-loss. You’ll save yourself a failure and your future self will thank you for it. And you’ll see, the more small rewards you have, the easier it’ll be.

Misleading brands

There are more and more healthy and “healthy” brands popping up every year claiming to be the ultimate guilt-free snack, milk, candy bar or chips. But the truth is, it’s often a trap. I’ve come across with snack bars that say “free from” a ton of things such as gluten, dairy, trans fat, etc… but then I flip to the back, and there it is 20 grams of sugar, or sweetened with aspartame or includes vegetable oils. Not cool. These energy bars might energize you because of all that sugar. They spike your blood sugar and insulin, giving you a quick burst of energy, but hardly an hour goes by and you’re “like let me have another one.”

The same is true for restaurants. With a huge demand for healthy fast food, many restaurants are starting to introduce healthy options. But are they really? Healthy doesn’t begin with what you mix together and how you prepare it, but what the base ingredients are.

How to fix it

Do your research. Don’t buy food based on how appetizing it looks on the packaging, but what’s inside of it. Not everything that’s pretty is good for you. A big juicy burger might look mouthwatering, but if it’s antibiotic-filled meat, cooked in vegetable oil and put in between a bun that had an expiration date of 2020, then you might as well buy your ticket to heartburn, stomachache and diarrhea.

You don’t have to try everything that’s new and fancy for the pure reason because it is. Google the brand, take a look at their social media and learn whether it’s worth the calories. Many brands are becoming pretty authentic and let you see behind the scenes, so you’ll know what you get when you buy their product. It’s a really good strategy because this way you can be in control of what you put in your body and don’t have to worry about hidden consequences.