3 Root Causes of Unhealthy Eating And How To Overcome Them

Root Causes of Unhealthy Eating And How To Overcome ThemIf you want to lose weight, you need to understand the key root causes of unhealthy eating and get strategies to overcome them.

Have you ever found yourself at the bottom of a potato chip bag, wondering how you got there?

You’re not alone. Unhealthy eating habits can be hard to break.

This is because most approaches to eating better simply focus on the symptoms – the what and the how of eating.

And they neglect the why – the root causes of your unhealthy eating.

Enter something called “Factor Analysis.”

This is when you take time to understand the root cause factors behind your unhealthy eating.

I credit taking time for “Factor Analysis” as the biggest contributor to helping me to stop emotional eating – in a long lasting way.

In fact, I’m proud to say I am a recovered emotional eater for over a decade and counting.

(I dive deeper into this topic inside my bestselling online program The Stop Emotional Eating Online Course – which is both nutritionist and therapist recommended.)

Coming up I will be sharing step by step how you can understand and tackle the top root cause factors of unhealthy eating patterns.

How To Overcome The 3 Root Causes of Unhealthy Eating

Eating isn’t just about hunger. It’s a complex dance of emotions, societal messages, and the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Let’s break down these layers to understand why we eat the way we do and how we can change it for the better.

1. Psychological Triggers

Childhood and Family Influences: Our eating habits often have deep roots in our childhood experiences. Reflecting on your family’s attitudes and practices around food can reveal a lot about your current relationship with eating.

Emotional Avoidance: Emotional eating is a common way to avoid dealing with uncomfortable emotions like stress, anger, depression, resentment… or even trauma. Identifying your emotional response patterns can help you manage your responses in healthier ways.

Maladaptive Coping Mechanisms: Sometimes, we develop unhealthy eating habits as a way to cope with life’s pressures. Recognizing these habits is the first step towards change.

Uncovering Your Psychological Triggers

To uncover the origin of your psychological triggers, consider the following journal prompts and reflection exercises:

  • Reflect on Childhood: Write about your earliest memories of food. How did your family handle mealtimes? Was food used as a reward or punishment?
  • Identify Emotional Eating Patterns: Reflect on times when you’ve turned to food for comfort. What emotions were you trying to soothe?
  • Recognize Coping Mechanisms: Think about times when you’ve used food to deal with stress. What patterns can you identify? Are there healthier coping strategies you could use instead?

Tools to Stop Psychological Triggers

Once you’ve identified your triggers, use these psychological tools to help manage them:

  • Cognitive Reframing: Challenge and change the negative thoughts that lead to unhealthy eating. For instance, replace thoughts like “I eat because I’m unhappy” with “I can find healthy ways to manage my emotions.”
  • Mindfulness Practices: Engage in mindful eating. Pause and ask yourself: Why do you want to eat this? Is it hunger, emotion, or habit? This pause can often give you the clarity to make a healthier choice. Plus, try being fully present when you eat. Taste each bite. Focus on the taste, texture, and experience of food, which can help break the cycle of emotional eating.
  • Keep a food diary, not just of what you eat, but when and why. Do you reach for snacks when stressed or bored? Awareness is the first step to change. Keep a simple diary. Jot down what you eat and how you’re feeling. You might start to see patterns, like reaching for cookies when you’re lonely or stressed.
  • Stress Management Techniques: Develop healthier ways to regulate your emotions, such as deep breathing, meditation, or engaging in a hobby. I share helpful meditation exercises and grounding tools here.

2. Societal Influences

Root Causes of Unhealthy Eating And How To Overcome ThemMedia and Advertising: We’re constantly exposed to media that glamorizes certain foods and lifestyles, which can subconsciously influence our eating habits.

Cultural and Social Norms: Our cultural background and social circles come with their own set of norms regarding food, which can sometimes lead to unhealthy eating patterns.

Social Pressures and Expectations: Feeling pressured to eat in a certain way to fit in or meet societal standards is a common experience that can significantly impact our food choices.

Understanding Societal Influences

To uncover how societal influences affect your eating habits, consider the following activities:

  • Journal on Media Influence: Spend a week noting every time an advertisement or TV show influences your food choices. Reflect on what you see and how it makes you feel about food.
  • Analyze Your Cultural Food Practices: Write about the food practices in your culture or family. Are there any that might contribute to unhealthy eating? How do these practices make you feel about food?
  • Social Eating Reflection: Think about the last few times you ate in a social setting. Were your choices influenced by those around you? How did you feel about these choices?

Tools to Stop Societal Pressures

Armed with this understanding, you can use the following tools to mitigate the impact of societal influences:

  • Critical Media Consumption: Practice critically analyzing media messages about food. Ask yourself if an ad or program is promoting realistic and healthy eating habits.
  • Setting Personal Boundaries: Learn to set boundaries in social settings. It’s okay to say no to food that doesn’t align with your health goals or to suggest alternative activities that don’t center around food.
  • Cultural Appreciation and Balance: Find ways to appreciate and enjoy the healthy aspects of your cultural food traditions. And be mindful of the less healthy ones.

3. Enablers and Disablers

Enablers: These are those well-meaning but unhelpful influences in your life that make it hard to stick to healthy eating. They’re the friends who say, “One slice of pizza won’t hurt” or the family members who insist you have a second helping, even when you’re full. They’re not trying to sabotage you. They just don’t realize their actions are making your journey tougher. 

Disablers: These are the obstacles and negative influences that make it difficult for you to maintain healthy eating habits. They can be anything from a hectic work schedule that leaves little time for meal planning, to living in an area with limited access to fresh, healthy food options. Disablers also include people in your life who might not understand or support your nutritional goals. As a result, they discourage your health efforts. 

Identifying Enablers and Disablers

To understand your personal enablers and disablers, engage in these exercises:

  • Pay attention to the people and situations that seem to lead you to unhealthy choices. For example, a colleague who always encourages you to join them for fast food could be an enabler. On the other hand, a busy work schedule that leaves little time for meal planning could be a disabler.
  • Journaling Exercise: For a week, record your eating habits, noting when and why you choose certain foods. This can reveal patterns and the influence of enablers and disablers in your diet.
  • Environmental Audit: Assess how your surroundings at home and work support or hinder your healthy eating. Making changes to these environments can help reduce the influence of enablers and strengthen disablers.
  • Social Influence Reflection: Consider how your social circle affects your eating habits, identifying who among them are enablers or disablers of your healthy eating goals.

Tools to Overcome Enablers and Disablers

With a clear understanding of your enablers and disablers, you can now use these strategies to make the most of them:

  • Address Enablers Appropriately: Find ways to gently address or avoid these influences. For example, this might involve setting boundaries or having honest conversations about your health goals with enabling people.
  • Strategize Against Disablers: Adjust your environment to minimize temptations and make healthier options more accessible. For example, prepare healthier meal options ahead of time, have nutritious snacks on hand, and learn to politely decline food that doesn’t align with your goals.

Conclusion: Root Causes of Unhealthy Eating 

Understanding why you eat the way you do is the first step to changing your eating habits. It’s about looking at your emotions, the societal messages you receive, and the factors in your life that either help or hinder your healthy eating. With this knowledge, you can start making changes.

  • Repetition is key. The more you practice your new responses, the more ingrained they become in your brain.
  • Remember to celebrate your small victories. Did you manage to bypass the candy aisle at the grocery store? Give yourself a mental high five. These small wins add up and reinforce your new neural pathways.
  • Lastly, be patient and kind to yourself through the process. Remember, you’re not just changing a habit. You’re changing your brain. In the beginning, there might be slip-ups. And that’s okay. View yourself as being like bamboo – strong yet flexible. Rigidity can lead to breakage. If you slip up, bend, don’t break. Adapt and move forward.

If you’d like additional support to embrace a healthier eating mindset, sign up for a free discovery session with me HERE  – to learn more about how I can help you to achieve your health goals.

Plus you might want to explore my bestselling and nutritionist recommended online program: The Stop Emotional Eating Course.

Think happier. Think calmer.

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