Replacing Unhealthy Eating Habits With Healthy Ones

Eating is a crucial part of human behavior. If we consider the intense attention given to food and eating in our lives, it is easy to discern how eating disorders might affect our lives and health in disruptive ways. In this section we will share with you strategies intended to change unhealthy eating habits. 


•    First off, do not consider the suggestions of your dietician and your desire to reach a healthy weight as just a diet. Consider this process a time to acquire healthy eating habits, and a learning period to apply these habits for the rest of your life. 

•    Your goal must be to replace your unhealthy eating habits with healthy ones. So, do not choose an unrealistic weight as a goal. Determining an intended weight interval with your dietician will help. A healthy weight interval is calculated by taking your age and height into account.

•    Unhealthy eating habits do not emerge overnight. Eating habits of today are due to bad eating behaviors of yesterday, the day before, weeks before, even months and years before. It would be unrealistic to expect to change immediately. Unrealistic wishes, such as hoping to lose weight and develop healthy eating habits in one week, will certainly be disappointing. In order not to be let down, you need to be patient and allow yourself some time. 

•    Setting unrealistic dietary rules and trying to follow them will inevitably prevent you from developing a healthy eating habit. If you set impossible goals in addition to what your dietician assigns you, you will most probably break these rules. For example, you might refrain from eating the amount of bread or pasta in your diet list. You might also think that as well as avoiding certain items, starving yourself for a while might make you lose weight. When people break the impossible rules they set for themselves, they are likely to interpret it as their own fault, and inability to control themselves. In fact, the problem is not that of breaking rules, but that of setting unrealistic and tough dietary rules. 

•    Do not forget that the transgression of tough rules will create the impression that you have not been able to follow your diet, and this impression makes it more likely for you to quit your diet or to eat excessively. Once you have broken a rule, other factors come into play and people start eating too much. These factors include the instantaneous joy that people get out of eating chips, chocolate, cake, or ice cream; a desire to escape all your problems for an instant, and momentarily forgetting your concerns and worries. But this is only a passing relaxation. It only adds to your problems in the long run. Even though it might seem contradictory, tough dietary rules only increase excessive eating. 

•    Instead of eating very little, starving themselves, or over-exercising, some people use laxatives, diuretics, or make themselves vomit in order to lose weight. These are methods employed after a big amount of food has been consumed. In cases of binging, people usually eat things that can be eaten quickly, such as ice cream, cake, chips. While doing this, people feel that they are not able to control the amount of food they eat. After binging, which is generally done in secrecy, people feel disgusted, guilty, fearful of gaining weight, and noxious; these feelings might develop into a desire to vomit the food. Binging frequently is usually caused by food deprivation due to tough diets. 

•    The calories gained during compulsive eating are not completely thrown out by vomiting or using laxatives. These procedures are not effective ways of omitting calories, and the apparent effects on body weight are short-lasting and completely due to the imbalance of liquid levels. This behavior gives you the false impression that you have control over what you eat. Instead, it only triggers over-eating. 

•    It must not be forgotten that starvation, use of laxatives, and vomiting are very dangerous for your health. These methods lower blood pressure, slow down the heart pace, and erode bone density. Tooth enamel gets damaged. Hormone levels might change, causing hair loss, hair growth in the body, and disruptions in menstrual cycle. The balance of potassium and sodium electrolytes which are needed for your nervous system changes. Salivary glands might enlarge and cause facial deformation. It is possible to prevent these physical effects by changing your bad eating habits into healthy ones. 

•    It is important to eat within the intervals and the amount of food your dietician assigns you. Most people fear that they will gain weight if they eat regularly. But eating regularly and eating healthy food does not increase your weight. On the contrary, it helps you acquire healthy eating habits. Other methods of losing weight (starvation, vomiting, etc.) in fact make you gain weight through causing over-eating; an intake of more calories than the metabolism can burn.

It is crucial to keep these in mind and to implement them in order to develop healthy eating habits. Please talk with a counselor if you think you have any of the problems mentioned above. Many people might find it embarrassing to talk about eating disorders. But these are products of years of research and clinical tests. These studies also prove that there is a shyness and embarrassment associated with talking about eating disorders. As you see, you are not the only one. 


Identifying Healthy Eating Habits

First step is creating a detailed program of your meals, the intervals between meals, and what sort of food you should be consuming. As you are implementing your program, it will help to wait after consuming some food for the feeling of fullness to settle. You might want to monitor your weight to see your progress, but doing this once a week is a better idea. Weighing yourself several times a day does not give you a correct figure. Daily changes in your weight are normal and are due to the change in water levels. 

Controlling the Circumstances That Cause Unhealthy Eating

Avoid doing other things while you eat, because they will prevent you from controlling the amount of food you eat. Eating should be an activity on its own. Watching TV, reading, studying, doing work, or talking on the phone turn eating into an ‘automatic’ activity. If you do not do any of these things, eating is no longer automatic, and you can monitor how much you consume of what, and prevent over-eating. 

Not every place in your house is a good place to eat. Specify a room, and a specific place in the room where you can eat. Pay extra attention to eating at a table instead of snacking standing up next to your fridge. If it is possible, it is helpful designating a place solely for the purposes of eating. Avoid eating at your desk or in your couch. 

Limit your supplies while you eat. For example, instead of the whole loaf, bring to the table only the amount of bread you are going to eat. Put the rest of the bread away. Apply this rule to all other food. Pay attention to not having more food on the table than you are going to eat. Do not eat from pots or pans. If you are preparing food only for yourself, make only as much as you are going to eat in that meal. Do not overfill your plate. Try to leave leftovers on your plate. It might give rise to feelings of guilt to leave food on your plate. It will help you to leave the extra food on the plate. Throw away the leftovers, or put in a place where you cannot reach. 

Try to avoid contact with high calorie food items. Do not keep food at home that is easily consumed. If you have them, make sure they are not within eyesight and all in a specific place. Try to keep around food that takes time to prepare. 

Do not go shopping on a hungry stomach. Try to limit your shopping list. Try to prepare your list while you are full. Do not decide what to buy during your shopping. Try to bring money just enough to cover the items on your list. Try to purchase items that take time to prepare. 

If possible, avoid shopping for other people. It might be hard to do this if you have kids. You can ask help from a family member if this is the case. If you cannot, prepare separate shopping lists. 

Acquiring Alternative Ways

Doing activities you enjoy doing in between meals is a good method. Being engaged in an activity will make it harder to trigger situations of over-eating. It helps to control your eating. It also distracts you from thinking disturbing thoughts about your weight. These activities have been proven to be especially important during the acquisition of healthy and regular eating habits, when you are more prone to get worried and over-eat.

Making a list of enjoyable activities is a good way to find activities to do. Visiting a friend or calling somebody, walking, listening to music, gardening, and showering are examples. You might find none of these activities appealing during this period, and might feel that they will make things harder. If this is the case, try doing things you always enjoyed doing. You will find out that you still enjoy them, and you will feel increasingly better. 


You might have come up with thoughts that may inhibit the acquisition of healthy eating habits. Examples to these thoughts, which are biggest hindrances to your aims, are below: 

•    I already know these things.

•    These things are too hard and impossible to do.

•    I will mess it up like I do every time. 

•    I cannot control myself. I finished everything on my plate as I was eating with friends the other day. I have a weak will-power. 

•    It is disastrous that I am even a kilo above my desired weight. 

•    If I am not fully in control, this means that I have no control at all. 

•    Putting on half a kilo will mean that I will keep gaining weight. 

•    I strayed from the diet program today. Everything is screwed up; I need to start all over again. 

•    I cannot have a daily routine. This means that everything will be a mess and that my efforts are ineffective.

•    I feel ashamed to eat out. I feel that everybody stares at me. 

These might sound familiar. These kinds of thoughts are hindrances to your goals. What we think influences what we do and how we feel. You need to disregard these thoughts and pursue your goals no matter how hard it might seem. Be patient, flexible, and believe in yourself. As you continue, you will see progress. But do not forget to allow yourself some time. You might feel hopeless, down, angry, or pessimistic at certain times. Things might seem like a burden. If you experience these, remind yourself that these are normal feelings that everybody experiences during this process. Follow your program. You will see in time that you are making progress. 

This text has been prepared by Hatice Güneş by referencing the sources below:

•    Garner, D. M., & Garfinkel, P. E. (1997).Handbook of Treatment for Eating Disorders. New York: The Guilford Press. 

•    Mitchell, J. E. (2001). Outpatient Treatment of Eating Disorders : A Guide for Therapists, Dietitians, and Physicians. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 

This text has been translated to English by Oya Nuzumlalı.