Three hacks for healthy eating habits
"Let food be thy medicine"
We’ve all heard the benefits of healthy eating- just Google “healthy eating,” and you will be presented with over a billion search results (not an exaggeration). It is an obvious lifestyle to choose.
However, despite all the literature and research, we still have bad habits of eating unhealthy food and frequently sabotage our health for instant gratification. So, how can we hack the brain to curve midnight cravings and be more disciplined with our intake?
Here are three simple brain hacks for healthy eating that you can implement into your daily routine:
Watch cooking shows with healthy food
Remove temptation- AKA junk food
Try the Hara Hachi-bun me method
Let’s dive in.
1. Watch cooking shows with healthy food
“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a million.”
Watching cooking shows with healthy food can dramatically increase your chance of breaking bad habits of consuming unhealthy food.
According to a new study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, “kids who watched a child-oriented cooking show featuring healthy food were 2.7 times more likely to make a healthy food choice than those who watched a different episode of the same show featuring unhealthy food”.
Granted, this study featured “125 10 to12 year-olds, with parental consent,” instead of adults with fully matured brains. However, experts such as Stanford neuroscientist, Andrew Huberman, emphasized that adult brains are just as plastic as children if enough mental focus is given.
So, whether you’re 16 or 40 years of age, try watching healthy cooking videos before going out to buy groceries. It should at least impact the list of items you swipe your cards for.
2. Remove temptation- AKA junk food
“I know that when I get stressed, I want to eat junk food. So now I just know – ‘I’m stressed, I want to eat junk food, so I’m going to go work out instead, or eat something healthy.’ It really works.”
You probably rolled your eyes after reading that. But keep in mind that this tip is cliché for a reason- ultra-processed foods like junk food lead to countless health risks like obesity and non-communicable diseases.
Not only this, but eating junk food makes your brain to trigger a craving the next time you see a tasty snack: “When you eat something tasty (say, a bag of potato chips), your brain registers that feeling. The next time you see that food, smell that food, or even read about that food, your brain starts to trigger the memories and responses that came when you ate it. These memories can actually cause physical responses like salivation and create the "mouth-watering” craving that you get when thinking about your favorite foods".
So, seeing a chocolate bar on your kitchen countertop can easily be a trigger for your sudden sweet tooth. To combat this, it is important to be mindful of what foods you keep at your home so that they aren’t readily accessible. Simple- the less junk food you have lying around the house, the less likely you are to mindlessly snack on them. Your environment can easily determine your failure/success.
So, the next time you go to the grocery store, pay attention to what kinds of food you purchase. Here are two simple, yet effective mindfulness techniques you can apply to avoid junk food at the grocery store:
Outer-ring strategy: Stick to the outer aisles at the grocery store, where you can find whole food products (fruits and veggies, meat, eggs, etc…). The middle aisles usually contain most processed foods.
5-ingredient rule: If a product contains more than five ingredients in its ingredients list, then drop it. Chances are the list contains added chemicals and preservatives that your body does not need.
If you still have a craving for those fries or that chocolate chip cookie (I feel you), why not make your own version at home? Not only would it be a healthier alternative, but it would also allow you to be more mindful of how much sugar/ fat goes into each recipe. Ask your roommate to join and make it a fun cooking activity!
3. Practice the Hara Hachi-bunme method
“Eat until 80 percent full”
Did you know that residents in Okinawa, Japan, have some of the highest life expectancies in the world? They must be doing something right. 😊
Many attribute this to the Hara hachi-bun me method- a method where you eat until you are 80% full. In fact, a study on the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that “for adults, total protein and lipid intakes were about the same, but energy intake was 20% less than the Japanese national average. The rates of death due to cerebral vascular disease, malignancy, and heart disease on Okinawa were only 59%, 69%, and 59%, respectively, of those for the rest of Japan.”
It’s incredible to see how just a slight cut in calorie intake can lead to such positive results. So the next time you reach for that second serving of mac n’ cheese, why not take a second and ask yourself if you are feeling full?
Here are three simple ways to practice the Hara hachi-bun me method for healthy eating:
Turn off all distractions (TV, smartphone, etc…)
Use a smaller plate
These tips may seem menial and small, but when combined and done consistently, they can lead to drastic results- like most habits.
Healthy cooking show - No Junk food - The Hara Hachi-bun me method
Here is the recap:
Watch cooking shows with healthy food
Avoid junk foods through mindful grocery shopping
Try the Hara hachi-bun me method to reduce your daily calorie intake
We hope you get to try out these three tips!
If it is too challenging to start with all three, stick to one for now and add more later. All that matters is that you move forward, regardless of how big the step.
P.S. if you are looking for an effective way to break your unhealthy eating habits, try out our neuroscience habit app, braintingle! Experience our cognitive behaviour therapy in action to discover your triggers and solutions, while connecting with others for a sense of community and accountability. Want more?