Comfort eating, caving into fast food cravings and not doing any exercise top the list of our worst health habits, new research has revealed.
A survey for the wellbeing brand Healthspan found that millions of us tuck into treats when we’re feeling stressed or upset, in a bid to boost our mood.
But how many times have you regretted it afterwards – and wished you could find a way to be healthier?
The study also found the average adult attempts to stop bad health habits – which also include nail biting and smoking – twice a year. Despite this, 60 percent of those polled admitted they had never been able to quit.
A recent survey found millions of us eat our emotions, and 60 percent don’t know how to quit the habit. Psychologist Dr Meg Arroll explains how to work out your specific needs
WHY FOOD IS OFTEN OUR ‘FRENEMY’
It’s no surprise that comfort eating was found to be our most common bad habit, with 27 percent of those polled admitting food soothes them when they are feeling anxious or unhappy.
Food can easily be associated with comfort as high fat and sugar treats trigger our brain’s reward center and comfort foods such as chocolate boost feel-good neurotransmitters, offering an antidepressant effect.
Therefore, it’s also not surprising that more than a third of us end up over-eating when we’re bored, with another 29 percent turning to food during stressful times.
DON’T BE SO HARD ON YOURSELF – OR CRASH DIET
What’s crucial to remember is that changing existing habits, particularly eating habits, is complex, because we develop these behaviors over a lifetime.
And a key problem is that people who want to lose weight go on highly restrictive diets.
While these offer the quick fix of initial weight loss, they do not address the underlying reasons some of us turn to food as comfort.
REVEALED, THE TOP BAD HEALTH HABITS
1. Comfort eating
2. Biting nails
3. Not doing exercise
4. Stressing about things
5. Picking nose
6. Eating fast food
7. Snoozing alarm
8. Spending too long scrolling through social media
9. Eating too much chocolate
Only by increasing awareness of why, not just what we eat, can we then start to make the small changes are needed develop new, healthier eating habits.
Rob Hobson, Registered Nutritionist at UK-based Healthspan, says: ‘We are a nation of snackers and grazers but the variety of food now has grown vastly and comfort eating can be healthier.’
WHEN LIFE GETS IN THE WAY OF BEING HEALTHY
The Healthspan survey also found that while 40 percent of us have successfully given up a bad habit, nearly half (44 percent) have admitted later going back to the old behavior, leading to feelings of annoyance and frustration.
A quarter of people blamed stress as the biggest barrier to giving up a bad habit, while one in five say temptation simply gets the better of them and they can’t stop.
Others put their inability to quit down to being too busy and having too many commitments, or not caring enough to really try.
The ultimate goal is to convert small changes into lasting habits.
The key here really is to use the small changes in daily life that suit you and your life.
This will make the new behaviors stick for good as we can all manage a slight tweak to our patterns and habits – it’s only when we try to punish ourselves with massive, insurmountable changes that we struggle to keep going.
It may seem too easy as many of us have a ‘no pain, no gain’ view of health and fitness – but research shows that it’s the little things that really make a difference long-term.
HOW KNOWING YOUR HEALTH PERSONALITY CAN HELP BANISH BAD HABITS
We all have the ability to make significant changes to our lifestyle and health – but it does take some careful examination and understanding of our innate personalities and the habits that have formed over a lifetime.
Often, we are given one-size-fits-all advice, and this will indeed work for some people.
But as we are all individuals, it’s often more effective to use tailored health tips and strategies.
This helps avoid the frustration that comes about when our best health efforts seem to be scuppered.
DISCOVER YOUR PERSONALITY TYPE
In my new book called The Shrinkology Solution I explore different personality types for eating behavior.
Below are types for general health and well being, take the quiz to see which personality type you fit into.
I believe there are three distinct personality types – The Caregiver, The Adventurer and The Stoic.
These types are based on psychological theory and practice and lead to small tweaks you can make in your life for sustainable health.
When you’re completing the quiz answer the questions as honestly as possible.
It can help to think about which answer your loved ones would choose if they were taking the test on your behalf. You can also ask a friend or partner their opinion – something those around us are more objective!
Once you’ve finished, tally up your answers. This will give you a personalized profile, followed by advice that’s suited to you.
For each question, select the most appropriate answer
Question 1: HOW YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR HEALTH
a. You think about everyone else’s health before your own
b. You’re a ‘blue sky’ thinker and see health as a nebulous entity
c. You like to think yourself as active, so don’t quite understand why the waistline keeps nudging up a notch
Question 2: YOUR SOCIAL LIFE
a. Even as a guest, you’ll be the one making sure everyone has something to eat before you do
b. You’re the life and soul of the party, who cares how many calories are in that wine!
c. You’ll go to the party, but definitely be home for the 10 o’clock news
Question 3: STAYING ACTIVE
a. You know it’s important to exercise, but there never seems to be enough time
b. You’ve tried every class going, and they’re great! But soon get bored with the same old thing
c. You do the garden, walk the dog – activities that have a purpose
Question 4: GETTING REST
a. Sleep? What’s that?!
b. You fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow but still hit the snooze button every morning
c. You go to bed and get up at the same time every day and keep to a routine – it’s important
Question 5: MINDFULNESS
a. The idea of mindfulness seems good, but as soon as you think about it, something else pops into your head – e.g. did I remember to do X? I must call my daughter! What do I need from the shops?
b. You like to try the newest relaxation and stress-relieving techniques – whether it’s an up-to-date spin on mindfulness or adult coloring, you’ll give it a go
c. You never needed to ‘do’ anything to relax before, why should you start now? Seems a bit hocus-pocus
Question 6: FRIENDSHIPS
a. You’re the very best of friends – your friends, family, even acquaintances, would immediately call you if they needed support
b. Everyone loves your open and gregarious nature, but if you’re honest you only let a few close people in and who know the ‘real’ you
c. You never let anyone down and are rather intolerant of people who don’t live up your standards
Question 7: HEALTH
a. You’d much rather see other’s health needs met – so much so that sometimes you’re not even aware of what you need for your health
b. You’re not shy to tell others about your health plans and your charming nature means they listen intently – even if accompanied by wry smile…
c. You don’t understand why health advice keeps changing – surely the ‘experts’ can stick to one story?
Question 8: PLANNING
a. You try your best and never judge someone else if they can’t stick to an eating plan or exercise regime
b. It’s so exciting to start a new lifestyle fad – seeing it through is another matter entirely
c. If something’s worth doing, you want to do it right
Question 9: FOOD
a. If a friend orders dessert, you will too just to make them feel less guilty about the extra calories
b. You’ll try to make the sensible choice, but then have what you fancy – you can always start that new plan tomorrow
c. Meals shouldn’t be so complicated – what you ate in your past was good enough then, so it should be good enough now
Question 10: GYM BUNNY?
a. The gym works for a while, but then life gets in the way
b. You want to know what everyone else is doing at the gym, then proceed to have a coffee
c. No one could ever accuse you of being lazy, but gyms just aren’t for you
SO HOW DID YOU SCORE?
MOSTLY A: YOU’RE THE CAREGIVER
The Caregiver spends the vast majority of their time and energy thinking of others – to the extent that they can often neglect their own health needs. The Caregiver has a sense that ‘I’ll look after myself once everyone else is sorted’ but tomorrow always brings new demands. The key for Caregivers to improve and maintain health is prioritizing themselves, so that they are in tip-top form to look after others.
There’s no need to feel guilty if you have a little lie-in on the weekends. Contrary to popular beliefs, a study which followed 43,880 people over 13 years found that people who caught up on weekday lost sleep did not shorten lifespan – rather, getting less than five hours sleep night after night did affect mortality.
WHAT TO EAT:
Even if you’re in a rush, include protein in your meals. From our 50s onwards, we lose up to eight percent of our muscle mass each decade. Low muscle mass is associated with more falls in later life and problems with regular daily activities. A protein-rich diet will also keep you fuller for longer, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
You don’t need to set aside an hour every day to be physically active – instead pepper your day with movement. Where once you would be sitting, stand instead. You can burn an extra 174 calories by using a standing desk over one afternoon, compared to being seated. Limiting the amount of time sitting down helps to prevent both heart disease and diabetes.
MOSTLY Bs: YOU’RE THE ADVENTURER/FREE SPIRIT
The Adventurer lives life to the fullest, explores new passions and opportunities, jumping in with both feet. While this carefree nature makes for great storytelling, the Adventurer can find it difficult to stick to healthy living, which is based more on moderation that excess. Adventurers can use the small tweaks below to maintain their sense of freedom, while also protecting long-term health.
Even though Adventurers are outwardly very happy and positive people, like everyone you can experience low mood. There is a quick and easy way to jolt yourself out of a blue spell that you can use every day – simply look at happy faces. Eye-tracking research has demonstrated that older adults are particularly good at seeking out and absorbing joyful emotions from others – even by simply looking at pictures. So take a moment each day to gaze on a smiling face.
WHAT TO EAT:
You don’t have to deny yourself the things you love, simply use some clever tricks to reduce the volume of luscious food and drink consumed. Studies show that we pour 12 percent less liquid into a tall, slim glass and compared to a short, stout tumbler. You can also use your creative streak to find some interesting crockery – focus on the color red as we eat less from plates and bowls stained in crimson or magentas than from pure white.
Your curiosity and imagination is something to be admired, but it can mean that you don’t stick to an exercise plan. But you can keep the motivation going by giving yourself a reward scheme. Every time you complete exercise (even a small amount!) give yourself ‘loyalty points’ – when you’ve hit a certain number of points, treat yourself to a trip to the theater, new gadget or something else you really want.
MOSTLY Cs: YOU’RE THE STOIC
The Stoic is responsible, trust-worthy and ever-reliable. The Stoic will carefully consider all routes and stick to plan, but once this strategy is set, veering from it is not an option. This means that Stoics stick to health and lifestyle advice from earlier in life, some of it which may be outdated, and some not appropriate for current life-stage. Trying new ways of eating, exercise and staying positive will benefit The Stoic and keep ill health at bay.
Listening to music, not just to keep your mind in tip-top condition but also for your heart health. A study published in 2018 showed that listening to music can counteract the damaging effects of stress on the heart by activating certain parts of the brain. This research which followed people after a heart attack and found that after 60 days of music listening, the gene expression associated with inflammation and heart diseases was improved, leading to better heart health.
WHAT TO EAT:
Try one new fruit or veg a week – even if you think you won’t like them. There is growing evidence that shows our microbiota (all the trillions of bacteria that populate our guts and support health) need not just fresh, unprocessed food but a variety of foodstuff. Think rainbow – make sure you have a range of colours on your plate to give your microbiota all the necessary nutrient sources required for good health. Research has linked a diverse gut microbiota to a prevention of numerous conditions including Alzheimer’s disease.
Take a different route – whether it’s on your daily walk, or a set job list in the garden, change it up. By tweaking what your mind sees, you’ll be able to give your brain a work out, not just your body.