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How to break unhealthy eating patterns

By The Health News Team | December 15, 2023
Woman cooking healthy meal in kitchen

When it comes to eating, many of us have developed habits. Some are good and some are not so good.

According to Olga Hays, an American Council on Exercise-certified wellness promotion specialist at Sharp HealthCare, good eating habits include consuming more fruits and vegetables, limiting saturated fat and added sugars, drinking more water, and watching portion sizes.

“When you think about unhelpful eating habits, it is not just about making poor food choices, such as eating too much fast food,” she says. “Some of your not-so-good eating habits are from certain behaviors that you may have developed without even realizing.”

These habits include:

  • Skipping meals

  • Eating too fast

  • Eating when feeling sad, stressed or tired

  • Mindless snacking while watching TV

  • Eating when you aren’t hungry

“These pesky behaviors often sabotage our efforts to eat healthier and maintain or work toward a healthy weight, despite our best intentions,” Hays says. “If you examine your patterns and make behavior changes, you can help create a positive change in your eating habits.”

Hays shares the following three tips to build better eating habits:


Start a food journal.

One way to help identify unhealthy eating patterns is keeping a food journal for a few days. The point of a food journal isn’t to judge or police yourself, but rather to learn about yourself, which is the first step toward adopting healthy changes that stick.

Food journaling sheds light on your eating patterns. It draws your attention to food-related pitfalls that may have previously thrown you off track and gives you the information you need to move forward from a place of honesty.


Practice mindful eating.

Instead of eating at a table or when you are hungry, sometimes you may eat while driving, watching TV, or responding to emails at work. This is called mindless eating. Mindless eating can lead to unhealthy outcomes, such as overeating, undereating or making less than desirable food choices.

A strategy to help overcome mindless eating is to add mindful eating to your daily routine. Mindful eating consists of fully acknowledging the food you eat by eating slowly, listening to body sensations and hunger cues, and paying attention to thoughts and feelings that you have while enjoying your food. By bringing your attention to the entire experience of eating, you are more likely to make healthier choices that support your well-being.


Control your environment.

Your environment has an incredible ability to shape behavior. To set yourself up for success, consider reshaping the physical environment around you to make it easier to stick to new habits.

Some environmental changes to consider:

  • Be prepared — keep more fruit and healthy snacks at home and at work.

  • Keep a reusable water bottle with you throughout the day to make it easier to drink more water.

  • Use smaller plates for your meals. Bigger plates mean bigger portions, which can lead to overeating.

  • Display healthy food in a prominent place. For example, place a bowl of fruit or nuts on the kitchen counter. When you are hungry, you are more likely to grab what you see in front of you.

  • Cook most of your meals at home — this lets you be more in control of what you eat.

“Creating new eating habits or breaking the old ones can take time, so it is important to take a gentle approach and be patient,” Hays says. “Taking consistent, small steps and utilizing strategies, such as food journaling, mindful eating and controlling your environment, can be helpful in changing unhelpful behaviors and boosting healthy eating and wellness.”

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