Why we make bad food decisions – hint, it’s not about willpower
The question I’m pondering this week is around willpower.
Although there is a lot of confusing nutrition information out there, generally we know that we need to avoid refined sugars, toxic oils and processed foods. But despite being armed with all the latest research and knowledge, why is it still so hard to make the right food choices sometimes? Well I’m finding some research that shows it’s not really about willpower as we know it…
Our issue is decision fatigue.
I loved this article by James Clear that outlines the issue (read the part about the study of judge rulings) and gives us 5 ways to overcome it. As it relates to food choices, it seems the best thing we can do is plan out meals and snacks in advance. And stick to a relatively tight menu of options.
And this issue has been amplified during the quarantine era. There's been qualitative research that shows it's been difficult for many of us to stay healthy at home. Doctors say that the combination of heightened anxiety, turning to ultra-processed foods and staying mostly indoors is a recipe for unhealthy choices.
There’s also a simple mindset hack we can use to combat some of these difficult realities. Researchers behind a 2018 study on healthy eating analyzed the brain waves of participants based on the way they thought about the meal they were about to eat. Those who focused on the health effects of the meal itself (instead of the pleasure they’ll receive or the time of their next meal) made better choices about the food they were about to eat.
So, let’s all sit down to do some conscious meal planning (just like we would set aside time for any old work meeting). And having a small pre-meal chat with ourselves about the health benefits of our meal rather than rushing into dinner can make all the difference. Because, food is truly our medicine - and these days, we need as much of it as we can get.