In every relationship there is always some give-and-take – sometimes you give, sometimes you take. In our relationship with food, this refers to giving and taking responsibility.
We as individuals are ultimately responsible for our health and well-being; however, as a society we do not make it very easy for ourselves to make individual responsible decisions.
Most people want to make good decisions that positively affect their health and the health of their families and friends; but when we have row after row of nutrient poor food items that look pretty and fit nicely within our budgets, it is very difficult to make decisions that help and not hinder our health without spending a lot of money or time.
To provide some clarity, below is a list of five reasons why your relationship with food is not where you would like it to be. This list is not exhaustive, but provides general categories of challenges that we face everyday and ways to address them.
1. The Market
The foods available to you have varying degrees of health benefits and hindrances. It is safe to say, however, that most processed foods contain ingredients that do not satisfy your health needs. In fact, they may do the opposite.
Non-nutrient ingredients (i.e., anything besides fat, protein, carbs, vitamins, and minerals) do not add nutritional value to your body and simply fill up space in your stomach. Some non-nutrient ingredients, such as food coloring, may even have negative effects on your health.
However, there are also nutrient ingredients in these foods that can be deleterious to your health when consumed frequently during your lifespan.
These include the infamous partially hydrogenated oils (i.e., trans fat) and high fructose corn syrup.
Consuming these ingredients occasionally is not going to set you back much; but, consuming a little bit at each meal, each day will cause cumulative effects to your system that overtime will leave you in worse health than before.
2. Your Shopping List
Though the market provides food products that can hinder your health, your decision to purchase such products is where the real problem lies. By regularly selecting foods on the “naughty list,” you essentially are giving the manufacturer reassurance that you want more of that food.
Companies pay close attention to what you buy. If you buy something, they hope that you will buy it again; and if the food is tasty and attractive, you probably will.
For many companies, this has nothing to do with nutritional content of the food. They are simply trying to make money and they do so when you purchase their food product. When enough people purchase enough food products, it sets the stage for what companies choose to produce. It essentially shapes the market and selection of foods that are available to you.
In order to make better foods available to you at the store, you need to start purchasing items that better reflect your health needs. Consequently, this means that you have to be a smarter consumer. Overtime, however, as shoppers collectively make better purchasing decisions, the market will shift toward a better selection, making it easier to choose healthy options.
3. Your Priorities
As mentioned earlier, you help shape the market when you purchase food products; and it is your personal priorities that drive your purchasing decisions.
If you say that your health is important to you, but habitually purchase nutrient poor foods, your actions do not align with the priorities you claim.
Part of responsible living means aligning your actions with your true priorities.
If you claim that eating well and exercising is important to you, then most of the time you should be eating healthy foods and working out. However, if most of the time you are eating junk and spending your evenings upon the couch, it is very clear that eating healthy and exercising are not as important to you as you think.
So, take a good hard look at yourself.
This does not mean that you must analyze every nook and cranny of your body and conclude you are inferior; just think about what you want your life to look like and compare it to what it actually looks like.
For example, maybe you say something like, “I want to eat vegetables at every meal.” Now look back on the past month. Do you remember eating veggies at every meal? Do you remember purchasing any veggies at the grocery store? If not, either you need to make a better effort to buy and eat veggies or maybe eating veggies really is not your true priority (although, it should be on your list).
Bottom line: consider your habitual actions. Determine whether they reflect your true priorities. If they do not, figure out what you need to do in order to align your actions to your priorities.
We are bombarded with advertisements on a daily basis. TV, radio, websites, email, apps, social media, and even text messaging are filled with ads that encourage us to buy something.
Slam enough of these ads in anyone’s face and they are going to be influenced somehow.
This does not mean that when you see an ad for a beverage, you will immediately go to the store and purchase said beverage; but, you may see it during your next shopping trip and recognize it from the ad. Even that brief recognition and acknowledgement is a success for the advertisement.
In our world where companies are telling and showing us what and where to buy at every angle of of our lives, it is difficult to not be swayed and to make truly independent decisions. Since we are very social creatures that are unlikely to adopt a lifestyle of hermitage, we must face the ads head-on while staying true to our priorities and health goals.
It may seem easy to disregard the ads for cookies and crackers that you likely shunned from thought years ago; but, what about the ads for “all natural” foods made with “organic ingredients” that were harvested on a “family-owned farm”? What about those pretty white boxes with a few happy-looking fruits that make you feel like there might be an iPhone inside instead of granola? Or how about the boxes that say “0g trans fat,” “good source of fiber,” or “essential vitamins and minerals”?
There are so many marketing tactics that consumers need to decipher in order to make good purchasing decisions – it is overwhelming.
You do not have to be an expert at marketing; but if you know what your priorities are, take a good hard look at the products you purchase to make sure you actually buy the foods you think you are buying.
Get curious and do some research on what labels such as “all natural,” “certified organic,” and “made with organic ingredients” really mean (or do not mean). Understanding just a couple phrases will help you make better choices and prevent you from falling into the ad-trap.
5. Peer Pressure
You probably have not heard anyone talk about it since high school, but peer pressure has an unmistakably huge influence on your purchasing decisions and priorities.
Take a hard look at your Prime Five (the five people you spend the most time with). What do they eat? Are they active? Happy? Productive? Are their actions aligned with their priorities?
It is very possible that you have every intention in the world to adhere to your health goals; but if the people closest to you have habits opposite of what you are working to achieve, your goals will prove to be more challenging.
This does not mean we need to drop all our friends whenever we have a health goal. We just need to be mindful that when we initiate change in our lives, we are oftentimes faced with opposition likely stemming from our core social group.
If you are working to align your actions with your priorities or if you conclude that you need to overhaul your priorities, it is very helpful to surround yourself with other people doing the same thing. You do not have to ditch all your friends, but start meeting new people who have lifestyles you admire or who are working toward a health goal.
Go to events and classes where you will likely find people who share your health desires. Be the pioneer of your Prime Five and bring back interesting facts about food and fun ways to stay active. Inspire your friends to strive for better health simply by striving for it yourself.
The cold truth is: you are not going to get healthy by sitting around waiting for someone else to make it happen for you. You have to overcome the peer pressure, accept responsibility for yourself, take action, and you will inadvertently create a better standard of living for yourself and the people closest to you.
The most important thing to learn from this list is that you need to assess your priorities and actions.
Do your actions match the lifestyle you want? If not, you need to alter your actions. Or, perhaps your actions are clues that your priorities are not what you think they are.
Maybe you claim to want a healthy life, but your actions do not reflect that; therefore, maybe health is not really a priority for you. If that is the case, determine whether you want your health to be a priority in your life. If so, you need to overhaul your priorities. If not, good luck to you; but please do not blame anyone or anything (e.g., the market, advertisements, peer pressure, or the government) when you experience poor health.
We all are ultimately responsible for our own personal health and decisions.