MINDLESS eating is the bad habit most Irish people want to break, according to new research.
It comes in at number one in the list of things we most want to change about ourselves, ahead of procrastinating, smoking, nail-biting, overspending and constant use of social media.
One in four of us said we would like to stop dipping into the biscuit tin, according to a survey conducted by NiQuitin to mark the launch of its new Fresh Mint Gum.
But when researchers enquired how we might do that, most of us (67%) said willpower was the most effective way to change behaviour.
However, willpower alone will rarely be enough, says Raul Aparici, a lifestyle coach who specialises in helping people to break bad habits.
“It’s really interesting that so many people believe that willpower is the most effective way to break a bad habit,” he tells Feelgood. “Instinctively, we believe this to be true, however, in reality, our willpower is constantly under attack. Only a small number of people, those with an absolute iron will, can succeed with willpower alone.”
He says those who seek help to break bad habits, from overeating and smoking to nail-biting and overspending, are most likely to succeed.
Aparici compares quitting a habit with ending a relationship — and he says our bad habits may be some of the longest relationships we have ever had, so when we want to give up a particular vice, we need to equip ourselves for the emotional journey ahead.
He advises us to consider the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of kicking the habit first. “Think about what mindless eating looks like for you. Right before munching on that muffin, take a pause and ask yourself questions like: What time of the day is it? Do I always eat bad foods at this time? Am I hungry? What is my environment like, right now?”
It’s important to build a picture of what is going on for you but to do so compassionately, he says. While popular culture tells us that it takes just 21 days to create a new habit, Aparici says studies show it can take several months to make lasting changes.
Integrated wellbeing coach and Irish Life Health ambassador Miriam Kerins-Hussey couldn’t agree more on the importance of being kind to ourselves.
She advocates an integrated approach to wellbeing and health and says the way to tackle mindless eating and binge eating – as well as a host of other issues – is to consider not only the physical but the mind and the spirit too.
After working for 10 years as a community pharmacist, where she says the
abiding philosophy was to treat the symptom rather than the cause, she was prompted to look beyond the pills to the root causes of illness.
While medication has a very important role to play, it is also important to take a holistic view of health. After considering if your body is well-fed, hydrated and exercised, examine your mental state, she says.
“What are your first thoughts in the morning? Are you constantly judging and criticising yourself? Our thoughts and emotions are huge drivers of our physical health,” she says, giving the very simple example of how sadness (an emotional thought) has a physical impact on the body by producing tears.
“It’s also important to look at the spirit, an aspect often forgotten. Spirituality can be a belief in a religion or God, but not necessarily so. It is also anything that makes you stop,” she says.
When people are eating mindlessly, she explains, they are not getting enough of their primary foods, although a primary food is not something you will ever find on a plate.
“Our primary foods are all the things that truly energise us and fulfil us, such as connection, community, fun, laughter, love, creativity and success. If there is a hole within us, it will never be filled with actual food.”
None of them are things you can buy either — an interesting point given the latest research from Irish Life Health, which shows that over half of Irish people (53%) think maintaining good health is expensive. The study coincided with the announcement of extended health cover to include dieticians’ fees, sports massage, gym membership and life coach consultations.
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