Out topic today is our food habits, where they come from and what changes them. This is very important. We enjoy eating and we enjoy most the foods we are accustomed to eating. Many people I talk to about weight control issues react poorly to the idea that their food habits, preferences and cravings may be a big part of their weight problem. It is as if they automatically assume their food preferences are permanent, but are they? There are a few food preference tendencies that we are all born with. They are just tendencies, though, and are powerfully modified by our cultural environment and the way we learn to eat.
If you think about this carefully, you realize that your tastes are acquired and they tend to change over time. The reality is that we can set about changing them if we wish. It takes time and perseverance, but it is doable. In fact, if you are accustomed to a poor diet and you want a long term solution to weight control problems, it is probably a must. There are certain food habits that will almost guarantee failure unless you change them. I live in southeast Georgia. We probably have some of the worst food habits you will find anywhere in the world. We also have some of the highest rates of overweight of anywhere, not to mention hypertension, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. This is the way it has been for centuries in this area of the world. It is only recently that we learned what constitutes a healthy way to eat and what doesn’t. It is no one’s fault, but it is a problem that must be solved. It is tough for someone to try to eat a low fat, low sugar diet in this area. Most of the restaurants serve almost exclusively traditional fare. Many of our schools serve the foods that seem designed to make our kids overweight. Even our hospitals often serve foods that ignore sound nutritional guidelines.
Even though the cards seem stacked against us in our efforts, success is possible. I will return to the important topic of how you change your taste preferences by describing how I changed from liking to drink whole milk to liking skim milk. I was raised on whole milk and this was what I always drank until years ago when I decided I needed to change. Back then, skim milk tasted like chalk water to me, though. I found a solution: 2% milk was tolerable and over a period of a few months I grew to find this to be pretty acceptable. Then I switched to 1% milk for a few months, and finally skim. Each change took months to get used to. Now I enjoy skim milk as much as I enjoyed whole milk when I was younger, and whole milk now tastes quite oily and unpleasant in comparison. In making this change I eliminated a lot of saturated fat from my diet.
What I describe in that story is a technique that can be applied to all food preferences. You may have been lucky enough to be raised with very healthy food habits, or you may already have made these changes, but if not, your success in controlling your weight will be much more likely with healthy principles guiding your food selections. If you find you have a lot of changes to make, it is best to go about it slowly. Make the easiest changes first and allow your taste preferences to slowly evolve. If you make the changes and stick with it, you will avoid feeling deprived, and your taste preferences will change. As with the other weight control topics I have been discussing, the greatest success will follow a long term strategy of gradual change toward healthier habits.
While we are discussing food preferences, this may be a good spot to include the timing of meals. Generally, the worst thing you can do when you are trying to control your weight is to eat when you are not hungry. I find this false “wisdom” being advised all the time in the form of: “You must eat three meals a day.” When I was taking dietetics classes as part of my nutrition training in college, this is what dietitians were being taught: always, three meals a day. Over the years, though, I find this can be bad advice. It really depends on the person involved and how their appetite responds to different food timing patterns. Many people find they are just not hungry for breakfast, and if they start eating breakfast, they find that weight control is much harder or even impossible. Other people find that if they don’t eat something for breakfast, they are famished for lunch and tend to overeat as a result. There are two key things to keep in mind about meal timing. First, learn what works for you by trying different strategies and by observing closely. Second, as in everything else, nothing works for everyone. We all need to include the full range of essential nutrients in our daily intake (we will discuss this later), but beyond that there are many different ways a healthy food intake can be accomplished.
In the next article I will begin what is probably the most misunderstood topic of dealing with weight control issues: what nutrients our body needs to function in its top form. I will present some simplified, but reliable, concepts to guide you in forming a life-long eating plan designed to control your body weight naturally. My guess is that many readers will find that they need to revise certain concepts they thought were healthy, yet which are actually inaccurate and often counter-productive.