Why do we eat unhealthily?

Doing research on healthy eating has been very interesting. I have been thinking a lot on healthy eating and am currently obsessed with this offering of a healthy, convenient takeaway that is ubiquitous. But I guess the big question that has been on my mind ever since I started thinking our food choices is ‘why’. Why do we continue to eat unhealthily when we know it’s bad for us? It’s the same question that I cannot get my head around when it comes to smoking and drinking. Why do we do it when we know it’s bad for us? It’s okay in small amounts – sure. But for every ‘small’ drag of a cigarette and every ‘small’ sip of alcohol, there are consequences. Whether that means extra calorie intake (alcohol) or reducing the amount of oxygen in our blood (smoking), there are always consequences. I know I mentioned this in my previous blog post and my primary research from general observations and speaking to people has produced some interesting and mixed results.

Delicious. Not.

Speaking to someone yesterday while we collectively chowed down on pizzas, it was funny how everyone agreed how unhealthy yet ‘delicious’ these takeaway pizzas were – we had salami, cheese, ham pizzas – the usual suspects, yet how we differed in terms of mindset. I tried not to think about it – I felt guilty – but another guy said he thought about it and ate it anyway because pizzas were like the epitome of deliciousness. And it was delicious, but I didn’t feel good about eating it. I didn’t particularly regret eating it because I didn’t feel hungry afterwards – but I did regret it in the sense that I probably shouldn’t have eaten three whole slices, however small those slices were.

Obviously different people eat unhealthy/healthy foods for different reasons. We all have different eating habits and come from different social backgrounds and have different tastes. But that doesn’t really explain the big question of ‘why’, although it does help to put things into context.

There is also definitely an element of perversity/guilt attached to eating unhealthy food that psychologically works like substance addiction. My rational thoughts and habits flew out the window when I saw the pizzas. So to explain my own irrationality, I’ve come up with 5 main/distinctive themes that help explain why we eat unhealthily.

1. Convenience
Let’s face it. Unhealthy food is often the most convenient. It exists in the form of takeaways which by nature are quick to prepare – it’s called ‘fast food’ for a reason – and cuts out the steps that are usually required in more painstaking, original cooking processes. To make up for these cooking processes, they add lots of salt, sugar, oil etc. to make the food taste good, I think. Convenience trumps quality everytime. And quality is the luxury afforded only to those who have time and money.

2. General habit/social background
Our social and family background plays a large part in this. People who have a better social background, are more well-off also tend to be healthier and come from families who 1) do their own home cooking/someone to do it for them, 2) are more educated and more aware of health issues 3) eat out anyway and can afford to eat in better quality restaurants. I’m making the 1, 2, 3, up but that people who are more well-off tend to be healthier eaters is a fact, not an opinion. It’s funny how there is also this stigma around unhealthy eating – it being seen as ‘low-class’ – but also and equally, there is stigma around healthy eating. People tend to be skeptical of it and see it as dieting, which conversely, is unhealthy. Somehow ‘compliments’ of me being ‘healthy’ always seem sarcastic, whether they are implied or not is not the point, the point is: you have not seen me eat pizzas, clearly.

3. Social setting/environment
Truth: we order excessive amounts of food and tend to eat more when we’re out with others. And when it’s something someone else wants to eat, or something someone else has ordered, you don’t really have a choice in what food goes into your body. This means that you cannot eat healthily unless you were to bring your own lunch box wherever you go. People find it amusing and it is somewhat frowned upon if you’re going to a place where there is food already, but I do it anyway.

4. Psychological issues
I don’t want to say that people who have psychological issues eat more unhealthily because that isn’t always true but psychology definitely plays a large part in what we eat and how we eat. There has also been a lot of interesting research done looking into what junk food does to our brains. These ‘scientists’ – or body wreckers – spent lots of time and energy into creating the perfect combination of fat, carb, salt, sugar whatever – in manufactured junk food. There’s a really interesting article on Lifehacker about how food companies will spend millions of dollars to discover the most satisfying level of crunch in a potato chip and test for the perfect amount of fizzle in a soda. These factors all combine to create the sensation that your brain associates with a particular food or drink. And the whole memory of it and sensory experience is just so tempting that you want more of it again.

5. Lack of concern/understanding/commitment
Sometimes people are aware, but they don’t really understand – or care enough. Yahoo Answers came up with this excellent response to the question of why people don’t eat unhealthily: ‘Because people think ‘what the hell …we are only alive for a short time so why not eat whatever.’ And some people think they are already healthy – or that they are healthy enough – as if there were some kind of healthy index you could put yourself on and rate. I don’t think it works like that. Being healthy is a lifetime commitment. It’s a lifestyle habit that you never ever lose. Ever. It’s a philosophy, a way of life. And I don’t want to go to hell.

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