Posts Tagged ‘addictions’
Americans may be better informed about matters of diet and nutrition than ever before, but that does not necessarily change their behavior, according to a number of studies, including several conducted by the restaurant industry. Although many popular chain restaurants are trying to give consumers healthier alternatives to their traditional fares, the better-for-you stuff doesn’t sell very well.
For example, McDonald’s reports that sales of its least caloric items remain flat. “Although the chain devoted one-sixth of its advertising time to salads, they make up 2 to 3 percent of sales, and don’t drive growth,” said Don Thompson, the company’s president and CEO in an interview with the New York Times.
Consumers are not trying to do something for their health when they eat out, let alone when they go to a fast food place. They want to indulge and get the biggest bang for their buck. That’s what they expect and the industry is happy to comply.
Fast food also sells well because it is filled with fat, sugar and salt, ingredients that can trigger a sense of comfort and satisfaction and may even be addictive.
And it is not just the food itself that proves irresistible for some, but also the act of indulging. Especially in times of stress, which in the lives of many people is nearly constant, we tend to fall back into old habits we have picked up over the years, some of which may be unhealthy and destructive.
Experiments have shown that high levels of stress and fatigue can bring back once-established routines and make us act as if on autopilot. Scientists Wendy Wood and David T. Neal of Duke University found that both good and bad habits can be mobilized in stressful situations, but that willpower almost always loses out.
“Willpower is a finite resource. In the face of multiple stressful stimuli, our willpower wears out and it takes time […] to recover,” said Neal in an interview with CNN. “If you’ve grown up with bad habits or formed them later in life, yes, the phenomenon is that it’s a net negative for you. If a majority of your routines are unhealthy, then lacking willpower is really a problem. It becomes a double whammy because you are forced more into those patterns.”
These findings confirm what behavioral psychologists have known for a long time, namely that stress experiences and eating patterns are closely related. When stress is unrelenting (a.k.a. chronic stress), craving rich food can become an almost natural response. And if these responses become habitual, it can be increasingly hard to break them after some time.
To overcome detrimental habits and replace them with better ones, Wood and Neal recommend changing the environment. For example, many of our reactions are triggered by visual cues. If they can be avoided, half the battle may already be won. “There is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind element here,” said Neal.
With the nearly ubiquitous presence of fast food places, that may not be an easy task. But packing a nutritious lunch at home or keeping some healthier snacks in the car may help prevent some spontaneous missteps. Also, intentionally changing one’s daily routines to disrupt established behavior can be useful.
Unfortunately, we are not aware of many of our habits, and they must first be brought to our attention. The good news is that by reexamining them, we can regain a lot of power and start anew.
If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Your Eating Habits – What Makes Them, What Breaks Them.”
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).
In principle, I guess, one can get addicted to anything. I’m not just talking about drugs, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine or food. People can develop addictions to other people, their work, shopping, television or the Internet. The latter seem especially prone to cause addictive behavior. In this past year, the media outlets of every kind have been selling us “the news” like junk food, thereby creating yet another addiction. “News junkies suffer from withdrawal symptoms after the election,” I read the other day in the paper. I wonder why?
Certain addictions are hard to avoid in our culture where more is always considered better. We take it for granted to think of progress exclusively in terms of “growth.” So we find ourselves in a never-ending chase of things that supposedly make our lives more comfortable and more exciting. We live in larger homes, drive bigger and faster cars and surround ourselves with more possessions than any generation before us – and yet, there remains this nagging feeling that we don’t have enough to be content.
Inevitably, our relentless “pursuit of happiness” comes at a steep price. It’s called stress. True, most people suffer from stress and anxiety at one time or another. That’s life, some would say. Yet, what we are seeing today seems somewhat different. More and more people exhaust themselves, just by trying to keep up. They are reaching the end of their rope. Doctors and psychologists have already come up with new terminology to describe the stress symptoms they find in their patients with increasing frequency, using terms such as “time stress,” “chronic overscheduling” or “time poverty.”
To be sure, having goals and ambitions does not automatically make anyone sick. There is such a thing as “good stress” where people can thrive on a certain amount of pressure and even derive pleasure from it. But being constantly pressed for time without relief is not healthy, no matter how we may rationalize it. In fact, the idea that a “normal” life has to be filled with constant activity is a concept that should not remain unquestioned. Why should it be “the norm” that we always work harder, earn more money, buy more stuff, increase our standard of living? Why is having the newest and the latest to be considered a must? Why can’t we imagine living without gadgets that did not even exist a little while ago? Why don’t we ever feel that we have accomplished enough and that we can enjoy what we already have?
The Holiday Season is supposedly a time when we stop the rat race and focus on family, friends and all the good things that really matter in life. Of course, most of us end up doing the exact same thing as last year and the year before. We get caught up in the Holiday rush, no matter how much we wish it was different this time.
There are better ways to deal with our perpetual time crunch – there must be! Merely wishing life was different is not enough. All lifestyle changes, great and small, require will power and determination. Here are a few ideas that may help things along:
First: Let’s establish some rules. No matter how much pressure we may receive from the outside, let’s not forget that we are responsible for the ways we spend our time. Only we can find ways to organize our time better and use it more wisely. Instead of running around like crazy trying to put out fires all day, let’s set up a healthier routine and stick to it.
Second: Let’s set priorities. Let’s ask ourselves what value we get in return for our time and effort. Is our only reward more money to buy more stuff? So what if we don’t have all the latest fads? Those will be outdated and obsolete tomorrow. Instead, let’s focus, perhaps with a sense of gratitude, on what we already have – and not just in material terms.
Third: Let’s include regular down-time in our schedules, so we can recover and recharge our batteries. There are benefits in doing nothing once in a while. Allowing ourselves to slow down should not make us feel guilty. So, let’s switch off the cell phone, get off the Internet, stop listening to the News. Instead, let’s go for long walks, find a quiet place where we can spend time alone, meditate or write a journal – these are the gifts we can give to ourselves that will make for a truly Happy Holiday Season.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.