Thursday, 23 July 2020

The psychological impact of procrastination

Over the last few days we’ve been looking at the issue of procrastination, exploring why we procrastinate, and looking at strategies to help us stop doing it.


One of the biggest challenges when trying to manage and overcome procrastination though is the psychological impact that procrastination can have on us. 


Depression/low mood and procrastination

A 2007 study published in the psychological bulletin suggested that the link between depression/low mood and over-procrastination was very strong. This is perhaps not a surprising finding. If we procrastinate over a task, we may feel hopeless in our abilities or helpless to get things done. That in turn may lead to low mood and depressive symptoms. This can often turn into a bit of a cycle. The more we procrastinate, the more hopeless and helpless we feel, and the less likely to undertake tasks we know we need to do. In other words, we procrastinate more. 


OCD and procrastination

Procrastination has also been linked to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Studies suggest that over-perfectionism, common in OCD, can result in people putting off tasks because they feel they’re not capable enough to undertake them perfectly. In addition, the fear of making mistakes when undertaking new tasks, which people with OCD often experience, may lead them to procrastinate. Much like with depression, this can lead to an unhelpful cycle in which OCD leads to procrastination which leads to an increased fear of not being perfect which leads to a reliance on obsessive behaviours or thoughts.


ADHD and procrastination

In addition to OCD and depression, ADHD can also have an impact on procrastination, and people with ADHD may feel distressed by their levels of procrastination. When you’re extremely distracted by internal thoughts or external stimuli, it can be hard to focus on executing tasks. Ultimately, ADHD can make procrastination more pronounced. 


Anxiety and procrastination

Research suggests that having an anxiety disorder can also put you at greater risk of procrastination. In common with those with OCD, people with anxiety often strive for perfectionism as a way to feel less anxious about getting something wrong. However, perfectionism can curtail our ability and desire to actually execute tasks. So, anxiety can lead to perfectionism which can lead to procrastination.


This sense of perfectionism perpetuated from high anxiety can also eat up enormous amounts of time, leaving limited time for other more important tasks. For example, someone with high anxiety that is looking to develop their self-esteem may say “I will undertake this self-esteem course until I know everything about self-esteem”.


That desire is evidence of perfectionism due to the individual’s high anxiety, it’s also totally unnecessary and eats up a lot of time ­– time that could be spent improving their self-esteem.


The psychological impact of procrastination is massive, it can lead to or exacerbate mental health difficulties such as depression, OCD and anxiety. Of course, this is not always the case but in order to understand procrastination fully, it's helpful to have an understanding of some of the other difficulties it relates to.



Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Discovering the benefits of morning rituals

Morning rituals differ from morning routines in that each action of a ritual should be done with meaning and with attention on the process rather than merely the results. A routine is something you do each morning without giving it a moment’s thought: getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, making breakfast, etc. However, rituals are thought-out actions that set you up for the day and can eventually lead to a more positive outlook on life.

What constitutes part of a morning ritual?

Although meditation and exercise can form part of a morning ritual, there are simpler tasks that can also be included. Purposely drinking your morning coffee out in the garden and taking time to appreciate the aroma of the drink and the natural aspects of your surroundings can be part of a ritual. Allocating time to have a conversation over breakfast with your children and spouse before you go your separate ways for the day is another. An action can be very small but should involve you thinking about the action and being aware of feelings and senses associated with it. The morning is the best time to begin these rituals as they can invigorate and prepare you for the rest of the day.

Why are morning rituals beneficial?

People use morning rituals for many different reasons and discover various benefits when they do. Benefits may include:

  • Helping with healthy diet – being mindful of what you are eating and savouring each mouthful makes you more conscious of eating health and avoiding foods that could impact negatively on your mood and energy levels.
  • Making you more disciplined – sticking to rituals each day can give you a disciplined mindset in other areas of your daily life.
  • Highlighting the importance of time – setting aside specific time for rituals reveals how much time you have in the day to focus on your own needs.
  • Increased productivity and creativity

The mental health benefits of morning rituals for the entire family

Rituals aren’t just for adults, and implementing morning rituals at the early stages of development can have life-long benefits.

Studies have shown that rituals and routines can have a huge impact on children. According to a study included in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, children from families with lower levels of routine experienced higher levels of hyperactivity and impulsivity compared to families with established routines.

As a family, implement a morning routine that sets the tone for the day. Let everyone know that the morning is a time of family discussion, or meditation, or the time you all gather to enjoy breakfast. This can also be the time you go over everybody’s tasks for the day so the routine is clear to all. A chart, or visual prompts for younger children, can be used as part of the morning ritual to clarify the routine for the day.

Rituals, food and mental health

The food we eat has an effect on both our physical and mental wellbeing. Fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamins, and healthy proteins such as those found in beans, seeds, nuts, and pulses help to maintain a healthy body. Too many processed foods containing sugars and fats make us sluggish which in turn makes us less active.

A diet lacking in protein can lead to serotonin depletion. Serotonin is a chemical required to regulate mood and so those suffering from protein deficiency may find themselves becoming depressed, anxious and aggressive. Incorporating healthy foods into your diet and enjoying the morning ritual of a healthy breakfast while savouring each mouthful, will make you more aware of the foods you eat. This ritual will then have a positive effect on both your mental and physical health.

How do I decide what rituals to include?

Chances are you have already thought about activities you like to do but have failed to incorporate them into a morning ritual. Finding the right activities can involve trial and error and you may do something only to find that you prefer something else. Jogging, yoga, reading poetry, listening to specific music, and meditation, are just some of the rituals you may want to try. Even chanting or mantras can help clear the mind and assist with focusing on any worries or problems you want to find solutions for. Keeping a journal is a great activity to include in a morning ritual as it clarifies precisely what is on your mind and you can reflect on past entries over the coming weeks and months.

Don’t give up!

Even if a certain ritual doesn’t seem like your cup of tea, make sure you stick with it for a few days or even a week. It takes time to incorporate a new activity into your daily life and although you may not initially appreciate the benefits, you may do so over a few days. When you have established that something is definitely not working for you, select something else and give this activity a fair chance too. Just because one activity isn’t working, it doesn’t mean you won’t find something else to suit you.

How to overcome procrastination

In yesterday’s blog we looked at some of the reasons why we procrastinate:
  • Decision paralysis
  • Time inconsistency
  • Lack of self-belief
Today, we’ll be looking at how to actually overcome procrastination – something that impacts us all every day to varying degrees.

The first thing to keep in mind when trying to overcome procrastination is that everyone is different so some of the tips discussed here might not work for you. However, it’s worth giving them all a try to see which ones you find most effective.

Acknowledge that you’re procrastinating

This seems really basic, but it’s the first and most important step towards overcoming procrastination. In order to deal with anything, we first need to acknowledge that we're doing it.

Take stock of your day and the past week, how much did you really work, how much did you really invest in the tasks at hand, and how much did you procrastinate?

Just to be clear, switching focus to other tasks that really require your attention is not procrastination, but turning away from the most important work to instead look at your Instagram feed is.

Think about the past week, tally your hours of productivity and hours of procrastination for each day. Try not to kid yourself, its really important for you to be really honest here. Did you take an extra hour for lunch? Did you really need to watch that YouTube video about funny cats? Did you really need to watch that boxset on Netflix?

You may find this process a bit demoralizing, but remember that you’re recording your procrastination time in order to overcome it, and that’s a really good thing.

Invest in some key strategies to overcome procrastination

Once you've acknowledged how much you’ve been procrastinating, you'll likely want to start to invest in some strategies to help you stop.

Let’s take a look at a few that might be helpful.

Forgive yourself

This is so important. After you’ve recognised your procrastination behaviours, as we discussed earlier, you could go down one of two roads. You could either beat yourself up for procrastinating so much, fixating on time that you won’t get back. Or you could learn to show yourself some compassion, forgive yourself, and move on.

One of the best ways to forgive yourself is to understand why you procrastinate. As we spoke about in our previous blog post, you may have had low self-belief in your ability to undertake the task you were trying to work on. You may have had multiple things going on at once that were all fighting for your attention and it therefore became overwhelming. All of these reasons make sense, so forgive yourself and move forward.

Take back the power

We often procrastinate when we feel powerless over what we’re doing:
  • Maybe your boss has instructed you that you MUST get something done by the end of the week. 
  • Maybe your partner has said that you HAVE to clean the bathroom. 
  • Maybe your bank has said to you that you NEED to get a pension sorted out.
MUST, HAVE, NEED…these are all disempowering words, which take the power away from you and put it into the hands of someone else.

When we feel we’re doing something for someone else, particularly when it’s something that we’d rather not be doing, we’re much more likely to procrastinate. What you could do instead is reframe these things and take the power back.
  • Your boss has asked you to complete something by the end of the week and you CHOSE to undertake it.
  • Your partner has asked you to clean the bathroom and you would LIKE to help them out.
  • Your bank manager has advised you to look at your pension and you WANT to get it done.
CHOOSE, LIKE, WANT…these are words that are much more empowering. They give you ownership of the task at hand.

Eat the frog first

Ok, so what do frogs have to do with procrastination? Basically, what this means is do the difficult thing first. Perhaps you really took some of the earlier points about overcoming procrastination on board? Perhaps you thought about why you procrastinate and got up early the next morning ready to work?
The best thing you could do to help keep procrastination at bay for the rest of the day is to do the difficult thing first before you do anything else.

If you need to finish writing and proof reading a big report for work, you're studying for a university exam that is looming, or you have another important task to do, eat the frog first, get it out of the way and get on with the rest of your productive day.

Invest in some practical strategies

These new ways of thinking and working are really effective, but what can be just as helpful are some practical steps that can assist you in overcoming your procrastination. Let’s take a look at a couple.

Get great, not just good, at organising

Often when we procrastinate, it has a lot to do with the fact that we’ve not been organised enough ­­– we’ve not set in place the things we want to achieve and so therefore we end up being less productive.

Write a list of the things you want to get done tomorrow and when you want to do them. The more organised you are, the less opportunity you give yourself to procrastinate.

Keep your timing

In order to stay productive and minimise procrastination, you should also think about your timing. Set yourself a time limit on how long you’re going to be working on one thing.

It's important not to fuel your procrastination, so make sure you know what you're doing, when you're doing it, and for how long.

Give yourself more structure, set limits on the tasks you’re undertaking and time limits on your breaks and your procrastination will be sure to reduce.

Procrastination can be a challenge for everyone, but with a sounder understanding of why you procrastinate, and some key tips on overcoming it, procrastination will hopefully become a thing of the past.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Why do we procrastinate?

Procrastination is a funny thing. We know the things that are good for us, we know the things we should be doing, yet so often we do something totally different, and even sometimes the total opposite.

For example, we know we should exercise more, yet we end up watching box sets on the couch; we know we should eat healthier food, yet we find ourselves eating our third Big Mac of the week; and we know we should tidy the house, but we end up leaving it for days so that it becomes even worse than when we first realised it needed to be cleaned. When you think about it, it doesn’t make much sense, does it? What place in human development does procrastination have? Surely its far too negative for it to be something to gravitate towards, yet all of us procrastinate at some point each day.

The big question is, why on earth do we do it?

Common reasons for procrastination

Decision paralysis

We have so many things going on in our lives that when it comes to occupying our time and our head space, we struggle to establish what's really important. 

If you're sitting down to write a big assignment for your university degree, you have to manage the difficulties of being distracted by your phone, the latest ASOS sale, an article of interest that popped into your email inbox, a game that you’ve become addicted to on your smart phone, and how beautiful the weather is outside.

Our brains are overloaded more than ever with stimuli – decision paralysis is a result.

Time inconsistency

One of the biggest reasons we procrastinate is down to time inconsistency. You can understand this better by looking at the following example: 

You want to start a new career, and this requires you to get a degree in the new area you want to work in. You've researched the degree you need and you know that it will likely take about four years to get it. Great! You’ve figured out the long-term goal you need to accomplish. However, this goal was created for your future self, and it’s your present self that needs to take action to complete it.

The difficulty is that your future self and your present self both have different desires. Your present self likes immediate gratification, and your future self prefers long-term benefit. However, that long-term benefit might be months, even years away, and so often your present self and its desire for gratification right now wins the internal battle.

It’s great that you've dedicated your future self to achieving that long-term degree, but your present self needs to sit in front of the laptop and get on with that massive report that is due to be submitted next month. We all know that to obtain a degree in four years’ time we have to work hard now, but a couple of episodes of Game Of Thrones right now isn’t going to hurt….right?


If our belief in our ability to undertake a task is limited, we will procrastinate more. For example, you may want to lose two stone by this time next year, but you’ve tried so many times before and its never worked…what makes this time any different? 

Our belief in our abilities has a direct correlation to our procrastination.

Instead of trying a new workout or diet regime to lose weight, you might tell yourself:

  • It’s too hard to try this again, I’m inevitably going to fail, just like last time.
  • I’m not that overweight to be honest, and in truth there are plenty of people far less healthy than me.
  • It seems like so much effort just to lose a little bit of weight, I’m going to just chill out instead.

All of these are examples of common thinking processes from someone that lacks self-belief, and if we don’t believe in our ability or capacity to achieve the goal we've set ourselves, then we are much more likely to procrastinate in striving to achieve it.

In truth, procrastination is a really subjective thing, you may procrastinate for totally different reasons to someone else. One of the most important steps to helping manage your procrastination is to understand it better.

Take some time to have a think about how some of the points we’ve covered here might apply to you and your procrastination and join us tomorrow for an article on how to overcome procrastination.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Calm your mind and make better decisions

It’s common sense to presume that when your mind is a whirlwind of thoughts, you’re not in the best position to be making sensible decisions. Anxieties surrounding work, family, illness, and finances can all take their toll on your mental health. This can lead to indecisiveness or poor decision-making. Learn how to calm your mind and uncloud your thoughts so you can make better decisions in all areas of your life.

What causes an uncalm mind?

There are times you will have very real concerns which cause anxiety and unrest, resulting in you being unable to make rational decisions. Sometimes, however, there are worries based on scenarios or factors that don’t yet exist. Typical concerns of this type include:
  • Being anxious about the future
  • Concerns that the decision you make will be the wrong one
  • Being overly concerned with what other people may think of you

Other factors that may lead to a restless mind include:
  • Outside influences – taking on other people’s worries as your own.
  • Having too many options from which to choose and not knowing which is the best for you.
  • Impending deadlines – although some people thrive on stringent deadlines, others find them stressful.
  • Lack of sleep – according to the mental health charity Mind, mental health and wellbeing can be affected by lack of sleep, causing a cycle of stress, worry, tiredness, and low self-esteem. 

How can I calm my mind?

Firstly, it’s extremely important that if you're feeling depressed or anxious on a daily basis for more than a short period of time, you should visit your GP or healthcare practitioner for advice. However, if you aren’t thinking clearly because of an event or decision in your life, or you find decision-making tricky at times, there are things you can do to help.

Get plenty of sleep

Design a sleep routine that works for you and try to stick to it as much as possible. This could be having a warm bath before bed or reading a book before you go to sleep. Make sure you avoid screens or devices for an hour before bed as the blue light they give out can confuse the body and cut down on alcohol and caffeine as they can lead to a restless night. You are less likely to feel anxious if you've had a good eight hours' sleep and will be able to face the next day’s decisions with a clearer mind. Read more about the importance of sleep >

Put pen to paper

Writing things down so you can see them in front of you can make decision-making much easier. Write about the decision you are about to make and the possible outcomes. Make a pros and cons list, or simply write about how you visualise the result of the decision you make. Writing about a decision, rather than just thinking about it, can help you think critically about the subject rather than just emotively. Read more about the benefits of putting pen to paper >


Practised on a regular basis, mindfulness has been shown to actually change the structure of the brain. This means that not only will mindfulness help you feel calmer and more in control in the shorter term, but over time, you will be less likely to slip into unhelpful thinking patterns too. For more information about mindfulness and how to get started, visit our webpage >

Calm your body with breathing exercise

If you practise breathing exercises on a daily basis, you will start to see how they relax your entire body and also your mind. Breathing exercises force you to distract your mind by focusing on your body. This process gives your mind a break and when you go back to your everyday tasks, you will find that you can focus and think things through more easily. The NHS website is a fantastic resource for breathing exercises that can help you be calm in difficult situations so you don’t make any rash decisions. Visit the NHS website >

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Using 'negative' emotions to your advantage

It may seem contradictory to suggest that emotions usually viewed as negative can actually be used in your favour, but with the right research and approach, they can. Discover how the emotions of sadness, anger, and fear can be used to your advantage with steps that will increase your emotional intelligence.

What are emotions?

Emotions are more than merely feelings, and according to, they are defined as a “complex state of feeling that results in physical and psychological changes that influence thought and behaviour.” This definition shows how important it is to be aware when you are experiencing these emotions and to ensure the physical and psychological changes can be kept in check.

There are many different theories about emotions and their purpose. Renowned naturalist and biologist, Charles Darwin believed that emotions were essential in order for animals and humans to survive. 

We now know that when animals are being stalked by predators they will experience fear which will start a chain of chemical reactions in the body enabling the body to become stronger and run faster. This rapid change in the body provides the body with the tools to either stay and fight or flee the situation. Animals are also likely to display warning signs to predators, such as hissing so that they are less likely to be approached. The chain of reactions can also heighten certain senses such as sight (making it easier to focus on predators) and hearing (to assist us in making an escape). 

Humans and fear

In a similar respect, humans will experience fear and a similar process will occur in the body. They will rapidly develop clearer eyesight, stronger muscles and sharper hearing. The heart will pump more oxygen through the body. Of course, in the case of humans the fear is not usually a predator these days!

The sorts of behaviours that may have protected us from harm in the past may result in us avoiding situations that we find frightening, such as avoiding parties due to a fear of being embarrassed, or failing to turn up to job interviews for fear of failure. 

In order to use fear to your advantage you need acknowledge the emotion and think about it realistically. It is widely known that we all experience fear, the difference between those who are high achievers and the rest of us is that high achievers experience the same fears, but take the decision to push forwards towards their goals anyway.

You can move forwards towards your own goals too. To achieve this:
  • indulge in daily self-reflection – write down all the elements that you find frightening and what specifically makes you afraid.
  • assess the pros and cons – write a list of the positives that could be achieved through facing a particular fear and a list of the negatives.
  • face the fear – perhaps the most difficult step of all is to face your fears. Attend the party or the interview and have an actual experience of the thing you fear. If it's too difficult for you, break it down into smaller, more manageable steps.
  • Give yourself recognition – no matter how small the steps you take, congratulate yourself at each stage.

Why do we feel anger?

Following the Darwinian approach, it may be difficult to see how anger could benefit either animals or humans. For animals, anger acts in much the same way as fear as it forces the animal to protect what is theirs if they feel threatened. An animal is most likely to react with anger physically only when they have assessed the situation and come to the realisation that they can win or when they feel cornered and have no choice but to fight.

Do humans do the same? In many ways, yes!

Although to us, anger seems to be just a reaction to something we perceive to be unjust or negative, it is in fact a reaction that tells us that a boundary has been breached. In the same way an animal will assess its opponent and realise they could win, rather than flee, an angry person will have determined that they can dis-arm their opponent. The difference is that one would hope a person wouldn’t react with physical violence when angry, but they may well behave aggressively by raising their voice and presenting an aggressive expression.

How can anger ever be positive?

Once you're aware that something is making you angry, you can change its direction and use it to enhance your career or outlook on life, rather than hinder it.
  • Channel your anger in a different direction to avoid an unpleasant situation – leave the room, go for a run, or scream into a pillow. Try to avoid being reactionary.
  • Acknowledge the things that make you angry – be it a person or experience – and reflect on why you may be feeling this particular emotion. Your anger is telling you something. How you respond is up to you. 
  • Write a plan – the great thing about anger is that it actually makes us determined. If you're angry because you were overlooked for a promotion, write down how you're going to deal with this and how you're going to make your situation better. This can be asking for feedback and creating a step-by-step plan to being a more attractive candidate next time.
  • Accept you may be wrong and apologise – if you have given in to your anger you may have acted in the spur of the moment. Reflect on the situation. Could the person you're angry with actually be right, and if so, be the bigger person and acknowledge this.


People often leave us alone when we are sad. The miserable loneliness of sadness may not appear to have any advantages, but sadness is perhaps one of the most cathartic experiences one can have. When one loses a loved one, it is important to grieve and to feel the sadness associated with the loss. The same can be said of a broken relationship as you mourn the loss of your connection with the other person. It isn’t only humans that feel sadness. Animals are often seen mourning the loss of their offspring or being sad when alone. This suggests that there is an evolutionary reason why humans still feel sadness and that it must have its uses.

Why is sadness good?

  • It can make you more empathetic – when you experience sadness yourself, it can help you understand another person’s emotions when they experience something similar.
  • It improves memory – studies show that sad people are more likely to remember the smaller details of an event in contrast to those in a more positive mood.
  • It’s a great motivator – After the initial period of sadness, people are more likely to find themselves motivated to better themselves or to actively cheer themselves up. 

Knowledge is most certainly the key to using 'negative' emotions to your advantage and the more you acknowledge and explore your feelings and the reason why they have come about, the better you will become at understanding how to achieve this.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Body dissatisfaction

Do you sometimes catch yourself turning and twisting in front of the mirror, wishing that parts of you were smaller, bigger, shaped differently? If you do, you are not alone! Studies have found that we live in an age of growing body consciousness and, as a consequence, often growing dissatisfaction with our weight and shape.

It has been estimated that up to 70% of women will try to diet at some stage in their lives and many either perceive themselves as bigger than they are or wish to shed some weight. Notably, dissatisfaction with shape and appearance can affect women of any age – from girlhood to their more senior years. Men tend to be generally more satisfied with their bodies, but in recent years there has also been an increase in male body image concerns, often (but not always) reflected in a wish to be bigger or more muscular.

While gender seems to play an important role in terms of how much and what kind of body dissatisfaction is expressed, sexuality, ethnicity, age, and social class may also have an impact. For instance, different cultures tend to have different beauty ideals and while the prevalent western beauty standard of thinness (particularly for women) is widespread, it is not universal. Many African cultures value a more voluptuous body shape as a sign of good health and attractiveness.

While stereotypes often focus on the idea that body image issues are most common in white, upper/middle class women, the reality is far more complex. In short, anyone can struggle with thoughts of physical inadequacy or be unhappy about the way they look, no matter who they are.

Where does body dissatisfaction come from?

There can be many reasons for someone becoming dissatisfied with the way they look – we often focus on the media and the perceived societal pressures to look a certain way, but often there are other factors at work too. We may have grown up around critical parents or other family members; been bullied at school or at work; or face unique pressures in our social and cultural environment to be a certain way. We may develop beliefs about what it means to look a certain way (for example, associating thinness with success and attractiveness) and reject anything that does not conform to this ideal. Over time, criticisms from others (parents, partner, community, peers) are internalised and stay with us to the extent that we start seeing ourselves as others have seen us – justified or not.

How to be less dissatisfied with your body

  • Focus on the positives – What do you like about your looks? What (positives) have other people commented on? If you are not sure, ask those you love and trust – you may be surprised by what they say.
  • Focus on the whole you – you are more than your weight or dress size. Think about what makes you tick. What are you good at? What do people like about you? This can help shift the focus from concentrating on things you are unhappy about to feeling more positive about yourself overall.
  • Be mindful of the images you see on social media platforms – they are more often than not airbrushed and altered and do not portray reality. How useful is it to be comparing yourself to bodies that don't really exist?
  • Be kind to yourself – stop treating other people better than you treat yourself. You are the only person you will spend the entire rest of your life with.
  • If you feel that you are really struggling and would like to speak to someone about your body dissatisfaction and how it impacts on your life, don't hesitate to reach out. You are not alone and help is available. 

The psychological dimension of healthy eating

There are probably as many definitions of 'healthy' eating as people trying to follow a 'healthy' diet. In fact, in the age of the internet and social media, we are bombarded with often contradictory advice about food and nutrition. Health blogging has become a popular (and sometimes lucrative) endeavour and platforms such as Instagram brim with tantalising food pictures and recipe suggestions posted by professional or self-declared health gurus. 

The NHS and other established health organisations' guidelines around healthy eating reliably encourage variety and balance in our diets – beware of (certain) fats, sugars, too much meat, and processed foods and eat more fruit and veg. Most of us will have some idea of what eating a 'healthy' diet involves. However one aspect of healthy eating that is talked about less often is the psychological dimension. In light of the steep rise in eating disorders in the past few decades, how we feel and think about food and eating needs to be given some attention. Our relationship with food can have a significant psychological impact on our physical and mental wellbeing.

If we focus on the nutritional side of eating, we miss important emotional and social aspects of food. Adherence to a strict 'health' focussed diet (in absence of any medical or physiological imperatives that necessitate this) may mean that you get your '5 a day' but it may also leave you deeply unsatisfied, constantly overthinking about your eating habits, and unable to partake in the social sharing and preparing of food that doesn't fit with your particular 'regime'. It might start to make you feel alienated from others as well as anxious and worried about what you can and cannot eat.

In extreme cases, an 'obsession' with eating healthily can take the shape of an eating disorder. Though not officially recognised in diagnostic manuals to date, Dr Steven Bratman, an American physician, coined the term 'orthorexia nervosa' in 1996, describing an 'unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food'. An orthorexic attitude to food is characterised by an intense fear of 'impure' or 'unhealthy' foods (however this is defined by the individual) and a near constant preoccupation with 'healthy' eating.

Bratman makes it clear that he does not mean to pathologise healthy eating habits, but he stipulates that people can start to develop an 'unhealthy obsession with healthy food'. At its extreme end, orthorexia can lead to malnutrition or death and this resemble anorexia nervosa, a recognised and dangerous eating disorder which causes sufferers to strive for weight loss when they are not in fact overweight.

However, even on the less extreme end of the spectrum, an unrelenting and rigidly controlling attitude towards 'impure/unhealthy' food can seriously undermine a person's physical and psychological wellbeing, as well as compromising their ability to socialise, be spontaneous, or try new things. Therefore it is important to consider what our diet feels like to us – not just in a physiological sense, but also in terms of our thoughts and emotions. Do we allow ourselves to enjoy food, eat with others, experiment with new flavours, get excited about going out for meal? Or does the thought of food fill us with a feeling of pressure, anxiety, or dread?

Food is an inevitable and crucial part of our lives and plays an undeniably important role in our wellbeing. It is worth remembering that 'healthy' eating is not just about physical health but also has a psychological dimension and sometimes we need to find a balance between the two. 

Our eating habits are not just about food

Imagine you are in a supermarket for your weekly food shop. What are you paying attention to when choosing which foods to buy? Do you have a tendency to glance at nutritional values or calories, do you consider ethical and ecological factors, do you look at the origin of fresh produce, do you compare prices and opt of the cheapest/most expensive items on the shelf?

What we choose to eat goes beyond our physiological needs

Health psychologists have long recognised that what we choose to eat goes far beyond responding to our physiological needs. Our food choices do not take place in a vacuum but in the context of our social, cultural, spiritual, and political environments. Food and eating habits can be a way to express who we are as a person; what our religious, ethical, or spiritual beliefs are; what we consider our cultural heritage; and how we like to connect with others.

Food can be a statement

Jane Ogden, professor for health psychology, suggests that food can be a 'statement of self' and this has been the case for centuries. From the strict vegan to the proud meat eater, our food choices are often indicative of how we relate to ourselves and the world – what is acceptable or unacceptable to us? Are we 'controlling' or 'indulgent' around food and how do we define those categories? Do we use foods as a 'treat' or do we deny ourselves certain things?

Food can express our identity

What we eat can also reflect our cultural, national, or spiritual identities. For example, many religions consider certain foods to be either 'sacred' or 'profane' – just think of beef or pork in the context of various major religions. We may feel patriotic about our home country/region's national dish or reject it in favour of other cuisines, showcasing our cosmopolitan pallet. For those of us who have emigrated, cooking some of the staples from 'back home' may be a way to stay connected to where we are from.

Food and socialising

Food also plays a major role in how we socialise and connect with others – the picnic in the park, preparing a family dinner, going for a nice meal to mark a special occasion...there are many ways in which food is central to our social lives.

Our relationship with food

Sometimes our relationship with food can become skewed and difficult, for example when we start coming overly focussed on our weight or exceedingly controlling, secretive, or shameful around what we consume. If those patterns persist over time, we may be diagnosed with an eating disorder – a serious mental health condition that can have a significant negative physical and psychological impact.

There are many reasons why we eat what we eat and they go far beyond basic nutritional considerations. It can be important to be aware of our relationship with food, particularly as it often reflects our relationship with ourselves and others.