• Our relationship to food is more complex than just what we eat – our emotions are heavily involved too

  • Nutritionist Brigid Chunn offers her best tips 

Food is so much more than nourishment. While it keeps us alive, it is also a crucial part of our social structure.

There's nothing nicer than sharing a meal with friends and family. Partaking of food divides our day into useful compartments – breakfast, lunch, dinner, and the in-betweens.

It is an important component of how we celebrate, for instance birthdays, weddings, christenings, religious events and more. However there are times for all of us when food can be used in other ways. Eating can be a coping mechanism or a strategy for managing our feelings. We may eat food just because it is there (unconscious eating) or we may find it hard to say 'no' when offered food. When we are stressed we often reach for certain foods (or drink), and eating and drinking can be used as a form of reward.

Habits like these more often than not lead to weight increase. We need to find strategies to overcome these unhealthy habits. I see people in my work who struggle with many of the above. They know what they should be doing but somehow find themselves unable to break this pattern. Here are some strategies that are helpful when trying to change these unhelpful habits and lose weight.

Firstly write a food diary for a week. And be honest – write it all down no matter how bad you might think it will look. This will help you to identify where the trouble areas are. There may be some things you don't even realise you are doing. Writing this diary will make you stop and think and maybe you might change your mind. You may just leave those chocolate biscuits in the tin!

Second, put structure into your daily eating. ALWAYS have breakfast and then evenly space your meals. Lunch should be 4-5 hours after breakfast. And dinner should be 6-7 hours later. A snack between lunch and dinner is important to help with appetite control at dinner. A small pot of yogurt and a piece of fruit is a great snack. You are WHEN you eat as well as WHAT you eat. If you don't eat regularly then you will overeat when you do have your next meal or you will snack on anything that comes in front of you. Be organised!

Third, drink water. Often when we feel tired we will think we need some food (e.g. chocolate) to perk us up when in fact we are just plain thirsty. Tiredness and hunger often are confused for thirst. Drink water throughout the day aiming for 6-8 glasses depending on the amount of exercise you have done and your environment (humidity, temperature, air conditioning).

Once you put these three rules into practice, you will notice that you become more conscious of when you are truly hungry, and will eat only to satisfy a need, rather than an emotion or desire.

Further reading

Eating well doesn't need to be complicated, just consistent

Forget perfect, consistency is key in fitness

How can therapy help chronic pain and illness?