person's hand reaches for ice cream, but they are pulling it back with a string

Why Do I Make Unhealthy Food Choices?

I think we can all agree that after the holidays, everyone can ask themselves this exact question. “Why do I make unhealthy food choices?” It may even be harder on some days than others to choose a healthy option. So what are the triggers?


Probably the most obvious, boredom can be a huge culprit in junk food snacking. We want to get that positive feeling in our body and often eating is the fastest and easiest way to do it. Maybe we are bored at work or cannot seem to find anything to watch on TV. So how do we combat it? Exercise helps to release endorphins in the brain, also leading to that good, happy feeling we are all trying to achieve. Try asking a coworker to take a quick 15-minute break with you and do a fast-paced walk around the office. If you are at home, try taking the dog for a walk around the block or doing a physician-approved workout video in your living room. You will get that happy brain release, and feel accomplished for choosing healthy over unhealthy all at the same time!


Most movies or TV shows with a break-up scene are followed by an ice cream bingeing scene! That’s because often we try to deal with emotions by facilitating that happy brain feeling by eating our very favorite foods. Maybe you are dealing with trouble at work, the loss of a loved one or even a fight with a family member. Any of those things can trigger the need to make unhealthy food choices. On the opposite side, it could be celebratory! When we are together on the holidays with family and friends, it is easy to relax and enjoy the company and delicious snacks and forget to ask our bodies “do I feel hungry?” Try to be mindful of the reason behind why you are eating. This can help us to better regulate portion size, as well as make healthier food choices.

Sleep deprivation

A recent study found that even one night of poor sleep can increase the desire for unhealthy food. “For the study, Peters and his team analyzed 32 healthy, young, nonsmoking men of normal weight. They took blood samples and performed functional MRIs after the participants had a normal night of sleep at home and also a night where they were kept awake in a laboratory. On both nights, the men ate a standardized dinner. The next morning, participants chose between snack food and trinkets (non-food items) during a decision-making task. It showed they were willing to spend more money on food items only after a night of sleep deprivation. The men's self-rated hunger levels were similar after both nights. After a night of lost sleep, the participants' brain images showed increased activity in a circuit between the amygdala and hypothalamus, which is involved in food intake. This suggests sleep loss increased the desirability of food compared to non-food rewards, Peters said.” 1-2 This study indicates that it could be more than just a hormonal shift.

To combat poor food choices

  • Try exercising to fight boredom
  • Explore mindful eating
  • Try to get the recommended 7 hours of sleep per night
  • Speak with your physician if you have any questions or concerns

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