A healthy diet can mean having your cake and eating it AS THE ADAGE GOES, 'You are what you eat.' Why is it then that we constantly crave or gorge on foods that we know are not good for us? I am the first to admit that my willpower goes out the window when I come face to face with chocolate cake or anything laden with sugar, butter or cream. And, despite the countless times I tell myself it will do me more harm than good, I always seem to give in happily. Even though such behaviour is acceptable in moderation, how do we know when to stop and how to change? The role of food in our lives seems to have changed over the years. Gone are the days when a not-so-trim figure was taken as a sign of robustness and abundance. These days we are faced with the trauma of trying to fit into clothes that are cut much smaller, while we are constantly bombarded with information about what is good and what is bad for us. Food scares and the organic movement has added to the complexity of decisions people make about the food they eat. According to Georgia Guldan, associate professor of the food and nutritional sciences programme at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), food plays an integral role in our lives mainly because we view it as a social activity. 'In our society, food is abundant and we don't always eat because we are hungry. We eat because it is there or because there's a big buffet. Sometimes we eat in a hurry and the food that is most readily available is usually the type that is bad for you,' she said. In this type of environment it is no surprise that bad eating habits form. 'People eat foods that are bad for them because they already possess the bad habit and aren't aware of the seriousness of the problem. We tend to come up with excuses when we are practising a bad habit, and it is well acknowledged that there is a knowledge behaviour gap. We know to some degree what is healthy and what isn't, but we don't necessarily act on it.' The crux behind this destructive behaviour can be traced to a more emotional source. 'There is something about our belief to change [known as self-efficacy] that can affect how often we commit bad behaviour,' Professor Guldan said. 'Studies show that if people on diets are given an intervention where professionals encourage them to make changes, then in the end they are more likely to succeed. Once they have success, you give them praise to build their self-efficacy further. A high self-efficacy is the key principle in knowing what to choose. People who have a high self-efficacy are more likely to take on this challenge of change and can break bad behaviour.' Clinical psychologist at the Hong Kong Eating Disorders Centre at CUHK, Twiggy Mak, said: 'The relationship between food and emotion is interactive: food provides us with nutrients for maintaining a healthy body, both physically and psychologically, while our mood also affects our food choices. Unhealthy eating can often become a habit. Health problems are often not imminent and people do not feel the need to change their eating habits unless they are suffering physically/psychologically.' As with most aspects of any diet, moderation and knowing when to stop are key to healthy eating habits. In other words, if you play your cards right, you can have your cake and eat it.