Honestly, people think I eat salad and turkey burgers all day. That is far from the truth however I do eat much healthier than the typical American and at this point I find it very easy as I now crave the healthier options. Below is the method I have discovered in slowly moving myself over to so many healthier foods over time, such as hummus and veggies, brown rice, and fish, which I rarely ate it growing up.
We now know that if you eat more of the healthier foods (vegetables, lean protein, water, etc.) you will naturally feel fuller and eat less calories. Wouldn’t losing and maintaining weight be so much easier if you just craved the healthier foods in the first place? In principle 8 I want to teach you how to coach yourself to actually crave healthier foods and loose our cravings for unhealthy foods.
Guideline: To reduce cravings eat less of it, to gain a taste for something eat more of it.
People's eating habits are also based on our prior conditioning of repetitive eating. For example, Australians love their Vegemite spread on toast when it would make an American gag, it's because it is what they were fed growing up, not the innate nature of Vegemite. To a large extent we get conditioned to like what we are used to, making repetition a great coach. Our dislikes work in the same manner although as humans we have a stronger tendency towards generalizing and setting our minds in stone around our dislikes. It is the law of momentum, the more we have of or do something the more we tend to want it. To reduce cravings eat less of it soon you will forget about it and to enhance cravings eat more of it to get used to it. Even if it feels a bit forced at the beginning you need to continue to eat the healthier foods as reconditioning only works with repetition. Find ways of preparing them that you really like and include them as parts of other dishes, getting creative with spices, sauces, and mixing them with things you love. After a little while your aversion will lessen and you are on your way towards changing your habits. This is useful, however it relies mostly on our weak will power to keep it up. If we truly want to change our eating habits we need to change the underlying belief.
Guideline: Cravings/tastes for foods can be altered through continual awareness.
There is a myth that has been perpetrated by children and adults alike, that cravings and tastes for foods are rock solid things that last a lifetime. I don’t eat this or I hate that, etc. We do clearly have something innate that creates some taste differences between people, however, these differences are mostly fabrications of our mind based on what we are used to eating and the other information (emotions and attributes) we have attached to the idea of those foods. In truth cravings are more like passing moods and tastes just temporary patterns of eating choices, which not only change over time, but can be purposely altered.
In this approach, awareness (continual reminders) of three features of foods along with repetition, are used to change or reinforce our tastes and cravings including:
- Health benefits/detriments
- Mood enhancement/reduction
Strategy: Connect how you feel with what you just ate.
If looked at chemically, foods have drug-like effects on the body and mind, most directly in the short span of time after eaten and then indirectly in long-term nutrient effects on the systems of the body. For example, sugar releases the hormone insulin, which if eaten in big quantities makes your energy hyper only to later crash both mentally and physically. Long-term over consumption of sugary foods creates an imbalance that leads to diabetes. In a different example, eating heavy saturated fats and/or overeating can not only make you feel sleepy and lethargic at the time, long-term it can clog arteries and make you obese. Chosen well however, foods should enhance your daily mood and energy, not take it away and contribute nutrients towards your long-term health.
If we continue to learn about various foods and the effects they have on us, then we have better information to attach to our taste or mental idea of them. Over time reminding ourselves of the benefits or negatives of foods will effect our cravings for them. When we eat healthier foods, like vegetables and lean proteins, we need to really take notice of the immediate good feelings, i.e. satiated, “clean” and healthy, to deeply reinforce those healthy choices, which makes you crave those foods more. Furthermore, the brain is logical so if I truly believe that broccoli has tons of amazing health benefits for your body and that it will only positively effect your daily energy, how could you not want to eat more of it then when you didn’t know this. Whatever you think about you will manifest, so if you think you don't like a food, you will continue not to, if you truly see value in that food and remind yourself of the good things, you will eat them.
Conversely, we can use this same approach to break our cravings of unhealthy choices by bringing more awareness to all the negative attributes and effects they have one our mind and body. For example, some people might look at country fried steak and biscuits with gravy see savory, sweet, chewy, filling and most importantly comforting. When I see that on a menu I see fatty red meat, fried in more fat and some fluffy fatty sugar balls covered in liquid fat and sugar. Since I know what the food is made up of I can see it as such and then attach to it the effects of that poor nutrition profile like clogged arteries, heart attack, obesity, food coma, greasy hands, guilt, etc. With my awareness enhanced perspective I clearly don’t crave it, even though I have had it before and it was quite tasty, cheap but tasty.
Strategy: Believe that eating more of healthier foods will lead to more happiness.
Now what if you went as far to believe that certain foods lead to more happiness, would that make them taste better? The abilities of healthy foods to lead to happiness is neither a true not false statement, it is a matter of perspective and belief. Belief power is much stronger than will power, simply look at how religion has shaped our world. For me I see fitness/health as one of the primary ingredients to happiness, hence the saying, “at least you have your health.” When you are unfit and unhealthy it has lots of negative effects on your confidence and quality of life, which deeply impact your happiness. If you build up a deep belief in the importance of your own health, daily mood and the ability of healthy foods to maintain them, you will no longer see fast food as so appealing. By arming yourself with knowledge and awareness of the effects of food, you will change the underlying beliefs about them and alter your tastes and cravings. In the example about where I laid out my mental image of country-fried steak, those attributes clearly don’t lead me to unhappiness as I value my fitness tremendously.
Exercise: For one week, build awareness and repetition around one food craving to reduce and one food craving to gain.
Pick one unhealthy food that torments you, that you cannot seem to resist and 1 that you know you want to eat but just don’t have any desire for it. For the unhealthy food do some research and write out the poor nutritional content, the negative effects on your mood, and the potential impacts on your health if eaten chronically. For the healthy food do just the opposite and post the list on your refrigerator or kitchen cabinet. Read it daily as you eat the healthy food every day in order to get used to it and abstain from the unhealthy food all together. Repetition will drive home these new beliefs and eventually the cravings too.