I’m a vegetarian. I also eat virtually no junk food, white bread, soft drinks or caffeine. For most people, living on such a diet seems like an act of self-torture. But this way of eating isn’t the result of extreme self-discipline. Once you know how to redesign your diet, eating healthy foods all the time is easy.
Why Redesign Your Diet?
Isn’t permanently redesigning your diet a little excessive? You’ll miss all the great foods like roast beef, candy and potato chips. Why bother going to all the work of overhauling your diet just so you can live a few extra years?
Yet as most people argue this, they wouldn’t argue that completely abstaining from heroin is excessive. In fact, people with horrible eating patterns, often wouldn’t even consider taking illegal drugs. I don’t know any people that believe the joy of drug usage is worth the painful costs of addiction, shortened life and health problems later.
Obviously eating junk food doesn’t pose nearly the same risks as taking drugs. However, the argument is essentially the same: in one case the pleasure from consumption overrides the consequences, in another the consequences are unacceptable. Unfortunately, where most people draw this line about what is acceptable unhealthy consumption is based on their friends and not facts.
The benefits of healthy eating habits outweigh the occasional joy of eating junk food. Here are just a few things to consider before putting food into your mouth:
Energy levels. Know any productive heroin addicts? Probably not. Yet people fail to recognize the impact diet has on energy levels. When I made the switch to a healthy vegetarian diet, it only took a few days before I felt my energy surge upwards.
Long-term diseases. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, aging and most modern diseases can be rooted in what you eat. Read The China Study by Dr. Campbell if you want to see how the Standard American Diet is also responsible for a whole host of Standard American Diseases.
Longevity. A common argument for eating unhealthy foods is that you’re only losing the worst years of your life at the end. Unfortunately, if you start picking up dietary-related diseases in your sixties instead of your eighties, you’ve just decided to chop of years of health, not years of sickness.
Body image. Looking good is the core idea ruling most diet books today. While I’d say that having a great figure is only a small benefit compared to high energy levels and avoiding painful degenerative diseases, it’s still a plus.
The truth is that most people don’t eat a healthier diet because they don’t know how to permanently redesign their eating habits. Smoking used to be popular a few decades ago until public awareness about the health risk reached a critical threshold. Once you understand the need to eat a healthy diet, the only obstacle is how to do it.
How To Redesign Your Diet
Permanently changing your eating patterns can be broken down into three steps. The steps aren’t terribly complicated or magical. But if you do the research and get the right motivation to eat healthy, then following through these three steps isn’t too difficult.
Step One: Break down your old eating habits and rebuild new ones.
Eating is a habit. Out of the millions of possible meals I could eat today, I’ll probably stick to the same few dozen I’ve ate in the last month. The reason its easy to eat junk food day after day is that the patterns for eating junk food have been layered into a habit.
The way to rebuild a new habit is to go on a thirty day trial. Commit to changing what you eat for thirty days, no exceptions. This will focus your discipline into the narrow range of a month where most of the effort in changing your diet is required. This commitment will overwrite bad eating habits with good ones.
Step Two: Get more positive feedback than negative feedback.
Conditioning a habit is useful, but it isn’t enough. If you enjoy eating your new foods less than your old foods, you’ll slowly drift back. Willpower does not last forever, so a different strategy is needed if you want to change your diet permanently.
Tipping the scales of feedback means that your current diet gives more positive reinforcement than your old diet did. If you can successfully tip the scales, then continuing good eating habits will be easier than going back to junk food. Here are a few ways you can shift the balance in your favor:
Find great recipes. Right now you are on an incredibly restrictive diet. Out of the millions of possible delicious meals you could be eating, you’re sticking with the same 20-30 on a regular basis. By finding new recipes that are also healthy you can still eat tasty foods.
Change your language. Change the language you use to describe junk food. Link up the pictures of feeling sick and unhealthy towards junk food and it will lose its appeal. Similarly, find foods you enjoy within your diet that you can link positive images towards.
Notice your energy levels. When you start going on a new diet trial, pay attention to your energy after the first few weeks. The initial adjustment to a new diet can be a bit bumpy, but when you feel the difference in energy levels, it will be hard to switch back.
Step Three: Monitor and make gradual improvements.
The final step is to take the cycle of conditioning and feedback and apply it gradually. Trying to redesign your entire diet overnight is difficult to do. But if you slowly replace foods, less willpower is required and you can still enjoy the long-term benefits of health and vitality.