The Massive Benefits of a Healthy Diet and How to Make Yours Stick

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.

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.

36 Responses to The Massive Benefits of a Healthy Diet and How to Make Yours Stick

  1. I recently picked up the book the The Spectrum by Dr. Dean Ornish and he describes a similar diet that personal speaks right to my values and to my needs at my current life stage.

    His approach seems workable since he describes diet as a spectrum — one where you can place yourself down on a range of options depending on wht works for you. I you want more aggressive benefits, go more aggressive on the diet. If you’re less intense about diet, that’s fine as well.

    Also, his approach is that if you have a bad day on the diet, simply adapt and move further up the spectrum on later days to bring your overall diet into check.

    The most extreme form of this viewpoint is an essentially vegan diet that is extremely low in fat and free of cholesterol. He authored clinical studies that literally showed this extreme diet could reverse some of the effects of heart disease.

  2. Peter says:

    Well I still enjoy meat and caffeine, but in the past few years I have cut out the junk food, white bread, and soft drinks. And guess what? I don’t miss them one bit. Nice article.

  3. John Wesley says:

    I’m in the same boat with meat and caffeine, but I do try to eat healthy.

    Getting in the habit of preparing your own meals is my number 1 tip for eating healthy every day and saving a ton of money!

  4. Josh says:

    Great post Scott, I hadn’t thought about your second point very much before (positive feedback versus negative) and enjoyed reading your take on it. I think a lot of people get off track here. I would also add that it helps to surround yourself with supporting people in this step. My wife and I recently changed our eating habits (for good) and having teammate has made all the difference. In contrast a year ago I tried Atkins, it was not really sustainable and not a great choice on my part, lost a lot although temporarily. But my co-workers were very vocal protesting my change in diet. I was constantly harassed (although in a jovial way) reminding me what I was giving up and complaining that we only could go to 1 or 2 places for lunch to appease my diet.

  5. John Wesley says:

    Josh, you are certainly right about the affect that other people can have on our motivation. That’s why we sometimes need to leave our friends behind (at least temporarily) if they aren’t supportive to search out people who can pull us up, rather than drag us down.

  6. Marc says:

    I especially liked the part where you talked about body image. that problem needs to be addressed. Recently I read an article in which, Qualtrics a top survey company reported that 56% of Americans feel they are obese. This is not the case. In fact this is the cognitive schema that gives rise to eating disorder. Body image is key.

  7. PENIX says:

    It really is just habit. Once you’re in good, it’s pretty easy to maintain. The holidays are the only really tough period.

  8. Vic says:

    Great post Scott. I think many Americans could use a redesign of their diets. Me, personally, I’d like to incorporate a European style diet. They eat smaller portions of good food. Wine, cheese, a little meat, chocolate – things that would be self-torture for me to be without. :)

    When you travel to Europe you notice how thin they are. Why is that? They don’t eat “low-fat-no-trans-fat” foods, yet most of them are thin. Is it because they walk more than we do? Eat smaller portions? Is there a lack of processed food in their diet?

  9. John Wesley says:

    I noticed the same characteristic thinness of Europeans as well, and the funny thing is that they don’t have the same workout culture that we have in the US. You rarely see people running, etc.

    I would guess that it’s because they practice moderation and enjoyment rather than gluttony.

  10. T says:

    The key is moderation and a balanced diet, not some super limited diet. I laugh when I hear people–so called experts even–say you should never touch a cookie or drink coffee again.

  11. Alana says:

    Thank you for writing this article.

    I’m doing this for myself right now and while I still have cheese fries cravings once in a while (which I’ve discovered are directly related to my emotions) I’m really really enjoying my new foods and knowing what I’m doing for my body. I’ve just bought the premiere issue of ‘Eating Clean’ Magazine which has a very healthy, down-to-earth premise and a lot of delicious recipe.

    While I think it’s true that any kind of food can fit into a healthy diet (I am referring to the comment about “…never touch a cookie or drink coffee again…”) I think life is significantly better when they’re occasional treats rather than a lifestyle.

  12. Alana says:

    correction: it’s actually ‘Clean Eating’ magazine.

  13. I like to think of myself as pretty healthy. I don’t to sugar, salt, butter, or anything processed. I also don’t drink anything other than water!

    Still, I like the occasional chocolate or steak. I’ve had a lot of success with the Men’s Health Abs Diet, which basically allows you a great deal of freedom when choosing what you want to eat. Plus, there’s no counting calories, which is always good.

  14. I was interested in an article I read last summer that said DIET pop is just as bad as regular pop & can cause you to overeat. I stopped drinking it altogether. Now I drink only water & various teas (green, camomile, etc) I only eat foods made from scratch… a vegetable steamer, a rice cooker, and a crock pot go a long way towards easily making healthy meals. I’ve cut down on added sugar as well, don’t eat any bakery stuff or cookies. I do like chocolate so I allow myself a little square of semi-sweet (70%) chocolate every now and then :)

  15. Chuck says:

    When I hear folks talking about the joys of being vegetarian, I am only briefly intrigued…because you spend all your time talking about what you don’t eat anymore…rather than what you do.

    I can generally understand the benefits, but can’t even consider it as a choice without further info. Truthfully, I can barely conceive of a meal without meat and whatever kind of bread is available (not that nutritious, for the most part).

    Therefore, here’s a suggestion: Share some of your very favorite meals…and, of course, the commenters will chip in as well.

    THEN, there’s something there for the rest of us to consider. A positive example is much more helpful than recommending against the negative. Recommending a book is fine. But personal insights, examples and endorsements would be much more illustrative.

  16. tracy ho says:

    Great post ,

    Thanks for your article,

    Tracy Ho

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  20. This is SO true and so easy it may go under the radar for some people.

  21. christine says:

    American LOVES convenience! Quick and tasty is the way of our culture, even if it is laden with chemicals and fat.

    I’ve been sick and tired of tummy bloat and the general icky malaise and sickness I felt from eating junk food and drinking gallons of diet soft drinks. I decided after doing research online to form my own hybrid diet, pulling from other sucessful food diets (such as raw vegan, European, etc.).

    I now abstain from soft drinks, especially diet and other artifcially flavored beverages. I now only drink water, freshly brewed tea, and coffee. Ok, the occasional glass of wine, but in moderation (stay away from those nasty beer drinking binges – you will be soooo less bloated and fatigued in the morning 😉 I try to eat as many fruits and veggies as I can, preferably in their least processed state (fresh fruit cut up, veggies cut up or only steamed and flash fried in a bit of extra virgin olive oil, soups/crock pot recipes prepared from fresh dried beans). I now only eat lowfat plain yogurt (ever read the labels of some seemingly diet yogurts?? all chemicals!) strained and mixed with fresh or frozen fruit (or a wee bit of honey). No need to buy expensive greek yogurt – simply strain the yogurt in a cheesecloth lined strained with a bowl underneath to catch the liquid. Do this for maybe for or five hrs and you have a creamy almost cheeselike dessert.
    For protein I try to focus on legumes, eggs and fish, but in moderate portions. I used to have meat be a large portion of my meal, but now feel up on fiber rich veggies for less calories. I also used low fat cheeses sparingly, and when I use cheese I use less salt (lots of salty cheeses out there). When you consume goods sparingly they taste sooo much more decadent!
    Snacks – whole wheat pita chips or dry popcorn. Key is whole grains! In that vein, I only eat whole wheat pasta, oats, and barley (quinoa is also great, a little like couscous).

    Definitely stay away from fried foods, processed meats, pastries, soft drinks, and white bead pastas and breads. In time, you won’t even begin to crave that junk! I definitely do cave in here and there, but just a wee bit (dark chocolate bar vs a huge slice of cheesecake slathered in caramel).

    Organic dairy products, fruit, and eggs are almost essential. Trader Joe’s sells lots of AFFORDABLE organic goods that are very delicious!

    This is a 180 from someone who lived on cola, no water, white bread, lots of pasta, chips, cheese, and ramen noodles. I am WAY less sick, skin is flawless and never dry, more energy, and definitely thinner (size 16 to size 8/10). Takes some time, but motivation and committment, even incrementally, will get you there!

  22. Samantha says:

    Dear Scott,
    Your article was very motivating.
    I have now cut down on sweets and am eating very healthy.
    Thankyou, I hope I have expressed my gratitude.
    Yours Sincerley,

    Samantha Scenic

  23. Rodney says:

    i totally diagree.
    like yeah dude

  24. Very cognitive post-it deserves more attention.When I read this it got me wondering.

  25. mhairi says:

    i don’t worry too much about diet.

    i just try to make eating enough vegetables and fruit my first consideration, and build around that. if i’m eating the recommended 10 portions a day (five is a minimum!), i don’t have a lot of room for much else :-)

    i eat the less healthy stuff sometimes, but i don’t think that matters if my diet is basically sound.

  26. prom gowns says:

    This interesting post made me smile.

  27. bob kost says:

    Scott Great post, I hadn’t thought about your second point very much before & enjoyed reading your take on it.

  28. reytraveller says:

    Eat right at the right time. Skipping meals makes us starve and crave for more. When we skip meals, tendency is we lose control on our eating habits and eventually miss the healthy diet.

  29. HELLO bob says:

    Kool website used for a project☀

  30. HELLO bob says:

    But i didnt copy.

  31. JFR says:

    I totally agree with this. Readers are lazy and some recipes would be an easy way to get into action.

  32. vitamin supplements says:

    I think Eating the right foods and exercising can have a positive impact on your Health and help you to Keep your body fit and healthy.

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  34. This is such a true article ,i have completely change the way i eat it was gradual ,but its been 4months and I don’t plan to go back ,the more you make better choices the easier it will become to eat more healthy!!

  35. I agree w/all the steps you have taken on your journey to healthier lifestyle !!
    I have taken similar steps its not easy but i have never felt better ,I’m down 30 lbs.and counting i had to overhaul everything its worth the changes ,I even love to exercise now its a great feeling ,so keep up the good work ,keep pushing ,find your strong , and your soul is rooting for you , we can do it yay !!!

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