Whenever I travel, especially to areas where it is more difficult to find plant-based options for eating or I am surrounded by meat eaters and even vegetarians, I think about the obstacles to eating a healthier diet.
I’m convinced that one of the biggest obstacles is familiarity, which provides a sense of comfort. For example, when I used to eat eggs, my favorite breakfast dining out was: two fried eggs; toast with butter or butter-alternative; home fries or some other form of potatoes; and sausage.
I knew there were healthier alternatives like fruit and oatmeal, but I figured I could eat those at home. I also feared I would be hungry within an hour or two if I chose those options. I could only get greasy goodness at a restaurant. And it would keep me full for a while … er, more likely it kept me bloated and nauseous. But I thought that’s how you’re supposed to feel after eating a big meal.
The problem comes, in part, because we become “addicted” to certain foods. A 2011 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry found “similar patterns of neural activation … in addictive-like eating behavior and substance dependence.”1
Another factor is comfort. This is similar to what was found in the study, and can sometimes be defined as emotional eating. We eat to make ourselves feel better and our routines in eating can be part of that.
Who we hang out with is also a factor. If everyone else at the table is eating eggs and sausage or an equally fat-soaked option, we feel good about ourselves. It is simliar to what happens when people get hooked on cigarettes. Friends and family don’t (usually) verbally convince you to do something bad, but watching others eat a double cheeseburger can be as tempting as watching them light up a cigarette when you’ve just quit.
A final factor is we don’t know what it means to eat healthier. I know a vegetarian who claims she eats what I eat. On face value that’s true. She eats a lot of great fruits and vegetables and beans and grains.
She is also a fan of processed and quick foods, and doesn’t have trouble adding a little oil. Being a vegetarian, she also eats dairy and eggs. So while she does have a healthier diet than most Americans, she is still not as strong as she could be. That’s a problem because she believes she is as strong as she can be.
We all believe that in some part. We rationalize that it’s okay to eat the chocolate cake because we had a salad during our meal. Every healthy food helps, but the better your food choices, the more you will notice the benefits.
I used to believe I made great food choices and couldn’t understand why I had increasing cholesterol and was heading toward developing diabetes. The more I learned about nutrition and the more changes I made, the more I realized what true healthy eating is.
It’s a commitment. It’s not easy. But it’s worth every second of extra effort. I would much rather be putting my time into making life-affirming food than checking my blood sugars. I would much rather spend my money on the best quality fruits and vegetables than on pills that are less effective than great diet choices. I would much rather be visiting friends than visiting doctors.
If you think you are eating a good diet, consider this. Are there health conditions you wish you didn’t have? Do you want more energy? Do you see doctors more and more often? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you may be able to make yourself stronger in body through some changes in your diet.
If you’re interested in learning more, sign up for the wait list for the next WholeBlue eating course and come get stronger together with all the WholeBlue students and alumni.