In case you missed Part 1, click here.
Eating is pleasurable. And nature intended it that way. The hunger response (pain) and the enjoyment associated with eating has kept us alive and thriving as a species. Our instincts also tell us to get the most pleasure for the least amount of energy expenditure. The motivational triad of pleasure seeking, pain avoidance and energy efficiency has worked well for us in the past. Yet ironically, it is now working against us, causing us to sometimes fall into unhealthy habits.
Part of the solution is to use the motivational triad to eat better. We need to down-regulate our taste for fat, salt and sugar (sugar can also mean processed carbohydrates by virtue of the fact that without the fiber they are quickly converted to sugar) and to recover our enjoyment of whole plant foods–foods that are rich in nutrients, antioxidants, water and fiber.
Seeking Pleasure in Whole Foods
- Break the addictions. We often hear the phrase “All things in moderation”. Generally, however, I only hear this with regard to food. I almost never hear this approach taken if someone wants to excel at being an athlete or a leader. It doesn’t work with breaking drug addictions either. I am a self-confessed recovering cheese-aholic! I used to eat it 2-3 times a day, and I couldn’t stop at one small piece either. (Note: dairy is addicting because it stimulates the release of opiates in the brain—yes mother nature wants the baby cow to keep going back—but cheese takes this addiction to a whole new level, not the least of which is because it is also high in fat and salt). The only way to break my addiction was to not eat it at all. Trying to eat cheese in moderation was not an option for me. Since I’ve broken the addiction, cheese now holds little appeal for me. In fact, if I do occasionally stray and eat some, it turns my stomach. We can desensitize our taste buds to sugar, fat and salt. To quote from one of my favorite e-mails I received from an executive…
“My commitment was to drop the ice cream, if you remember that I loved so dearly. I would come back from work and appease myself with a luxurious two scoops of Mint Chocolate Chip from Baskin Robins, every three or four days. It was better than sex. I dropped the ice cream after I was in the course, and since then I have lost about 14 pounds. It’s unbelievable because once I lost the taste for sweetness; I stopped liking most other sweet things. Once I got de-addicted to the extreme sweetness I just stopped eating so much sugar. Now I need to buy a new wardrobe.”
The good news is that we can become de-addicted to these foods in a matter of weeks (drug addictions take considerably longer).
- Change your tastes. Our tastes can and do change. Do you like the same foods now that you did as a child? I know I don’t (I hated beans, and now I like them). Did you like coffee or beer when you first tried them? Healthy foods are an acquired taste. Learn to enjoy the natural sweetness of strawberries or the wonderful texture of a whole grain.
- Seek variety. Explore the wonderful world of fruits and vegetables. There are literally thousands of different varieties. Within the tomato family alone there are over 7,000 varieties. Be adventurous. Get exotic.
- Learn to prepare (or find) wonderfully tasting healthy food. This takes trial and error and a fair amount of persistence, but it can be learned. For recipe ideas download the recipes from www.ccl.org/fittolead. Or purchase a recipe book like “The Everyday Happy Herbivore”. Barring that, try out a gourmet vegan or vegetarian restaurant and you will be amazed at what can be prepared using whole-plant foods.
- If you remove something from your diet, replace it with something healthy. Ok, I’ve never found a really good replacement for cheese. But when I gave up dairy, I also gave up chocolate ice cream. I initially switched to soy ice cream. Yes, it is less harmful than dairy ice cream, but still high in sugar and not exactly packed with nutrients. So I eventually gave that up as well. I now blend frozen bananas (frozen cherries work as well), with 2 Tbsp of unsweetened cocoa powder and some soy or almond milk. It is not unlike soft serve chocolate ice cream but without the fat and sugar. It lights up the pleasure centers of my brain, but in a healthy way. And I don’t miss the real thing, not even close.
- You eat what you buy. You can have all the resolve in the world, but if unhealthy foods are in the house, sooner or later when you are tired, hungry and stressed, they will call your name and you will be powerless to refuse. You will eat it. Guaranteed.
- Know the difference between food and the occasional treat. Fine, you go to the party and eat that piece of chocolate cake (or cheese). Enjoy it in the moment; just don’t bring it home with you. Oh, and make it occasional enough so that you don’t get re-addicted.
- Bigger Changes=Bigger Results=Motivation. In his book Change or Die, Alan Deutschman explores why it can be so hard for people to change their eating and lifestyle habits even when faced with a life-threatening event such as a heart attack. He talks about an experiment by renowned cardiologist, Dean Ornish. Dr. Ornish put one group of patients on a program that involved eating a low-fat, vegan diet, regular exercise and stress management strategies such as yoga. As you can imagine, these changes were not small; they were dramatic, radical even. Yet once the trial was over, three years after the patients were left to their own devices, 77% had stuck with the lifestyle changes.
Dr. Ornish compared these findings with patients who were prescribed statins to lower their cholesterol. This group took the pills for the first month or two, but after a year only one-fifth to a third were still taking their meds. Why the difference? What could be easier than popping a pill? Well for starters, taking a pill doesn’t make you feel any better (in fact, given some of the side effects, it might make you feel worse). The patients that radically changed their lifestyle, on the other hand, felt better almost immediately. Ornish says,
“When people who have had so much chest pain that they can’t work, or make love, or even walk across the street without intense suffering find that they are able to do all those things without pain in only a few weeks, then they often say, ‘These are choices worth making.’”
A follow up study by Ornish found that the bigger the changes people make, the more likely they are to stick with the changes. This is likely because they had more dramatic results. This is not to say you have to change everything at once. It is a process and takes time, but be bold.
- Find support. Spouses, significant others, or friends need to support the change. Going it alone is hard work and not very pleasurable. Surround yourself with those who eat well and those who support you in your change. This makes it a lot more interesting and enjoyable.
Can you think of other ways to seek pleasure in eating healthier?