There’s a persistent misperception about healthy eating that needs a firm debunking: it takes no effort of will to eat healthy food, or to follow a vegan diet. It’s only the initial change of habits that requires will power. Once you embrace a real food, whole food, plant-based diet, that’s the food you want — no effort required!
Habit exerts its own inertia, and change is always difficult. Any change of habit is challenging — if you try to start an exercise program, or embrace healthier sleeping habits, or leave a bad relationship, or make ANY positive change in your life at all, it takes effort to initiate that change.
But once the new ways ARE your habits, your life is just better. Walking after work feels normal; it’s not ‘hard’ to sleep 8 hours, or to be happily single. It’s just what you want to do, and what feels completely right and normal when you do it.
Food habits work the same way. If you’ve only ever eaten a standard American diet, it takes effort to shift towards a real-food whole-food paradigm. If you’ve only ever eaten a meat-based diet, it requires effort to explore new foods and cooking strategies in order to embrace a vegan diet. Of course it does: food habits are learned, like any other human habits, and learning new things takes effort.
But that’s not the end of the story! If you’ve only ever gone on ‘diets’ for short term weight loss goals, you may not realize how easy it is to ‘stick with’ eating foods you love (that happen to be healthy vegan foods). Habit is a powerful force — and that particular paring knife cuts both ways! When you’re in the habit of eating well, you find yourself craving healthy things instead of junk, like hummus or cashew cheese or avocado salsa or Brazil nuts or kiwis.
It is not self-deprivation for me when I avoid bacon or hot dogs or cheeseburgers, or other SAD junk — gross! These things only provoke a ‘blech’ response. It takes no will power to avoid fried chicken or french fries when you’re craving falafel or shitake stir-fry. The junk I distantly remember liking, years ago, looks anything but appetizing to me now. It’s easy to eat good food, because that’s what I want!
When a coworker says, ‘You have so much will power,’ or ‘I wish I could stick to a diet like that,’ I always sigh and try to explain: I’M EATING EXACTLY WHAT I’M HUNGRY FOR! It’s not hard, any more than if I were hungry for a candy bar and ate a candy bar.
Food choices can involve deep emotional resonance, because of connections between food habits and family traditions, cultural background, and sensual pleasure. Making fundamental changes to your food habits can be challenging in the beginning — but it’s only the intial change that demands any will power at all.
If you put that initial effort into embracing new habits, you’ll quickly find yourself craving healthy vegan food. It becomes second nature (and deeply satisfying) to eat well! Once you embrace new ways of shopping, cooking, and eating, no effort is required — new habits take over, and you’re hungry for good food instead of junk.
Try it and see what I mean — then pass it on!
Image credit: Creative Commons photo by Tyler Love.