Good News: Eating Well Takes No Will Power!

Scrumptious healthy vegan dinner

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.

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9 thoughts on “Good News: Eating Well Takes No Will Power!”

  1. Thanks for sharing this perspective! When you put it that way, I really see how it’s the initial getting over certain foods that’s the challenge; not maintaining it day-to-day for the rest of your life. It sounds kind of like a bad breakup; you may miss them for weeks or even months afterwards, but five years later, you don’t even really think about being with them any more! It’s reassuring and motivating to put it in these terms. :)

  2. This article appeared in a newspaper geared for Orthodox Jews who, let’s just say, aren’t usually vegans. I agree that changes take time and are hard. I’m not quite sure why that doesn’t mean you don’t need will power. After the major changes are implemented, you don’t need will power, but before, of course you need will power. This applies to any habit you are trying to break or create.

    I disagree that a vegan diet is the only healthy diet out there. I have been making healthy choices but those healthy choices do in fact include dairy products, fish, eggs, and lean meats and poultry. So, while I’m finding myself making more healthy choices, I’m skipping the cashew cheese. (What is cashew cheese anyway?)

    1. I think that’s the point of the article, right? That sure it takes willpower at first – any life change does. But once you get into the habit of eating vegan, it’s really not a struggle.

    2. Hi Shoshana! Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to share your thoughts… I surely agree: change takes effort IN THE BEGINNING. But my point is that — at least, this is my experience — after you put in that initial effort, your tastes change and the new habits take over… so then it just feels normal and good and right to do things the new way instead of the old way!

      I don’t think I said ‘vegan is the only healthy diet’… to me it’s the easiest healthiest option! But I never said it’s ‘the only healthy diet out there.’ I included it with ‘eating well’ b/c that’s my way of eating well; and b/c I’m often told how ‘hard’ it is to follow a vegan diet by people who have never tried it… It isn’t. :)

      Cashew cheese is mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! There are about a billion recipes online for cashew or other nut cheeses — and I encourage anyone (vegan or not!) to try them out: they’re yum! — basically it’s ground nuts (sometimes soaked, but that’s not necessary with cashews) with other ingredients like nutritional yeast (another yummy food I wish someone had told me about, pre-veg days!!), salt, garlic, herbs, lemon juice, etc. Here are two of my tried-and-true favorites, but please consider it just a starting point!

      Hope that helps clarify what I meant to convey… I’m glad you’re leaning into healthier food choices, in whatever way makes sense to you. Thanks again for your thoughts! :-)

      1. Shoshana Ziskind

        Thanks for your reply! On further reflection, I think the main issue is that perhaps this article needed some tweaking to fit better for the newspaper it was in. If i was seeing this in a different context, it probably wouldn’t have looked as strange.

        Thanks also for the explanation of cashew cheese. It doesn’t sound like it’s for me, but it’s nice to know what it is at least.


  3. John Farthing

    Many years ago, my doctor ordered me to quit salting my food. Initially, that sounded like a culinary death sentence. I couldn’t imagine eating cantaloups or watermellons or tomatoes without a saltshaker in my hand. At first it took a lot of will power to stick with a low-salt, no-salt regimen. But then a funny thing happened. Within three months my taste buds adapted to the point that I found food virtually inedible if it was heavily salted the way I used to think it had to be. Similarly with healthy eating generally: giving up Big Macs and french fries was initially difficult, but it was not too long before the thought of eating that stuff made me literally nauseous. Now I eat a basically plant based diet (although I do sometimes eat seafood). I never eat a lot of the junk food that I once thought I couldn’t survive without…and I NEVER get up from the dinner table feeling deprived or unsatisfied. There’s good news here. When you make the decision to eat healthy, your body will work with you to make the shift surprisingly painless. Not just painless—joyful! Apparently there is in the human body some sort of impetus toward wholeness, some sort of tendency toward doing the right thing as far as food is concerned. Your body will work with you to reinforce habits of healthy nutrition. As a result, the taste buds are amazingly easy to retrain. That has been a wonderful surprise to me. Within a few weeks after my initial decision to shift toward a healthy diet, it turned out that what I wanted to eat and what I knew I ought to eat were almost always exactly the same thing. That’s why eating healthy is not grim or joyless. I never go around thinking, “Gosh, how I would love to eat a Big Mac right now!” What would be difficult would be to force myself to revert to the status quo ante and resume eating high-salt, high-fat, low-fiber, over-processed food. When the food that’s good for you becomes the food that you actually prefer—when what’s good for you is also what’s good to you—it just doesn’t get any better than that.

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