In our first healthy/nerdy lunch discussion group coined “Leaves for Life,” Lawrence, Craig, and I shared our histories and experiences with eating (healthy and otherwise). To be sure, my switching to eating healthy demanded significant mind over matter thinking, and the today’s discussion reminded me the mindshift I went through that helped me overcome the hurdle of even beginning to change. These three (related) realizations may not seem like much, but for me they were literally life-changing and drastically conflicted with my culture and upbringing. Integrating these statements into my belief system (as opposed to just acknowledging them intellectually) were instrumental in allowing me to drastically and permanently change my eating habits.
- If there’s food left on the plate, and I’m not hungry anymore, it’s OK to stop eating. This may seem obvious, and while I always knew it made sense, I never practiced it. Culturally, and I’m sure it’s the same for many of you, it was unacceptable to leave anything on the plate. So, I never did. But, eating all the food on my plate never did help any hungry kids in Africa – it just made me overeat.
- If it’s dinner time, and I’m not hungry, it’s OK to skip that meal altogether. This is a more extreme version of the statement above, but the thought of skipping a meal (again I think largely because of culture) was impossible for me to comprehend before. “Well, I should eat now in case I get hungry later,” I would think to myself. Turns out, your body (when healthy) is pretty darn good telling you when you *really* need something. I was ignoring my body’s signals and stuffing food in my face just because it was time! A lot of the time I wasn’t even *really* hungry; it was more like a psychological addiction I had developed to eating at a particular time, like a habit-forming drug. And even if I was hungry, many times it was just a tinge of hunger, something that would easily pass by focusing on something else if I applied even the slightest bit of willpower.
- If there’s no meat in the meal, it’s still a meal, and everything will be OK! This was probably the hardest one for me to completely believe. No meat – no meal; that’s just how I was brought up. I thought I would perish without meat! “Where will I get protein!?” (Turns out, there are many other sources of protein.) I ate meat at pretty much every meal. And if there was no meat in it, I considered it a snack. The interesting thing was I didn’t have to believe that not eating meat would improve my health – it was just believing that everything would be OK, that I would not disintegrate, if I didn’t eat meat at *every* meal. This was the key to feeling safe to try a drastic diet change where I stopped eating meat (and fish and dairy and processed grains and basically just started eating only plants) for a while. After I did that, I felt so great by eliminating meat, fish, dairy, processed grains, high sugar foods, etc., I decided I would limit my consumption of those things as much as I could tolerate while still being sustainable for the long term.
I think that anyone who goes through as drastic a change as I did cannot sustain it on willpower alone for the long term. The mindshift is what allows me to keep it going. Maybe you have struggled with these same hurdles, or maybe you have others that you’ve overcome. I’d love to hear your experiences.