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How I taught myself to love healthy food

How rewiring my brain to associate healthy food with pleasure made me eat healthy consistently and pretty effortlessly.


Last night, we had a party at my house. Everyone else ordered pizza and I cooked a plate full of veggies. All of my friends asked me, “My god, do you want a share?” and “Are you on a diet?” or “Why are you so hard on yourself?” I told them was that I was fine and really enjoying my meal, but they didn’t believe me. Hence this article.

I used to really not care about what I ate. I would have burgers, schnitzels and sweets all the time and go to McDonald’s every week. While working in food tech, I started to get more interested in nutrition and began to understand that I need to have a healthier diet.

“The driving forces that control us are pain and pleasure.” — Tony Robbins

It’s one thing to understand the benefits of eating healthy, and I’m sure you are already convinced about that, but it is more difficult to act accordingly. While reading Awakening the Giant by Tony Robbins a couple of weeks ago, I understood why it is so difficult. It is because people keep associating healthy food with pain and unhealthy food with pleasure. This is what happens when you follow a strict diet instead of changing these associations. When I did this, it only worked short term for me.

“In order for change to last, we must link pain to our old behavior and pleasure to our new behavior” — Tony Robbins

What made me consistently eat healthy is the association of healthy food with pleasure and the association of unhealthy food with pain. How did I tackle this?

Sensory association:

I stopped associating unhealthy food with pleasant sensory satisfaction. After a few TED talks and meditation courses, I now understood that my taste for sweets and chips came mainly out of an addiction or emotional links, and that it could be changed. I knew this good taste was a perception of mine more than something that is necessarily inherent in the food.

Medium-term association:

Instead of focusing on short-term satisfaction, I focused on the medium-term benefits of changing to eating healthy. When I started consciously associating the feeling of being unwell and sluggish with the unhealthy food I had eaten earlier, it helped me to link the unhealthy food with pain.

Psychological association:

Instead of associating McDonald’s with freedom, I associated it with consumption and manipulation. When I used to go to McDonald’s, I used to think I was expressing my free will. “Society tells me to eat healthy? Well, screw that. It’s my choice and I’ll eat at McDonald’s.” Marketers had done a good job and they had succeeded in making me associate McDonald’s with free will. What do I see now when I see a McDonald’s? A company that manipulated me and made me love them so they could sell me food that was bad for me and make money. No wonder I don’t enjoy McDonald’s that much now…

Conclusion

Here is how I associated unhealthy food with pain, and similarly I associated healthy foods with pleasure.

I often hear that discipline is a muscle we can train. It seems like it; but actually, what I think happens is that you can start with discipline and feel the benefits of what you are doing, leading you to associate, sometimes unconsciously, what used to feel painful with pleasure, meaning that you don’t need discipline anymore.

This is why I tell my friends there is no need to admire my discipline when I eat those veggies. I don’t really need any!

PS: I make it sound like it’s super easy. It took me a while and is still a work in progress. I’m not a robot and I still make sure I don’t have sweets at my place to avoid temptation. I obviously enjoy a burger or a pizza once in a while. I’m also currently trying to use the same method for work or exercise and start to feel the benefits.

Originally published at byrslf.co

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