Learning to Eat Healthy: 7 Easy Hacks
For me it was my mother saying, “Eat your cauliflower.” It smelled funny, it looked even funnier, and it tasted, well, funky. I hated it. We all have our horror stories dating back to our earliest memories about certain foods we avoided as if they were poison.
Kids don’t generally know much about health! They live in the moment and vegetables generally aren’t part of that. Especially if they’ve been exposed to sweet, processed tastes at a young age.
Even as an adult when you’re learning to eat healthy and you’re told certain foods are “good” for you, your childhood boogie man can creep up when you even think about those foods that tormented you early on. And that’s despite knowing it is a healthy option you should be including in your diet!
You can’t blame your parents for everything, but honestly, taste does really start at childhood. The foods you are commonly exposed too at the table are the foods and tastes you grow to like until you die. (1,2,3)
It is a well-known social phenomenon that when ethnic groups migrate the last aspect of their culture they lose is their traditional foods — those tastes and flavor profiles run deep.
So is learning to eat healthy possible? Can you change your taste buds learn to love nutritious foods you used to loathe?
So how do you consume new foods or adapt lifestyle habits you know are good for you but for one or more reasons you just don’t like them? Here are 7 keys to making it happen.
LEARNING TO EAT HEALTHY:
- Re-format your previous belief system. Start with a clean slate! Especially if your previous belief was that something was gross or a hassle. Parents don’t always do the best job of really explaining why something is so good to eat! If you don’t change how you think about a food, no matter how many times you attempt to eat it that food will still be gross or a hassle.
- This is usually accomplished through learning. The better informed you are as to why you should be eating a certain food the easier it is to re-arrange your thought patterns into more positive ones.
- Respect cultural heritage. As I’ve traveled the world hunting for superfoods, I’ve been offered a lot of new foods! As a Minnesotan growing up on a processed diet, most them were completely foreign! I’ve been offered some of the stinkiest, slimiest, most visually repulsive dishes you can imagine. In those situations, having an open mind was key. I always tried to remember that the food I was being offered had value (especially when you saw how excited and proud they were to share it) — and even if it seemed strange, there had to be a reason it had remained a part of their culture!
- Think about why Aussies love vegemite, why Japanese appreciate natto when most people shudder, and why Argentinians drink boiling hot bitter mate tea under the sun in summer. They’ve grown accustomed to it. In fact, when traveling and visiting these cultures, I frequently asked “why” and generally get the same simple rely: “We just do.” Truth be told they “just do” because they have been consuming it all their lives. But they also “just do” because they’re committed to the cultural idea of eating it.
- Focusing on the adventure and discovery of successfully adding new foods to your diet can help switch off any negative repulsion and switch on the excitement!
- Add adventure to the preparation! Boiled cabbage tastes flat and slimy (but some people love it!). Alternatively, crisp chopped cabbage in a salad has a totally different taste and texture! Just because your mom only cooked it one way, doesn’t mean you have to. When a taste or texture is throwing you off, remember that there are many ways to prepare a food! Don’t just try the same preparation you don’t like over and over again! Get creative! You’ll be surprised at how the winning preparation can transform your opinion of a food! Don’t like Brussel sprouts whole and steamed? Try them chopped and roasted! Dislike spinach in a salad? Try it in a smoothie. You get the idea.
- Give fresh a chance. Many times (especially in the Midwest where I grew up) your first experiences with vegetables could be something out of a can. Fresh food is so different! Wait until you’ve tried a vegetable fresh before passing judgment using only your memories of a canned, processed version.
- Small is beautiful — and tastier.
- Start small working your way up one bite at a time. Don’t pile 4 cups of a previously disliked vegetable on your plate and expect to make it through every single painful bite. Start with a few bites and build from that a little at a time.
- Combine likes and dislikes. Research shows that when you combine a food you don’t like with a food you do like, your brain will eventually make a positive association between the two foods, helping you add the previously disliked food into your diet.
- Persistence pays off. Honestly! If at first you fail, don’t despair. Just keep it small, and continue informing yourself and keep exposing yourself and those you love.
- Benign masochism is a term defining exposure to certain situations (including foods) that are uncomfortable, but we keep doing them to obtain a certain reward. Eventually we grow accustomed to them and even like them.(4) I recall my first experience with Sacha Inchi, the first taste I had of the nut was rough but I knew there was a treasure there waiting to be rediscovered, so I didn’t throw in the towel. Now it’s one of the most amazing superfoods around.
So what if you’ve been persistent, tried a food several different ways, and even taken the time to research and learn reasons why you wanted to eat it, but you still revolt every time you look at it or smell it?
If you’ve really committed, take a beat and…listen to your body. Not everything everyone says is good for you is actually good for you. Sometimes our bodies give us signals when something isn’t a good fit for us, and the olfactory system (your sense of smell) is a really good indicator.
Once you smell a food, be aware of the feedback. Tune in to whether your body leans or expands forward when you get the smell or taste of a food of if you contract away from it. Note: Before doing this, bring your thoughts to a positive place focused on the benefits of the food, then while smelling the food, listen closely to your body to see if it still reacts beyond any negative physiological reactions of memory and habit. If you still recoil, pay attention. The food might not be a good one for you at this time.
A key principle of the SuperLife lifestyle is to eat foods you love (expand toward) and that love you back (are healthy and supportive in your body).
Yet, the biggest instrument that you have is your body and the best person to be aware of what you need is you. No other person is the commander of you. And don’t ever give your power away to anyone! Take what people say and try it on for yourself. That’s the most important thing when learning to eat healthy for you.
Everyone is an individual and you must act as your own coach, doctor, fitness instructor and health expert for yourself. When learning to eat healthy and changing your taste buds, start small, inform yourself well, be adventurous, keep at it, and then if it still doesn’t fit well with you, move on. Just give learning to eat healthy a conscious, deliberate try!
Are you ready to revisit some foods from your childhood now? You’ve got this!
Which of these hacks for learning to eat healthy worked for you? Do you have other tips to share? Add them to the comments below!
- Savage, J. S., Fisher, J. O., & Birch, L. L. (2007). Parental Influence on Eating Behavior: Conception to Adolescence. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics : a Journal of the American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 35(1), 22–34. doi:10.1111/j.1748-720X.2007.00111.x
- Silvia Scaglioni*, Michela Salvioni and Cinzia Galimberti (2008). Influence of parental attitudes in the development of children eating behaviour British Journal of Nutrition (2008), 99, Suppl. 1, S22–S25, doi: 10.1017/S0007114508892471
- Brown R, Scragg R, Quigley R. 2008. Does the family environment contribute to food habits or behaviours and physical activity in children? A report prepared by the Scientific Committee of the Agencies for Nutrition Action.
- Paul Rozin, Lily Guillot, Katrina Fincher (2013) Glad to be sad, and other examples of benign masochism. Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 8, No. 4, July 2013, pp. 439–447