Want to change what you eat? Change what you think!
There’s a lot of information out there about eating healthier; how most Americans don’t get enough fruits and vegetables and eat too much processed foods. Yet changing our diet can be a big challenge and many people aren’t successful over the long term. Here’s where a couple of my favorite tips from the psychology of habits can help us.
- Don’t think of a warm, chocolate chip cookie. After all, if you’re trying to eat healthy, you might want to limit the number of cookies you eat. But notice – what are you thinking about after you read that sentence? I bet it’s a cookie! Our brains aren’t good at processing the “don’t” part of the sentence. They just hear “warm, chocolate chip cookie!” Instead we need to focus our thoughts on the positive choice. For example, “Think about a tasty, crunchy carrot or a juicy, sweet apple.”
- This ties into the next strategy, which is a slight tweak in another phrase we often tell ourselves when we’re hungry (or just think we are). We walk into the kitchen, thinking, “What would be good to eat?” If we shift this thought slightly to ”What would be good for me to eat?” we actually change the kind of food we’re looking for. If the handful of nuts or veggies with hummus dip don’t appeal to us, we probably aren’t that hungry. Eating out of boredom or habit is common. We’re living to eat instead of eating to live.
- Another more physical aspect to remember is that our bodies work hard to keep our internal systems stable and in balance (homeostasis). When we make sudden or drastic changes in our diet, it signals our bodies that something is wrong and they try to adjust. This can actually result in unhealthy responses in our systems. Instead, we should make gradual changes toward healthier eating habits, so it becomes a process our bodies can more easily accommodate.
What we eat has a direct connection to staying positive. When we choose healthy foods, we feel good about our choices, and we feel better physically. It’s hard to be positive when we’re feeling sluggish and not at our best.
Tina Hallis, Ph.D., is founder and owner of The Positive Edge, a company dedicated to helping individuals and organizations increase their positivity to improve the quality of people’s work lives and the quality of company cultures.