A Beginner’s Guide on How to Eat Healthy and Stick to It

Healthy eating. It’s something everyone knows they should do, but few of us do as consistently as we would like. Here’s how to change that.

Read the full article at: jamesclear.com

Stop Counting Calories and Chasing Them With Exercise

You don’t have to count calories or chase them with boring repetitive exercise to lose weight.  The latest scientific findings on eating habits offer amazingly simple strategies you can implement today with very little effort.

This is a great review by James Clear on the science of healthy eating.  He summarizes data from Brian Wansink’s excellent book, Mindless Eating, and the bestseller Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss.

Eat 20% Less With No Effort

The most practical advice you can take away from these excellent science-based reviews is that you can easily set up environmental cues to reduce your caloric intake by 20% or more without ever feeling deprived.

“Can’t” vs. “Won’t”

The most interesting psychological finding is that when you tell yourself you “can’t” eat something, you crave it more.  The studies suggest swapping that limitation for a sense of control – say “I won’t eat that”.  This simple semantic shift from “can’t” to “won’t” gives you an identity-based goal, putting you in the position of choosing what you eat and establishing your self image as the type of person who chooses an apple over a donut.

Cheating

The reason cheating works so well has nothing to do with shocking your metabolism – its effects are purely psychological and they are incredibly powerful:

  • Cheating gives you permission to commit

The single biggest obstacle to eating healthy is the fear of long-term commitment: the idea that I might never order another pizza or eat another brownie sundae is absolutely terrifying.  If I start out with a commitment that allows for intermittent cheating I’ll immediately jump right over the biggest hurdle of any new habit: getting started.

  • Cheating makes you more mindful of your guilty pleasures.

When you establish a habit of eating healthy most of the time and planning the what and when and how of your cheat meal, you exponentially increase your enjoyment of it.  You not only enjoy it multiple times in your mind with anticipation, you also savor every bite and every tiny detail of the experience as you indulge.

  • Planned cheating neutralizes guilt and powerfully reinforces your sense of control.

As Clear points out, if you cheat with the intention of immediately returning to your baseline of healthy eating, you not only eliminate guilt over your indulgence but you also remind your brain that you are completely in control of your cravings and you are the one who decides when you want to enjoy that pizza or brownie sundae.  This can feel incredibly empowering.

What These Studies Miss

I’m amazed that with all the excellent scientific work done on mindless eating, Brian Wansink can write an entire book and James Clear can write an exhaustive review and they can still miss the most obvious obstacles to mindful eating that we all experience every day:

  • Eating over the sink
  • Eating with the refrigerator or cupboard open
  • Eating standing up
  • Eating food on a paper towel, or from a bag

Have you convinced  your brain that calories consumed in this way don’t really count?  For most of my life I did.

I’ve found that the simplest acts of all: putting food on a plate, closing the refrigerator door, and sitting down, establishes an astonishing level of mindfulness with no thought or effort required.

 

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