Everyone knows that you must follow a balanced diet in order to lose weight and maintain a figure for many years, but only a few actually adhere to the principles of healthy eating. This manual was created with the aim of revealing the results of a scientific study of the reasons why we are not able to eat healthy food and share practical recommendations on how to start eating right and overcome the reasons why this often does not work.
You do not have to stick to a strict diet. Based on my research in behavioral psychology and the formation of habits, I was able to develop several simple methods on how to force myself to eat right and fix the habit of eating only wholesome food without much effort.
You can click on any of the links below directly to the section you are interested in, or simply read everything in order.
1. The transition to PP from a scientific point of view
Almost all experts in the field of nutrition and nutrition gurus give advice on what exactly to eat and prescribe a menu that is difficult to adhere to in ordinary life. I would like to discuss why we eat just the way we eat, and how to correct it, without drastic changes and at the same time get the desired result, whether it be reducing body weight or just maintaining healthy lifestyles in all its respects. This guide is aimed at introducing the scientific data and strategies necessary to achieve the desired results at home.
So, the benefits of good nutrition are obvious to most of us. Thanks to him, we are more energetic, our health is stronger and productivity is on top. A rational approach to diet will help stop overeating and maintain normal weight, and therefore reduce the risk of type II diabetes, certain types of cancer, heart problems, high blood pressure and many other diseases.
But since we have so many reasons to maintain a balanced diet, why is it so hard to do? To answer this question, we first need to understand what attracts us so much to junk food.
Before we start talking about where to start proper nutrition, we will understand what makes us eat harmful, overeat, neglecting health and quality of life.
Why do we love junk food
Stephen Wheaterley spent about 20 years figuring out the reasons why one food is more desirable for us than another. Most of the data on this topic is contained in his excellent report “Why Humans Like Junk Food.”
In his opinion, when eating delicious food, there are 2 factors that influence the enjoyment of the process.
The first factor is the feeling of eating food. This includes her taste characteristics (salty, sweet, etc.), her aromas and sensations in her mouth arising from her. The latter property is commonly known as “oral perception” and, perhaps, it is the most important. Food companies are investing millions of dollars in finding the most enticing consumers of potato chip crunch. Nutrition scientists are trying to find the perfect amount of bubbles in soda. The combination of all these elements creates a sensation in the brain that it attaches to a particular food or drink.
The second factor is the direct composition of macronutrients in food - a combination of proteins, carbohydrates and fats contained in it. To make our brain demand a harmful product over and over again, food companies select the perfect balance of salts, sugars and fats that will fuel this desire in him.
And here is how they do it ...
How scientists manage our eating habits
There are a number of factors that scientists and manufacturing companies use to increase their dependence on food.
Dynamic contrast. This is a combination of several different qualities in one product. Wheaterley writes that food with dynamic contrast combines a “crispy shell,” followed by something tender or creamy, full of taste. This is typical of many of our favorite products - caramel crust of creme brulee, pizza or Oreo cookies - the brain perceives the crunch as something very original and fascinating. ”
Isolation of saliva. Salivation is part of the nutrition process, and the more saliva is excreted from eating the product, the more it flushes your taste buds throughout the oral cavity. Take, for example, emulsion products like ice cream, mayonnaise, butter, chocolate and salad dressings provoke a strong release of saliva, abundantly washing taste buds. This is one of the reasons why sauced or glazed foods are so loved by many people. Food that stimulates the release of saliva practically makes the brain joyfully dance and is perceived by it to be much tastier than other foods.
Rapidly melting food and volatile calories. Those foods that quickly dissolve or “melt in the mouth” send a signal to the brain that you supposedly ate less than in reality. These foods literally convince him that you haven’t been full, even if you have already eaten a decent amount of calories.
In his famous book, Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss, Michael Moss talks about his conversation with Wheaterley, which perfectly explains the “volatile calories” ...
He concentrated immediately on Chitos. “This is one of the most wonderful products on the planet in terms of true enjoyment,” said Wheaterley.
“I brought him two full bags with different chips of various tastes. He immediately concentrated on Chitos. “This is one of the most wonderful products on the planet in terms of true enjoyment,” said Wheaterley. He noted with a dozen attributes of Chitos that provoke the brain to say, “More!” Most of all, he focused on the amazing ability of sticks to dissolve in his mouth. “This is called volatile calories,” said Wheaterley. "When something quickly melts, the brain believes that it does not contain calories ... you can continue to eat it just endlessly."
A specific sensory reaction. The brain loves diversity. If you eat the same food again and again, the pleasure of it begins to decrease. In other words, the susceptibility specifically to this food will decrease over time. This can happen in literally seconds.
However, harmful products are created in such a way as to avoid this reaction. They provide enough taste to be interesting (your brain does not get tired of eating them), but they stimulate sensory perception not so much that it becomes dull. This is why if you swallow a whole packet of potato chips, you may still be able to eat the next one. For the brain, the crunch and perception of Doritos each time is new and arouse interest.
Saturation of calories. Unhealthy foods are designed to convince you that you are eating without feeling full. The receptors in your stomach and mouth tell your brain how specific foods are good for your body and what complex proteins, fats and carbohydrates are. Unhealthy food provides enough calories for your brain to decide, "Yes, it will give me some energy," but not so much that he says, "That’s enough, I’ve eaten enough." As a result, you first of all want the food itself, but it takes a lot of time to eat it.
Memories of a previous meal experience. In this case, the psychobiology of junk food works directly against you. When you eat something tasty (say, a bag of chips), the brain remembers this sensation. And at the sight of this product the next time, or when you smell it or just read about it, your brain will begin to evoke memories of the sensations you experienced while eating this food.
Such memories can cause real physiological reactions such as salivation and provoke the appetizing cravings that we experience when thinking about our favorite foods.
The combination of all these factors makes processed food for the human brain tasty and desirable. Due to the combination of science in these products with their incredible prevalence (cheap fast food everywhere), it becomes very difficult to follow the rules of a healthy diet.
2. How to switch to proper nutrition easily and without torment
Most of humanity is confident that changing behavior and introducing good habits is completely dependent on motivational attitude and willpower. But still, the more I study this topic, the more I am convinced that first of all, changes in behavior are caused by the environment.
What is around you can have an incredible effect on your behavior. There is no area where this is more true than in nutrition. What we eat daily often stems from what surrounds us.
Before telling you where to start proper nutrition, let me tell you about one interesting experiment to illustrate what I mean ...
The value of your environment for starting PP
Anne Thorndike is a primary care physician at the Boston Massachusetts Hospital. Thorndike and her colleagues organized a study that lasted six months and was published in the American Journal of Public Health .
With the help of this study, secretly conducted in a hospital cafeteria, thousands of people were able to develop healthy eating habits, without the slightest involvement of their willpower or influence on their motivation. Thorndike and her team used the concept known as the “architecture of choice.” This is a bizarre phrase that is used to indicate changes in the placement of food and drinks, but, as it turned out, it is of great importance.
At first, the architecture of choice was applied to drinks in the dining room. Before the study, there were 3 main refrigerators in which there was soda. Researchers made sure that water was added to each of the three, and also placed baskets with bottles of water throughout the room.
The image below shows the arrangement of the room “before” (Figure A) and how it began to look after the changes made (Figure B). Black shaded areas in which bottles of water were located.
Image taken from American Journal of Public Health, April 2012.
What happened? Over the next quarter, sales of carbonated drinks fell 11.4%. At the same time, the purchase of water increased by 25.8%. Similar adjustments have been made with nutrition options. No one said a word to the visitors who ate in the dining room. Researchers simply changed the environment, and people quite naturally reacted after it.
The architecture of choice is especially important when you are overtaken by stress, fatigue, or distraction. If you're already exhausted, you're probably not going to spend a lot of effort preparing a healthy dinner or training. You just grab or cook what’s the easiest.
This means that, with little time spent organizing your room, office, kitchen and other areas, these changes in the architecture of choice can help you make a better choice, even when your willpower weakens.
How to eat healthy without the hassle
Cornell University professor Brian Wansink has done a lot of research on how the environment shapes the decisions we make about nutrition. Many of the ideas below are contained in his popular book, Mindless Eating. Here are some of his best practice strategies for applying the architecture of choice to simplify a healthy diet.
- Use smaller plates. The larger the plate, the larger the serving. Therefore, you eat more food. According to the data obtained during the study, Vansinka and his team, if you make a minor change and start using a plate with a diameter of 25.4 cm instead of 30.5 cm, then over the next year you will reduce the amount of food eaten by 22%.
In this regard, it should be noted that if you thought: “I will just put less food on my plate” ... it's not so simple. The figure below clearly shows why. If you eat a smaller portion from a large plate, your consciousness remains unsatisfied. At the same time, the same amount of food eaten from a smaller plate will feel more satisfying. The black circles in the image below are completely identical, but your brain and stomach do not think so.
This picture shows how small portions may look satisfying on a small plate, but lean on a large plate.
- Want to cut back on alcohol or soda? Use replace low and wide glasses with narrow and high glasses. Take a look at the image below. Which of the lines is longer, horizontal or vertical?
Like these two lines in the picture, an elongated glass will seem more than low, and this will naturally help you drink less.
As it turned out, the lengths of both lines are identical, but our brain tends to exaggerate vertical lines. In other words, drinks in higher dishes seem more voluminous than in round low cups. And since height increases objects much more than width, you will drink less using taller glasses. In fact, if you drink from a tall glass, the amount you drink is usually less than 20% than when using low and wide glassware. (Hats off to Daria Pino, the first to share this image and idea).
- Choose a plate color contrasting with the color of your food. I already mentioned in another article that, if the color of the plate matches the food on it, we eat more, because the brain finds it difficult to determine the real size of the portion. For this reason, dishes of a dark green or dark blue color are perfect, it will contrast with light shades, such as pasta or potatoes (which means you eat less of these foods), but will not shade too much with greens and vegetables (therefore , you most likely put them on a plate more).
- Place healthy foods in a conspicuous place. For example, you can put a cup with nuts or fruits near the front door, or in a place through which you will definitely pass when leaving home. Being hungry in a hurry, you are likely to grab the first thing that catches your eye.
- Wrap unhealthy foods in thin foil, and wholesome foods in cling film. In this case, the old saying “Out of sight — out of mind” works. Eating is not only a physical, but also an emotional process. Our brain often determines what we want to eat based on what we see in front of us. Therefore, if junk food is wrapped or hidden in less visible places, the likelihood that you will prefer it is much less.
- Choose large packages and containers for storing wholesome food, and small ones for unhealthy ones. Large boxes and containers will be much more likely to attract the eye, occupy a place in the pantry and in the kitchen, and in every way get in your way. As a result, the probability that you notice them and eat will be higher. At the same time, small packages can be hidden in your kitchen for months. (Take a look around right now. What's next to you? Maybe miniature jars and containers.)
And one more tip: if you bought a large pack of something useless, you can repack it in several containers or bags with a smaller ziplock, so the likelihood that you will drink a lot or eat at a time will become less.
What to eat?
As I mentioned at the very beginning, this is not a guide about which foods to eat. This guide is about why we eat this way and what you can do about it. However, I will offer you two options for how to fill your plate.
- Eat more greens. There is no general opinion about an ideal diet, but almost all agree on one thing: eat more vegetables. It is quite difficult to find at least one diet that does not agree that a large number of vegetables in the diet is a good idea.
- Eat varied . As mentioned earlier, the brain is obsessed with novelty. Although you may not be able to reproduce the crunchy / creamy combination of Oreo, you are able to make your diet varied enough to not get bored. For example, you can dip a crispy carrot in a creamy hummus to get a new perception. In addition, the search for new spices and aromas for your dishes will help to make a balanced diet more desirable.
A healthy diet should not be tasteless. Mix foods to get different sensations, and maybe it will seem easier to you than to eat one and the same every day. (Although, perhaps at some point, you will have to fall in love with boredom.)
Two simple techniques for switching to PP
The main idea of most quality diets is the same: there are not processed foods that have grown or grazed in the fresh air. Variations are possible in some of them - there are no products of animal origin, cereals, etc., but most of them correspond to the general concept of “real food”.
But, if you are like me, then you will eat everything that is nearby, regardless of whether it happened from mother nature or not. Therefore, the best strategy is to surround yourself with useful products.
- Use the Outer Ring Method. During my shopping trips, I move only along the “outer ring”. I do not go between the rows. Usually it’s around the perimeter of the store wholesome foods: raw meat, fish, nuts, fruits, vegetables and eggs. It all lived or grew in nature. That is what I eat.
The shelves between the rows are filled with boxes and processed food. Do not go there and then you will not buy these products. Without buying such products, you will not find them nearby in order to eat. Try this method on your next trip to the grocery store and try to avoid exceptions.
Of course, there will be times when you need to walk between the rows to buy some spices or a bottle of olive oil, but this will happen extremely rarely. During my last three visits to the grocery store, I easily adhered to this strategy, and I am sure that you will succeed too.
As is what you want and not feel guilty
- Never break 2 times in a row. I think life means living with pleasure. I have no desire to blame myself for eating a piece of pizza or to feel guilty about drinking a glass of beer. But I also know very well that eating healthy foods makes me feel better.
To balance these two things, I made myself a simple rule that I try to adhere to: whenever I eat something harmful, the next meal will consist of healthy food.
Skipping one healthy meal is not a problem, but I never want to do this twice in a row. Even those who have achieved the best results make common mistakes, but they return to track faster than many others. I try to do the same with my diet. I'm not worried about having a good time and trying to enjoy life, but I also use this simple rule to get back to eating right as quickly as possible.
3. Maintaining healthy eating habits without disruption
Solving the underlying problem of unhealthy nutrition
There is a definite reason why many people use food as a way to get rid of stress. Stressful situations provoke the release of chemicals in certain areas of the brain (in particular opiates and neuropeptide Y). These substances are able to activate a mechanism similar to craving for sweet or fatty. In other words, when you are exposed to stress, your brain feels the habitual urge to eat fatty or sweet foods and you break down on junk food.
Stressful situations occur in everyone’s life. Learning other ways to get out of stress can help you cope with this cravings for useless food. These can be simple breathing techniques or short guided meditation. Or something more active, like physical exercise or creative activities.
How to say temptations: "No"
The ability to say no is one of the most useful skills in teaching and developing a child, especially when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. The results of the study indicate that minor changes can help you say no more easily, resisting temptation and sticking to healthy eating habits.
A study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research, in which 120 students were divided into two different groups. The difference was that the participants in one of the groups said: “I can’t”, and the other: “I will not.”
Students in the first group were instructed each time they were tempted to say to themselves: "I can’t do X." That is, if they wanted to eat ice cream, they should have said: "I can’t eat ice cream."
The second group was instructed in such cases to use the phrase "I will not do X." Again, in the case of ice cream, they would say: "I will not eat ice cream."
After repeating these phrases, each student was given profiles with a number of questions not related to the study. Having finished answering, the students went to take their sheets in full confidence that the study was over. But in fact, everything was just beginning.
Each subject leaving the room and passing his answer sheet was offered free refreshments. You could choose a chocolate bar or a healthy cereal bar. After they left, the researcher recorded the selected treat in the answer sheet.
Participants telling themselves; "I can not eat X" in 61% of cases preferred chocolate. At the same time, among those who were in the group with the setting “I will not eat X”, only 36% chose chocolate. This small difference in terminology significantly increased the likelihood that everyone would opt for a healthy product.
But why did such a trifle lead to such great differences?
The phrase helps to eat right
The choice of words helps to formulate your feelings of independence and control. Moreover, the phrases you use create a feedback loop in your brain that affects your behavior in the future.
For example, each time, saying to yourself “I can’t”, you create a feedback loop, which is a reminder of the limitations. This choice of terms indicates that you are forcing yourself to do what you do not want.
For comparison, if you tell yourself: “I will not”, a response is created that is associated with control and power over the situation. This phrase can encourage you to fight bad habits and maintain good ones.
Heidi Grant Halvorson is director of Columbia University's Motivational Science Center. This is how she explains the difference between the statements “I will not” and “I cannot” ...
“I will not” is perceived as a choice and therefore this wording is felt as empowered. This is a confirmation of your determination and willpower. “I can’t” is not a choice. This is a limitation, it is something imposed. Therefore, thinking “I can’t” undermines your sense of strength and personal authority.
“I will not” is felt as a choice and therefore this wording is felt as empowered. This is a confirmation of your determination and willpower. “I can’t” is not a choice. This is a limitation, it is something imposed.
In other words, the phrase “I will not” is a psychologically powerful way of saying “no,” and the phrase “I cannot” is a psychologically draining way of refusing.
Probably the most important thing is that changing the language leads to changes in consciousness. Now you can use your new, enhanced way of thinking in the future, so a small change can lead to very significant results in the long run.
I hope you find this short guide to healthy eating healthy. If you are looking for more ideas on how to eat right, check out the list of all my articles on this topic below.