To be healthy, you must eat healthfully. However, for most of us, there is an internal conflict – part of us wants to be healthy, but another part seeks pleasure without regard for the consequences. Fear of change and of giving up unhealthy foods that you like, and the temptation of unhealthful food choices can derail your best intentions. To establish a healthy diet, the key is to learn and practice until you instinctually prefer healthy foods. These concepts are explained in more detail in my book Eat for Health, which outlines a gradual process to preferring a health-promoting diet.
1. Understand Food Addiction
Understanding food addiction is crucial to being able to make dietary changes. You may know that your diet and your health matter, but your brain doesn’t want you to change – your brain will always drive you to avoid discomfort, and because change to a healthier diet creates both emotional anxiety and even physical discomfort (or withdrawal) your decision making may be influenced by your brain’s subconscious desire to avoid this discomfort. Your primitive brain may be looking for excuses and rationalizations to explain why making a significant diet change is too difficult or just not for you. Your brain can be your body’s worst enemy. You have to learn about the addictive nature of processed foods and make a commitment to avoid them for a period of time to break free of this addiction. The only way that works is to let no excuse stand in your way. There is a solution for every potential obstacle.
2. Understand Nutrient Density
My dietary advice is unique, because I focus on quality, not quantity. The most important nutritional concept is this: Health = Nutrients/Calories. For excellent health and life expectancy, focus on consuming more foods with a high micronutrient to calorie ratio. Micronutrients are vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals – they do not contain calories, but they have vital functions in the body. High–nutrient foods come straight from nature – whole plant foods like vegetables, fruit, seeds, and beans should be the basis of a healthy, anti-cancer diet. The nutritional discovery here is that without adequate micronutrients, food cravings, discomfort, and the demand to over-consume calories can be overwhelming and derail any effort to lose weight or eat healthfully.
You choose to Eat To Live because you have made the decision to maintain great health your entire life, to never suffer from a heart attack, diabetes, cancer or dementia. You are not satisfied with merely reducing your risk a little. You have learned that drugs, surgery and medical care are insufficient to protect you against a medical tragedy. You Eat To Live to avoid the need for medicines, to avoid the need for medical intervention, to avoid invasive surgery, and to avoid the medical tragedies that are so prevalent in our society. You decide to Eat To Live because you realize life is valuable and worth living fully, with your full mental faculties and physical abilities maintained into your later years.
3. Change Your Mind
The brain also wants to avoid being different from others in your social circle. Ask yourself, and honestly answer, “Am I engaged in eating behaviors that are detrimental to my health?” Also ask “Am I afraid to be different?” Unhealthy eating is the norm, but you don’t have to follow the crowd. Be proud of yourself for being different than those practicing slow suicide with food. Learn as much as you can to understand the benefits of eating right. Gaining knowledge helps to enable behavioral changes – my readers and patients are successful because they become experts in nutrition as they follow my program. Know that heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer are mainly results of poor diet and lifestyle choices, not the result of aging. Once you truly know the powerful effects – both positive and negative – that food can have on your body, you will feel empowered to eat healthfully and to stick with it.
The ability to make the right decision consistently requires planning. You need time to prepare and organize your life so that you have good-tasting healthy foods around you at all times to lessen temptation. Creating a quick and simple weekly schedule will help you organize and utilize your time more efficiently. Make shopping lists. Cook enough for multiple meals each time, so that you do not have to cook every night. Make sure to leave room for exercise, recreation, and spending time with family. The better you plan your schedule in advance, the easier it will be to adopt your new habits into your life. Also, take advantage of time-saving foods like frozen vegetables and bagged salads.
5. Re-Train Your Taste Buds
Like developing any new skill, it takes practice to begin to enjoy new foods – you may have to try it 10-15 times before you begin to really like it, especially if your taste has been desensitized by the intense sweets and overly salted and processed foods that are the standard in the American diet. As you learn to enjoy the taste of healthy foods, your desire for unhealthy food will continue to lessen. Try new and different produce, for example dishes made with artichokes or exotic mushrooms, and experiment with different herbs, spices, and salt-free seasonings to create dishes that you love to eat. You will find lots of terrific recipes in my book the Eat To Live Cookbook and my earlier book, Eat for Health.
6. Embrace Your Natural Sweet Tooth
Our natural sweet tooth has a purpose – sweets from fresh fruits and sweet vegetables provide us not just with carbohydrates for energy but also with a large assortment of phytochemicals and other substances that prevent illness. Fruit makes the best dessert – for example, try blending up some frozen berries and bananas with a little hemp milk and vanilla for a delicious and easy berry-banana ice cream.
7. Make the Salad the Main Dish
Leafy greens are the foods with the highest nutrient to calorie ratio – eat at least one large salad a day. My specialty is delicious, but healthful salad dressings that taste so good you will not only enjoy salads, but you will want to lick the bottom of the bowl when you are done.
8. Avoid Nutrient Deficiencies and Eat Lots of Anti-Cancer Foods
No one diet can supply the optimal amount of nutrients for everyone, and individuals have different abilities to absorb certain nutrients. However, one of the most important deficiencies to recognize is Vitamin D. Over half of the world’s population is deficient in vitamin D. Making sure no deficiencies are present with a blood test and taking some extra vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids is a wise choice. Also, use lots of onions, mushrooms, and beans in your cooking as they have a powerful association with lower rates of breast and colon cancer.