Many years ago, before the Food Network was really a thing, I used to watch a program on television called Two Fat Ladies. Every episode they would prepare a lavish meal for a group of nuns or gamekeepers or the officer’s mess. Each dish was more decadent than the next and involved multiple kinds of meat, fat, butter, sugar and oil. They indulged the most primitive impulses for calories that might embarrass our earliest ancestors.
Then came the Food Network to pick up where the Two Fat Ladies left off, and now we have the internet to supply us with our fix of food porn. If my Facebook feed is any indication, folks continue to fantasize about consuming far too many calories. My feed is positively infested with images and videos of some variation of meat wrapped in bacon and smothered in butter.
It’s easy to understand why our lizard brains might be drawn to such imagery. After all, for most of our history, we’ve struggled to find sufficient energy to fuel our daily activities. For many of us, it is only in the last couple of generations that food acquisition has not required tremendous human labour. I think we can be forgiven for craving fat and sugar.
But don’t for a second believe that because we appear to be hardwired to love high calorie foods, that we can’t overcome our desires. It’s not only possible, it’s the single best thing you can do for your health and happiness. Changing your preference from rich foods to healthy foods will make adopting a whole foods plant-based diet easy and enjoyable. In fact, I’m beginning to think it is necessary for successfully turning your eating habits around. If eating whole plant foods isn’t your preference, you are simply not going to be able to do it for long.
Quite a few people seem to build a sense of identity around their food preferences. They are the kind of person who has a sweet tooth, or hates broccoli or needs meat. It may be useful to recognize that these thoughts you have about yourself may not be helpful if they prevent you from enjoying healthy foods. You may have to set yourself down and give yourself a little talking to. There is absolutely nothing cast in stone about food preferences so please let’s not hear that excuse anymore.
Luckily, it’s not that hard to change food preferences. It really is as simple as avoiding those refined fats, sugars and animal products for a period of time. And then keep avoiding them. I don’t buy into the notion that there is some kind of detox period like with heroin, but there is a period of time where you may have cravings. The length of time it takes for the cravings to settle seems to vary from person to person, and caving in to those cravings does reset the clock to some degree. So for your own sake, just stop eating that crap and get it over with. Within a few days of complete avoidance, you should feel better.
Some people recommend fasting or drinking only juice or eating only one kind of food, like potatoes for this period. I’m not sure it matters all that much as long as you scrupulously avoid refined sugars, flours, oils and animal products.
The most wonderful thing happens after a few days of avoiding those high calorie density foods. You start to appreciate the flavour of fruit and even some vegetables start to taste sweet to you. You can taste the natural sweetness of brown rice and oatmeal. You start to look forward to that bowl of rice and beans and vegetables. Once you are there, you have solved the willpower problem, because none is required.
When you enjoy your food, and you are able to trust your body to tell you when you are full (as you do when you eat whole, plant foods) you don’t have to fight yourself to eat well. It’s the easiest thing in the world. You may have difficulty with meal planning, finding time to cook, eating out and family members, but you will not be tempted by unhealthy food.
Even before the cravings pass, you may start noticing improvements in your health and energy levels. Take advantage of your new vigour to explore new recipes and cooking styles. This is one area where the expression “success breeds success” is especially true. If you eliminate all the trouble foods right away and start enjoying healthy whole plant foods, it’s the easiest thing in the world to continue this way of eating, especially if you also feel better.
Enjoying your meals, eating to satiety, feeling healthier and feeling better about your diet is an incredible gift to give yourself. If you are a parent, the only thing better is helping your children to change their food preferences too. So many of us have thought that we wish we had known what we know now about diet decades ago.
This post was partially inspired by the book The Pleasure Trap by evolutionary psychologist Dr. Doug Lisle. I highly recommend this book for it’s explanation for why we love rich foods so much.
When I have some time, I will update my previous post 3 Reasons to jump into a whole foods, plant-based life, to add the point that by jumping into a whole foods diet, your food preferences change quickly. Rather than only being satisfied with rich, indulgent foods, you quickly start to prefer the stuff you’re supposed to eat. And I think that makes all the difference.