We all know the importance of a healthy diet, but when it comes to healthy eating, it’s not always easy. We find ourselves succumbing to our cravings and choosing the less healthy option. It doesn’t mean we need to stray far from what we know is good for us. Luckily, it’s not hard to eat healthier alternatives to common foods.
Most people begin a new diet something like this:
Figure out what foods they can no longer eat.
Look up healthier replacements for those foods that fit within their new diet.
Eat those replacements and be miserable.
There’s a better way. (Thank God!)
If you’re one of those rare people who eat only to survive and have no emotional attachment to food, then yes, swapping out healthier alternatives can work.
For the rest of us, healthier versions of our favorite comfort foods leave us feeling deprived. On a subconscious level, we learn to associate taking care of our health with deprivation, and self-care with misery. Falling off the wagon is associated with comfort, freedom, and happiness. How twisted is that?
Approach to find Healthy alternatives to common foods
Here is another approach that I guarantee will help you find healthier replacements for your favorite foods
Figure out what foods you CAN eat on your new diet.
Identify foods that you already like that fall within those parameters. It can help to think of categories, such as starches, veggies, fruits, nuts, animal protein, fats, seasonings, etc.
Plan meals that include these foods.
Identify new foods, or new ways of preparing foods, that you would like to try or that you think you could start to like over time.
Add these foods to your meal plan intermittently. Add them in more often as you start to like them.
If possible and if helpful, plan occasional cheat meals so that you can still have any foods that you don’t want to live without.
Replacing burgers with veggie patties, pasta with zoodles, and Hershey’s with cacao nibs rarely feels good if those are comfort foods for you. You can learn to enjoy them more and maybe even crave them over time, but probably not in the beginning. Chances are, it will be years before they feel as good to eat as your comfort foods.
It’s better to eat entirely different foods than to use disappointing replacements. Instead of a veggie patty, maybe you can replace your burger with a spicy grass-fed steak stir fry with plenty of veggies and brown rice. Instead of snacking on chocolate, maybe you have your favorite fruit or make popcorn from scratch with the kids. The specifics depend on your unique nutritional needs, of course. In any case, chances are there are foods that fit within the dietary needs that you already enjoy.
Have more of the foods you like that serve your body well, and that will leave less room for the foods that don’t. It’s that simple.
Over time, try new foods and recipes. Also, add in foods that you aren’t thrilled about, but that taste okay and fit your needs. Doing so helps to retrain your palate. It can take months or even years, but you will start craving foods that are in line with your goals.
One way to help speed up the process is to use a metal tongue scraper when you brush your teeth (not just brushing your tongue). This can help to increase the sensitivity of your taste buds so that you appreciate the lighter flavors in foods that aren’t flooded with salt, sugar, and oil. It took me about two months to notice the difference. I still can’t believe that I now crave leafy greens.
Relying on willpower and discipline alone might make us feel like a badass, but it isn’t necessary. It is kinder to yourself and more effective to use strategies that make your new diet feel easier. Swapping unhealthy foods with completely different foods that you love can make the transition feel smoother.
What is the one healthy food you will be using as an alternative to common food this week to stay healthy? Let me know in the comments.