Healthy food mostly replaced my unhealthy food. Here’s how.

How can you expect to lead others if you can’t lead yourself?

This post, like most of mine, is about leadership. If you can’t lead yourself, how can you expect to lead others? If you don’t understand your emotions and motivations and how to create the ones you want in yourself, how do you expect to do so with others?
Alternatively, the better you can lead yourself, the better you can lead others and, for that matter, yourself the next time.
Since most of us want to eat differently than we do and others are constantly trying to motivate us to eat like they want us to, eating is a great place to learn leadership skills.

Who do you want leading your eating habits, you or McDonald’s?

I didn’t lead my eating habits most of my life.

As far back as I can remember, I remember having foods I couldn’t resist eating.
If I had Dorito’s near me I’d eat them until my tongue hurt. I would always have ice cream in the freezer and eat it. Sure, I was picky about some things — mainly meat that still resembled the animal it came from until I stopped eating meat. But for most of my life there were foods I didn’t like but couldn’t stop myself from eating.
I didn’t like having behavior out of my control, but I didn’t mind too much because I kept generally healthy. Still, I prefer things that matter under my control.
Recently I realized nearly all my snack food consists of fruits and vegetables. Actually, mainly nuts. I used to have a bag of chips in my cupboard that I’d snack from. Now I always have a bag of mixed nuts — pecans, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, and hazel nuts — that I get from the bulk food store near me in that cupboard. And I nearly always have a bag of carrots in the fridge. These two products have mostly replaced chips for my snacking. When I’m hungry, I eat as many carrots as I want.
Sometimes I dip them in humus.
And I nearly always have some fresh fruit lying on the counter. Especially in the summer. Looking over now I see five apples and a mango.
I still eat chips, don’t get me wrong. I have some in my cupboard today. And I’m mostly describing what I eat at home. But it’s a pretty big change, though more than a decade in coming. Then again, I expect the trend will continue.
I don’t feel I’m missing anything from having less chips. The more I eat fruits and vegetables the more junk food seems to lack complexity in flavor and texture. It’s just crunch and salt — pleasurable sensations, but overpowering after a few chips and less interesting than fruits and vegetables.

What made the change happen?

I’m not sure everything that influenced me, but I’ll write the top things that come to mind.

1. Learning about junk food and the companies that make it

Since I never liked meat I didn’t have to see factory farming videos to stop me from eating it, but the practices of agri-business affected my behavior as much as those videos affected some people.
Learning about partially hydrogenated oil affected me first and most. I grew up reading it was somewhere between saturated and unsaturated fat in healthiness. Later I learned it was less healthy. The unhealthiness didn’t get me. What got me was that it seemed these companies knew it was less healthy but told me it was more healthy. Why? To increase their profits.
I realized I couldn’t do business with entities that valued their money over my health enough to lie to me about it.
The more I learned about their practices, the less I could do business with them. Corn syrup, and plenty of other things followed the same trend.
So out went

  • Keebler
  • Pepperidge Farm
  • Frito Lay
  • Coca-Cola
  • Pepsi
  • Minute Maid
  • General Mills
  • Kellogg’s
  • Tropicana
  • Nestle
  • Kraft
  • Entenman’s

… come to think of it, to list them all would take too long. I basically cut out the supermarket aisles with those companies in them. Those brands suggest to me “garbage for you that profits us.”
Not buying their products is like not doing favors for someone who bullied me in school. Why would I do that?

2. Not wanting food first, stopping eating it second

I never cut something out of my diet that I liked. In every instance I can think of of cutting something out, I came to dislike it before stopping eating it.
Whether soda, corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, or whatever, I would generally keep eating those foods until I learned enough about it I couldn’t stand buying them again. By the time I cut most things out, I felt bad about still eating them.

3. Starting with easy habits and building on them

If you read about my daily habits, you know I do things like take three sittings over three days to eat a bag of chips. That set achievable goals to meet my interests. Over time three days gave way to four. Then carrots and nuts started replacing chips.
I found easy habits easier to start. And building on them came easy too.
I didn’t plan to start with easy habits and build on them. It just happened. As it worked, I built on the success.

4. Exercise

The more I get in shape the less I want to ruin it. Like now, marathon training has me almost to a six-pack, which few 42-year-old Americans have. I like how it feels. It’s more satisfying than most external rewards. Why ruin that?
I noticed years ago when I was avoiding less-healthy food I would say to myself

“Instead of eating this cookie now, I’ll wait until after a run and eat it then, as a reward for doing something healthy.”

Then after the run, feeling healthy, I’d look at the cookie and think

“Now why would I undo a perfectly good run by eating the cookie” and not eat it.

Should I eat unhealthy just after exercising or other times? Eventually I learned I didn’t have any good time for eating food I didn’t want to eat.

5. Three raisins exercise

I could describe it here, but you might as well read my post “One of the best exercises I know to raise your self-awareness.” It cost nothing and took maybe half an hour, yet slowed down my eating, got me to enjoy my food more, and contributed across many parts of my life.
One of the top exercises I recommend.
It led to this post, “enjoying things more and promote future success,” on appreciating food (and everything) more.

5. Food from my mom’s garden

Read my post “Would you eat the cherry tomato?” It’s more a philosophical question about priorities and exploring boundaries, but the cherry tomatoes that prompted the question existed and tasted incomparable better than what you find in most stores and restaurants.
Once you know how nature can taste, you can’t go back to bland.

7. Peers and not getting into arguments about food

I tend to talk about food only with people I want to learn from. And I try to avoid arguing with anyone about food. I’ve concluded everyone thinks they know the best about what to eat and if they want to tell you about it, they think they’re right and they sound like the recently converted.
I have a friend in great shape. When he learned I got a blender — the Vitamixer — he got me to go out and buy tons of fruits and vegetables to blend and we had amazingly great meals including everything. I talk food with people like that. Not with people who don’t like their relationships with food.

8. Getting older?

I’m not sure about this one, but I think my taste buds aren’t as sensitive anymore. If so, the pleasure from some foods may have decreased.
I certainly put more hot sauce on my food than I did when I was a kid. And scotch tastes better. Whether they come from habituation or loss of sensation I don’t know, so I’m only speculating.

9. What didn’t make any difference: diet books or following others’ instruction

I can’t remember a diet book I read that influenced my eating habits, if I’ve even read any diet books. I think I read once that reading diet books correlates with unhealthy eating.
What media did influence me? Some titles that come to mind that I recommend include

  • Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead
  • Supersize me
  • Food, Inc

Hmm… I would have expected more. I read a couple Michael Pollan books, but I didn’t find they changed much. Maybe Food Rules, but mainly the first page.

Back to leadership

I wanted to return to my first point. This post is about leading others by learning to lead yourself. It’s only tangentially about food.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. J

    I value health so I eat fruits and vegetables and stay active by running and doing Pilates. This isn’t my diet, it’s a lifestyle. There aren’t many times when I have to resist food. I like what I eat and crave mostly whole foods. What do you do when you like something healthy so much that it’s hard to not eat a lot of it! Like peanut butter. I stopped buying peanut butter at natural food stores because it’s hard not to finish a cupful in a day. Maybe I need to try your raisin exercise with peanut butter.

    1. Joshua

      I’ll always recommend the three raisins exercise, which is why I call it “One of the best exercises I know to raise your self-awareness,” self-awareness being fundamental to improving yourself.
      As for eating things you like, you didn’t mention a reason you wouldn’t eat the food. If you have reasons to eat it and no reasons not to, why wouldn’t you? I don’t even consider healthiness the only criteria for deciding to eat something. The source of value is one’s emotional reward and reaction. Healthiness usually creates the most reward for me overall, but not always.
      If you’re saying you want it in small amounts but not larger, my solution with pacing eating chips worked for me. I started with a habit I could handle (requiring three sessions on three different days per bag) and gradually added to it (now I finish a bag over four or five sessions). Another solution I’ve found works for me is to find other foods I want to eat, eat more of them, and crowd out my craving for something else. That is, I don’t try not to eat something I like. I try to eat more of something I like more. All those carrots in my fridge give me something to eat when I want food so I keep myself satisfied.
      I hope that helps. I’m sure other readers have other solutions that work for them.

      1. J

        I have reasons not to eat too much of it because even too much of healthy oil could effect health. I tried the solution with pacing eating chips, but I always end up eating a cupful because it tastes so good! I’ve been eating more of what I like more, sweet potatoes so I think that’s working because I don’t think about buying peanut butter.

        1. Joshua

          I don’t promote many commercial products, but I endorse my Hitachi Chime-o-matic rice cooker / vegetable steamer / miracle appliance that cooks sweet potatoes to perfection with just the press of a button.
          I’m a fan of eating more sweet potatoes if you like them, and to help crowd out other things. The vegetable steamer makes it easy.
          It was easier in Shanghai where they sold sweet potatoes on the street. America has more hot dogs and hot pretzels instead, although New York City has a lot of fruit vendors.

  2. Tacoma personal trainer

    Healthy food are very important to improve health and fitness. Eat fresh fruits, vegetables, yogurt, drink green tea, fruit juices and plenty of water. Go for walking, running, cycling, practice push ups, bench press and chair squat. It improve mood, make strong bones and muscles, boost energy, improve heart functions and mental health.
    Tacoma fitness

Leave a Reply