What’s standing between you and a healthier lifestyle? It could be your brain.
Have you ever wondered why it can feel so difficult to quit a bad habit or take up a healthy new one? Your brain can be your biggest ally or your biggest enemy. Luckily, there are ways you can condition your brain to be on your side when it comes to reaching your goals and embracing a healthier lifestyle. Especially if one of your goals is to eat healthier.
Want to help your brain pick up a healthy new habit even faster? Here are ten ways you can supercharge your brain to help you reach your goals.
#1. Think Positively
If you’ve been conditioned over the years to respond to a plate full of veggies or greens with a “yuck” or “deprivation” label, it’s time to rewrite your brain code to a more positive association. Your brain is actually very motivated to do things that meet your basic survival needs. So start thinking of healthy foods as nourishing you and giving your strength. Imagine feeling alive and active after eating that particular food.
Place positive mental images of those foods as ones that will fuel your body and improve your health, and keep that positive mindset in place whenever you’re staring down a plate of broccoli or kale.
The brain believes what you tell it.
#2. Organize Yourself For Success
Your brain is always seeking out the easiest way to get from point a to point b. It loves convenience. Re-organize your fridge and pantry so the healthiest foods are the first things you see and the easiest to grab. Hideaway processed or junk foods out of view. Prep some vegetables, fruit, and other healthy foods and put them front and center in the fridge, so you can grab and go anytime hunger strikes.
#3. Sell it to Yourself
Which of these dishes sounds more appealing to you?
- Oven-roasted chicken with lemon and thyme served on a bed of greens with a side of seasonal vegetables, or
- Chicken breast, spinach, and squash
When you eat at a restaurant, the menu paints a vivid description of the meal you’re about to eat. Paint that same picture for yourself at home, and think of how your healthy dinner would appear on the fanciest restaurant menu in town.
#4. Label Your Food
No, we’re not talking about busting out the label-maker. (Although we’re not judging if you do - an organized kitchen is a happy kitchen!) Instead, mentally give each bite of food a descriptive label as you eat it.
One study showed that people who ate “strawberry jelly beans” and “grape jelly beans” enjoyed each bite more than people who ate “jelly beans.” The descriptive label made the food more enjoyable in their minds as they ate it.
#5. Have Fun with Your Food
It’s time to get in touch with your inner Instagram-goddess and make your healthy meals share-worthy. Don’t let your best dishware sit around waiting for guests to arrive -- use those pretty plates, funky bowls, and gorgeous silverware for your daily meals. Then plate them like a pro; garnish your dishes with bright herbs and citrus zests.
Whether or not you want to take an actual photo of your healthy meal and post it online is up to you. (Although, racking up some “likes” and comments from your friends could actually help train your brain to keep on eating -- and posting -- even more beautiful, healthy meals.)
The point is to create positive, happy experiences with healthy foods. You’ll be reinforcing neural pathways that will encourage you to choose that healthy food again in the future.
#6. Pay Attention to Your Plate
Did you know that eating food served on a larger plate will trick you into eating more than you would’ve off a smaller plate? Reach for a smaller plate if you’re trying to reduce your portion size or calorie intake.
You may not realize it, but plate color matters just as much as plate size, too. Researchers found that people who had a low contrast between the color of their food and the color of their plate ate 30% more than people with a high-contrast between the color of their plate and their food. In other words, pile your green veggies onto a stark white plate, not a green plate. And pile your chicken on a dark colored plate rather than a light one.
#7. Give Yourself a Choice
Have you ever presented your kid with two choices: an action you want them to take, and a second option that you know they won’t want? That same clever-parenting trick can help you eat healthier, too.
We all like to feel like we are in control over our actions and our choices. Psychologists from the University of Rochester identified three psychological needs that, when satisfied, bring us enhanced self-motivation and mental health. One of these needs is autonomy, which is having independence in your thoughts and actions. In other words, the right to choose.
Give yourself permission to choose between two equally healthy snacks. When you decide that you’d rather have an apple and a few cashews than a greek yogurt, you are taking control over the decision process. And that will bias you towards the choice you’ve made -- your brain will be even more jazzed about eating that apple.
#8. Mix Things Up
Variety will give your brain more pleasure out of a meal. And that means your brain will associate those foods with the reward center of your brain. So mix it up, and don’t fall into a rut when it comes to healthy eating.
Look online for new recipes to try, buy a new cookbook, or ask your health-focused friends to suggest some meal ideas they love.
When you’re shopping at the grocery store, bravely try a new vegetable or fruit that you’ve never tried before.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring. Shake it up a bit and your brain (and body!) will thank you.
#9. Eat Consciously
Don’t zone out in front of the TV or your smartphone while you’re eating. Be present during your meal.
Several large-scale studies have shown that consciousness is one of the most significant predictors of obesity. Pay attention to what you’re eating, how much you’re eating, and why. Are you just putting food in your mouth because it’s on the plate? Are you eating because you’re bored or for emotional reasons? Remove distractions and really take part in the experience of eating your healthy meals.
#10. Keep Focused on Your Motivation
Everyone has a reason for eating healthier and trying to adopt healthier habits. Maybe you want to lose weight and feel comfortable in your clothes again. Maybe your reasons have more to do with your health and quality of life and less to do with your appearance.
Whatever is motivating you to get healthier, hold on to it. Visualize the end result of your efforts regularly. In one study, overweight women who practiced visualization techniques and imagined themselves in enjoyable future scenarios ate less. Visualization has been shown to be an effective way of teaching your mind to delay gratification.
Losing weight, having more energy, reducing health issues - whatever your motivation is, keep it in your mind if you want your brain to be on your side to reach your health goals.
When you get your brain on your side as a helpful health coach, instead of battling against you with self-doubt, negativity, and continued bad-habits, you’ll be much more likely to succeed in your goals.