Most diets work through restrictions. Additional self-enforced rules of eating to stay healthy. Don’t eat sweets. Don’t eat fried food. Don’t eat carbs. But the truth is, most diets don’t work.
Instead of trying to diet mainly through restricting yourself, try changing your eating habits by adding new foods. By adding new, healthy foods you can push out the junk without relying as much on willpower to do it.
This may sound good, but how does it actually work?
Your Menu Isn’t as Big as You Think…
I’m here to argue from my completely unscientific view through both personal experience and observation that most of what people eat comes from the same menu of about two dozen items. Unless you are a gourmet chef constantly experimenting, I’d argue that 90% of your food can be summed up roughly by the same 10-20 meals.
I’ve found an effective strategy for improving your diet is to simply replace items on this rather small menu of common meals. If your top fifteen meals are healthy then the other hundreds of meals you typically consume are only going to amount to about 20% of your diet.
This is the 80/20 rule in action, where 20% of your meals account for 80% of the food you consume. By improving the quality of these 20% you can have a disproportionate influence on your health. Dietary restrictions are indiscriminate and often focus on the 80% long tail as opposed to your core menu.
Step One: Find New Recipes
In order to move a healthy item into your core menu, you need more than just willpower – you should actually like the food you are adding. When I made the switch to a vegetarian diet, I had to switch most of my core menu. I experimented with dozens of different recipes. Some were awful but some were great and stick with me today.
Find some healthy recipes and try them out. As you get better at cooking them they can work there way up to your core menu list without excessive discipline. I like more basic meals than the ideas proposed by most cookbooks, so I find recipes and simplify them heavily.
Step Two: Persist With a New Item
It can take a few tries to master the cooking of a new meal. It also takes a few times to acquire the taste of a new type of food. Unless the meal was completely horrible, give it a second or third chance and you usually can modify it to fit your likings. It took me almost a dozen times before I found a way to cook tofu that was edible, but I’m sure you could get a healthy meal tasting great in just a few tries.
Step Three: Create a Recipe List
Get a list of healthy recipes you can make. If your goal is to replace a healthy meal in your core menu, you will need a few reminders. Willpower can help make it a part of your diet, but I think engineering your diet to actually taste good is the best strategy. Having a recipe list will remind you of healthy meals you may like but may not immediately come to mind when thinking of what to eat.
Healthy Doesn’t Have to Mean Tasteless
If your solution to a problem requires long-term willpower, you probably aren’t being creative enough. Instead of forcing yourself to eat healthy because you should, why not try to engineer your core menu so you eat healthy because you want to?