The benefits of consistent healthy eating and good nutrition are obvious: you have more energy, your health improves, your productivity levels skyrocket, and of course, you feel better. Most people (especially the people that hang out around here - we heart you, btw<3) know this. However, the majority of people, including the ones that consciously commit to eating better, despite good intentions, hardly ever stick to it for more than a few weeks.*
Why we fail to follow through:
There are many reasons why we fail to follow through when it comes to making dietary changes. First, any change, dietary included, creates discomfort, which we as humans (it’s in our DNA) relentlessly avoid like the plague.
Second, the traditional “diet” philosophy (restriction, deprivation, and what we call the “bandwagon approach”**), is inherently flawed, incredibly unhealthy, and actually designed not to work.
Third, when you put your own willpower up against an entire food-industrial complex that’s engineered to get you addicted to food, sugar, and food-like products, you’re fighting an uphill battle. Not to mention, when it comes to healthy eating, we usually bite off more than we can chew. (More on this to follow.)
And fourth, though there are many more reasons than the few we’ve listed, there’s the ancient problem of Akrasia.
The Akrasia effect
Originally coined by ancient Greek philosophers, Akrasia refers to the human tendency to do something knowing we should be doing something else. Loosely translated, it’s “the state of mind in which someone acts against their better judgment”.1
How this relates to our food choices
Research suggests our brains are hardwired to prefer instant rewards in lieu of long-term payoffs. Thus, it makes total sense to reach for the quick and easy, usually sugar-filled option.
Let’s take it further.
When you make plans for yourself — like setting a goal to eat better, lose weight or start a new exercise program — you’re actually making plans for your future self. When you think about the future, your brain sees the value in taking actions with long-term benefits (that’s how our brains work), so the idea of eating better sounds incredibly appealing, and we get excited.
However, when it actually comes time to eat, you’re no longer making a decision for your future self, you’re now making a decision to satisfy your present self, which really likes instant gratification, especially when post workday hanger is involved. As such, it makes total sense to reach for whatever gives you that instant gratification the fastest (queue the sugar), and the intention to “eat healthy” gets thrown out the window.
But it doesn’t stop there.
We make the conscious decision to start eating better.
We ride the wave of motivation until it wears off.
We opt for the not-so-healthy, quick-and-convenient sugar fix despite our initial intentions.
Then we beat ourselves up for it.
Notice the unhealthy loop this creates?
Awareness is the first step to changing any pattern or behavior.
Now that that’s out of the way…
How to actually follow through with your healthy eating initiatives (and other things you want to do)
1. Set your environment up for success.
Reduce temptation. Set yourself up for success by stocking your kitchen with good-for-you foods (ie. the ones aligned with your health goals). Clear the fridge, cabinets and countertops of everything else. Donate canned goods and other unopened items to local soup kitchens and shelters, discard the rest. If it’s not in your kitchen, you’re much less likely to eat it.
A well stocked kitchen begins at the grocery store. Click here for our great big guide to grocery shopping.
2. Make healthy eating convenient AF by preparing food beforehand.
Prepare the components of healthy meals (think: overnight oats, a big batch of soup, freezer smoothie packs, etc., find an extensive meal prep list here), so that when breakfast/lunch/dinner rolls around, you can easily whip up something that’s actually good-for-you. Pick a specific time (1-2 hours) during the week or opt for shorter time slots throughout the day. Personally, shorter, more frequent (10-20 minute), prep periods work better for my schedule. The key is to do what works for YOU.
3. Don’t overwhelm yourself.
Instead of putting all your time and energy into the nitty gritty details that go along with healthy eating (superfoods, supplements, and endless amounts of nutrient specific info and advice), focus on the basics. Put your effort into building habits that help you get started and don’t worry about the rest until the art of showing up becomes easy. Simplicity is how you’ll stay the course.
4. Uncomplicate your food.
The more we complicate our “diets” the harder they become to follow. Instead of exhausting yourself trying to perfect 7 new recipes each week, eliminate decision fatigue. Rotate these 3 staple dishes (see: here, here and here) for lunch and dinner, every day (at least in the beginning). This reduces guesswork, anxiety-inducing “what should I have to eat?” decisions, and most importantly, helps you stick to your health goals. When you keep your overall approach simple, food becomes so much easier.
And it doesn’t have to be boring or restrictive. Look for variety within each of these recipe formulas, the variations are endless.
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*Unfortunately this isn’t just our observation, there’s tons of scientific research to back it up.
**The “bandwagon approach” refers to the commonly used phrase, “I fell off the (band)wagon”. This mentality never works. “Falling off” is not your problem, “the wagon” is your problem. Because the only time a person ever “falls off the wagon” is when there’s a “wagon” to fall off of.
1. A huge thank you to James Clear for originally introducing us to the term akrasia. We heart your words.
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