If you’re at all like me, you like food. And if you’re at all like I used to be, you like rich, sugary, salty, oily food while stoically tolerating green leaves and broccoli. Maybe you were even raised in the South (like I was) where they take home-grown, fresh-picked crooked-neck squash and swaddle it in thick batter before plunging it into a roiling skillet of hot crisco. And where Lay’s potato chips are still considered a vegetable.
If you are like me, you’ve found it difficult to switch to a diet style based on fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and seeds. Living in the land of plenty with a brain hard-wired for deprivation makes it hard to choose salad over sirloin, cherimoya over chocolate, greens over grilled cheese—especially when these high-calorie, highly rewarding foods are to be found any time, on every corner, and everybody’s doing it! I spent decades of off and on and back and forth before attaining some degree of stability in sticking to a diet that consists entirely of health-promoting, disease-fighting foods. Since then, I’ve never looked back, but if I knew what I know now, I’d make the change quite a bit differently, and therefore, much more quickly.
Enter the unimposing seed habit. A seed habit begins with setting a very small goal for yourself—something requiring so little effort or discipline that you can’t possibly fail. A seed habit, when planted and nourished by your follow-through, will, over time, grow into your ultimate goal (in this case, eating a diet rich in fruits, veggies, beans, nuts and seeds).
There are two secrets to a successful seed habit: 1. Start small and 2. Do it no matter what.
For instance, let’s say you want to get in shape. What if, instead of aiming high at an entire gym workout five days a week, you aimed real low (secret #1)—say, one pushup. Yes, you read it right. One pushup. That would be your mini goal. And once you accomplished that one pushup, you would have fulfilled your exercise commitment for that day. Pretty cool, huh?
Now, I can see you rolling your eyes. “What good’s one pushup gonna do me?” Good question. Well, that one little pushup is the seed for your new (future) workout habit. You see, most of us, most of the time, aren’t gonna do just one pushup—you’ll get down there on the floor and do one, and then another and then find yourself a little energized and keep going. But even if that doesn’t happen, this little seed pushup, if completed every day, is the beginning of a habit. Also, by following through every day no matter what on you commitment (secret #2), you build discipline.
But what about food? How can you use the concept of a seed habit to build a nutritarian eating style from the standard American diet? Why, one grape at a time, of course!
I’m guessing, though, that if you’ve found this blog, you’ve probably already attained some degree of enjoyment of fruits and veggies. So let’s assume that you don’t mind grapes at all, but, when confronted with the bagel and donut tray in the office kitchenette, you have trouble doing the right thing. Well, with your new seed habit, those refined carbs aren’t a problem. First, though, you have to establish your seed habit very clearly. One possibility might be: have at least one four ounce serving of fruit, and have it before eating anything else. Once you’ve eaten your fruit, you’ve met your breakfast goal, so don’t worry about restricting other foods. Let the pecan sticky bun be ok for now. Complete your seed habit every day for a week no matter what, and you’re well on your way to crafting a full nutritarian breakfast.
For lunch, make another small goal—say four ounces of raw, naked vegetables (in other words, no fancy high-calorie sauces). Since you’re working toward a nutrient-rich style of eating, it’s good to include leafy greens in your four ounces of veggies. But the main point is to be very clear about your goal so you’ll know when you’ve met it. After you finish off the last of your rabbit food, you’re free to indulge in that greasy McWhopper.
Y’all, in case you haven’t discerned this from the excessive of bold type, the no-matter-what part (secret #2) is super important. Building a new habit requires lots of repetition, and that repetition creates beneficial changes in your brain that make it easier for you to continue and grow your new habit. Also, if four ounces of fruit or veggies is too much, don’t be afraid to make your seed habit smaller (secret #1).
What happens after a week? If you have been entirely consistent with your daily goals, raise the stakes just a smidgen—keeping it small makes it more likely that you’ll stick with it. Alternatively, just continue as you are–sticking with your seed habit insures that those few ounces of fruit and raw vegetables will mature into an entire eating style based on the most nutrient-rich foods mother earth has to offer.
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This post was first published at healthyfoodnow.com