We all know the person that brings the same lunch to work or school every day. Many people do this, after all. Maybe this person happens to be you. Humans are creatures of habit and what we eat each day is no different than any other habit that overcomes our brains.
Do you grab a banana for breakfast every day because you love bananas and they are quick and easy to consume on the run? Or how about that same cereal you purchase week after week at the grocery store because you believe it to be your favorite cereal? The reality is that most of us consume the same foods on a regular basis not only out of convenience, but also because humans are suckers for routine.
Science corroborates this intuitive hunch that we are apt to form habits without deliberate thought that we are doing so. Researchers have even located an area of the brain responsible for habit formation. Our tendencies to eat the same foods all the time occurs when a region of our brains called the basal ganglia lights up and says, “Hey dude (or dudette), I see that you are eating this food all the time. I’m going to make this behavior automatic so that the decision-making part of your brain can go to sleep.” Our basal ganglias want to make our lives more convenient. How nice of them!
Well, this can work against us if we get addicted to, say, vegan cookie dough, but it can also work in our favor and get us to make healthier eating choices. Living a healthy lifestyle and eating more fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds becomes that much easier when we give ourselves a chance to make eating them a habit. I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine (who is as obsessed with eating green vegetables as much as I am), that we automatically eat the green vegetables off our plates first without thinking about it. We crave greens and a meal without a good salad or kale dish just doesn’t sit well with us. We have successfully programmed our brains to desire healthy foods, and we chose these foods almost effortlessly when we venture to restaurants or prepare meals in our homes.
The fantastic news is that becoming like me and my friend isn’t that hard to do, nor does it take a long period of time. Ample research has shown that when our taste buds don’t have access to the foods they usually love, they begin to love the foods they’re with. As creatures of habit, we enjoy foods that we are used to eating. However, when we change the foods we are accustomed to and give our taste buds a bit of time, the new foods become preferred.
How long does it take to form new food cravings and cultivate new eating habits? Remarkably, scientific studies show that this process takes as little as two weeks. If you begin to make green juices for yourself every day for two weeks, you’ve got a new habit on your hands. Preparing those green juices for yourself may seem tedious for the first week or so, but after the two week mark, you might just start to crave those green drinks like most of us begin to crave the sunshine after a long, dreary winter. While preparing green juices for myself every day is not something I’ve cultivated as a habit (yet!), I can say that my craving for green vegetables with my meals is a habit that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I love the taste of kale, spinach, bok choy, and lettuce because I’ve made the decision to eat these foods often.
Additionally, if you begin to reduce your exposure to oil, salt, sugar, and all foods that come in packages and at fast food restaurants, in roughly two weeks, you will not be missing those old foods or flavors. My taste buds never experience the taste of potato chips or hamburgers, so I will continue to view them in the same categories as I view a piece of cardboard or plastic. They don’t even look like food to me!
Healthy lifestyle choices really do become easier once we make them a part of our daily routine. When we educate ourselves about the importance of incorporating plant foods into our lives for disease-prevention and optimal health and we possess the knowledge that we begin to crave the foods we are used to eating, then making a permanent change towards a more plant-based diet doesn’t seem as scary. Now who wants to start drinking green juice out of wine glasses with me and make this a new habit?
Find Talia Fuhrman on her website, where she posts easy-to-prepare recipes, nutrition tips, and psychological musings.