The Not-So Starving Student—Eating Clean in Two Simple Steps

One of the common responses when I reveal to others that I’m on a Mediterranean diet is, “but you’re so skinny.” I roll my eyes slightly because the notion of “dieting” is so heavily associated with weight loss and body dysmorphism: an obsession with maintaining a particular physical image of ourselves.  But what about dieting for our hearts, our energy levels, or maybe for our mood?

I know it sounds hypocritical of me to start into this subject when my past articles have described everything from fried chicken recipes to Netflix-ready food.  However, since starting my work at a family clinic this summer advising patients to eat healthier and lead a more active lifestyle, I have truly internalized some of the recommendations I’m making.  Specifically, it was hard to feel genuine at work when I was guilty of both unhealthy eating and sedentary behavior.  Who am I to make those recommendations to others?  We all know eating clean for 24 hours is not an impossible feat, but how about 24 days or 24 months? What about 24 years? It’s something I am still in the process of learning and discovering: staying healthy and balanced.

I only have two simple tips to share, but they might go a long way.

Reward yourself for staying focused

Food is a natural reward, so powerful that we can train our pets and wild animals to perform incredible feats with the promise of their favorite grub.  Humans are genetically dispositioned to feel great when we munch on a bag of potato chips or indulge in a high calorie meal.  Many individuals stress-eat because an exciting, comforting meal at the end of the day sends spikes of dopamine or feel-good hormones to our brain and relieves our anxiety or pain.  This immediate reward and euphoric rush of hormones is significantly more satisfying than eating a bowl of lightly-seasoned salad and avoiding some kind of health defect later down the road.  Remember, now is always more powerful than later.

So how do we combat our inclination toward immediate rewards? We need to reward ourselves for eating healthy.  Eating healthy is not simply a single day endeavor, it is a lifestyle that must be genuine to the individual.  Not long ago, my family started a vacation fund to motivate ourselves to be aware and focused about our dieting goals.  Every month $100 would be deposited towards a future vacation if we stayed away from eating out, unhealthy snacking and continued to devour eight servings of fruits or veggies in a day.  The tip is to find a reward that motivates you to keep going.

Ask a trusted friend or family member to keep you accountable

When starting a lifestyle change, one may be motivated and energized but, over time, our willpower slumps and the slow march back to status quo begins.  While your willpower is high and your thought process uncluttered, set expectations and engage others.  Specifically, people close to you who will not cut you slack.  These could be family members or even individuals who you aspire to become, such as a coach or an active workout buddy.  I found it especially entertaining to brainstorm commitment devices, a punishment to discourage you from falling back into an old habit.  For example, I started a healthy eating jar with my roommate and if either of us began bringing junk food in the house or fell prey to the temptation of eating out, the individual would add a $10 bill to the jar.  Knowing someone else is there and keeping track of your eating can go a long way to keep you on track as well.

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