Eating healthy: it is all something we strive to do. But, when asked why they repeatedly return to eating junk food which they know will harm them, the most common excuse people give is that they don’t have time to eat healthy.
I could give you dozens of small tips on how to make more time to eat healthy.
- Cook food in large batches and put in the freezer for later
- Buy a slow cooker so you can just throw everything in there before work and come home to a healthy stew
- Focus on simple recipes which are quick to cook
- Etc, etc, etc…
But, ultimately, none of these tips are going to help you find time to eat healthy. The only way you are going to eat healthy is if you make it an obligation.
You don’t “find time” to go to work every day. You do it because you must.
You don’t “find time” to get dressed in the morning. You do it because you’d probably get arrested if you went outside naked.
You don’t find time to pay the bills. You know if you don’t that your electricity will get shut off.
The problem with finding time to eat healthy is that the consequences aren’t immediately evident. Sure, you might feel like crap right after eating fast food for lunch, but the real effects are going to gradually take their toll, deteriorating your health, adding to your waistline, and accumulate as a major crisis in your older age.
No one really cares about the future when they’ve got NOW to worry about. This is why it is so easy to dismiss eating healthy as something you will worry about later, when you “find time.”
So, how do you turn eating healthy into an obligation?
There is no set answer to this. But, I do know what works for me: I need to hold myself accountable. For example, I proudly tell the other moms in the park that I rarely let my child eat packaged food. If they were to see me giving her cookies from a box, I would feel really hypocritical and embarrassed. Now, the other moms probably don’t give a rat’s arse what I feed my kid. The point is that I care. By stating something publicly, I have to hold myself accountable to it.
This accountability is the same reason I don’t like the gradual approach to going vegan (or any other diet). Sure, it may be easier to gradually make the switch (such as cutting out one animal product per week, or doing Meatless Mondays, then Tuesdays…), but it also gives you a lot more wiggle room. You won’t feel so guilty if you “cheat,” meaning you probably won’t stick to the diet for the long term. By contrast, if you make a public declaration that you are “going vegan,” it will hold a lot more weight than trying to explain to your friends and family that “This week I am not eating pig products. Next week I won’t be eating dairy.”
At first, when you try to make something an obligation and hold yourself accountable, it is really hard. But, over time, it becomes a habit. Soon, you are doing it without even thinking. Not long after, you feel terrible if you don’t do that habit. For example, if I eat fast food for lunch, I get mad at myself for wasting money on junk food when I’ve got the makings of a good rice pilaf at home.
If you are struggling with making or breaking bag habits, I strongly suggest that you read this article about the science of habit formation at the NY Times. The article does a great job of breaking down the “habit loop” which is cue, routine, and reward. Big companies use the habit loop to get you hooked on their products, but you can easily apply this information to your own life for creating healthy habits.
How did I turn healthy eating into an obligation? It probably had something to do with the fact that, when I was 18, I lived in a house with 5 other vegans who were a lot older than me and a lot better at cooking (one was a professional cook). I felt pressured to cook things which would impress them. So I experimented with recipes. We also had weekly vegan potlucks, which came with the unspoken competition to see who could make the most popular dish at the potluck. And, when you are cooking for umpteen people, you don’t buy expensive, unhealthy vegan processed food. You learn how to make a mean burger from dirt-cheap lentils.
I’m lucky that I unintentionally made healthy eating an obligation when I was still really young. Now, it is second nature to me. But I still understand what a struggle it can be to do things which you know are good for you. For the past 5+ years, I’ve been trying to start exercising, always citing the fact that “I don’t have time” as an excuse. Recently, I was finally able to start exercising. How? No, I didn’t suddenly find more hours in the day. I just found a way to make it an obligation. I signed up for a small women-only gym near my house. I usually go to a wifi café to work (I work online), so I just started working at the gym’s café. After working 3 hours in the café, I just hop over to the gym. It feels like part of my work routine, and thus an obligation to fulfill.
After just a month of going to the gym, I can’t imagine not exercising. It has gone from being a painful task that I couldn’t “find time” for to one of the best parts of my day. So, as hard as it is to eat healthy, don’t worry. You’ll soon start to love the time spent in the kitchen, the smell of the foods cooking, exploring new recipes, and sitting down with your family for a meal which fills and fulfills them.