Finding the motivation to eat for your health can feel like climbing a mountain. If you’re a climber, you understand the amount of work that goes into mountain climbing. If you’re not a climber, you may avoid it altogether and not have any desire to learn about it. But finding the motivation to eat in a way that promotes better health is for both climbers and non-climbers. With a little understanding of where motivation comes from and what drives it, you can make eating choices that support your health goals happen for yourself.
Why do we need motivation?
As I already said, we need motivation to move the needle on our health goals. Motivation keeps us moving forward. It keeps us growing and improving and making changes when circumstances dictate the need. Without motivation we would remain stuck or even sliding backwards in life.(1)
What exactly is motivation?
To define motivation, you have to understand a few things first. You have to know where you want to go, and you have to know what will best drive you to get there.
Set good goals
First off, in order to know where you want to go, you will want to set really good goals that align with your values. A really good goal will vary by person and situation and you can find more help with that here. Your values are the underlying guiding principles that tell you what is right and wrong in your world. For help figuring out your values, head over here. Aligning your goals with your values sets the stage for motivating yourself even when the world seems to be against you.
What drives you to eat for your health?
Second, you want to know what is going to be the driving force to get you to achieve your goals. So bear with me a minute while I try to use an analogy to help you with this part. You know how some dogs are food motivated? You know it if your dog is food motivated. He will do the trick, sit down, heel, or whatever as long as he thinks he’s going to get that tiny little kibble in your hand. It’s pretty spectacular actually. Well, we humans also have certain things that motivate us. And before you assume you’re only motivated by food, like your dog maybe is, keep reading. Let’s take a look at different kids oTo do this, you have to understand positive and negative rewards, internal versus external rewards, and a little about your personality tendency.
Positive or negative rewards
Positive and negative rewards are fairly simple to understand. A positive reward is one that feels good to you. It results in some sort of benefit. A negative reward on the other hand is one that you want to avoid, like a bad grade or added laps in the pool.
Another way to look at the positive and negative aspect of rewards is in the language you choose to use. “I have to” sounds like a whole lot more work than “I get to”. Using words that paint a picture of growth and opportunity help to keep your mindset on the right track.
Sometimes you will feel challenged to put a positive spin on something. In these circumstances, try simply lowering the achievement threshold of a challenging situation. The threshold is You can do this by any one or combination of the following: make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and/or make it satisfying.(2) For example, let’s look at the goal of eating more vegetables (because you know that when you do your body feels better plus the vitamins and minerals and antioxidants are good for your immune system). You can make this goal more attractive by stocking vegetables in your house. You can make this goal more attractive by finding recipes to try that boost the flavors of the vegetables. Making this goal easier might look like buying pre-cut veggies. And making the goal more satisfying
Internal versus External
Internal versus external rewards are also straightforward. External rewards occur outside of you. They are things, people, places, etc. An example might be a new dress when you finish a big project in your business or a favorite dessert when the house is cleaned. Internal rewards are feelings and thoughts. The pure joy and satisfaction of doing something is considered an internal reward.
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the book The Four Tendencies. In her book she delineates four different personality types and the tendencies of each type to be motivated by internal versus external expectations. Internal expectations are rules we set for ourselves while external expectations are rules set by the world around us (this could be a boss, a parent, etc.). The four tendencies she feels everyone falls into are Upholder, Obliger, Rebel, and Questioner. Upholders want to follow all the rules and will be motivated by both internal and external expectations. Obligers tend to follow through more on outer expectations while resisting inner expectations. Rebels as you can imagine tend to not be motivated by either internal or external expectations. And Questioners, as the name implies, will uphold inner expectations (because these make sense to them) and resist outer expectations from others. Want to know which personality tendency you align with? Take Gretchen’s quiz here.
Now that you have a deeper understanding of motivation and what kinds of motivation will work best for you to eat for your health, let’s explore my top ten list of rather unconventional ways to eat healthfully. This list is not going to tell you to eat more salad or count your fruit and vegetable servings each day. It’s not going to have you counting calories, fat grams, or carbs. Nope. Instead I want you to push all that lame advice aside and give these ideas a shot.
1. Eating when you’re hungry supports your health
While this sounds a bit silly, or obvious, it’s overlooked way too often. Especially if you’re caught up in the ways of diet culture and have been a chronic dieter for a long time. For example, intermittent fasting is a popular one right now. The unfortunate fallout from restricting calories when your body needs them is, among other things, a lowered metabolism and lowered energy that can both lead to giving up on your goals. Eating according to your physical hunger is in and of itself an internal motivator…when you pay attention to it. And paying attention to your hunger by feeding it is the best way to ensure you’re getting the amount of food your body needs to be healthy. It also will help you to try new foods and eat the foods you have around (remember those veggies I talked about stocking?).
2. Stop eating when you’re full
Again, possibly at the risk of sounding like I don’t know what I’m talking about here, but the same thing goes for stopping eating when you’re full. When you tune in to your body, hear and respond to what it’s telling you (ie. stop eating because we’ve got what we need), you build self-trust. Self-trust is a key ingredient in building confidence in your ability to care for yourself. My best tip here for getting started with this seemingly insurmountable task is to agree to just do it once. Just try it one time. See how it goes. Be sure to be mindful of how you feel physically, emotionally, and mentally. Ask yourself if this is an experience you would want to repeat.
3. Eat foods you actually enjoy eating
When’s the last time you ate something you hated? Or even something you just didn’t enjoy? How’d that go for you? Eating foods you enjoy multiplies your chances of eating them again and again. So what does this look like when it comes to making healthful choices? It looks like making a list of the foods you like, and then eating them.
Nutrition is not nutrition unless it’s actually eaten. It cannot be considered healthful eating if you buy a fridge full of all those nourishing foods that you don’t eat and then end up throwing away. If it helps you feel better, balance this tip out with tip #10 below. I guess what I’m saying here is that if the only vegetables you enjoy eating are corn, potatoes, and green beans, then make a point to include these into your regular eating habits.
You might be surprised that if you had previously been restrictive of say the corn and potatoes because (God forbid) they have carbohydrates, when you start allowing them back in, your mind may start to open up to other flavors and trying some new vegetables. On the same note, agreeing to try new and different vegetables can be approached the same way stopping when you’re full was approached…agreeing to try it once, or just one bite. And then mindfully deciding if that’s an experience you’d be open to again.
4. Stop judging
Contrary to popular belief, food is not a moral thing. And you are not subject to moral judgement based on the food you eat either. So stop judging yourself. And stop judging the food you’re eating. Calling food good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, sinful, clean, etc. are all ways of saying it’s right or wrong. Instead know this…Food is food. It is neither healthy or unhealthy in and of itself. It can provide nutrients to support health. Or it can be used in a way that doesn’t support health. But the food itself is neither one nor the other. All food provides nourishment.
You will notice I instead use the word healthy to describe your state of health. This actually is a factual statement rather than a judgmental one. If you’d like more information on my stance on this, check out Lindo Bacon’s website here. When you use terms that pass judgment on the foods and then you go about eating those foods, you internalize those judgements and self-identify as healthy or unhealthy, good or bad, sinful, or clean, etc. So let’s agree to stop the madness and just call food by it’s name.
5. Quiet the naysayers in your head
We all have voices in our heads. It really is normal. But when those voices say not so nice things to you about your food choices, what kind of person you are, and especially when they start “shoulding” all over you (that’s when you hear yourself saying, “I should have…”), some things need to change. Be alert to these voices and remind yourself of the reality of what it means to be healthy. A couple things to arm yourself with:
- Diets and weight loss attempts don’t work long term for 95+% of people.
- Weight cycling (that’s the up and down weight loss and gains you experience with different diets) is dangerous for your health and can put you at increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.
- Health is measured by things like blood sugars, blood lipid levels, blood pressure, how I feel, etc. and not by how much I weigh.
- The terms for normal weight, overweight, and obesity are based on the Body Mass Index (BMI) that was NEVER intended to be used to determine someone’s health status.
6. Slow down and be mindful
Perhaps I should have put this one first give the number of times I’ve mentioned being mindful up to now. Mindfulness can help you to slow down. Slowing down helps you to pay attention to what you’re doing and experiencing. What better way to tune in to your hunger and fullness signals than to pay closer attention to your body. So get rid of those meal time distractions, slow things down, take time to really taste the foods you’re eating.
7. Have some fun
When I was a kid, playing with our food was considered poor manners. Now that I’m an adult, I get to make the rules, and I’m giving you permission to make a rule that you can play with your food. Go ahead and get creative with your cooking methods (get out that Instantpot you’ve had hidden in the back of your pantry for over a year and start using it!), your dining locations (decorate up a storm or to suit the theme of the dish you’ve prepared), and your food presentation methods (don’t just slap the mashed potatoes on the plate, do a swirl of mashed potatoes around the outside of a beautifully stack of veggie stir fry). Watch those cooking shows and check out Youtube for ideas.
8. Try new things
Similar to having some fun and eating foods you enjoy, switching up your environment or the timing or the location of where you eat can make things feel new. And sometimes the refreshing feel of “new” can feel good. Good feelings make new habits stick better.
9. Say thank you
A little gratitude goes a long way to helping you refocus on what’s important and where your goals are coming from.
- Slowing down to say a prayer before you eat to offer thanks for the sustaining nature of food can both help you keep your mind in check with what matters as well as help you to be more mindful while you eat.
- Keep a journal of the healthful eating habits you’re trying to develop and write down what you are grateful for about them.
Be sure to include gratitude for all the things you are allowing in your life that society tried to teach you were not good for you, but that you know now when included in moderation and done mindfully are just fine, even really good for you.
What have you learned about yourself in this process?
Growth and new understanding of yourself is definitely something to be grateful for.
10. Notice how you feel
In intuitive eating, the tenth principle teaches you to focus on how food makes you feel. So as you are making new and different choices, try noticing how your body feels after you eat it. How does your body feel after a couple changes? How does your body feel after a longer time of sustained changes? Do you prefer how you feel now or how you felt before making these changes? Remember…no judgement here.
I promised you out of the box…
I promised you unconventional out-of-the-box approaches, and I think it’s fair to say that’s what you got. Nowhere in here do you see me telling you to track how many vegetables you eat each day and I never told you to eat more salads and less sugar. That’s not wisdom that promotes health. That’s just restrictive eating practices that don’t work. Instead, focusing more on your internal signals and things you enjoy, those things that come naturally to you (once you open yourself up to see and hear them) will guide you towards your natural state, which is a state of health. However unconventional that may seem to you.
And internal motivation is always hands down going to be the best incentive. But a little external push and pull can be helpful too. And recognition is a great source of external motivation. Finding an accountability partner or coach who can feed your ego a little bit when you accomplish your goals can go a long way to your success. If you’re needing more support, be sure to follow me on Instagram.