Shifting to a plant-based diet is not an easy task. News flash: our culture isn’t exactly set up to help you out. The temptation, convenience, and pressure to return to your old eating habits are lurking around every corner.
I’ve certainly struggled with this, and there is one thing, above all else, that helps me turn a plant-based diet into habit: PLAN AHEAD.
It sounds obvious, but it’s the most important piece of advice we could ever give you. Why is planning so important? First, we must understand that the act of feeding ourselves is really just a bunch of habits strung together. Habits are routines we do deliberately at first that eventually turn into routines we carry out on auto-pilot.
Some eating habits we learned from our upbringing (meat at the center of the plate? christmas cookie traditions?), some we learned in college (pizza at 2am?), some were taught to us by corporate marketers (better eat your Wheaties! milk does the body good!), and some we mindlessly acquired over the years (nightly bowl of ice cream?).
The automatic nature of our habits can make us feel hopeless against them, but even our most ingrained habits can be changed – we just need the right tools to do so.
…just as a piece of land has to be prepared beforehand if it is to nourish the seed, so the mind of the pupil has to be prepared in its habits if it is to enjoy and dislike the right things.
Each of our habits follows a simple formula. First, there is a cue – a trigger that tells your brain it’s time to go into autopilot and which habit to follow. Then, there’s the routine or behavior (like eating). Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain determine whether this cue + routine combination is worth remembering for the future.
Charles Duhigg, author of Power of Habit, recommends a simple framework for re-engineering our habits.
Identify the Routine
This is the behavior we want to change. e.g. that afternoon Mountain Dew at the office
Experiment with Rewards
It’s our cravings that drive our routines, and most cravings are hard to detect. After the routine happens, write down your thoughts and feelings. Experiment by switching out certain details of the routine with the end goal of figuring out which craving is in the driver’s seat. e.g. try a coffee instead of Mountain Dew. If you’re still craving, it’s not the caffeine… try again.
Isolate the Cue
What triggers the behavior? This is hard work – we’re always processing tons of information as our behaviors unfold. Which piece is the cue amid the noise? Is it stress? Time of day? Location? Emotional state? What were you doing just before the routine took place?
Have a Plan
Once we understand the different components of our habits, we need to begin making choices for ourselves again. By planning ahead, we can re-engineer our habits by having the right routines ready when the cue shows up. Just as our brains make it so easy for us to carry out a bad habit, the goal with planning is to put good routines on autopilot. It’s hard work at first – Kayli likes to say it feels like climbing a mountain. But eventually that uphill climb will turn into a plateau.
Want some help with your meal planning? Let us take that off your hands this month with our 28-Day Plant-Based Meal Plan.