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Why It’s Worth It to Keep Trying Foods You Don’t Like

by | Sep 13, 2016

Sardine on a stick in Kyoto

When I was kid (you know, before my relationship with food was completely warped by my mother’s dieting habit), I was actually pretty normal.

I loved ice cream, grilled cheese sandwiches, and the strawberries I picked with my grandma.

I shamelessly copied the food preferences of my fellow classmates, and rejected things like onions and tuna fish for fear of looking uncool.

And of course, there were many foods I absolutely hated. At the top of the list were cilantro, lima beans, spinach and brussels sprouts. But I was also not a fan of eggplant, cucumber, beets, egg yolks, most fish and rye bread. The list goes on.

With time I grew out of my childhood tastes. Little by little I learned that spinach can be delicious in a fresh salad as opposed to the frozen gray-green slop my parents served, and that cilantro tastes completely different when used in Vietnamese cooking compared to the Mexican food I was raised on.

That’s normal, and you probably have similar stories of foods you’ve come to love as your palate has matured.

But I’ve noticed something funny about people over the age of 25. From what I can tell many––if not most––of the adults I speak to about their food preferences have reverted to the stubbornness of childhood when it comes to certain foods.

The argument goes something like, “I’ve tried olives a zillion times. I just don’t like them, so what’s the point of trying again?”

This line of reasoning makes intuitive sense. Life is short, so you shouldn’t waste your time on things that don’t make you happy. YOLO.

But you can probably guess that I don’t feel this way. Ant rants aside, my opinion is based on a somewhat unique set of experiences that, if you haven’t been through them yourself, you might not fully appreciate.

I’ve witnessed firsthand how much more enjoyable life is when you choose to like more things, and for this reason I feel compelled to share my story and hope to convince you to try again.

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The Exercise Rule That Will Keep You Fit Forever

by | Sep 6, 2016
Photo by lintmachine

Photo by lintmachine

Have you ever started a new habit with a lot of enthusiasm and built up some great momentum? Maybe you were able to workout three times a week for an entire month. It feels great, and every day you stick with it you’re strengthened to continue tomorrow.

But then something happens. You have to go away to a wedding on a long weekend, or your kids both get sick at the same time and force you to drop everything to care for them.

Your momentum is broken, and when things settle down you find yourself ordering takeout and skipping your workout to watch the latest episode of The Voice (it’s cool, I won’t tell anyone).

Momentum can be both a blessing and a curse. When it’s on your side you feel amazing and it becomes a catalyst for even more positive behaviors. When it’s against you it somehow saps the motivation out of almost everything you do. I call this lazy couch momentum.

To avoid succumbing to the lazy couch momentum I follow one simple rule:

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My Favorite Books on Habit and Behavior Change

by | Jul 29, 2016

brain bookshelf

One of the greatest illusions I’ve had to overcome in my life is that I’m a rational human being. Sure I try to be, and sometimes I might succeed. But the more I’ve studied neuroscience and psychology, the more evidence I’ve seen that a ridiculously small number of human behaviors are a direct result of rational, critical thought.

Instead the vast majority of our behavior is directed by habits and heuristics, mental short cuts that prevent us from having to think too much, a perilously slow process that takes far too much effort to be useful in most everyday situations.

Of course that isn’t the way it seems to us as we go through our day. The conscious part of our brain is tremendously skilled at making meaning and reasons for everything we do and encounter, even if it isn’t privy to all the facts.

We come up with stories that jive with our beliefs and what we’ve experienced in the past. Everything that happens to us we view through this lens. To quote Anais Nin, “We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.”

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Checking Nutrition Facts Does More Harm Than Good

by | Jun 1, 2016
Photo by Enokson

Photo by Enokson

Most people don’t believe me when I say I remember learning about mitosis in 5th grade, but I do.

And I’m not talking about the kind of remembering where I vaguely recollect learning *of* it. I was fascinated by the stages of prophase, metaphase, anaphase and telephase, and couldn’t believe that our chromosomes did such a beautiful dance every time a cell would divide.

I mean, have you seen it?

In high school, biology was always my favorite subject. I even took an extra class in physiology just for funsies.

And after dicking around as an English major for a few years at Berkeley I ultimately graduated with a degree in molecular and cell biology. (I won’t tell you the kinds of grades I got in my MCB classes, because you’d hate me.)

That’s how much I love biology.

As you can imagine, this kind of devotion to the microscopic secrets of the human body added plenty of fuel to the fire of my dieting obsession.

Calories, carbs and fat counts? Couldn’t get enough of ’em. I had piles of notebooks filled with each sinful and virtuous molecule I consumed, and took an embarrassing number of nutritional supplements.

Had the Quantified Self movement been around back then, I would have been a disciple. (Soooooo glad it wasn’t).

I know the temptation to count and quantify what you eat. It feels good.

It feels like control. But it isn’t.

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How to Start a Habit You Don’t Enjoy

by | May 25, 2016
Photo by douglemoine

Photo by douglemoine

Something amazing happened this morning.

Instead of hopping out of bed, having breakfast, then plunging myself headlong into work, I casually sipped my coffee, ate my muesli, then wandered into my office for a 30 minute meditation session before even turning on my computer.

What’s amazing isn’t that I’ve done this once, but that I’ve been doing it for months.

Even more amazing is that I love it.

Meditation is not an easy habit to develop, because the reward is not immediate or obvious.

Sure I know what the reward is in theory. Meditation is supposed to help me focus better, reduce stress and increase contentment.

It should help me be more creative and do better work. It should help me build deeper relationships with the people I love. It should be easier for me to appreciate the important things.

Only it’s incredibly frustrating to try to focus on my breath when new thoughts distract me every few seconds. It takes time out of my day I could really use for other important things. And during most of the session I feel like a total failure.

I want all those benefits, but gawd I’d rather watch paint dry.

Of course meditation isn’t the only habit that fits in the “I know I should, but this really doesn’t feel very rewarding” category.

I felt the exact same way about flossing my teeth, which I now do daily (even on vacation!).

For you maybe it’s getting enough exercise or eating vegetables that still feels more like a chore than a rewarding habit.

So how can you get over the hump?

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What Does Eating in ‘Moderation’ Actually Mean?

by | May 10, 2016
Photo by broterham

Photo by broterham

Moderation might be the most overused word in the entire nutrition universe.

I know, I know. You like the idea of not restricting yourself and being able to eat anything you want so long as it’s not “too much.”

It sounds healthy. Balanced. Sane.

You might have even mistaken some of my willpower bashing here at Summer Tomato as an endorsement of moderation. Something like, “Use a little willpower, but not too much.”

It sounds lovely. If only it actually helped you achieve your goals.

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Skipping the Dressing Makes Your Salad Less Healthy (and Less Tasty)

by | Apr 26, 2016

Photo by juanpablo.santosrodriguez

When I was a teenager salad dressing was the enemy.

Sure I knew salads were the best choice for losing weight. But dressing, that evil temptress, tried her best to undo all the pain and suffering I just knew was necessary to get the body I wanted.

I remember once getting into an argument with my dad (the poor man had endured years of my refusing even a drop of fat on anything I ate).

He had made a substantial (and delicious) Cobb salad for dinner, and was offering me a bottle of low-fat ranch dressing to top it off.

I self-righteously retorted, “Salad dressing defeats the purpose of eating a salad.”

“No it doesn’t,” he explained with exasperation. “The purpose of eating a salad is to get your vegetables and leafy greens in for the day.”

Clearly we were speaking different languages.

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Is One of These Limiting Beliefs Preventing You From Getting Healthy?

by | Apr 12, 2016
Photo by donnierayjones

Photo by donnierayjones

One of my hobbies is asking every random person I talk to how they feel about their health. The stories I hear range from super sad to downright hilarious. Yet despite the diversity, a few common themes emerge.

Most people agree that health is important. And while answers may vary about what actually constitutes “good health,” few people believe they have achieved it or are satisfied with where they are at.

Where things really get interesting though is when I ask someone what stops them from being healthier. Surprisingly few people give hedonistic reasons such as “I love junk food too much” or “I just don’t want to cut back on TV,” although I do hear it occasionally.

Instead, the majority of people I speak with give one of two answers:

  1. Family responsibilities take up too much time and energy
  2. Work (or school) responsibilities take up too much time and energy

Sometimes they say both.

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Why Trying to Make a “Lifestyle” Change Is a Recipe For Failure

by | Apr 5, 2016
Photo by Darnosaur

Photo by Darnosaur

When I first made the decision to stop dieting and focus on eating for health and happiness, more changed than just my body. As I explored new foods and new habits I met an entirely new group of people.

Instead of talking about calories, carbs and cardio, these people spoke about balance, acceptance and a “healthy lifestyle.”

I hated it.

I agreed with these principles in theory––of course you should balance your nutrition; of course you shouldn’t think worse of yourself because of the shape of your body; of course health is a lifestyle and not a short-term goal––but there were no concrete instructions for actually making change.

It felt like a fluffy echo chamber, all philosophy and no action. Maybe there’d be some laughable tips like “eat everything in moderation” (what does that even mean?) or “get plenty of sleep” (pffffff, I wish).

But I wanted to know how to stop when I’d eaten enough and how to pry my eyes away from my computer screen so I could actually get ready for bed.

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5 Things I Always Do When I Want to Lose Weight

by | Mar 29, 2016
Photo by angeloangelo

Photo by angeloangelo

I recently returned from an eight day vacation in Dubai. I never thought I would visit the Middle East in my life, so I was determined to make the most of this unique opportunity.

Every meal we had was lavish and indulgent. Every day we drank champagne and cocktails.

And although I logged over 100,000 steps during the week and made great use of the gym at our hotel, there was no denying that my clothes were uncomfortably tight when I got home.

Naturally, I regret nothing. I don’t mind how I look when I’m a few pounds heavier (most people wouldn’t notice), but I wanted to get back to my normal weight because I am more comfortable there. My clothes fit better and I feel more myself.

I’ve written before that I don’t believe in cleanses, detoxes or diets. Instead I rely on my Home Court Habits to get me back into my comfort zone.

But over the years I’ve noticed that there are certain habits I focus on more intently when I’m actively trying to lose weight.

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