Tips to adapt your mindset when making healthy food choices in America's polarizing food culture.
Mariel Duffy
May 22, 2024

A few weeks ago, we asked our members, “What is more difficult for you to be consistent with: fitness or nutrition?” 100% of the responses we received were “nutrition” with follow-up reasoning that eating well means not eating the foods that taste best, requiring restrictive behaviors.

This mindset aligns with public opinion that it is not possible to eat good-tasting foods while pursuing weight loss, muscle gain, or other approaches to physical health - a mindset that is increasingly unique to the United States and is rooted in our cultural perceptions.

“[Americans] think of food in terms of vice and virtue,” Kellogg marketing professor Alexander Chernev explains.

This trend of ideological polarization in American culture demonstrates a social demand that pits individuals into selective categories, leaving most people scrambling to make decisions based on social patterns and attitudinal preferences. While we generally think of polarization as it relates to politics, studies have shown that the U.S. is increasingly polarized in nearly all aspects of life - including how we perceive food.

That polarization is exacerbated by messaging in commercials, ads, social media, and diet culture that constantly promotes that healthy food options are a less enjoyable premium. As a society, we have been tricked into believing that we must sacrifice the pleasure of eating something delicious - or eating in general - to eat something nutritious. 

Just as our members answered, Stanford psychologists Bradley P. Turnwald and Alia J. Crum identify in an article for Preventative Medicine that people cite tastiness as their leading concern when making food choices and that most people believe that the healthier a food is, the worse it tastes. And our food industry is not helping.

“By failing to associate healthy foods with proximal rewards of taste and satisfaction, health-focused labeling also relies on people to exert restriction and self-control to make healthy choices, a challenging and often unsuccessful strategy in the moment of food choice, particularly for individuals trying to control their weight,” write Turnwald and Crum.

At Graham Strength & Conditioning, we love teaching our nutrition clients that foods can be both healthy and delicious, you only need the right mindset and tools. Continue reading to learn how to appreciate healthy food without sacrificing the tastiness and flavors you love.

1. Dismiss the food narrative.

American culture has given food a bias, much of which is accomplished through strategic marketing. We continue this bias by labeling certain foods “healthy” and others not while trusting brands and misleading buzzwords like “high-protein” or “low-fat” without reading nutrition labels. The bottom line is that not all low-calorie foods are good for you, and not all delicious foods are bad for you. Ultimately, eating healthy relies on balancing, prioritizing, and valuing high-quality ingredients with minimum preservatives and added sugars. 

2. Take it to Flavor-Town.

Eating well doesn’t mean suffering at the hands of dry, bland chicken breast forever. Don’t be afraid to layer on seasoning, explore new flavors, and try new proteins and veggies. Homemade sauces, dressing, and marinades only require a blender and some basic ingredients that can be picked up at any local grocery store. Not super adventurous with flavors? Your taste buds are constantly changing; something you didn’t like last year might hit the spot if you try again.

3. Enticingly talk about your food.

Romanticize how you describe your food. Like anything else, how you talk about your food can help shift your mindset. There’s a difference between saying “We’re having chicken breast with broccoli and rice,” or “We’re having pan-seared garlic rosemary chicken with parmesan roasted broccoli, and thyme-seasoned brown rice.” Which would you rather eat? Talking like Gordon Ramsay takes practice and might seem silly at first, but shifting your mindset to elaborate flavors will make your meals so much more enjoyable.

4. Make it look pretty.

Eating utilizes your sense of taste, but engaging other senses can heighten your enjoyment of a healthy meal even more. Taking a few extra moments to plate your meal and add simple garnishes like a lemon wedge or capers can take your dinner from borning to insta-worthy. Your nutrition coaches love to see your exciting meals! When you make something that looks amazing snap a picture, post, and tag us so we can help inspire others!

5. Make it yourself.

Craving something sweet? Generally, homemade treats will have better quality ingredients than their store-bought counterparts (unless you’re adding beaver anal gland secretions and arsenic on your own). Opt for natural sweeteners to avoid heightened cravings and minimize blood sugar spikes. Honey, monk fruit, agave, and stevia are all plant-based sweeteners that are a healthier alternative to refined sugar. 

As nutrition coaches, we often see clients start down the road to success only to be tripped up when things become stagnant or repetitive. Embracing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle ultimately requires much more than simple discipline to complete the same habits daily. To truly build a lifestyle that will last, make it exciting, enjoyable, and rewarding. The bottom line is that you don’t have to choose between eating something delicious or nutritious.

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