Yes, you can train your taste buds. I hacked myself into hyping up healthier food. You should too, it’s worth it.
Here’s some background; I’m a picky kid that loses attention if I don’t love something. Maybe you can relate?
This journey led me into writing a book about this topic and choosing a career around culinary nutrition. When I say Picky, I legitimately had my parents convinced that I had an allergic reaction to vegetables and my throat wouldn’t let me swallow them. A family doctor would disprove this shortly thereafter. That very same doctor would also plant a seed in my head that there was hope for me to grow and eventually appreciate nourishing food.
it’s pretty cool to see kids (and big kids) change their perspective on foods when they buy into the idea of it’s value. These kids were cheering for veggies and “health smoothies” after 30 minutes of having fun with the subject.
At a glance:
Finding a purpose and motive for making the positive change
Training your taste buds
Why it pays off to be less picky
Why it’s win-win
How to create excitement and momentum
How to bridge the gap of good intentions and long term fulfillment
Spoiler alert: It’s not about willpower and the perfect magic diet.
The big x-factor is eating food that you really love and getting the results that you desire a while feeling great… Compared to eating food that you tolerate. If the process isn’t fun yet, it can be. The food that you reach for to snack should be nourishing rather than simply providing instant-gratification.
The problem and the solution
We have good intentions but tolerating nutrient-dense foods or eating them short term doesn’t last. We must find a way to love this process. Will power and an outcome based goal aren’t enough.
Is it all in your head?
We don’t actually start our lives feeling picky about food. Rather, as we grow up, we condition ourselves in response to the “toxic food environment” in which we live, to think that french fries taste much better than carrot sticks, says Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D. Fortunately, a new study done at the Tufts University School of Medicine suggests that it may, in fact, be possible to train our brains to reverse the process. That is, we may be able to trick ourselves into preferring healthy low-calorie foods over unhealthy higher-calorie foods!
Another University of London study in 2008 concluded that aversion to certain foods can be 78 percent inherited, while the foods you experience as a child can leave positive and negative associations that are hard to shake. Some experts refer to this as the Parent effect. Your parents are both plain-food types, and I was raised in a world without extravagant sauces or seasoning? Now your environment may have conditioned your current habits with eating, it’s up to you to shape the rest of your journey.
Take a look at these 5 Steps to loving food that loves you back.
Step 1: Cultivate excitement
First off, I grew up in a household that conditioned me to be overly optimistic and let’s say hopeful. This optimistic upbringing helps but can certainly be conditioned by cultivating the supporting environment. That cool doctor that I mentioned earlier, helped me believe that the food which I chose to eat would help me grow and develop. The seed was planted of meaning and value associated with protein and vegetables. I was still addicted to desserts!
Through adolescence, I thought, “How cool would it be to eat food that tasted like desserts while also helped me perform well and look good?! AND babes dig food and guys that can cook!”
Now, this might sound a little shallow but in my twenties, that seemed to cover my hierarchy of needs.
In reality today, I still want to perform, feel and look good. Cooking empowers me to stay health-self-sufficient and helps bring people together in social settings. From a relationship perspective, it adds a whole new element to connecting and engaging senses. Binge watching show after show is low-hanging fruit and gets old. Recreating dishes that we experienced through travels helps us relive that experience.
How to do this: Become overly optimistic to create excitement and start the momentum.
Trying something new will provide gratification and a dopamine response that creates a feeling of a reward. Eating colorful vegetables strengthens my immune system and promotes a feeling of pride and energy.
Rationalize the upside to crowding in the positive and take pride in what you are eating. When I eat this I feel like….
My ideal self eats foods that are an investment to my health now & later.
Cue when you are deciding on what to eat: “I am the type of person that eats nourishing foods”
Compare your daily habits or food choices to other people that have the results that you desire. Ex. Pick 3-4 Health role models and habit check for reference and validation. True validation comes from yourself, testing or trial & error.
Testing includes a feedback look of how the foods make you feel. Take note and even journal about how a food makes you feel.
Step 2: Get enough information but not too much to drown in.
Realize that there is a lot of information out there and “healthy” is subjective. When trying new foods or diets, you have to approach them with context. How do these claims relate to you and your lifestyle?
Round out your understanding by taking in content from relevant opinions mixed with what works for you. When I was a teenager into my early 20’s, I wanted to eat food that would make me look good. I wanted to have abs because abs attract girls and make you a better athlete. (In reality, abs get you more attention from dudes and don’t mean much in athletic performance.
We get sold on the functions of food but have to keep in mind what is best for our internal health. At the end of the day, all experts in nutrition can agree that building a diet around whole foods that are minimally processed will keep the body in a healthy environment.
How to do this: Be skeptical in a curious way
Backstop all of your exciting ideas. Our perception is our reality. Remember that for every study, an opinion can be cherry picked and made out to be a hero or villain. This doesn’t need to overwhelm and confuse you. In fact, it should motivate you to journal and determine what works best for you as an individual.
Avoid overwhelm by testing new foods one at a time. Test it and give it a chance. Testing involves awareness of how this food makes you feel. You can always go back to what you were doing before.
Build your meals around 10 foods that promote a healthy response for you as an individual.
Currently, I build most of my meals around: Responsibly sourced proteins, berries, avocado, broccoli, coconut, leafy greens, nourishing herbs, and complex carbohydrates that I tolerate well. These foods make up 80% of what I eat and life happens for the rest.
Step 3: Experiment with research & development
Be curious and realize that new could be your new favorite
Many former vegetable and fish haters now love the two food groups after having either prepared in an alternative delicious way. For example, steam Brussels sprouts smell and taste repulsive, tolerable at best… chop up, add salt and oil and they are getting better. Add something savory with texture and a sauce and now you can’t get enough.
It’s easy to blame genetics and your family but it’s the lifestyle factors and choices that truly express your DNA. It makes sense to protect your energy and increase your odds of growing healthy.
My first few times eating salmon left the impression of “fishy” food. The smell was off-putting. I happened to try an alternative method and started to like salmon. That evolved into me loving it and now I have a larger menu to choose from.
Trial and error, error, and some more error. Keep going and failing forward. Cooking and eating new foods can be like surfing or skiing. A lot of people love it but it can feel like something impossible that you can not grasp at first. Many people feel that way about all new things. That same thing that was miserable is now exhilarating.
Just like eating seasonal vegetables or surfing, it is of no interest if you haven’t experienced it the right way… let me explain “
“You won’t know if you don’t go bro”
Get out there and taste some waves and it will change your life…
How to do this: Eat at a healthier or conscious restaurant, take a picture of the menu or ask about the preparation for your favorite dishes. Pick up similar ingredients and try the recipes out.
Pick up some cookbooks or google low-carb or paleo versions of your favorite recipes.
Training wheels: If this part seems overwhelming, start by ordering food or picking up something from a salad bar and then bringing it home to modify by adding additional ingredients and combinations.
The motive here is finding simple meals that you take pride in making and enjoy. Make it for someone else to learn it deeper. We learn best through understanding and teaching it to someone else.
Create a feedback loop and get data by trying new things. This turns into a feedback loop.
Step 4: Training your taste buds
Studies have shown that our taste buds and palates will mature and adapt when exposed to diverse foods. Taste buds can be more lenient when you double down on the reasons that you should eat a specific food.
When I eat local seasonal vegetables I am teaching my body to adapt to the environment and creating a more resilient immune system.
Give it a chance. What if it becomes your new favorite food? You may have to try a new food 10-15 times before you begin to really like it, especially if your taste has been desensitized by the intense sweets and overly salted and processed foods that are the standard in the American diet, Like developing any new skill, it takes practice to begin to enjoy new foods.
“Be picky about what the food can do for you. Be picky about ingredients with a purpose”
I crave how this soup makes me feel; with a garlic creamy base and flavor that I desire. This recipe example includes mixing cashews for a creaminess that provides good fat, fiber amino acids, and protein with turmeric, broccoli, lemon, celery, carrots, broth, and sea salt all which have numerous health benefits that include digestion, immune system and more. (see soup here)
Take the idea of a waffle or pancake, most will categorize this as fancy or junk food. A pancake for me was a gateway to using protein powder and oats for a flour alternative to traditional pancake mix. This eventually led to gluten-free and low carb options like coconut and other seed or nut flours.
How to do this: Use flavor insurance
Use foods, sauces, and seasonings that you crave to eat more of the nourishing food that we know we should be eating.
Take the approach of upgrading your recipes. Use the flavor or feeling that you want to build a meal around. Crowd in the flavors that you love to get the feeling that you desire. As these new flavors grow on you, the old unhealthy stuff becomes less enticing. Start small and you’ll begin to appreciate it. See more here in my post about flavor insurance.
Step 5: Fuel the momentum
Find ways to keep it fun. Shift your perspective of obligation or skepticism to wonder and challenge. Create a bias for improvement and growth.
Find the excitement in new foods that offer benefits. Connect with the process and outcome of the new food. Build a desire to rationalize why you should be sneaking these foods in. You have a powerful weapon with seasonings and sauces.
You have to experience it. We need to get positive results in order to continue with any endeavor. You must believe that IT will get better. Feelings follow actions, Take actions of adding in more nutrient dense foods and the desire will come. Chop, blend, or sneak the vegetables in.
When you make something that gives you a positive experience that makes you feel better and positive habits help rewire your taste buds and behaviors. Change your behavior and can shift you into long term success. That’s science.
How to do this: Take responsibility for your environment – get more people involved to enforce positive habits.
Positive peer pressure. Eat with friends and family around a table — studies show that eating alone reinforces fussy eaters’ worst habits.
Your eating shouldn’t cause conflict and friction with your current lifestyles with friends and family. Remember to be curious over judgemental.
“You will not be perfect, face it.” Nobody is and that’s okay.
Coming full circle, I’m still that picky kid that has tricked myself into liking foods that make me healthier and hope to be that pretty cool person that inspires other kids AND Big Kids.
Keep the wonder and excitement of the little kid that lives inside you. This is supposed to be fun.
Learning how to cook has been one of the most beneficial skills that I have conditioned for my health, career, happiness, and relationships. My background in cooking makes travel more interesting from a culinary and culture perspective plus less stressful when eating out. Plus I can say, it is truly rewarding to plant seeds to the youth around us to raise standards and realize that health and cooking should be fun. And cool.
That’s enough on talking you into cooking for now. I think you get it… Hopefully, you drink the kool-aid and learn how to make your own kool-aid that’s cooler and has less sugar.