163) From Shitty-ness to Well-ness, Part 16: The Final Step to Rational Self-analysis; Sub-section 4 — Eating Better

It is worth briefly considering another very common struggle that people have — “eating healthy”.  I’m going to let that stand in for whatever general health, weight, body-stuff, nutrition, etc., that involves food in some way.  Because your specific goal?  That’s up to you.  But “eating healthy” is pretty generic.  


In order to eat healthy, you need to know what that entails, first of all, in terms of meals.  Then, how to cook healthy meals.  Which in turn, means you need to know how to shop for the healthy ingredients that are part of those meals.  And that might even go to something as simple as knowing where, in the grocery store, are the ingredients you’re going to need. 

You can be motivated to the moon, to get healthy or whatever, but when it comes to being hungry in the grocery store, and your culinary skills peaked shortly after high school, then it’s going to be a hell of a lot to figure out in the moment, and…..you ain’t gonna do it.  You’re going to do what you did last week, and the week before, etc.  Because that’s just what we do; we take the easy route the vast majority of the time; we’re creatures of habit and we like the comfort and familiarity of “the default”. 

This is just how we humans are. Might as well accept it, and instead of flogging yourself with “Personal Responsibility!!!” to “get better” at living, you can learn to make better habits “just happen”, almost all by themselves.  

What this means, is that you can catapult yourself forward, if you think of the importance of, say, looking up recipes before you go shopping, and making a list of the ingredients you need for those recipes.  That one thing?  Life-changer, right there.  Sure, it’s still a Thing To Do.  And maybe it’s a big one.  But it’s essentially just one — Look Up Recipes And Make A List (ok fine, two; but they fit together as one overall process….that’s my story and I’m sticking to it….)

And THEN, think of what happens the next time dinnertime rolls around.  Sure, it’s possible you’ll still default to old habits, and eat cereal out of the frying pan.  (Been there….)  

BUT there’s also A CHANCE that, as you’re getting a hankering for some grub in your belly, you remember, “I have a fucking RECIPE!”  And right there, in your cupboard and fridge, are some cool-ass spices and fresh veggies or a big slab of meat or whatever turns your crank.  And look at you!  You slay!  With your kitchen knives and your hot pans and everything!  You go!  You have taken STEPS!!

(Once you hit that momentum, it really does become easy to keep it going.  But NOT if you have had to force yourself through sheer willpower to Do The Thing.  If you made it easy in the first place, then the natural awesomeness of being a competent human being and getting shit done, WILL propel you forward.  Doing The Thing is STILL easy, because you set it up that way, by NOT relying on your willpower.  

Intrinsic Motivational Scaffolding:  Greasing the Path

But we can get even more clever than this recipe-based approach.  I mean sure, if recipes work for you, then go nuts.  But for me, that was always too much of a step.  I hate recipes, to be honest with you.  

Instead, I like heuristics.  Or “rules of thumb” (although I don’t like that term).  So, let’s go with heuristics.  

For example, with cooking, there are a few basic heuristics, that can REVOLUTIONIZE your cooking.  Without becoming an expert, without memorizing a bunch of stuff, without following a bunch of recipes, you can still turn yourself from a frozen-pizza and “okay” stir fries type of cook, to “Hey! This is really good!” type of cook.  

Again, it’s a matter of breaking it down.  

For example, with cooking, here are a few heuristics I personally believe in:

  • 1) make a flavour base:  e.g., garlic, onions, oil (also ginger, celery…) — this is like, 1 thing, and once you have this, it is HUGE.  For practically everything you cook, you start with a flavour base, and your cooking has levelled up.
  • 2) learn spice ratios — e.g., if you make tacos or chili or Indian food, etc., stop buying packages of pre-made spice mixes.  Buy the spices, look up a recipe or a few, look at the RATIOS of spices, and then do it by eye.  Don’t measure anything. Just play. Sprinkle, use your eyes, your fingers, your taste buds, and VERY QUICKLY, like within 2 or 3 meals for sure, you will know those spices and will be able to use them intuitively and never again need a recipe for that entire cuisine.  There’s very little to learn.  Just the BASIC RATIOS for different cuisines.  And you can improvise from there. And, it’s fun.
  • 3) undercook vegetables — Don’t cook them completely.  It preserves their nutrient value, and it allows them to finish cooking anyway, a bit, in the minutes between finishing cooking, and eating.  Cooking vegetables to “fully cooked” makes them mushier and less tasty.   Now, how undercooked?  I don’t know — guess!  Try 75% or something, and see if you like it.  Then next time, adjust it.  It’ll take like, 2-3 meals, and you’ll know what you like, and be able to do it for the meals you can cook.
  • 4) learn salt with your fingers – When in doubt, salt early.  Use a small salt bowl and your fingers so you can FEEL how much salt goes in your food.  Use about 2/3 as much as you think you’ll need.  Then taste as it cooks, and add until the flavour “pops”.  You’ll know when that is because you’ll taste the difference.  If you over-shoot, well, it’ll be a little salty this time; and you’ll know next time when that taste-point is approaching because, believe me, your taste buds will remember….  Never measure it.  Trust your fingers, and very very quickly, you will know salt and never need a recipe again to tell you how much salt to use.  🙂

(NOTE: this doesn’t work for baking….that is its own beast)

And sure, that’s a bit to learn.  But literally?  This is like, one cooking session worth of learning.  And it leapfrogs your cooking from “college level” to “damn, I can make good food, and do it with NO STRESS.”  

That took me about 25 years to learn.  And honestly, you can teach someone this in a single meal, and they’ll be able to cook better, forever.  

In Conclusion:

I think it’s easy to see by now, how ridiculous the whole “personal responsibility” mantra is.  Again, not that it has ZERO value.  It does have a tiny bit.  And that bit is common sense that EVERYBODY ALREADY KNOWS.  It is a disgrace of modern media that ‘certain people’ buy themselves credibility for their other, far more ridiculous and harmful views, by piggybacking on Basic Psychology 101.  

And oh my good god is it ever misleading, and counterproductive, to pretend that one’s own willpower-based, inner-strength, self-discipline blahblahblah, is the star of the show, when in reality it’s more like a supporting actor that shows up here and there.  

Instead of, once again trying to “motivate yourself,” take a few minutes with a piece of paper and a pen, and break your behavioural goals down into specific steps.  And then, set up the CONTEXT to make those steps easy.  Spend the FEW MINUTES it takes to do this, and you can save yourself literally years of mediocre progress, or downright failure. 

Before long, you’ll have new habits. 

And I’m willing to bet that when you look back and see how far you’ve come, you’ll think to yourself “Huh….that wasn’t even all that hard.”

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