In 2001, Jim Collins published the book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. While his message is about organizational change, not food, Collins offers a relevant lesson. He says that being good at baseline is an impediment to becoming great. So I ask in this food blog, what’s the motivation to improve your diet when it’s already good? There isn’t much. Many well-informed and well-intentioned people aren’t eating great foods, because they’re eating good ones.
I’m a dietitian, but I’m also human. That means I’m flawed (gasp!), something we dietitians don’t like to admit. My diet is a work in progress. Over the past 15 years, motivated by health concerns and an ever expanding knowledge base, I’ve tried in many ways to improve my diet. Nearly three years ago, my diet was pretty good. I was eating plenty of fruits and veggies. Every meal or snack was well-balanced. I always had water with me. I cooked at home most of the time. I rarely ever drank my calories. And, while processed foods were not extinct in my household, the volume crossing my threshold was greatly reduced. It was a solid effort.
After reading an article about the chronic toxicity of sugar featuring Dr. Robert Lustig, I realized that while I had made many improvements, I had never tried to eliminate sugar, simply because why would I ever want to do that? Dessert was my vice. Dr. Lustig’s sugar argument was so compelling, though, that I felt obligated to try it to observe the effects. I told myself I would do it for a week. If I didn’t feel differently, I could revert to indulging in my favorite desserts without feeling guilty. To keep motivated, I reminded myself that I can do anything for a week, and that this was an experiment that would surely fail.
The challenge was especially difficult for the first two days. I was shocked at the grocery store when a free sample of toffee hit my tastebuds before I could even consciously consider whether to eat it. I wondered “How many times have I mindlessly done that before? How many times was it an entire slice of cake?”
Days 3 and 4 were spent focusing on changing habits and recognizing the unsuspecting places where sugar snuck up on me. Incidental pastry exposure at work was a big one. A dessert-indulging partner was another.
By Day 5, my focus shifted from consciously avoiding sugar to noticing how much better I felt without it. Symptoms I didn’t even realize I had were alleviated. A mental fog lifted. My energy levels stabilized. Gone were the sugar rushes, the subsequent crashes, and the daily 2pm slump. All food cravings disappeared—not just for sweets, but for macaroni and cheese, pad Thai and popcorn. I finally felt satiated. In just one week, I felt undeniably better. I recognize now how feeling well can be so motivating. Prior to giving up dessert, I had forgotten what baseline wellness felt like.
No one’s diet is perfect, and good eating habits may preclude great ones. Without constantly educating and willfully pushing ourselves to improve, we may not reach our optimal selves. I encourage you to make a change, big or small, for the better. Maybe it’s reducing how often you eat dessert, or paying closer attention to added sugars, or replacing processed foods with real ones. What matters most is that you continue to improve. You’ll feel better for it.
Leslie Sutton Lee is a Registered Dietitian and has a Master of Science in Nutrition from the University of Illinois.
Leslie serves as the Director of Education & Community Engagement for the IRN.