The Daily Beet

04 Oct Why Is The Most Simple Diet So Hard?

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Everyday I get a lot of e-mails about how complicated eating plant-strong is. I think for most of us (at least who live in the US) our perspective on what constitutes complicated is really skewed.

I have a friend that did not grow up in this country. She grew up in some of the most extreme and awful living situations in a small village in Uganda for 38 years. When I described the way we encourage people to eat,  she responded:  “that’s it? that’s the diet? why would anyone have a hard time with that??”

She was so confused by how we, as Americans, in a country where food is abundant, and all of the food that we are supposed to eat is more than abundant could have a hard time.

“But you don’t have to grow any of it Natala”

I laughed, she was right, any of us can walk into any store and pick up what we need, most of it is practically made for us. We can purchase frozen vegetables/greens that we just heat up. We can make brown rice in 10 minutes (or less if we get the already cooked kind). We can buy low sodium beans, already made for us. We can pick up any produce we want in the produce section, and if we really wanted we can buy the stuff already chopped/cleaned and ready to eat. We can make oatmeal in 5 minutes. We can get a healthy meal almost anywhere (if we ask). I’ve lived in cities large and small (one where the town population was 400) and I’ve not once had any trouble, even when the only shopping option was a very small general store.

Very few of us will ever have to worry about starvation. Most of us will always be fortunate to have what we need, a drive away.

So when my friend said “But you don’t have to grow any of it”, it made me think. Why do people see this as complicated?

The truth is that it really couldn’t be more simple. Eat as many vegetables, fruit, beans, whole grains/starches as you want. Skip the rest, the rest is distraction. Walk into any grocery store in the United States, and you have everything you need. Sure, it might take a few minutes of day of planning, but as far as their being harder things to do? Planning a few meals is never that complicated, shopping shouldn’t be that complicated.

So why is it? Why is that what should be the most simple diet on earth seem so complicated?

We are inundated with messages that trigger our addictive nature. Calorie rich and processed food (C.R.A.P)* hits all of our pleasure traps. It becomes like a drug. I’ve been around addiction in my life. And I always had the hardest time understanding why someone could not just stop drinking alcohol or just stop doing drugs. The people in my life who were addicts would always tell me how hard it was, how it was so difficult NOT to partake in those behaviors.

I wanted to yell at them and say “JUST STOP!!” I mean that was it, wasn’t it? Why did they have to complicate things, why were they letting these substances destroy their lives. Why weren’t they just taking what seemed like simple steps to eliminate the problems. Just stop.

Of course, when I realized I was no different, it was a different story. But food is everywhere, I’d say. But it’s all so confusing, all of this different information, I’d say.

I have a friend who struggled with alcohol for a very long time, when I asked why it was so hard, she said “Every time I stop, someone tells me that a little alcohol is good for me, it starts the justification process”

Justification process! That was it. That is the cycle I was constantly in. I would be doing great for a while, and then I’d hear a “study” on why coffee was good, or why using olive oil was good or someone would tell me if I didn’t have bad food I’d probably go crazy or not get what I needed, or that if I was craving bad food it meant that I needed it.

Really? So if a smoker craves a cigarette, it is a sign they need it?

There are so many factors in how we make decisions, and often I think we allow these small lies to get the best of us.

“One won’t hurt”

“I eat better than my friends”

“I need more fat”

“I need more protein”

“I’m craving X, so I must need it”

“The information is so confusing”

“There are different studies everyday”

“I’m going to die anyway”

“I have no time”

“My living partner won’t eat this way”

“I’ll start tomorrow”

The thing is, I don’t believe that these are excuses as much as they are addiction enablers.

Most of us do it, because most of us are addicted to the most addictive substances on earth: salt, sugar and fat. Our brains are going to come up with as many reasons and road blocks as possible to make sure that you feed it what it wants. That little hit, that is what it is looking for.

And once you give it what it wants? It can take a while to pick yourself up again.

It’s why we’re so serious here about what we suggest in the way of food. Everyone on the Engine 2 team knows very well what everyone goes through, we’ve been there/are there. We know what it is like to get that one little thought that starts the justification process, and does not seem to go away. We know what it is like to justify that ONE thing, and then feel miserable about it. We know what it is like to seemingly get conflicting information and let that be the reason to justify consuming something that we just know isn’t the best choice.

It seems so difficult because we are surrounded by tons and tons of temptation. Not just temptation, we are surrounded by people/media telling us that it’s OK to consume it. When we finally get past our coffee addiction someone posts a study (not a well done one) that says coffee is good for us, of course we know better, but it starts this justification that is often hard to stop. As soon as we get 3 solid weeks under our belts, someone says “You’ve been doing SO well, you DESERVE to treat yourself!” and again, the justification pattern begins.

I don’t think any of us mean for this to happen. I don’t think we purposely make things harder than they should be. I think there is a lot going on, psychologically that puts road blocks in the way of us becoming healthy.

If things are too complicated (and by too complicated I mean that I think we actually sabotage ourselves in making ourselves believe things are complicated when they are in no way complicated) ? We have a good excuse to grab fast food or vegan junk food.

If we hear about a study on why wine is good? We (without researching the study) grab a glass of wine.

If we are going out to eat and a friend says “live a little”? We decide they are right, we aren’t living!

In the next few months, as we approach the holidays, I want you to join me in my goal. What is my goal? Thankfulness.

I want to be thankful for everything I DO have, everything I CAN have. I want to feel gratefully abundant when I walk into a store or go out to eat. After all, the very fact that I can WALK into a store, or that I am able to meet up with friends? I should be more than happy and thankful, just for that.

I’m reminded everyday that there are people in this world who would do anything for those 2 tremendous luxuries.

I don’t need more recipes, more gadgets, I don’t need more choices, I don’t need things to be simpler. What I want is to be grateful and thankful for all that I do have, and that there is an answer, a very, very simple answer that really, in the end is the most simple way to live.

Who is with me?



*C.R.A.P. (Calorie Rich and Processed) is a term Jeff Novick, MS, RD came up with.

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Natala Constantine
  • Leah
    Posted at 02:43h, 04 October

    Absolutely right on Natala! I really, really like this article you’ve written: thank you! It is 100% my experience as well that people try to over-complicate things, when there is so much abundance easily before us to choose from. I think the “but I eat better than my friends” excuse you listed is very common.

    I must say, you don’t even have to go to a poor country to feel grateful for all of the incredible abundance available at ANY US grocery store. I’ve been living abroad the last 2 years in wealthy countries, and when I go to the grocery store there is simply not the selection of “pre-made” things that there are in the US. That means cooking brown rice myself, that means cooking all of my beans from dry beans, that means if I wanted a vegan fat-free salad dressing or sauce, I have to make it myself. It means if I want salsa or enchilada sauce, I have to make it myself. And a lot of the time it means if I want whole wheat oil-free bread, I have to bake it myself.

    After adjusting to the do-it-yourself method necessitated by the countries I’ve been living in, I’ve realized even this is not hard. The next time I’m in any US grocery store I think it will be culture shock, just how easy it was and just how easy it can be! We need to count our blessings and look on the bright side at how much we have!!!

  • Judy
    Posted at 04:54h, 04 October

    This is exactly what I needed to hear. I have been complaining non stop about “lack of options” when truth is, there are plenty of options. You are right, it’s an addiction problem, not a difficulty problem. Thank you for writing this, I’m in!

  • Sarah
    Posted at 04:55h, 04 October

    Every time you write, I change the way I look at something. I spent a summer as a missionary in Mexico, and the people I lived with DID grow their own food and they were very grateful for all of it, they didn’t complain that they couldn’t go out and eat. Perspective is everything, and I needed some. Thank you

  • VeganSuperMom
    Posted at 04:56h, 04 October

    “But you don’t have to grow any of it Natala”

    That’s going to be my new mantra, lol.
    Love this post, love you!

  • Maggie
    Posted at 08:05h, 04 October


    • Guest
      Posted at 13:07h, 04 October

      Congratulations on the transformation and return to health in the “About the author” section above. Great article!

  • Duke
    Posted at 13:08h, 04 October

    I loved this article!

    Congratulations on the transformation and return to health in the “About the author” section above.

  • BiketheWalk
    Posted at 13:56h, 04 October

    You are absolutely brilliant, and you need a book. I can’t wait to hear you speak next year – do you know when the new events will be posted? I went to the LA event last year, and was very upset you were not there!

  • Deborah
    Posted at 14:28h, 04 October

    I am with you, Natala! Thank you for being such a great writer & advocate of health!

  • Jennifer Embry
    Posted at 15:19h, 04 October

    What I needed to hear today! I can say no to CRAP. and will today!

  • Happy Herbivore
    Posted at 15:26h, 04 October

    love love love. i always get batty about the word moderation… because it’s such a myth. its a lie we tell ourselves to feel better about an awful choice. you never hear me talking about moderation when I’m eatingcarrots!

  • elliegt
    Posted at 15:31h, 04 October

    Good grief – how insensitive you are to alcohol and drug addiction. And I don’t believe you get it because you think you have an addiction, too. Condescending has no place in this business and I think this entire posts reeks of it.

  • Jennifer P.
    Posted at 15:35h, 04 October

    I’m 21 years sober in November, as an alcoholic and food addict I related to this post so much, many people do not understand addiction, thank you for understanding and for being honest.

    • Lacey
      Posted at 15:54h, 04 October

      Me too Jennifer! Congrats on 21 years, I’m at year 4 myself. And now, battling food addiction as well. I am hoping with Engine 2 things can turn around.

      • Leah
        Posted at 02:18h, 05 October

        It is amazing what eating totally clean can do to turn a lot of things around! You can do it ladies! 🙂

  • mikecrosby
    Posted at 16:16h, 04 October

    Thought provoking. For me, even after hearing the message over 20 years ago, I still screw up–and often. But looking back, my diet is still better than 99.5%.

  • Cath_BumpBabyAndBeyond
    Posted at 17:51h, 04 October

    Love this – has reminded me to be grateful for the abundance of magnificent food we have here in Australia and not to over complicate things. It’s so easy to fall into the excuses mode, or the ‘but I need’ – I don’t need all that C.R.A.P. and neither does my family – we are loving our more simple life and feeling amazing for it, better able to enjoy every moment x

  • Dorbow
    Posted at 05:35h, 05 October

    I have read this just when I needed to..I needed to reinforce my thoughts. I have struggled with alcohol addiction in the past and understand enabling, but for some reason, never saw it with food. There are now studies being done showing the relationship of alcohol addiction to food addiction Its time for me to make this work for me. And I can.

  • Leslie
    Posted at 07:59h, 05 October

    great article!! well written and a good reminder…a little planning goes a long way!

  • Kitti McConnell
    Posted at 08:03h, 08 October

    It IS a simpler diet; I only need to visit about three aisles in the grocery store! Also, self-forgiveness is 100% essential if you find you’ve eaten some C.R.A.P. I say to myself, Oh, I didn’t realize I was under so much stress. Then I remember how I felt when I ate C.R.A.P. and just acknowledge those feelings. Maybe take a walk and work thru the emotions. Then I can pay attention to my real appetite again. 🙂

  • Ian
    Posted at 14:35h, 01 January

    People say that it must be limiting to be vegan!ya right,when 99% of the edible food available for humans on earth comes from the plant kingdom.Hint, Hint.

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