Mental models are our explanations about how we perceive things to be or how we think some things work in the real world. These mental models are affected by our beliefs, experiences, religion, background and so on. Mental models also consist of our generalizations and assumptions about certain issues and it determines our behavior and how we act.
For example, if you grew up thinking that you must eat a cereal for breakfast, then you are likely to consume cereals for breakfast on most mornings. Another example is that, from your experience and associations, you have come to perceive eating healthy as an expensive venture, you would practice healthy eating only when you can afford to.
Some of our mental models are great while others make us fall into poor health. I have identified 5 models that need to be addressed to remove some confusion about healthy eating and living:
- ‘One Size fits all’ for healthy eating and living
As we are all different with unique physiques, nutritional needs and different work and school activities and schedules; we all require different things to help us be healthy. For example, it could be suicidal for someone who has a history of heart diseases and is obese to hit the basketball field with slim tall guys matching them strength for strength. What you require to lose some weight and keep fit may not be vigorous exercises and expensive salads. It might require just modifying what you eat along with portion sizes and taking long walks depending on the advice of your nutritionist or dietitian.
If you get nutritional advice, always see if it works for you. If it does not, work to adapt the advice for your maximum benefit.
- Eating and living healthy means eating salads, using olive oil etc.
For some people, eating healthy means that you should eat salads and Greek yoghurt every day, use olive oil to cook and hit the gym or go jogging every day. Some people also eat unhealthy foods then add some salad to it with the assumption that the salad makes it all healthy. If these are the way to judge being healthy, many people would not pass the test.
Yes, salads are nutritious and healthy (but not all); olive oil is good for the heart, and jogging every day will boost your mental capacity and keep you healthy. However, we have different food groups (fruits and vegetables, whole grains, tubers, legumes, fleshy foods, sea foods etc.) that can provide you with the daily nutrients that your body needs to keep healthy.
Look at your own meals and device how to make your regular meals healthier. For example, if you eat rice and stew with fish for lunch, you can consider adding some vegetable soup or beans to increase fibre, protein, and other important nutrients they contain. If you cook Garri and Egusi soup for lunch, make sure to reduce the amount of palm oil used in preparing the Egusi (Egusi is about 50% oil) and add vegetables to the soup to boost the nutrient profile.
- Eating and living healthy means adding something new to your diet or lifestyle
When it comes to eating, and living healthy, try not to get bogged down by the thinking that you must always provide a new solution to an aspect of your life that needs a change. Sometimes, it requires just removing obstacles in your path.
For example, switching off the television early at night might help to increase the amount of sleep you get that night. Sleep is very important to your mental and physical health. It also affects your nutrition.
Think about other obstacles on your path to maximum health and remove them.
- Eating and living healthy means getting rid of all the ‘pleasures’ of life
If you throw all your chocolates, cakes, ice cream and other things that you love to eat and do down the toilet for the sake of healthy eating and living, you might find yourself miserable at some point. Except the things that you are giving up are detrimental to your health, it is okay to indulge occasionally.
You can even opt for the healthier versions. For example, pick more dark chocolates as opposed to white or milk chocolates, reduce portion sizes of your favorite ice cream instead of dumping it totally.
Of course, if you have a habit of smoking, smoking even once a while is not good according to research; just dump it.
- Eating and living healthy is expensive
This is contentious but I decided to bring it up. In a country where everything works and there is an enabling environment, eating and living healthy could be affordable. In countries where these environments are not created, you can still adapt and achieve good health.
e.g. If you desire to take long walks in the morning but your streets are not safe, you can create some indoor-exercise regimen for yourself to be fit.
Also, if your work schedule does not permit you to do exercises in the morning, try evenings. If evenings do not work for you also, try incorporating more physical activity into your work day. E.g. take the stairs instead of the lift, walk to offices to pass messages instead of using the intercom, stretch your body and take a short walk after every hour of sitting.
Other examples include picking healthier options of the foods available in your office canteen, ensuring that you have at least one fruit a day, increasing the amounts of legumes (beans and lentils) and vegetables that you eat in a week, using water as your preferred way to hydrate.
In a nutshell
To do anything better, you first need to change the way you think. It all begins in the mind. If you have a bad preconceived idea about what healthy eating should be, you need to think about it and adjust your mindset. The mind is a powerful tool and its critical to eating and living better. Think about these things and try to eat and live better.