Humans are creatures of habit. Whether we admit it or not, we like (and crave) routine.
Think about kids.
Even though most kids love the idea of eating ice cream before dinner, staying up until midnight and wearing their Spiderman costume every day, as adults, we all know that kids thrive upon routine—not lack of it.
When they eat their broccoli before Rocky Road, get 8 to 10 hours of sleep, and wear clean clothes every day, they grow, they have energy, they aren’t crabby and they don’t smell.
Likewise, we adults thrive upon routine too.
However, sometimes our routines—especially our routine of eating the same thing every day—may not help us (fully) thrive…
I call this a “food rut.”
GETTING STUCK IN A FOOD RUT
Personally, I’ve always been a creature of habit and routine—especially with food.
As a kid, I typically requested the same thing every day for breakfast and lunch, until, one day, all of a sudden, I’d grow tired of it, then move on to the next thing.
For six months straight, it was Pop-Tarts every morning and Lunchables every day in my lunchbox. Then I was all about Rice Krispies with bananas, and turkey and cheese sandwiches for lunch. Then cinnamon raisin bagels, and Hot Pockets. Then Frosted Mini Wheats, and back to turkey and cheese.
Every. Single. Day.
Fast forward to adulthood, and a similar story played out.
Egg whites and oatmeal every day for breakfast, and a big salad every day for lunch. Then, several months later, I’d move on to green smoothies and turkey patties. Then paleo pancakes and chicken salad.
Day in. And day out.
Food ruts are comfortable. They are easy. We don’t have to think twice about what we cook and just eat and go. Food ruts are also often emotionally intertwined. They give us a sense of stability, enjoyment make us feel good. We typically eat things we like—foods that taste good. (Hence, when eat the same foods that bring us pleasure, we fire up serotonin in our heads).
However, as convenient, comforting and yummy as eating the same foods every day may be, when we are stuck in a food run, we also often miss out on some essential key nutrients.
Are you in a food rut—eating the same thing every day
If so, you may be eating, but starving, at the same time…not getting all the nutrients you need.
Here are 3 Things That Happen When You Eat the Same Thing Everyday, and my go-to simple tips for getting unstuck from a food rut…
3 THINGS THAT HAPPEN WHEN YOU EAT THE SAME THINGS EVERY DAY
You Get Bloating, Constipation, Gas & Leaky Gut
A low-variety diet is associated with an unhealthier gut. A study (Smits et al, 2017 ) out of Stanford Medical School compared the gut health of industrialized Westerners to the gut health of a hunter-gatherer population in Tanzania, finding that hunter-gatherers have healthier guts overall.
They consume a more diverse diet of real whole foods. The study was also the first to show that the gut health of the Hadza population varies seasonally, corresponding to their seasonally fluctuating dietary intake.
Researchers concluded that sweeping changes in the average person’s diet over the past 10,000 years are a key driver in the loss of bacteria health and diversity in the average modern gut.
For more than 15-million years, prior to having whatever we want (readily available), humans’ diets varied with the seasons, weather and climate.
Enter: Modern day.
Many of these changes in our own gut “microbiome” and overall health involve eating the same foods we love, year round—be it Frosted Mini-Wheats, broccoli or chicken. Anything we want. Whenever we want.
Without the gut bacteria diversity of our ancestral hunter-gatherers, we are more susceptible to gut “dysfunction” (No wonder 3 in 4 Americans have some sort of gut imbalance)!
Limited consumption of dietary fiber in our modern diets also contributes to an unhealthy gut microbiome. Compared to hunter-gatherers who averaged 100 grams of (real) fiber per day, we consume an average of 15 grams of dietary fiber (with many Americans’ eating fake, , indigestible, processed fiber from enriched breads and grains).
Why this matters if we’re talking about food variety?
Considering approximately only 1 in 10 of us eats the minimum amount of veggies per day, it’s easy to guess that eating the same thing every day is also keeping you from eating enough real fiber (and a variety of foods with lots of nutrient-rich color)—veggies—in your diet.
In addition, we often crave foods we are intolerant to. Our gut bugs LOVE foods that rot in our gut or that our body can’t digest, since this rotting food feeds unhealthy gut bacteria and can create more unhealthy gut bacteria to house our guts.
Have you ever eaten a food and not felt well afterwards—only to want it again the next day?
Even though you may get bloated, constipated, a headache or fatigued every day after eating a sandwich or that sweet potato for lunch, you’re in semi-denial. It couldn’t be the food. And you want it again…the next day.
When we eat the same thing every day, we become more at risk for developing food intolerances since, over time, our body can develop an “immune response” to the same proteins from these foods it gets every day.
Repetitive exposure to the same limited foods creates a gut irritating response similar to what happens if you were to scratch the surface of a scab every day. Eventually, what would happen? That scab would open.
By only supplying our body with a limited amount of foods, it can only handle so much of the same proteins in that food to break down. Over time, this can lead to an irritated gut lining that becomes leaky—leaking food proteins into the bloodstream and creating an immune response or foreign-particle attack.
Hello food sensitivity! (and more gut bacteria). Hello bloating, constipation, gas and leaky gut.
You Get Brittle Nails & Hair, Low Energy, a Wonky Metabolism, Headaches & Beyond: Nutrient Deficiencies
There’s no question that eating the same thing every day shorts you on getting a variety of nutrients.
Hence, nutrient-deficiencies are common.
There is a difference in eating healthfully, versus KNOWING about healthy foods.
You can be a health nut, gym rat or green-smoothie queen, but if you only limit your diet to the same foods you can count on one—maybe two—hands, there are a slew of nutrients you are not getting as well.
Beyond “macro” counting (proteins, fats and carbs), a piece of chicken is different from a grass-fed steak.
Sure they are both meats. Sure they both contain protein (amino acids). And sure they both help your body build and maintain lean body mass, and satiate you at meal time.
But their nutrient profiles are completely different.
Grass-fed steak is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid that reduce inflammation, as well as high in iron; whereas chicken is rich in B-Vitamins (necessary for practically every metabolic reaction in the body) as well as skin, hair and nail enlivening collagen protein.
Another example: A serving of broccoli is different than a serving of spinach leafy greens.
Both are veggies, yes. Both are green. But broccoli boasts wayyyyyy more of the immune-boosting Vitamin C (70% of daily intake in 1/2 cup serving), Folate (cell growth and division) and Vitamin K1 (essential for blood clotting and bone health); whereas spinach has tons of calcium, fiber and is generally easier to digest.
In short: When you eat the same thing every day, you miss out on the real multi-vitamins found in nature—food.
Body “imbalances” are a sign that something is missing.
You Get Disconnected from Food & Your Body
Lastly, eating the same thing every day takes the “intuitive” out of eating.
Instead of listening to your body—and going with your gut (your firstborn language), you listen to your head, your tastebuds, convenience or your emotions.
You get out of touch with your body’s natural cues that tell you: “I want broccoli!” “I want steak!” “I am not hungry!” “I need some chocolate!” “I am low on energy.” And on and on.
“Auto-pilot” mode—like any routine—becomes second nature.
Simply put, you forget what it’s like to truly listen to your body. In the name of your body.
GETTING UNSTUCK FROM A FOOD RUT
Want to get unstuck from your food rut? Here are some quick and easy tips to incorporate as you shift to more variety in your diet.
- Rotate It. Instead of the same one breakfast or lunch daily, pick two to three rotating breakfasts, lunches and/or dinners you like and can choose from.
- Keep it Fixed. If change is hard, consider keeping two meals “fixed”—the same thing you typically eat” for breakfast and lunch, for instance, and try something new for dinner (even if dinner is similar: protein, veggies and a healthy fat). In that one meal, vary up your protein (such as a turkey patty, chicken or salmon), your veggies (like spinach, chard, collards or asparagus), and healthy fats (some days cooking with ghee, others coconut oil or avocado oil; adding avocado or coconut butter to your plate; etc.).
- Slight Edge Small Changes. Vary small components up of a meal. Perhaps you have chicken most meals with a sweet potato and green beans. Try a Japanese sweet potato instead of a regular sweet potato. Asparagus instead of green beans. Or chicken thighs instead of chicken breast.
- One Thing at a Time. If the thought of varying things up overwhelms you, think: Keep it simple. Pick just one new thing to try this week—a new recipe, a new veggie or protein, etc. just one thing. How do routines become routines? With practice and exposure.
- Shop Seasonally. Go to the produce section in the store without a list—and shop seasonally. Notice what’s on sale, what’s the freshest and Google search what’s in season. Buy that this week. On this note, also check out local farmer’s markets for seasonal varieties.
- Invite Your Friends. There is strength in numbers. Invite em over to cook or eat together; Integrate something new into your diet in the experience and special occasion.
- Have Someone Else Cook. Order out from Trifecta Nutrition, Pete’s Paleo or another meal devilry service for a week’s worth of lunches or dinners to let someone else do the cooking. Or, if you live in a city with local healthy meal delivery, chef or restaurants, consider varying it up by trying it outside your usual norm packed lunch or dinner.
- Have No Fear. Change can be scare. Reframe change by thinking: “How can I nourish my body and fuel my body at this meal?” You nourish through a widely-varied diet.
- Time Out. Challenge yourself to take a time out from the trigger foods that don’t make you feel well most of the time. Swap those foods out with other options for yourself and see how you feel—even if only for a week.
- Change Something Else. Instead of focusing so much on changing up your food variety, consider changing the fixed habits you have around eating the same thing every day. For instance, if you are in the routine of eating the same breakfast on the go every morning in your car, perhaps you make a new habit of eating mindfully when you arrive to work at your desk. Or, if you’re in the habit of eating the same thing for dinner every night, instead of waiting until you’re really hungry to decide what to eat (and defaulting to the same thing every time), consider meal prepping a few easy options to grab when you get home late.