This is something that I hear people say as the reason for them not being able to stick to a healthy meal plan.

I grew up in Texas, but I was born in New Orleans. The number one thing I hear people say they love about New Orleans is the food. When I go home, I am surrounded by heavy foods that don’t work well with my body. I have to (and am successful at) consciously make the effort to stick to foods that my body tolerates. Whenever I have pushed the limit, I got sick and moody.

These same efforts apply to when I am on trips. I actively seek out the kinds of foods that work well for my body. Even if I am at a restaurant that doesn’t first appear like it has anything I could eat, I study the menu and create my own meal from what is listed, so I usually figure out something that will work. If I don’t, then I either won’t go, or make a request to the group I’m with that we go somewhere else.

I am usually unapologetic about my food choices. I am non-sympathetic to men and women of older generations who may find me refusing their unhealthy prepared meals as disrespectful or hurtful because I know their reaction coming from a place of ignorance and trained response. I don’t care if I am seen as a picky eater because I know why I am picky. And although I still feel like a weird outcast sometimes, what I notice is that I am simultaneously inspiring and teaching others.

Prior to where I live now, the only grocery store around me was Kroger, which has healthy food in it, as does every substantial size grocery store. There were restaurants around, but I rarely went to them. Not because they were a load of junk, but I just didn’t go very often. Why? Because at that time, I was used to preparing my meals at home. I used the grocery store in the best possible way – to buy food from scratch and prepare it myself.

When I was in medical school, there were some restaurants around but I was often so busy going from class to class and trying to save money, that I was regularly proactive about preparing my meals early in the morning prior to leaving the house for the day. Every once in a while, I’d prepare my meals at night before bed. I was extremely busy as a medical student but I had this habit because I saw it as a priority.

I am now in close proximity a Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Kroger, and a few healthy restaurants. I am also in close proximity to a LOT of junk food. I haven’t always chosen the healthier options, because temptation is, well, temptation. But I always push myself to get back on the right track. I just realized I find myself eating out more, and not making the effort to prepare my own meals like I was before. I realize I am losing money this way. So why am I doing this? In this case, convenience has persuaded me to shift my priorities and thus weaken my discipline in this particular area of my life. It is important to realize and acknowledge when convenience has overstepped its boundaries in your life, especially when there’s a significant catch to it – in this case, a compromise to your health. Thus, this morning, I took the time to start re-implementing the habit I had in school, which was to prepare my own food, and if I become extra hungry in the middle of the day, I’d seek out and pay extra for healthy snacks.

I have not lived in a food desert, but I suggest taking the extra 25-30 minutes to get to the store or farmer’s market to purchase healthy food for the week. Or research and sign up for a co-op or another program that could deliver fresh healthy items to your home or close by. In the city where I live, it can easily take 20 minutes to get anywhere anyway. Also, consider what other events you are willing to travel that far for: a sports game, a lounge, dancing, concert, etc. What about these makes them higher priorities for you?

As you can see, it doesn’t matter what neighborhood you live or work in. It’s about knowing what you want, and actively making it happen. Takes some work and persistence, but eventually you’ll find it.