A great first step is to take notice when you are eating food versus food-like substances. We are surrounded by food imitators every day in our supermarkets and in fast “food” restaurants. Substances and chemicals are parading around as food! Real food is easy to recognize. It does not have any (or few) ingredients. Real food will spoil. Real food very rarely comes in a box. Real food cannot sit on a shelf unless it has preservatives and chemicals to keep it from spoiling. Bugs and bacteria want to eat real food, they will leave imitation food alone!
The next step you can take is to notice how long it takes you to chew the food. Processed foods can be easier to chew and swallow, which does not give the brain time to release hormones that tell your body you are full. In fact, processed foods in fast food chains may be designed this way to make you eat more. It takes longer to eat an apple than a cheeseburger from a fast food chain doesn’t it? Takes more chewing. So pay attention to how many chews it takes you and increase your chews!
Take a good look at your pantry and fridge. How much junk food is parading as “health food” through sexy labeling or slogans? What percentage of fresh, whole foods are in the fridge versus boxed and bagged foods in the pantry? Do you use cans and boxes of food items to supplement the whole foods you make/cook or are the cans and boxes the majority of your diet with very little whole food items?
Take notice of patterns to your eating habits. So, for example, are you using food or food-like substances as a reward for having a bad day? Being around a certain group of friends or family? Do you eat certain foods at a certain time of day? Are you overeating at certain times of the day? Week? Month? Take note of your patterns, not out of judgement, but to identify areas of opportunity for change.
Find good habits to substitute for eating habits. So once you identify when you are likely to be triggered to a non-healthy eating pattern, have a substitute activity ready to go. Having a strategy in place can help you be more prepared and successful when the situation arises! Activities such as music, exercising outside, meditation, creative hobbies and spending time with friends or family increase the feel good hormones in our bodies and can help to counterbalance the hormones asking for food!
Another step towards reducing junk food is to put quality above quantity. Whole foods provide high quality nutrition. They give our bodies vitamins and nutrients that our cells need to be the best they can be. Large quantities of low quality foods might seem like a better deal but you pay for it later with weight gain, metabolic problems and poor health. So pay now for a better quality rather than pay later with your health!
Eat slowly and mindfully. This means that you should think about everything you put in your mouth and ask yourself if it furthers your life’s goals or not. The more you can engage your brain into thinking about your food, the better chances you have of making a healthier choice.
And be kind to yourself. This includes being honest and owning your decisions. Take a look at your choices without judgment and through a lens of curiosity to gain wisdom from the decision. And, of course, a nutrition coach can help you as you work through this process of reducing junk food and increasing whole foods!