In prior installments of this series I’ve focused on setting up an ecovore-friendly kitchen and pantry, and developing the kitchen skills you need in order to bring more healthy foods into your diet. Now let’s talk about trimming the fat: with all these healthy new food habits, it’s time to ditch those sad old SAD ones!
Plan Ahead, Leave Junk Behind
The very best tool for getting rid of fast-food, junky-food habits is simple planning. Hungry people make (often poor) impulse decisions. Don’t leave the house in the morning without thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch and snacks — and dinner too, while you’re at it!
Keep plenty of healthy snacks in your desk or car or bag — nuts, seeds, dried fruit, oranges, apples, pears, bananas, crackers, and trail mixes work well. Pack lunch the night before — you can even make several at once, for the week, then add dressings or condiments to salads and sandwiches when you’re ready to eat.
Plan your grocery list so that you can cook two or three times a week, and have a ready stash of leftovers for quick dinners (or dinner ingredients) — beans, pasta, potatoes, stews, soups, chili, and roasted veggies are easy to make ahead for quick dinners, if you just plan a little and prep them beforehand. Don’t wait to think about dinner until you’re driving home late from work with a grumbly belly!
If the McJunk starts calling, eat before you decide — say, “Well, if I still want it after I eat a banana and some almonds, then maybe.” Spoiler alert: you probably won’t!
Especially at first, it’s really important not to put yourself in the position of being hungry with no healthy options. After you’ve been on a ‘real food’ diet for a while, your tastes change — it’ll be the banana and almonds you crave, not the junk! At that point, it requires no effort of will to ‘stick to the plan.’ The healthy food is what you’ll reach for FIRST, rather than as an alternative!
But any change takes initial effort, and habit is a powerful force. Until you’re not hungry for the junk anymore, make sure you give yourself a chance to kick it: don’t let hunger sneak up on you. Plan ahead, and make sure that whenever you get hungry there’s a healthy choice in your hand (or bag or desk or pocket)! And eat that healthy thing, before deciding to eat McJunk.
To the greatest degree possible, try to give yourself about a month of palate-cleansing avoidance of high fructose corn syrup, fast food, candy bars, saturated fat, highly processed food, and similar SAD things. View it as a research experiment, rather than self denial: these foods warp your taste buds, and condition you to expect extremes in terms of sugar, salt, and fat. You’ll be amazed how delicious real foods taste, once you’ve re-calibrated your taste buds back to normal! Seriously: just try it!
It may seem off-topic, but isn’t: regular physical exercise is the other big power tool, in your healthy-diet-transition toolbox.
Working out is highly recommended, in its own right. Regular physical activity confers enormous benefits on metabolism, mood, heart health, cancer prevention, blood pressure, blood sugar, energy level, and cognition. Every system in your body works better with regular exercise, and (along with a healthy plant-based diet!) it’s one of the best ways to reduce your risk for chronic disease, debility, and early death.
But it gets even better! If you’re in the process of making a major lifestyle change with your food choices, exercise brings yet another benefit: enhanced willpower! If you’ve just spent time playing racquetball, or on the treadmill, or walking with your dog, you won’t want to undo all that goodness with junk food. You’ll notice how good you feel — and how much easier it is to run that extra lap (or whatever!), when you eat well — and you won’t want to go back to feeling like a slug. That’s a powerful motivator to ditch the junk food!
Even beyond these considerations, physical activity has actually been shown to enhance willpower in general. Anytime you’re trying to make a change of habit — any habit — exercise is likely to help!
If you have health concerns, or haven’t worked out in a while, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. If you’ve been living a sedentary lifestyle, it might help to talk to personal trainer about ideas for getting started. But exercise doesn’t have to be fancy or formal: walk, cycle, do leg lifts, jump rope, swim, hike… look for opportunities to move! Most research suggests huge dividends from about 30 minutes of exercise, 4-5 times weekly, at an intensity level sufficient to produce a mild sweat.
If you’re trying to shift towards a healthy diet without incorporating physical activity… well, you’re doing it the hard way!