I will just say it, I am a junk-food junkie. I love sugar! I basically love anything sweet...cookies, cake, pies, candy bars, cereal, waffles, pancakes -- get the idea. Ughh! So, it does take effort for me to stay away from my love of sugar.
Given our nation’s exploding obesity and diabetes rates, you very well could be too. The good news is that with a few tricks and a little hard work, together we can keep those sugar monkeys on our backs under control.
Why we’re hooked on garbage...It’s safe to say that junk-food addiction is a very real thing. The first place to look for proof is the ever-mounting pile of scientific evidence, including a study out of Sweden showing that the hormone ghrelin, which activates the brain’s reward system and increases appetite, reacts similarly to sugar and alcohol.
Then there are the increasingly decadent foods we have 24-hour access to. In his book, The End of Overeating, Dr. David Kessler theorizes that manufacturers have, over the years, engineered the balance of fat, sugar, and salt in junk food to the point of making it irresistible. He refers to our gluttonous response to this crackified food as “conditioned hypereating.”
Most of this current thinking revolves around physiological factors, such as the fact our brains are hardwired to seek out highly caloric foods as a “feast or famine” instinct left over from caveman days. Unfortunately, human beings are slightly more complex than our primitive ancestors. By adulthood, most of us are a hodgepodge of neuroses and psychoses for whom a Twinkie has become a security blanket, so this urge to splurge will never completely vanish. Sure, you can retrain your body to crave healthy food, but your psyche may never stop seeking validation, Hostess style.
How to keep that addiction under control...Luckily, a well-trained body goes a long way toward helping a slightly off-kilter mind. For example, if you eat clean for a period of time and then go back to trying to be a junk food junkie, it would make you physically sick because your digestive system loses its ability to handle the toxic effects of sugar, not to mention the preservatives and additives. Once you have developed your healthy habit, you will be able to walk away from the cake or limit yourself to one or two bites — but it will take training.
It will not be easy but your health is worth it. If you’re going to break a sugar habit, it’s going to take time, patience, and willpower.
Here are six tips to help you start...1. Clean all the junk food out of your home.
Think of the stereotypical image of the woman getting dumped by her boyfriend and climbing into bed with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. If that tub wasn’t in the freezer to begin with, odds are that our protagonist would have instead settled for a soak in the tub.
There’s also “unconscious eating” to worry about — when you just grab a bag of fried carbs while you’re sitting in front of the tube and stuff your face for no reason. If you don’t have access to the junk, the only bag you’ll be able to grab will be filled with baby carrots. If someone brings some junk over for a dinner party, enjoy it with them and dump the rest when they leave.
2. Eat 80% clean.
Relax with that other 20%. Just because your kitchen cupboard no longer looks like a movie theater concession stand doesn’t mean you can’t live it up sometimes. If most of your diet is super tight, you’re doing great, so cut yourself some slack. When you make a big push to clean up your diet, allow yourself a Friday Cookie Day. Eat like a saint 6 days a week, but every Friday allow yourself a giant chocolate chip cookie and a latte. Knowing that you have a Cookie Day to look forward to will make all the celery on the other days much more palatable.
3. Make a comforting ritual out of eating healthy.
The fact that Cookie Day is a ritual will be quite helpful. Unhealthy eating is often ritualistic — something comfortable and constant that you can depend on. Not only can you have a Cookie Day — a conscious, controlled, weekly moment of indulgence — but you can replace unhealthy rituals with healthy ones.
For example, I used to have slices of colby cheese and crackers every day, but worked out like crazy to lose my belly bloat. All the working out in the world was not going to shrink my belly until I ditched the cheese and sugar habit. Now, cheese and sugar are an occasional treat. The 21-days-to-form-a-habit thing really does work. New habits can be formed if you put in the work. It will not be long, and you will be craving healthier eating because it just makes you feel good. You also know you are getting somewhere with your workouts an they are not being done in vain. You do not want your workouts to be like a hamster wheel. They go round and round but get nowhere. Eat and sweat it out with a purpose! :)
4. Carry healthy foods with you at all times.
If you carry a purse or a backpack, throw an apple or some raw nuts in there. In this Fast Food Nation, it’s pretty easy to find yourself in situations where you’re hungry and, shucks, you just have no choice but to buy a donut because that’s the only thing you have access to. You don’t have that excuse if there’s a snack in your pack. Here are a few to consider:
Fresh fruit (Apples, plums, pears, and stone fruit travel well!)
Dried fruit (It all travels well!)
A Shakeology packet
5. Discover new, yummy fruits and veggies.
There’s a lot of weird, healthy food out there. Sometimes, we avoid fresh produce because we’re either bored of the same old oranges or there’s a stigma associated with particular produce. Maybe your Dad just forced you to eat asparagus one too many times. If this is a problem for you, buy fruits and veggies you don’t recognize. If you don’t know how to prepare it, do an internet search for “(produce name) + recipe.” You might stumble on a new flavor that completely blows your mind.
6. Binge on healthy foods.
Every once in the while, something emotional triggers me, and I need to eat junk. Someday I might completely conquer this urge, but not yet. When I feel this happening, I hit the fridge and “pre-binge” on healthy foods, mainly raw veggies. If you fill up on healthy snacks, you will be much less inclined to pull out the sugar or chips.
You might be one of those lucky souls who just decided to walk away from the candy counter or dark chocolate and never looked back. Good for you. I’m not one of those people. Eating right is much easier now that I have the help of my challenge groups to keep me accountable, and I am supplied with plenty of healthy meal plans and recipes to go to. The rewards are innumerable, so why don’t you set down the pudding pop, grab a peach, and join me? If you are in need of accountability to get yourself started or to keep yourself on track, give me a shout. We have groups starting soon. You will get results!