Cravings for unhealthy food can feel excruciating at times – especially the mental battle of what we call will power to resist versus just giving in. It can feel like an unpleasant game of chess; with each move – to “be good” or reverting to unhealthy behaviors -feeling strategic with a long list of pros and cons associated with each.
Our minds are powerful tools at rationalizing any behavior choice we truly want to make. In the end, we often succumb to the craving and end up eating the unhealthy foods we know do not nurture and fuel our body with good energy. Our brain has fought hard to justify eating the bad food and then we are left feeling mentally weak and perhaps even guilty and upset.
On the other hand, our minds are equally or more powerful at choosing change when we really desire it. We simply have to set the intention and take action to change. Shifting out of old unhealthy habits and replacing them with new healthful habits is in reality straightforward. It’s just a matter of doing it; setting the objective and sticking with it, especially through the beginning and most challenging phase.
Whenever we choose change or are forced into change, the first few days are the hardest. During those first few days, staying focused on your intention – your why – and being okay with the discomfort is a sure way to get through it. After all, 2-3 days of discomfort is not much sacrifice for years of stellar health. And then, after those first few days, the new patterns begin to become habits, the discomfort dissipates, and the feel-good portion of the cycle is a proud, marvelous place to thrive.
Here are 9 easy steps to ditch the junk food and develop healthy habits that last!
1. Do your research and find what healthy foods you like.
If you don’t already have a stock pile of healthy recipes, spend some time looking up recipes online. There are masses of free easy simple healthy recipes available. Only each of us knows what kinds of tastes we crave and it’s our responsibility to find what healthy whole real foods pleasure our taste buds. There are endless healthy options, we just have to get creative and enjoy the exploration.
2. Add a few new healthy foods – that taste good to you – into your daily routine.
Don’t focus on eliminating what shouldn’t be there. Focus instead on what deliciously healthy foods you can add in. When we consistently make healthy recipes and snacks we like, the junk will more naturally fall away. Our bodies will give us many signs it likes the yummy healthy food better.
Also, junk food is filled with empty calories, so we can end up eating too many calories and still not feel satisfied and full. This often leads to more cravings and more unhealthy choices. Eating whole foods nourishes our body with more nutrient density, which helps us feel full and satiated. When our body registers that it’s satisfied from healthy food, we won’t reach for junk food out of lack or feel like we have to resist with will power.
3. Begin to prepare food when hunger level is about a 2 or 3 on a scale of 1-10.
Even when we have the best intentions of making healthy choices, when we get so hungry that we need to eat right away, we go into survival mode and the chance of reaching for whatever is closest and convenient, and unfortunately often unhealthy, becomes too likely because the body needs a quick energy boost. Thoughtfully preparing meals and snacks in advance allows for mindful eating and the option for deliberate choices.
4. Get rid of all unhealthy choices at home and keep them out.
Cravings will inevitably come up and if we have junk food right at our finger tips, it will be too hard to resist making bad choices. However, if when the cravings occur, there is no unhealthy food to easily grab, we will automatically make better choices. For example, a bowl of fruit or a stevia-sweetened seltzer water will satisfy a sweet craving. And if that is the only option readily available, we will grow accustom to it. But, if we have to choose between healthy and unhealthy options in the moment of craving, the will power to resist the unhealthy option will be tough. Keep the junk food out of the home to keep the healthy decision effortless.
5. Find healthy alternatives that completely satisfy.
Most of us do not make changes unless they are preferable and/or pleasurable, so it’s critical to find satisfaction and pleasure in the food we eat. For example, it’s common to try whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta in an effort to eat healthier. But, most people find whole wheat pasta unappealing, especially when their taste buds are expecting white pasta. Brown rice pasta or quinoa pasta tastes more like white pasta than whole wheat does and is better substitute. Or, instead of cutting out sugar and desperately missing the sweet taste, you can replace any refined sugar with stevia or honey or you can eat more fruit.
The bottom line is that dietary plans based on restriction and deprivation are not sustainable or motivating. There are hundreds of alternatives out there, so if one option isn’t appealing, move on to trying the next one. It’s also important to give alternatives a fair chance because they may not impress us on the first try, but quickly they can become our new norm and our body will feel better and function better as a result. It’s important to know what healthy foods satisfy all of our taste buds so we can live a healthy lifestyle full of pleasure and contentment.
6. Pay attention to eating balanced meals including protein rich foods and healthy fats.
When we eat mostly carbohydrates, even if the foods are healthy, our bodies will crave more nutrients and sustenance. Healthy sources of protein and fat will fuel the body and make the satisfaction and fullness last much longer. Take a few moments to google what healthy sources of protein and fat align with your dietary preferences. Additionally, always eat as many vegetables in a variety of colors. They provide a wide array of vitamins, minerals, and give us an energy boost without a heavy feeling.
7. Do your best to commit to at least 21 days of healthy, whole foods eating.
Studies show it takes a minimum of 21 days to develop a new habit. When committing to a new habit and lifestyle, embracing it fully instead of waffling back and forth makes it significantly easier for the brain and body to release the old habits and acclimate to a new lifestyle. Your taste buds will change quickly and effectively when they are not confused by switching between real foods and fake foods. Set your intention, and ride the wave of momentum behind your intention to really give the new lifestyle a fair chance to take hold.
8. Know your specific trigger foods and have a plan of action for those triggered moments.
We all have certain go to foods or tastes that are comforting and enjoyable when things get stressful or certain emotions come up. Review your patterns and identify your crutch or trigger foods when in a calm peaceful state. Then come up with alternative foods or, better yet, other soothing solutions you can practice the next time you are triggered. Some good options are listening to music, writing/journaling, sewing, creating art, going for a walk, or laying down for a nap. However, it’s important for each of us to come up with our own alternatives so that they are things that feel pleasant, stimulating, and happy for us.
9. Spend time with others who eat healthy.
We are all influenced by the people we spend the most time with. So spending more time with people who already live the healthy lifestyle we desire will promote that intention within us. On the flip side, spending time with people who eat unhealthy – especially while eating – triggers us intensely and we have to exert more will power to stay true to our intention. No need to challenge yourself like that! When we spend time with people who already have the habits we are trying to develop, the change happens more smoothly and effortlessly.
Now is the time to implement!
Set intention, enjoy the exploration, and find pleasure in the changes you make!