by a Former Junk Food Junkie

Here are a few simple steps to help you change your eating habits for the better.

1) For the first two days, you don’t have to change anything. Simply read the ingredients on everything that you’re eating, and look up anything that you don’t know. Record all of it so that you have an idea of what, where, and how much you eat each day.
Now that you know what is in what you’re eating, is there anything that you never plan to eat again? I thought so! Once I found out that artificial dyes are petroleum-based (yes, the stuff you put in your car) a lot of fakely-colored food became pretty unappealing!

2) Decide to eat only food. I try to avoid eating anything that contains petroleum, has a similar molecular structure to plastic, and anything intended to kill things. You might find other ingredients that you would prefer not to eat.

One thing you will notice while reading labels is that not everything that says “diet” is healthy. It may not have a lot of calories, but it might also contain chemicals like certain artificial sweeteners that cause cancer!

3) Find out how many calories you should be eating each day. You can talk to your doctor and/or a dietician about this, and there are many online tools that help you calculate it based on your age, gender, activity level, goal weight, etc. There are also tools that help you calculate how many calories and nutrients are in the foods that you are eating.

If you find times that you are more vulnerable to poor choices than others, prepare for them. Bring a healthy snack so you’re not stuck with vending machine choices during that afternoon slump. (You can get little cooler bags that are no bigger than a purse.)  Put a fruit bowl on the counter and baby carrots on the door of the fridge so you’re prepared for late-night munchies.  Make up a tempting pitcher of iced green tea or real fruit water and hide (or better yet, get rid of) the soda.  Bring something delicious and healthy to the next potluck.  Use a trick that your grandmother knew to make moist, healthier hamburgers – mix some uncooked oatmeal into lean ground beef along with some onions and spices if you want to make tender, tempting burgers for the cookout.   

4)  Make healthy eating an enjoyable time rather than a time of deprivation. Perhaps you can go to a farmers’ market to pick out tonight’s dinner or to an orchard to pick your own fruit for snacks. Even if you don’t live anywhere near an orchard or farmer’s market, you can pick out unusual and interesting vegetables in your local grocer’s produce section and grow some in pots on your windowsill or balcony. 

Have a make-your-own-pizza-night with fun and healthy toppings like roasted red, green and yellow peppers, portobello, shitake or button mushrooms, sweet or red onions, spinach, pineapple, etc. Use low-fat, low-sodium cheese.  If someone in your family just loves sausage as a topping, you can cook lean hamburger and add seasonings like pepper and rosemary to get the sausage flavor without the fat. Turkey pepperoni is at least a little better for you than regular pepperoni if someone in your family can’t imagine pizza without pepperoni.

5) This is especially helpful if you’ve had a hard time sticking to diets in the past. Instead of abruptly shifting from a high-fat, high-sugar diet to a flavor-free high-fiber diet, make the shift more gradually.  It takes awhile for your digestive system to adjust to more fiber, and your taste buds need to learn to appreciate the more subtle flavors of some foods. Cut back on the amount of salt and sugar.  Find healthy meals you like, and add them to your meal plan over time. Eventually you may find that almost all of your meals are healthy, and you didn’t even notice because you like them all. You and your family are much more likely to stick to healthy eating over the long run this way.  

6)  The easiest time to practice self-restraint is at the store.  If you don’t buy it in the first place, you won’t be tempted by it at midnight when you’re too sleepy to remember why you shouldn’t eat it.  If you really, really want that donut you’re craving in the middle of the night, you can get dressed and go to the store to get it, but odds are you don’t want it that much.

7)  Success should not be measured solely by the scale. Ultimately, we all should get to a healthy weight, but be sure to be proud each time you choose not to put some fatty or chemical-laden morsel into your mouth and choose something that is good for you instead.  Your entire system will be better for it. You can’t see cleaner arteries or a healthier liver, but they make a big difference in your life.