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.
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. It’s not easy. If you’re going to break a sugar habit, it’s going to take time, patience, and willpower. But take it from a chocolate-a-holic, If I can do it, so can you. Here’s where to 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. Have a ‘cheat meal’ on a specific day of the week. i.e. Friday enjoy a cookie and a latte. However, the term ‘cheat meal’ doesn’t mean giving yourself permission to go on a binge or entire cheat DAY where it spirals into an entire weekend. Moderation and balance.
3. Make a comforting ritual out of eating healthy.
Unhealthy eating is often ritualistic — something comfortable and constant that you can depend on. Not only can you have your own Cookie FriDay — a conscious, controlled, weekly moment of indulgence — but you can replace unhealthy rituals with healthy ones.
Identify your unhealthy eating habits, and replace it for healthy ones. For example, if you love your glass of wine or beer every night start to replace it with a herbal tea. If you love having something sweet after dinner, go for a walk outside to distract yourself. Remember it takes time to break habits but eventually the new ones will form and you won’t miss the old ones.
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!)
- Raw nuts
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. 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.
Can you really overeat on raw carrots and broccoli – maybe, but I have yet prove that fact. When that emotional trigger hits me and I need to eat junk, I go to the fridge for some raw veggies. If I’m still feeling that urge to eat junk, maybe a fruit or healthy fat (avocado) to give me that ‘up’ that I sometimes crave in sugary foods.
You might be one of those lucky souls who just decided to walk away from the candy counter and never looked back. Good for you. I’m not one of those people. Eating right is much easier than it was 20 years ago, but it’s still a process. That said, the rewards are innumerable, so set down the pudding pop, grab a peach, and join me!