A couple of weeks ago I shared my story about why I decided to quit processed foods. I often call it my junk food “break-up” because in many ways we all have a complex relationship with food.
Personally, culturally, and physically food plays a powerful role in our lives. And as anyone who has tried making changes to their diet knows, breaking away from your routine can be challenging, to say the least. In fact, it’s a lot like a divorce—something else with which I, unfortunately, have some firsthand experience.
My History with Healthy Eating
My path to eating and living a healthier life started years before real food entered the picture. In my early thirties, I found myself out of shape, gaining weight, and stressed. My health was going in the wrong direction, and it finally got to the point where I was ready to do something about it.
Running and working out were my saviors. In the process of getting in better shape, I started listening to my body more. Food-wise that meant eating more fruits and vegetables, fewer snack foods, and minimizing sweets. That said, I had totally bitten the hook about “healthy” processed foods, so plenty of leanwashed foods were still in my diet.
How I Quit Processed Foods
It wasn’t until my forties hit that I realized I wasn’t doing enough and made the commitment to quit processed foods.Yes, I was in much better shape, but I still lacked energy and was suffering from lots of gastrointestinal issues (yeah—I’m gonna leave out that part of the story for now). Then while I was writing my book and had my “real food awakening,” I finally decided to start exploring real foods.
Like many folks my journey didn’t look like a straight line or involve one huge leap—it wasn’t like I decided one day to go cold turkey and stop eating all processed foods. Rather, it was a series of steps with a couple zigs and zags that I like to summarize in 5 stages:
- Stage One: I dabbled more in real food. It’s hard to get started eating clean. So as I contemplated making a bigger change, I started cooking a bit more and switched out some processed foods for cleaner, organic versions. I think as much as anything this stage was about trying this new lifestyle on for size to see if it fit.
- Stage Two: I made a bigger commitment. Making a commitment toward eating clean food can take all different shapes and forms. I knew that for me, this bigger commitment had to force my hand a bit and make feel uncomfortable. That said, I also knew I didn’t want to make the change alone, and I realized I needed some help. So, I decided to join a CSA. And as I’ve written here and here, joining a CSA was one of the best decisions of my life.
- Stage Three: I quit drinking soda. Some people find it surprising but even a year or so into my real food journey I was still drinking diet soda. I’ve written about my soda habit (and tips for quitting) in my Confessions of a Former Coke “Addict” post. This was probably one of the hardest steps along my journey. The sheer thought of giving up soda was incredibly scary, and I was truly afraid of failing (again). Interestingly, this is also the only part of my journey where I went cold turkey—for over a year I didn’t allow myself to have soda of ANY kind. Only once I felt like those cravings were a thing of the past did I allow myself to even try a soda. These days I continue to rarely consume soda. I know it’s a product where I can easily lose control so I pretty much limit myself to an occasional ginger ale or root beer that uses real ingredients. Yes, I know real ingredients don’t make soda healthy. However, real ingredients and the higher price tag that comes with them helps reframe soda as a special treat for me.
- Stage Four: I got pretty hardcore. There was a period of a year or so where I went hardcore. While I certainly admire folks who eat real food all the time, I came to the conclusion that I needed to find a bit more balance. Ultimately I decided I didn’t want to become “obsessed” with real food. Furthermore, I didn’t want to isolate myself from friends and family members simply because they didn’t embrace clean eating like I did. My teenage son played a huge role in this piece of my evolution. So if real food becomes more of an obsession or starts to create distance between you and your family and friends, perhaps thinking more about your food values and how they fit within your life can be time well spent!
- Stage Five: I found my new equilibrium. Like many things in life finding a sustainable approach can take several attempts. Now that I’m about five years into my real food journey I honestly feel like I’ve found the right spot for me. I describe it as “deliciously imperfect.” While 95% of the time I make healthy, real food choices, my life isn’t being run by food anymore AND my relationships with others aren’t held hostage by my food values.
Where I Draw the Line With What I Eat
During the hardcore stage of my real food journey, there were lots of lines that defined what I would or wouldn’t eat. In some ways, those rules became odd badges of righteousness. At the end of the day, I didn’t like that version of me so much. So while rules are great, I’ve embraced the idea that rules are made to be broken. Right? 😉
Also, I think I’ve progressed far enough along in my journey that I know what my junk food triggers are. I’m still a sucker for sugar, salty snacks, and soda, so I really try to limit their consumption. And as much as anything else, I’m constantly listening to my body. If I’m feeling tired, down, or unwilling to exercise, I take a closer look at what I’ve been eating. Without even knowing it sometimes some sneaky, bad habits have started to slip their way into my routine. Only by listening to how I feel have I quickly rooted them out before they’ve become serious addictions.
How’s Your Real Food Journey Going?
Are you trying to quit processed foods? Have you been successful? Did you go through various stages as your beliefs and values evolved? Please share your story below.
And if you’re struggling, let us know in the comments—we’d be glad to help out. In fact, we’ve got at least one more story to share on this topic and that’s our Top 10 Tips on How to Quit Processed Foods.
So please stay tuned. We’ve got you covered when it comes to creating healthier eating habits and living a healthier life!