How I Ditched Processed Foods Almost Entirely
One of the major problems I faced when first trying to diet was I say goodbye to my favourite meals. Let’s be fair, I say my favourite meals, but it was most of my meals, as I ate very few healthy ones.
I was faced with a choice: eat heathy but bland stuff for some time to lose weight (think boiled fish and broccoli), or reduce the amount of my “normal” food for it to fit my unrealistic caloric goals. I say unrealistic not because the goals were not correct, but because achieving it with that approach meant being hungry ALL the time. Besides, I’m a small frame, which means 1200kcal is the maximum I can eat and still lose some weight.
So, I choose the harder option: change my eating habits completely. It’s the one I advise and although it seems drastic, it is easier that the other “quick fix” alternatives. So, there I went, starting with a “simple” first step: remove most processed foods.
My food journey took a lot of time to be consistent, but one of the first changes I adopted was not eating processed foods as a habit. I mean, I still eat fast food from time to time. And I am not supper strict on this. But there are no frozen pizzas in the fridge, or cookies in the pantry. That does not mean I never eat pizza or cookies, just that those are not part of my regular shopping list.
This decision has a lot to do with the fact that, if I have that stuff in the house, I will simply eat it all at once. And I don’t buy into that ideas that I do that because we “restricted ourselves”, or because I think of that type of foods as “bad”. Sorry, I ate them a lot because I loved them, even before I had a weigh issue. For me they are simply addictive (and I’m not the only one to feel that way).
The order by which I started removing (or reducing) stuff was the following:
1. Margarine and vegetable oils
A source of bad fats (trans fats in some of them, that are the worst kind of fats). I’ve completely stopped using it and stick to olive oil and sometimes butter (I know it has a lot of saturated fat, but I prefer it as a less processed product and increased flavour, and only use it in specific recipes).
Plus, without vegetable oil, I cannot deep fry stuff – and I sure loved to eat fried potatoes. For lunch. For dinner. As a snack. With mayo. Like a full meal of fries only.
2. Cereals and cereal bars
Not an easy one, as I understand there are some heathy alternatives. But most of the ones I liked were high in sugar and had not much to add in terms of nutrition. Plus, I ate a LOT of it. I mean, 3 or 4 times the recommended portion each time. Some even have a lot of added fat, which was a surprise for me.
So, I changed to simple oats that are a good source of carbs and way more filling. By not triggering the “addictiveness” I avoid eating so much each time, because its easier to control.
3. Cookies and chips (mostly chips…)
You eat one, you eat a package. The rule is, if I want cookies, I make them. That reduces the problem a bit (even if I still eat all of them…). The good part is that homemade cookies still have less sugar and less fat (and better fat) than the ones we buy from the supermarket. Plus, we can add a lot of good stuff (mostly nuts, pecan nuts are the best!). The decision for this is the same as the above – stop binge eating.
4. Processed meats
This one breaks my heart. I love bacon. Really, I can eat a package of bacon if I’m left alone with it and a pan. The issue with bacon and other procced meats is that it was considered carcinogenic to humans: “in the case of processed meat, this classification is based on sufficient evidence from epidemiological studies that eating processed meat causes colorectal cancer”. I don’t know about you, but I cannot eat it with a clear conscience after reading that…
That being said, I still eat it from time to time in moderate amounts. And thinking that the amount of good stuff I eat balances the scale to the good side. I hope.
Other examples, including the good processed foods
This list is not exhaustive, as it considers my own experience. There are other types of processed foods that should be avoided, like most of premade meals, sodas, chocolate bars, some pastries and so on. Those were simply not part of my usual diet, so I never had to “remove” them.
Additionally, I want you to keep in mind that not all processed foods are bad, as the term can be used for highly processed foods like the ones stated above, or for minimal processing, such as pre-cut fruit, canned beans (with only salt and water), ground meat or pickles! Those are not bad options and can be part of a heathy diet.
Final thoughts on this change
More than thinking of any of this as “BAD” food, I hope you let them out of your regular shopping list. I am a good fan of moderation and we need space in our life to do and taste things we love.
Of course, this reflects mostly my personal experience. Note that not eating any of this stuff is probably good for you, but some of us might be able to have a package of cookies open and it only one per day. I’m not that kind of person, so I had to force myself to make the right decisions when I’m able to instead of when my willpower weakens. I’m capable of not buying it, so I don’t have available when I’m not that strong.
But more than removing, we need to think of what we need to add to our diets. Adding good and tasty new and exiting things will make the transition easier. And that will be the topic of the next series, on what to do next after removing so much stuff – before you starve (kidding!).
How can you apply this to your life?
Your personal situation and the status of your diet will dictate the steps you should take. If reading this is making you feel overwhelmed because most of your diet needs a change, take a step back. You do not need to change everything in day 1. This is not a “new year’s diet” that will be all or nothing. This is your life and you are in control – you can and should take smaller steps. And you can always reach out if you need help.