Food is one of the most common addictions, particularly in the west. It doesn’t help that so many foods are stuffed with chemicals, preservatives, excess sodium and sugar. In many cases, food is designed to be addictive, and many people have their own personal favorites, whether it’s simple carbs or diet soda. By far, sugar addiction has become the norm for many because so many foods are full of added sugar. The so-called diet options, no matter the sweetener, makes us crave sugar (real or fake) even more because your body knows the difference even if your taste buds don’t.
Fortunately, there are some simple ways to erase bad habits and learn to enjoy whole, quality foods including natural sugars (like those found in fruits). However, it will take time for your palate to adjust. It’s been numbed by the excessive flavors, and some quality of foods (like caffeine) are addictive in an entirely different way. Here are the steps to consider if you want to eat healthier:
1. Cook more. It really can be that simple. Cook with whole ingredients that aren’t bottled or canned whenever possible. You can cook just one day a week and ration out meals that are then frozen or refrigerated for convenience. When you cook, you have a much better handle on what you’re putting in your body. However, keep in mind that even “whole foods” aren’t always as healthy as they can be.
2. Shop locally and seasonally. Know where your food is coming from. Seek out ingredients that are local and in-season. This challenges you to try out new-to-you ingredients and keeps you from getting bored. Farmers markets are a great resource, as are local farms where you can get dairy and eggs.
3. Go on a sugar fast to “re-set” your taste buds. If you think you have a sugar addiction, you’re in good company. Many people in western countries are in the same position. It means you won’t get the same sweet treat and natural sugar rush from sources like fruits, berries, and cashews because your palate has been numbed by all those fake or added sugars. A one-week “sugar fast” can re-boot your system. Yes, it will be difficult, but avoiding all added sugars and fake sugars will help you learn how to appreciate healthier, whole foods. You can do anything for seven days.
4. Drink a glass of water if you feel hungry or you’re craving soda. Our bodies have a tough time telling the difference between thirst and hunger. Sometimes we eat because we’re actually a bit dehydrated. Drinking a glass of water whenever you feel hungry or thirsty will help avoid dehydration and can kill cravings. If portion control or binge eating is a problem, more water can also help keep your indulgences in check.
5. Learn to read nutritional labels. It’s a skill that a lot of people were never taught. Knowing, on average, how many calories you need per day and how much sugar, sodium, fiber, simple carbs, etc. is in a label can help you make wiser choices. You’ll also get a glimpse into just how many ingredients a seemingly simple product can have. If you can’t understand the majority of ingredients or if it has a dangerous item like Red 40 (a coloring) in it, look for an alternative. Better yet, seek out the original ingredients that don’t have packaging and make your own (in bulk for freezing if you like).
Eating healthier does require some planning ahead, research, and honesty with yourself. However, it’s one of the best things you can do for you and your body.