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You’ve probably heard “avoid processed food” and “processed food is bad for you”. But maybe you’re not sure what people mean by “processed food”, and what’s so bad about it. And how do you avoid processed food if you want to?
In this three part series, we’re talking about:
How to Avoid Processed Food?
So we’ve covered what is processed food, and why we shouldn’t be eating it. (If you haven’t read them yet, go back and read the first two parts of the series.) And maybe you think it’s a good idea to limit your processed food intake, or eliminate it all together. Is that even possible?
Absolutely! If you want any new habit to last, it’s a good idea to take it one step at a time and make a plan. Here are the steps we’ll talk about below.
- Find your “why”
- Become aware of what you’re eating
- Stop buying processed food
- Clean out your cupboards
- Make a plan for obstacles
- 90/10 rule
Have you heard about the FREE 5 day email course: “5 Days to a Healthier YOU”? It will give you tips and a challenge each day for 5 days to help you cut processed food and start eating real food again. Read more about it here.
Find your “why”
Before you even start thinking about changing your food habits, I think it’s extremely important to figure out why you’re making the change. I could give you all of my reasons for cutting processed food, but that wouldn’t help you stay motivated for long.
If you’re hoping for lasting change, figure out your “why”. Maybe it’s so that your health problems will fade, or go away. Or maybe it’s to teach your kids about healthy eating and how to make good food choices. Maybe your “why” is something totally different. And that’s okay. It’s yours!
When you figure it out, write it somewhere you’ll see often. You’re bound to hit some hurdles in this journey. Keeping your “why” visible can keep you motivated.
Read the Ingredient List
The first step in eliminating processed food is to realize what you’ve actually been eating. The best way I’ve found to do this is to look at the ingredient list. Instead of looking at the front of the box that tells you all the wonderful things about the product, turn it over and read the ingredient list.
If you don’t recognize the name of an ingredient, look it up. Usually if you don’t recognize an ingredient it’s because it is manufactured, not grown. These are the ingredients to be very cautious of and try to avoid when you can.
If you do this each time you go to the store, it won’t take long for you to be more aware of what exactly you’re eating. Becoming an informed consumer means being skeptical of the marketing claims on the front of the box. Once you know what you’re eating, you can make better decisions.
Don’t Buy Processed Food
Once you’re aware of what you’re eating, the next step is to stop buying the food you’re trying to avoid. Start small and ease into this. Here are a few schedules you could follow:
- By category. First pick a food category that you usually buy at the store…maybe chips or crackers. Now, find a healthier alternative to the store-bought version. Take a few days or weeks to make the change, then pick a new category, like sides, meals, or desserts.
- By meal. Start with breakfast and eliminate processed food from your breakfast routine. Spend a week or two finding breakfast options that are nutritious, delicious and fit into your schedule. Then move on to lunch, dinner, and then snacks.
It doesn’t matter which path you take. Or maybe you make your own. The important thing is that you do it. If you ease into it one step at a time, you’ll be more likely to succeed and stick with it than if you cut all processed food at the same time.
There’s a couple tips I can give here, from personal experience.
- Follow a meal plan. This takes the guessing out of grocery shopping because you just follow the plan. For hundreds of meal planning resources, take a look at this healthy meal planning bundle. It’s discounted heavily and is packed with meal plans, recipes, and resources to help you!
- Do your grocery shopping online. I find that it’s way easier to pass up an online purchase of chips as opposed to when they’re right in front of me at the store. I’ve used these three online stores for groceries and have had awesome success.
If you’re in the small percentage of people who barely eat processed food now, then you might be able to cut it all at once. But the majority of us need to take baby steps.
For specific recommendations for a “real food” diet and an easy way to shop for real food, read this post.
Clean Out The Cupboards
If you’re trying to change your habits, you need to set yourself up for success. That means if you’re trying not to eat store bought crackers…don’t have a box in the cupboard.
Your mind can play tricks on you and before you know it “I’ll just have one” turns into an empty box!
So just get rid of the things you don’t want to eat. It’s helpful for this step if you have family on board. If not, you either will need to get creative, or have strong will power.
It’s hard at first, but it certainly gets easier. In fact, your taste buds will change so that you might not even want that store-bought pie (however hard it might be to believe). You’ll start to notice something different about the taste of processed food. When you compare it to homemade food, it just won’t taste the same. It’ll taste “fake”, and you might not like the flavor anymore.
I can’t eat store bought desserts anymore. They are so sweet that I almost instantly get a headache. So I just don’t. And I’m not even the slightest bit sad about it. Because I know I can make delicious desserts like these peanut butter chocolate bars, or this brownie, or this brownie or these almond clusters , or this dark chocolate cake with a fraction of the sugar (or none at all) and way more wholesome ingredients.
Make a Plan for Obstacles
Processed food is so ingrained in our culture, that it will be nearly impossible to avoid it 100% of the time (unless you never leave your house). These obstacles will come up. Be prepared and make a plan for when they do.
- Eating out – Find something on the menu that’s unprocessed or minimally processed, or call ahead and see how your favorite dish is made. Do they make the sauces in the restaurant? Or do they come in a container?
- Food at work– If you sit right by the donuts at your office, you still have options. You can move the donuts, move yourself, or ask about a different breakfast food option that the office might get on board with. Many companies these days are seeing the value in healthy employees.
- Holidays and family events – These are hard if your family doesn’t understand what you’re trying to do. If they’re not willing to change the ingredients in their food, you can make a dish and bring it.
- Kids – I’ve found some of the hardest situations to be with my kids. At play dates or at school, snacks like crackers and sugary treats are everywhere. Something that’s worked well for me is always having healthier snack options in my bag. That way I’m not dependent on what someone else is offering. Our go-to snacks are dried fruit and nuts, homemade crackers, or veggies and hummus.
Make a plan ahead of time. Think through the different obstacles you’ll face each day, each week and each month. And then sit down to make a plan of how you’ll handle them.
Have Grace with Yourself and Others
And finally, have grace with yourself and others. Nobody is perfect, and no one expects you to be. If you eat awesomely at home 90% of the time, you can afford to go out to eat once in a while, or eat the chips when someone offers. When you’re in a situation that makes it difficult to stick to a no processed food lifestyle, have grace with yourself.
Our bodies were designed to be able to handle a certain amount of toxins. When we fill up 90% of the time on real food, our bodies should be able to handle a bowl of chips every now and then. The problem is that 10% can become 20% or 30% pretty easily. And then before we know it, we’re feeding our body some type of processed food every meal.
Ready to make some changes? Learn more here about the FREE 5 day email course: “5 Days to a Healthier YOU”? When you enroll in the challenge, you’ll get an email for 5 days. Each day you’ll get information, a challenge, and a question to keep you accountable.
The challenge is deigned to help you help you cut processed food and start eating real food again. Read more about it here.
Tell Me How It’s Going
I want to know if you’ve made the decision to cut back on processed food, or eliminate it all together. Let me know in the comments below!