Making dietary changes can be tough. It is by far one of the biggest topics I discuss with people when it comes to questions about making healthy lifestyle changes. One of the toughest parts? We are addicted to many foods and how they make us feel. Processed foods are so important to get off of as they contain a lot of ingredients that are very poor for our health and cause many chronic illnesses. Things like artificial colors, sweeteners, preservatives and low quality ingredients are a recipe for poor health.
Certain foods like sugar or coffee for example, come with certain addictive qualities, so trying to cut them or other foods out can be tough. In other cases, it may not even be addictive qualities in the food, the way it makes you feel or the habitual nature of eating it. For example, when you eat heavier foods you get this feeling of being heavy or full. Over time, we associate this feeling with “OK I’m full, time to stop eating.” Whereas when you eat other foods that provide all the nutrients and energy you need but don’t make you feel as full, you begin feeling like you are still hungry or crave the ‘full’ feeling. This can be one of the toughest parts of making dietary changes.
Each of us respond differently to food changes as we all have different levels of motivation and will power as well. For some of us, going cold turkey is an option, while others take it more slowly and let the body adjust along the way. Either way, it’s important to take steps to better what we put in our bodies as it’s a key element in determining our health. Emotions & thoughts are important too, but we will leave that for this article.
So how can we get ourselves off of processed foods easily? Here is a simple plan you can begin implementing one week at a time. After about 1 season, you should be good to go on eating healthy and clean. Of course, you can speed this process up as much as you like to get going even faster.
In this method it begins week by week and in each week you focus on something new. As you begin implementing what you need to adjust in that week, go onto the next week but continue cutting out what you did each week prior.
Week 1: Eat two fruits and/or vegetables per meal. By eating a minimum of two different fruits or vegetables (preferably organic) with every breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you will get your fruit and veggie intake up enough to begin hitting the daily recommended minimums. This will already start making you feel better.
Week 2: “Real” beverages! Beverages will be limited to water, coffee, tea, kombucha, almond, rice or coconut milks, and ACTUAL fruit or vegetable juice. This means fruit juices containing only fruits and water. No sugars or artificial sweeteners, concentrates, preservatives etc. I know this might seem tough at first but stick to it and it will make a big difference. For coffee, try and limit to one cup a day.
Week 3: Meat – If you eat meat, try and consume locally raised and organic if you can. Meat consumption will also be limited to 2 – 4 servings per week, and will not be the “focal point” of the meal. Meat is extremely over eaten especially in North American culture. Humans do not even require meat yet we eat it in extreme abundance which leads to heart disease. The more you can limit it, the better.
Week 4: Cut out fast foods and deep-fried foods as much as possible. Avoiding this will be a big one as there are a lot of chemicals in fast foods. If you can also cut out deep-fried foods, this will help greatly in cutting out unhealthy oils.
Week 5: OK, It’s been about a month and now it’s time for a step I think is very important. Observe how you feel so far. Are you noticing differences in your energy? Have pains and headaches decreased or increased? Do you feel more mentally aware? Looking at various ways you feel will get you to see whether your body might be going through addiction withdrawal or if you perhaps were mentally addicted to foods and are craving to have them back. This is a good point to simply see how you feel while continuing what you’ve done along the way.
Week 6: Try out two new whole foods. Whole foods are simply foods that have been untouched from their natural state and haven’t had anything added to them. So you can go to the grocery store and pick a few new whole foods and try them out. This will get you finding new favorites you enjoy.
Week 7: Cut out foods labelled low-fat, lite or non-fat food products. The reason for this is in the process of making things low fat or non-fat, most of the time more sugars or carbs are added to the equation which is why many people still gain weight when eating these products. For years we have seen these products not work. It’s about eating whole foods as much as possible.
Week 8: Consume 100% whole grain or sprouted grain breads. White flour is a really tough thing for the body to digest. Even whole wheat bread is not much better. The healthier the bread you eat, the easier your body can digest the bread and keep you intestines clear of gluten so you can absorb nutrients more easily. If you can limit your bread intake to 2 or 3 slices every couple of days, that would be a great step.
Week 9: Stop eating when you feel full. This goes back to something I mentioned above, when you feel full during a meal, take the note from your body and stop eating.
Week 10: Cut out refined or artificial sweeteners. This is probably one of the biggest ones. The effects of sweeteners like aspartame and high fructose corn syrup on your body is so shocking that they should be illegal. In fact, aspartame was illegal for a long time until the wrong people got in power and made it legal. You can find out more about that here. Also try and cut out refined sugars like white sugar, brown sugar, sucanat, splenda, stevia, agave, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, and cane juice. Use things like honey, coconut sugar and maple syrup to sweeten things.
Week 11: Cut out refined oils. The more oils are processed the more they become bad for our bodies to consume. Cut out hydrogenated oils, vegetable oil, organic vegetable oil, soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil, organic canola oil, margarine, and grape seed oil. Focus on better oils like olive or hemp oil in salads or unscented coconut oil for cooking.
Week 12: Eat local foods. Do you best to include locally grown and organic foods into your meals as much as possible Begin with one per meal if you can. Depending on the growing season you can find things like fruits, vegetables, eggs, grains, nuts, and sweeteners like honey.
Week 13: Nothing artificial! This is where you cut out anything that is artificial like colors, sweeteners and flavours. You should already be half way on this one by the time you get here.
Week 14: No more than 5 ingredients! When choosing packaged foods, look for no more than 5 ingredients total. This will usually mean you are getting a less processed and more natural product. Yes, it won’t keep as long, but that is a good one!
Even if you are unable to keep to this perfectly, keeping all of this in mind and using it as much as possible is going to make a big impact on cutting out processed foods and beginning to eat a lot more healthy. If you are able to afford some organic foods but not all, be sure to check out which foods are most important to buy organic!