A red fish in a tank of blue fish
February 27, 2012 8:42 AM   Subscribe

How can I stick to eating healthy and exercising in a household full of sedentary people who practically live off junk food?

And no, moving out isn't an option, at least for the forseeable future.

I'm okay with exercising, going to the gym at least 3 days a week, but I'd like to amp up the intensity of my workouts. However, it's eating clean that I really struggle with as you can't outexercise a poor diet.

My family is a constant reminder of what I don't want to be like when I'm older. It also doesn't help that when relatives or friends come by (almost every time I turn around) they bring even more junk food with them. I'm already overweight and out of shape as it is and don't want to slide further. Are there any self-discipline techniques I can use to avoid eating the crap that's always in the house and focus on what few veggies, fruit and whole grains are at hand?
posted by never nice to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, changing your diet is a very internal, personal process. There will always be junk food around you. Donut day at work. Holidays and parties and buffets and birthday cakes. And people will always be eating those things around you. But how you react to these things is what you can change.

My best suggestion to you is to pause. Ask yourself, "Do I really want some chips? Am I really hungry right now?" If the answer is "Yes", then do it. If the answer is "No" to the chips but "yes" to the hunger, then think of what other options are in your house that you can eat. For me, honestly, 6 times out of 10 I still have the chips. But that pause makes me more aware of the decision I am making. And that number *used* to be 10 times out of 10, without any pause and without any real conscious acknowledgement that I could make a choice.

Good luck to you. :)
posted by jillithd at 8:53 AM on February 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

My family is a constant reminder of what I don't want to be like when I'm older.

This. Just keep looking at them and reminding yourself that you want to be something else. Some of the things I'm most proud of about myself are direct results of purposely doing the exact opposite of what my family members did or do.

Also, don't use these folks and their habits as an excuse. You are an adult (or at least old enough to make your own decisions) and you get to decide what you eat and what you do, just as they do.

Make sure you always have plenty of healthy food around the house. If they offer you junk maybe take a small bit and augment it with the good stuff.

I think I finally broke out of my junk-eating and late-night snacking habit after years of struggling to do so. I did this by changing a completely unrelated daily routine (shaving), which was the trigger that helped me alter some other routines. I didn't do this on purpose but it seemed to work. So, pick a routine that has nothing to do with food and alter it. See if other routines don't follow.
posted by bondcliff at 8:54 AM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Seeing what you don't want to be should help loads. Set your diet/limits and stick to it. Drop loads of weight and inspire. buy better food and share. Collect data on the dangers of a bad diet and share it with them if they seem interested.

Good Luck
posted by Studiogeek at 8:54 AM on February 27, 2012

If you can, get a small refrigerator for your own room (or wherever you spend the most time) and stock it with the things that you want to eat. Make a rule that you are only allowed to eat things from there, and all of the contents of the main kitchen are off limits. Make sure that you have healthy snacks and so on in there too, not just larger meals. That way when you're hungry, the easiest thing that you could possibly do is eat from your own stash.
posted by _cave at 8:54 AM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Put a small fridge in your room and keep it stocked with healthy snacks. Stay out of the family pantry. It's not a technique or a trick, it's simple willpower. Keep healthy foods around. Eat them.
posted by COD at 8:55 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Track and write everything down. There are a bunch of online calorie-sounters and tracking sites.

Having to justify to myself writing down that bag of chips is always helpful to me.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:04 AM on February 27, 2012

1. Separate your food. Maintain your own little pantry as well as fridge in your room. I'd strongly recommend eating separately too. (Slowly, concentrating on your food.)

2. When out with family or friends who don't eat well, bring your own snacks/lunch.

3. Invite your family to come with you for exercise. Allies are always nice.

4. Keep a food journal. This is an incredibly powerful tool for stopping yourself from eating junk that happens to be there.

5. Consider joining Health Month. We will support you all the way, and there are plenty of free sponsorships. March 1 is two days away!
posted by bearwife at 9:05 AM on February 27, 2012

Are you keeping a food log? Logging really helps me stay away from junk food. Once you get an idea of how much of certain foods you can eat for how many calories, it helps put things in perspective and you might find yourself immediately dismissing some junk food as not worth it and others as ok but only in measured amounts. For instance, for me, a Hershey's bar is automatically not worth it, but a small piece of good chocolate might be. Knowing that I have to log every piece of chocolate that I eat helps me resist eating many pieces of the good chocolate.

If you are not logging and want to start, there are plenty of free websites (loseit, sparkpeople, and myfitnesspal to name a few), many of which have apps to help with logging on the go. It's not much fun at first, but once you build up a database of the food you eat, it's much easier. You don't even have to change your diet right away, you can just get used to measuring or weighing your food and entering it in, then take a look at what you want to adjust.
posted by amarynth at 9:07 AM on February 27, 2012

These are two articles about not eating the free junk food at the office, at meetings, at conferences, in the supermarket sample aisle, etc. but it's just as relevant when the food is in your house.

It's an issue everyone deals with, because sharing food is a currency of friendship, working relationships, thank-you-gifts, and loving families everywhere - but remember, just because someone's offering you food and love doesn't mean you can't accept the love and eat something else. Maybe you'll feel better about turning down the food if you acknowledge how much you appreciate the relatives offering it to you ("here, I brought cookies!" "Oh, Aunt Marge, I'm so happy you're here! You're so generous! Here, let me put those on the coffee table next to Dad.") Societal cues have us trained that now your Dad eats the cookies and says "these are delicious!" to tell Aunt Marge how much he appreciates her. It's really not about the food, yet everyone else is putting things in their mouths to have a shared experience with Aunt Marge. So, you've got to create your own experience. You go to the kitchen and bring back a bag of baby carrots, and munch on those (shared experience = making crunchy noises) and talk to Aunt Marge about her flower garden (shared experience = appreciating her visit).
posted by aimedwander at 9:10 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with tracking and fridge, but it is an internal process as stated above. One of the mail things for me is finding pretty gourmet healthy things to eat.

I don't just eat crappy, watery supermarket carrot sticks, I buy the most amazing heirloom carrots from the farmers market, and dip them into a homemade hummus that's made to my tastes. I create attractively sliced platters of fruit, veggies, cheeses. I make delicious steak salads, quinoa bowls with soy sauce, ponzu sauce and chili oil that are absolutely addictive. I thinly slice heirloom tomatoes, and serve with soft goat cheese, blackberries and good bread. For a couple of hundred calories I can get more satisfaction than any handful of stale chips and cookies can provide. I eat slowly and thoughtfully and enjoy every bite.

It's hard to feel deprived when you eat very well. It's only when food is an afterthought that junk food becomes attractive.
posted by tatiana131 at 9:11 AM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

(sorry, I wrecked the first link.)
posted by aimedwander at 9:11 AM on February 27, 2012

*main* not mail...
posted by tatiana131 at 9:12 AM on February 27, 2012

My heart goes out to you because environment does play a huge role in your habits and it's tough not being able to control that.

Have you thought about doing a formal program like Weight Watchers? I have been doing it for a few weeks now and it really helps me make better choices. My fiance is a "human garbage disposal" and he can eat pretty much anything. It's easier for me to stay away from unhealthy stuff when I know that I need to maximize the nutritional content of what I eat in order to not be hungry.

I like the idea of getting a mini-fridge to stock with healthy stuff so that you are less tempted to spend time in the kitchen.
posted by radioamy at 9:14 AM on February 27, 2012

It's really hard to be at 100% willpower all the time. About all the diet books I've read say to get rid of all the junk food because the likelihood that anyone can maintain that level of willpower all the time is pretty damn low.

If I get a sudden craving for cookies at 10.30pm and fulfilling that craving means reaching over 2 feet to have them, then I have to maintain 100% willpower for the entire time that I am in that space and having the craving.

If there are no cookies in the house, and fulfilling that craving means changing out of PJs and putting on my shoes and coat and walking a few blocks - eh, I'll just have a smoothie or something. Minimal willpower required.

Another problems is that food is a way of bonding with people, and on some level you may feel that every time you decline to have potato chips while everyone else is eating them and watching the movie, you are judging their choice to have the chips. (Also it's really frustrating to try not to eat junk food while people next to you are eating the junk food). This could turn into you spending almost no time with your family.

I think your best bet is to talk to your family. Tell them you are trying hard to lose weight and eat more healthily and that you are trying to eat more veggies and lean meat and fewer potato chips. See if they are willing to meet you halfway - bring less junk food into the house, allow you to take responsibility for cooking some of the meals (which of course will be full of veggies and delicious), confine the junk food to a specific region of the house, etc. They have every right to eat what they want when they want, of course, but if you can reach some sort of compromise it might help you. It's important to keep this talk *about you* and not about how you don't want to be like them.

And if you can start taking initiative with bringing healthy and delicious foods into the house and sharing it (gently without pressure or judgment, just "hey, i made this broccoli salad, wanna try it?") that alone might slowly change the ratio of junk to real food in the house.

Keeping plenty of alternative snacks that are healthy and that *you* love will help too. If the person next to you is noshing on marshmallows and you can reach for a piece of fruit or a bowl of cherry tomatoes tossed with sea salt, that will help.
posted by bunderful at 9:15 AM on February 27, 2012

Get a timer. On your watch, or on your phone, or from the dollar store, it doesn't really matter. Set it for 10 minutes. Whenever you're tempted to eat something not so good for you. Set the timer. if you still want it 10 minutes later, eat it. Otherwise, don't.
posted by backwards guitar at 9:16 AM on February 27, 2012

I don't know what the exact food-sharing setup in your household is, but I find that it helps my willpower when I identify junk food I'm trying to avoid as NOT MY FOOD. I find it difficult to resist my favorites, even if I know I shouldn't be eating them. But I have no problem whatsoever resisting food that I feel belongs to someone else.

As an example, I bought some valentine's day cookies to send in a care package to my son in Brazil, and they sat on a shelf by my desk, 24" from my head, for over a week, while I waited for some other things to arrive in the mail to include in the shipment. Was not ever once tempted to open those cookies and eat them--they were my son's cookies! But then when all the stuff was ready to be packed up and shipped, I only had room for half the cookies in the box, and the left were left over. I was not able to stop myself from eating the hell out of those remaining cookies over the course of the next 2 days.
posted by drlith at 9:19 AM on February 27, 2012

By the way, stay on it. It gets soooooo much easier. I am on my second year of <20 Grams of carb per day rice, bread, potatoes, sugary snacks barely exist to me anymore.
posted by Studiogeek at 9:34 AM on February 27, 2012

Have a glass of water when you are tempted.

Get used to saying "No, thank you." and repeating that exact phrase and nothing more. Otherwise, I find it turns into a negotiation. If I have to give a reason for saying no, then they feel they have to give a reason for me to say yes.

Stay strong -- you got this!
posted by it's a long way to south america at 10:02 AM on February 27, 2012

Do you have any concrete goals besides "being healthy"? I find that when I have something specific in mind like training for a race or wanting a specific pair of pants to fit better I am more able to holistically focus on good behaviors. If I don't have something I am working towards I find it way too easy to make any or negative progress.
posted by mmascolino at 10:24 AM on February 27, 2012

You might want to think about whether you're a moderator or an abstainer. I'm kind of in the middle, so I use a weird hybrid of moderating and abstaining strategies; a conditional abstinence strategy, as it were. :)

So it were me, I would have to set a hard and fast rule: I will eat no junk food at home.

If I wanted to, I'd allow myself to go out and get chips or cookies and eat it them at the park or in the car or standing right there at the Kwikie Mart checkout, but I would not eat any junk at home, because while I rarely really crave junk food, easily-available junk food is very hard for me to resist.

The hubby and I are pretty good at keeping junk food out of the house, but I have this problem when friends bring chips and stuff over to the house. If I say to myself, "I'm not going to eat any Doritos today," I can do it (and then I make them take any leftover chips home. :) ) If I say, "I'll just have a couple," that is no good; I always eat way more than I intended to. (I'm a terrible moderator.) If I tell myself, "I'm never ever going to eat Doritos again," that doesn't work well for me either, because I start obsessing and all I can think about is Doritos. (I'm not really a very good abstainer, either.) But a hard-and-fast (but not comprehensive or eternal) rule works best for me.
posted by BrashTech at 10:29 AM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

Try the app Myfitnesspal if you have a smartphone. It's a calorie counter, but it also tracks weight and you enter in any exercise you do which allocates extra calories for that day. It could be a good motivator for you. (Though I only lasted a couple days, it was really enlightening to see how much I really eat.)
posted by catatethebird at 11:01 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The only thing that has worked for me is to make certain food groups completely off-limits. You can pick some characteristics junk food that are most tempting to you (ie contains white sugar or HFCS) and tell yourself that you don't eat those things ever. You can still have a snack if you want to, but you'll have to find something else.
posted by fermezporte at 12:05 PM on February 27, 2012

Oh, yeah, the Metafilter team on Health Month is great! Health Month is free if you have under a certain amount of rules (I think three), and if you have more rules it's $5 a month, but every member gets a few chips to use to sponsor people, and if you're on the Metafilter team and ask for sponsorship, I'm sure someone (like me!) would be happy to sponsor you.

Health Month offers some extra accountability, which can be a good motivator, and the goals you set can be as ambitious as you want. The rules are really flexible. For example, you could say that you wanted to eliminate snacking after dinner X nights a week and get X minutes of exercise X days a week. You can even add notes to yourself to help refine the rules, like one month, I had an exercise rule with a note that I could say that I did it if I walked over 10k steps that day.

During the first month, there were some rules that I wish I had set up differently, but it's not like you get kicked out if you lose points, so the following month I was able to set up my rules in a way that made more sense.
posted by amarynth at 12:57 PM on February 27, 2012

>> In my experience, changing your diet is a very internal, personal process.

So go read this comment again and take my 2 cents with this in mind.

In my late 20s I did a liquid fast for about 3 or 4 days, and while it is not for everyone and there are plenty of precautions and advice you should take (probably nested here in Ask Mefi) I can share my own experience of why it helped me.

My experience with fasting was that it made me aware of the nature of food and my body's system in a way I would never have otherwise. The fasting period itself might only be a few days but the effect (for me) was extremely long-lasting. For weeks afterwards I always remotely aware whenever I was hungry the choices I was making.

So that was my experience, I didn't make a big deal of it to those around me. For you, it might backfire in your current environment, I don't know. The last thing I would want is for you to wolf down a pizza because 12 hours of no food isn't working for ya. Fasting is definitely not for everyone or feasible in all situations.
posted by jeremias at 1:39 PM on February 27, 2012

I'm going to second some others that recommend calorie tracking.
I like to count my calories (and overall nutritional data). I like Fitday.com because #1 its free and #2 its simple to use. You say you work out...maybe actually seeing the calories you burn along with the calories you eat for the day will help you maintain a level of sanity when it comes to all the junk food you're surrounded with.

For instance, say you have a basic caloric need of around 2,000 calories. Now say that you have eaten around 1100 calories for the day so far, but also got in a workout that burned around 350 calories. You can plan around that deficit to give into a craving sensibly and still have a healthy dinner. The actual act of entering the data gives you control and knowledge which can combat mindless eating or grazing.

You will go mad trying to swear it off while it's around you, trust me...the trick is finding ways to work around it all that works for you so you're not starving yourself while surrounded by temptation. It will also allow you to slowly work away from all the bad foods and soon you may find you don't want to touch the stuff. YMMV, but my personal experience has been very good with this tactic. Just keep trying until you find a system that works for you and know it takes time.

Also, always be kind to yourself. :)
posted by poolsidemuse at 2:12 PM on February 27, 2012

When I wanted to really start to lose weight, I took inspiration from the film Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead and did a juice fast. I spent a week, and every day at each meal I would consume nothing but fruit and vegetable juice that I juiced myself each night for the following day. The juices were things like apple, carrot, kale, ginger, and lime, or sometimes apple, celery, cucumber, spinach, ginger, and lemon, and many other random combinations that I found on the internet.

This did 2 things for me. First, I spent a week getting more vitamins and minerals in my body than I would usually get over the period of several months. When you think about drinking the juice of 2 dozen apples, 2 bags of carrots, 4 bunches of kale, 6 beets, a bag of spinach, and a bunch of tomatoes, peppers, celery, cucumbers, lemons, limes, red chard, and other assorted veggies, you have to admit that your body is getting what it needs in terms of the good stuff which fruits and vegetables give you. I actually felt better over this week than I had in a long time.

The second thing it did for me was to help me realize that most of my eating in the past was due to either the desire to eat, or an addiction to carbs and fat. I was actually feeling hungry for the first time in ages (although I never starved myself, but when you are on a liquid diet, no matter what you do you are going to feel some hunger). When that week was over, I moved on to a healthy diet of mainly veggies, with some lean meats, nuts, beans, and occasional other healthy stuff thrown in. After spending the week juicing, I no longer had the craving for sugar and carbs and fat and all of that stuff which is so delicious when you are eating it all the time.

I lost almost 10 pounds the first week (which isn't surprising, since your body has a lot of carbs stored up for energy, which get used up quickly and easily when you start consuming fewer calories), and continued to lose 1-2 pounds a week after that. I ate junk food from time to time (when dining out with friends, cake at birthday parties, etc.), but since this wasn't a regular thing, my body didn't become re-addicted to the junk food. Unlike most people who diet and always crave stuff, I just don't crave those things anymore. Sure, I enjoy a donut once every couple of months, but this is the first time in my life I can walk by a table full of donuts and not eat any of them (in the past I would have taken 2 or 3).

I have tried many things in the past, and this so far has been the most successful thing in terms of both keeping the weight off and creating a healthy lifestyle change which I can stick with.
posted by markblasco at 8:43 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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