30-something lady still eating like my 80's latchkey kid self
December 31, 2013 2:42 PM   Subscribe

Resolution time! I grew up eating junk food. Lots of it. My fruit/veggie intake is minimal to non-existent. Though my BMI is in the healthy range, I know I can't possibly be healthy with decades of this diet. Where do I even start to relearn how to eat?

Here's where it's tricky: I know how to eat right, in theory. I've read Michael Pollan, seen Food Inc., eschew soda pop, most meat, and fast food. As compensation for my own issues, I feed my son a well-rounded diet with very few processed foods/sugar/artificial ingredients. But then I go to the farmers market and the produce I bought for myself wilts along with my lofty visions of being "good". I go straight for the bag of Trader Joes peanut butter cups instead, and that is my lunch.

Here are the problems I can wrap my head around:

- I ritualize eating junk food and have a nearly-unquenchable sweet tooth. Since childhood I have had a ritual of once alone, going to my happy place (i.e. watching TV [80s], reading the paper [90s], or catching up on blogs/RSS [00s+]) while polishing off a half a bag of chips and a pint of Ben&Jerrys, or similar. I actually get uncomfortable when I don't have the opportunity to act out this ritual on a given day.

- I am lazy when it comes to my own food. I cook for my family, but when it comes to me I always opt for microwaving a slice of bread with cheese over like... making a salad or something. Even if I serve myself the same well-rounded food I do for them, I kinda push around what’s on my plate, maybe because I know I can get the “good stuff” later.

- Fruit and vegetables never sound good. I can go weeks without eating it. I never walk past our fruit bowl and think "gee, an apple sounds delightful!" quite in contrast to my produce-loving husband. He has suggested that this is because I eat so much sugar and am desensitized to those delicious fruit flavors.

- If I know I need to eat less junk food, then what do I actually eat? Salads? Fish and broccoli? I'm afraid if I don't have a halfway yummy new meal plan that I will be back on the ice cream & pizza horse in less than a week. Maybe I need to make peace with the idea that the new food won't be as satisfying as the old food, and be okay with that.

Any advice as to how to get out of a decades-long junk food rut would be appreciated. Advice as to how to get motivated to eat better would be welcome too.
posted by sixtyten to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I start my day with a green smoothie. Assorted leafy green vegetables, cucumber, some frozen fruit, water, and whatever else I wanna put in the blender (flax, chia, spirulina, banana, avocado, carrots, peppers, etc.). It gets me a bunch of vegetables, and it's easy to consume and not much more work than a cheese sandwich - especially if you prep (chop, peel, etc.) in advance.
posted by backwards guitar at 2:56 PM on December 31, 2013

I wasn't raised on junk food, but I do love me some sugary snacks and have been known to polish off a family size bag of mini Reeses cups in less than 12 hours.

Two things have really helped me eat more healthfully:

1. I usually eat only expensive junk food - fancy chocolates, pricey salty treats, etc. This financially limits how many of these items I can eat, and reinforces the idea that they are "splurges."

2. I always feel better (physically and mentally/emotionally) when I'm eating lots of fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains. I would bet good money that you are the same way. So, I recommend slogging through a week or two of exclusively (or almost-exclusively) healthy eating, and see how you feel. If you can learn to equate roasted veggies with less headaches or a happier digestive system, you may learn to love those veggies!

Maybe I need to make peace with the idea that the new food won't be as satisfying as the old food, and be okay with that.

This definitely does not need to be the case! Sometimes you really do need a cheeseburger, but other times something better for you can be just as satisfying. Try out local restaurants that specialize in delicious but healthy cuisine - it is out there, I promise.

Okay, one more thing. Don't eliminate sweets and other less-than-healthy goodies from your diet entirely. It's absolutely okay to eat those peanut butter cups now and then if you're getting lots of healthy things in your diet, too.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:57 PM on December 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

Advice as to how to get motivated to eat better would be welcome too.

Would doing it for your family (esp. your children) work? They want you to be around for a long time, and eating your veggies is a great way to do that.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:58 PM on December 31, 2013

Freedom is not "eating whatever I want." Freedom is being free from the urges telling you to eat junk. Freedom is eating healthfully. Right now, you are basically enslaved by your urges.

Small word of advice:
If your system is not accustomed to adequate water and fiber, you should ease into it so you don't get scared about the speed with which food can move through you.

If you are cooking healthy meals for your family, then why not just eat that? Takes less time then a specially prepared meal, and you don't have to worry about what to eat -- just eat what you normally prepare for them.
posted by Houstonian at 3:02 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I really like Mark Bittman's Vegan before 6 approach. Basically, he eats no animal products before dinner, then anything he wants, within moderation, in the evening.
posted by elizeh at 3:03 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

One thing I've found to be true is that the simpler my diet is, the more flavor each food has. This is somewhat in line with what your husband has said.

So on the one hand, I think it's true that you set yourself up for failure if you decide you're going to quit junk food cold turkey. On the other hand, the less of it you have in your diet, the better *everything* tastes, not just fruit & veggies.

Personally, I do not think of myself as a big fan of fruit (vegetables are another matter), but what I do is figure out what fruits I do like and I bring a small amount of them to work with me along with my other foods for the week, so that at lunch each day I have a serving of fruit. A serving isn't very big, by the way. I have a satsuma, or a handful of grapes, or a very small apple. Because I bring five days' of lunches to work with me on Mondays (along with my breakfasts and snacks), I have far less temptation to eat junk or only eat chocolate as a meal during the day.
posted by janey47 at 3:04 PM on December 31, 2013

If you find yourself letting the good stuff go bad while you revert to junk food, just... don't buy junk food.

Also? Cut yourself some slack! I would love to be one of those everything from scratch "shop only the outer edges of the supermarket" type people. But I work long hours, live alone, and find it much easier to eat well if I can have middle ground about these things.

So I don't buy chips or candy, but I do buy ready-made pasta sauce, canned beans and tomatoes, boxed soups and stock, frozen vegetables, and basically anything that will make it easier to assemble a healthy meal at the end of a long work day.

Today for lunch I browned some ground beef, added a can of black beans, a can of tomato sauce, and a packet of "chili seasoning" and in less than ten minutes I had delicious protein-rich chili simmering on the stove. (And I think it cost under $5, total.) I'm sure Michael Pollan would die, but, hey, it's better than ordering pizza or gorging on sweets.

Also, since you mention Trader Joe's, the secret most amazing part of that store is the FROZEN STUFF. Just about every frozen item they sell is unbelievably delicious and does exactly what it says on the tin. I haven't been let down yet. Get whatever you want. Char Siu Bao. Dumplings. Tamales. Frozen brown rice that can be reheated on the stove in 5 minutes or less (one of those and one of their Indian meals makes a perfectly serviceable meal in minutes). Edamame for snacking. You could probably do better than their frozen pizza, but seriously, there are some lifesavers in the TJ's freezer section.

I'm also curious what you feed your kid, and why you can't just eat whatever you feed him.
posted by Sara C. at 3:04 PM on December 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

Stop buying separate food for 'you' and 'them'. If you don't 'know you can have the good stuff later' you might stop just pushing your food around on your plate.

Otherwise: stop buying healthy food you hate, or that's a hassle to make. Buy stuff you like and that is pre-prepped. Stop making excuses, and change your mindset. You don't actually sound like you want to eat well, you sound like you want to want to eat well.
posted by Kololo at 3:05 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

My re-commitment to eating healthier is always to add foods that are healthy, rather than taking away foods that are not.

I start by adding in more fiber.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:05 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Just start small. Add an apple a day, or a banana. I swear to you, the more you eat a thing, the more you will like it.

Case in point, a staple snack with my grandmother (this is going to sound disgusting, I know) was a banana and a warm can of V-8. Her idea was that the banana rounded out all the sodium in the V-8 and all that vegetable goodness was rounding out the crap my dad was (or wasn't, on any given day) feeding me. I still love a banana paired with a V-8. Because, habits. The body grows to like the things we put in it.

So. Just pick one familiar thing that you think you "should" be eating more of. Don't try to overhaul your whole diet in one go. So this could be an apple, or broccoli. Also have one more glass of water than you usually do. Have that glass of water at the same time every day. Like first thing when you wake up, or with lunch. Or while you're having your RSS chip snack.

Do not go out and buy a whole bunch of veggies that you never cook. Once you're in the habit of eating one serving of vegetable a day, add in a fruit. Then once you're reliably up to two, start cutting back on the stuff you think you shouldn't be eating. Don't cut it out. Just, when you sit down to read with your chips, make sure you're sitting down with a bowl instead of a bag. Measure out a serving (use a scale, do not eyeball a serving) and give yourself permission to have three servings. Do that for a week, three servings in a sitting. Keep up your fruit and vegetable habit. After a week, see how it feels to drop your chip time down to two servings. If it's awful, just power through the week. If it's still awful, keep it at two for another week. If it's fine, drop down to one serving of chips in your bowl. Keep your fruit and veg the same.

Now, think about adding another fruit or veg to your routine. Or each week add just a night where you eat whatever the other members of your family are having for dinner, while they are eating it. Sit down and eat as a family, all the same thing.
posted by bilabial at 3:05 PM on December 31, 2013 [18 favorites]

A sliced apple is more attractive than a whole apple. Slice the unwanted apple, put it in a bowl, take a bite, and see if it becomes more attractive at that point.

Don't keep as much junk food around for yourself. Limit that budget. I keep fair trade dark chocolate on hand because it takes a lot longer to go through. Allow extra money in the budget for the tastiest of fruits and veggies that you WILL eat. I allow myself to spend as much on avocados and blueberries etc. as I can eat because I am willing to eat them and they're tasty.

Drench the salad in unhealthy salad dressings. It still gets the veggies in. Read up on getting children to eat their produce. Always have at least some of the stuff everyone else is having. It's ok if you don't change everything overnight. It's ok if the transition takes years, even.
posted by aniola at 3:06 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know I can't possibly be healthy with decades of this diet.

Why do you say that? To a first degree, health can be measured with lab tests and body measurements. You're already doing well on the second front (healthy BMI) and the other can be handled by a quick visit to the doctor. Humans are somewhat odd creatures, in that we can subsist on pretty much anything that's edible. This is proven across the world with cultures with relatively limited diets.

I don't like calling certain foods "healthy" and some "unhealthy" because often there's no provable benefit to "good food" versus "bad foods". A somewhat contrived example of this is that a McDouble sandwich is a more nutritionally complete food than an avocado. You seem to have the idea that a salad is "better for you" than a piece of cheese on a piece of bread. That is radically over-simplifying nutrition. Your body doesn't run on "good food", it runs on nutrients. If you are able to satisfy your body's need for nutrients, then you aren't doing too badly.

This isn't meant to suggest you shouldn't consider changing your diet - for one thing, I think you'll feel better with a better diet, even if it's just somatic. However, you shouldn't be too hard on yourself for your current lifestyle choices.
posted by saeculorum at 3:12 PM on December 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

As for how I keep less healthy choices out of my diet, my secret is that I can't afford crap food, for the most part. If a candy or potato chip I really like goes on sale, like, buy one, get one free, I'll buy two.

And then I don't get more candy or chips until something awesome goes on sale again.

While it sounds like food is not breaking your budget, when you get to the point where you are cutting foods out of your diet, that might be a way to think of it. You have $x for less healthy choices, how are you going to allocate these dollars?

This is kind of along the lines that a doctor I once knew gave as advice to smokers who kept failing to quit. He said, "Smoke three cigarettes a day. Pick the three cigarettes you really, truly enjoy. Smoke them mindfully." Patients were not "allowed" to smoke while doing anything else. They had to fully engage with the cigarette, and really enjoy it. I don't think you need to move toward quitting the less healthy food choices just yet, but when you're ready to, be really mindful about which choices you are making. And be honest with yourself that they are choices.

Also? Improving health seems to be have a whole lot to do with walking. Take one walk a day. 15 to 30 minutes. Bring your kids. Just once around your block.
posted by bilabial at 3:13 PM on December 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

My partner will eat an entire bag of chocolate chips in one sitting. So first I put them in a small container. Then he'd just eat that. Then I suggested that he limit the chocolate chip intake to one at a time. They still went quickly. So then I suggested one in the mouth at a time. Still gone quickly.

So I asked him how many chocolate chips he wanted to eat in any given day. "This many." We counted. Now when he eats chocolate chips, he gets 5 dozen individual chocolatey moments of deliciousness. And then he goes and finds some raisins.
posted by aniola at 3:16 PM on December 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

- If I know I need to eat less junk food, then what do I actually eat? Salads? Fish and broccoli? I'm afraid if I don't have a halfway yummy new meal plan that I will be back on the ice cream & pizza horse in less than a week. Maybe I need to make peace with the idea that the new food won't be as satisfying as the old food, and be okay with that.

I'd actually suggest just working in more produce into the foods you already like! I think if you leap into broccoli and beans it would be like trying to love running by jumping into five mile runs: painful and not sustainable.

Try layering in berries (fresh or frozen and warmed up in the microwave with the ice cream. Add more vegetables to your pizza or buy salad in a bag. It's okay to buy the convenience versions of vegetables: if it helps and you can afford it, then do that. Add mirepoix to your sauces/chilies. I love microwave peas and spinach; try adding them to pasta with cream sauces. Find a salad dressing you like and try eating it with not just salads but sliced cucumbers and sweet red pepper slices. Marinara sauce counts as a vegetable! Try adding roasted red pepper slices (jarred-- convenient!) to those cheese sandwiches or spread one avocado on the brea first. Make baked apples with cinnamon, raises, and honey. Making burgers? Put a decent-sized tomato slice and leaf of lettuce on top, or caramelized onions.

And hey, if your husband likes produce, have him take on the challenge of making produce-rich dishes you won't want to avoid; surely he has some favorites up his sleeve.
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:17 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

One approach might be to only buy yourself "sugar-free" junk food of the sort that lists "sugar alcohol" as its primary source of carbs. That stuff is not diet food, it has all the same calories as sweets made with real sugar and the taste is, to me, indistinguishable; it's really just a slightly-modified form of sugar that is metabolized more slowly so as to be of benefit to diabetics trying to control their glucose levels.

The salient thing is that for most people eating more than a small amount of sugar alcohol results in an effect somewhat like lactose intolerance. So you can eat as much as you want... provided you're willing to put up with the intestinal discomfort and spend lots of time on the toilet. So, it might be helpful as a Pavlovian approach for developing portion control with sweets. I feel like it's helped me gradually eat more healthily in that way, unintentionally though - I don't have much of a choice since I'm diabetic.

Don't forget to let the other people in your house know, of course...

(Obviously the better route is just to eat a more healthy and balanced diet via integrity and strength of character rather than manipulating yourself this way, but I figured I'd suggest something that doesn't rely entirely on increased willpower and eternal vigilance.)
posted by Sockpuppet Liberation Front at 3:22 PM on December 31, 2013

have a nearly-unquenchable sweet tooth.

I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but sugars in the form of other carbs like bread are my weakness. I've been eating mostly low-carb for a few years and it's amazing how quickly you lose the craving for sugar when you eliminate it from your diet (and also how quickly your cravings ramp up again when you introduce even a small amount back into your diet.)

I bet if you could go 10 days with a greatly-reduced sugar intake you would forever be able to tell the difference. It may not make you give up sweets completely, but you will be much more in tune to how your body is reacting to them and over time I think you'll just want that to get back that better feeling on your own when you overindulge.
posted by Room 641-A at 3:31 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you have access to healthy foods now but don't eat them, so I think a "no junk food allowed" plan might be what it takes to jumpstart a healther diet.

I'd suggest you go cold-turkey off of refined sugar, and maybe sugars in general, via a plan like paleo (shopping list), Atkins, this book, or the South Beach induction. There are blogs and recipe books to show you what you could eat on those diets.

I'd accompany it with some new endorphin-releasing exercise regime like boot camp or daily yoga, since exercise really helps with mood and appetite. Quitting sugar cold-turkey is brutal otherwise. (Seriously brutal.) Include a regular "cheat day" or have a stated end date (like 30 days) so that you need not fear never having peanut butter (or whatever) again.

This probably sounds like a crazy idea, but it won't kill you to try something a bit crazy for 30 days. The experiment will teach you things that don't make sense when others say them (e.g., what your husband was saying about the apples). You might find yourself craving (but not allowed to eat) apples and instead coping via a bowl of cherry tomatoes. You'll gain a new set of recipes, and a new understanding of how certain foods make you feel. That information will allow you to devise a healthier approach to food for yourself.
posted by salvia at 3:41 PM on December 31, 2013

Best answer: Hi, I'm a nutrition counselor and this is what I do for a living. It sounds to me like you need to work on basic eating competence skills rather than going on a restrictive diet. The reason for this is that, for many people, deciding not to eat a particular food (e.g. sugar or snack food) backfires. It may seem to work in the short term, but eventually you might find yourself face down in a pile of the exact food you were trying to avoid. To me, it's a better idea to learn how to navigate that food in a healthy way rather than to banish it entirely.

Eating competence is based around the idea of using the pleasure of eating to motivate you to improve your skills and consistency with feeding yourself (including cooking), seeking a wider variety of foods for better nutrition, and dealing with emotional eating through permission combined with mindful eating, and learning other coping skills on the side so that eating isn't your only option.

Here's a series of articles on eating competence. And here's a book about it. You can also memail me if you want more detailed info.
posted by Ouisch at 4:14 PM on December 31, 2013 [27 favorites]

When I was trying to "eat right" I had to stop buying larger portion items. No big bags of chips, no family sizes, no bags of candy. (Peanut Butter M&M's are my downfall)

When you get groceries, only get one candy bar or get a small/lunch size bag of chips, etc. For me, if it wasn't in the house, I would find something else to eat. While I still ate the treat, I was not able to eat as much of it.
posted by Leenie at 4:27 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Echoing the advice to start small, and also to ditch the idea of "making peace" with the notion that eating healthy = unsatisfying. That mindset is one of deprivation, and you'll never be able to develop (let alone maintain) a healthy approach to eating that way. Also, think about it logically: do you really believe that everyone who eats more fruits and vegetables is inherently unsatisfied, and they're only sticking with it out of grim resolution? Probably not. So if others can genuinely enjoy and find satisfaction in a healthier diet, then so can you -- it might take time and practice to do, but it is possible.

Some easy, healthy snacks that can satisfy the craving for sweet, salty, and/or fat: Slice an apple and eat with cheese or peanut butter. Carrot and celery sticks with dressing (bleu cheese or ranch or something else you like) or hummus or some other type of dip. Make a peanut butter sandwich with banana slices. Mix plain yogurt with granola, a drizzle of honey, and dried cherries. Snack on trail mix with nuts, chocolate chips, and dried fruit. Make crackers and cheese with slices of avocado.

Roast vegetables are a very easy, versatile accompaniment for dinner. Cut up vegs (it can be asparagus, sweet potato, butternut squash, carrots, broccoli, whatever) into bite-size pieces, toss with some olive oil and sea salt, and roast at 350 or 375 till they're golden and a little caramelized (20-30 mins, on average).
posted by scody at 4:34 PM on December 31, 2013

Think of a vegetable that doesn't seem all that bad to you - tomato, squash, broccoli, whatever.

Then read up on recipes for that veg until you find something that sounds insanely delicious. You can start here.

Try the recipe. See how you like it.

Rinse and repeat. Hopefully in time you can built a repertoire of healthy foods that you love to eat.

At the same time you slowly can cut back on treats or make some substitutions. Yogurt and fresh fruit smoothie to replace ice cream, maybe. Popcorn with some kind of delicious topping instead of potato chips.

(I used to think of a snickers bar with a pepsi as a totally legitimate snack. Then I cut way back on sugar - switched to diet soda and savory snacks - and found that my afternoon slumps and headaches stopped happening).
posted by bunderful at 5:18 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

The little things I do off and on that help when the sugar in my life is getting silly:

Decide to have one serving of crap per day. You can decide when and where, but look at the package, serve yourself that much. Choosing the time and place and not going cold turkey helps my mindset.

Don't buy crap at the store. (This means I bake a lot, but the delay changes the relationship for me.)

What's a regular breakfast for you? I've found that cereal for breakfast means cookies all day, where an egg or oatmeal keeps me happier to make healthier choices.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:25 PM on December 31, 2013

Drizzle maple syrup on frozen fruit. Just as sweet, but much more fiber and other healthy goodness.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:35 PM on December 31, 2013

You might like Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef (blog, a couple books?); she was raised on the same food, and had (HAD) to make a transition to healthier food (the story is in her book, which was different in tone from her blog). The fact the it's gluten free is beside the point - everything she makes sounds delicious (to me, at least!).

I've stopped eating sugar a couple times, and after a few weeks find that anything sweet just tastes blah - cloyingly sweet with no flavor at all. Even Lindt.

The flip side to this is that getting really good produce makes a huge difference - grocery store apples come in two flavors - okay and flavorless. Organic apples from a friends farm blew my mind and had the complexity of a good Moscato. Totally different thing.
posted by jrobin276 at 10:28 PM on December 31, 2013

Best answer: If I were you, the first step I would take is not to go on any specific diet. I would make one simple rule: no junk food allowed in the house. I can see the points being made above about allowing yourself to have treats sometimes, but eating habits are very emotional (as you noted) and different strategies work for different people, and I don't think having the junk food there and just planning to eat less of it is going to work for you. It would not work for me, I am sure of that.

It seems to me that all of your problems stem from keeping a hoard of junk food in the house. You ignore fruits and vegetables as snacks, you don't eat the wholesome food you're serving your family, and you enact rituals in which you eat junk food in large quantities. All of these things take place in your home and are enabled by the access to junk food there. If you just say "from now on, I will not buy junk food and keep it in the house", you'll be able to solve these problems in a way that allows you to combat your lack of willpower in the moment you're ready to eat - don't go hungry to the grocery store, buy the things you want to eat (whatever you enjoy, as long as it's not junk food - fruits, vegetables yes, but could also be meat, dairy, grains). When you go to eat a snack, or to have dinner, or to do your daily relaxing/me time ritual, you can eat anything in the house, because there won't be junk food there. Eating a piece of cheese on bread is nowhere near on the same level as eating a pint of Ben and Jerry's or a bag of peanut butter cups. When you go out to eat, you can order dessert, or if you're at a party, you can eat junk food if it's there - in these cases it's a special treat, not something you're eating every day (much less for every meal, if I'm reading your post correctly!)

Once you cut the very extreme sugary and fatty foods out of your home meals, I think you'll be in a much better position to appreciate and eat the healthier snacks and meals that you have available there. Then you can work on taking further steps to improving your diet.

Quitting sugar cold-turkey is brutal...Include a regular "cheat day"...so that you need not fear never having peanut butter (or whatever) again.
As a postscript, I just want to point out that there are a lot of foods currently that are being manipulated by the food industry to be more addictive (perhaps your next read should be "Salt Sugar Fat" - here's a New York Times article by the author summarizing some of the salient points). By being mindful at the grocery store, you can take steps to avoid such engineered foods. Peanut butter doesn't have to have any sugar or salt (or high fructose corn syrup!) in it. The peanut butter I buy has a single ingredient: roasted peanuts. And it tastes great.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:13 PM on December 31, 2013 [8 favorites]

I was raised on McDonald's and Hamburger Helper and ate over a pound of candy a week growing up. I knocked that off, mostly because I took an agriculture class and a botany class that both had "real" food components. I didn't have to make much effort. Once I was thinking and talking about nutrition all the time, my eating just changed.
posted by amodelcitizen at 6:28 AM on January 1, 2014

If you are not worried about your comfort eating as 'troublesome' and only worried about getting in some 'good foods' maybe you can make some small switches. Buy whole grain waffles and cover them in butter and syrup. Cover your banana in peanut butter. Create a chocolate whipped cream dessert with a few berries in it. Cover some broccoli in cheese, bacon, and salad dressing. Start with mostly crap and a little fruit/veggie and try to increase. Unless you want to 'deal with some underlying emotional security blanket'. But sometimes I think our blankets aren't hurting us so much...
posted by Kalmya at 6:51 AM on January 1, 2014

I am kind of like you -- thin, seemingly healthy, lifelong sweet tooth. My diet's generally good in that I eat mostly-unprocessed high-quality food in small quantities, but has been bad in that I seem to lean naturally towards protein, fat & sugar at the expense of fruits and vegetables.

But: when I bought a juicer, my food habits changed dramatically, accidentally. I found that once I started drinking a glass of orange juice first thing every morning, I didn't want anything else sweet for the rest of that day. And within a few weeks of my overall sugar consumption dropping, I started to find myself hungering for, and eating, healthier foods in general -- so for example, I would find myself craving things like walnuts or blue cheese or green beans, instead of potato chips or cookies.

What's been awesome is that this change has required absolutely zero effort on my part. I am terrible at self-denial and find talking/thinking about nutrition unbelievably boring. I do not want to try to eat well. You sound like you might be similar and if so, I recommend juice :-)
posted by Susan PG at 12:07 PM on January 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I grew up as a latchkey kid with an endless supply of microwaveable snacks. Though I don't have much of a sweet tooth, I do have a potato chip black hole event horizon in my mouth.

Things that have worked in reducing snack attacks
1) Finding the less indulgent indulgence (120 calorie servings of microwavable popcorn instead of giant bags of Flaming Hot Cheetos)
2) Finding the easy access fruit or vegetable (grapes, clementines, cherry tomatoes). Basically anything "ready to eat" that I can immediately "pop open" and eat.
3) Assembling salads out of veggies I brought from home at work. At work, an extra 5 minutes putting together a healthy snack seems like a nice break from a paperwork deadline instead of boring chore at home that's keeping me from my RSS feed surfing.
4) Keeping frozen fruit at home to make smoothies. I sometimes throw in a few spinach leaves or whatever to make it all green and glowing with veggie righteousness.

Good luck!
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:37 PM on January 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

detoxing from sugar will make you crave healthy food. i notice that as soon as i go back to eating sugar, the healthy food starts to be less appealing and that carb tooth grows and grows. and the opposite too. juicing will nourish and make you crave more nutrition. eating junk that is addictively fattening, sweet or salty will make you crave more of that.

you have to stock your home with things that you should be eating, as well. reserve treats for social occasions or eating out, etc. don't keep big bags of junk around.

it's helpful to stop yourself for a moment when nighttime snack attack arrives, pause, and ask yourself/think to yourself: "how do i feel right now? am i hungry? sad? bored? annoyed? anxious? why am i eating this? will it nourish me? how am i likely to feel after eating it?" before going facefirst into a bag of processed indulgences.

varied smoothies are my favorite hack for this problem, for what it's worth.
posted by zdravo at 10:23 AM on January 6, 2014

More advice based on a recent quest to alter my own eating (or really, drinking) habits: Drink Tea!

I'm trying to cut way down on drinking, and am pretty much not drinking at all in the month of January. Every time I crave a drink, I make myself a cup of herbal tea. It gives me a nice little ritual similar to the ones surrounding drinking, gives me something to do with my hands*, and puts a delicious and comforting beverage in my hands.

It's working remarkably well. Could you do something like this to modify your own diet? Maybe swap junky snacks for baby carrots or pomegranate seeds? Get a cup of tea or a glass of water every time you find yourself boredom-hungry?

*It's kind of unbelievable how much I turn to either snacking or nursing a drink as just an activity to be physically doing with my body.
posted by Sara C. at 10:44 AM on January 6, 2014

Response by poster: Waaaaay belated, but:

Thanks everyone for the incredibly helpful replies. There was a lot to chew on... er, plenty of food for thought... grooooooan. Okay, enough pitiful punning.

After I posted this question and read through the comments, I decided to forge ahead with my plan to drop sugar completely for a month. With only a couple of exceptions, I adhered to this plan successfully. My energy levels did seem to stay more consistent and I felt better overall. Interestingly, though, I found myself continuing to ritualize the eating of my food, only substituting the previous ice cream and cookies with cheese or chips and salsa. I found myself at the end of the month having no greater affinity for fruit or vegetables than before. For me, the experiment only underscored what Ouisch and others brought up in terms of emotional eating.

So, while I haven't exactly resolved my issues, I feel that I gained some clarity about them. I can definitely see now that there's something deeper at play. I'm not sure what my path forward is, apart from doing some reading on emotional eating and trying to think about food in an entirely different way. Thanks again, all!
posted by sixtyten at 9:07 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

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