How to disipline myself to eat healthier while combating food addiction?
July 26, 2021 3:58 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to change my lifestyle to a more healthy diet and exercising routine, but it has not been easy and it is overwhelming at times.

I am in my late twenties and trying to change my eating habits to making and preparing fresh meals, salads, smoothies and eat less take out and process foods and junk. It is not easy when I have a food addiction and constant chocolate, chips, and white pasta cravings. How do you discipline yourself with food addiction? Should I only eat junk food once a week? Do you have a small piece of junk one a day, but in moderation?

I also find it overwhelming to prep and prepare - cutting vegetables, making salads, cooking chicken, et cetera - as I am used to taking out and easy processed meals. Yet I am trying to consume a lot of organic fresh fruits and veggies but the junk cravings are still there. How do you gain willpower and realise that a healthy clean diet is important? I know it's better for my physical health and mental health, but preparing meals and getting accustomed to veggies, healthy grains, and fruits all the time isn't always easy.
posted by RearWindow to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I suggest dropping all sweetened foods and refined flours and sugars. Not gradually, but cold turkey.

This helps a lot.
posted by jgirl at 4:14 PM on July 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

Discipline doesn't work for me. If it is in the house, I will eat it. So if I am trying to avoid some type of food, it is not in the house. If I want to indulge, it has to be in a restaurant, or I enjoy it with a friend and they take home any leftovers.
posted by nanook at 4:14 PM on July 26, 2021 [16 favorites]

I use pre cut vegetables and frozen vegetables to reduce prep time. I don't worry about if it's organic (it's one less thing to worry about when grocery shopping).

I often cook double of the "meat". Cooking 2 chicken breasts is not much more effort than 1, for example. It's much easier to avoid the take out line when I know dinner prep is just reheating leftovers.

I don't buy chips, cookies, or processed snacks anymore. This is not to say I never eat those things, only that I eat less overall when they aren't already in my cabinets.

Cutting chocolate out completely doesn't work for me, so I aim for moderation. To satisfy my sweet tooth I make chocolate milk but not from a premix. I use loose chocolate powder and sugar so I can control how much sugar I'm consuming. It's not as good as nothing, but it's better than a candy bar.

Good luck.
posted by rakaidan at 4:23 PM on July 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

I can't have this stuff in the house or I'll eat it. When I'm really trying to make big changes like this, I have to cut out all the junk for a while, especially the most tempting things.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:46 PM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

I advise taking your time a little bit - it can be really overwhelming getting into the pattern of meal prep and home cooking, so do it transitionally over a couple of months. Start by planning to cook maybe one meal that will feed you twice every week, and maybe 1-2 other meals made from shortcuts like frozen steamer vegetables and pre-cooked or ready-to-cook meat (check your grocery deli where they may have things like baked chicken and fish, and your meat department may also have ready-to-cook meats as well). After a couple of weeks of that, try adding in a casserole or other many-serving dish you can make and freeze most of it to be eating 1-2 times a week over future weeks. If you can do that every week or two, eventually you'll have a rotating selection of options in the freezer for a couple of easy meals every week.

The other thing I encourage is keeping most of your meals incredibly simple. Most of our weeknight meals are a protein and two low-carb vegetables, plus a salad if I'm really feeling fancy. Chicken + zucchini + cauli rice, seasoned well and maybe augmented with a little bit of premade or homemade sauce or a bit of cheese or something like that, that's a typical meal. Lots of brussels sprouts and broccoli too, because you can buy them in 1-2lb bags and they'll keep a good 10 days in the fridge. Not every meal needs to be A Recipe, it can just be food.

In the meantime, put some thought into the patterns you know you have that you want to change, and see if you can just try disrupting the pattern or doing some harm reduction before going cold-turkey. For me, like others say, I generally just can't keep certain foods in the house because I can't consume them mindfully, but I also need to find some things I can keep on hand that will scratch an itch without being so much of a portion problem.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:54 PM on July 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

I understand it's hokey for some, but honestly, keto. It allows chocolate and traditionally "indulgent" foods while cutting carbs/sug/etc.

Indulging deeply in some items while cutting out others provides just enough initiative. Once processed sugar is gone, it's easy to realize how much it sucks. If revisited, it's especially easy.

And yes, meal prep. Prep meals like the coming apocalypse is at the end of summer/fall/whatever.
posted by firstdaffodils at 4:55 PM on July 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

- I, too, don't allow unhealthy food in the house in the first place with the exception of half a frozen thin crust pizza on Friday nights (husband gets the other half).

-I use an inexpensive meal planning service (Platejoy) which takes the decision fatigue factor out of the equation and is slowly teaching me to cook healthy meals for myself. Healthy food can be way more delicious than you think. It is not hyperbole to say this changed my life.

-I give myself a break if I'm going out with friends and eating at a restaurant or grabbing a quick bite. It doesn't happen often enough to be a problem but does happen often enough that I don't feel totally deprived. I DON'T let my myself get fast food on my own for lunch or whatever - it has to be a social occasion.
posted by Jess the Mess at 4:57 PM on July 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

First thing is to give up entirely on the idea of willpower. Willpower is bullshit. Willpower is all about using some kind of mental force to override choices you'd otherwise make, and it doesn't work very well and is fucking exhausting besides.

What you need to be doing instead is working toward forming the choices you want to make into new habits, so that they become the choices you just make automatically without needing to fight yourself to get that done. And the way to do that is by approaching this retraining process methodically and piece by piece.

First up, make one structural change to what you're doing now. Whenever you find yourself faced with the kind of choice that you'd currently be dealing with via an effort of will, just log the options before you and mark the one you actually chose as a dated, timed journal entry. A little spiral bound notebook stuck in a back pocket with a pencil down the binding is good for this.

Whether it took willpower to make the choice doesn't matter; the aim is to generate a map of your existing habits, and habits are about what you repeatedly do, not so much about what was in your head as that happened. Journaling troublesome choices will be an ongoing process, overlaid on everything else you do.

Once you've got at least a couple of weeks of journal entries to work with, make a regular time each week to review them. The purpose of the review is to identify the one habitual choice that you're the least satisfied with. You'll be focusing on only that choice until the following review.

Having picked your one habitual choice to work on for the coming week, what you're going to do next is focus not on the leadup to making the choice - which is where willpower usually gets slotted in - but on the immediate aftermath. Whichever way the choice comes out, what you need to be doing is paying close and detailed attention to how you feel for at least two minutes after having made it. Don't bother logging the results of that; the paying immediate attention is the point of this exercise, not giving yourself opportunities for getting bogged down in self-praise or self-recrimination long after the fact.

What paying deliberate attention in this way will do is update your brain's anticipated reward value for the option you wound up choosing. This is something that in the normal course of events we tend not to do very much, and the result is that our brains (which basically run on habit all the way down) approach most of our choice points with a habitual anticipated reward value that more often than not is years out of date.

If this process works for you - and it's based on how brains actually function, so there's a good chance it will - then your habits journal should let you see that the choices that have been causing you the most distress are actually shifting over time. Once your brain is working with accurate anticipated reward values it will tend to make good choices all by itself, no willpower required.

Training your own brain to make choices you're actually happy to have made takes a little longer to get results than trying to run away from self-defeating choices by deliberately limiting their associated options, but it's also more robust, less stressful, and less prone to promoting anxiety.

I can thoroughly recommend Judson Brewer's book Unwinding Anxiety, which is the work that drew the idea of anticipated reward values to my attention.
posted by flabdablet at 5:00 PM on July 26, 2021 [28 favorites]

If you are used to takeout and easy processed meals, don’t try to jump in to cooking everything from scratch - that’s way too overwhelming! I’d start with one small change, and only add another change after you’re used to the first one. I also find that positive food goals work a lot better for me than negative ones - so if I’m going to make a change, I try to do something like, “eat a green vegetable every day at dinner” or “sit down to eat lunch rather than grazing” instead of trying to avoid foods.
posted by insectosaurus at 5:18 PM on July 26, 2021 [6 favorites]

Drop carbs (breads, chips, pasta, refined sugar) as much as you can, right away. From my experience, eating even a little amount tends to trigger a craving for more. (Can't stop at just one chip, right?) It might seem impossible, but after a week or so it will feel normal.

Fruits and vegetables are your friends. Find something that you can munch on to satisfy the need for oral gratification. I favor chopped celery and carrot chips with a little lemon juice.

I typically cook for two or three days in advance. One of the great things about cooking four chicken breasts at once is: you can give yourself permission to not eat all of it. ("Cleaning your plate" was once of the bad habits I acquired in childhood.) So instead of preparing a small serving of meat, cook a big ol' steak or bunch of chicken, and just serve yourself out of that. (Consider obtaining a set of containers for your 'fridge just for this purpose.) And remember that cooked meat freezes and re-heats pretty well.
posted by SPrintF at 5:34 PM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

When I lived in the US fulltime and I was working, I ordered in two or three frozen keto entrées per week. I'd typically cook one simple dinner from scratch over the weekend and have the leftovers from that a couple times a week. I ordered lunch out and made low carb protein smoothies for breakfast.

Cooking everything you eat is wayyyy too ambitious for most people who work more than 20 hours a week. It's ok not to do that. Precut or frozen veggies and fruits will help you out too, as will a food processor.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:37 PM on July 26, 2021

You are trying to make a huge swathe of lifestyle changes all at once, which is super overwhelming and almost guaranteed to fail, unless you have a full complement of support staff and tons of money. Take things one step at a time, and if the steps don’t seem doable break them down into smaller and smaller steps. Maybe one step is cleaning out your pantry so you don’t have low nutrition snacks in the house, but you still have plenty of ready meals. Maybe one step is trying a few ways to cook a vegetable you’re not too keen on. Maybe one step is even just going to the grocery store and familiarizing yourself with the produce department better. Maybe one step is spending focus on your schedule to make time for cooking that wasn’t there before.

Remember that our taste adapts and changes over time. I promise it’s real, because it has happened to me multiple times. I went from college eating to living on top of a hippy dippy organic co-op grocery store, which was awesome and full of fresh ready to eat things in their deli and hot bar, and after a few months a huge chunk of my previously enjoyed snacks and meals were way too sweet or salty for me. I actively craved crunchy vegetables and beans soups and such. Then I stopped living there and indulged in more restaurant food, my taste got back to wanting more heavy and rich things. But I focused on cooking for myself more and using less salt because of blood pressure concerns and now much of take out and snack foods are way too salty. It’s an ongoing journey, you know? Keep trying and don’t punish yourself for enjoying yummy things, just continue to expand your idea of yummy.

A lot of places do have pretty good options on their menus if you take the time to really look into it. Find a few different restaurants that can give you a nutritious meal and use them as backups for when you’re just not going to cook. That way you don’t have to make decisions on the spot and can just get whatever the thing is you already know is pretty solid from whatever place is accessible to you that day.

Cooking all the time can be a nearly full time job, especially if you’re not practiced. You will get a lot faster and better at it over time, even if you don’t do it much for a while and get back to it. Skills like vegetable chopping and getting a feel for scheduling things with different cook times to be ready at the same time, cleaning as you go, knowing when meats are cooked, all of that really only comes with practice. So set your expectations simple and low. Make lots of things you can mix and match and combine and eat as leftovers, like sheet pan meals, grain bowls, veggie platters, dips. I’ve never understood smoothies because there is so much prep for such little payoff, but maybe that’s your thing. Try a new thing when you have energy for it but it’s okay to stick to basics and use shortcuts like precut and frozen veggies, shredded cheeses, frozen cooked grains, canned beans, etc.

Some people need to go cold turkey with their cravings, but I am a full moderation person. I enjoy about one indulgence a day, keep my portions of them small, and don’t punish myself for eating things that make me happy. I do a lot of personal reflection on if it’s actually happiness vs satisfying some other need in a wonky way. I enjoy high quality local restaurants. I actively like to cook and crave fun vegetables and love making a good multifaceted salad, but I’ve been working on this for… oh, nearly eighteen years now. So take it slow and recognize that you have a ton of things to learn and explore.
posted by Mizu at 6:20 PM on July 26, 2021 [5 favorites]

If your insurance will cover it, Vyvanse can be prescribed for binge eating disorders. Honestly it's the only thing that has worked for me. I got into a good pattern of smaller, healthier meals, and after about 6 months, I slowly cut down my dosage and it's been fine so far sticking to the new habits. It's like willpower in pill form.
posted by ananci at 7:31 PM on July 26, 2021

What mizu said about habits. Start by prioritizing vegetables. Plan at least 2 meals a day and start with vegetables. If the grocery store has some nice broccoli, look up some recipes and have broccoli. Try to add salads to your meals, and without too much dressing. Buy fruit; apples are coming into season, try different varieties. Try to limit chips, soda pop, cookies, ice cream; that's difficult so start by having smaller portions of those foods.

If you like to go out, try to avoid deep fried foods, and always get a vegetable and/or salad. I love having someone else make the salad.

Pre-prepared salads are fine. Frozen vegetables are fine. Someday, salad bars will be back. I like Mark Bittman's cookbooks because they're very flexible. Libraries have cookbooks, try different things.

There's a lot of divergent nutritional advice; you have to assess and choose, but eating more vegetables and fruits and fewer snack foods with empty calories is a great start.
posted by theora55 at 9:08 PM on July 26, 2021

I class myself as a food addict, like you do. I have found, through extensive trial and error, that I cannot have "just one" serving of a trigger food. I will either go crazy and eat wayyyy too much, or even if I don't physically take that action, I will become mentally obsessed with wanting more of the trigger food. This is the way it is for many if not most addicts, whatever their substance of choice. It sounds so reasonable to fit small amounts of junk food into the diet, and many people can do it, but I submit that if you are truly a food addict you may very well be advised to work towards cutting out your trigger foods entirely. I know this is not fun to hear.

It is really hard in the beginning to get over the habit part of the equation. Your brain is used to responding to your cravings by fulfilling them, and now you are teaching it that you aren't going to give in. But after a few weeks, if you avoid trigger foods entirely, the impulse gets much weaker. And you can move on to addressing the emotional part of the equation, and finding things in your life that are pleasurable, distracting, or fulfilling to replace the role food currently fills.

I would also recommend not taking on everything at once. It is hard enough to break the addiction to junk foods without also trying to restrict calories, start an exercise program, or demand 100% home cooking of yourself. I would suggest starting with one thing, doing it consistently until you feel comfortable with it, and only then moving on.

Re "cutting vegetables, making salads, cooking chicken": There are lots of convenient options if you find doing all the food prep yourself overwhelming. You can pick up a rotisserie chicken for dinner rather than cooking one yourself, and serve with microwaved frozen veggies or precut raw baby carrots and sugar snaps. Breakfast can be cottage cheese or hard-boiled eggs (you can buy these already boiled if you want) with fruit. Lunch can be a bag of prewashed greens with a can of beans or tuna on top and some olive oil and vinegar. Snacks can be whole fruit or shelled unsalted unroasted nuts. If you think about it, these things are no more trouble than going for takeout. You can even eat relatively healthy at fast food places. Wendy's chili has got lots of protein and fiber and little fat or carbs, for example. You should also always have something relatively healthy in your freezer that you can just microwave. There are plenty of microwave meals that are nutritious and not addicting.

As others have pointed out, not keeping junk food in your house will be very helpful. Talk to anyone you live with about how important it is to your well-being to eat better, and ask them to keep their problem foods separate and out of view. Most decent people will comply with this.

There are tons and tons of tips online about what has helped people conquer food cravings or full-blown addiction. Drinking water, chewing gum, eating high protein, eating high fiber, telling yourself you can have the treat is X amount of time if you still want it, and many more. I keep a file on my computer, that I look at when I am tempted, that contains my notes of things that have helped me.

Journaling is helpful, too, to explore emotions that may be motivating you to overeat. There are overeaters anonymous groups if you want to go that route, or individual therapy. I don't think many addicts of any stripe conquer their addictions without a deep dive into the underlying psychological motivations of their behavior.

Good luck and feel free to memail me if you want to talk to a fellow food addict.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 10:28 PM on July 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

Budget Bytes was very helpful for me when I was learning to meal plan. She has actual meal plans, but also the "make extra, have leftovers" mindset is good. Most of her recipes take about 10-15 min of active time, plus stovetop or oven time.

For me, the hardest thing was moving away from "hungry now, must eat" to "it's 6pm, I should start getting dinner ready." This is also my wind down from work time and I listen to podcasts while I'm doing it, so now it's mostly habit. I now cook 2-3 nights per week, and make enough for at least 3 or 4 meals each time. This more or less gets me through the week.

I do take shortcuts, like Patak's curry-in-a-jar or Zatarain's jambalaya mix. I don't know if this is too processed for you. For me it's an acceptable tradeoff between effort, taste, healthiness.
posted by basalganglia at 11:57 PM on July 26, 2021 [5 favorites]

What clicked for me was doing Whole30. It’s a strict program, but only for a month. So there’s no delusion that you will be on the diet forever (which would not be good for you). You break your addiction to carbs completely.

Since doing that I’ve never gone back to cravings the same way. Temporarily, yes, but indulging a time or two with moderate portions and I’m ready to get back on balance.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:46 AM on July 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also: we eat about one shortcut meal a week, tofu dumplings and frozen veggies or ravioli with jarred sauce, etc. We buy the fancy ones we like the most, since we save so much money on a mostly plant based diet (yes, a few years after Whole30 I went vegan for awhile, which IMO is the right order because you don’t replace animal products with processed junk food).

We eat pretty simply, tbh. Lunch is often some rice from the rice cooker, sautéed tofu & veggies. We’ll make a big pot of beans (a lb. at a time) and that will last 3-4 meals in different applications. Recently I made rice, scrambled eggs and quick pickled cucumbers with mint, sumac and fresh green cardamom. Easy to put in rice and get everything else together while it’s going. Sometimes we’ll have pita, hummus and raw veg… or sometimes rice, hummus & veg, or beans, rice and tofu! So in other words we mash up the same elements over and over, which all take <30 min. We compensate with hot sauce, nutritional yeast (a grating of Parmesan would work well too), lemon wedges, etc. to add interest rather than cooking intensively. So it’s a bit like a salad bar philosophy.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:55 AM on July 27, 2021

Eat smaller portions, chew slower, savor each bite.

Instead of chomping a large chunk of chocolate, nibble small bits, and let each bit melt in your mouth. More dark chocolate for the taste rather than milk chocolate, for example.

Same with chips. One at a time, and take your time, rather than shoving them 2-3 at a time into your mouth.

Try looking for different variety of noodles, from Asian "egg noodles" and "rice noodles" to "bean vermicelli" and other variants. Try cooking them in different types of broth. Then graduate to making your own with your own pasta maker, and you can add more stuff like vegetables and veg juices. Try less noodles and more sauce and other stuff. And also slow down, chew the food and savor the flavor.
posted by kschang at 4:28 AM on July 27, 2021

Long time ago, at one of those training courses that big companies send their junior employees to, we were encouraged to ask ourselves "What would this problem look like if it were solved?" So, while it's necessary to figure a way to get through next week, you should be thinking about the long run and what a stable and comfortable food plan would be like. Do you want to develop fancy chef skills? Do want to generate a list of 50 dinners you can prepare in 5 minutes or less? Do you want to find places and meal choices that are acceptable for takeout?

BTW, outsourcing the menu planning, e.g. BudgetBites as suggested above, is a great idea if you can find one in sync with your tastes and goals.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:05 AM on July 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

Can you make it through two days with super-strict elimination of sugar and white flour? For me, the first two days are the hardest. Days 3-5 are hard, too, but I can tell myself that I already went through the two hardest days and I don’t want to waste that effort by re-triggering myself. By day 6 or so, it’s already much easier — sugar and flour cravings are way down. So if it helps to know that the struggle can be that short, for me it is. Once my cravings practically gone, like after several weeks, I can re-introduce moderation. But moderation from the start isn’t achievable for me.

And yes, I agree with others that while you make one big change — like eliminating and then only slightly reintroducing sugar and white flour — it’s good if you can go easy on yourself on other fronts, like food prep. You’re doing something really hard, so don’t demand of yourself that you do other hard things all at once.
posted by daisyace at 8:15 AM on July 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Your situation sounds a little different from mine, but I do have a whole bunch of emotional bullshit tangled up around food. Here are some things that helped me.

1. Blue Apron: I started by ordering them quite a bit, but have since backed off to about three or four times a year if I know I'll be particularly busy or stressed for a few days. Some grocery stores sell meal kits now, as well.

2. e-meals: Online and an app, not free. It has a lot of different kinds of menus, such as Quick & Healthy, Low-Carb, Kid Friendly, etc, and you can switch freely among them. It builds you a recipe list and a shopping list, and lets you export the shopping list to the Walmart Grocery app (and a few others, but I use Walmart).

3. Grocery Pick-up (or delivery): I order my groceries through the Walmart app and do curbside pickup. This has eliminated impulse buys of chips, candy, and alcohol.

4. Swimming: Once a week, I go walk in the resistance channel at my local pool. I should go more, but I'm not there yet.

5. Self-Care and Kindness: don't beat yourself up, don't give up if you slip, don't be too strict. Sometimes I think about grabbing some McDonald's on my way home, but I tell myself it will probably give me a stomach ache, and I can wait until a day when I REALLY need it. And maybe once a month or less, I really need it, and I get it, and I don't feel bad about it (but it usually does give me a stomach ache these days).
posted by SamanthaK at 8:24 AM on July 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

First of all, I think you need to be kind to yourself, and tell yourself it is a hard challenge, and there will be days where you don't reach your goals. It's ok. Don't give up entirely because you have overindulged one day. Just get back on track the next day.
Second, the thing I found hardest to get used to was the prepping of vegetables. It really bothered me for a long time, and put me off healthy eating. Acknowledge that this is hard and takes time to learn. Now I seriously don't give it a thought. But till you get there, used pre-prepped food as much as you can afford to, and use frozen vegetables. Some frozen vegetables, like green peas and spinach, are actually better than fresh in most supermarkets. You can use (thawed) frozen peas in a salad, their nutrition value is great, and with a pre-washed lettuce and a home-made vinaigrette you have healthy food in minutes. Frozen mixes for the wok are really good and again, you can get a good meal on the table in minutes. Some canned foods are fine: beans, corn, lentils, tomatoes, fish, though look at the contents on the packaging, you don't want additives.
Third, and here I disagree with some others here, learn to cook food you enjoy rather than focusing on meal planning and shortcuts. The whole point is that you enjoy eating food. Fast food all restaurant food has a lot more salt and fat than what is healthy for anyone, so you can't eat that every day. But you can do better than leftover chicken breast and steamed vegetables. And you can condition yourself to looking forward to making delicious meals for yourself, because there is a reward: deliciousness.
That does not mean you shouldn't meal plan or use leftovers. It means you have to focus on good taste all the time, you need to look forward to the good food.

A thing to think about: if you eat a cup (from dry) of pasta with store-bought marinara sauce, you aren't getting a lot of nutrition. But if you eat half a cup of pasta with a sauce made from a cup of frozen peas, two slices of bacon, some garlic and a tablespoon of cream, you are getting a lot of nutrition, nowhere near the salt and fat from the equivalent store-bought or restaurant pasta, and you are also giving yourself the enjoyment of pasta and a little fat and salt. Next day you have leftover cream and bacon, why not have a BLT sandwich made with whole grain bread for lunch and creamed spinach and a plain two-egg omelet for dinner? That is happy meal planning. Don't go from fast food to any dietary extreme, go to what Bittman calls food your (great-) grandmother would recognize.

Now here's a problem: since many of us have learnt to taste through restaurant food, that is our standard for good taste. And unfortunately, a lot of cookbooks and food blogs present restaurant level recipes. If they reduce the levels of salt and fat, they may compensate by using spices or complicated methods that are overwhelming for the new cook. But you need home cooking advice, not cheffy food. So I second the recommendation of Mark Bittman's books for inspiration, from above, and also would suggest Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's books and website. Maybe in particular his Three Good Things.

Finally, I'm not exactly an avatar of health, but once I was, and I plan to get back there. Keeping a food diary and a spreadsheet is helping me a lot. I don't count calories, I do count fruit and veg, and fibre.
posted by mumimor at 11:41 AM on July 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Recipe for pasta with peas from above:

Put a pot with one pint of water over the heat.
In a skillet, fry two slices of bacon slowly in their own fat till they are crisp but not too dark. Leave them to cool on a piece of kitchen paper.
Meanwhile, chop one or two cloves of garlic very finely, or use a garlic press if you don't mind the washing up.
When the bacon is done, gently cook the garlic in the remaining fat, it must not brown! When the garlic is slightly cooked, add one cup of frozen peas directly from the freezer. Stir. When the peas are thawed, add a tablespoon of full fat cream. Turn off the heat, or if you have induction, turn it down to very low.
Now the water should be boiling, add salt, and one cup of short pasta, like penne. Cook till al dente, according to package instructions.
When the pasta is al dente, add half a cup of pasta water to the sauce, and bring the skillet to medium to high heat. Add the pasta, and stir vigorously while reducing till the sauce just covers all of the pasta with a creamy layer. Sprinkle with bacon. If you like it, parmesan cheese is good on top.
posted by mumimor at 11:52 AM on July 27, 2021 [5 favorites]

You might want to look for a food delivery service like Daily Harvest that delivers to your area. If there aren't any, have the grocery store deliver pre-chopped everything.

Honestly, the only thing that's easier than takeout is opening a bag of salad or popping a bowl in the microwave. Spending a half hour chopping and then sautéing only to end up with a pile of mediocre vegetables and sink full of dirty dishes is disheartening.
posted by betweenthebars at 12:09 PM on July 27, 2021

if you can reduce the friction on healthy choices, I do think that helps. For instance, on sunday, when I was feeling motivated about eating well in the week ahead (I will not feel this way by monday evening, and I know that) I premade taco salads for both me and my husband to eat for lunches this week. Now I know that we will at least have healthy, low carb (and cheap) lunches for 4 days each this week. It also makes eating that salad for lunch really easy, easier than any of the junk-lunch options that I would secretly prefer.

We get a community-supported-agriculture box delivered. This gives us a bunch of really nice vegetables and fruit that have to be used up every couple of weeks. I really support the cause of hyper-local food systems, so I feel good about supporting them, and I feel REALLY guilty about them going bad if I don't use them, because farming is a lot of work! We also get one of those cooking boxes (we use Chef's Plate, but hello fresh or blue apron or whatever is the same idea) every 2 weeks. This makes it really easy to cook the meals we are supposed to cook (no missing ingredients, etc) and again, I feel really guilty if we don't use them. Also, if you're not confident at cooking, they're also great for teaching you some good skills. My husband never cooked much, but now he does at least one of the three meals we get in the box, and he's really improved in both confidence and skills.

Sometimes I like to think about my gut microbiota - there's hundreds of different specialized types of guys in there, who all are able/desire to digest different substances. If you've been feeding them lots of refined foods and sugar and junk for years, the strongest ones are going to be the ones that crave and thrive on that type of food. When you stop giving it to them, they are going to cry out for it, releasing hormones and such that will make you want to continue to eat the way you have been. But! If you can resist their manipulation of your body, then you can boost the health of some of the guys in there who prefer to be digesting your leafy greens, your clean fats, your good choices. And eventually once they are strong, it will be easier to focus on what they want to eat than what the sugar-guys want. I don't even know if this is true, but I think about it a lot when I've been overindulging and then end up with cravings. I find it easier to resist the manipulations of my microbiota, than feeling that I have no willpower or something. I do try to add some fermented foods as well as raw vegetables and fiber rich items to promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria!
posted by euphoria066 at 1:36 PM on July 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

I like to eat healthy food, but like you, I feel overwhelmed by cooking. Turns out, I just don't like it, even though I feel like I'm supposed to. So I spend the money I used to spend on crappy takeout on shortcuts. I eat fancy bagged salad (less than $5 for 2 servings) for dinner 4-5 nights a week, and add in canned beans, half an avocado, a hard boiled egg, etc., to make them more filling and add good fats and proteins. I buy pre-cut fruits and vegetables. I have expensive tupperware specifically for storing produce so it doesn't go bad. I buy a lot of stuff from the grocery store deli so it's pre-cooked or skinned or sliced or whatever it needs to be in order to make it edible. I cook maybe once a week, and I eat great. And it's still cheaper than eating restaurant food all the time.
posted by decathecting at 3:21 PM on July 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

You didn't mention anything about weight loss/body image/diet in your question, so this may not be applicable to you, but I'm adding this perspective since a lot of the upthread responses could veer into diet culture/diet mentality. For me in the past, when I felt I had an addiction to sugar/chocolate/white flour/etc. it stemmed from my diet mindset. Because of that I became obsessed with "bad foods", the ones that I had been taught by the low-carb diets I had been on were "not natural" and "bad for me" and "addictive". I could give them up from time to time for short stints but then would make up for it by binging huge amounts of them. I have done nearly everything - particular diets, Overeaters Anonymous, medication, talk therapy, but the only thing that's brought me closer to a non-binging relationship to food is working with a body image recovery/healthy eating coach who has herself healed from an eating disorder, and a HAES nutritionist. MeMail me if you want their names.

Otherwise, if you are interested in a less restrictive, less rules-based approach I would encourage you to look up HAES (Health At Any Size) resources, intuitive eating or any of these:
Book: Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being, and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating by Christy Harrison (or check out her amazing podcast, Food Psych)
Book: The F*ck It Diet: Eating Should Be Easy by Caroline Dooner
Book and workbook: 8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder by Carolyn Costin
Podcast skewering the diet industry: Maintenance Phase

And one other note, re: chocolate specifically, chocolate has caffeine (or caffeine-like) properties so you may need to kick that addiction in a different way from the other foods, depending on how caffeine affects you.
posted by rogerroger at 3:26 PM on July 27, 2021 [7 favorites]

I'm going to offer a very different suggestion. I don't believe it's sustainable to restrict certain foods without becoming obsessive about them. It's like saying, "Don't think about how delicious Oreos are."

For me, discovering intuitive eating was the key to escaping the cycle of being "good" and then bingeing or otherwise feeling out of control. I thought I couldn't control myself around certain foods (pasta, ice cream, Nutella, Oreos, bread, potato chips, candy). Part of intuitive eating is giving yourself total permission to eat what you want, when you want. It can seem really scary, counterintuitive, and outright "unhealthy," but here's what that looked like for me: for every food I felt out of control with, I gave myself permission to eat as much as I wanted without fear it would be forbidden the next day. I usually picked one "fear" food to add per grocery shopping trip, something I ordinarily would feel guilty about eating or would be likely to overeat. I didn't find myself inhaling whole packages of Oreos or jars of Nutella in one sitting as I would have if I was thinking, "The diet starts tomorrow," but I was eating generous amounts almost daily for a period of time. After a while, each food stopped feeling like a scarce resource. One day I noticed a mostly-full jar of Nutella in the cabinet and realized it had been a couple weeks since I'd wanted any. I reached for an Oreo one day and realized the package had been open, unfinished long enough that they'd gone stale. I made pasta for dinner and stopped before I felt stuffed. At the same time, because I wasn't trying to pretend my craving for chocolate was really a craving for an apple, I became much more connected with my body's cravings, hunger and fullness cues, and responses to certain foods. I intentionally added more fruits and vegetables to my diet, not to try to replace "unhealthy" foods, but simply because I like them and feel better if I eat pasta with veggies than just pasta. I like to have a crunchy, refreshing salad with a rich meal. A piece of fruit isn't satisfying if I'm hungry, but it's a nice addition to a snack of cheese and crackers, or, if I'm not hungry and just want to nibble on something, I find fresh fruit or berries to be a delightful option.

On a practical note RE: food prep with produce, it's worth buying pre-cut, bagged, or otherwise ready to use fruits and veggies, or freshly prepared dishes from the deli if that's what will help you incorporate those foods into your routine. Bagged/prepped produce you actually eat is infinitely better for you than sad rotting produce in the back of your crisper drawer.

I'm not going to lie and say I lost weight through intuitive eating. I did gain some weight through this process, though it's leveled off. I had to grieve the loss of my lifelong fantasy that if I could just follow the right food rules and control myself I'd become thin. I also found a terrific personal trainer and am super proud of the progress I've made in strength, stamina, mobility, and balance. Regular exercise that I enjoy--i.e., that isn't a punishment for what I've eaten--has helped me to feel even more connected with my body. I'm not obsessed with food, I don't binge, and I'm way more at peace with my body than I've ever been (even compared to when I was at my thinnest).
posted by theotherdurassister at 3:33 PM on July 27, 2021 [10 favorites]

I mentioned Mark Bittman, and came back to link How to Cook Everything The Basics: All You Need to Make Great Food. Learning to cook is a good way to gain control over what you eat, to understand nutrition, and, I think, to enjoy food more.
posted by theora55 at 12:27 PM on July 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

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