One of the toughest things about transitioning to a whole food plant-based diet is resisting the temptation of unhealthy but tasty and at least temporarily-satisfying foods. These are typically salty, sweet and fatty foods that you’ve grown accustomed to over the years and have come to love.
These foods are familiar and comfortable and you may associate them with family dinners around the table or other memorable moments, which can make it that much harder emotionally to give them up.
For instance, there’s that burger you’ve enjoyed during your lunch break every day and which has turned into a treat that gets you through the rest of your workday, that rich chocolate dessert that your beloved aunt makes for your birthday, and that delectable gourmet cheese you discovered when you were on your honeymoon in France.
Or maybe for you, it’s ice cream cones, Italian ice, potato chips, breakfast pastries or hard candies. The possibilities for food cravings are almost endless and most of us have our particular individual weaknesses.
I know because I’ve been there. I also know that it makes my day when I don’t give in to my food temptations. I feel good about myself and my confidence gets a boost when I stick to something I’ve set out to do.
A Little Knowledge Goes a Long Way
Understanding the dynamics of eating has given me a helpful perspective on the challenges of maintaining a healthy diet and has helped me stop blaming myself so much! I’d encourage you to check out “Why Can’t I Resist Food Temptations” for insight into the psychology and biology of why it’s so difficult to resist certain foods – it helps to know you’re not alone. The article also includes tips for how to best manage these food cravings.
As well, with the increasingly clever and sophisticated marketing of mass-produced processed foods and the cultural prevalence of the Standard American Diet (SAD), it can feel at times like the pressure is on and the odds are stacked against us. And to some degree it is. If it were easy, everyone would be eating healthy foods all the time!
It is, in fact, the food industry’s mission to keep us eating more, and more, and more. The commercially-produced foods that they offer are NOT REAL WHOLE FOODS! The sad truth is that the more the food industry lowers the quality and cost of their ingredients and manufacturing processes, the more money they make.
And of course, the more we purchase and eat, the more money they make. You get it! Watch this insightful 14-minute 60 Minutes segment that shows how the food industry attempts to manipulate our taste buds. Awareness is power – don’t let yourself get hooked!
How DO you develop stronger resistance?
RESISTANCE IS NOT FUTILE!
Junk food resistance is like building a muscle. The more you practice, the stronger you get. Small successes build upon small successes gradually bit by bit. Before you know it you’ll be eating so healthfully and feeling so good that you won’t even be missing your old junk snacks and meals. But forming new habits can be especially tricky at the beginning and that’s where the following tips and strategies come in handy. At least I know they’ve worked for me!
Know Your Personal Temptations
Personally, I tend to crave chocolate, chips, and crackers. What are your food weak spots? Resolve to NOT BUY any of your “temptation” foods at all. Keep them out of the house and if someone else in the family buys junk food, have them keep it out of sight. Out of sight, out of mind.
If for some reason you have to have these foods in the house, perhaps for a family member, then stack the odds in your favor. Make agreements with your loved ones to store these “temptation” items in opaque containers out of sight in the back bottom section of the fridge or freezer, or buried in the fridge drawers.
Store nutritious foods in clear containers higher up and toward the front so they’re easily visible and readily accessible.
Identify and Address Your Stress Triggers
Does low blood sugar, stress or sleep deprivation set you up? What are the conditions that wear you down and make you want to reach for some familiar food comfort? The way forward is through self-awareness. Start by writing your triggers down in a diary, tracking yourself over time so you can see your patterns.
You can do this the old-fashioned way with pen and paper or with one of the many notebook and journaling apps on your phone. A trigger could be anything from relationship friction to overworking or under-exercising, or could even be a particular time of day or night. For some people, it’s the midnight munchies that get them every time or that Bourbon Toddy to help you wind down before bed.
Once you know what your triggers are it’s time to come up with an action plan for developing healthier coping strategies when your triggers strike, as they inevitably will in our busy, stressful lives. Come up with new ideas such as taking a walk around the neighborhood, eating a healthy snack, using a meditation app or calling a good friend. Experiment and find what works best for you.
As you gradually learn to practice better self-care under stress it will be so much easier to resist the call of junk food. Curious? Read this in-depth article, “6 Tips for Dealing with Food Triggers.”
Strategies for Healthy Coping
- Reduce stress with simple deep breathing or meditation, starting out with just 5-10 minutes a day. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy and you don’t need any special equipment – any comfortable chair will do.
- Good sleep is essential for your health. You may find that getting adequate deep sleep on a regular basis bolsters your junk food resistance.
- Change your driving patterns if you’re triggered by your favorite fast food joint or tavern on particular routes.
- Find substitutes that will give you the same or a similar sense of satisfaction and enjoyment. For instance, I find that half-frozen cherries are a wonderful substitute for ice cream when I’m craving something cold and sweet. There’s also whole food plant-based creamy chocolate desserts, for instance, Avocado Tofu Chocolate Mousse or Chocolate Chia Pudding. (In fact, if you’ve got a sweet tooth anything like mine, go ahead and check out my desserts section full of healthy and delicious treats.)
- Notice what times of day your energy tends to drop and schedule a healthy snack to enjoy before, not after, you tend to crash.
- When you’re craving sweets, try a small amount of the darkest chocolate you can find. Very dark chocolate tends to have considerably less added sugar than other varieties. Personally, I find the taste so intense that I can’t eat too much of it at once but I still end up feeling like I’ve indulged.
- If you’re craving salty or crunchy snacks, try this tasty hummus to replace cheese or any of the appetizers on this page. I especially like making crunchy corn tortilla chips in the oven or microwave. There’s not a bit of oil on them. Eat crunchy veggies like radishes instead of chips, and keep plenty of quick healthy snacks around such as roasted salted nuts or seeds (in moderation due to their fat content.)
Choose Filling Whole Plant-Based Foods
Be strategic by eating so your stomach gets the message that you’re full. Fiber-rich vegetables and complex carbs such as whole grains and beans will keep you feeling fuller longer. Big raw salads and hearty bean soups are great for this.
One interesting phenomenon that occurs, according to plant-based pioneer Dr. Joel Fuhrman, is worth paying attention to. Dr. Fuhrman says that when you eat a whole food plant-based diet your cells will be getting the true nourishment they need to function properly and you won’t be facing with what he calls “toxic hunger.”
This means that your body won’t be saying “keep eating, I need more nourishment,” all the time. Instead, your body’s natural mechanisms for regulating appetite will come back into balance and you’ll naturally get hungry only when your body needs to eat.
Read “Hungry? True Hunger versus Toxic Hunger” to discover more about the toxic hunger phenomenon affecting so many of us these days.
Stay in Touch
What ways have you found to strengthen your resistance to food temptations? What are your secrets for eating healthfully plant-based? Please let me know in the comments below or email me, firstname.lastname@example.org.