Breaking the Junk Food Habit

I’ve been thinking recently about how much my attitude towards food has changed over the past year or so. The girl who once binged on pizza and Coke and regularly ate Tastycake Coffee Cakes for breakfast has come a long way.

When I started improving the way we eat, I didn’t click my sparkly red heels together and think to myself, “I will never eat junkfood again.”

I just focused on putting good stuff into my body, and I gradually lost my desire for the industrial foods that once beckoned me with a crafty smile and empty promises.

The more I learned about how most of our standard American fare is grown and processed, the less desire I had to eat it. And as I began to feel better than I have in years, the sight of those foods were more likely to conjure up thoughts of painful gas and bloating than how good they might taste.

I’m also noticing that after eating so much “real food,” when I do take a bite of something that’s heavily processed, I can taste the chemicals. And the . . . emptiness. I’ve truly lost my taste for much of the food I used to enjoy. Even my beloved Coca-Cola Classic is now but a memory. You would have to have known me in college to truly get what a feat that is.

More recently, taking gluten and grains out of my diet has eliminated most of my remaining stomach complaints, although I think I may have to eliminate dairy before all is said and done.

By far the best part about going gluten and grain free is that I no longer have a desire to binge. Carbs have a way of creating cravings for more carbs, and that is a vicious cycle, let. me. tell. YOU.

For the first time in my life, I can easily stop eating when I’m full, and I feel satisfied from one meal to the next without the highs and lows created by a diet steeped in carbs and sugar. It’s a whole new world. Social events aren’t stressful anymore because I don’t worry about over indulging. Going out to eat is the same. (And it’s amazing how many restaurants have gluten-free menus if you ask.)

I honestly would recommend this diet to ANYONE, regardless of the sensitivity issue. Although, from what I’ve been reading, many more people are probably sensitive to grains than we realize. Of course not all grains are created equal; preparing whole grains properly can make them tolerable for many. For my family, I’m trying to use only soaked or sprouted whole grains, and I’m working on balancing their intake of grains with more good fats and protein and cruciferous vegetables. It helps that all of our dinners are grain-free now. That way I don’t feel quite so guilty about sending sandwiches in their lunchboxes every day.

Right now I’m working on giving up coffee, although I find myself rather uninspired by this latest diet change. Perhaps I haven’t given myself enough time yet. Assuming that coffee is aggravating my already sensitive digestive track, the hope is that going off it along with gluten might help me heal faster and more thoroughly.

I’ve taken to drinking Dandy Blend — a dandelion beverage that resembles coffee, but not quite enough, if you ask me. At least it’s something warm to drink in the morning, and a great vehicle for getting more coconut oil into my diet.  (I like to add coconut oil to my coffee, and now my Dandy Blend.) Research on coffee is conflicting. Some actually say it’s good for you.  Others say it’s not. And so it goes.

If science was so, you know, scientific, you’d think the “experts” might actually agree on something.

There is a lot going on right now with our food system and how much power the government should have over food producers. This ultimately affects our right to choose what foods we purchase and eat. Now is NOT the time to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that the government will protect our rights. We wrote to our senators, expressing our opinions about this bill. Fortunately there is an amendment to protect smaller farmers from unnecessary and costly regulations, but it’s still giving way too much power to the FDA, in my humble opinion.

If nothing else, we can vote with our pocketbooks. For me, that means putting our hard earned money into the local economy and supporting local producers and growers who care about how their food is grown and raised.

So how about you? Have you given up industrial foods for real food? Have your taste buds changed? Do you find yourself considering how things were grown and raised and produced, and does that affect how you feel about putting them in your body?

Do you want to eat better but think you can’t give up the foods you like to eat?  I urge you to do more research about our food system and how devoid of nutrients it truly is.  Try eating more whole foods. When you do, think about how they taste and how you feel.  Don’t ignore issues like eczema, rosacea, acne, energy level, mood — the foods we put into our bodies affect all of this and more. My rosacea and acne has cleared up since going off gluten and coffee. Go figure!

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55 Responses

  1. Since partaking in quite a bit of Halloween candy in the last month, my acne exploded. I’m pretty sure my body is allergic to Hershey’s chocolate and it is a sad, sad thing. I actually found myself saying no to a Reese’s cup when my face was in particularly bad shape a few weeks ago. Some people try to tell you acne is not related to the food you eat but I am definitely NOT a believer.

      1. My acne is VERY sensitive to sugar and high GI foods! I agree Amy, it’s totally related.

  2. So glad your “new” diet changes are working out for you. I believe that my family is healthier because of our diets, we try very hard to live a “Whole Foods” diet and they are not as sick as their peers but still suffer from seasonal allergies and asthma. I am on the verge of doing “raw milk” and we recently started buying Turkey Lions and baking them to use for sandwiches. In the past we have bought our lunch meat from WFM or Boars Head but in some ways it’s still processed. Yes, it’s a little more work but in the end you feel better about what you are putting in your body. It all begins with baby steps, and it looks like you are very much enjoying your new food journey!

    1. Trina, I truly believe the raw milk has helped alleviate my son’s allergies and asthma symptoms. And no one has really been sick yet this fall, which might be a record for us. Of course, Christmastime is when we usually get hit with something nasty so I’m not getting cocky yet!

  3. I loved this post. It really is proof that though changing your diet is hard (and before you begin unthinkable!) once you do change it can really make a huge difference.

    We’ve been having grain free dinners too-makes it so much easier!

    1. Thanks for inspiring me to finally do it! I kept trying and failing but it seemed fairly effortless for you so I figured I should just bite the bullet. I can’t imagine going back now.

  4. I totally agree, Jo-Lynne. I didn’t set out to Change My Eating Habits. But over the years – in particular, the last 18 months, after I read “Real Food” – it’s gradually happened. I used to LOVE a McDonald’s McChicken, fries and sweet tea. But these days? I feel sick if I even eat a fry. It’s truly amazing to me how the human body adjusts.

    I didn’t have health problems before, so I don’t have that physical evidence to point to. But man, I sure do notice the difference internally. I feel very different.

    1. I would say that is how I feel about going gluten free. I already was feeling pretty good – enough that I wondered if it was necessary to do something this “drastic” – it doesn’t really seem that drastic now, though!! But I feel different now without grains – lighter, or something. It’s not just an absence of symptoms but it’s more of an all over great feeling. 🙂

  5. I’ve been enjoying your gluten-free posts. They are so honest and mirror my own go-round with gluten-free, although it’s my second time around. I tested gluten sensitive a number of years ago but, stupidly, did not understand that meant no gluten ever again. So I stopped for a while, until I felt better, and then ate very moderately for a long time with no problems. Then my moderation slipped and symptoms began again but, the second time, I experienced an entirely different set of issues. Eventually there was overlap and the lightbulb went off. I stopped gluten and felt the changes within days! I only wish my doctors would have helped me connect the dots sooner…
    Keep up the great work and inspiring posts. 🙂

  6. AMEN!

    I’m on a different track – heading towards a vegetarian (almost vegan) diet – but eat very few processed foods any more. They truly don’t taste right to me. I had avocado and bananas wrapped up in collard greens yesterday for breakfast and LOVED them. Which is funny, because that combo probably grosses out many. But, pop-tarts and sugary cereal is repulsive to me. I think learning to listen to your body and really stop to think about how you feel after you eat something is huge. It’s amazing what your body says when you start to listen.

    I love the ‘vote with your fork three times a day’ mantra from Michael Pollan. So true and so powerful. Keep preaching!

  7. As a farmer’s daughter and a wife to one, I have had conflicting feelings about the food talk that has been so prevelant during the past couple of years. Many people like to blame and bad mouth the farmers, thinking that it is the farmer’s fault that they choose to buy and eat crap. I agree, most of the food that fill the grocery shelves is crap. Food, Inc. is an excellent documentary that my husband and I watched together last year and I was really surprised by how honest it was. The key for people who want change is to DEMAND change by (like you stated) buying local and when you go to the grocery buy the best most natural products you can. Farmers supply what the public demands. There are many, many large industrial type farms but there are also lots small family farms trying to make a living too and do so with pride and honesty. It is extremely difficult to be a small farmer right now. The public needs to get angry with the government, not the ones putting food on your table. I am proud of my farm heritage and hope to pass that along to my children and grandchildren. Having said all of that, I hope to become totally self sustaining over the next couple of years. I like knowing where my food comes from, we have the land and opportunity to do so. Thanks for listening to my ramblings! 🙂

    1. The plight of small farmers sickens me, and I am so mad at the government and the corrupt FDA and all involved in the industrial food chain I could spit nails. And I realize that even larger farmers are caught up in it even though they’d prefer not to be. I’m not out to villainize anyone, but at the same time it is hard not to get upset when you realize what is going on out there. I just bought Joel Salatin’s book, The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, and it is both fascinating and maddening. Have you read it? I’d be interested to see what your husband the farmer thinks. I understand his methods are pretty unusual??

      I am envious that you have the land and opportunity to raise all your own foods. In my little dream world, we would move to a small hobby farm and live off the land. But that is SO not happening. 🙂 So I will patronize those who do grow food honorably and hope that eventually enough people catch on so that the demand increases the supply and we put the industrial food system out of business. Hey, a girl can dream… 😉

  8. I changed my family’s way of eating when we discovered my son’s food allergies/sensitivities. We decided that whatever diet he needs to be healthy is what we will all eat. So currently my home is gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free and peanut-safe and while it has been challenging at times (especially learning to bake without eggs), we are all heathier than ever before due to eating nutritious, REAL, whole, unprocessed foods and the digestive problems that I had my entire adult life (which I always assumed were due to stress) are completly gone. Now if I eat chemically junk food, I feel sick. I still have passionate love for hazelnut coffee, but other than that, have no cravings whatsoever for anything unheathy. I’d love to learn more about where to buy locally – I’m in your local area, but don’t know of any local farmers, would you mind telling me where you buy?

    1. Hey Donna, if you are local, check out my site, Eat Local Philly. There is tons of info there. And if you want to email me with a more specific location, I can point you towards some great places to buy locally sourced foods.

  9. I just love hearing about your food journey. I completely changed my diet last year due to health reasons – I quit eating sugar, white flour, processed foods, and I also quit drinking coffee. The sugar and coffee were the most difficult, so I really understand how tough this must be for you. One alternative I found to coffee is Teeccino (https://www.teeccino.com). It isn’t the same, but it is the closest alternative to coffee that I have found. If you are interested in trying it, the Wegman’s in Collegeville has it (it is in the specialty tea section) and some of the Whole Foods stores also carry it. Good Luck!!

  10. So without grains, does your diet mostly consist of meat and vegetables? {I’m a new reader, please forgive me if you’ve covered this in a older post. :-)}

    1. Meats, veggies, and dairy. I often have eggs (scrambled or fried) and sausage or bacon for breakfast. If I have leftover spinach or broccoli, I throw that in with the eggs. Or homemade eggnog. Lunch is usually leftover dinner of some sort. And dinners are soups or chilis or meatloaf/hamburgers/grilled salmon/braised chicken with veggies. Does that help? Snacks are usually cheese! Or fruit.

  11. I think a lot of us began a food journey when we read the Omnivore’s Dilemma…morals alone began to make me feel conflicted about my food choices. Throw in a host of problems from that I’m sure stem from the pervasive presence of HFCS and an under-the-radar revolution began. For our family, after 3 years of gradual changes, we’ve discovered we don’t LIKE fast food (trust me, we were Fast Foodies). Store bought cookies and candies don’t really work and sweet cravings have almost been eliminated. For me, my weight has stabilized and is easy to maintain, my skin has become clearer and brighter, and my energy more consistent. I wish I’d known this at 27 instead of 47. HOpefully, my children will keep this lesson close to them as they create their own homes…then and only then will I have been truly successful.

    1. I hope and pray my children will take after my example but I know the lure of junkfood, and I know how invincible you feel when you’re young. So I can only hope and pray they “see the light” earlier rather than later.

  12. I would love to hear about what you are doing/thinking of doing for “treats” for the kids. What do they have for afternoon snacks or a special dessert? We have a fairly healthy whole foods diet, and we don’t eat a lot of desserts or sweet snacks. BUT, I am always interested in more options…chocolate chip cookies with a little less sugar and some whole wheat flour type idea…

    1. Treats are hard. I am so accustomed to “treating” my kids with food! The best advice I have is to find yummy recipes that are similar to but BETTER than their industrial counterpart. Here are some of our faves:

      1) homemade ice cream with pastured eggs, raw milk and maple syrup to sweeten. yummo. in the summer, I bought popsicle molds and put the ice cream in those for ice cream pops.

      2) popcorn popped on the stovetop in coconut oil with sea salt.

      3) homemade hot chocolate

      4) homemade granola bars

      5) chips and salsa (I buy organic or Trader Joes chips to avoid GMOs)

      6) cheese and crackers

      I do occasionally make homemade cookies or snack cake. Even though I’d rather they not have the sugar, I serve it to them with a big glass of whole raw milk and figure that it cancels out the bad stuff. 😉 I don’t want them to feel deprived and gravitate to junkfood out of rebellion, ya know?

  13. Okay I may be a little uneducated on this, but would you mind giving an example of a “grain-free” dinner or what makes up a “grain free” diet? I’ve heard about the gluten free but am not as knowledgeable about “grain free”. Thanks and so glad you’re feeling so much better!

    1. Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, barley and rye. That means that almost all bread products have gluten. Wheat, barley and rye are grains. Other grains that do not contain gluten are rice and corn, for example. So people who are gluten-free often substitute with rice and corn products. You can buy rice pasta, for example, or rice flour to cook with.

      But all grains are all starchy and some believe they do not have a place in the human diet. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but I do know that I don’t like how I feel after eating grains. They make me feel heavy and bloated, and they tend to create cravings for more. So I have decided to give up all grains, not just grains containing gluten. Does that clear things up?

      Also, sugar is present with a lot of grain-based foods (cookies, cakes, etc) so by eliminating grains, I am also eliminating a lot of sugar from my diet, which is always a good thing!

      So for dinners, we focus on proteins (meat or eggs) and good fats (butter, coconut oil, lard from pastured pigs, some olive oil) and cruciferous veggies (broccoli, kale, turnip) as opposed to starchy veggies like potatoes. I don’t make pasta dinners or pizza.

      1. Renee, in all honesty, I have read so much information that worries me about vegetarianism. I don’t like to be the person that tells someone else what to do, but for an expecting mom, I do believe it is downright dangerous and I feel I have to say so. Animal fats are SO important for a growing fetus and for young children. I would never advocate that type of diet for a pregnant mum. You can look at the Westin A Price website for more info if you’re interested. Best of luck to you!!

  14. I’ve been following a “real food” way of eating for the last 5 months and feel so much better. I’ve lost over 30 pounds without trying. Before I started eating “real foods”, I drank a lot of Dr. Pepper and ate Reece’s Peanutbutter Cups. That was my main foods! Now, I LOVE my three non-starchy vegetables each day. I eat blueberries or an orange for dessert. Broccoli, cabbage, carrots or green beans are wonderful! I have some serious medical issues and this way of eating has improved my condition. I wish I had started eating this way when I was 25 instead of now at 55.

  15. I’ve had eczema since childhood and I heard over the last year that it could be related to gluten. I’ve been eating less gluten but can’t quite bring myself to get rid of it completely. It’s encouraging to read and hear about how other people are doing it!

    1. Nora Gedgaudas says that being “sort of gluten free” is like being “sort of pregnant”. 🙂 She says you have to thoroughly eliminate it from your system to see results. So, good luck with that! 🙂

  16. I eat very similarly to you just since changing to a low-carb/low sugar diet. And I can TOTALLY tell the difference in several ways if I go back to eating the way I used to, even for just a little while. It’s crazy, in a good way. And quickly reminds me why I changed!

    As far as local, some friends and I recently split a local, organic, grass-fed cow and although the meat is a little different, i really like it and feel good about feeding that meat to my family. I wish there were even more resources for such things where I live.

    The last almost 7 months have been life-changing for me diet-wise and I just wish more people could realize how much just a few changes could do so for them too…

  17. We’ve started eating more fresh vegetables (especially in the summer) and my acne cleared up considerably. Now that we’re eating more soups (with lots of veggies in them) my whole family is feeling more healthy. Thanks for this reminder to really NOTICE what goes in our bodies…
    As for dairy, it’s not good for me-but I love it-so I replace it with vanilla soymilk, so far it’s as close as I can get without being grossed out by the resplacement.

  18. We are definitely on a whole foods diet and can feel the effects if we eat junk. I have not taken the plunge to go gluten free, as my husband might flip out if I dont ease into it gradually. It took over a year for him to be won over to the “real foods” side, now he strongly believes real food is the way to go. He has heart burn really bad and I was hoping that it would clear up the longer we are on our current eating lifestyle, but it hasn’t really helped. I have had in the back of my mind that maybe gluten is the cause, but have not done ANY research to see if that would have an impact. I might have to slowly give this a try. I’m hooked on coffee, more for the routine of it in the morning. But the mornings I don’t get my coffee I miss it! Coffee will have to wait to move out of my house!

    1. Unfortunately I still have heartburn symptoms too. My doctor tells me it is because there is not enough stomach acid, rather than what the mainstream medical establishment tells us (that we have not enough) and she advises me to incorporate more fermented foods into my diet (I have a REALLY hard time with this) and to drink apple cider vinegar in a glass of water before meals (I don’t do that often either.) Another thing to try is HCL supplements. She told me that, and that goes along with advice in Primal Body, Primal Mind. Good luck!

  19. One of my biggest indulgences/weaknesses is Starbucks cappucino (half decaf, and I add no sweetener). However, the other day I decided I wanted a Gingerbread Latte, something I used to order regularly around the holidays. It tasted of nothing but chemicals!!! I was surprised at how sensitive my taste buds had become, but then when I thought about it, I realized i’ve given up all processed foods and beverages. Despite a terrible sweet tooth, the only time I’m tempted by the sweet stuff people bring into the office is when I know it’s made totally from scratch so I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised that I didn’t like the Gingerbread Latte.

  20. 1) I’m SO glad I’m not the only one that tastes the chemicals in processed food. Those banquet dinners in a box used to be my favorite, but last time I had them (when my mom made them when we went camping in August), all I could taste was chemicals. GROSS.

    2) Coffee is too acidic for me. I always get nauseous after drinking it (although I LOVE it so much, it’s like crack to me). I’ve actually found that Teeccino is a great substitute. It doesn’t taste exactly like coffee, but it’s pretty darn close!! I have real coffee when we go out to eat at Shari’s (which has the best coffee ever…. and we go there once every 6 months) and sometimes when a friend offers it, but not very often. I probably have real coffee once every 2-3 months. I miss it, but every time I have it, I regret it! Now that I’ve been off it for 2 years, I’m sensitive to the caffeine and it gives me the shakes. But whenever I want a warm cup of delicious comfort, my Teeccino is sufficient. 🙂

    3) I’ve been eating real food for about two years, but I’m not die-hard. I don’t drink raw milk (yet! I get a gallon per month, but we go through about 8 gallons per month in this house, and money is very tight), and we still eat too many grains. But I’m planning on doing the Maker’s Diet in the beginning of the year and going from there. It’s hard to get my husband on board with any of it, so I have to be careful about my approach. He still loves his Mountain Dew, Tillamook ice cream, and white pasta. He’s a tough nut to crack, but I’m working on him! 🙂 I’ve been slacking lately though, and it’s showing. I haven’t been eating bad, but I haven’t been concentrating on eating nutrient-dense foods like I usually do, and it’s showing in my skin and energy levels. I’m getting the afternoon slump again.

    The worst thing for me is that I’ve recently developed a banana allergy. adlkfjsa;dglkhdfgjh!!!!!!!! I’m so mad about it. I LOVE bananas, and they’re so versatile and almost necessary, in smoothies and dairy-free “ice cream” and grain-free pancakes (with no coconut flour)….. I’m so mad about this allergy! I have to be able to fix it. I’m hoping the Maker’s Diet will help…. if not, I’ll be trying something else. But I WILL get rid of this allergy!

    1. Oh, and I was wondering if maybe you could do a recipe round-up or something. I’m trying to at least cut back on grains to ease my husband into it (although grain-free is still a ways off), but there aren’t a whole lot of grain-free recipes out there.

      1. Maybe a carnival of gluten free and grain free dinner ideas? That could be fun! I have quite a few of my own, since I’ve been trying to eat fewer carbs for a while now. But I could use more.

    2. an allergy to BANANAS!? awful. although, they are really high in sugar and not really the best choice. hit me, go ahead. 😉

      1. LOL. I know they’re not the best choice, but I was using them in smoothies in place of sugar and to thicken them and when frozen, if you run them through the blender, they create “ice cream”. They’re just so versatile and amazing! And a great grab-and-go snack, too! But I can’t eat them, because if I do, I’m up all night with muscle cramps in my legs…. the very thing they tell you to fix by eating bananas! :/

  21. I need to go back and read your gluten free posts. I think I’ve been subconsciously avoiding them . I just feel like it’d be so complicated to go gluten free but I think it would be good for us. I enjoy reading your posts thought b/c they are easy to digest (no pun originally intended). At this station in life (3 kiddos 4 and under) I need things laid out in a way I can quickly understand.

    1. Sara, I think the key truly is avoiding the “substitutes” and just focusing on the good fats and proteins and fruits and veggies. And cheese and dairy. And cheese. 🙂 I do have a gluten free flour mixture that I keep on hand so I can dredge meat in flour for meals that require that, or to add to broth or butter to make a roux. But otherwise, I just don’t make meals that require pasta. I make a lot of soups. And I make a lot of meals that are a meat of some sort with a veggie or two. Salads are great fillers too, although I detest making salads.

  22. JL, I appreciate so much that people are having these conversations more and more. We don’t do any modified diet like gluten free. But over the past year, I’ve really focused on the source of our foods. Is the meat humanely raised and where? Eggs? milk? This is our second year of being in an CSA. Alternative sweeteners–so less processed food overall.

    I resonated with teh Sbux comment above, too. 😀 I used to LOVE the peppermint mocha, but in the past couple of years can’t stomach the chemical-y taste. Once last summer we were in a rush, so went through a drive through. Hubby and I couldn’t even finish the food. So grossed out. No appeal at all anymore. We managed to do our whole family vacation mega road trip through New England with zero fast food.

    I live smack dab in the city of Philly, and I just can’t find a convenient source of raw milk. Do you have any suggestions? I like to know where the farm is, etc. And I’m not going to spend $10/gal at Whole Foods, yk? Usually I’ll just grab a gallon or two from the farm my mom uses whenever I go to Lancaster. For now I mostly shop at Tjs or WFs, so get milk and cheese products there. But would so much rather get these from a farm. But I don’t want to be in a position where I have to drive out to Lansdale every week or something like that.

  23. Thanks for the timely post. It is so simple that what we eat affects how we feel, but our culture seems to completely ignore this. I started eliminating one ‘bad’ thing out of my family’s diet every year six years ago. I hadn’t decided what to eliminate this year. Perhaps I will consider gluten…. or sweet tea. 🙂 Can’t decide which.

  24. I know exactly what you mean. The less junk that you eat, the worse it tastes when you do eat it.

    I particularly can’t stand the taste of fast food anymore – and it makes my stomach feel horrible.

  25. We have been trying to get on more of a whole foods, “real foods” diet in our home.
    My only question is HOW to find local produce, etc.?
    (And I’m a new reader of your blog–loving it!)

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