Processed foods are a way of life for most Americans.  Many were raised on the stuff.  It's no surprise that an intervention may be necessary to understand the dangers of unhealthy eating to initiate changes to our current diet.  These changes could possibly extend our lifespan, as well as, improve our quality of life.

It's hard to change eating habits

It just feels "normal" to cook red meat for dinner, heavy on the starch, low on the veggies. Fast food for breakfast or lunch sounds good.  We might add some fresh fruit.  After all, an apple tastes great....with tons of gooey caramel.  What?! That's wrong?

Not only do we just need to eat healthier, we'll need to reshape our entire pattern of thinking about food.  No more chips, double cheeseburgers or pizza for lunch.  No more candy bars and Cheetos® for a late day snack. 

What do we put in it's place and why do we still reach for that afternoon bag of chips when we know they aren't good for us? 

Bad habits are hard to break

Changing how and what we eat is modifying life long habits that formerly weren't considered dangerous or even deadly. 

Now, it's a known fact that a diet high in fat and sugar can precipitate deadly conditions and disease.  Yet, we are conditioned to accept these foods as part of our typical diet.  Many people would find it easier to change their religion before they subscribe to a lifelong commitment to a healthy diet.

Could you have a disorder?

Many of us may be suffering from compulsive eating.  This disorder is thought to stem from addiction to foods high in sugar, salt and fat along with flavor enhancers.  Processed foods are big business.  Manufacturers around the world are paid very well to produce foods that are shown to trigger the parts of the brain responsible for the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine.   According to marketplace.org, 70% of the U.S. diet is made up of processed foods

"Hey mom can you add some heroin with my nachos?"

While the scientific proof in still controversial, there is a strong indication that sugar substitutes, refined flour, saturated fats and preservatives that affect the sensory perceptions of food and certain neuropeptides can lead to food addiction.  Whenever this type of brain chemistry is affected, addictive qualities emerge.  Soon we are stocking our fridge with mostly processed foods containing chemicals that have a similar affect on the brain as heroin and cocaine.

You may feel the need to continually eat these foods to stimulate the neurochemicals affect and eventually need more food at one time to generate the same effect.  As the endogenous chemicals wear off, your mood begins to change which can lead to anxiety, depression or tiredness.  All of which cause you to continually crave the foods that are the worst for you.  The processed, fast foods, sugary or salty snacks are the most common culprits since they satisfy your cravings, are convenient and low cost.

So how do you replace all this bad stuff you want with the good stuff your body needs?

Compulsive eating stems a great deal from taste, brain chemistry and hormones.  But, it also revolves around everyday emotions, activity and physical exhaustion.  You won't be using an eating "compulsimeter" before every snack to determine why you're craving something.  So, you will need to do some trial and error on foods and activities that can replace your bad food habits.   Try preparing your menu a week in advance to sidestep some fast food traps. 

Emotions: Are you really hungry or are you bored, sad, lonely or mad?  Emotional eating and food addiction work together.  To determine if you are emotionally eating, try to identify your feelings before you head to the fridge or vending machine.  Being aware of your reasons for eating will be the first step to reducing convenience food choices and poor eating habits. 

If you are absent-mindedly eating, you may want to skip the fridge or vending machine and head right out the door for a walk.  You may find that your body is simply waking you up from a mid-day or evening slump.  You may confuse a low energy feeling for hunger.   All you may need is some physical activity and blood circulation instead of a sugary snack!

Activity: Family get togethers, meals, sporting events and parties are not a reason to stuff your face.  Most food at celebratory events is not healthy.  Eat a healthy snack and 8 oz. of water before attending so that you are less likely to pig-out on bad food choices at these events.  If you do eat too much, accept it and move one.  Don't let one bad choice ruin your healthy eating plan.

Physical Exhaustion: So much can be said about not getting enough sleep.  But, poor eating habits is a major reason to clock-in 7 to 8 hours per night.  Not only are you likely to eat more when you are tired, but you are prone to choosing unhealthy, convenience items that are high in sugar, fat and sodium.  

Menu Help

You don't need to plan every meal.  Rather stock your fridge with 80% good food and 20% of your favorite must-haves.  Don't run to the fridge and pitch everything and anything the first week on your new diet plan.


You may want to start off slow, like 50/50.  You will still feel better eating 50% good and you won't get burned-out and frustrated from the sugar withdraws within the first week.   The 50% good should include lots of whole foods. 


Whole foods are unprocessed and unrefined.  So, fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and whole grains.  Take out the red meat and add, low or healthy fat protein like Omega-3 fatty acids.  Some options would be salmon or skinless chicken breasts.  Meals should be 4 oz. of meat, heavy on fresh vegetables and fruit.


Snack Replacements

Remember to opt for low calorie, high fiber foods in place of high calorie, fat and sugary snacks. e.g. You can get a lot more popcorn for less calories than a bag of chips.  You are snacking longer, but the calorie cost is a lot more affordable!  Make sure to make a list of items to prepare some snacks in advance for the week.  Check out some healthy alternatives and recipes on-line at Web sites like Snack Nation so that you have plenty of variety!

  • Choose nuts, popcorn, kale chips instead of potato chips
  • Apple, banana or orange instead of candy
  • Frozen yogurt or fat free Greek yogurt instead of ice cream
  • Apple Chips instead of cookies
  • Baked sweet potato with Greek yogurt and pecans instead of fries or chips
  • Stuffed Celery (1 tuna pouch, 1 tbsp. light mayo, 1 tbsp. buffalo wing sauce) instead of Cheez-It® crackers
  • Stuffed Celery (1 lemon pepper tuna pouch and 1 tbsp. Greek yogurt or almond butter) instead of Ritz Bits® crackers
  • Sliced cantaloupe with 1/4 cup of nuts instead of cupcake snacks

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