We all know that we should be eating less processed junk food and more healthy food… But it’s easier said than done, right?
Like, you KNOW it’s important to eat well because it makes you feel good and look good
Plus, if you’ve done our “5 Whys” exercise, then you will also have other deeper reasons like wanting to live a fulfilled and confident life or wanting to live long enough to watch your grand-kids grow up.
But despite all of the “knowing“, you still struggle with the “doing“.
When it comes to food, most of us are fortunate to live in a world of abundance. There’s so much convenient, tasty, and cheap junk food always so readily available that it’s just so hard to say no.
In the past, we had to hunt or grow and make our own food from scratch. This certainly slowed down how much food we could eat and it also limited the amount of processing and refinement we did to the food…
… But now we can just click a button in an app on our phone and have fresh pizza delivered to our door in minutes. We can buy packets of chips and sweets in bulk (at a discount too!) and keep them in our cupboards, draws, and cars to snack on whenever want to.
What a luxury!
We tend to overeat on super-convenient processed foods that are high in calories, salt, sugar, and fat.
It’s as if the odds are stacked against us because it’s so easy to eat badly while being so much more difficult to eat well.
In fact, Precision Nutrition explain in their article, Manufactured Deliciousness, that:
“Actually, it’s normal to feel like you can’t stop overeating certain things. Today’s
Most processed foods are scientifically engineered to be irresistible and easy to gobble up in large quantities. If you can’t stop, the chips are doing their job.”
When we eat processed foods, our bodies find it hard to know when we’re physically hungry or full because they’re designed to make us want more and more and more.
Over time, we lose touch with our hunger and satiety signals – which leads to even more overeating.
So if your goal is health, weight loss, or even just weight maintenance, then eating too many processed foods can make achieving those goals really difficult.
Processed foods do have their benefits:
First, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Some processed foods DO bring us great benefit and make it much easier to eat a healthily.
- We can keep frozen vegetables in our freezer so that we always have vegetables on hand. Plus, they tend to require minimal preparation since they have been harvested, shelled, and blanched for us already. So they are super easy to cook and we can have them conveniently ready to eat in minutes.
- We can keep canned goods in our cupboards so that “seasonal” produce is available to us all year around and we don’t need to worry about them going bad if we keep them for long periods of time.
- We can buy good quality healthy oils, like olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil so that we can easily get these healthy fats into our diet without needing to press and squeeze the oils ourselves or eat the foods whole.
- We can consume things like yoghurt, milk, and cheese with confidence, knowing that they are safe and hygienic to consume with all of that good bacteria and none of the bad.
This level of food processing ADDS to our healthy lifestyle.
Sure, you may prefer to buy fresh vegetables, make your own canned goods, eat your healthy fats, and buy dairy products straight from the farmer down the road… But it’s a GOOD thing that more people can conveniently get the basics like these without all of the trouble.
The easier we can make the basics to do consistently, the more we can focus on intermediate or advanced strategies (or even just other areas of our life).
But too much processed food can still be a problem.
6 Ways to eat less processed foods:
Below are 6 different strategies to help you eat less processed foods.
We work through all of these strategies (and more) in the Sleekgeek Coaching Program, but because this is such a major issue I want to make sure that you have access to this information right now!
[Strategy 1] Noticing Behaviour Patterns:
Most of us are more likely to eat processed junk food:
- at certain times, or
- in certain places, or
- around certain people, or
- while in certain moods.
So the first thing you should do is ask yourself: What are your triggers?
The better you can get at identifying when your junk-food-eating behaviour is most likely to kick it, the easier it is to plan ahead and order to avoid or mitigate the problem.
- Is it when you’re busy and stressed?
- Is it when
yourbored or tired?
- Is it when you’re
- Is it when you’re near the kitchen?
- Is it when you’re out with certain friends?
- Is it at a specific time, like
10am, 4pm, 9pm, or 2am?
All of these situations can be planned and prepared for.
You can make sure that you have less junk food and more healthy convenient food that you actually like around you during those challenging situations.
So get better at noticing your behaviour patterns and then plan accordingly.
Many of our clients find it helpful to keep a behaviour awareness journal:
Download the Behaviour Awareness Worksheet.
[Strategy 2] Move Along the Continuum:
Food does not have to be “good” or “bad“.
Sure, it may make for a good book or movie plot when we can split opposing forces into the light side and the dark side, but that kind of all-or-nothing thinking rarely works out well in our everyday messy lives.
Rather, look at food as if it’s on a continuum from “better” to “worse”.
When you look at foods on a continuum with this perspective, you can then work on eating MORE of the better foods and LESS of the worse foods.
If you want, you can use the Sleekgeek Food List as a basis of what to eat more of.
Try to get 1% better:
Rather than trying to overhaul your diet overnight, start wherever you are right now with whatever you are eating and look to see how you can make SLIGHTLY better choices.
If you’re currently a 3/10 with your nutrition, then try to be a 4/10.
Once that’s your new normal, see if you can go to a 5/10.
Remember, you are what you repeatedly do, so if you’re a 3/10 and try to be a 9/10 for 2 weeks before crashing and burning, you’re still a 3/10.
The idea is you want to move along the continuum to find your new normal that you can actually sustain long enough to give you lasting results.
Some ideas might be:
- Plain Greek yoghurt rather than flavoured yoghurt.
- Whole grain pasta rather than white pasta.
- Natural peanut butter rather than sugar-sweetened peanut butter.
- Regular coffee rather than the syrupy
- Quinoa and rice rather than couscous.
- One less takeaway per week.
- One more serving of veggies per day.
Do that, consistently, and then build up from there.
You don’t have to give up processed food, you just need to eat less of it.
If you don’t believe me, read this article on 10 Ways to Eat Pizza Without “Falling Off the Wagon”.
P.S. Another way to see the “continuum” is as if you’re “adjusting the dial” on your oven’s temperature or the volume on your car radio.
[Strategy 3] Dietary Displacement:
You know how when you get into the bathtub the water level rises?
Your body takes up space in the bath so that there’s less space for water in it before the tub is full.
Most processed junk food doesn’t take up much space in our stomach.
It’s designed to be easily digested so that you just want more and more and more (great business model huh?).
When you eat lots of junk food that doesn’t properly fill you up, it generally leads to:
- Rebound eating.
- Lack of satiety.
- Poor nutrient intake.
- Loss of muscle mass.
- Increased body fat.
- Low energy levels.
If you want to read more about the issues with eating too much junk food and not feeling full or satiated, this is a great article on Here’s why you’re always hungry.
Minimally processed foods, on the other hand, tend to take up a
They are often full of water,
When you eat lots of filling, minimally processed foods, it generally leads to:
- Consuming appropriate amounts of food.
- Feeling full and satisfied after meals.
- Healthy levels of nutrient intake.
- Lean muscle and strength development.
- Lower levels of body fat.
- High and sustained energy levels.
So when we fill up on the “good stuff” (things towards the better end of the continuum), there’s less room in the “tub” (stomach) for junk.
Simply aiming to eat more minimally processed foods is a great way to eat less junk food without going through to stress it deliberately trying to cut it out.
You can see this in action in this article on 10 Ways to Eat Pizza Without “Falling Off the Wagon”.
So you can have your cake, just eat some veg first so that you have less space for cake.
Moderation is a lot easier when you first load up on fruit, veg, and protein.
You can use the Sleekgeek Food List for ideas on what to try and eat more of in order to feel fuller and more satiated.
[Strategy 4] Healthy Substitutions:
Once you’ve got the hang of dietary displacement, the next step would be to pick out one or two of the most common junk foods that you eat and replace them with healthier substitutes.
Again, this is not about getting rid of or replacing ALL of the junk food that you like to eat.
But you want to identify the worst offenders that are likely causing the most trouble between you and your goals, and seeing if you can find a healthier substitute for them.
This is a lot like Strategy 2, Moving Along the Continuum, but now you’re looking to do complete swaps rather than just dialing things up or down.
- An orange rather than orange juice.
- Steel cut or rolled oats rather than sugary breakfast cereal.
- A frittata egg muffin rather than a chocolate chip muffin.
- Some biltong rather than
- Cottage cheese rather than mayonnaise
- Fresh chopped chillies rather than sweet chilli sauce.
By doing this, you help you create your “new normal”
In the past, your go-to breakfast might have been sugary cereal and orange juice. Now it’s rolled oats (maybe some protein powder mixed in) and an orange.
Or your go-to snack might have been a chocolate, but now it’s a pack of biltong.
Or you used to cover your food in calorie-dense sauces, but now you use things like fresh chopped chillies, Tabasco, balsamic vinegar, and herbs and spices to flavour your meals.
The smaller the tweaks the better
As long as your better than before, that’s progress.
[Strategy 5] Design Your Environment:
Your environment is VERY important.
It actually plays a much bigger role in your success than things like motivation, or willpower, or talent, or genetics, or luck.
Those things do matter, especially in key moments throughout life… But it is your environment that affects you every minute of every day, for better or for worse.
You are more likely to eat whatever food is around you.
Good or bad.
- If you choose to keep lots of junk food around… You are more likely to eat it.
- If you choose to keep lots of healthy food around… You are more likely to eat it.
This is NOT about how much willpower you have, whether you feel motivated or not, or what kind of genetics you have.
It’s environment design, and whether you are setting yourself up for success or failure by default.
Here are some essential basics on how to design your environment:
- Put healthier foods at eye level. Make them noticeable.
- Put healthier foods in transparent containers. Make them visible.
- Put healthier foods at the front and within easy reach. Make them accessible.
- Do the opposite for less healthy foods. Either get rid of them, or make them less noticeable, visible, and accessible.
Above all of this, it is essential you have healthy foods that are convenient, portable, and you can eat right away.
Some ideas from the Sleekgeek Food List that I use personally on just about a daily basis include:
- Protein: Tins of tuna, hard-boiled eggs, protein powder, biltong, and left-overs.
- Veg: Carrots, bell peppers, cucumber, baby tomatoes, sugar snap peas, pickles, and left-overs.
- Carbs: Fruit, rolled oats (microwave for 4 mins), left-overs like potatoes, rice, or quinoa, etc.
- Fats: Nuts, nut butters, avocado, coconut, olive oil, etc.
With this list of protein, veg, carbs, and fats, I can put together a healthy meal or a work lunch box in less than 3 minutes.
Stocking up on healthy food like this, while reducing or eliminating junk food ensures that your environment works with you rather than against you.
You can read more about designing your environment over here.
[Strategy 6] Get in Touch With Your Hunger:
One of the most important skills that we teach our clients in the Sleekgeek Coaching Program is to understand WHY they are eating.
Are you hungry right now?
How do you know?
Most of us have forgotten what it’s like to feel truly physically hungry (or satisfied), so we end up eating a lot more junk food because it’s fun and convenient to snack on all day long.
Just like Strategy 1 above where we suggest that you use the Behaviour Awareness Worksheet to notice your behaviour patterns, gaining more awareness as to why you’re eating can help you make better choices.
There are 3 main ways that you can categorise your desire for food:
- Do you need to eat?
- Do you want to eat?
- Do you feel like you should eat?
If you can get into the habit of asking yourself these 3 quick questions every time you feel the desire to eat (or even if you forget but then ask yourself while eating) it will help you build the skill of understanding your hunger.
You can read a full explanation of the NEED, WANT, SHOULD exercise over here.
A great test here is to ask yourself if you’d be willing to eat something that you don’t normally “crave”, like an apple or a carrot.
If the answer is not an overly enthusiastic yes, then you’re probably don’t need to eat more likely wanting to eat for pleasure / habit or feel like you should be eating.
When you truly need to eat, you tend to be a lot less picky about what you are willing to eat.
If you think that you’re only wanting to eat, then either see if you can delay until you’re truly hungry and actually need to eat, or give yourself a much smaller portion than you would ideally like to have / normally have.