There are many obstacles that can get in our way of being healthy. People we live with, the foods that surround us, and our own self-sabotaging thoughts can keep us from choosing the foods we know are best. The common challenge among folks who are trying to change their eating habits to become healthier is the need for an environment that supports their health goals.
Marty and I have gained the confidence and knowledge to help us be consistent and disciplined in how we feed ourselves. We’ve educated ourselves to the point where we look at processed foods as “edible food-like substances” that are, in reality, toxic. We don’t feel deprived; in fact unhealthy food is repulsive to us. We’ve replaced processed foods with enticing whole food options. To stay on the healthiest path, we rely on the great advice of experts in the field of nutrition and weight loss, which is based upon the latest scientific research. I thought I would share from my resources of books and websites the suggestions from the experts that deal with the challenges of creating a supportive environment.
Dr. Mark Hyman, a family physician and bestselling author of The Blood Sugar Solution and the 10-Day Detox Diet recently posted to his blog, 4 Steps to Detoxify Your Kitchen. In the post he provides detailed steps you can take for purging your kitchen, scrutinizing labels, ditching foods and restocking your food.
If you make your kitchen a safe zone, with only foods that nourish rather than harm, then you will automatically make the right choices. If you fill it with crap, you will eat crap, no matter how much willpower you have... The first step to detoxify your kitchen, then, is not to load it with junk and clear out whatever junk currently is stocking your cupboards. If it’s not there you won’t eat it. It’s that simple. If you have to get in your car and drive five miles you probably will skip that donut, cookie or ice cream. You are removing ways that you will unconsciously sabotage yourself.
Chef AJ, a chef, culinary instructor, author and public speaker chronicles her journey from junk food vegan to learning how to create foods that heal the body in her book, Unprocessed: How to Achieve Vibrant Health and Your Ideal Weight. Here are her recommendations on creating a supportive home environment.
The first thing I recommend is to clean out all the crap from your cabinets and refrigerators. I’ve sometimes helped people do this as they cry and scream. Usually, once I clean out someone’s kitchen, there is nothing left that I would consider food, so I take them shopping. You need to get rid of all processed food. I define processed food as pretty much anything that comes in a can, a box, a bottle or a bag. If it’s not a whole food, then it’s a processed food. All oils, all sugars, and all alcohol is processed. Generally, if it’s got more than a few ingredients, it’s processed. I do make an exception for sugar-free low sodium condiments like ketchup and mustard, salt-free canned beans, and unsweetened non-dairy milks without added sugar or oil... Once you truly understand that processed food is not food, this will be so much easier. You may love it, you may be addicted to it, and you may choose to eat it (only occasionally I hope), but it is not food. Most of what is sold in a grocery store is neither whole nor food.
Dr. Robert Lustig, M.D., author of the bestseller, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease, is a pediatric endocrinologist who runs a weight management clinic for children and families at the University of California, San Francisco. In a New York Times interview with Dr. Lustig, Learning to Cut the Sugar he talks about the importance of training children and their parents to eat better.
Q. You treat many obese children in your clinic. Do you ever end up treating parents as well?
A. Almost always, we see an obese kid come in with an obese parent. And when the kid loses weight, the parent loses weight, because the parent actually changed what’s going on in the home. They made the home safe for the kid and safe for themselves as well. But if the parent is hooked on sugar and they won’t get it out of the house, then the kid can’t get better. If a parent says, ‘Oh, it’s my kid’s problem, but I’m going to eat the cookies,’ then nobody gets better. We see a lot of that.
Dr. David Kessler is a pediatrician, lawyer and former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. He is the author of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. The following is an excerpt from his statement in a panel discussion from the Harvard School of Public Health Forum Why We Overeat: The Toxic Food Environment and Obesity.
Talk to somebody who really struggles with their weight. You know, I need it, I want it. If you look at, probably I think the great public health success to date, in our country we probably would think maybe it's seat belts, but I think most of us would agree that tobacco ranks up there, and that happened in our lifetime. What was it? Nicotine is a highly reinforcing chemical. It used to be positively viewed. It's a very effective drug. It can change how you feel. It effects that affective circuitry. What did we do?
We didn't change the product, cigarettes are still out there. But we changed how we perceive that stimulus. I used to perceive it as my friend, something I wanted, something that I needed. Not everybody had that, but for those who were addicted to nicotine, certainly they perceived it as their friend. What did we do? We changed. I mean there was a critical perceptual shift. The fact is we demonized the tobacco industry. We changed that shift from that's my friend to that's my enemy.
Food is much harder. The thing we have to be careful about is not stigmatized obesity. But I think if we can agree on what is it about the food, the big portions, the fact that we're eating all the time, that there's no boundaries, there's no meal time anymore, the fact that the food is so highly processed, in essence we're eating baby food, and fact that it's so stimulating that we keep on eating. At least for those who have problems with it, for which it has become a salient stimuli, it is very high in fat and sugar, fat and salt, fat, sugar, and salt. So we have to change our social norms and how we perceive these big portions.
Brian Wansink is the director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, a behavioral economist, food psychologist and author. His book, Mindless Eating, shows people how to eat less and eat better without thinking about it. Here are some of his thoughts on obstacles to eating healthy.
Q: Why do you think Americans have such a weight problem?
A: We want convenient, inexpensive, tasty food, and that’s what we’ve been given. But we can’t eat like a kid in a candy store. The key to the quickest way to eliminate mindless overeating is to start at home. We need to set up our daily environment and routine so we can eat the right amounts of food we enjoy.
Q: What does it mean to mindlessly eat?
A: Most of us don’t overeat because we’re hungry. We overeat because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers. Our studies show that the average person makes around 250 decisions about food every day – breakfast or no breakfast? Pop-tart or bagel? Part of it or all of it? Kitchen or car? Yet out of these 200+ food decisions, most we cannot really explain. Mindless Eating shows what these decisions are and how to make them work for you rather than against you. (http://mindlesseating.org/faq.php )
Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a physician and nutritional researcher who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods. He is the author of many bestselling books such as Eat to Live, The End of Diabetes and The End of Dieting. The following is a quote from his bestseller, Eat for Health.
Does following the crowd give you an excuse to resist change? It is a factor for some people. They want to fit in and will be uncomfortable eating differently because they believe their group will reject them. This perceived loss of status from being different can create a subconscious resistance, presenting another obstacle to change. This is an irrational response; following the crowd does not lead to enhanced status or self-respect. Quite the opposite; doing what you think is right will increase your self-esteem and emotional well-being. …You can lead the crowd; you can change things around for your social circle. By your example, you not only may save your own life, but you also may save someone else’s life that you really care about…
Some people will attempt to make you uncomfortable because you are eating healthfully. Your change in behavior may make them uncomfortable because you are forcing them to examine their own unhealthful practices. …Don’t let people with unhealthful and self-destructive food habits influence your food choices. Control your health destiny.
The underlying theme from all of these experts is the importance of getting rid of the toxic food-like substances in our homes since they keep us from being healthy. Ridding our home of processed foods and restocking with whole foods was an important first step for us in our commitment to eating for health. Making sure that wholesome food is always available in our cupboards and refrigerator sets us up for success in achieving our goal.
In situations where there may be other household members who are not ready to make the change to a healthier lifestyle, it will require more focus on one’s own goals. Instead of engaging in an attempt to change someone else’s behavior, we may need to be self-assured, confident leaders and set a positive example by choosing the healthiest foods to eat at home as well as when we dine out. By sticking to our goals and our commitment to be healthy, we can demonstrate, as well as enjoy, the benefits of eating well. We can create the environment for others to do the same.
- Identify your obstacles to eating well.
- Improve your environment to better support your health goals.
- Be a positive role model for healthy eating.