Hardly any of us grew up eating a clean diet free of processed foods. In fact, many of us probably eating the exact opposite: the Standard American Diet (SAD). It seems much easier to just go to the store, pick up some chips, cookies, crackers, white bread, ice cream and soda, or just zip through the drive-thru on your lunch break or when you’re too tired after work to cook. We all have different reasons for turning to convenient, less-than-stellar meal options, which essentially leads us to live off processed foods somehow or another. Sure, we hear and know they’re not the best for us, but when it comes down to convenience and tradition, it just seems easier to take the quick route out. This is especially true when you’re first starting out eating a cleaner diet or you become interested in doing so.
But we have to start making a cultural shift away from processed foods. Our country is facing more types of disease than ever before, and the processed food industry is just as booming as ever. We’ve seen great progress in the real food, whole foods movement, along with more plant-based product options out there, but we still have room to grow. Our goal here at One Green Planet isn’t to just show you how to eat more plant-based, but to also inspire you to eat in a more sustainable, whole foods way.
So, if you’re just starting out and trying to shift away from processed foods into a more whole foods diet, here are some simple tips we think will help you out. Remember, we’re all in this together. So let’s get real with our food, shall we?
If you look at everything in your fridge and pantry (or a large percentage of it) and realize that most of it comes in a package and doesn’t resemble a whole food whatsoever, don’t panic and feel overwhelmed. You don’t have to do a complete raid of your kitchen (unless you’d like to, of course). Instead, start small and make changes here and there. For instance, the first week, maybe you’ll cut out boxed cereal for whole grain oatmeal or a smoothie. Or, you could make your own granola bars and could make it a goal to eat a salad, soup, or side of veggies everyday for lunch instead of something from the drive-thru. Another easy idea is to quit buying chips, cookies, and sugary snacks. Make a batch of real food cookies, opt for fresh fruit, chopped carrots and hummus with salsa, or make yourself an afternoon smoothie instead (which is a fun way to treat yourself during the workday). Pick three things you feel you can do this week and start implementing them. When you’ve got those mastered, you can pick three more things the next month.
Along with starting small, another idea is to reduce an unhealthy food habit instead of trying to eliminate it completely at once (that comes later!). Replace whatever item you’re reducing with something better. For example, let’s say you’ve got a mad addiction to soda. You can just can’t help yourself and pop around 4-5 a day (or more). Whether they’re diet or regular, these are some of the worst beverages for your health and provide no nutritional benefits. The sugary ones have been linked to Type 2 diabetes and cancer, while the sugar-free and diet varieties contain artificial sweeteners linked to cancer and other scary health issues. Try reducing the amount you drink to one per day. Then, replace the sodas you would have consumed with a more natural soda made with soda water, stevia, and fruit, or sparkling, carbonated water. Or, try iced coconut water with some lime and lemon, which is pretty delicious if you’ve never had it before. Replace your unhealthy habit with a healthy habit, and eventually, you won’t even want the one soda you do eat. You can do this with any food or drink out there and it will help prevent feeling overwhelmed from taking one item out completely all at once.
3. Familiarize Yourself With Whole, Plant-Based Food
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If you don’t know what whole, plant-based food is, it’s hard to actually eat it, right? Remember that no one eats a perfect diet, but we should all try to eat more real foods, which are foods in their natural state that contain no additional ingredients or have went through multiple steps of processing to make it to our plates. Some of the best include: greens, vegetables, herbs, spices, fruits, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Foods made with these (such as hummus, unsweetened non-dairy milk, plain nut butters, simple condiments, and salsa) are also considered minimally processed foods and are also fine to eat on a real foods diet. But it’s hard to know this if you’re not familiar with what real food is. Many of us would have considered chips and cookies real foods years ago, but now we know differently. Focus on foods with the least amount of ingredients as possible and food in its natural state — this is the essence of eating a real foods diet.
If you work a busy job and feel overwhelmed, then make a whole foods diet work for you and your schedule. For instance, if you don’t have time to chop veggies through the week and weekend, feel free to buy baby carrots or pre-cut veggies. Yes, these cost more, but it means you will eat them and make time for them instead of unhealthy foods, feel free. If you know you’re not going to make your own veggie burgers and nut butters, learn which burgers are the best to buy from the store and which nut butters are better options. And while making your own almond milk is healthier than buying store-bought, most of us don’t have time for that, and rely on healthier brands from the store. The point is to make the lifestyle work for you. There are ways to do this and anyone truly can. See these tips to make a whole foods diet a breeze, even if you have a busy schedule.
Positive reinforcement is a powerful way to ensure success in just about everything. It’s like giving your sweet pet a treat when they potty outside, or buying yourself something special when you get that big promotion. Do the same thing with your transition into a whole foods lifestyle. This doesn’t mean buying yourself an old, unhealthy processed food you might miss (hey, we all have them), but instead, maybe you’ll splurge for that way over-priced coconut ice cream or treat yourself to that trendy new healthy restaurant you normally wouldn’t pay for. Or, maybe you’ll go really big once you’ve starting gaining momentum in your whole foods diet and splurge for a high-speed blender or a new set of cooking knives (it’s the little things!). Rewarding yourself with something that will enhance your new lifestyle is an investment towards your health and can be quite the handy tool for further inspiration.
Or maybe you won’t spend any money at all and will simply make yourself and friends a delicious, healthy dinner to celebrate. Reward yourself with will what inspire you to keep going the most.
Dealing with cravings? See some special tips to make your favorite traditional foods more plant-based and healthier instead of reverting back to the unhealthy versions. If you’ve made the transition into cleaner diet with less processed foods, we’d love to hear from you!
What’s your secret ingredient that helped you shift into a healthier lifestyle?
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!
Lead image source: Eric Urquhart/shutterstock