Before we delve into the seven steps of transitioning from a processed food diet to a wholefoods diet, let’s begin by defining what we mean by processed foods and wholefoods.
Intuitively we know what processed food is. It’s simply food where man has intervened, food that has been processed and marketed to you in some nice fancy packaging. It generally contains high amounts of sodium, sugar, bad fats and chemicals in the form of preservatives that extend the products shelf life and enhance its flavour. Processed foods are deliberately designed by food manufacturers to entice you to keep buying it and eat more of it. So processed foods can be harmful to your health in varying degrees and become addictive over time.
Examples of processed foods are cakes, cereals, frozen pizzas, frozen dinners, high sodium canned goods, fast food and white bread.
So, what about wholefoods?
Wholefoods generally grow out of the ground or on trees, ie good old fruit and vegetables, nuts, beans, seeds and grains but also includes meat, dairy and fish. Wholefoods are as close to their natural unadulterated form as possible, with no or very minimal processing. They are free from additives, artificial substances, are naturally nutrient dense – meaning they are full of vitamins, minerals, fibre and varying levels of macronutrients. Simply, wholefoods are better for your health and better for the environment.
We know that processed foods are not that good for us and we have been told for years to eat out fruit and veg. So the majority of us eat diets that are a combination of processed foods and wholefoods and the challenge is to gradually increase the proportion of wholefoods in our diet and slowly decrease the amount of processed foods we consume.
So how do we do that?
Well here are 7 easy steps to transition from a diet high in processed foods to a diet high in wholefoods.
1. Discover your WHY
We are human beings, and we typically don’t do anything of importance without there being a compelling WHY behind it. We need a reason to change, and changing our diets is often challenging because we are creatures of habit and have formed in some cases, not so healthy habits around our food. So, you need to be honest with yourself and deep dive into WHY you want to change your diet and eat more wholefoods. Find the root cause that will drive you to make different decisions at the supermarket, change behaviours and change habits. Without a good WHY it will be difficult to maintain the change for a prolonged period of time.
It might be that you are tired of feeling tired and lethargic all of the time. It might be that you are overweight and want to get healthy, so you can have more energy and spend more quality time with your kids. It might be that you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and need to change your diet and lifestyle for health reasons, or face a future of ill health or shortened lifespan.
Whatever it is for you, find your WHY or reason to change your diet and you will find the remaining 6 steps a lot easier to accomplish.
Note – your initial WHY might not be the real WHY. You need to deep dive to find the WHY beneath the WHY.
2. Identify your support
While you embark on this journey of eating more wholefoods and less processed foods it is important that you surround yourself with people who will support and motivate you. Perhaps your spouse or partner will be prepared to change their diet also, to eat more wholefoods and live a healthier lifestyle? Changing your habits around food is hard enough, but trying to do it without the love and support of those close to you will make it even harder and your chances of slipping back into old habits and reaching for a bag of Doritos becomes a lot greater!
Talk to your spouse or partner, engage them in the process and you will find it not only easier to eat better and it may in fact bring you closer together!
3. Take stock
This step is about facing the facts. It is about doing a pantry stock take and writing down all the processed foods in your pantry and coming to terms with what you have actually been consuming. If it is in a tin, box or some other form of packaging then it is processed – and its time to start planning to replace or substitute these processed foods with a wholefood alternative.
Read the labels on the back of these processed foods and take note of the amount of sugar, sodium, trans fat and the chemicals that you find hard to pronounce.
If your diet is high in processed foods then give yourself more time to make the transition to a more wholefoods diet. Maybe set a first goal of half of your diet being processed and the other half being wholefoods. This in itself is a big step forward. Prolonged and long-lasting change is about making many small shifts over a period of time, so don’t try and go too quickly. Take one small step each week and by the end of a year you won’t even believe the transformation you have made.
4. Phase in to phase out
As you begin to increase the number of wholefoods in your diet, ie fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains there is less space in your diet for lower quality processed foods that come in a tin, box or packet. Over time, these not so good foods get crowded out naturally with very little effort, force or will power. So, we call this phase in to phase out.
What you should begin to notice over time is that there will be less food in your pantry and more perishable food in your fridge, you may even need to upgrade to a bigger fridge or invest in a second one!
5. Shop smart
We have all been to the supermarket when we are hungry and find a bunch of processed food goodies have magically jumped into the trolley! So, tip number one is don’t shop on an empty stomach or when in a rush, else you will tend to find quick processed food solutions in your trolley or basket. Secondly be conscious that the supermarket is deliberately laid out in such a way as to tempt you with specials or high profit foods. And be aware that most of the wholefoods are located around the perimeter of the store and the processed foods are in the aisles.
So, plan your shop before you go, know exactly what you want and the direction around the store perimeter you will take and the aisles you will avoid. Know where your favourite wholefoods are and be weary of items on sale or being promoted. Let’s be honest, you never see a promoter in Coles or Woollies promoting cabbage or broccoli! No, they are almost always promoting the latest processed and packaged food, so don’t get sucked in to the hype, see it for what it is.
6. Cook at home
Cooking at home is one of the best ways to control your diet. In Australia we do tend to cook and eat at home most nights of the week, unlike our American friends where the culture is to eat out sometimes every night of the week. Preparing and cooking our food at home means we know exactly what is going into our meals which gives us greater control over our diet. And it doesn’t mean you have to slave over a stove for hours on end. I myself like to make quick, easy, simple and nutritious meals. My general rule of thumb is if it takes my 10-10 formula. If it takes me 10 minutes to eat a meal I won’t spend more than 10 minutes making or preparing it!
Again, if you eat out every night of the week don’t try and suddenly cook at home every night of the week, you will likely give up and fail. Set a goal to cook at home 1, 2 or 3 nights a week and gradually make the change over a period of time. New habits take a while to drive out old or bad habits so be patient and kind to yourself.
7. Dining out
Dining out is generally a treat in Australia. We make it a social occasion to catch up with friends and family at a restaurant, to perhaps try a new cuisine or the new restaurant that has opened in our neighbourhood.
Dining out doesn’t mean you have to accept eating poorly or having to eat rich or processed foods. Most restaurants and cafes these days have plenty of menu options for vegans, vegetarians, celiac, gluten free to accommodate your tastes and dietary requirements. Restaurants are also more than happy generally to accommodate a variation to a menu item, such as no sauce, or a side of vegies rather than a side of fries. So, don’t feel scared to ask for what you want, if you don’t ask then you don’t get.
Plan ahead, know the restaurant you are going to. Go to their website and view their menu beforehand so you have some idea what you will eat before you get there and don’t make any last minute menu choices that you might regret later!