How to change your relationship with food (and stop eating junk food)
When you think of healthy food, what comes to mind? Is it an unappetising plate of rabbit food? Maybe a single lettuce leaf that taunts you with just how hungry you’ll be after you eat it? If so, it’s no wonder it doesn’t feel appealing.
But whatever your relationship with food, Accredited Practising Dietitian Shivaun Conn says that you can change it. You can retrain your brain to see healthy food in a different light.
Here are a few tips to help you do that…
Plan ahead so have healthy, nourishing food at your fingertips
Part of the appeal of junk food is convenience. You can grab a meal or a snack on the run with very little thought. And healthy convenience food just isn't as abundant as unhealthier options.
That’s why knowing how to stop eating junk food and change your relationship with healthier options begins with setting yourself up for success.
Shivaun explains that making nourishing foods more available and easy-to-reach-for is the biggest way to make eating healthier easier. “If your fridge or pantry is stocked with healthy options, that’s what you’re more likely to eat,” she adds.
She acknowledges that you might still crave a salty hit, but keeping healthy options within easy reach makes it easier to choose them.
Look at your mindset
Humans reach for comfort for many different reasons and, for some of us, that includes reaching for comfort food. Shivaun suggests trying to take a look at how you're feeling when you reach for the junk food. Are you stressed? Tired? Bored? Try looking at your feelings in a mindful way and then talk to a professional about those feelings...
You might wonder if you can be hypnotised to stop eating junk food, and Shivaun says that the jury’s still out on that one. Much of the research to date has focused on hypnotism for weight loss (which we don’t recommend focusing on), rather than changing your relationship with food. However, if you want to explore this path, she recommends speaking with your GP or seeking support from a psychologist or dietitian.
Find some ‘healthy junk’ food options
Let’s face it, the appeal of junk food is because it tastes so good, but there is also an element of convenience. In order to stop eating junk food, the trick is to replace those unhealthy options with easy to find and prepare tasty, healthy alternatives.
Healthy junk food seems like an oxymoron, but in practice, it’s about researching healthier convenience or fast food options. Think foods like organic popcorn, dark chocolate or homemade baked goods that feature wholegrains.
Don’t forget that fruit is Mother Nature’s own convenience food. You may not get the same dopamine hit from biting into a crisp apple as you do from munching down on a packet of salty chips, but that’s why you’ve done the mindset work first.
Link healthier eating with an outcome or goal you want to achieve
It’s one thing to want to change your relationship with food. It’s another thing altogether to actually make it happen. That’s why Shivaun suggests adding context to the change by linking it to a goal.
As an example, Shivaun says, “If being a role model to your kids is important to you, you can demonstrate this by eating the healthy foods you'd like them to eat. This can be an effective way to introduce those foods to picky eaters too.”
What does this do? It gives you purpose, direction and a sense of meaning. Your goal may be to run a marathon or learn how to cook 10 healthy recipes. Whatever it is, it adds another layer to help you stop eating junk food.
Get a little help
Seeking professional help can also go a long way to shifting your relationship with healthy food. Shivaun notes that, “dietitians can help you to ‘make over’ the foods you already enjoy eating.” So if you already love cooking lasagne or nachos for your family, she says that a dietitian can, “give those dishes a makeover to make them healthier while ensuring they still look and taste good.”
Once you’ve established those habits and you’re eating foods that make you feel better, it’s amazing how quickly your relationship with healthy food will shift.
What’s your first step to change your relationship with healthy food?
Every change starts with a single first step… so what will yours be? Will you try faking it till you make it? If so, you’re not alone. Or perhaps you’ll dive headfirst into sustainable change? Either way, you can change your relationship with food, one step at a time.
- Setting SMART fitness goals you can achieve (with a few examples)
- Building positive friendships to create a healthy, happy life
- How routines can help you achieve health goals
Shivaun Conn is an Accredited Practising Dietitian, Accredited Nutritionist and Certified Health Coach with particular interests in nutrition, lifestyle, executive health and health behaviour change.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board June 2021