In Discussions, Life

Change: How to change bad eating habits and improve who you are

Readers who have followed my blog for a while now (has it really been past a decade!?) will know that I am kind of hard on myself about food and eating.

I’m already admittedly a food snob because I really like eating GOOD FOOD that is delicious & well-seasoned and if it doesn’t meet my criteria, I can’t seem to gag it down unless I am being polite.

It has only gotten worse (or better?) in recent years, ever since I read How not to die, watched Forks over Knives, and have seen actual proof in real life of the power of food connected to health in my friends and family.

Over the years, I have started to move towards more of a plant-based diet, and I do feel better, and I have tested that theory.

I USED TO BE AGAINST HEALTHY ANYTHING

My whole life. I ate sugar and meat. I liked delicious food my mom cooked, but if it didn’t exist, I opened a can of soup and added rice to eat. I ate Spam, I ate sugary yoghurts, I used to suck sugar out of packets as a ‘treat’ and eat Nutella out of a jar.

I used to eat candy bars for breakfast and wash it down with a can of Coca-Cola. I used to drink Coca-Cola with every single meal I had, that was mostly starch and meat, with zero vegetables.

I lived like this for almost 20 years. My mother, interjected with good food most of the time, trying to get me to eat vegetables hidden in the meal, or ground up in a stew or soup, but there was a period where I moved out at 19 to live on my own and support myself where I ate even worse than before.

I didn’t touch anything that said ‘whole wheat’, ‘low fat’ (still don’t, low fat is a scam and tastes bad), or ‘sugar-free’ (still don’t, sugar-free is disgusting and a mistake; I’d rather just not eat sugar).

I was the epitome of bad health.


I SLOWLY CHANGED MY HABITS OVER YEARS

It took years. YEARS.

I am not talking overnight, I am talking years of slowly introducing real food into my body, starting to actively buy and try out vegetables I had never tasted before like beets, radishes, swiss chard, kale and avocado to name a few (okay basically the entire produce aisle except for carrots, onions and potatoes).

I met my partner who hailed from France and that’s when my food education really began.

I started trying out what I realized was actual yoghurt (not that sugary, watery crap they sell, but thick, actual yoghurt that is fermented and made locally).

I ate real cheese, instead of just thinking all cheese was Kraft slices.

I became a different person after 10 years, and had you told me when I was younger I would seriously consider and be happy to eat vegetarian and vegan fare, I would have probably fallen on the floor laughing at your audacity.

But I did it.

EATING JUNK FOOD AGAIN

You know, even after eating so ‘clean’ and healthy for a while, I succumbed to junk food.

I was at the height of my stressful period where I had all of this going on in my life, and one day, I was starving from stress (I do eat my feelings, just like The Hungry Caterpillar), and I was desperately craving JUNK.

Pure, sugary, sweet, savoury, salty.. whatever. JUNK. I wanted JUNK FOOD.

I did not want REAL food. I WANTED JUNK.

So what did I do? I wouldn’t stoop as low as McDonald’s quite yet (am sort of proud that I have avoided eating at McDo for about 10 years now), and decided I would just buy a couple of frozen dinners in various ‘cuisines’.

I tried Thai, a turkey dinner and some chicken thing.

I ate the two dinners at once (yes, I’m a pig), and not even half an hour later, my head throbbed with pain. I was dizzy, nauseous, sick, and completely out for the count in terms of energy for the rest of the day. Mind you, I was in the middle of potty training my toddler so that didn’t help either that he was just weeing all over the apartment and I had to clean it up and not lose my #*%$*@$.

I popped two Advil and tried to lie down while Baby Bun rode my back like a horse, squealing and ‘drumming’ on my body to entertain himself.

Then I was hungry again, and I ate the last frozen dinner.

I mean REALLY. HOW STUPID AM I? Why didn’t I just throw it out? I have no idea.

Anyway, SAME THING. I was sick, nauseous, dizzy, totally sapped of energy and I felt like my head was about to explode.


It was in that moment, I realized that I am no longer used to junk food, and no matter how appealing it may look to me at my lowest point in my life, and no matter how many good delicious food memories I have attached to eating McDonald’s chicken McNuggets or crap food, I should never, ever give in.

Recounting how I felt that day, makes me even more determined to never ever eat junk food again.

To top it all off, I also had stomach troubles that night.

The closest I will come to junk food now, is eating 100% butter croissants, eating non-industrial pastries and cake (at least made in a reputable bakery), and drinking sweet drinks that are purely sugar and milk from Starbucks.

EATING WELL MAKES YOU LOOK YOUNGER & BETTER

I see family members who are vegetarian (I do not know many French vegans to be frank) who look at least 15 years younger than their actual age, and because I am slightly vain and want to look young and attractive for as long as possible, I am intrigued.

My partner’s brother is a vegetarian and has been for the past 15 years, and he looks like he is in his early 30s. His wife in comparison is slightly younger than he is, and looks 8 years older.

Is it only due to food? Of course not.

Genetics play a big part because my partner’s entire family is enviably youthful in looks, and luckily, so are we. My family members don’t seem to age, at least not from what I can see.

The only one who ages and looks older than his years, is the one who eats the worst food possible, avoids vegetables like the plague and refuses to exercise. They also happen to have aches, pains, cholesterol, heart problems and diabetes. If that is not a reason to start eating cleaner, I don’t know what is, to be honest.

Stress also plays another big part because the less stressed you are, the less white hairs you have. I’ve noticed my own hair turning white in a few spots ever since I have had Baby Bun, and that is no lie. I think part of what has been keeping me stress-free has been venting on this blog (thanks for listening!) and working half of my career.

Lastly, skincare. I slap on sunscreen daily now even during winter, I avoid the sun during the summer with a big hat and sunglasses, and I shop at Paula’s Choice buying antioxidant serums and the like.

YOU CAN SAVE MONEY BY BEING HEALTHIER

By eating less junk, I only get sick if my toddler shares his viruses with me with kisses, and my teeth are in tip top shape even fi I am not super diligent on flossing, brushing & using a pick every single day (What? Sometimes I forget. I’m a sleep-deprived mother.)

I haven’t had ‘pink in the sink’ in a very long time ever since I changed my eating habits because I don’t eat crap, so it doesn’t get stuck in my teeth and cause bacteria, which leads to gingivitis and all other problems.

I am also in very good health (exercise helps, and that means just walking because I hate actually ‘working out’), and I think in the foreseeable future as I age and my body wears down, it will wear down gracefully and in good health which is the best outcome anyone can wish for.

Not only that, you waste less money if you eat food that is closer to being raw and in its natural state (e.g. buying vegetables to cook them in a stew), and your fridge contains less waste because it becomes more minimal when you cook with a plan in mind.

Case in point – this is my minimalist fridge, all day, everyday.

You can also save money by eating less meat. Meat is expensive. Seafood is expensive. Do you really need to eat 2 chicken thighs every meal? Why not 2 for the week? Eat very little meat with a big plate of vegetables.

Use meat as a seasoning or a condiment instead.

SO HOW DOES SOMEONE CHANGE THEIR EATING HABITS?

It’s a permanent change, a real lifestyle change that isn’t something you do for just a short period of time because that is called a ‘diet’ and it doesn’t bloody work.

To be clear, diets are not just for people who lose weight, they are also for people who want to change the way they eat, but using the word ‘diet’ makes you think that you can then go back to the way you were eating before.

Not so.

If you want to truly, TRULY change and feel better, you need to start calling your eating habits “The New Order”, that is, permanently adding things to your diet that you can sustainably keep up.

START WITH SOMETHING SMALL AND IMPROVE IT

Take something you do on a daily basis and improve it.

For instance, I used to drink black tea with about half a cup of milk and 5 tablespoons of sugar.

I liked it so milky and sweet, it can only be called a hot milkshake with a hint of tea, to be honest.

I grew up eating like that, eating sugar on white bread as a snack, and drinking cups upon cups of this hot milkshake tea.

To cut back on all of that, I had to go cold turkey and just wean myself off sugar completely in my tea, and the only concession I have made is adding milk to take the ‘edge’ off the tea.

Then I switched it up and discovered matcha green tea from Starbucks.

At Starbucks, they made this green tea latte and would add shots of syrup so I obviously loved it because it was sweet and it made me feel like I was drinking something healthy.

Not so! The matcha tea itself at Starbucks has sugar added to it, and then they add more sugar on top. Big problem.

I started making it myself at home (which saves money) and if I go to Starbucks to have it as a drink, it’s a treat that only happens once ever so often, and I treat it like a sugary dessert.

I whisk the tea at home, and add a bunch of milk.

So far, so good.

I suspect that the green tea I drink every morning has been helping keep the plaque off my teeth as well because my teeth have stayed smoother, for longer than I ever expected.

My track record for my morning cuppa, was that I eliminated sugar completely from it, I changed it from black tea to matcha green tea (antioxidants and plaque-resisting agents abound), and I was doing very well with this minor, but healthy lifestyle change.

Then I discovered chia seeds and have started adding them to soak and sprout into ‘chia seed lumps of gel’ in my green tea.

By adding these seeds, I am adding protein, antioxidants, omega-3s, and a whole host of other great things that just a simple teaspoonful can give you.

Easy, breezy and nutritious.

BE REALISTIC

You aren’t going to turn into a raw vegan overnight. Don’t say you will do it because 99% of the time, you won’t.

If you were able to have such a strong willpower and change overnight without any stumbling period or block, you don’t need to be reading this post at all (in fact, can you email me and tell me how you do it?)

What you can do, is start slow (with one meal or problem area per day), and then improve it, change it, tweak it to be something healthier than what it is that you can live with.

Instead of sugary, milky milkshake teas, you switch slowly to a matcha green tea latte with chia seeds and now prefer drinking that over something super sugary unless it’s a treat.

DON’T DEPRIVE YOURSELF AND BECOME A MARTYR

I know someone who is struggling with his weight, and he has serious knee problems among a host of other things.

He goes for these $1000/pop knee injections every 6 months because without them, HE CAN’T WALK. His knee locks up, and he can’t bend it. If he’s climbing stairs and his knee locks, he is DONE. He has to be lifted up by a few strong men and carried, with his locked legs to an ambulance where they can inject that $1000 knee shot and have him walk again.

Can you imagine living like that forever?

His doctors have told him that if he wants to improve the situation and not die an early, painful death, he should lose weight. It would help his diabetes, cholesterol, knee problems, heart problems and general well-being.


Whenever he encounters a setback like a knee locking, or something else happens, he goes into the other extreme mode.

He starts crunching 2 apples for lunch instead of eating a proper, well-balanced lunch (yes, even with meat!), and STARVES HIMSELF so that when he gets home, he becomes so hangry that he can’t see straight (he is diabetic remember), and just eats whatever is in sight, or picks up the phone and orders takeout.

Every. Night.

Instead, what he should be doing is eating smaller portions throughout the day, every 3 hours (a small yoghurt, some nuts, fruit) in between meals to keep his energy up, his hunger at bay, and his energy and sugar levels to even out rather than spiking and dipping.

Does he do it? No. He is reactive, not proactive.

Along the same lines, don’t use this as an excuse to FOMO your way out of learning how to eat better and change your fork & knife DNA.

Don’t say to yourself: “I don’t want to deprive myself!”, and then go and scarf down 5 deep fried chicken thighs.

DON’T MAKE IT A RECURRING HABIT

Do you love fried food? I do too.

The only thing is while I love it, I don’t eat it on a daily basis. I eat it once in a while as a treat, and not on a regular basis. I don’t say to myself: I will have fried chicken this month! And every month after that!

That, becomes a habit.

Treats, like fried food, should be a rare, unscheduled event, like if you plan on going out with friends for a big celebratory dinner, or if you just happen to be in a city where they make THE BEST buttermilk fried chicken and you need to try it out.

Other things I love that are bad for me are cake. I am guilty ever since having Baby Bun, of eating a lot of cake to manage my stress and get through the day.

Luckily, my metabolism is supercharged and high, and I don’t normally eat sweet things for my meals or after my meals (e.g. no dessert, no sweet breakfasts, and every time I eat cake, I try to make sure it’s the really good kind made with butter and preferably, made by myself (with organic everything).

As it takes time and work for me to make this cake to eat, I put it off and put it off until the craving disappears or I make this cake and eat it. The time involved in making this cake while wrangling a toddler at home is enough of a deterrent for me to not eat it.

UNDERSTAND THAT YOU MAY NEVER BE PERFECT

The most ideal form of food would be to only eat vegetables with no animal products, sugar, or salt.

How realistic is that? It isn’t realistic at all for me.

I love seafood, meat and all that, cannot imagine never eating raw unpasteurized cheese or drinking milk again, and banana bread is probably my favourite cake ever.

Am I ever going to be ‘perfect’ and reach this ideal?

No. Never.

But I am going to try my best in my eating habits to change all the things I don’t like and to pay attention to my health and body so that when I feel like I am dizzy, nauseous and sick, I LISTEN, and I stop doing whatever it is that is making my skin break out or feel bad.

I can’t afford to live like that any more.

I have a toddler who relies on me for everything, and I don’t want to ever feel like that again, now that I know what it is like to eat healthy, feel amazing and live such a long life that I hope to meet my future great-grandchildren.

SO, HOW DO YOU EAT?


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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

I got out of $60,000 of debt in 18 months using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K (savings rate = 85%). I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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12 Comments

  1. S
    Sense

    I love this post!

    I did an overhaul of how I ate/cooked/etc. last year. It wasn’t overnight but it was pretty sudden. I am almost 40 and I had always been able to eat terribly without gaining weight or feeling badly. I would eat convenience food and takeaways because I was too lazy to cook. I would inevitably get hungry again at 11 pm at night. What am I gonna do, cook at 11 pm? NO–I reached for whatever was easy. That included lots and lots of Cheese Puffs. 🙂

    Over the year before my mid-2016 eating overhaul, my metabolism must have started to slow down and I noticed my pants were getting tighter…and I hate shopping, so I just decided it was time. I stopped buying junk food completely. I took a basic online cooking class. I started cooking dinners for the week every Sunday and meal planning. I happened upon an article on climate change and decided to cut back on red meat (I hate beef mince in NZ anyway; it’s fatty and gross). Snacks/desserts are now popcorn, fruit, and dark chocolate. I am definitely eating much healthier.

    I still have steak or a cheeseburger as a reward (like after I backpacked 32 km through the wilderness), and I have McD’s bacon egg and cheese muffins when I have to get up early to go to the airport (it’s my little reward for waking up early, and I don’t travel very often!), and of course I have a pizza or birthday cake or whatever when out with friends once a month or so, but on the whole I am eating better.

    I feel absolutely no different when I eat junk food vs healthy food (honest), but I’m glad I’m healthier and have lost the 10 pounds I gained over the past few years!

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      My sibling has gone through a similar transformation and has KEPT IT OFF. I am so proud I could burst, and they say it is a life changer. They just eat a little less, less meat and work out.

      Reply
      1. S
        Sense

        Awesome work, sibling!! I wish mine would do the same…

        Workouts/a movement/exercise overhaul is next for my life. I’ve NEVER been able to keep up a routine. I’ll be good for a year and a half, e.g. run every day, and then just …stop and not do anything regularly for the next two years. Have you figured this out for yourself? What does your sibling do?

        Reply
        1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

          I hate exercising so I am useless for this. I only do yoga at least twice a week and it makes me feel good. Now I am thinking of starting on the elliptical and a little strength training…

          My sibling eats half portions, and runs every other day. I hate running. 😛 Swimming is also apparently better on your joints but the chlorine kills my skin (eczema) and Baby Bun is hard to wrangle in the pool.. He’s kind of my current ‘workout’.

          Reply
  2. A
    ArianaAuburn

    Atikins based diet with very-small amounts of animal protein. That is most of my diet. Occasional fried food or sweets (especially because medication messes with your head).

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      Does your medication turn you fuzzy?

      Reply
  3. Cassie

    I agree with you on everything except the idea that no meat and no salt is part of the ideal diet across the board (I agree on the sugar part). Diets are very much regional, and in some areas eating meat and salt are necessary to sustain your wellbeing. Take the inuit for example. During the winter, and in large part during the summer, there is barely a vegetable to be found. Meat, seafood and the accompanying fat make up the bulk of the traditional diet, and until they were introduced to Western European cultures the population was quite healthy. There was a study conducted recently that suggested that the cold tolerance of northern populations may be genetic, and that they had evolved to be able to survive in their surroundings. It would be reasonable to assume that they had also evolved to survive on the meat heavy diet typical of those surroundings. Removing the meat from their diet of someone in that region and replacing it solely with vegetables could prove extremely problematic for their digestive system. That idea aside, I can’t think of a single person I know personally who wouldn’t be better off with a lot more vegetables and a lot less sugar. I’m just saying that for some people the inclusion of some high quality, non-industrial meat may be part of their personal ideal diet.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      That is interesting. I think I would like a book on diets around the world, I feel like I am lacking in this area.

      Generally speaking, I would say less meat is ideal for sure, but if you eat meat, choose the good stuff.

      Reply
  4. K
    Kathy

    I’ll disagree with you on one area. I don’t believe eating healthy improves who you are. It possible improves health, but I’ve found that often times, vegetarians are snobs who think they are “better people” than meat eaters, and vegans think they are better than vegetarians. (Not that you would ever thinks that, right?) The dietetic industry, at least in the U.S. , is constantly changing what is and is not acceptable to eat. One day eggs are bad and then they are ok. One day whole wheat is practically mandatory, but now anything wheat based is bad. Same for coffee, butter vs margarine, bacon, red meat, salt and sugar etc. . It is so hard to keep up. I think the best way to go is all things in moderation.

    Reply
    1. K
      Kay

      My sister is 90kg (30kg overweight), she is always constipated or has a pain in her stomach because she binge eats or doesn’t eat. She can be extremely snappy, mean and defensive.

      This year she has changed her diet to whole plant foods. Her persona has changed considerably.

      How can you be a nice and friendly person when you always feel sick or sore or are wondering where the toilet is?

      This is an extreme example but it supports Sherry’s post.

      Reply
      1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

        That’s interesting, I’ve heard of plant-based diets changing lives which is why I’m trying hard to go more in that direction, but not to that extent. How wonderful!

        Reply
    2. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I eat meat and enjoy it as long as it is good quality meat and well-raised… I couldn’t go back to being vegan, but the benefits of being vegetarian or vegan are well documented and makes me wonder about myself.

      All things in moderation is a good rule to live by, I’d even go as far as to say eat a little meat, not too much. Avoid it altogether if you can (I can’t). I actually really hate the idea that vegans or vegetarians are ‘better’, and it doesn’t AT ALL make me want to be a vegetarian or vegan to feel superior. Yeah, it has benefits and is a better diet, with good environmental impacts considering we are in the extremes of eating meat as a society, but as Cassie mentioned in a comment, high quality and well-raised meat is just as good.

      I was listening to a podcast about replacing meat with insects. I’d be down for some crickets…

      Reply

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