Here's an eye-opening statistic: Over half the foods in the average American diet are ultra-processed, meaning they're full of chemical additives, flavorings, sugar, and highly processed ingredients.
That's from a study published in the March edition of the journal “BMJ.” And I think it goes a long way toward explaining why the obesity problem in America is so dire—the standard American diet makes weight easy to gain and difficult to lose.
So what's the answer? Part of the secret lies in retraining your brain to appreciate and enjoy the right foods. Whether you're looking to lose weight or not, many people simply sigh and choose the salad over the hamburger or the fruit over the cupcake. While feeling sad or deprived is understandable, it’s essential to stop feeling sad about healthy foods and get excited about making healthy choices.
Here are four ways to retrain your brain to cut out the junk, eat more healthy foods, and yes, lose weight.
Look at Unhealthy Foods as Bad for You
The number of people who smoke has gone down in recent years, in large part to education about the health consequences of smoking and the negative public perception. Similarly, you can make the shift from loving junk food to not loving it, in part, by thinking of junk food as bad for you. When you look at a restaurant menu, cookies in the grocery store, or a fattening food on a buffet, think about what the ingredients will do to your long-term health and weight. Over time, this can help shift your thinking.
Be Willing to Try New Foods
I understand picky eaters—I have a few in my family (who shall remain unnamed). But you'll never learn to embrace healthy foods if the only vegetable you ever eat is canned green beans. Try new foods regularly. Be willing to experiment with Brussels sprouts, different types of greens, and new whole grains.
Don’t Be Swayed
Part of learning to retrain your brain is changing how you react in social situations. If you and your friends always order the same unhealthy entrees at a restaurant, it can be hard to resist when they beg you to make the same bad selection they do. Practice saying “No thank you” in front of the mirror before you head out for an evening where you know you'll feel tempted to eat foods not on your diet.
Find a Healthy Buddy
Keeping company with friends who live a healthy lifestyle can help retrain your brain and make your new lifestyle permanent. Find someone in your office, at the gym, in your family, or in your circle of friends who's either living the kind of lifestyle you want or has the same desire as you to make a change. Support from friends and family can make a tremendous difference when you're trying to change how you think of food.