I spent my childhood eating junk food.
Easy to say, but such a simple sentence doesn’t really cover the sugar intake that was my personal menu day in and day out.
I can remember many lunch hours in elementary school spent counting out change to figure out exactly how many chocolate bars I could go and buy that day. (Easy math when we consider that chocolate bars at that time were 60 cents, no tax.) More often than not, I would buy 3, sometimes as many as 6, and eat them all within hours. I bought bags filled with hundreds of penny candies. And if there was no money available, I simply went and ate up the goodness that is my mother’s baking!
High school…and then into college, it continued. Pop Tarts and gummi worms for breakfast. Pizza pockets and chocolate bars for lunch. And hey, dinner was easy, a large bag of Doritos would do. I craved sugar like a smoker wants a cigarette, sometimes walking out of my way to hit the corner store and satisfy the craving.
That may sound like exaggeration but believe me when I say it really isn’t. I was a Processed/Junk food queen for many, many years. I remember eating junk food until I was literally sick. So many times, I would catch myself eating a chocolate bar and realizing that I actually didn’t want it. I wasn’t hungry, sometimes I was overfull, yet there I would find myself, taking bite after bite, unable to stop.
These days, everything has changed. As of last May, my eating habits have altered drastically and my activity level has increased ten-fold…something changed but it took years and years for that to happen…and the struggle doesn’t seem to ever be completely over. A sweet tooth doesn’t go away if you deprive it of sugary and salty goodness, it simply goes dormant until the next bite of cookie or handful of chips nudge it awake again.
At this point, this post sounds as though it’s headed in a dieting/weight issues direction. It isn’t. Sure, my weight has fluctuated over the years but specifically, this post is about the actual physical need I had for the “junk” in question.
A few times, I tried to change my eating habits, but nothing stuck. I’d switch to salad, veggies, fruit…reduce my carbs and cut out junk…but it would only last a couple of weeks, and then I would fall back into eating the same old stuff.
About a year ago, something changed. Something permanent. I hesitate to use that word, as though I may jinx myself, but it *has* been a year and I haven’t gone back so I think I’m somewhat safe in considering this change as something that isn’t about to regress any time soon.
A lot changed and I don’t think it was any one thing as much as a collection of happenings that caused the change in my food choices.
1) Physical activity
Last May, I started dating this awesome guy. It always begins with a boy, doesn’t it? 😉
We both had the desire to eat better, exercise more…and such things are always more enjoyable when done with a partner. I bought a bicycle, my first bike since high school over ten years ago….
and we spent the summer biking around, even taking our bicycles on our vacation with us and cycling around the east coast.
Becoming more active had a huge effect on my choice of food. I wanted to have more energy, to feel better in my own skin. All junk food did was give me a quick sugar rush and then weigh me down for the rest of the day. I had never been a sporty kid and that led to my being a lazy adult. But the introduction of the bicycle flipped a switch. Having a partner along for the ride encouraged me that much more.
I’ll never be on a sports team, have never been a fan of such organized sports (to watch or play!) but as time passes, I’m discovering a number of activities that I really enjoy.
Cycling led to kayaking and canoeing…
In one year, I have tackled more physical activities than ever before and it feels great!
2) Food Research
At the same time as my newly found active lifestyle, I began reading more books about food, beginning with ‘What to Eat’ by Marion Nestle It had quite an impact on my view of food in general, not to mention opened my eyes to the amount of manipulation inherent in food commercials, packaging…heck, even in the way the supermarket is organized. It is an amazing book and I have recommended it to, even bought copies for, friends and family.
Ms Nestle’s writing and suggestions led me to the food and nutrition section at my public library, where I discovered more and more books on food ethics, eating locally, sustainably, growing your own food….and overall, how important it is to know what the heck you’re putting in your mouth.
Since then, I have read dozens of books on food choices, food ethics, the industrialization of the food industry….eating locally, sustainably, growing your own food…the list goes on. I have avoided dieting books of any kind, preferring to focus on making healthy, educated choices to last the rest of my life, rather than imposing limitations that have an expiration date.
Overall, I think what changed was Me. I had to want to change. It had to be for me, not for anyone else. Trying to eat healthy because other people told me to or because friends prodded me by speaking at length about all the health benefits never worked. I am a Capricorn and can be amazingly stubborn!
Last May, something clicked.
I was four months into my 31st year. Throughout my teens and into my 20s, I felt invincible. (Don’t we all?) I could bounce back from anything.
But eventually, all the wear and tear on your body catches up to you. I got sick of being out of breath after climbing the stairs to my apartment. I hated that lagging lack of energy and I began to feel pressure to take responsibility for my life. Pressure that came from the Me witnessing my inactivity and generally unhealthy life choices. Pressure from the realization that I was 1/3 of the way through my life (One can only hope!) and that the way I was treating my body wasn’t conducive to making it through the next 2/3 unscathed.
I want to be healthy and fit when I’m older. I want to truly live and experience my life, be IN it rather than watching it.
In addition to all of this, another more recent result of this lifestyle change is this blog. Last November, I realized that cooking and baking my own food was the best way to know and be in control of what I was eating. If you have read my About Me page, you know that I never learned how to cook growing up. I never liked it and never stayed in the kitchen long enough to really learn much at all. In hindsight, I think that’s incredibly unfortunate. I believe that such a lack of knowledge and experience supported my junk food addiction. Junk food was easy and convenient, not to mention cheap.
But this blog was a revelation. It has allowed me to start putting all the little pieces, all the tiny changes, together to see the big picture.
So, to sum up, over the past year my eating has gone through a huge change. Something clicked and I found myself eating salads, craving fruit, vegetables, even water…instead of chips, chocolate and pop. My increased activity level supported this change, and likewise my new eating habits have allowed me to be more active. I have done my best to leave my junk food addicted ways behind but I have to say that a sweet tooth never goes away. Not completely. It hibernates, waiting for the right piece of chocolate or deep-fried food to nudge it awake again.
Even a year later, when I indulge (and I *highly* recommend indulging once in a while!), those cravings return and it’s hard to stop at one chocolate bar or one bowl of chips. I treat myself to a yummy deep-fried pub meal and suddenly I spend the next two days talking myself out of simply eating a pizza pop or other processed “food” for dinner, forcing myself to eat a salad or a piece of fruit for dessert, talking myself into walking past corner stores and ice cream shops, while my ever rebellious sweet tooth is telling me to do the opposite.
It’s a struggle that doesn’t seem to ever truly end. But based on how I’ve been feeling over the past number of months, I definitely believe it’s worth it.