Wait! Don’t Throw Out All the Processed Food at Once!

While browsing Pinterest earlier today looking for good recipes to share I happened to see a pin that reminded me of one of my pet peeves … so of course I thought I’d write a short post about what you should absolutely positively not do when you are switching your family over to a real food diet. When it comes to getting people on board with the program this one thing is probably the very worst thing you can do. 

What’s shocking about it is that it is standard advice to everyone starting any kind of new diet! Truly terrible advice for 99.9% of us. 

So what is it?  The advice to march to your kitchen and immediately throw out anything and everything that doesn’t come up to your new standards.

What Everyone Thinks Will Happen

It’s easy to think that without the food you no longer wish to eat around to tempt everyone that they’ll just have to eat all the healthy stuff you’re planning to buy to replace it. It’s easy to imagine that sure, there will be a little complaining but they will soon get adjusted. And you as the head cook and bottle washer, well you’ve got a list of recipes and plans of the things you’ll make with all the good ingredients you’re about to buy. It’ll be so great they won’t miss their favorites for long at all.

We all think the first time we try this that sudden change of this kind will be like removing a bandaid … “Rip it Right Off!”. It’ll hurt like hell and then sweet relief when it’s over. Everyone will get healthier faster the quicker we get this phase over with. 

What Actually Happens

Okay, so we’ve got our fridge and pantry cleaned out. We found a lot of labels with things like “cottonseed oil” or “hydrolized soy protein” in them … out they went! And it feels good, real good. We are making great progress! We head off to the store to get some replacements. Being a bit tired from the mornings activities we only get about half of what’s on our list … reading thru all the labels and remembering all the things we’ve read about what to buy and not to buy is pretty exhausting. We arrive back home hungry.

That’s okay we have a plan for that. We set out to make one of the recipes we found on the internet with our good ingredients. It turns out well and the family seems pleased. But the littlest picks at his food a little and hubby says he still feels hungry … what else is there for him to eat? He looks for his favorite snack but it’s gone. He wants to be helpful so he doesn’t complain … much :-). 

The next day the little ones are crying for their usual snacks, you’re hungry and already a little sick of cooking. You start using a little willpower to stick with it. You have to rush out for baseball practice in the early evening so dinner is a hurried and misbegotten affair. Everyone is grumpy. But you insist they stick with it. The next day is kinda similar only you and everyone else’s patience is wearing thin. You discover that getting all of the foods you want to buy adds up to much more expense than you thought. Processed food begins it’s sneaky trek back in. Pretty soon you’re back where you started, but worse ’cause now the family associates eating better with tons of stress!

Change and the Elephant

In the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath use an analogy of a elephant and it’s rider to talk about making big changes that stick. The rider is willpower and the elephant is the momentum of current habits and emotion mixed up together. The rider has to exert a lot of willpower to influence the direction of the elephant. He will tire of this quickly then the elephant will do as he likes. Oh, and heaven forbid the rider should do something that spooks the elephant. Most anything might happen then :-).

When we make big changes all at once we are frightening the elephant! The whole system goes into overdrive to ensure that the status quo continues. Everyone will want their twinkies when they suddenly fear they are about to lose them forever! Your rider, the one that made the decision to clear out all the bad food, will quickly tire out using willpower to a) make yourself cook all the food all the time and b) keep everyone on the straight and narrow food-wise. This path is doomed.

What to Do Instead

Big change is made up of lots of little changes gradually implemented. In other words babysteps! Instead of swallowing all the change at once you’ll want to do one small thing, practice it till it becomes a habit, and then and only then add another step. 

Instead of tossing everything at once you’ll want to do step 5 in The Granny Plan and eliminate just one processed food at a time. This gives everyone time to get adjusted to it’s disappearance and to it’s replacement.

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