It is said ‘We are what we Eat’. So with the intention of correcting some deep rooted food habits and to examine the possibility of eating healthy on a consistent basis with less or no junk food, I recently went on a ‘No Junk Food’ Challenge for 21 days.
The definition of ‘Junk Food’ in this case included :
1)No Carbonated Drinks
2)No Ice cream
4)No Deep fried foods
5)No processed cheese
6)No desserts with refined sugar/processed flour
I stopped drinking Aerated drinks since my school days, so it was not a problem. Ice cream, chocolates and Cheese were occasional delicacies, so excluding that from my diet for a period of 3 weeks would not be a big issue either. My only sacrifices for this set was ‘Naturals Ice Cream’ and my favorite Pasta joint. Deep Fried Foods was my biggest challenge as I had special liking for them. I interpreted point 6 in the strictest possible way thereby excluding White Bread (as it contains Maida), and Sugar of any sorts.
Challenge Accepted: Modus Operandi
The three methods planned were
(1) Eliminate : Aerated Drinks, Chocolates, Pastries, Pasta
(2) Replace: Sugar with honey/Jaggery, Ice Cream with Flavored Yogurt, Deep Fried Snacks with Baked or Shallow Fried Snacks, Processed Cheese with Paneer/Cottage Cheese, White Bread with Brown Bread
(3) Reduce: This was a placeholder to allow for unintentional wrong choices made and to be more conscious of them in future.
My Wins: Big and Small
(1) As my intention was to find sustainable habits, and not kill myself for 3 weeks and go back to old ways I tried my best to keep my food choices enjoyable while within my broad set categories.
(2) All Meals cooked at home (by me and Hari) I was able to adhere to my set restrictions without an exception. As we are completely involved in the process of making food, right from choosing the ingredients to the process of cooking, we had more time to deliberate upon our choices and made healthy choices.
(3) My public commitment of posting about how the challenge went during the day gave me the required motivation during initial days. Post that it was not a major driving factor and I had even stopped posting although I continued with my challenge. Ultimately, the change was for me and not for boasting in social media.
(4) We loved our tea with honey and never went back, as a result honey is fast depleting in our home with Sugar hardly being used. For those drinking milk. dates syrup is a pretty good alternative. Most Malt drinks taste fine with no added sugar.
(5) Other small changes included, coffee with no sugar, more green tea, boiled pulses (sundal), wheat puffs, roasted chickpeas(channa) and peanuts for snacks.
Setbacks: Intentional and Unintentional
It was still an extended monsoon during this time when we were out almost every weekend. This led to us not being completely in control of the entire food making cycle.
(1) During the initial days, I was still making some wrong choices and realizing it late after I had ordered or eaten the food like when I ordered the Masala Papad assuming it would be roasted but turned out to be fried.
(2) As it was monsoon we were travelling a lot and there were places with no too many food choices and all of them had atleast one of the things I must not be consuming. In one of our drives, we had stopped by a small village and the only food choices were Misal Pav (White Bread, Poori Bhaji (Deep Fried) or Vada Pav (Both White Bread and Deep Fried). Since I had no intention of going hungry in order to try and follow the diet, I had picked one of the available options.
(3) There was also Ganesh Chaturthi during this time which means modaks (kozukattai) and Vada’s. Since a home cooked delicacy of this sort was a total luxury which if I forsake may have to wait another year, I put it my reduce bucket and had limited numbers.
(4) We were in Mahalabeswar and Hari, my husband lured with the local specialty of Strawberry and Cream. Rather than miss such a local delicacy, I gave my diet a miss.
What I did well?
I did not beat myself up when I failed for I know despite my best intentions, I will fail. However I did not use the failure as an excuse to further deviate from the plan during the day or drop the diet plan altogether.
Diet vs Happiness:
I did not let my diet take a toll on my vacation or festival celebrations. This I think is a very important part. I went by a simple framework of ‘Will I regret having it or not having it?’ Whenever the thought out answer not the impulsive response was the latter I listened to it.
The process of cooking your own meals at home, is the best way to be able to stick to any dietary choice. If you plan to go Vegan, Veg or make any change to your diet, start by cooking more meals at home.
Plan your Shopping:
We always tend to buy more junk food when hungry. So never go shopping when you are hungry and leave out from your shopping list all the things you plan not to eat. In fact don’t even step into the aisles that contain these items. This is one of the basic steps you must take before you go on any diet.
What I could have done better?
I have no regrets about my transgressions in Mahabaleswar or for the Ganesh Chaturthi. However, I definitely could have planned for my meals when I was on the move better. I had not delved on any if then else, scenario in order to plan better. If I had to do it again, I would carry with me some fresh and dry foods, I could eat if I had to choose between unhealthy alternatives on the road.
Overall, the experiment enabled me to replace some of my unhealthy eating habits with healthier and equally tasty alternatives. For others I learnt which I missed the most and which I did not notice was missing which also helped me reduce the unhealthy food choices. My fried bhajji temptation was totally gone at the end of the three weeks, while pasta food joint continues to enjoy my support. I have not been especially aware of any major mood swings or cravings during this period although it was one of my intentions of going on this diet. This I believe is more due to my lack of awareness rather than lack of connect between food and mood. Since we are what we eat, lets try to be more wholesome and less junk.