Let’s talk about food without brakes. This term coined by the Whole30 resonates with many of us.
Whether you’re a nighttime eater, a chronic snacker, have trouble with binges on the weekend or after feeling restricted, or simply favor big portions, eliminating certain foods – even “healthy” foods – can be key. Many people who struggle with addiction break free with abstinence.
When it comes to food, total abstinence is not an option, so we have to do our best to decide which foods are ‘never’ foods, which foods are ‘sometimes’ foods, and which foods are okay for us to have around the house.
Food manufacturers today aren’t doing us any favors. The world is full of hyper-palatable food at our fingertips, and it’s tough to avoid.
Many triggers can lead us to spur-of-the-moment snack purchases from the bakery or the frozen treats section because of the enticing labels and ‘exotic’ flavors without looking twice at the ingredients.
Our brain enters a space in which it seeks chemical release, and an easy way to get that is with sugar, carbs, fat, and salt.
While none of these things besides sugar are bad on their own, when you combine a couple or all at once, the food becomes hard to resist after just a few bites.
The thought of a mindful portion flies out the window and suddenly, the whole lot of sweets or crisps is gone. Poof.
While not everyone who has trouble with occasional over-snacking would identify as a food addict, we have to mention the role these foods play in society.
Food addiction is a valid disease, and it absolutely contributes to rising obesity rates – particularly amongst women. The cues we receive from these foods impact impulsivity, and it removes that feeling of choice from our hands; all of a sudden, saying, “No” is not an option.
Research shows that highly processed foods could very well be linked to food addiction, and can share characteristics of highly abused drugs.
If you’re struggling with sticking to your guns, here are some of those trigger foods you should consider cutting out up to 100% of the time.
1. Nuts and nut butters
Let’s start off with a perfectly healthy food that TONS of people have trouble implementing moderation with. See – that’s the danger!
We know better than to keep cookies, crisps, and buckets of ice cream stocked in the house, but we have to replace those snacks with something. Nuts and nut butters can be a great choice for some, and an endless pit for others.
Often, they’re roasted and salted, deepening their flavor and their addictive properties. Nut butters often have sweeteners added to them, and the creamy deliciousness certainly doesn’t help.
Check out the serving size on a package of nuts, and you’ll likely find you’re guilty of grabbing a rather generous handful.
Plus, it’s easy to keep coming back for more, having a handful a few times a day, or even polishing off an entire bag. These are an energy-dense food, and overconsumption can easily lead to weight gain.
While nuts and nut butters are chock full of healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals making them a satiating food, they aren’t really all there in the volume department.
It’s easy to get carried away despite how full we feel because that crunchy, salty awesomeness is just calling our name!
For an alternative, try walnuts or pecans instead of rich cashews or macadamia nuts, as they tend to be more difficult to overeat. You can also try unsalted nuts or unsweetened nut butters, which will help reduce those ‘more, more, more’ triggers to the brain.
Otherwise, if you’re looking for something satiating that can provide both protein and fats, try replacing your nut snacks with boiled eggs or avocado. You’re certainly not going to eat half a dozen eggs in a sitting!
2. Crisps or chips
Even one of the most popular potato chip companies knows, “You can’t eat just one.” It’s true. Starchy carbohydrates covered in salt and refined oil is a surefire recipe for food without brakes, and it’s easy to get carried away until you reach the end of the bag.
Even then, don’t lie – you’re going for those last crumbs and licking your fingers clean! Potatoes aren’t inherently bad for us, but they’re absolutely a food meant for moderation no matter how you make ’em.
Dressed up in this package, there’s no chance for moderation, even with our best intentions.
Moreover, adding refined oils to the mix means we’re doing even more damage. While some potato chips are dishing out chips fried in coconut oil or avocado oil, these foods are STILL very much meant to be consumed in mindful portion sizes.
All of the same properties are still there, so besides getting in a dose of healthy fats (which you can do plenty of other ways), these foods are not an exclusion.
Make your own potatoes at home. It’s easier to control portions when you bake your own chips, and you’ll cut back on the carbs, fat, and calories because you can skip the deep-frying and control the amounts you use.
Another option is fried pork skins or pork rinds. While they can be dangerously good, they’re also very high in fat which is going to satiate you much quicker. I love these pork clouds which come in pre-portioned snack-size bags.
Oh chocolate, how I love thee. Who else agrees? Everyone – that’s who! Chocolate is delicious in all of the ways.
Over the past few years, dark chocolate has been deemed something of a health food due to its high antioxidant levels, and we’re not denying there are benefits to your daily square of the good stuff.
Notice I said square, though – not the whole bar. The reason why it’s tough to stop eating it once you stop is due to its interaction with the brain; chocolate releases endorphins which can mimic the effects of runner’s high at a lesser extent.
Some people love their daily square of dark chocolate. If you’re opting for 80% or higher, your treat is going to be slightly more bitter than it is sweet, which deters us more than biting into a square of semi-sweet milk chocolate.
If you’re missing out on chocolate, a good bar of dark chocolate is your best bet. If you’re not quite accustomed to the taste, you will likely grow to love it over time.
Otherwise, it’s great to get your chocolate fix in other ways. Try adding raw cacao powder to your morning green smoothie. It pairs well with banana, cherries, and berries really well.
If chocolate is your weakness, another option is low-carb baking. A low-carb brownie encompasses all the things that are good about a brownie without the blood sugar spike, loading you up with healthy fats to keep you full and stop at a single serving.
Careful, though! Even low-carb and paleo baking can send people off the rails.
4. Soda/Soft Drinks
Soda is a BIG one for a lot of folks. Whether you drink the real stuff or the diet stuff, it’s a problem (trust us).
A single can of soda contains approximately 39 grams of sugar, and a bottle contains up to 65 grams of sugar! This is all added sugar, too.
You should max out at around 15 grams of added sugar per day, and the desired source of that sugar definitely does not include high-fructose corn syrup with a side of artificial flavor and color. Yikes.
Even diet soda presents a problem with addictive properties. Aspartame doesn’t have a ton of conclusive research, but we’d rather not take risks.
It’s linked to headaches and potential neurological issues, and there certainly aren’t any benefits besides the fact that it won’t cause a blood sugar spike like regular soda, which is part of the reason we go back for more.
Moreover, diet soda consumption has been linked to increase risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, according to this research. There’s no doubt that there’s a link between obesity-related health problems and regular soda consumption.
If you’re trying to kick the habit, replacing your soda with something else is key. Liquid calorie consumption can be a lot more mindless than food consumption, and it’s easy to slip up.
Water is a good place to start, but sipping on flavored sparkling water like La Croix can really help because it’s slightly sweet, has some taste to it, and provides you with that fizzy carbonation your taste buds have grown used to.
5. Ice cream
Now, here’s another recipe for food that you simply can’t stop eating. It hits ALL the notes – especially if you choose an ice cream with a salty add-in like pretzels or salted caramel!
You’ve got plenty of fat from cream and milk, which aren’t bad on their own. Then, you add a pretty mighty dose of sugar to the mix, and it’s all downhill from there.
If you tend to crave sweet foods in abundance, ice cream is just about the worst you can do.
There are plenty of alternatives to ice cream to get your sweets fix, though. You can make “nice cream” at home, which is simply blending up frozen bananas with other fruits and add-ins you like to flavor it.
You could opt for a smoothie instead and get in those greens at the same time. A smoothie bowl can feel like a health-ified sundae with tons of toppings.
There are also lots of high-protein, low-calorie ice creams popping up out there, and they’re really good. I’m not a professional taste tester, but I’ve tried them all. Brands like Halo Top and Enlightened are putting out healthy frozen treats that taste like the real thing.
The secret to those indulgences is adding protein to the mix. When you have a good combination of protein and fat with a natural sweetener that doesn’t impact blood sugar like erythitol, you’re not going to biologically crave more.
If you have an ice cream machine, you can get experimental with low-sugar coconut milk ice cream if you’re avoiding dairy, and use natural sweeteners at doses you’re comfortable with.
6. Cookies (and other pastries)
There is no secret as to why cookies and pastries are downright delicious. Neatly baked into bite-sized portions, it’s easy to think having four or five isn’t going to break the bank, especially when you’re exposed to them constantly.
Offices are notorious for bringing in muffins, cakes, doughnuts, and cookies for the entire staff, and it’s easy to keep going back when you know they’re there. It’s that combination of flour, sugar, and fat that really gets our brains and taste buds going.
Even worse, many sweets have been labelled as ‘breakfast food.’ Stop in at any cafe and admire the wide variety of scones and bran muffins hiding behind their whole-grain guise, and you’re going to feel tempted to take a nice blood sugar spike – and its subsequent dip – alongside your morning coffee.
Yikes! Starting off your day with a nourishing, balanced meal is proven to help you make better choices throughout the day, and the fact that sugar-laden, carb-heavy, protein-poor muffins are an acceptable breakfast ‘on the go’ is a big problem.
Once your blood sugar dips, you’re simply going to want more where that came from… and probably a few hours before lunch time.
If you really need your cookie fix, a low-carb cookie can help you manage the physical impact of taking in lots of sugar at once. Testing out some high-protein cookie recipes is also worthwhile, as the protein will help to buffer those carbs from hitting your bloodstream directly, offering up a more sustainable energy source for a solid and slightly sweet post-workout treat.
7. Fried foods
Potato chips aren’t the only fried food you should avoid, but we probably didn’t have to tell you that. Ordering out is prime time for falling into the fried foods trap.
What often makes it worse is that many fried foods are served as appetizers, which means you’re polishing off a not-so-healthy dose of refined oils, gluten, and whatever else is coated in the magic combination for overeating!
While any healthy home likely isn’t boasting a freezer full of fried delicacies, it’s still worth setting some limits.
The healthier option? The un-fried version of that food! Chicken, pickles, cheese, and potatoes are perfectly healthy foods on their own. Alternatively, it’s good to make fried foods at home.
In Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense Of Food, he explains this notion quite well; we’re not going to bust out the deep fryer every night for our fry fix. It’s true, though.
You’re going to opt for easier and healthier cooking at home.
When eating out, it can be hard to resist. If you’re ordering appetizers to share, choose baked chicken wings or a veggie dish instead.
Spring rolls are a much lighter choice than egg rolls, and you end up with a lot more veggies. You can also experiment with homemade breading that crisps up nice in the oven, avoiding the detrimental effects of refined oils in terms of essential fatty acid balance.
Those oils become quite rancid, so if you do choose to fry it up, fry your food in avocado oil which has a high smoke point and is highly nutritious!
8. Dried fruit
Ah, yet another so-called “healthy” food made our list! Unfortunately, dried fruit could be off limits for many people. It’s basically candy in disguise, and it’s impacting your blood sugar the same way.
The problem with drying fruit is that it’s an incredibly concentrated source of fructose. To give you an example, a half cup of dried fruit equates to around a cup of fresh fruit.
While you get many of the same vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from fresh fruit, though some become unstable with the drying process. Still, the chewy texture and magnified sweetness can be super addictive.
Generally speaking, fruit and nut bars are a really good snack on the go. Pairing up dried fruits with protein and fats from nuts can reduce the impact on blood sugar and provide a really good balanced snack with both immediate and sustainable energy which is a good alternative.
I really like Larabar for this reason. For some, though, having a “safe” food that also provides a sugar boost can encourage overeating. Dried fruits are more energy-dense than fresh fruits which doesn’t lend itself well to weight loss.
As an alternative, fresh fruit is best. It contains more water, fibre, and overall volume which will lessen the blow on your blood glucose levels and help you feel fuller.
Dried fruit is better reserved as an ingredient for other foods or bars. Lower sugar dried fruit options include apples, blueberries, and prunes while dates, mango, and pineapple are more concentrated.
Let me ask… when is the last time you just had a slice? With coupons and deals for pizza delivery, it’s easy to rationalize ordering an entire pizza because it’s going to save you a few bucks, and that hot, cheesy, melt-y pie is not going to let you down easy!
It’s a recipe for disaster (or the best food in the world, according to a lot of pizza enthusiasts) with a flour-based dough, a thick layer of choose, slightly sweet tomato sauce, and fatty toppings like pepperoni and sausage.
While a good slice of ‘za truly can’t be beat, and when in Rome (or rather, Italy), it’s a great meal to share in moderation, you should cut the habit.
This study ranked pizza at the top of the ‘most addictive foods’ list, and it’s no joke. It’s easy, fast, and you don’t have to work for it whether you opt for ordering in or popping a frozen pizza in the oven.
These skip out on refined oils, grains, and other problematic ingredients that make pizza so hyper-palatable. You can cater to your own dietary needs whether you’re cutting carbs or skipping dairy.
If you’re in the U.S., Trader Joe’s has started selling cauliflower crust pizza which makes the DIY approach much simpler. Two thumbs up for convenience foods that are actually healthy.
Next time you’re there, check the freezer section!
Yep. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s true. Even for keto dieters, cheese can be a problematic snack. If you tolerate dairy well, cheese is not an inherently bad-for-you food.
Grass-fed and/or raw dairy is a good source of vitamin D, vitamin K2, butyric acid, and many other vitamins and minerals. It’s also a rather satiating food considering it’s comprised strictly of fat and protein.
Still, cheese is really freakin’ good, and its serving size is generally on the small side. Next time you’re considering a snack, measure your cheese out, and you’re not going to get a ton of bang for your buck.
Of course, the first option is to limit cheese to being used as a condiment. Tangy and pungent cheeses like goat’s cheese, feta cheese, and Parmesan pack a TON of flavor with just a small sprinkle, and you’re less likely to snack on it (or eat half the block).
It’s also important to source unprocessed cheese. That suspiciously yellow stuff that comes pre-sliced? Not. Real. Food.
Another option is to experiment with making dairy-free cheese at home using nuts which still provides you with a satiating and nutritious final product.
Another option if you’re simply going for flavor is using nutritional yeast. It’s a versatile powder that you can use as a seasoning, or to flavor foods with a cheesy punch without the addictive properties.
Let us know if you have any other foods you’d like to add, and comment below if you’ve had success with eliminating any of these foods.
If you’re struggling, we’re here to help. The 30-Day Happy Body Formula program can help you cut those foods out for good, and aid you in playing to your strengths and weaknesses with individualized coaching.
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