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Behavior change after years of ultraprocessed food based diet and stomach issues

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  • Behavior change after years of ultraprocessed food based diet and stomach issues

    Hello docs,

    My apologies if this is a long winded post, but I just need to kind of give a background/journal my thoughts on this.

    I am a 25 y/o male who is at a healthy weight for my height, 6'3 181-185 and 33" waist. I have always been trying to bulk since I was always skinny growing up due to various reasons, I had a parasite in grades 4-6, etc etc. I grew up in an upper middle class family who worked often and neither of my parents really cooked or knew how to prepare much more than pasta or a frozen lasagna, so growing up my diet consisted of a lot of mcdonalds, pizza, jimmy johns subs, frozen entrees and other ultraprocessed, easy to cook for a young kid meals.

    This way of eating has stuck with me all throughout college, and into my adulthood as I now live on my own.

    I find myself craving McDonals or Taco Bell often, and hoarding mass amounts of sweets for my late night cravings, often times if presented with the choice between chicken rice and legumes or veggies, I will opt for something like a bowl of ice cream instead for dinner as it is tastier, even though I know it is not nearly as nutritious, and will upset my stomach.

    I have had stomach issues for most of my life, as well as pretty consistent acrid reflux. This past summer I had an issue where I forgot to eat for the whole day because we were busy moving across the country and that got my stomach so upset I didnt have an appetite for days and was in a vicious cycle of being so hungry but being too nauseous to eat. I saw a doctor for it via zoom and she said that she isnt 100% sure but it could be stress induced IBS. I never got fully tested because it was right before I was about to move and didn't have the financial stability to go for a lot of possible tests.

    I told myself I need to change my diet to a health promoting pattern and that could possibly help, but it has been nothing short of inconsistent. Motivated to change for a day, then falling into my cravings the next day or the night of.

    So lately my day of eating has looked similar to this:

    Wake up around 7, never hungry in the morning, usually feel a bit nauseous (I speculate it is due to last nights late night junk food meal but i dont know for sure) So I usually have a glass of OJ until I feel an appetite

    Around 8:30/9 if I have a decent appetite I will have a slice of butter toast or some fruit leather and continue my OJ sipping

    Lunch is around 11:30/12 I will have a sandwich or leftover pasta or something, rarely junk food, maybe a smoothie bowl or bagel with cream cheese

    I work 2p-10p so I bring a healthy-ish meal, for example last night i brought chicken and rice but my issue I have encountered is I will have that in the fridge ready but when I get hungry from not eating enough earlier in the day I start to get cravings and I end up buying fast food or I work at a grocery store so I will buy like a tray of brownies and a quart of milk and have that instead, leaving my stomach hurting for obvious reasons.

    When I am off work I get hungry and sometimes swing through taco bell or wendys or eat potato chips when i get home and have either ice cream or a milkshake of ice cream + OJ and maybe an ice cream sandwich.

    then it repeats

    Typing this out is very frustrating and embarrassing because I am aware I need to change. I know what health promoting diets look like. I got my degree in exercise science because I love to learn about all this stuff, but why cant I change? Behavior change is something I have a decent knowledge in, I have the book you guys recommend for behavior change, and I need to start reading that. But in my experience it is so much easier to know what to do than to actually do it.

    I am curious if you guys have any tips on how to get the ball rolling, how to maybe curb the cravings at night, and do so on a budget? How to councel myself in behavior change so I dont crash and revert to my old ways or give into my cravings? I saw a dietitian last fall and all she basically said was to eat quinoa ezekiel bread grass fed butter and grass fed beef or wild caught salmon, which is like ok sure but I already paid 100+ dollars for your hour of service and that is like 8 hours of my hourly work rate after taxes, so that is not reasonable for me budget wise. I have noticed you all have talked a lot about food environment and the socioeconomic side of diet and health promotion and that hits close to home for me now that I am living on my own and on a budget, and also in a city surrounded by a lot of fast food and working in a grocery store with all of my favorite snacks.

    I know this is a lot and I understand if there is not much advice you can give. You guys have already given so much information on this site for free and I have learned so much from the whole barbell medicine crew so I thank you for that!

  • #2

    Thanks for the post. Sounds like things have been challenging for you for quite some time. I can imagine that's frustrating and worrisome on top of the episodic discomfort.

    I will say straight away that this is definitively consult territory, as there's a lot to unpack. If not with us, then at a minimum, your physician to appropriately workup your symptoms. The nausea, GI distress, and appetite changes are not something I'd ignore or chalk up to processed foods.

    To your questions:

    why cant I change?
    Behavior change can be tough! While most people think providing more information on the benefits of changing or what the goal behavior is, the hardest part is doing the change. That's why the book we recommend can be so useful, it guides folks to better communicate the how.

    As far as why changing your dietary pattern is difficult for you, immediately I recognize that your food environment at home is not supporting your goals (OJ, butter, potato chips, leftover pasta, ice cream sandwich, etc.) I probably wouldn't have that in the house if this is an issue for you at the moment.

    It also looks like preparing meals may be a problem, as only one of your meals - the one during work- is of any substance. Aiming to have a solid meal or two prior to work would be a good behavior, as is learning how to prepare meals.

    Doing this on a budget can be tough, but not impossible. I would bet you spend more on ultraprocessed ready-made foods each month than you would on an equivalent amount of minimally processed foods that you need to cook. I bet if you try, you could write a list of 15 foods you could buy at the grocery store that you like, are health promoting, and are affordable.

    The main thing here is what are you willing to do today? If it's prepare a meal prior to work and then two meals for your work shift, that'd be a good start.
    Barbell Medicine "With you from bench to bedside"
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  • #3
    Motivational Interviewing by Rollnick and Miller.
    Barbell Medicine "With you from bench to bedside"
    ///Book a Consultation/// Instagram /// Peri™ Rx /// Whey Rx /// Barbell Medicine Podcast/// Newsletter /// Seminars ///