The One Thing That (Accidentally) Broke My Processed Food Cravings

Kelsey Clark

This press trip was paid for by Meliá Hotels & Resorts. Editors' opinions are their own.

It's been five minutes since my plane touched down at New York's LaGuardia airport, and I'm already nostalgic for Jamaica. After four short days of sun and relaxation at Meliá Braco Village in the parish of Trelawny, my spirits have been lifted, my vitamin D stores replenished, and my vitality reignited. Despite having returned home mere minutes ago, I'm almost acutely aware of how much I'm going to cherish my trip (a reality that is underscored by the 30-degree weather outside and the blur of stony faces bustling around me).

In the coming days, I make the reluctant mental and physical pilgrimage back to normal life: My tan fades, my Spotify is no longer tuned to reggae, and I stop trying to fruitlessly exchange pleasantries with strangers (the norm in Jamaica—I think I greeted every person I passed by). But aside from a reinvigorated desire to "full joy" life and a newfound love for this beautiful Caribbean island nation, it wasn't until weeks later that I noticed a lifestyle shift I didn't quite expect: My eating habits were different.

Having feasted on the delicious, unprocessed, and authentic Jamaican food offered at Meliá Braco Village (including fresh-cut sugarcane, coconut water straight from the coconut, and Jamaican jerk chicken prepared daily), the 3 p.m. sugar cravings I'd come to expect had unceremoniously retreated. After what felt like months of trying to break the cycle of craving, I had (accidentally) landed on a solution.

After just a few days of this unconscious cleanse, I felt energized, less bloated, and more comfortable in my skin—and it was surprisingly easy to keep up. While my eating experiment came in an unexpected package, a healthier lifestyle doesn't have to be a plane ride away. Here are the food-related lessons I learned in Jamaica and how you can apply them to your own life: 

You Can Actually Re-Train Your Taste Buds

So many of the dishes we consume, even those that are freshly prepared, are cut with sugar, salt, butter, refined carbohydrates, and processed oils—and our taste buds adjust to that level of intense flavor.

"If you have been accustomed to eating highly refined foods with artificial flavors or foods with high amounts of sugar, refined salts, and bad fats, your taste buds have been dampened and habituated to prefer this way of eating," explains Dr. Lynn Rossy, Ph.D., a health psychologist and founder of the Mindfulness Practice Center.

When weaning yourself off of these unhealthy foods, half the battle is in adjusting your taste buds and learning to find satisfaction in subtler, more nuanced flavors—a feat that the traditional Jamaican fare made easy. "People who begin to mindfully taste their food (instead of shoveling it in or eating while doing something else) often quickly discover they don’t really like the chemical aftertaste of processed food or the subsequent body fatigue," adds Rossy.

The fix: Being mindful of your hunger levels, chewing slowly, and savoring your food are all tenets of mindful eating. Try swapping out an artificially sweetened snack for a natural source of sugar, like a banana, and really savoring the flavors.

The Secret Is in Breaking Your Routine

The beauty of a vacation is that it forces you to break away from routine; doing so in Jamaica helped me realize how much my processed-food cravings were tied to my daily schedule. After just three days of being away from my office snack cabinet, I had nearly forgotten about satiating my daily junk-food fix, which normally made an appearance around 3 p.m. 

Breaking a habit like this starts with "noticing your cravings and paying very close attention to the environmental reminders that trigger them," write Jade and Keoni Teta, two naturopathic doctors who co-founded The Metabolic Effect. "Once you recognize the habit and the craving it creates, try to pinpoint the reward you are really after. Once you do, find a way to eliminate the trigger and/or change the routine so that the reward is the same but the craving that leads to it is different."

The fix: Jetting off to another country at the first sign of a craving isn't a realistic answer, but restructuring your routine is. Rather than reaching for the Cheetos around 3 p.m., try removing the trigger or replacing the reward with something healthier (like a stash of almonds).

PHOTO:

Courtesy of Meliá Braco Village

Take Good Care of Yourself

During my stay in Jamaica, I prioritized self-care for the first time in what felt like an eternity. I locked in a full eight hours of sleep every night, booked some "me time" at Meliá's Yhi Spa, and simply focused on the present for four straight days. And it paid off: The entire time I was there, I never even thought about tracking down a bag of salty potato chips or a sugary candy bar.

At home, on the other hand, it's often a poor night's sleep or the stress of a looming deadline that lure me back to the junk food drawer—two lifestyle factors that are scientifically proven to provoke unhealthy eating decisions. Of course, life will never be without restless nights or stressful situations—but you can do your part to actively manage (and minimize) these instances rather than pushing your health to the side. For me, coming back from Jamaica feeling relaxed, refreshed, and upbeat helped underscore the importance of that fact. 

The fix: Spend time outside, pick up a yoga class, or try painting; whatever you do, make your mental health a priority instead of an afterthought. Doing so will curb your junk food cravings and improve overall well-being.

How have you dealt with your processed food cravings? Share your personal experience with us below!

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