‘Where have all the crisps and biscuits gone?’ asked my children one day last summer.

‘I threw them all out.’ I said matter-of-factly. Anticipating their next question, I pointed to the fruit bowl, filled with apples, satsumas and bananas. 

This might sound like your everyday exchange – a mother’s embroiled battle to get her children to eat healthier – but in our house it was very new, and it was a change I was adamant we’d all stick to.

About a month or so before, I’d come home on a high following the launch of my first book, The Little Book of Positivity.

The night itself couldn’t have gone better. Everyone was so enthusiastic, my talk had gone well and I was walking on cloud nine.

But when my phone pinged with photos from that night, my whole mood crashed to the floor.

Looking at a woman with a tummy and chubby cheeks, I barely recognised myself. I was thriving professionally and creatively, but this woman didn’t look like the person I felt inside.

Admittedly, over the last few years, since my relationship had broken down and I’d become a single mum to my two children, aged 11 and 12, I’d let a few things slip for the sake of convenience.

More ready-meals, more takeaways, and I’d have chocolate every day without fail – Minstrels were my downfall.

But on the whole I thought my diet was fairly normal. Cereal for breakfast, a sandwich and a packet of crisps for lunch and maybe a ready-meal lasagne for dinner.

As I looked at the photos of myself now though, I knew something had to change.

None of my clothes fit properly anymore, I’d squeeze into too small jeans, which would then made me feel uncomfortbale for most of the day. I’d also noticed a lot of brain fog, which until then I’d put down to my age – approaching my late 40s, becoming perimenopausal

I didn’t want to just count calories, or switch to a low-fat diet though. I wanted something more meaningful, to find a real, long-term solution.

That’s when I came across Chris van Tulleken’s book, Ultra Processed People.

A doctor, scientist and journalist, he believes that, rather than the usual culprits of fat, sugar or lack of exercise, it is actually ultra processed foods (UPFs) – like ready meals – that are to blame for the rise in obesity in modern society. 

All of high carb and fat content in UPFs become addictive and therefore cause over-consumption.

Chris had warned to look out for things you wouldn’t find in your average kitchen cupboard, and there were so many of them.

Fascinated – and horrified – I started to check the ingredients of packaged foods religiously during my weekly shop.

It was shocking. In almost everything we ate, there were ingredients I didn’t recognise.

How could I be eating things when I didn’t even know what they were? 

So, I did something dramatic.

I cut out everything and took my diet back to basics.

Scrambled eggs and spinach for breakfast, homemade vegetable soup for lunch and fish and veg or salad for dinner. While fizzy drinks were replaced with herbal teas, organic coffee and good old-fashioned water. 

It was a shock to my system, I can’t deny it, but it was mostly snacking I struggled with.

Every afternoon, at about 3pm, I’d got into the habit of reaching for a high-sugar snack when my energy dipped. Instead of reaching for Minstrels though, I bought some nuts, and apples became a new firm favourite. 

I generally became more mindful of my snacking habits too. Often, I realised, I wasn’t even hungry, I was just bored or wanted a break from my computer. So I’d take a screen break, stretch my legs, even go for a walk around the block if I was feeling that restless, and soon the urge for food would pass. 

Within days, I was amazed at just how good I felt. I loved going to bed without feeling bloated and I noticed my mood was more stable as I wasn’t experiencing the blood sugar spikes or crashing lows that I had when I’d eaten ready meals or processed foods.

But the thing that surprised me most was the mental clarity.

Gone was my brain fog and suddenly, I was able to process information far more easily and felt far sharper and more in control at work. 

Naturally, my children weren’t thrilled about the change at first. ‘What are we going to eat now?’ they complained, but they quickly became accustomed to our new way of life. 

It’s not like I’ve forbidden them from eating chocolate and ready meals altogether – I know that would just make them rebel against it completely. So when we go out for a meal with friends or family, we enjoy it. If they’re at a birthday party, they’ll eat cake and sweets.

But because we’re eating so much better most of the time, the balance is still a healthy one. 

Six months on, and cutting out UPFs has completely changed my life. 

I’ve lost two and a half stone and I feel incredible.And rather than doing one big weekly shop, I now find myself going to my local farm shop every few days to stock up on fresh and organic fruit, veg, meat, cheese and yoghurt as I like to know I’m filling my body with the highest-quality produce I can. 

Of course, you can buy organic food in supermarkets, I just prefer not to go in there, as the sight of endless aisles filled with chemical-ridden foods turns my stomach. 

Do you eat ultra-processed foods? Have your say in the comments belowComment Now

It can be expensive, but because we’re not filling a trolley with sweets and chocolate and crisps anymore, it hasn’t made as much difference to our food bill as you might think.

I’ve also become far more creative when it comes to our diet, adding different olives to salads, making my own mayonnaise – which is far easier than you’d imagine – and trying a huge variety of vegetables.

I will never go back to my old, chemical-ridden, highly-processed diet. Why would I, when my new fresh-food way of life makes me feel so good?

As told to Sarah Whiteley

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