What Happens To Your Body When You Stop Eating Processed Foods

Look, we've heard it all before... processed food is the devil, blah blah blah. But we love it, okay?! Crunchy and salty, or sweet and gooey. Quick and easy boxed dinners taste like the most comforting moments of our childhood. And don't even get us started on oh-so-greasy fast-food burgers and chicken nuggets doused in sweet and sour sauce... We can't get enough! We're coming to find out, however, that all of these tasty treats were designed with exactly that in mind.

Registered dietitian nutritionist Lauren Minchen told Eat This, Not That that processed foods are loaded with added sugars and fats which actually change how the food feels in your mouth. This modified taste and texture make our bodies crave more of it. In fact, high fructose corn syrup, a common yet devious ingredient in many processed foods, activates the brain in a similar way as drugs (per Forbes).

So if you've ever found yourself channeling Jake Gyllenhaal, screaming, "I wish I knew how to quit you!" at a bag of french fries, it's not your fault. But because we love you and want the best for you, we're going to give you a couple of good reasons why you should try.

Just so we're clear, what exactly are processed foods?

According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines processed food as food that has had anything done to it that alters its natural state. This includes pretty inoffensive processes like washing, cutting, blanching, canning, and freezing. With that definition, nearly everything you find in the grocery has undergone some form of processing.

You're probably picking up on the fact that not all foods that fall under the blanket of "processed" are not processed in equal measure. Fresh cut green beans, blueberries frozen at their peak, and whole wheat bread from your local bakery all fall under the blanket of processed food, but that doesn't mean they should be kicked out of your dinner party.

Processed food starts becoming a problem when it is highly processed, like those yummy burgers, chocolate-covered goodies, and some frozen dinners. Highly processed foods are often wrought with added sugars, artificial flavors, and chemical preservatives. A study published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research states, in no uncertain terms, that several artificial preservatives used today are harmful.

If you still need another reason to kick the habit, here are a few delightful things that ditching highly processed food can do for your body.

Improve your hair and skin

Breakouts happen. But if you find that you're chronically experiencing acne and redness, it is possible the cause of your skin woes can be found in your pantry. According to registered dietitian Isabel Smith, the chemical additives in highly processed food can cause blemishes on the skin (via Eat This, Not That). But fear not! Cutting out chemically altered food can pretty quickly put you on the path to clearer skin.

As it turns out, highly processed foods are not doing your hair any favors either. A study published in Przegla̜d Menopauzalny notes that consuming an abundance of foods that are high in simple sugars may be contributing to excessive hair loss. Even if you're not affected by thinning hair, regularly opting for processed foods lacking nutritional value likely means you're missing out on key nutrients your hair needs to be healthy, shiny, and full.

Weight loss might be on the menu

"Empty calories" is an annoying phrase, don't you think? But we're about to use it anyway. Highly processed foods are chock-full of empty calories, meaning the calorie count is high but the nutritional value is quite low. When you eat things like leafy greens, fish, lentils and berries, your cells get to work, metabolizing the food into fuel for your body. Refined sugars and carbohydrates lack the fiber, protein, and vitamins of whole foods and your cells burn them up quite quickly (per New York Times.)

According to research published in Cell Metabolism, people maintaining a diet loaded with highly processed foods were producing more of the hormones that make you feel hungry than their health conscious counterparts, leading to overeating and rapid weight gain. Another study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that consuming too many calories from fat and simple sugars disrupted the hormones that help your body regulate weight and metabolism.

You'll sleep easier

We know you're out here trying to get the most out of your sleepy time. You probably have an intricately choreographed bedtime routine, a sweet eye mask, and an app that lulls you to sleep with the pacifying sounds of rain on a tin roof. So after all that, we know there's no way you're letting a couple of slices of frozen pizza get in between you and the shut-eye you work so hard for.

In an article that details how the food we eat affects the way we sleep, NBC News reported that replacing a high-fiber diet with one high in saturated fat and refined sugar was linked to lighter, less productive sleep and a higher likelihood of waking up in the middle of the night. Another study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association backs those claims up, indicating that participants who indulged in more highly processed food felt less rested upon waking up.

Smooth movements

Is there anything more uncomfortable and demoralizing than an unsuccessful bathroom visit? That big bowl of pasta and sleeve of cookies you had for dinner might be to blame for the hold-up. This is because processed grains like white rice and pasta have less fiber (per Healthline). The BMJ published a study with findings that ultra-processed foods might even contribute to inflammatory bowel disease. The symptoms — ranging from diarrhea to rectal bleeding, weight loss, and chronic fatigue — can be devastating.

Giving highly processed foods the boot most likely means you'll be adding more fiber-filled foods to your diet. This gives your body the best chance at making smooth moves in the bathroom.

If you've been feeling like your body is angry at you and you think processed food might be to blame, it might be time to put the muffin down. It doesn't have to be "goodbye"... It can be "see you twice a month".