06/20/2013 05:55 pm ET | Updated Aug 20, 2013

The Real Reason I Quit Junk Food Cold Turkey

What's your story?

Your life story, that is. What's your story about?

Somewhere in my late 30s it occurred to me that story was largely about those 15 or 20 oh-so-stubborn extra pounds. I'd beat myself up about them, compare notes with a sister or a girlfriend about them, and... have another donut.

When our daughter was 8, my husband and I took her to McDonald's after the prettiest summer day filled with tennis and mini golf. We watched her eat that supposedly Happy Meal and plotted a healthier dinner at home for ourselves. I spent the entire time we were in the restaurant wondering how I could possibly stop at 12 of her fries -- she was too busy with her toy to notice me snitching -- when I was starving and they were right in front of me.

Then I realized, "Wait a second. Is this what my life has become? Is the big drama of the day going to be whether I can resist some French fries?"

I hoped not. I wanted more.

It took a few years, but after experimenting with various ways of dieting -- or not -- I came up with a way of life I can stick to.

I cut out the junk altogether.

It was hell the first month. The only way I got through it was by telling myself it would just be for a year. I'd eat only what made me feel good -- fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains, that sort of thing -- and I wouldn't eat anything else.

I'd replaced the question about French fries being the big drama of the day with this one: "What would happen if I took in only good?"

At the one-month point I was planning the party I'd have 11 months later, and piles of glazed donuts and sugar cookies were on the menu.

At the two-month point I decided, "I am never going back to my old ways."

I'd given myself a chance to see how I felt without artificial sweeteners and God knows what else running through my system, and it was amazing.

It turns out I'm an all-or-nothing gal. It was so much easier -- for me -- to eliminate the not-so-healthy food altogether than to expend the energy it takes to stop at two or three cookies, or two or three handfuls of potato chips.

One of my hobbies is reading or at least skimming diet books at Barnes & Noble. I don't remember a single one that didn't have the suggestion to treat yourself to a meal or even one day a week where you can eat anything you want.

For someone like me, that was the undoing. The day or even meal reinforced how much I wanted more junk. That was another question that consumed me: "Why do I crave things that made me feel bad?"

Was it possible to break the hold they had on me?

This is what those diet books I've perused don't tell you. That by sticking to only what's good -- something that almost certainly varies by person, by the way -- you'll eventually have a way of eating you can live with. You probably won't need to starve yourself to maintain your ideal weight -- if only because while a cookie only leaves you wanting more, a spinach salad exacts no such price.

And if you're like me, you'll find it one of the easiest things you've ever done.

I'm not kidding.

Oh sure, once in a while I'll have an hour or two where I long for something more decadent than a few squares of Dove dark chocolate. And you know what? It passes.

A few months ago we were watching basketball at a neighborhood restaurant, but my mind kept wandering. I couldn't take my eyes off the big pizza the people at the next table had ordered. It was huge. It was also weighed down with so much sausage and so many mushrooms and so much cheese it was difficult to think of anything else.

So I thought, "What the heck?" I indulged my fantasy. I imagined taking one bite, and then another, until I'd eaten three or four slices and washed them down with something else I haven't had in almost four years: A&W root beer. Yeah, that would be good.

But I didn't stop there. I imagined how I'd feel afterward. Red-faced from trashing much of what I've claimed to be about, granted -- but also bloated, and sleepy. I'd want to take a nap. And when I woke up I'd probably want to do it all over again -- or go in search of something even more decadent. Stale Cheetos, chased with a big bowl of Fruity Pebbles.

Do you see where this is going? Nowhere good. It's a vicious cycle. I love pizza and everything else I just mentioned. I love it.

But I don't love feeling lethargic, and in August of this year I'll mark four years of not feeling that way.

Maybe you've heard that discipline is remembering what you want. I think it's remembering what you want most.

What I want most is how I feel now.

The biggest thrill of this successful experiment in eating was taking those 20 extra pounds off my to-do list. They were weighing me down in more ways than one. They were a big reason my life story was starting to bore me.

This is who I am now, someone who takes care of herself -- and is consumed by things more interesting than what's on the scale.

Junk food still calls, obviously. But I don't answer. And that feels terrific.

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