The Natural Food Challenge- 7 Days of Clean Eating
Before starting the natural food challenge, I thought in order to eat natural food you had to wear Birkenstocks, live in Oregon, drive a Prius (or ride a bamboo bicycle), and listen to indie pop music.
Spoiler alert: All my assertions were proven correct during the process of this challenge.
I decided to do this challenge to “clean-up my diet”. I had participated in a 30 Day Slow Carb Challenge and had great results, so I figured I would try another eating challenge.
I didn’t want to treat this like a traditional diet. The idea wasn’t to cut weight or body fat nor was my ultimate goal to have Kitchen Made Abs. I left my tape measure in the drawer and didn’t bother to step on the scale. The objective: to eat better.
What’s Constitutes Food?
It seems as though many things have crept into the American diet that aren’t really food. Food is best described as “any nourishing substance… taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, promote growth, etc.” It is true that processed food does all of this but is it the most efficient and effective way to do so? I don’t think anyone would argue that a Twinkie serves this purpose.
What is Food Processing
Food processing is simply, any deliberate change in a food before it’s available for consumption. It can be as simple as cooking, canning, freezing, or drying food for preservation or as complex as formulating ready-to-eat meals, manufactured foods, and artificial flavorings and colors.
Our ancestors used more holistic methods to preserve food like fermentation, salt brining, and sun-drying. Commercial food outfits use chemicals and technical processes to achieve the same process in a more cost-effective manner.
Approaching the Challenge
When I set out to tackle this challenge, my knowledge was minimal. I reached out to fellow blogger, health coach, and natural food advocate, Roxanne King. She is responsible for theholisticmama.com and offers a comprehensive blog and information products to assist with the natural food lifestyle.
I downloaded her 7 Day Real Food Challenge ebook to arm myself with the knowledge to take on this lifestyle tweak. The ebook is packed with recipes, meal plans, shopping lists, kitchen prep advice, and ways to introduce this lifestyle to your family (especially your kids).
The book takes the guess work and excuses out of the challenge. It’s an easy to follow guide that quickly and simply informs you of how to approach the challenge.
Now, there is a minefield of so called “health foods” out there. Big manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon. Foods can be deceptively labeled as All Natural, Whole Grain, Low-Carb, and my favorite, Fat-Free which loosely translates into chemical shit-storm. My best advice is to read food product labels. If a food has more than a handful of ingredients, it’s probably better you avoid it for this challenge.
Prepping the Kitchen
I started by cleaning out the fridge and pantry. I separated things that I could eat during the challenge from things that I couldn’t. This was a great opportunity for me to clean out all expired or spoiled foods. I ended up throwing out a bunch of stuff I no longer planned to eat and excess condiments that were clogging up my refrigerator door. I put all candy and sweets in a hard to reach, out of sight out of mind place. You may remember “The Fat Kid Box” from a previous post.
The Meal Plan
I referred again to the 7 Day Real Food Challenge ebook as a source of inspiration for my meal plans.
The recipes are a collection from Roxanne’s website as well as recipes she’s curated from other natural food blogs.
I poked through the recipes as well as consulted Google for some additional recipes. There were a few that I needed to omit from Roxanne’s meal plan to compensate for my girlfriend’s tree nut allergy(she joined me on this challenge as an accountability partner) and our selective appetites. The important takeaway in this section is to plan meals that you will look forward to creating, are simple to make, and that you want to eat.
The Shopping List
I broke down the recipes into their base ingredients and loaded them into my Evernote app.
With the list in hand I was headed to the grocery store
I found that natural foods aren’t that much more expensive than processed foods, but they do require more prep than ready-to-eat foods. I do enjoy cooking so this wasn’t a deal breaker.
With a stocked fridge and pantry of natural foods and a meal plan, all that was left was execution.
First things first, you have to plan for points of weakness. There will be a time in any challenge where you want to give up or break a rule of the challenge. The best defense against that is to try to predict where that breaking point is and compensate for it.
Breaking Down the Breaking Points
I knew there would be 2 potential points where I would lose focus on this challenge. One was my sweet tooth and the other was the scarcity or unavailability of natural food.
First things first, I decided to address my sweet tooth. In the 7 Day Real Food Challenge ebook there was simple but delicious recipe for homemade trail mix. I took a protein shaker bottle and filled it with a variety of nuts, raisins, and most importantly dark natural chocolate chips. This would satiate my sweet tooth if I ever wanted to reach for a candy bar or sweets.
Secondly, it was having ready-to-eat natural foods at my disposal when cravings occurred. I was armed with my trail mix now but wanted to add a variety of food to the arsenal to make sure I could stave off cravings. I made sure to stock up on fresh fruit, raisins, and hardboiled eggs.
The egg is a great food. Nature gives them to you pre-packaged, in a convenient lil’ wrapper. They’re high in protein and most importantly delicious. These eggs were a go-to after workouts or when hunger struck as well as a convenient breakfast with zero prep.
I found that the natural food meals were easy to make, made me feel good after I ate them, and most importantly, delicious when prepared properly. I also felt like I had more energy during the day, whether this is real or perceived I don’t know. Either way, I felt like I had more energy.
The meals and diet are restrictive. On the second day of the challenge I noticed how many things I really couldn’t eat, because they are somehow processed. Walk into any supermarket isle and pick up a box or bag, this will be glaringly obvious when you read the food label and slapped in the face with 14 letter words that require a PHD in chemistry to pronounce.
The challenge was as it’s name implies, challenging. It was rewarding to know that I could eat natural foods everyday for a week. I was able to make it through the challenge without any slip-ups and rewarded myself with a crispy chicken sandwich on a bun on the final night.
Also, Portland is much too cold, if I’m moving anywhere, it’s going to be south of Wisconsin.
However, I have implemented some of the foods that I ate and become more conscience of what I am putting in my gullet. One warning, eating and focusing on natural food and the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle can make you a bit of a judgmental bastard. I found it better (not from experience of course) to not give unsolicited advice about diet and lifestyle. I think a lot of people with the clean-eating lifestyle have turned many a person off with the aura of being a snob or an elitist prick. See our friend Langston below as well as a short clip from Portlandia so you may to heed the dangers of this mindset.
I would recommend this challenge to anyone that is looking to clean up their diet, try a new eating plan, or as an introduction to a more natural way of life.