5 Simple Strategies for Ditching Processed Foods

IMG_5537Are you a little freaked out that all of the processed foods you’re eating might be less-than-wonderful for your health?

Do you feel overwhelmed about what on Earth to eat instead, so you don’t do anything about it?

Sometimes the hardest things about making a change are simply deciding where to start and realizing that you don’t have to know everything before you take your first step.

Sure you could flip your entire diet upside-down all at once and embrace the “cold turkey” strategy for ditching processed foods. (That’s what I did, but I’m also a wee bit nuts!) But I’m guessing that you don’t find that idea very appealing, so I’m giving you five simpler strategies here that will help you start ditching processed foods without losing your sanity.

What are “Real Foods”?

No matter which strategy you choose, you’ll need a way to figure out which foods are “real” and which foods are too processed to keep in your diet.

Follow this simple rule: Read the ingredients label on everything you purchase. If you can easily identify every ingredient as having come from a plant or animal in nature, then it’s a keeper. If not, then leave it on the shelf. Sure, you can research even deeper than this with food additives information and animal welfare issues (which won’t necessarily be represented on food labels), but we’re just taking our first step here, remember? So let’s just start with this one simple rule. Cool?

Pick Your Strategy

Strategy #1 – One Enemy at a Time

One popular way to start ditching processed foods is to target one food additive or chemical ingredient to avoid. You choose one additive (e.g., MSG, high fructose corn syrup, food coloring, natural flavor), and you stop purchasing anything that contains that ingredient. Once you’ve mastered that ingredient, you move on to another one. You don’t have to know everything about every food additive that exists; you just find one that you feel may be harming your family’s health and then refuse to purchase it any more.

Strategy #2 – Weekly Recipe Make-Over

One of the most overwhelming things about ditching processed food is that you likely don’t know how to cook anything. Well, there’s only one way that is going to change – start practicing!

Force yourself to practice by cooking one new recipe each week. And once you’ve mastered an additive-free version of a dish, avoid the old processed version of that dish from that point forward. Before you know it, you’ll have built an entire additive-free recipe portfolio of delicious meals!

And don’t think that you have to create any recipes yourself. Just search the Internet for things like “additive-free recipes,” and you’ll find all sorts of yummy ideas.

Strategy #3 – Start Sweet

Looking for a fun way to get started? Why not start with dessert? Homemade treats are a great way to build your confidence and win over the hearts and support of your family members. Choose this strategy if you’d like to build up your additive-free desserts arsenal (and your confidence) before conquering entire meals and worrying that everyone is going to turn their nose up at the dinner you worked so hard to prepare.

Strategy #4 – Master a Meal (Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner)

Feeling a bit more advanced? Choose one meal time and commit to eating an additive-free version of that meal every day. Once you’ve mastered that meal time, and it no longer overwhelms you in any way, move onto the next meal time.

Start with whichever meal time is most convenient for you to prepare. Maybe breakfast time is always rushed for you, so you choose dinner as your meal time to master. Or maybe dinner sounds the most overwhelming to you, so you choose breakfast because those menu items seem simpler to tackle (e.g., fried eggs or oatmeal). Or maybe you choose lunch because you’re fine with taking a salad to work every day, and that feels pretty do-able for you to figure out.

It really makes no difference which meal you choose. Just pick one and commit to making that one meal from scratch every single day.

Strategy #5 – Run Out & Replace

A very popular strategy for getting started with an additive-free diet is to simply convert your pantry to more natural products as you run out of the processed versions you have on hand. Commit to no longer purchasing chemical additives, but don’t throw anything away. As you notice that you’re getting low on an item (e.g. pancake syrup or peanut butter), start researching how you can select an additive-free version of the item when you run out.

Don’t reinvent the wheel here. You can search the Internet for “additive-free grocery guides,” and you’ll discover that others have already done all of the research to help you find additive-free products at the grocery store.

Get Your Mind Right

Once you start reading ingredient labels, you’re probably going to discover that much of what you’re eating really isn’t even food. It’s a bunch of mysterious ingredients whipped up in a chemistry lab somewhere. And if you are truly convinced that you shouldn’t be ingesting this stuff, then it’s time to suck it up and start making some serious changes.

No matter which of these strategies you choose, you’re only going to be as successful as your attitude will allow. So before embarking on any changes, it’s worth taking a little time to get your mind right. You simply cannot sit around having a pity party for yourself because you “wish you had a personal chef” or because “it’s not fair that you have so many dishes to wash now” or because “it’s so hard to make these changes.” Sure, these things may be true; but concentrating on your struggles isn’t going to get you anywhere.

Take a bit of time to mourn these things if you must, but then ditch the pity party and get on with the business of focusing on your strategies. Be grateful that you care for yourself (and your family) enough to go through the trouble it takes to nourish your body to the best of your ability. Start viewing shopping, cooking and doing dishes as acts of love rather than burdensome chores; and you’ll be amazed at how much happier you’ll feel.

What’s in Our Fridge Today?!

I get a lot of questions asking about what Chad and I eat. And, while our diet tends to change a lot from time to time, we do consistently avoid food additives like MSG and its many hidden names. Now that we are traveling full-time in our RV and our food access and storage options have changed significantly (i.e., no garden of our own, no deep freezer, no home-canned goods, limited access to farmers markets and natural grocers at times), folks have expressed concern about what we’ll be eating. We’re just getting started with our new life, but here’s a peek at what we’ve got in the kitchen right now….

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Asperger’s, Tourette Syndrome, ADHD, OCD and Diabetes are no match for this determined mother!

Please give a warm welcome to Em, an amazing mom in Omaha, NE who will stop at nothing to give her boys the healthiest life she can. I had the pleasure of meeting Em recently, and I’m thrilled that she was willing to share her story with all of you here! I’m sure many of you will relate to her journey…from realizing that her boys’ health was suffering…to struggling for answers…and then putting in the hard work (and finances) it takes to implement the natural solutions she believes in so strongly…

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emberEm writes…

“My life changed after the birth of my oldest son in November of 04′. Born with many issues, one of our struggles became something called MSPI (milk soy protein intolerance). Which, after all was said and done from surgeries to NG feeds (Nasal Gastric feeding tube) left a lot of stress and confusion in our home, where new parents had to maneuver through a new food world. All that being said, when he hit 2 years old, we were told he’d out grow his MSPI and to feed him regularly – Even though he failed a conventional milk challenge with pasteurized store bought milk, we were told to feed him normally and see. By the time he was 4 years old, he had been diagnosed as “Failure to Thrive” for his entire life, had a diagnosis of Functional Abdominal Pain and was just a few days away from being in the hospital. He had no energy, was lethargic really, dark circles under his eyes and only wanted to eat macaroni and cheese and ice cream!

It was during this time that my youngest was born and also diagnosed with MSPI! I breastfed the entire time with him. Though he was so sensitive I literally was allowed to eat less than 10 types of food the entire year. None of these foods came from a box or can – this should’ve been my first clue!

dathenBeside myself with worry over my oldest son, I was talking with a friend who jogged my memory of an article I’d read when he was first diagnosed. The article explained that we begin to crave the things we’re allergic to. So, I took to the internet to find what I could and recipes that I could use if I removed the milk from his diet again. This is around the time I stumbled upon the holistic online community at Completely Nourished. I found a few recipes and promptly removed the milk proteins from his diet. Within two days, he was asking for second helpings of food. I added liquid vitamins that were easily digestible for his tummy (all gluten-, casein-, preservative-free, etc.). Within one week, the dark circles under his eyes were gone, he’d put on 2 pounds and most of his personality changed!

Diagnosed with Asperger’s, Tourette Syndrome, ADHD, OCD, etc. I pretty much couldn’t think about his future – I knew what all of these diagnoses together meant. Well, just removing the gross processed milk proteins changed a majority of his issues! His tics were so bad that it would take him 5 minutes sometimes to finish a sentence because he’d tic, stop talking and have to start the sentence over. He was beating himself and had just expressed the desire to have coprolalia (This is what people think of when they think of TS). It was really bad. We removed just the milk and in 3 years, I have not seen his tics come anywhere near that degree anymore. Truth be told, now, when his tics are on a downswing, you wouldn’t even notice he has TS! To top that off, he went from 8 medications down to just 5!!

JaxSo, I went back and read Christy’s story again. I followed a few of her recipes and started to slowly cut out all those additives in his food and his brother’s food. We’re still not 100% additive-free, but we’re probably 99% additive-free now. We also made sure that their food was organic whenever possible as well.

Flash forward 3 years and my son was again being tested for Celiac. So, standing there holding him down for yet another blood draw, I realized that rather than keep doing this, it made more sense to just go gluten-free for him. So, we went gluten-free, too. Within 4 days he had what one neurologist termed “withdrawal” symptoms! It was awful really but, by the next day, just like when he was removed from milk, he was almost the little boy I knew at 2 years old!

Which prompted me back to Christy’s story here, where I poured over anyting that I could get my hands on. Then I went went back and got my geek on. I researched for hours sometimes on the internet about foods, GMOs, preservatives, etc.,  After a little over 2 weeks now casein/gluten free, my oldest is being titrated down on the dosage of 2 of his medications with the hopes that he can get completely off of them! My youngest, who was diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in November of 2012, was originally put on ADHD meds during the day and awful Clonidine at night to help him sleep. Today, after just this short time off of gluten too, he’s now medication free! Unlike my oldest, who you wouldn’t even know had Asperger’s, you will notice my little guys eye contact problem and sometimes his communication issues, but, overall, his whole personality is different. He’s still a little wilder than the neighborhood kiddos, but nothing like he used to be.

em and kidsOn a side note, before I took them gluten-free and as preservative-free and additive-free as I could, I weighed almost 300lbs on the dot. I got whooping cough last year and couldn’t shake it. Went in a second time to the ER and had pneumonia. They sent me home with some antibiotics and strict instructions. Two days later, I got a call from my GP’s nurse. She told me that I was hands down diabetic, but that they needed to perform another test to be thorough. She read off my entire CBC to me and explained what all these numbers meant. While she did say that my illness would give some of these higher readings, it wouldn’t account for how high all of them were or why they were all out of control.

I found out that I had metabolic disorder, my adrenals were running on empty, etc. I sat there and realized that with two parents who had congestive heart failure, one of which had died at 61 years old from it…and my mother at 64 has already had numerous heart attacks, a stroke and 2 stents put in her heart…I had a choice to make!

As I sat there listening to my numbers being read off and listening to my children digging through their Legos in the other room. I realized that I could keep going the way I’d been going or I could die younger than my parents. So, I headed back to the Completely Nourished online community to find recipes and as much information as I could to get myself healthy enough to take care of my boys. To date, I’ve lost a tad over 40 pounds in 2 months! I have way more energy than I have had in years, and I’m emotionally happier and more together than I have been. My whole life has changed!

Had I not found Christy’s site or story here, I have no idea where we would be now. THANK YOU Christy! We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you! And, for anyone out there reading this…KNOW that diet DOES matter!”