Sunday, September 23, 2012

Real Food Challenge

I don't remember how it happened, but I stumbled upon Lisa Leake's blog, which chronicles her choice to switch her family's entire diet over to non-processed foods. It was such a simple idea, eating only food that nature has provided for us, yet it read like a gripping novel. I had it open on my smartphone, my tablet, and my home computer just so I had easy access to it whenever I had a free two minutes - I just couldn't stop reading it. I read through the 100 days part, and then went back to read the before and after stuff as well.

I learned so much and was so excited about the whole thing, I decided to try it out in my house for 7 days, Sunday through Saturday. We had always eaten fairly healthy, and I thought the initial kitchen clean-out would be an easy project. The idea here is out of sight, out of mind, so you simply remove all food that is deemed unacceptable by "the rules". I knew certain things were definitely out - my son's beloved box of chocolate and peanut butter puffed cereal, for example. Well, three hours and A LOT of label reading later, I was left with some milk, a block of cheese, sunflower seeds, almonds, two canisters of oatmeal (one rolled, one steel cut), two cans of tuna, unpopped popcorn, a few Larabars, a bag of frozen stir fry veggies, and a box of Grape Nuts. I hate Grape Nuts.

With practically bare cabinets and a desperately empty fridge and freezer, I seriously considered calling the whole thing off. But if I quit before I even started, what kind of example would I be setting for my kids? This was too important. So we went to the grocery store to get a few things to try to make it through the week without starving to death. We picked up some all-natural peanut butter, whole wheat matzos, Triscuits (three ingredients - wheat, oil, and salt!), organic lunch meat, hummus, puffed brown rice cereal, and tons of fresh fruit and veggies. I spent hours researching and driving around town trying to find a whole wheat bread that was acceptable, but it just wasn't happening, so I resorted to making my own.

The first few days were hard. Really hard. I thought about quitting more than once, just because it was so hard to plan and make 21 meals, plus snacks, while juggling all the other demands of everyday life. You don't realize how much time pre-packaged food saves you until you start making everything from scratch. Some of my homemade favorites included easy granola cereal, banana berry smoothies, and 6 veggie spaghetti.

I can't tell you how many times I stood in the kitchen, hungry and lost, wanting to just run downstairs and grab one of the toaster pastries I had put away. I eventually had to make a list of acceptable snacks to deal with whatever craving I was having at the moment. I put it right on the fridge because I was afraid I was going to slip up. But I didn't and I'm so happy for it. It was such an eye-opener. The daily aches and pains that have become normal for me after a car accident a few years ago seemed to diminish. I had more energy than I've had in a long time, and a lot less stress. I even lost a few pounds and I actually crave good food now. There is something so feel-good about eating healthy all the time. Your whole perspective changes when you know you are giving yourself the best food possible. Life just seems more manageable, if that makes any sense at all.

As for the rest of my family, my son seemed more focused, helpful, and polite. My hubby says he didn't feel any changes at all, but he's addicted to candy bars and I'm fairly certain he's allergic to anything that's not junk food, so who knows? And my breastfed baby's severe reflux seemed to back down quite a bit.

Now, I knew I was going to stick with this long after the challenge was over, but I promised everyone they could have whatever they wanted the day after it was over. It was the only way I got them to agree to this whole thing in the first place. I had a tiny bit of my favorite store-bought pumpkin pie, and it didn't even taste good anymore. My son chose chocolate without hesitation and Mr. Candy chose pizza, his best frenemy. He ate six (yes, six!) slices and gained six pounds overnight. Enough said.

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