Every year Michelle and I have tried to do some sort of fast (you can read about our last one here). We really like this practice as it helps us learn how to be more intentional, disciplined, and most importantly, become more aware of our own behaviors that we typically wouldn’t think much about. For this specific challenge we are focusing on what we eat.

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Whole Foods for 30 Days. You With Us?

This year we are going to try the Whole 30 Challenge. Basically, for 30 days Michelle and I are going to commit to eating whole foods and avoid foods that could potentially cause inflammation (this is the simplest way to describe it). It’s kind of an elimination diet. It’s kind of a cleanse/detox. What it’s mostly about is a challenge to be intentional and mindful about what we consume and put into our bodies.

Whole 30 was developed by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig and is the #1 bestselling book in nutrition on Amazon. Many people who have tried Whole 30 have seen and felt great health benefits (weight loss, feeling more energetic and healthy, less craving, improved skin, etc..) but it’s really about helping people understand the effects of unhealthy eating, how to eliminate cravings, and how to retrain ourselves when it comes to decisions we make about what to eat. All the other benefits I mentioned are icing on the cake (pun intended because, of course, icing is banned in this challenge).

One of the reasons why I am personally intrigued with this program/challenge is how popular and successful it is, which can be attributed to how it’s set up. They have very clear and specific rules:

  • It’s 30 days (it’s time-bound with a realistic time frame)
  • They are very clear about what you can and can’t eat (see rules below)
  • There’s a ton of support and resources – have questions? Need some creative help with recipes? They’ve got you covered.

So What Can I Eat During My 30 Day Challenge?

Nothing.

No…that’s not true. It might sound like nothing at first, but again, just because you might be consuming less of the things you would normally eat, doesn’t mean you won’t be consuming anything at all. You’ll learn to eat differently.

Here are the official Whole 30 rules from their rules guide:

  • Do not consume added sugar of any kind, real or artificial. No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, stevia, etc. Read your labels, because companies sneak sugar into products in ways you might not recognize. Do not consume alcohol in any form, not even for cooking. (And it should go without saying, but no tobacco products of any sort, either.)
  • Do not eat grains. This includes (but is not limited to) wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat, sprouted grains and all of those gluten-free pseudo-grains like quinoa. This also includes all the ways we add wheat, corn and rice into our foods in the form of bran, germ, starch and so on. Again, read your labels.
  • Do not eat legumes. This includes beans of all kinds (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava, etc.), peas, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts. No peanut butter, either. This also includes all forms of soy – soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and all the ways we sneak soy into foods (like lecithin).
  • Do not eat dairy. This includes cow, goat or sheep’s milk products such as cream, cheese (hard or soft), kefir, yogurt (even Greek), and sour cream… with the exception of clarified butter or ghee. (See below for details.)
  • Do not consume carrageenan, MSG or sulfites. If these ingredients appear in any form on the label of your processed food or beverage, it’s out for the Whole30.
  • Do not try to re-create baked goods, junk foods, or treats* with “approved” ingredients. Continuing to eat your old, unhealthy foods made with Whole30 ingredients is totally missing the point, and will tank your results faster than you can say “Paleo Pop-Tarts.” Remember, these are the same foods that got you into health-trouble in the first place—and a pancake is still a pancake, regardless of the ingredients.  – See more at: http://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/#sthash.TT7z3tPp.dpuf

So what can you eat?

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Helpful Links for doing the Whole 30 Challenge:

Whole 30: Program rules (what you can, and can’t eat)

Whole 30: Grocery Store shopping list

All of Whole 30’s downloadable resources


Why Are We Doing This?

Over the past few years that we have been practicing intentional living we’ve realized that one of the most important things to focus on is what we eat.

It’s common for many of us not to really think about what exactly we are eating – we just want it to taste good and be satisfying. But why don’t we question what we put in our body? Why don’t we question where our food comes from, how they’re made, and more importantly, how they can impact our health?

You might have heard  the common metaphor that food is fuel. Like a car, you have to be very careful of what you put in the gas tank. In the same way, we should consider what kind of fuel we are using for our own bodies. For most of us, we don’t even know how food might be making us sick, lethargic, bloated, etc.

 

The Big Switch: From Processed to Whole

I’ve had an interesting relationship with food my whole life. I love food. I love to eat. I love to cook. But food has caused some health issues in my life, specifically with weight and blood pressure management. In order to address these issues, I’ve done a bunch of different things. I tried exercising more, limiting sugar, trying to watch my portion size, going non-fat, eating vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, fasting, etc… and the biggest thing I’ve learned, where I’ve seen the best results (being and feeling more healthy), has been limiting the amount of processed food I eat and upping the amount of whole foods I eat. What’s the difference?

Processed Foods: Anything that is taken out of its natural state, in which chemicals or unnatural preservatives and ingredients are added. Lets be clear here. If you make homemade guacamole, you are technically processing food. However, it’s very different than buying pre-made guacamole from the store that was made in a factory in which chemicals and preservatives were added, packaged and shipped. The only exception would be if the pre-made guacamole was made fresh that day at the store using only natural ingredients (which is possible).

The best way to think about it: Processed foods are usually boxed, canned, or packaged and have a long list of ingredients (many of which you’ve never heard of before).

Whole Foods: Food that is consumed in its most natural state, nothing chemically added to it.

The best way to think about it: Raw. No unnatural chemicals or preservatives added (generally).

In many cases, most food we eat is “processed,” whether by our doing or someone else. The most important distinction to be aware of is to avoid foods that are highly-processed. We try our best to limit the amount of food we eat that comes packaged or boxed. This also means avoiding restaurants and fast-food joints in which we know the food is not fresh or made from scratch.

Why Should You Avoid Highly-Processed Food?

The simplest answer is that our bodies were not designed to consume the highly-process food that is so readily available today. Because of our lifestyles and technology, highly-processed foods are seen as a great option for people who don’t have time and money (the majority of us). At grocery stores, you can get ready-to-make anything. At fast-food joints you just tell them what you want and it’s there. But the major issue here is that we don’t know at all what goes into this food. Sadly, labels are not that helpful either (ever see a label that said natural flavoring? What is that?).  The only way to truly know what goes into your food is to grow it yourself and to cook it yourself. You might say:

“But that’s almost impossible unless you are a full-time gardner/farmer and grow and raise everything you eat yourself.” 

True. So then the next best thing is to eat as many whole, raw food as possible, buy directly from farmers and producers (especially those using organic processes), and do your best to cook everything yourself. There is no perfect solution, but these are great practices to reap the health benefits from this type of lifestyle.

A great article about avoiding highly processed foods by the highly respected, best selling author, Michael Pollan (see his books below) can be found here.

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A great food mantra from Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Personal Research

Living in Portland and having several friends who are very passionate about food issues, we started to do our own personal research to see if the switch to eating more whole foods was important and worth the extra time and effort*. So we started to read some books and watched some videos on the issue and were blown away by the information. Here are some of the most compelling books we’ve read and videos we watched that really helped us to change our lifestyle and eating habits from highly-processed food to a more whole foods centric focus.

*It’s a lot easier to NOT think about what you are eating and where you’re food comes from. You can save a lot of time and money eating highly processed food, however…at the risk of health and well being.

The Book List:
China.Study.CoverThe China Study – The most comprehensive study about food and nutrition completed with over 100 villages in China. What they found about their health and food consumption compared to the USA is eye-opening. For the scientific/logical reasoning folks.


Omnivores.Dilemma.CoverOmnivores Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals:  Michael Pollan is our favorite author on the subject and this book highlights most of the major issues we have surrounding unhealthy eating and its affect in our world.

 

In.Defense.of.Food.CoverIn Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto: Michael talked about the issues in the Omnivores Dilemma and in this book, he focuses on what we can and should do regarding food.

 

The Documentary List:
Food.Inc.Cover
Food Inc.: the scary, hidden business of mass produced food. Know where your food comes from.

 

 

Forks Over Knivesforks.over.knives.cover:  a typical American male who is overweight, high blood pressure and has pre-diabetes decides to take a chance and document his journey. He decides to see what happens if he goes to a plant only, whole foods diet. He also interviews the author of the China Study. See what happens to him.


 

So do you want to take the challenge with us to eat healthier and more intentionally for the next 30 days? Have you done the Whole 30 program or something like it? Are we crazy?

Let us know in the comments below.

-J

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