Focused Living, One Month at a Time

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Challenge #19 January 2013, Simply Satiating

Kale chips, brown rice, and poached egg - yum!

 I will eat only unprocessed food this month, now that sounds simple enough...

“Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

-Michael Pollan

Rombutan and papaya, a tropical breakfast of champions
Background and a Definition

So it’s January – that month when 92.7% (or some such ridiculously high percentage) of us make all those virtuous New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, get fitter, healthier, etc etc, etc - sound familiar?  I know I definitely overindulged in holiday eats last month, and unfortunately found that five pounds I had lost a while ago, darn.  Sooooooo I decided to enter the health nut fray with this month’s challenge and not eat processed food - it’s hard!  And can be somewhat inconvenient…

How do you define “unprocessed?”  I did a bunch of pondering and googling on this over the first week, and came up with a definition - very similar to the one I found here - that made sense for me:  Avoiding food that has ingredients (especially if it is more than one) that I don’t recognize, and sound like a chemical or artificial – mostly any food that could not be simply made without additives or prepared in a home kitchen.  That excluded a lot of items (like many types of packaged crackers/cookies, frozen meals, veggie burgers, protein bars, salad dressings, etc were out but enough other staples remained on my edible list (like some cheeses, wine, pasta, peanut butter, etc).  It was effective for my purposes – simplifying and cutting out the artificial ingredients.

How It Went
The main thing I noticed was I became a kind of obsessive label reader, even more than usual, which is pretty thorough as a vegetarian always wary of sneaky meaty additives.  The process opened my eyes even more to how many common foods – even those labeled “natural” and “healthy” – have stuff I didn’t recognize like soy lecithin, calcium chloride, disodium inosinate, and other not-so-real sounding substances added.  I definitely ate more fresh fruits and vegetables (it was just easier, no label reading required), and I appreciated their unique flavors even more than usual.  This just required more thoughtfulness and preparation overall, which was fine when I had time, but challenging on some days when other priorities prevailed, duh.   I also added a few new healthy additives into my diet like Spirulina and Brewers Yeast - both of which I have no clue if they have made me healthier overall, but if I am going with the placebo effect, I did feel very healthy this month – no nasty flu or cold, unlike many folks I know.

Anyone can make salad dressing, fennel seeds help.
Highlights and a Lowlight
I got into this habit of taking more time to shop and prepare meals by the third week, and I think it will stick around for a while – it is worth it and my skin looks better, and I definitely lost a few pounds.  In a nutshell, a few of the main events:  
      Making Salad Dressing. Almost nothing beats topping a delicious freshly prepared salad with your own dressing.  I used our newly acquired (thanks Mom for the Christmas present!)  mortar and pestle a few times to muddle fennel, spices, mustard, olive oil and balsamic vinegar into something awesomely flavorful.

       Plant Based Diet education.  Speaking of salads, check out this excellent video on and how eating this way can improve (and maybe save) your life – really impressive as Dr. Greger both chock full of science AND entertaining. Although not focused on unprocessed food, it’s totally appropriate for this month.  Your body will thank you, even just for watching, I promise. 

Dried Fruits & Nuts.  My go-to snacks (and occasional meal replacement) were these morsels of sweet and hearty.  Satisfying and flavorful – all kinds of fruits and nuts in interesting combinations are a no brainer if you want to add more unprocessed foods into your diet.  P.S. Dried apricots without the sulfite preservative may look a bit sketchy, but they definitely taste better! 

Homemade almond joy easy-ness
Homemade Almond Joy.  I took five simple on-hand ingredients; shredded coconut, agave (instead of honey), toasted almonds, coconut oil, and unsweetened cocoa powder and created these treats.  Easy, delicious and NO; corn syrup, emulsifier, lactose, sulfur dioxide, sodium metabisulfite, or any other fake stuff like in their namesake. 

And this unprocessed concept was definitely Easier at Home.  The last five days of the month I was traveling, and it is so much harder to maintain these goals when out and about in a group, but I tried and mostly succeeded, except for the occasional errant protein bar, flour tortilla, or  packaged pasta randomness.

In Conclusion 
Time.  That’s what so many of these monthly challenges are about really – setting aside the time to focus and keeping it at the top of the priority list, along with everything else that must happen to get through the day, every single day.  So DISCIPLINE is one of my New Years Resolution words for 2013,  staying focused on the task at hand, one meal at a time this month.  And how about you – how was your January?  Any healthy resolutions?