“Failing” at #Unprocessed

Fed Up With LunchSarah Wu is also known as “Mrs. Q,” the (formerly) anonymous teacher who ate school lunch for a year and blogged about it at Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project. Sarah’s book about the experience, Fed Up With Lunch, contains a “Guide to Quiet Revolution,” which parents, teachers, kids and teenagers, as well as community members can use as a road map to make health and wellness a priority in neighborhood schools. You’ll also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Failing at #Unprocessed

I failed at October Unprocessed this month. Yep, I didn’t make it. Let’s face it: it’s actually hard for most Americans to do this for 30 days. I’m sure that a few people are thinking “No way, it’s easy for me! I already eat whole foods all the time. I’m #unprocessed 365 days a year.”

Think back to a time before you made that change or had that epiphany. Your life and your food used to be different. Because unless you were born into a family with a vibrant food culture, you probably ate many foods in the SAD category (Standard American Diet). Even my Chinese-American husband who grew up devouring delicious and healthy homemade Chinese food made by both parents at virtually all meals, still drank soda, gobbled down Twinkies, and ate at McDonald’s.

When I claim failure at eating unprocessed, I’m not saying that I was speeding through drive-thrus all month long. No, I’m gluten-free (for about twenty months now), which means that most of the time I have to eat food prepared by myself at home. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t buy the occasional gluten-free “junk” food: chips, chocolate-covered pretzels, and packaged cookies. Minor detail: I’m eight months pregnant.

October Unprocessed is a thought exercise, but my brain just thinks of it as a restriction. “You can’t eat this” is enough to make me want to buy it, more and more. Call me weak or call me lazy, but that’s just how my mind works.

Eating unprocessed is the exact opposite of what I did in 2010: I ate school lunch every day for a year to raise awareness about school lunch. Instead of telling myself not to eat a certain kind of food, I just opened the flood gates and ate “processed” for one meal a day for a year. The mind game is pretty intense when you’ve committed to eating something every day. At first I embraced it and enjoyed the food. But after three months, I was fatigued. Then something weird happened. I went back to enjoying the food. I called it some bizarre variant of “Stockholm Syndrome” as it relates to food – if you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em. Then as the school lunch project came to a close, I started hating the food again. By the end, it was 163 school lunches total that I consumed. I will never eat another chicken nugget.

So, I’ve learned something this October. That is that I cannot restrict myself completely or my will implodes. In fact, if you had trouble like I did, I would suggest making sure you don’t deprive yourself of the occasional processed food. Read the label. Buy it. Eat it. How do you feel? Love it or hate it, It might take 163 times for you to get sick of something, but one day you will not want to eat it again.

Eating #unprocessed or #processed, it’s your relationship with food. Own it.

Photo © 2009 Corie Howell, used under Creative Commons license.

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71 Responses to “Failing” at #Unprocessed

  1. Liz October 31, 2012 at 9:07 am #

    I also failed miserably! We are already on a 90% whole food diet. What got use us my inability to make homemade breads and pasta. I have several recipes but none worwork for me, so II buy frozen biscuits, rolls, and whole wheat bread.

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

      Well, I’m not sure you failed miserably! I can’t make my own bread or pasta and I don’t know when I’d ever find the time to learn!

  2. Stephanie, The Recipe Renovator October 31, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    Sarah, thanks for your honesty. I committed to photographing all my meals for the month, which kept me pretty “honest” but I confess I broke into an open bag of Halloween candy last night. We’re all human. Congrats on your new little one!

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

      Wow, it sounds like you went the distance!

  3. Debie Schnadt October 31, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    Honesty is great! I wasn’t able to go the distance either. When I thought about doing this, I knew I eat pretty wholesome, good for me kind of food, not a problem or too difficult. Well… when you start reading every label, including things I never thought of as “processed” the odds changed. I realized that making the attempt to go an entire month I was not prepared for, but after all, it is awareness that has come to my everyday, and that is a big step. I wish to thank all the contributors, as I have enjoyed many new recipes that are in my house to stay. Here’s to good health! I will try to work towards improvement everyday.

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

      Awareness is a very good thing indeed!

  4. Kelly October 31, 2012 at 8:19 am #

    I am so glad you posted this! I know a lot of people struggle with eating unprocessed for only a day, so a month can be a real challenge. I like that you do not get ‘food guilt’ get you down, that you are practical about it. I love that you own your food choices! Also, yay for the new baby!!! 😀

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

      Thanks Kelly!

  5. Colleen October 31, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    Haa!!! This story is probably the story of most of us for unprocessed month, including me. I have a kitchen full of unprocessed, whole food ingredients and still found it hard. I goofed a number of times, but this month certainly has raised my awareness of my food intake quite a bit.

    However, for every “oops” we made, we were successful in enriching our lives, our understanding of food, and our health through this challenge. Failure? I think not. Thank you Andrew for giving us the chance to be MORE AWARE of what our diet entails. And hats off to all those who tried this new way of thinking!

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

      It’s a journey/process — we’re all on the right path!

  6. Shirley @ gfe October 31, 2012 at 8:14 am #

    Excellent post, Sarah! And congrats on your pregnancy! 🙂 I didn’t fully commit to October Unprocessed because I knew I would be traveling. I am gluten free, too, and when I did travel for four days the first weekend, I got “glutened” twice. Then I got glutened more times traveling during the month. It was obviously not a good month for staying safe. Well, after all that, I just gave up. Anything that I could eat to make me feel better (and that was gluten free) seemed good enough. I’ve mostly come back to my regular gluten-free whole foods routine, but not totally. I am disappointed that it went that way, but I am not going to beat myself up over it.

    You are so righ about getting sick of certain foods. Some friends and I were talking the other day about how if you eat foods enough, you will become “sick”/tired of them and never want them again. Or, similarly, if you get ill after you’ve eaten a food, even if the illness was not related to the food, the association is there and you won’t want to eat it again. One friend said that she purposely ate Cheetos every day until she would never consider eating them again. She’s a “real food” eater, but that was the only way she could break her addiction to Cheetos. My son will never again eat my gluten-free, vegan Brazilian cheese biscuits, even though he loved them. And my sister won’t eat roast beef. I “get” them all.

    Thanks for this post!

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

      Love GFE by the way!!

      • Shirley @ gfe October 31, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

        Oh, Sarah, thank you! That means so much to me!


  7. Noel October 31, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    “You can’t eat this” is enough to make me want to buy it, more and more. … Oh my! That is exactly how my brain works! It is much easier for me to make ‘lifestyle changes’ than to diet. Ultimatums and black and white restrictions do not work. BUT, as I eat more and more wholefoods, the junk appeal is slowly washing away. Thank you for your honest account.

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

      Restrictions are no good for me. I just need to keep that in mind.

  8. Destiney Yates October 31, 2012 at 8:07 am #

    yeah i failed to i tried to quit soda which is really my last unprocessed hold out. but alas my 2yr old now decides wake up time is 4am and then i have 4 other kids who have been refusing to sleep till around 10 which puts my bed time at 12 and i can;t drink coffee so alas the caffeine suckered me in but i only had a few and boy they were soooo good lol. but now i view them as a treat and if i just buy one from a convenience store that means i have to get all the kids in coats n shoes to get one then fight them all about how i am not buying all the other junk in there so 9/10 it’s not worth the effort! haha oh and I had a twix at the trunk or treat… im only human! lol

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

      We are only human after all!

  9. Jackie @Auburn Meadow Farm October 31, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    Funny and true. Great photo! I thought it would be less hard for me because of some major re-shifting and the fact that I live it and write about it every day.

    But no, and the biggest challenges were loaded with irony. (Dairy was really difficult for me despite the fact that I raise dairy cows for a living, lol).

    By far, the hardest part was flour & sugar and avoiding being caught starving with no immediate fix but a box of processed crackers & industrial cheese…

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

      It’s hard for sure!

  10. Molly October 31, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    Thank you for this post! I have experienced many of the things you mentioned in your article during this challenge. I think the most important thing is what you said at the end that it’s our relationship with food and we should own it. I found that my relationship with food has changed during this challenge. I’ve felt more gratitude to have such wonderful food and when I do eat unprocessed it is by choice, not because the cravings are too strong for me to resist or because it’s become habit to eat mindlessly (which is what I was doing a month ago). I did eat unprocessed some this month but I don’t consider it a fail at all. They were conscious choices I made after looking at my options, reading the labels and deciding what was most feasible for my life right now. Then I enjoyed the processed and unprocessed for what they were.

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

      You might find that your relationship with food has changed for good. Of course there will be the occasional processed foods, but your overall outlook could be permanently altered.

  11. Kimberly October 31, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    Love it when people are real!

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

      Yep, I couldn’t make it. But that’s ok.

  12. Christina October 31, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    I also failed. With flying colors! Meaning, of course, that I did my absolute best, which pushed me to eat healthier than I ever had before. I’ll have to see if I lost any weight because of it 🙂

    October might be coming to an end, but I’m resolved to keep this up, to be as unprocessed as I can be, but to also not hate myself after eating something that IS processed, on occasion. I’m so glad I did this challenge…it’s definitely changed me for the better! And I’ve learned a few things along the way (like how I enjoy steel cut oats, and just how processed many things really are).

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

      Eating unprocessed is not easy, but it’s definitely worth the effort to try!

  13. Cathy October 31, 2012 at 7:43 am #

    Love your honest account, Sarah. And the photo, too 🙂

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

      That photo is not of me — honest! 🙂

  14. Cheryl October 31, 2012 at 7:41 am #

    Thank you, Sarah. I also failed. I may not have been perfect, but my successes far exceeded my failures. I had 41,000 pieces of candy pass through my office and didn’t eat a single one! I ate healthier than I ever have in my life and learned a ton. What I discovered is how much better I feel when I eat unprocessed. I even had a co-worker tell me I look great! The times of failure were almost all about lack of planning and preparation.

    I choose to continue eating unprocessed. I’ll view fall backs, not as failure, but as reminders of how much better I feel when I eat real food.

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

      Totally agree!!

  15. Jamie English October 31, 2012 at 7:00 am #

    Thank you so much for writing this. It makes a ton of sense and will help so many who aren’t able to do this perfectly (me being one of them)!!!

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 7:41 am #

      Thanks for the comment Jamie!

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