Sarah 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.
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.
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… Read more »
Love GFE by the way!!
Oh, Sarah, thank you! That means so much to me!
“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.
Restrictions are no good for me. I just need to keep that in mind.
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
We are only human after all!
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…
It’s hard for sure!
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… Read more »
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.
Love it when people are real!
Yep, I couldn’t make it. But that’s ok.
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).
Eating unprocessed is not easy, but it’s definitely worth the effort to try!
Love your honest account, Sarah. And the photo, too 🙂
That photo is not of me — honest! 🙂
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.
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)!!!
Thanks for the comment Jamie!