“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. Aimee @ Simple Bites October 31, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

    Great post, Sarah! I’ve slipped up with the challenge here and there but for the most part it’s been pretty good. I could NOT do it while pregnant, though. I ate everything insight when preggo!

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

      Aimee, you are unprocessed all the way! Love your blog

  2. Colleen October 31, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    Great job on switching to whole grain pastas Alice !!!

  3. Kate @ eatrecyclerepeat October 31, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    It is true, and backed up by science, that restriction makes you want a food more and more. That is why restricted-calorie approaches and diets dont usually work in the long term, or cause mental and psychological problems too. So you are not lazy! Perfectionism is not the goal, but rather sustainability. So if eating a package of gluten free cookies once in a blue moon keeps you unprocessed 90% of the time, I still think you are winning. Thanks for your post!

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

      Food and psychology are totally intertwined.

  4. Alice October 31, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    Thank you for writing this. I eagerly signed up for October Unprocessed,and I’ve read all the posts, printed out recipes, all the while eating junk food and buying packaged food. I’ve made many excuses; my family won’t do this with me and i’m not making two meals, our little grocery stinks when it comes to fresh produce etc.

    The only change I’ve made is using whole grain pastas. It’s a start-right? I’ve been living this way since I was a kid, and that was 49 years ago. I know I won’t change it in one day, and I can’t beat myself up for it. Baby steps.

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

      Baby steps will get you there!!

  5. Jamie October 31, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    Your post made me feel so much better, thank you! I, too, failed at October Unprocessed. One thing did me in: unsweetened almond milk. I did make my own, but only about half the time. My family drinks so much of the stuff (in smoothies, in coffee, etc) that my home made version just couldn’t keep up with our consumption. At first, I felt guilty about it, and was mad at myself for breaking my October Unprocessed commitment. But then, I decided that, as a full time (plus!) working mother of 2, there are some things I just can’t do perfectly. Isn’t that the whole lesson of life with kids (and life in general)? Things are never as we plan them to be… how wonderful to just accept that and be free!

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

      That doesn’t sound like failure to me! Good for you for making your own almond milk

  6. Danielle October 31, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Thank you for this. Thank you.

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

      Just telling it how it is!

  7. Shirley holloway October 31, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    This post could have been written by me. Seemd like as soon as I signed up….I started to eat unprocessed foods. I usually cook everything from whole foods. I made a great tomato soup yesterday even made some whole wheat croutons but the bread was processed. Most months I don’t even eat any bread. But, if I tell my self I can’t have it well then I crave it.

    It’s a daily challenge to eat whole real foods. Many things have changed. I don’t eat hot dOgs, pop, donuts, and most any fast food. The key is I don’t like these any more. I don’t crave them and I’d rather have many other fruits and veggies.

    I totally agree. Don’t deprive.

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

      Good for you — you’ve made a lot of progress. You’re right, the key is not to deprive.

  8. Jessica Marie October 31, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    Thank you for this, I love it! I had determined that I failed as well; but I have concluded now that I did not fail. In fact, as you have said, I have become more aware of how it makes me feel. Since it led to a great learning experience, I have succeeded.

    **Half way through, I came into a financial situation and relied on my roommates for food.

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

      Awareness is a big part of it — I hope that your financial situation is looking up!

  9. Mollie Walker Freeman October 31, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    Thanks so much for this, & congrats to all who even made an attempt to eat unprocessed! I have been at this whole foods thing for over 30 years, & it keeps getting better & easier– I love it, really. However, what made the biggest impact on me is that I’m working on a severe gut imbalance (Leaky gut, liver & gal bladder issues, etc.) I’ve been off gluten for about 4 years, but only recently nailed down some food allergies. So for me, I HAVE to eat right, or I suffer! Someone said to me, “I’m going to pray that God heals you, so you won’t have to worry about what you eat.” And I said, “Please don’t do that! I am eating better than ever, & I’m feeling great!” We do what we have to, right? The key for me is to keep moving in the right direction, which is now easier since I have pain when I “fail.” I hope all of you will not wait till your health is severely compromised, but will keep moving in the right direction. Best wishes, & thanks for a great month Andrew! (& guests)

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

      It does get better and easier — you’re right

  10. Mary Papoulias-Platis October 31, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    What an inspiring last post for a terrific educational but fun month on Eating Rules! Thanks you Sarah and Andrew!
    Many of us feel the same way, and you hit it out of the ballpark with your post! It’s a perfect time to end this on Halloween Day – eyeing all the candy in my pumpkin jar – PHEW!

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

      Thanks for the comment!

  11. Crystal October 31, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    Thank you for sharing! This was exactly what I needed to read today after looking over my goals for October and realizing how poorly I had done.

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

      Hey, at least you tried (me too!)

  12. Sarah V2 October 31, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    Thanks for the article & I truly admire your perseverance eating 163(!!) school lunches. As for “succeed” or “fail,” so many of us have an absolute all-or-nothing definition of success (as seen by so many of the posts here). This is despite the very real challenges of a fast-food society, work, travel, children, life…. For me, in taking stock of my performance on the Challenge for the last month, I would give myself about an 85% in the eating category (in addition to staying unprocessed, I added no outside dining and recommitted to gluten-free). I feel pretty darn successful in those terms – the “15%” does not connote a “FAIL!” but an opportunity to refine and progress. The real success is a 300% in the awareness and mindset categories.

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

      Totally agree.

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

      I think you are very successful!

  13. Ana October 31, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    As long as you’re aware, you didn’t fail!

  14. Colleen October 31, 2012 at 9:39 am #

    So where’s that recipe for fermented ketchup Summer?

  15. Summer Hansell October 31, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    Great Post!! I think we would all agree is that maybe the main positive thing about October Unprocessed is that it is an opportunity to focus on, learn about, and experience the unprocessed way of life. This is my third year, and I was still surprised a couple of times this month, because having made this committment makes you look at the labels of things you’ve let slip by for other reasons: my homemade mayo is NEVER as good as Hellmanns. On the other hand, we now make fermented ketchup that is the best tasting ketchup ever. So, for us it’s about tweaking and re-focusing and awareness….Every year we learn something that improves our diet. Also, I’m noticing that eating local, organic, unprocessed whole foods every day: I’m still so very, very thankful at every meal 🙂

    • Sarah October 31, 2012 at 8:29 pm #

      Totally agree — everyone of us is on an individual food journey

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