“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.

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

Welcome to Eating Rules!

Hi! My name is Andrew Wilder, and I think healthy eating doesn’t have to suck. With just three simple eating rules, we'll kickstart your journey into the delicious and vibrant world of unprocessed food.

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October 31, 2012 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.

Reply to  Crystal
October 31, 2012 8:30 pm

Hey, at least you tried (me too!)

Sarah V2
October 31, 2012 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.

Reply to  Sarah V2
October 31, 2012 8:27 pm

Totally agree.

Reply to  Sarah V2
October 31, 2012 8:30 pm

I think you are very successful!

October 31, 2012 10:07 am

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

October 31, 2012 9:39 am

So where’s that recipe for fermented ketchup Summer?

Summer Hansell
October 31, 2012 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 🙂

Reply to  Summer Hansell
October 31, 2012 8:29 pm

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

October 31, 2012 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.

Reply to  Liz
October 31, 2012 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!

October 31, 2012 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!

Reply to  Stephanie, The Recipe Renovator
October 31, 2012 8:26 pm

Wow, it sounds like you went the distance!

Debie Schnadt
October 31, 2012 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.

Reply to  Debie Schnadt
October 31, 2012 8:26 pm

Awareness is a very good thing indeed!

October 31, 2012 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!!! 😀

Reply to  Kelly
October 31, 2012 8:24 pm

Thanks Kelly!

October 31, 2012 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!

Reply to  Colleen
October 31, 2012 8:25 pm

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