If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I started with a foundation of just three rules. I was focused primarily on healthful eating, and it wasn’t until I went to the International Food Blogger Conference in August that I realized I was, indeed, a “foodie,” too. So I started calling myself a “healthy foodie,” which I think pretty well encapsulates my philosophy.
After October Unprocessed, which was an extremely busy month for me, I started to drift away from following my rules a bit. I wasn’t eating everything in sight, but I did find myself fudging (pun intended) the rules and making exceptions more and more frequently. December, with a life-changing trip to France and the year-end Holidays, was the worst (for healthful food…everything else was terrific!).
Realizing I needed to kick my game back into high gear, I suggested the January Rules plan: Go back to the three rules, follow them strictly, and truly enjoy my weekly “cheat meal.” By inviting others to participate, it helped keep me on target — if I’m leading the charge, I’ve got to be doing it, too!
I will say that for me, this strategy worked quite well. I know that if I have absolute rules to follow, rather than vague “eat less” or “eat more” rules, I’ll do significantly better towards my goals. (As a kid I always colored within the lines, too.)
Avoiding high fructose corn syrup is a deeply-ingrained behavior in me, so that was no problem (the very thought of eating any HFCS actually makes me queasy). I love fried foods, but with just a little bit of effort and planning, I’m able to enjoy them just once a week. The refined grains were the hardest one — it’s super-simple when eating at home (just don’t buy anything made with refined grains), but when eating out, it can be challenging and frustrating.
Thankfully, the whole grain movement is gaining some traction, and I expect that it will get easier in the coming months and years to find more whole grain options at restaurants. There’s even a Whole Grains Conference going on right now! (Which I sadly had to miss…next year, I hope to be there!).
At restaurants I now make a point to ask if they have “100% Whole Grain Bread” (the answer is usually no, but if enough people ask, eventually that will change). The food industry has already taken notice. Last week, I caught an ad for General Mills cereals, specifically touting their whole grain content in kids’ cereals (which is dwarfed by the sugar content, of course). It may be almost comical (Lucky Charms & Trix? Really?!), but it is an indicator that the times, they are a changin’.
Now, to share some feedback on January Rules from our “January Rulers” — those folks who kindly agreed to participate in the month of rules, and to share their experiences with you. But before I pass the mic, let me say: THANK YOU to everyone who participated, especially our intrepid January Rulers. Y’all rock!
Whew. I could really use a donut.
I walked into January Rules feeling pretty confident. How hard could it be to choose whole grains and avoid high fructose corn syrup and anything deep fried or larded up with hydrogenated oils and trans fats? I had no problem doing just that when I was eating at home. We usually keep the processed foods to minimum (and more so after Andrew’s Unprocessed October) so it was largely a matter of double checking labels to make sure the bread and pasta whole grain, and skipping pancakes on the weekends. I experimented with several whole wheat recipes including whole wheat biscuits and whole wheat-oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. My husband, who is grateful for any food placed before him, had no idea any of this was going on.
But it all fell to pieces when I stepped outside the front door.
I started seeing everyone – I mean everyone – as a drug pusher.
A food drug pusher.
I learned during this challenge that I have a hard time saying no to people. I also have a hard time discussing my eating or weight or asking friends or family for what I need. So it made for a lot of anxiety. When a friend invited me for brunch and told me that she would make my favorite baked French toast, I just couldn’t bring myself to say “Please, don’t.” When another friend invited me for dinner, I fretted about whether it would be too rude to tell her that I had some dietary restrictions I was following. As it turned out, that dinner never came to pass and for that I was relieved. Then, I was at a relative’s home when lunch was served on croissants. I could have ditched the bread and stuck to the chicken salad inside but I was afraid of offending my hosts and I didn’t want to explain myself. I also broke some of the rules as part of my job. I’m writing a story that involved some recipes that included white flour. And I had to – had to! – taste them in the L.A. Times’ Test Kitchen. In other words, the first two weeks were barely over when I realized I’d used my allotment of cheat days.
Worse, those bites and nibbles that broke the rules weren’t really “worth it,” if you know what I mean. Well, maybe the French toast was worth it, but the rest of it wasn’t. The whole thing made me feel a little depressed because I realized I was eating on other people’s terms, not my own.
I’m not sure the concept of a “cheat day” schedule worked for me. It made me anxious and fretful when something else unexpectedly cropped up and I ate something that violated the rules. Like that croissant lunch. I was focused on the croissant instead of the fact that I was sharing a meal with some of my most favorite people on the planet. (My husband’s wonderful family.)
Somewhere in the middle of the challenge I just decided to follow Andrew’s advice and do the best that I could. The single most valuable lesson learned from all of this was acknowledging how haphazard my eating is. I often skip meals until I realize it’s the middle of the afternoon and I’m crazed with hunger – not the best mind-set for choosing a healthy meal. Or I go supermarket shopping after skipped breakfast and lunch and then – surprise, surprise— end up in the potato chip aisle. Granted, baked potato chips allowed me to stick to the letter of the rules, but I’m pretty sure it violated the spirit of the rules.
My personal goal for February is to retrench, and start with a few baby steps. I would like to make sure that I eat breakfast every morning, and pack a lunch and some healthy snacks. If I’m going to eat out, it needs to be “worth it,” as opposed to a cafeteria sandwich served on white bread with a bag of Fritos that I devoured at my desk one late afternoon because I so hungry I could have gnawed on my keyboard. Based on this last month, I think these steps – all pretty achievable — will help me clean up my diet by at least 50%. So count me in for Health Month. These little steps will be my focus.
I am curious: Does anyone else out there have problems saying ‘no’ when people offer you food? Or does anyone have some tips for declining gracefully? And what do you do when you are invited to someone’s home for dinner? Isn’t it rude to say, essentially, “Thank you for the invite, here are all the things I expect you to do to honor my plan of eating.” All suggestions warmly welcomed!
Finally, thanks again to Andrew for dreaming up the challenge. Like October Unprocessed, it helped me to take a closer look at my eating habits and detect some areas where I can improve.
Andrew’s Note: Thanks, Rene! Here’s what I do when people offer food: I’ve found it significantly easier when it’s an “absolute” rule, like vegetarianism. People seem to understand that. When you say something like, “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t eat meat.” or “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not eating any refined grains as part of this month-long challenge,” people seem to “get it” and be much more understanding… And in fact, more often than not, people are interested and encouraging.
On the other hand, if you say something like, “I’m really trying to eat less of (whatever) right now,” then that opens the door for them to want you to make an exception… and since you technically can make an exception to the rule, it’s kind of saying that if you don’t, they’re not important enough to you to make the exception.
When the rule is an absolute — unwavering for everybody, even your closest friends or family — people seem to be less offended. They may think you’re a little nuts, but at least they won’t be offended.
I am really glad that I did this challenge. I really had no idea how much I consumed refined flours (Rule #1) until I had to be mindful of what I ate. Giving up refined flours was not an easy task, especially when dining out. Like sugar, refined flour seems to be in everything. Though, I did find suitable substitutes and started exploring lentils and beans to replace the refined food in my diet.
The first two weeks were easy, but the third week proved to be the biggest challenge. I was constantly in situations where I was being offered food like pasta, crab cakes, and desserts. Sometimes, I couldn’t say no, so I had quite a few “cheat bites.”
Though, the third week just reinforced that refined flours are bad for my physical and mental health. When I was not eating refined flours, I was super energetic, my skin was improving, I didn’t experience any fatigue, my workouts improved, and I did lose a little weight. Then, the week I had too many cheat meals, I went back to being fatigued all the time and found it harder to go to the gym. It was a real eye-opener.
I will continue following the Janauary Rules as they have become part of my healthy eating style. (Rules #2 and #3 hardly applied to me since I never really consumed HFCS or fried food). That is not to say I still wont have cheat meals or cheat days, but it’s good to know that my overall health is really dependent on the food that I eat.
I used the January Ruler as a guideline, and have been adhering to the rules loosely. Staying aware of what I am consuming is a good practice that I have enjoyed for this month — and not only in terms of food.
I look forward to continuing the process and the conscious living! I feel GREAT!!! I truly am HAPPY, for many reasons, but I attribute much of it to a focus that I found in these January Rules. Thank you, Andrew, for allowing us to share our feedback with you and to participate in this forum!
I’ll be honest. I haven’t done as well during this challenge as I would have liked. It’s not that it wasn’t set up for me to be successful – it was. I loved that Andrew gave us permission to have a cheat meal, and loved that the rules were simple. But it is so easy to slip into old habits.
It doesn’t help when the family I am feeding has very particular preferences for certain foods, like regular pasta instead of the brown rice or whole wheat counterparts. And it doesn’t help that the Gorgonzola Walnut bread at the farmer’s market is so dang good…(okay, I could consider that a cheat…)
What I have realized is that if I want to do better, I simply can’t keep certain foods in the house. I need to be a better shopper – then cooking with unprocessed ingredients is a no-brainer. It’s as simple as using what I have on hand. Now, off to revise my shopping list…
You would think that as a chef I eat really well all the time. I would like to think so, but it’s not that way. By the time I’m done at work, I don’t want to cook much at home. My family made an effort to help and participate, but it got harder as the month went by. We had a few marked successes. I made a wonderful whole wheat Rhodes Sabbath bread that everyone liked. We found a brand of whole wheat bread we could all agree on. Most successful? The whole wheat chocolate chip cookies (tells you where my family is!)!
January Rules was good for me. I followed the rules almost perfectly! I wavered a couple of times- by accident and out of bad habit by just eating without thinking! Something I definitely must stop doing! Mindful eating is the way forward for me.
I think the rules were quite easy, the whole grain rule is by far the hardest but with some planning even that isn’t too difficult. I thought the cheat meal was a good idea, nice to have some time off the rules and not feel awful afterwards.
My favorite meal that followed the rules was the vegetarian pho — such an easy lunch. I feel great mentally, so pleased to have had a healthier start to the year. I keep forgetting to weigh myself at the gym so not sure about any further weight loss.
I look forward to joining you in playing Health Month — I have kept the January rules and added some more; it will certainly be a more difficult month. But it’s good — often I start well then let things slide so this will “keep me on my toes!” Thanks for organizing January Rules, Andrew!
A little housekeeping:
There’s still time to win free Uncle Sam or Erewhon Cereals! The giveaway ends Thursday night, and all you need to do is leave a comment on that post to enter.
The February Health Month game has started, and you can still join Team Eating Rules and play along! The free slots are already claimed, but if you have 3 or fewer rules you can play for free, or if you have more than 3 rules it’s just $5 for the month. Come play with us!
Photo by philipyk.