On the journey to “real food” or “whole foods”, or more specifically my chosen path the “paleo diet”, you realize that it’s a difficult transition. No more lazy and eating Taco Bell. No more going “but I REEAAAALLLLYYYYY want a sandwich”. No more shoveling Doritos in your face.
It’s hard. And for someone like me, who loves all food, it sometimes feels limiting.
But at the same time, it feels good. I know I’ll feel better. I know I’ll be healthier. I may even look better if i can get rid of the minor acne on my chin.
So, what do you do?
Well, I think you start small. This month we are not eating out at all, which means if we want it, then we have to make it ourselves. We may have started this a few weeks ago and then fallen off the wagon. But after grocery shopping yesterday, we are back to it.
And then after that we may spend more time on cutting out processed foods, or gluten, or slowly cutting back on dairy. And not eating beans (which, lets be honest, that’s harder than cheese because I come from a culturally Mexican family and also because when I was a vegetarian I lived off beans).
I can, however, tell that some of this is starting to take hold. I have a pound of conventional ground beef in my freezer and the thought of eating it makes me want to gag. Just no. I actually bought 50 pounds of beef the other day from a local store, and while it’s not grass-fed (I don’t think), it is locally raised and probably not factory farmed. I feel better about it anyway. It’s Nebraska beef. Not god-knows-where beef.
So for anyone who wants to begin a whole foods diet, I urge you to learn from my experiences and start small. Here are some simple things you can do, to get started:
1. Cut out refined sugar.
White sugar, most brown sugar. Switch to honey, or maple syrup, or even coconut sugar. This one seems daunting, but it’s not, really. If you’re cooking at home, it’s a super quick habit to break. Just substitute.
I know some people tell you that you should quit sweeteners all together. And maybe you should once you’re to that part of your whole foods journey. But when you’re just starting, that’s hard. And let’s be honest, that’s enough fuel to make you give up.
So for now, just choose ones that are “healthy”, and if you can stand it, omit them. But that’s, of course, if you can stand it. I need sugar in my tomato sauce. And my chili. NEED.
And, why, am I telling you to specifically do this? Because it’s one of the hardest things (in my opinion) to wrap your head around, but it’s actually exceptionally easy to do and will give you a great kickstart for other healthy choices.
2. Start eating at home.
I’m at this stage right now, so any steps beyond this are just in my plan for what comes next. But I’m doing 30 days of not eating out. And I’m not worrying about if things are grass-fed, or if some processed ingredients sneak in, I’m just making sure that everything I make is made at home.
Because, I think no one can do anything in absolutes, and I also think that if you’re going to follow a new path for your diet, you have to get used to making your own food. And maybe you already do this, which, good for you. But I don’t. I eat out, like, everyday. It’s bad for my health, but it’s worse for my wallet.
And also, even though I know it goes against the core of what I’ve chosen to believe, I think that as long as you make something at home, from scratch that you will be better off than your fast food guzzling counterparts. So you used processed, pre-made pizza dough. Not ideal. But you also used better ingredients for the toppings than you would have had at a pizza place. And do not trick yourself into thinking their crust doesn’t come as a powder and “mix with water” instructions.
3. Start replacing ingredients.
I don’t believe in throwing away food. I think it’s wasteful when there are people out there who don’t have any food at all. And I think it’s bad for your wallet.
So what do you do when you have a bottle full of Hidden Valley ranch dressing, or Heinz Ketchup in your fridge? Well, in my opinion, you eat it until it’s gone. And then once it’s gone, you replace it with something better. Before you know it, you’ll have tons of better ingredients, and it will automatically translate to better food.
Because Sunday meatloaf is okay. But Sunday meatloaf made with organic onions, grass-fed meat, homemade ketchup, and fresher spices is way better. Or it should be, anyway. I haven’t made meatloaf in more than a year. So what do I know?
Even if you can’t bring yourself to switch to all grass-fed meat or organic fruits and veggies (or, like me, can’t justify the expense), you’ll be replacing your supplementary ingredients, and that to me is worth a lot.
And DO NOT guilt yourself for occasionally using a certain ingredient. I have and sometimes use canola oil. It’s not going to kill you, and if it is, then it’ not going to kill you from occasional use. You don’t drop dead when you smoke a cigarette, and you don’t drop dead when you eat a brownie made with canola oil.
That being said, it’s an inferior ingredient and you should try to use literally any other fat when you’re cooking, if not for health reasons, than for flavor reasons. Some options: Coconut oil. Butter. Ghee. Olive Oil. Avocado Oil (pricey, but good). Lard. Tallow. Bacon Grease.
4. Think about your choices and options.
Now it’s time to think about what else you want to do. Do you want to eat all organic foods? Do you want to only eat grass-fed meats? Do you want to cut out dairy or swap to raw, local, and grass-fed? Do you want to cut out grains? Go full-on Paleo? Do all of it? None of it?
It’s time to decide, because this diet is NOT one-size-fits-all. You need to decide what works for you, and what you can afford to do (monetarily and mentally) right now. And also what you would like to save until later. And then gradually (or all at once, if that’s your jam) make the transition.
I think I am going to cut out grains, and cut back on dairy (not eat raw dairy), and try to get meat from good places even if its not necessarily grass-fed, and most importantly, I am going to STOP EATING PROCESSED FOOD. However, I’m not going to eat all-organic. It’s great when I can, but I don’t have that kind of food budget.
5. Consider your surroundings.
This one sounds kind of silly, but I promise it’s not. Consider your surroundings. Your house, your environment, your smoking or secondhand smoke intake, your personal products, your cleaning products, your water.
How are these affecting you?
I still use regular toothpaste. And I -gasp- drink tap water. I don’t believe that drinking purified water is the way to go. After a certain amount of time drinking purified stuff you’re no longer able to DRINK the stuff out of the tap, it makes you physically ill. And while some might see that as a sign that tap water is bad, I see that as a type of hardening off. Because if you can’t even drink the water that is naturally surrounding you without throwing up, then there’s a serious survival issue going on. (I do, however, take bottled water on trips. I’m not insane.)
But seriously, think about what you’re putting on and near your body, because those can be JUST AS HARMFUL as what you’re putting into your food. For example, I break out when I use commercial laundry detergent. So clearly it’s being absorbed into my skin. Don’t take that stuff lightly.
I’m not saying you should go into your bathroom and toss everything and start over. But follow the same principal as you used for food: when you run out, find a better option.
6. Make small changes.
Finally, I think small changes are important. They add up, and they made A LOT of difference.
For example, I started oil pulling. It makes me feel cleaner and I like it. I don’t know if it’s detoxing, but it can’t hurt, right? And I drink lemon water. It’s supposed to detox you gently and prevent cancerous cells from forming. Again, I don’t know if it is, but I like it. It tastes good, and it’s refreshing.
So think about what small things you can do. Maybe at night use coconut oil as moisturizer (I use it during the day too, the trick is to only use a TINY bit and then it’s not greasy at all). Or as shaving cream. Or as conditioner. Think about oil pulling. Or replacing your mouthwash. Or eating organically only as a snack. Or even just including herbs and spices with healthy benefits into your food. Or sneaky spinach into marinara sauce (hint: it’s still healthy if you grind it up real small).
Just the small things. Because small things become big things when you start to do them frequently.