This isn’t the first health experiment I’ve done. Mostly, I wanted to be healthier, and I was sick of craving things that I qualify as ‘fake food’ or, as my mom called them, ‘empty calories.’
Things like Oreos, sour patch kids, Doritos, and Little Debbie’s epitomize this list. Other less offensive things include pretzels, diet coke, and venti caramel frappucinos.
After all, there is ‘processed’ food that is not necessarily bad for you: dried fruit, pre-popped popcorn, freeze-dried snap peas.
But the underlying hope was that, if I ate a no processed food diet, I’d be avoiding the pitfalls of the food industry, getting the most nutrient dense food, living a more eco-friendly and sustainable life, and setting myself up for a healthier lifestyle that would pay off in the years to come.
Essentially, I ate a no processed food diet for the same reasons I believe in gardening: because I think it’s the healthiest and most fulfilling option.
Ideally, I’d grow my whole diet for two weeks but, living in Manhattan, that would be tough.
I could easily grow fresh herbs, tomatoes, peppers and leafy greens on my patio, but in addition to these fresh flavors I decided on this: if it grew from the ground, I could buy and eat it. Simple. No processed foods.
So, fruits and veggies? Obviously. Organic quinoa? Yes. Power bars? No. Chocolate? Definitely not.
There’s no denying it: I thought it was going to be easier than it was. The mere idea that I couldn’t have diet coke immediately had me craving diet coke on principle.
Further, I quickly realized a no processed foods diet meant convenience is no longer part of the equation. There’s no stopping by a bodega and grabbing a power bar for lunch or buying a takeout of rice to throw with veggies from the Chinese restaurant next door.
To begin, I started generating ideas about what I could eat. Breakfast would be oatmeal with nuts and fruit, lunch would be a huge salad with homemade dressing, and dinner would include a rice or quinoa bowl. I’d have to substitute my diet soda with green tea, and all sweet cravings would need to be satisfied with nature’s dessert: fruit.
I am impressively adept at avoiding grocery shopping, but I (quite correctly) sensed that surviving off of bodegas and convenience stores would be an impossibility. I walked through Whole Foods with my jaw dropped — there were so many things I couldn’t eat on this no processed foods diet.
The fruit and veggie sections were my best friends. I loaded up. I bought avocados, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, lettuce, limes, and so so much fruit. I bought bags of nuts and seeds.
…I also technically cheated. I bought canned chickpeas, but being vegan, I had to have some source of protein and I wasn’t ready to figure out how to come up with a non-processed legume. (Baby steps.)
Grocery shopping led me to another realization: being healthy is expensive. Buying mainly from the produce sections is the quickest way to rack up the costs.
There’s no way to get around it: cooking is a necessary part of a no processed foods diet. Trust me, I tried to avoid it. It goes without saying that I failed. (The first two days included a lot of raw veggies and fruit.) If you’re trying to eat no processed foods, embrace cooking.
Some things were hard — I had never made my own guacamole or hummus before. Some things were familiar — I am a veggie roasting fiend and can whip up a quinoa bowl in no time. And some things were ridiculous — I legitimately found it a pain that I had to brew my own tea instead of buying it at a coffee shop.
In the end, I enjoyed cooking. It took up more time than I expected, but I learned a thing or two in the kitchen and now have a whole new repertoire of healthy recipes to pull from.
The Pros and the Cons
Even though I would consider myself a largely healthy person, the adjustment was huge. The first few days, I had some headaches and stomach upset. I didn’t realize how dependent on processed foods I was — I craved them often.
Although it wasn’t sugar cravings that nagged at me the most. It was bread, pita chips, diet soda, dried fruit. Essentially, I craved things that I’d never expect to be dependent on, which was eye-opening, to say the least.
Admittedly, when these issues did resolve, they resolved wondrously. I felt really good. I was eating as much as I wanted, losing weight, and totally satisfied after every meal. Things tasted better! I had more energy to work out, and I could tell the difference in my ability to focus towards the end of the two weeks.
And for what it’s worth, my skin was better than it’s ever been.
The truth is, a no processed foods diet isn’t sustainable for me. I’m constantly on the run, I love to eat out with friends, and cooking isn’t a 24/7 hobby for me. So, I won’t be keeping it up indefinitely.
However, I will be making some changes. I’ve made goals to eat mostly non-processed foods while I’m home. I’ll be cooking more and spending the extra money on fresh, organic produce. And where I can, I’ll be growing and eating straight from the dirt. Because, after all this, it seems the surest way to live a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
-Corinne Lohner, Gardenuity