In talking with a friend about the Eat Real Food Challenge, he brought up an important note, one I found worth sharing. He told me he had finally decided what his challenge would be. He decided he would not be eliminating anything from his diet because he ate pretty well already, but he would be adding something instead. He challenged himself to eat more fresh fruit every day. And that’s when it hit me! We need to change our perspective here- we are not asking ourselves to give something up for 30 days, we are asking ourselves to add something better for 30 days.
Too often we find ourselves in a habitual mindset. We run on autopilot. And that’s ok for us sometimes, like when we need to remember to run the dishwasher every night before bed, or that the dog has to go out before we leave the house. It’s one less thing to manage.
But sometimes autopilot bleeds into other areas of our lives, ones where it doesn’t really belong. We stop paying attention, and we resort to routine. Often, this is us with our eating patterns. We know what is familiar and comfortable, and sometimes wrapping our brains around making changes can seem pretty daunting. But what we need to do is to turn that autopilot off, take back the wheel and pay attention!
This Eat Real Food challenge is a way to wake ourselves up, try something different. When presented with the idea of eating real food for 30 days, so often there is a knee jerk response that says “I can’t do this.” Or “How am I supposed to eat only real food? That sounds hard!” And it can be- if you make it that way. That’s why this is not about not eating “any” processed foods. It is about replacing one or more processed foods in your diet with something else. So ask yourself, “What can I do?” And then think about all the “I can’s.” This challenge is not about depriving ourselves of something we enjoy. This challenge is here to do something good for ourselves, our bodies. It’s a form of self respect.
Did you know that all those additives, preservatives, and artificial whatnots in our foods alter our taste perceptions and even our brain wiring? It’s true. After all, they are made of chemicals, so why would we not expect chemicals to make some changes in our body? It interferes with chemical signaling of the brain, interrupting our neuromessengers. The excessive use of sugars, salts, and artificial flavorings also impair our tastebuds, making real food taste, well, less. Not only this, but one side effect of these flavorings is that we become addicted to them, craving more, and needing more to hit our reward sensors in the brain.
But ditching these processed foods removes the interference, allowing our brains to take back control. Now our brain is able to send more appropriate messaging to our digestive systems, and we find cravings more under control. One huge bonus? Our tastebuds recover too, and boy, does real food taste delicious! Confession? I used to hate raw tomatoes. Couldn’t stand them. Now? I can’t get enough! In the summertime my mouth waters thinking about slicing up a fresh tomato with a little black pepper and sea salt. But when my diet was loaded with processed foods (even “healthy” ones), I couldn’t taste their natural goodness. And this wasn’t the only food I have since discovered to now taste pretty amazing.
Keeping this in mind, eating real food is not to be looked at as an elimination of something. We equate elimination diets as a loss of something enjoyed. No, this is not an elimination, nor is it a diet. This is an addition of something, a giving back. Sure we are replacing one thing with another, but it’s a better thing. We find that it tastes great, and provides a better substitution for our previous, habitual food snack. And that tastes goods, feels good physically. But mentally, and emotionally speaking, we know that we are giving our bodies something more, too. And that feels good. Very good.
So when you wonder why you are doing this challenge, thinking you would rather have not joined in, remember this. It’s not about losing something or giving it up, it’s about adding something in. Something valuable. Something nourishing. It’s about showing ourselves a little self respect. Because we deserve it, we are worth it. So keep on, Eat Real Food challengers. You’re doing a damn fine job, and your bodies will thank you!