30 Day Real Food Challenge
“Real food is things that your great-grandmother would recognize.” This quote by Michael Pollen gave me the idea and inspiration to embark on a ‘real food’ challenge. What does that mean? Well, It’s really simple. Just eat real food! Nothing out of a package, nothing processed. Going into the challenge I thought that would be fairly simple, as I am a Clinical Nutritionist and a yogi. With my background and education, I typically eat a very healthy and nutritious diet. Much to my surprise, eating real food is a lot harder than it sounds – and it’s only been one week.
Other motivations for this challenge include my new role as a mom! I had a baby boy just five weeks ago and am currently spending my days on maternity leave. I’m getting to know him, and of course, I am breast feeding. I’m enjoying the simplicity of each day. Another inspiration to my challenge is that in 30 days, I will be 30 years old. The timing makes perfect sense.
So what are the rules of a 30 day real food challenge? Well, first let me note that it’s a ‘challenge’ and not a ‘cleanse.’ That left me room for error, as I didn’t want to put pressure on myself with all of the big changes in my life. I teach my clients about the 80/20 rule, which means eighty percent of the time, eat what is healthy and what you know is good for your body. Twenty percent of the time, life happens. Drink the wine, eat the chocolate etc. Well, because I just got off of a 10 month ‘detox’ from alcohol (since I was pregnant) I wanted to let alcohol be my 20 percent. I realize that might sound crazy for a real food challenge, but it’s my challenge – I get to make up the rules, and I have been LOVING my occasional glass of red wine.
This week I have learned to keep it simple. Eating real food is simple. Organic fruits, veggies, animal products, raw dairy products, seafood and seaweed, nuts, seeds, gluten-free grains, beans and natural sweeteners are all real food which is allowed. I am also having juice (only if I juice it myself) as well as coffee (that is organic, fair trade.)
The first three days were easy. I chose a few new recipes including a spaghetti bolognese made with spaghetti squash as the pasta and homemade sauce that I whipped up in my Vitamix. I also made a delicious green juice to last me a few days. On the fourth day of the challenge, the sugar cravings hit. I’m not sure if it is because of the breast feeding and craving more calories in general, or the fact that I had been so good the previous three days, but these cravings came back with vengeance. I was sitting on the couch with my husband, watching a movie and all of a sudden, I had to have an ice cream milkshake. (I’m pretty sure I’m the only one that ever does that, right?) So, I went to the kitchen, opened up the freezer door and stared at the ice cream. It was taunting me like kids in a playground at recess time. However, I was committed and I was not going to break. Not this early in the game. I promptly whipped out the vitamix yet again and added 6 ice cubes. I poured in some raw milk, coconut butter, raw cacao powder and honey. I blended up what appeared to be a milkshake! I decorated my ‘milkshake’ with raw cacao nibs and coconut. It was delicious!!! What a breakthrough. I proceeded to have one of those each night for the next 5 days, and I’m certain I have stumbled upon something amazing. It completely satisfied my craving for ice cream and in many ways I thought it tasted even better. Success!
Another challenge this week was snacking. We spent Sunday at the beach for the entire day and packing for an all day beach picnic was more difficult that I thought. I wanted to throw in my Mary’s crackers, some protein bars and maybe even a cookie or two. Of course all of those things come straight out of a package. Instead, I made a quick kale and quinoa salad, tossed in a whole avocado, grapes, homemade trail mix and a… Blue Moon beer. Hey, I said 80/20! Besides the fact that eating an avocado with a spoon is a little tricky at the beach, I ate all real food with the exception of my Blue Moon.
Overall, the week had it’s challenges, but I would call it very successful. I created some new recipes, and am feeling like my energy is coming back – despite the many sleep deprived nights with my new baby. I’m looking forward to week number two!
My favorite green juice recipe: (all ingredients organic)
1 bunch celery
1 bunch kale
1 handful of romaine
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled
2 green apples
Vitamix Ice cream:
6 large ice cubes
½ c raw milk or coconut milk
2 T raw cacao powder
2 T coconut butter
1 T raw honey
Raw cacao nibs
Blend above ingredients in Vitamix until thick and smooth. Top with optional toppings.
I didn’t think eating real food for a full month would be this difficult, but week 2 has proven to be quite a challenge. I caught myself wanting to cheat more often, pushing my 80/20 rule. My husband and I were traveling this past week, which made it much more difficult. I hear this complaint from my clients regularly, that often their healthy eating habits go out the window when the regular routine is broken. Last week was my reality check. We left town for three days to see family that live about five hours away.
Every time I leave San Diego, I’m reminded about how lucky we are to have the selection of great healthy food at our fingertips all year round. I’m also reminded that eating on the road and trying to find ‘real food’ is nearly impossible. After being pregnant (and hungry all of the time) I got into a good habit of always packing healthy snacks or meals for when I was traveling. Normally, my favorites for traveling are fresh fruit, nuts or a trail mix and a protein bar. For my real food challenge, I couldn’t eat the protein bar so instead I packed some homemade wraps. I used grass fed beef in a brown rice tortilla (which I have to admit was from a package) and topped off my wrap with healthy veggies and a drizzle of olive oil. I was grateful to have the wraps as we passed through central Cali and the very sad selection of fast food restaurants.
Right before we left on the trip a girlfriend shared with me a fabulous new app. It’s called Food Tripping and it highlights all of the healthy restaurants, grocery stores and and farmer’s markets within your area. I was delighted to discover this app, but sadly, the sprinkling of healthy restaurants on the app were few and far between as we drove north from San Diego.
Upon arriving at our destination, our friends informed us that they had promised their children Chuck E. Cheese’s for lunch that afternoon. It would be a first for me, and I assumed the menu was not compatible with my 30 day real food challenge. I thought of skipping lunch all together, or making up an excuse for not eating. Keep in mind, I’m a nursing mom, which means that I’m always hungry! Much to my surprise, there was a very decent salad bar. Thank goodness, real food for lunch.
I’m still having some sugar cravings, so I find something that is naturally sweet, like fruit or my delicious ‘milkshakes.’ Acai bowls are a brilliant way to curb a sweet craving, and I make them at home (with the unsweetened acai puree). When the chocolate cravings hit, I have been reaching for the raw cacao powder to make a homemade hot chocolate drink or raw cacao nibs to sprinkle on a smoothie.
I certainly wasn’t perfect this week with my food challenge, but I find my awareness of what is real food continues to grow. When I’m dining out, I notice I’m asking more about questions about the ingredients, and where the food actually comes from. Not only has the awareness been good for me, but those who I’m dining with or sharing in my experience are also starting to stop and think about how much ‘real food’ they are eating in a given day. What a crazy question we have to ask ourselves.
Serotonin Boosting Hot Coco
Add the following ingredients to 1 cup of hot water:
1 T raw cacao powder
1-2 T So delicious Coconut Creamer
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
sprinkle powdered stevia to taste, OR 1 T raw honey
Sambazon’s Acai Bowl
2 packets frozen Acai (unsweetened)
¼ cAlmond milk (unsweetened)
½ cup frozen berries (optional)
Blend above ingredients until smooth. Top with optional toppings
Optional Toppings: (1 T of each) Raw cacao nibs, Raw almonds, slivered, Hemp seeds, Raw organic local honey, Organic blueberries
I have found myself becoming more inspired this week with my real food challenge. I have to admit that I am wanting (and occasionally having) foods that are out of a package, but each week I seem to get a bit more creative in making my meals with only real food. I flipped through some old cookbooks, and discovered some awesome blogs and spent more time creating and trying new meals.
I think it’s time I confess my recent love affair with spicy margaritas. I discovered them at a local Mexican restaurant in Cardiff. After having one, I was determined to create a homemade healthier version. I realize that talking about a margarita recipe in a real food challenge might seem a bit off course, but I’m quite proud of the fact that besides tequila, all of the ingredients are real food! Instead of the classic muddled ingredients you would find in a mixed drink, I made use of my Omega juicer. For the ‘spicy’ portion of this concoction, I juiced a whole cucumber along with a jalapeno pepper. I then juiced a few lemons and limes for my homemade sour mix. I drizzled in some honey and a splash of coconut water to sweeten it up, and topped it off with a splash of tequila. Success! A perfect ‘almost real food’ spicy margarita.
Dining out is definitely the most challenging part of my real food challenge. I ordered fish tacos (to go with my spicy marg) but of course the corn tortillas were likely not made from scratch. It was helpful to remind myself that it’s okay to order something which is not on the menu. I share this little trick with clients because most restaurants are happy to bring you a special request. I used this trick twice this past week and ordered a side of brown rice, a grilled chicken breast and some steamed veggies. I always ask for a lemon on the side, and garnish with some butter, salt and pepper – all real food, gluten-free and delicious. Does this qualify me as a Foodie?
Another tip that has helped me in this 30 day real food challenge has been my new subscription to a Community Supported Agriculture box (CSA). My CSA is delivered every other week and is a box overflowing with local, seasonal and organic produce. This has made the real food challenge really exciting, as there are vegetables in the box that I typically wouldn’t buy at the grocery store. This week I’ll learn about mustard greens and fennel, and I look forward to finding interesting new recipes.
Though I still struggle with sugar cravings, I have been really good about only having natural sweeteners. This week I made peppermint chocolate tarts. Who said real food had to be boring! This recipe is simple and insanely delicious. Coconut oil and cacao are the two main ingredients. It makes a decadent and refreshing tart, which is high in antioxidants and satiating with the smart and healthy fat coconut oil.
Overall this past week has taught me to get creative. From spicy margaritas to peppermint tarts, this real food challenge hasn’t been all that bad!
Spicy Margaritas (The Healthy Version)
1 cucumber, juiced
1 jalepeno pepper, juiced
2 lemons, juiced
2 limes, juiced
1 T raw organic honey, dissolved in some water
¼ c coconut water
1 shot of tequila
Chocolate Peppermint Tarts
3/4 c gluten free almond flour
1 large pinch of salt
3 Tbsp raw cacao powder
3 Tbsp coconut oil (warmed to a liquid)
3 tsp coconut nectar or maple syrup
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl using a whisk. Stir until well mixed and slightly sticky.
Pour batter into regular sized muffin pan. Press the crust down into the tin using your fingers or a spatula. Refrigerate 20 minutes or until crust is hard.
Mint Chocolate Filling:
1/2 Cup coconut oil (warmed to a liquid)
3 Tbsp canned coconut milk
6 Tbsp coconut nectar or maple syrup
1 Cup raw cacao powder, sifted
3/4 tsp peppermint extract
Heat coconut oil on low heat until liquid. Sift cacao powder and add all other ingredients. Whisk together until smooth. Pour mixture onto the crust. Chill 1 hour. Enjoy!
As my real food challenge comes to the end, I’m just a few days from turning 30. I realize that I have actually learned a lot about myself with this silly challenge. I have been abiding by the rules for the most part (especially in the first two weeks) and bending the rules to justify the packaged goods when need be. Bottom line, just because I’m a nutritionist doesn’t mean I’m perfect with my diet (or a 30 day real food challenge.) Just as I tell my clients, being perfect with your diet isn’t any fun, or very sustainable.
This past month has been a great way for me to create more awareness. Though I certainly had moments where I cheated and ate food from a package, I tried to upgrade my food choices whenever possible. From the homemade margarita mix to my ice cream ‘milkshake,’ I definitely think I made some lasting changes that I will continue in my daily life.
This challenge has been a great reminder that just because packaged goods come from the health food store, it doesn’t make them healthy. As I’m re-stocking my pantry with packaged goods I’m examining the ingredients with a fine tooth comb. Sugar seems to sneak it’s way into many items, and it’s really paying off to read labels and know exactly what I am eating. Another low quality bad-for-you ingredient that is almost everywhere is soybean oil. Creating awareness around what I was actually consuming daily was crucial. A simple tip is: if you can’t pronounce it, then you shouldn’t eat it. One of the best parts about my real food challenge was, I didn’t have to worry about poor food quality and cheap ingredients making it into my diet because most everything I ate was fresh and unprocessed.
As for my 80/20 rule, I think I did pretty well. Besides my few alcoholic beverages, the other places I needed flexibility was with packaged tortilla chips and brown rice wraps. I occasionally used a collard green leaf as a tortilla, but I kept reaching for my favorite brown rice tortillas. Other packaged goods that made their way into my challenge were a few crackers, some 70% cacao chocolate and special occasions when I added half ‘n’ half to my coffee.
One go-to quick meal was: sauteed vegetables in chicken bone broth. I love to make a bone broth from scratch in my crock pot, and then freeze the broth into ice cubes. I take a few cubes and add it to some fresh cut vegetables. This adds amazing flavor and nutrients to whatever you are cooking. I often had the veggies with a baked or grilled chicken breast. I found that preparing ahead was an incredibly important part of the challenge, and I made sure to always keep some baked chicken in the refrigerator.
My biggest victory over the past month was my solutions for sugar cravings. This week I rediscovered an old favorite treat: frozen raspberries, drizzled with warmed coconut butter, topped with cacao nibs and a sprinkle of coconut sugar – simple, easy and very satisfying. It was the perfect treat following dinner, when my desire to snack is the worst.
Just as I had hoped, I noticed a pretty awesome energy shift while doing this challenge. As my diet became cleaner, my energy was better. There were a few afternoons where I considered taking a nap with my new baby, but I felt so great that instead, I used my time making his baby book, blogging or reading some new books. I have also noticed a difference in my skin. It is clearer and brighter than before. The dark circles under my eyes are gone, and I truly do feel refreshed. I’m so pleased that I took on this challenge during a pivotal time in my life.
Eating real food shouldn’t have to be a challenge, but unfortunately in this day and age it is just that… a huge challenge. My new found awareness has not only been a huge benefit to me, but also my new baby boy. As this challenge has come up in conversations, I believe I have inspired a few friends and family members along the way to think about their food in a different light. Perhaps it will do the same for you.
~ Emily Potter, Clinical Nutritionist & Holistic Health Counselor at NourishMint