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Our writer took the unprocessed food challenge and lived to tell the tale

By Lovelle Harris

Originally published in Sacramento News & Review on 12.16.10

With the return of the McRib and the appearance of KFC’s Double Down sandwich, consumers are being encouraged to gobble up processed foods in droves—a behavior some experts cite as a surefire way to a personal health crisis.

I decided to take a personal stake in the matter by participating in October: Unprocessed—a challenge set forth by Andrew Wilder in his Eating Rules blog wherein readers were urged to “eat no processed foods whatsoever during the month of October.”

Less than a week into the gig, however, I realized this would involve more than giving up Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. I found myself ill-prepared for the rigors of eating “clean.” So, to others looking to clean up their act, I offer three tips.

For those struggling for a definition, as I initially did, Wilder offers this: Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with whole-food ingredients.

It sounded simple enough; however, out of ignorance, I ate nothing but fruits and vegetables the first two days. By the time day three rolled around, I was a food-deprived, curmudgeonly shell of my former self. Taking to the blog, I discovered I had suffered needlessly, as a bonanza of foods were at my disposal.

First tip: Be sure to do plenty of research prior to engaging in a strict, processed-free food experiment; it just might save you from devouring an entire three-finger filet of beef in a matter of minutes, as I did after having discovered meat and poultry were acceptable.

The second week brought withdrawal-like symptoms—the cause of which I surmised to be from a severe hankering for Mexican food. Having eliminated white flour and table salt from my diet, my mind was aflutter with a chorus of dancing enchiladas. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to satisfy the craving at my favorite taqueria, I took matters into my own hands. After rehydrating the dried chile, blending it into a viscous paste, forcing it through a fine sieve, and assembling a procession of delectable cheese-filled cylinders, my craving was sated—along with any desire to build muscle mass in my right biceps.

Second tip: Be prepared to make just about everything from scratch, eating unprocessed is a laborious endeavor.

As I rummaged through the fridge under cover of night during the last week—cursing its contents with every failed attempt to find an acceptable midnight snack—my mind wandered back to the meal that initiated my search. A dinner engagement, scheduled before my journey into the unprocessed realm, led me to a destination I had avoided for weeks—a restaurant. As I watched my friends merrily guzzle down their pizza, I secretly hated them.

Third and final tip: If you have dinner plans with friends, consider rescheduling.

Despite my exasperation with this exercise in food-based masochism, the experience opened my eyes. I truly had no idea what I had been putting into my body. Yes, I still crave those cheesy bits of Styrofoam-like morsels, but have vowed to limit my intake to one snack-sized bag once in a blue moon.

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