Congratulations on taking the Whole Food Challenge! You’re on your way to better health through nutrition, fueling your body with the whole, unprocessed foods it was designed to eat! Making a change to your eating habits always takes some effort, but just like anything else, also gets easier as you go. Within the first week, you’ll probably start to notice some of the benefits. Your body will thank you, but it’s not called a ‘challenge’ for nothing. A bit of advance planning can help make the transition go smoothly, so read on for what you need to get you started and keep you going!
Remember to avoid all grains, legumes, dairy, sugars, sweeteners, processed meats and alcohol. This includes (but is not limited to) wheat, rice, corn, barley, bulgur, rye, oats, spelt, quinoa, kamut, millet, peanuts, lentils, beans, peas, butter, cheese, milk, cream, all sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave, artificial sweeteners and packaged deli meats. If you have autoimmune or inflammatory illnesses (such as arthritis, Chrohn’s, psoriasis, eczema, asthma, or allergies) you may want to consider eliminating nightshade vegetables as well – eggplant, tomatoes, bell and hot peppers and white potatoes. Visit www.whole9life.com for a complete list of approved foods.
This is a big undertaking, and you should be proud of yourself! Plan non-food rewards to keep yourself motivated! You may be surprised at how much money is in your wallet at the end of each week that you aren’t buying lunch and lattes every day; likely enough for a special outing, (may I suggest a therapeutic massage?) to celebrate your accomplishments! Instead of dwelling on the things you can’t have, practice gratefulness and mindfulness to boost your appreciation of the delicious, nutritious foods you have to choose from. Eat slowly, savour the natural flavours and textures, and share meals with friends and family! Take pride in the choices and the meals you make: show off your best creations!
Stock your Larder!
Load up on produce. Opt for more veggies than fruit, and organic when available. A farm-share, CSA or weekly organic basket delivery can help save you time and money. Farmer’s markets are a great way to buy organic for less, with the added bonus of supporting local growers directly. If organic isn’t an option, check out this list of the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables that you may want to avoid. Tuck a couple bags of “emergency” frozen, organic veggies away for a quick snack or side dish for busy days.
Introduce yourself to your local butcher. You’ll need meat, and lots of it. Grass-fed beef, lamb, and wild game are excellent choices for their nutrient-dense meat and naturally healthy fats. If grass-fed meat is not available, choose lean cuts to limit unhealthy fats. You might also find homemade sausages without fillers, and uncured bacon or sliced meats that are Paleo-friendly! Buying larger roasts and whole cuts can be cheaper, or consider buying a larger volume farm-direct meat order that will come packaged and frozen for a lower cost per pound. Your butcher will probably carry local eggs laid by healthy free-range pastured chickens too!
Meet your fishmonger. Aim for at least two meals a week that include shellfish or fatty wild fish like trout, salmon, char, herring, halibut, cod and mackerel. Freeze or buy frozen fish to keep on hand. Fish makes for great portable protein, too: canned light tuna and salmon, herring, sardines & mackerel are awesome choices.
Stock your shelves. Buy healthy, cold-pressed (virgin) olive, coconut, avocado, and walnut oils. Paleo staples like coconut milk, soup stock, canned tomatoes & paste, mustard, vinegar, olives & sugar-free pickles, fermented sauerkraut & kimchee, and dried herbs and spices will make your meals more interesting. Check labels for hidden sugars, starches, flours, soy and corn products, and any mystery ingredients that you can’t pronounce.
Deliver yourself from temptation. This might seem like a no-brainer, but if the first things you see when you open your cupboard are grain-based crunchy snacks, sugary sweet-treats and packaged convenience foods, that’s what you’ll reach for when you’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Move them out of sight and reach, or better yet, get rid of them completely! Take any unopened packages to a local shelter, and leave the rest for the birds and squirrels.
Your Paleo Plate
That’s ‘plate’, not glass. If you have teeth, you should be chewing your food, not drinking it. Digestion starts in the mouth, where chewing releases salivary amylase to break down starches, and prepares the stomach by signalling the release of gastric acid to digest your meal. Chewing also tells your brain how much you’ve eaten, working with your senses to help regulate satiation and predict satiety. When calories are taken in liquid form, your body doesn’t register what it has just consumed. Juicing removes the fibre from fruits and vegetables, and even with added protein powder, juices are digested more quickly and are less satisfying than their whole-food counterparts.
More veggies than a vegetarian. Fill about half of your plate with vegetables at every meal. They’re loaded with fibre, vitamins and antioxidants to support healthy digestion and immunity. Veggies should be your main carbohydrate source, supplemented with a bit of fruit. Paleo eating is naturally lower-carb than the Standard American Diet, but you should eat to meet your goals and lifestyle. If you’re very active, underweight, pregnant or nursing, you’ll need more carbohydrates from fruit and starchy veggies like beets, carrots, yams, and squash. If your goal is fat-loss, a lower-carb diet can be beneficial in boosting your fat-burning metabolism. You may want to include more fruit and starchy veggies at the beginning and taper down your intake as you adjust to the whole food diet, to help avoid cravings and carb-withdrawal.
Don’t go bananas. Regardless of how many carbs you may need, your fruit intake should not rival your veggie intake. Although loaded with nutrients, fruit contains the sugar fructose, which, in excess, can be inflammatory and damaging to the liver and kidneys. Aim for no more 1-3 servings of fresh fruit per day. Dried fruit is called ‘Nature‘s candy“ for a reason, and should be treated as such. The sugars are concentrated and you’re more likely to overeat dried fruit because it’s so sweet (and shrunken)… when was the last time you ate 14 fresh apricots in one sitting?
Eat your meat. Our bodies need protein, and lots of it, to build and maintain healthy muscle and perform just about every function in your body. Take a tip from pro trainers and double your protein intake. Protein cannot be stored by the body to use for energy later, so each meal should include a generous portion of meat, fish, or eggs to ensure you get enough.
Stop fearing fat. Fat has gotten a bad rap over the years, but the research behind the low-fat craze has been both misrepresented and misunderstood by scientists and health professionals. Fat is an essential nutrient, helping turn protein into usable amino acids for energy and tissue repair. The lower your carbohydrate intake, the higher your fat intake should be, to ensure enough non-protein calories are eaten. The good news is that not only will fat keep you full, the more fat you eat, the better your body becomes at burning it for fuel, promoting fat loss while preserving lean tissue. Load up on avocado, grass-fed meats and wild fish, raw nuts, coconut milk, and healthy virgin olive, avocado, coconut and walnut oils to meet your daily needs.
Keep it simple. Not every meal has to be a work of art or an experiment in food substitutions. Whole foods need little more than a bit of seasoning to bring out their natural flavour. Try roasting, braising or grilling your meats and veggies in large batches; leftovers can be combined into soups, added to salads, or packed as lunch for the following day. Stash some healthy snacks where you’ll face the most temptation: the break room at work, your car, or front and centre in your fridge and pantry. Eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full. If you don’t make it difficult, it’s easy to get the hang of it!
Good luck to you, and good health!