As I mentioned in a previous post, I eliminated HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) from my family’s diet about 10 years ago. That was the starting point, and the first big step, but back then, I was still miles away from what I would call a “healthy” diet. I was still eating those microwavable big-name entrees for lunch at work – the ones where the ingredient list cannot be read without glasses and is 2-3 inches long. But, if it didn’t have HFCS, I was ok with that. I’ve come a long way.
The company I work for has a wellness program where employees can earn points throughout the year. If a certain threshold is reached through completing certain challenges and a variety of other wellness-related activities, the employee earns a discount on their health insurance premiums. When the program launched (I believe it was 2007), one of the challenges was to form a team and eat as many servings of fruits and vegetables as you could in a month. Hmm… why not recruit my foodie friends at work and form a team? I did, and it was life-changing.
The challenge was simple: eat as many fruits and vegetables as you can in a month, logging your servings daily. There were no other requirements. Within just a couple of days, I noticed a significant increase in my energy, and the “funk” that I’d regularly feel on an almost daily basis was completely gone. I frequently suffered from headaches, lethargy, and irritability. These symptoms all subsided. With the abundance of fruits and vegetables in my diet, there was really no more room for crap. Truly, I felt amazing.
What was strange to me at the time, was that in an attempt to eat as many fruits and vegetables I could, I actually got tired of eating. I found myself completely satisfied, and cravings disappeared. I would come home and make dinner, which would consist of a small amount of protein and a huge plate of vegetables, and I would frequently get to the point where I just couldn’t eat another bite, long before my plate was empty. This was a completely new phenomenon for me. We tend to fill our meals with dense calories, feel unsatisfied and un-satiated, then succumb to dessert. For the first time in my life, I felt completely satisfied and left food on my plate. Now, this is partially because chewing requires energy, and when you’re eating a large amount of food that requires work to eat, you get tired of eating it. But, after a week or so, I truly grew to be in touch with my hunger, and it stabilized like never before. I felt balanced. Finally.
What was more significant to me was that those minor ails I felt daily, the ones I’d become accustomed to feeling that were just a part of life, had completely gone away. I woke up every day feeling well; feeling healthy. Was it really this easy? And how many years did I waste having daily headaches, gastrointestinal pains and upsets, and a general feeling of malaise?
I think I ate somewhere around 280 “servings” (USDA sized) of fruits and vegetables that month, just slightly under 10 per day – significantly more than I had been on my supposedly “healthy” diet, but when you look at what a serving size actually is, it wasn’t that hard to do. I can easily eat a cup of blueberries a day in August (2 servings). I discovered that a USDA serving size is generally 1/2 the amount that an enthusiastic eater would desire.
Americans (and increasingly, other cultures) have become accustomed to convenience. We have designed our lives around 15-minute meals, to the detriment of our health. Preparing food with whole ingredients is not convenient, but neither are trips to the doctor.
I entered this annual challenge for 3 years in a row, each time renewing my belief that food is what makes us well, but unfortunately, is also what makes us sick. I’ve also done “the challenge” on my own twice with my boyfriend (one month on the first occasion, and nearly two months on the second), wanting him to experience the difference in his health. Though I cannot speak for him (maybe he’ll blog about it), he also experienced significant changes.
So here we are… happy, healthy, and viewed by the majority of industrial food consumers as “extremists”. I’m really just trying to eat the way humans were meant to, and in a way not so dissimilar from the way my grandparents ate. I truly believe that time will tell, and the consequences will be severe. In another 10-15 years, the largest experiment that has been conducted on humans without their informed consent will finally end. I have faith. (And I also feel a GMO post coming on… maybe that’s another day!)