As I prepare to begin the 2013 version of the Clean Eating Boot Camp, I wanted to make sure I hit you lovely folks with a quick refresher course on why processed foods aren’t your friends when it comes to both successful and sustainable weight loss goals. Lots of people can lose weight doing all kinds of foolishness, but is it a sustainable way to live? Are you going to continue to spend $200+ a month on food for yourself through one weight loss program, while the rest of your family eats the foods you know and love? Are you going to sip cayenne pepper cocktails and sea salt flushes for seven days straight… and actually leave your house?
If so… good luck. If you want to actually learn how to love and appreciate food, in a way that will help you keep it off, then learning how to love and appreciate real foods – fruits, vegetables, lean quality sources of protein – will, without a doubt, be helpful.
The best part of this, for me, is that I get to host this boot camp having completed the certification programs for both a Fitness Nutrition Specialist as well as a Weight Loss Specialist. I mean, of course, I’ve learned a lot along my journey about how to eat cleanly, how to actually cook flavorful vegetables, how to use herbs and spices, how to create sauces… but there’s something about learning food from the standpoint of how it nourishes you and supports the body that makes it so much more meaningful. I still don’t believe in “superfoods” – every vegetable does something, even those pesky potatoes – but I appreciate knowing what contributes to what (sweet potatoes and kale for your hair? what?) and what makes what else tick. It just helps to have that kind of understanding, and use it to make the Boot Camp more meaningful.
That being said, there are five important reasons why hyperprocessed foods are not, in any capacity, a helpful or healthful contribution to successful weight loss or maintenance of such weight loss. Here’s why:
1) The nutritive qualities of hyper-processed foods are suspect.
If the flies don’t want it… you don’t want it. Humans are supposed to compete with animals (including flies) for resources. We also have the mental ability to win these competitions. The reason I mention this is because we’re attracted to the same foods for the same reasons. Flies are attracted to our meat, our fruit, our plants because they are nourishing. There are nutrients within those items. If you go to a grocery store,you don’t see flies in the aisles. You see them in the produce. That’s where you should be. You might have to swat a fly or two off of your tomato… but please believe that’s a victory worth winning. (Hippie moment?)
The reality is, you want your foods to come to you as untouched as possible, as light on the chemical interference as possible and as desirable as possible. So yes, friend – that means you’re going to have to embrace those fruits and – heaven and Earth, help you – those veggies.
You know how, if you leave food sitting out, it will attract flies? Why? Because flies and rodents are attracted to the same things that our bodies are attracted to in food – nutrients. Ever notice that with ALL the food in a supermarket, there’s rarely any ants or bugs in the aisles, but you have to swat them away from the tomatoes or kiwi in the produce area? That’s not because every area in the grocery store – except the produce – is sprayed down. I can only offer theory as to why that is. For starters, the processed foods have to be processed to maintain shelf life. They have to be able to handle being transported to the facility. They have to be able to withstand sitting on a shelf until purchased. They have to be able to withstand sitting in your cabinets until you cook them.
Can you do that with your home made cooking? I doubt it.
Here’s another question: What do you think they’re putting in these processed foods to ward off insects and rodents?
Last question: Do you think it’s a good idea to ingest the same chemicals that are put in food… food that flies don’t even want? The same chemicals that prevent flies from desiring our food, are the same chemicals we’re ingesting when we eat this stuff anyway. How healthy can that be? Nothing in the world can debunk what feels like logic to me.
2) Ain’t no – yes, ain’t no – damn fiber in your processed food. Naturally occurring fiber. Fiber that not only helps your blood sugar do its job, but also helps you cleanse your colon. How many people in the world are walking around with distended bellies because they haven’t gone number all week? Processed food is…. processed! Fiber, as a perishable component and its ability to hinder shelf life, is often stripped from processed foods in order to make a product last longer. Furthermore, the more fibrous a product is, the more filling it becomes, which actually is a problem for food manufacturers. They don’t want to create a product for you that is long-lasting… they want you to scarf it up so that you can rush out and buy a new one.
What’s more, having “too much fiber” in a product means that you’re going to get full before you get that ephemeral, euphoric “food high” that comes with eating too much of some processed foods, and because so many people associate that euphoria with whether or not a food is “good,” food manufacturers know full well that not delivering that “euphoria” results in losing money.
I can hear you now – “Erika, could you be any more of a conspiracy theorist?”
I can assure you, this has nothing to do with conspiracy, and everything to do with being a good businesswoman: food, as a consumable good, is a product where a company most benefits from creating loyal customers; loyal customers come from giving people what they want, no matter how detrimental to their health it may be.
3) Unnecessary chemicals. Harmful fats. WTF? Michael Pollen easily explains the introduction of non-food substances to our food supply:
The 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act imposed strict rules requiring that the word “imitation” appear on any food product that was, well, an imitation … [And] the food industry [argued over the word], strenuously for decades, and in 1973 it finally succeeded in getting the imitation rule tossed out, a little-notice but momentous step that helped speed America down the path of nutritionism.
… The American Heart Association, eager to get Americans off saturated fats and onto vegetable oils (including hydrogenated vegetable oils), was actively encouraging the food industry to “modify” various foods to get the saturated fats and cholesterol out of them, and in the early seventies the association urged that “any existing and regulatory barriers to the marketing of such foods be removed.”
And so they were when, in 1973, the FDA (not, note, the Congress that wrote the law) simply repealed the 1938 rule concerning imitation foods. … The revised imitation rule held that as long as an imitation product was not “nutritionally inferior” to the natural food it sought to impersonate—as long as it had the same quantities of recongized nutrients—the imitation could be marketed without using the dreaded “i” word. — In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
Now, what’s so wrong with that?Well, for starters…
What is trans fat, you ask? Well, you might see it in your foods’ ingredient list as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “partially hydrogenated soybean oil.” It’s an oil (usually vegetable or soybean oil) that has hydrogen gas whipped into it, making it a thick and super creamy substance. This was a part of the original process used to create margarine, meant to replace butter because the saturated fats found in butter were considered so harmful. The trans fats that originated were an unintended consequence. Eventually, we found out that this “unintended consequence” was way more harmful than butter ever could be, leaving us exposed to heart disease.
The stuff can be found in lots of junk – margarine (of course), crackers, some thick and creamy items, and some inexpensive cakes/cookies/pastries. Anything with a thick, rich, buttery, creamy taste to it may more than likely have it.
4) There is an ungodly amount of sugar in processed food, in order to help with the abysmal flavor. Now, I won’t lie. I used to scarf this stuff down like nobody’s business. I’m sure I’ve shared, repeatedly, the story of my binge of an entire bag of verona cookies in under an hour. I full on passed out. Collapsed. But the cookies were “good.”
When I think about the kinds of cookies, the flavors, the recipes and the combinations of sweets I’ve discovered since, the kinds of tastes and textures that are out there… nothing compares to a quality baked cookie, cake or pie made with bare hands and great ingredients. Most importantly, they don’t have to be made with a ton of sugar, cheap and lazy flours, pre-made mixes, fake flavors, or “blueberry bits” made of gummy material instead of actual fruits and vegetables.
But it’s not even the cookies and cakes that are full of sugar… its all the other stuff, too! If you think your sodapops and cereals are full of sugar, what about your spaghetti sauces, ketchups, barbecue sauces, canned foods, puddings, potato chips, yogurts and soups? Most importantly, when you taste those foods, what do you taste, other than sweetness? Would you rather have a ketchup that tastes like you stuck your tongue in a bag of Domino, or would you rather have a nice black pepper ketchup, or a jerk ketchup sweetened with mango? (This is what happens when you hang out with West Indian chefs enough!) Which do you think would be more satisfying? Which do you think is enjoyable? Which is just full on fattening?
5) The cost. The cost of processed foods instead of raw materials for a dinner is insane. I’m not going to play you with the foolishness of “Oh, it only costs $0.87 to make a homemade tortilla,” knowing full well that – unless you can buy flour and yeast in bulk – you can only buy flour in a 5lb bag. However, there’s a difference between me spending $4 for an item I can eat tonight, and spending $4 on an item that could last me several meals. People constantly tell me about spending $17 at a fast food spot, but if I can make $17 last for 3 meals for 3 people (9 portions), then what is really going on here? Some things are an investment, but when you have it, boy are you glad.
Having said all that, I think that shows the biggest problem with clean eating – asking people to “invest” in items they don’t always know how to use. What’s the point of telling you to buy a butternut squash, if you don’t really know what it’s good for, why you should eat it, how to use it, and how to preserve it? What’s the point of telling you to buy chipotle powder, oregano, and cumin if I’m not going to show you how to use it in a way other than chili?
In short… this year’s Clean Eating Boot Camp is going to be fun. Yay. Get your kitchen ready.