How to Eat Ethically When You’re Recovering from an Eating Disorder

Photo by N I F T Y A R T ✍🏻 on Unsplash

My mother put me on my first diet when I was twelve.

I still remember the way she traced a circle in the palm of her hand to show our babysitter how big three ounces of meat was, to monitor our serving sizes. I also remember choking down raw broccoli and bell peppers — two foods I cannot eat raw without feeling ill, twenty years later. 

I became a vegetarian in 2002 when I was in eighth grade, for the animals. Around age 17, I became vegan entirely, but added eggs and dairy back into my diet quickly because it was nearly impossible to stay vegan in an omnivorous home. I remained steadfastly vegetarian through college.

Since then, I’ve been on-again-off-again with animal products, but I chose more ethical products from local farms and sustainable sources. 

I was always struggling to find a diet that felt okay ethically, while also balancing the desire to lose weight. Was it meat? Was it veganism? Was it raw veggies? Was it paleo? Was it keto? Was it intermittent fasting?

I aspired to be vegan because it felt like the most ethical, cleanest way to eat. But even a plant-based diet isn’t without cruelty and harm. 

When Your Quest for the Perfect Diet is Killing You 

After realizing in huge, blaring, neon letters in my mind last February that I had a full blown eating disorder, I stopped dieting altogether. I stopped counting calories, started eating tortillas at Chipotle again, and even ate refined sugar without hating myself.

I let all the rules about food fall away, leaving only the need to eat when I was hungry and trusting myself to do so. 

In this period of recovery, I had to let my aspirational veganism go. First, because eating eggs was a way I could actually eat something consistently without needing to fight with my mental health. Second, because a plant-based diet was something I was doing to change my body, rather than fuel it, and I needed a break from a weight loss mentality while recovering. And lastly, because literally nothing is perfect or without harm – not even a vegan diet.

The truth is, I needed to take care of myself. The weight of researching everything, measuring the validity of a food choice against its impact on animal welfare, human labor, carbon emissions, and everything else that goes into making a choice, was too heavy. My mental health suffered as I agonized over the morality of everything I ate. 

We Aren’t Winning Points 

Have you seen The Good Place? Spoilers ahead!

In The Good Place, when people on Earth die, they get sent to The Good Place or The Bad Place based on point totals of their actions during their lives. But as society developed, it became impossible to get into The Good Place even if you lived a perfect life, because every single action is more complex than it appears. 

Each tomato at the grocery store carries an invisible price tag of ethical costs. The pesticides degraded biodiversity in local insect life, the crops were harvested with prison labor or other exploitative practices, the seeds were patented and those patents were used to sue small local farmers when the wind deposited an errant seed on their land. 

Or, to quote Chidi Anagonye four times:

  • “Oh no! I used almond milk in my coffee, even though I knew about the negative environmental impact.” 
  • “I read an article saying that growing almonds was bad for the environment, and yet I continued to use almond milk in my coffee.” 
  • “Well, if it is Hell, I know why I’m here. Almond milk. I drank so much of it despite the negative environmental impacts.”
  • “So, we’re in the Bad Place, and I know why. Almond milk. I knew it was bad for the environment, but I loved the way it coated my tongue in a weird film.”

We cannot eat perfectly ethically in a society that prioritizes profit over people, over animal welfare, and over environmental sustainability. Corporate responsibility is so much bigger than individual action can hope to overcome. 

What does this have to do with my eating disorder? I was focused so much on eating only clean, healthy, safe foods that I would starve myself rather than eat something that wasn’t organic, wasn’t gluten-free, wasn’t sugar-free, etc. If it didn’t satisfy the rules of the clean eating deities of the day, it wasn’t okay to eat. 

Hungry after 8pm? Go to bed hungry, the rules say you can’t eat. Refined grains only once a day. Eat fruit on an empty stomach. Make everything out of cauliflower. 

I also continued my trauma around being forced to eat “healthy snacks” (usually raw vegetables I did not enjoy) as a child. I would pack carrots in my lunch and tell myself all day, “If you’re not hungry enough to eat the carrots, you’re not hungry.” I hate raw carrots. I starved myself thinking it was good for me. 

I could only eat perfect, healthy food. Learning something new about each food became dangerous. And so my list of foods it wasn’t okay to eat grew and grew, leaving me with precious little I could eat to sustain myself. 

Only sprouted grain bread. Only organic potatoes. Only grass-fed beef. Only half an apple. Only what fits in these containers. 

But we don’t have running point totals guiding the morality of our choices — dietary or otherwise. We can only do the best we can with the resources, information, and ability available to us. 

I still care about the ethics of my food choices. But I have to eat. I have to nourish myself. I have to let some of the rules relax. 

Rather than only eating certain things, what if our only job was to do our best and listen to what our bodies need? 

Being Okay with Imperfection

I eat cage-free eggs, and I eat fish. I am otherwise plant-based in my diet. I limit consumption of foods with a high human cost, such as quinoa (once an affordable staple in South America, now exorbitantly expensive and used as an export for our White American Vegan needs). I buy fair-trade coffee and chocolate. I should get back into the habit of buying the Dirty Dozen organic, but I don’t always. I try to buy whole, fresh foods without packaging, but I have fibromyalgia and sometimes my ability and energy level means I need to buy a bag of pre-chopped fresh or frozen veggies. 

And the imperfection is okay.

I cannot be perfect. But I can feed myself.

How to Eat Ethically When You’re Recovering from an Eating Disorder

Your first priority in eating while recovering from an eating disorder is to feed yourself and work on the mental health aspects of your recovery. But as you get further into recovery you may want to start investigating more sustainable and ethical food choices. However, if you find yourself feeling triggered or backsliding into disordered eating, please take a break and focus again on just feeding yourself and taking care of you. 

If it is not triggering to place limits on food in your recovery, you can start to do research into the sustainability and ethics of your food. 

Certifications and labels can help you check at a glance if a product meets certain standards. But sometimes labels can say things that sound nice but don’t actually have any standards attached. This can be hard to navigate as you start exploring more ethical food, so this list should break down what to look for as a next step on more ethical eating. 

Though certifications and labels may not be perfect, they do help us to vote with our dollars and show brands that people are willing to purchase products that prioritize more ethical and sustainable methods. The more people can purchase with ethics in mind, the more the market will shift to provide more options that meet those demands. 

  • Certified Organic: USDA Organic certification means that produce was grown without synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, sewage sludge, and irradiation. Organic also clarifies that the product contains no Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Organic animal products come from animals that meet welfare standards including outdoor access, no antibiotics or growth hormone treatments, and were fed an organic diet. Packaged organic products are made with at least 95% certified organic source ingredients. Note: Organic crops are still treated with pesticides, but they must be approved for organic use — always wash those fruits and veggies. Learn more about the USDA Organic label at the USDA website. You don’t have to buy everything organic — check out the EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list to learn which fruits and veggies are best purchased organic due to high pesticide levels. 
  • Rainforest Alliance Certified: Rainforest Alliance certifies farms that meet certain criteria, including environmental sustainability standards (climate-smart agriculture, deforestation, conserving biodiversity), working conditions standards (human rights, shared responsibility, living wage, gender equality), and more. You can check out all their standards at the Rainforest Alliance website
  • Fair Trade: A fair trade certification can be found on food, clothing, and other items that tend to have exploitative labor practices in their conventional production. A fair trade label protects against child labor, slavery, discrimination, union-busting, and environmental pollution – among so many other standards. This is a great label to start with if you want to move toward more ethical consumption. Coffee and chocolate are two major crops that benefit from a shift toward fair trade purchases. (Aldi is a great low-cost option for both of these!) Learn more from Fair Trade Certified and Fairtrade International, two organizations working toward more sustainable agriculture that prioritizes human rights. 
  • Certified Humane: Certified Humane is a nonprofit seeking to improve the lives of animals used in agriculture, and the organization is endorsed by 70 humane associations including the ASPCA. Like all things, they’re not perfect, but they make an effort. You can look up their standards for all animals on their website and decide for yourself if they meet the standards you have for your animal products. 
  • Cage Free: There are actually a lot of “cage free” standards depending on the certifying organization, and they are also (unsurprisingly) not perfect. But they do require chickens to be kept in better conditions than overcrowded factory farms. Check out this article from the Humane Society of the US on different cage free, free range, and other labels you might see. 

You can also shop more locally from farmer’s markets, local farms, and people who keep backyard hens for eggs — this way you can directly ask the source of your food what sort of practices they put into their produce and animal products. 

Access to Food is a Privilege

It is crucial to acknowledge the privilege in access to higher quality, organic, and local foods. Many people across the globe, including those of us in the United States, simply don’t have access to affordable food that meets every checkbox. 

It may be nutritionally ideal to eat fresh, organic, local produce that’s in season — but not everyone can. Whether due to budget, access to the stores and markets that provide these foods, the time it takes to shop and prepare meals while balancing work, life, and family responsibilities, etc. 

No diet is perfect or without consequence, from environmental effects to animal welfare to human exploitation. So please, do the best you can, and know that it is good enough. 

And for those people who would judge others for the food they can access and the time and energy they can put into researching foods (and I have been that judgmental person)… know that everyone is doing their best, and spend your energy donating to causes that help address food insecurity and advocating for better animal welfare and human rights in our agricultural systems. 

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I write about wellness, trauma, eating disorder recovery, and more! If you want to support my writing, please buy my book and subscribe to my writing on Medium, where I can make a few cents each time you read my posts.

What You Need to Know About Weight Gain During Social Distancing

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Photo by sheri silver on Unsplash

Now is not the time to freak out about your diet. 

Honestly, NO time is the time to freak out about your diet, for most people. 

You might gain weight during social isolation because we’re all stressed out and impulse buying cherries and pie crust (just me? I stress bake). Gaining weight is fine. You will fluctuate to your normal set point after the stressful period. 

Gaining weight is okay.

Stress or comfort eating is okay.

Snacking “mindlessly” is okay.

It’s all okay — this is an unprecedented time, and sometimes the convenience of a frozen dinner you can throw in the oven on Friday after a timey-wimey work from home week is worth the sanity.

We have to take more time between grocery trips, and we can’t go out mid-week to top up on fresh produce. So that means canned food, frozen food, shelf-stable food.

We have to stay fed, but we don’t have to stay low-carb, counting macros, and sticking to a diet when the global stress level is off the charts.

Yes, do what you can to eat a balanced diet and include fruits and vegetables along with whole grains, and the whole healthy eating nine yards. But you have permission to not be on a diet right now (and forever after this is over).

Exercise During Social Distancing

Can’t get to the gym? You’re also not obligated to keep up a strict exercise regimen right now, especially if you’ve been ill or might become ill. The best thing you can do right now is be as healthy – and rested – as possible. 

Take this time to rest your body.

Embrace joyful movement. Do exercise that makes sense and makes you feel good. This could include taking a walk around the block or a short bike ride if you can go outside. You can do some gentle stretches or yoga. Lift weights or do home calisthenics if these are part of your regular routine and you want to continue them. 

But it’s okay if you just rest and recover right now without an exercise regimen. 

Diet Culture Resources

I highly recommend these amazing books to help you break the diet cycle so you don’t hate yourself for quarantine snacks — they might change your life for long after this social distancing period is over! 

The Fuck It Diet by Caroline Dooner

Health At Every Size by Lindo Bacon 

PS. I overcame my eating disorder with the help of the books above, and now I help others overcome boundaries and traumatic triggers in a six week class that reframes the usual negative spiral in your head. Email me to get on the roster for 50% off!

8 Ways Cooking is a Form of Self Care

Cooking can be both meditative and calming for the mind. Creating a meal gives you something to contemplate and focus on, and preparing food can be meditative. Plus, when making a meal, you’re creating nourishment and fuel for your body to move through the day. Everything from an increased sense of calm, developed focus, to heightened senses during the cooking process helps to put our busy minds at ease. For a deeper look at how cooking can benefit your self-care regimen, Kitchen Cabinet Kings compiled 8 reasons cooking is like therapy.

cooking infographic

About the Author

As a senior content marketing specialist, Megan Darmody is most passionate about creating and promoting unique content that drives client growth. Outside of the office, you can find her seeking out the next camping spot or consuming way too much coffee.

Shopping Consciously as a Minimalist

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Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

While minimalism is already widely accepted as an eco-friendly way of living, there are still ways you can continue to do your part if you’ve adopted a “less is more” lifestyle. Shopping consciously is one of the easiest and most effective ways to embrace minimalism, while also putting our planet first. As you embrace the minimalist way of life, here are just a few ways you can shop more consciously along the way.

Take Inventory

Before you set out on any sort of shopping excursion, it’s always important to create a home inventory. By definition, minimalists seek to live with the items they need, as opposed to what they might want. This means you should strive to not have a significant amount of duplicate items in your household. While stocking up on canned goods or owning several sets of sneakers might not feel like a big deal in the beginning, buying excess quantities of items you already own can create more waste in the long run due to forgetting what you already have, food expiring before you can eat it, etc. Taking the time to write down a clear and concise inventory of the things you already have is a sure fire way to keep you from buying items you don’t need. 

It’s important to note, though, that not everyone can afford to replace things if they don’t have duplicates. Don’t feel pressured to pare down to the barest of minimums, and it’s ok to keep a backup of something stored in case of emergencies. Instead of focusing on a numerical limit, consider your space the limit. Only keep as many of something you can reasonably fit on the shelf, in the bin, or in your dresser.

Practice Mindful Grocery Shopping

A great way to keep yourself conscious as you shop is by being as mindful as possible as you purchase your groceries. Whether you like to buy your ingredients on a weekly or biweekly basis, be sure to have a plan of action when you enter the store. Having a list helps keep you on track and inspires less shopping spontaneity. Don’t shop on an empty stomach as this can cause you to purchase more than you need.

Consider changing up your diet slightly by adapting to a more environmentally friendly way of eating. Try your hand at practicing recipes that incorporate little to no meat, as the meat market’s carbon footprint is a steadily growing problem. Planning out your meals well in advance will keep you from making unnecessary purchases and it will keep your pantry more organized over time. 

Shopping at local farmers’ markets can also help reduce the carbon footprint of importing food from far away and helps boost the local economy and support small business.

Donate As Much As You Buy

This is essentially the “one in, one out” rule.

Try to make a mental note to donate items from your home just as often as you add new items. If you’re debating buying a new chair or sofa for your living room, first assess which current piece of furniture you know you could do without, unless you are shopping for a space that needs a change in functionality to seat more people or add a guest bed, etc. 

This goes for your clothing as well. For each new item you add to your wardrobe, choose one to get rid of, if your closet is already at capacity. Smaller possessions such as clothes are easy to accidentally stock up on if you aren’t careful to clean out their hiding places regularly. The next time you feel yourself in need of some wardrobe retail therapy, look online for a closet clean out option to help you keep your closet from becoming overwhelming. Donating will help ensure that all of your shopping is a circular process, helping you maintain a minimal life the eco-friendly way. 

Invest in Reusable Products

If you are able to invest in reusable products, it can reduce your overall home inventory as well as your waste. The best place to start when looking to buy more reusable items is with the things you find yourself using and needing most on a day to day basis. From zip lock bags to plastic water bottles, we tend to create the majority of our waste in the kitchen.

If you haven’t already, try reducing your plastic waste by buying a quality reusable water bottle to keep you hydrated throughout the day. Instead of having to continually purchase zip lock bags for your leftovers, look for alternative ways to keep them fresh, like with beeswax wrap. Take the time to consider washable, reusable alternatives the next time you’re hoping to shop more consciously. 

Checking Your Minimalist Privilege

It is extremely important to note that not everyone has the financial means or the ability to follow these recommendations. Sometimes you have to buy in bulk to save your pennies, and the one-in-one-out rule does not apply when you are starting from a point of having less than you truly need in the first place.

Minimalism is a way of life to prioritize the important things over living to excess — and that is whatever you make it.

The Vegan Whole30 – Why and How?

If you’ve been a long-time follower of the Born Again Minimalist blog you’ll know that I have been in the vegetarian end of the pool before (for a total of about a decade, on and off) and repeatedly swam back to the waters of omnivorism. Ethical omnivorism, I called it, or Humaneitarianism. I only ate meat, dairy, and eggs from ethical sources. Animals should have a healthy, happy life followed by one bad day – that was my line of thinking. After all, animal protein and fat have their place in a healthy diet.

Well, y’all, I’ve come back around and I’m feeling confident that I am now well equipped with enough knowledge and research to never feel deprived or lacking nutrition on a plant-based diet. I’m vegan and about 99% sure it’s here to stay. That 1% is for all the people who want to ask me if I’d kill an animal to survive on a desert island. I’ll write more about my decision to become vegan in later blogs. This one’s about the Whole30!

What is the Whole30?

Have you heard of it before? You can get the complete run-down on their website but here’s the basic premise:

Health starts with food. Everything you put in your mouth either helps or hinders your health. Many food types (such as dairy, legumes, grains, sugar, and alcohol) can cause chronic inflammation of the body. The Whole30 removes these questionable foods for a full 30 days and reintroduces them in a slow, controlled manner afterward so that you can test your observations and understand any unknown food intolerances you might have.

The Rules

  1. No sugar or sweeteners of any kind (no maple syrup, agave nectar, honey, coconut sugar, sucanat, cane juice, stevia, xylitol, etc.)
  2. No alcohol
  3. No grain (wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, quinoa, etc.) or grain derivatives (rice oil, corn oil, cornstarch, rice syrup, etc.)
  4. No legumes (beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, soy)
  5. No dairy
  6. No carrageenan, MSG, sulfites (common additives)
  7. No making “healthy” or “compliant” treats or foods made with approved ingredients

That last one confused me at first. Why can’t I make banana ice cream, dang it? But their reasoning is really good:

Continuing to eat your old, unhealthy foods made with Whole30 ingredients is totally missing the point, and will tank your results faster than you can say “Paleo Pop-Tarts.” Remember, these are the same foods that got you into health-trouble in the first place—and a pancake is still a pancake, regardless of the ingredients.  – See more at: http://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/#sthash.bF9lEqrQ.dpuf

The final rule was one of the hardest to follow: NO MEASUREMENTS OR SCALE FOR THIRTY DAYS. Yes. You can weigh yourself on Day 1 and Day 31, but no weighing in or taking measurements for the duration of the program. It’s about health, not weight loss. (On a related note, I lost over 9 lbs).

Read the full details and fine print here.

Why Vegan?

Most people on the Whole30 or a paleo diet rely  on meat. Vegans and vegetarians typically use legumes as a plant-based protein source, but I would be without those staple food items for my 30 day adventure.

Where do you get your protein?

This question is the bane of vegan/vegetarian existence. It is the most commonly asked question from meat eaters when someone mentions their plant-based diet.

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For the duration of the Whole30, I ate plenty of nuts, seeds, and seed butter for protein and fat. Also, many plants have a good amount of protein! Green veggies such as spinach and kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and asparagus have high protein content, and mushrooms are also a good source of plant-based protein. Green beans, snap peas, and snow peas are “approved” legumes on the Whole30 plan because they are in a green pod and are considered more veggie than bean.

Here is a question for you: Where did your grass-fed beef get all its muscles?

Can a vegan do a real Whole30 or is it modified?

The official recommendations of Whole30 say you can’t technically do the recommended Whole30 plan while vegan, because they recommend a moderate amount of animal protein. They include the following suggestions to doctor the Whole30 to minimally impact gut health while doing a Whole30-ish plan on a vegan diet:

If you simply choose to include off-plan dairy or plant protein in your Whole30-ish plan (this also applies to vegans, save dairy), here are our best tips:

Dairy: Prioritize pastured, organic, fermented sources like yogurt or kefir. You could also use a whey protein powder from grass-fed, organic sources, which would provide the protein you need with fewer downsides than other dairy products (including cheese). You may want to experiment with goat’s milk or sheep’s milk, if you know cow’s milk products aren’t well-tolerated.

Legumes: Your best choices are minimally processed, fermented soy products like tempeh or natto, or organic edamame (soybeans). You can also include non-fermented, organic soy (like extra-firm tofu) and various legumes in rotation. Avoid non-organic soy, processed soy products (like “burgers” and “cheese”), and peanuts.

Grains/Pseudo-Cereals: Avoid all gluten grains, including seitan (which is made from wheat gluten). Pseudo-cereals like quinoa are less likely to cause disruption to the gut or immune system than other grains.

Protein Powders: A hemp- or pea-protein powder is also an option for you, although you’d have to include quite a lot of it in your diet to get any substantial amount of protein. Read your labels carefully to make sure these protein powders include as few inflammatory ingredients as possible.

– See more at: http://whole30.com/2015/06/veg-whole30/#sthash.vOTVhyva.dpuf

But I like to go all in. I followed all Whole30 food restrictions and completed the thirty day experiment with no plant sources beyond those I already discussed. However, I did make a few adjustments to the plan due to my plant-based diet.

Snacks: The official guidelines advise you to have three meals a day and not have snacks. But let me tell you what happens when you eat only vegetables: they take up a lot of room in your stomach without a lot of calories. To get enough calories to function, I had to eat more frequently throughout the day. Check out this representation of caloric density:

Caloric-Density

Totally filling myself up with veggies or fruit would result in about 400-600 calories per meal. In order to eat 1800-2000 calories per day I needed to eat a couple snacks. My go-to snacks were trail mix (mixed raw nuts with raisins and coconut flakes) or an apple with nut or seed butter. Sometimes I would have a sweet potato or baked sweet potato fries as a snack as well, if I was feeling under-carbed.

Fruit: Official Whole30 recommendations advise limits around fruit. They’re not concerned with the sugar or calorie content, but if participants lean on fruit as a sweet treat, then they aren’t getting to the underlying habits and cravings the Whole30 can address and correct. However, following a plant-based diet means that my options for food are fruit, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. I ate a lot of fruit for breakfast every day. It gave me whole-food calories with plenty of micronutrients! Favorite breakfasts were sliced bananas with blueberries, melon chunks, pineapple chunks, or banana smoothies toward the end of the Whole30 when I desperately needed a change.

The Whole30 guidelines also recommend you eat fruit WITH your meals, not alone as a snack. My issue with this is that fruit tends to digest faster than other foods, so I typically try to eat it on an empty stomach to avoid gas and bloating from fermentation in my stomach or digestive tract as the fast-digesting fruit gets stuck behind slower-digesting vegetables and starches. No thanks! I usually eat my fruit for breakfast on an empty stomach.

My Experience and Results

My experience of the Whole30 was basically this:

  1. First week: Massive “sugar hangover,” tired, sluggish, cravings, weird dreams about bread
  2. Second week: Feeling REALLY GREAT about all food options available to me, creative meal planning and recipes
  3. Third week: Coasting. Same old-same old on foods I knew I liked and could cook easily.
  4. Fourth week: Boredom. Ready for this to be over. Not because I can’t wait to have a bean-rice-pizza binge but because this is expensive and I want to be able to eat other things
  5. Bonus: I don’t crave sugar anymore. I get plenty of natural sweetness from fruit and have no desire to run back into the sugar bowl for solace.

Grocery Costs

Yes, I spent more on food than I usually do. In a typical week I spend $50-$75 on groceries to happily feed myself and my boyfriend. On a typical Whole30 week I spent an average of $100 per week. Some of that was random one-off stuff like buying a jar of tahini to make some truly terrible squash based hummus. That is ten bucks I’m kind of mad about. But I am hoping to make actual chickpea hummus with it later so I reserve judgment. (Can you return an open jar of tahini to Whole Foods? Let me know).

Could I have done the Whole30 on a budget? Yes, I think I could. If I do it again, I will be much more careful about my meal planning and grocery budgeting and try to do it on about $50-$80 per week instead of $100+.

I did my grocery shopping at the following places:

  • West Side Market: LIFESAVER. Were it not for the market I could have easily spent twice as much money on produce.
  • Aldi
  • Earth Fare
  • Whole Foods

Exercise and Sleep

I didn’t stick to a workout regime on the Whole30. When I start juggling lots of balls at once, I have a tendency to stress myself out, over-fixate on perfection, and go down the path of disordered eating or thinking. I worked out if I felt like working out, and I slept in when I felt like sleeping in. My main focus of the Whole30 process was to (1) get control of my food habits, and (2) integrate healthy sleep habits into my routine.

 Mood

I feel pretty great! I had highs and lows in my mood as anyone would throughout a month. I was a little irritable in week 1, but not the evil scary monster I expected myself to be. I felt well rested and energetic most days. I feel “lighter” in spirit and body.

Physical Changes

I noticed in the mirror that my belly bulge was going away. Starting the Whole30 at 213.8 pounds, I expected a few pounds of fat loss but wasn’t holding my breath for a big change. Color me surprised when I weighed in on Day 31 to see the number 204.2 staring back at me! That’s a 9.6 pound loss in 30 days with minimal exercise, just focusing on healthy food and sleep.

What’s Next?

The reintroduction phase of Whole30 allows you to slowly reintroduce potential problem foods one at a time and notice any changes or symptoms. Here’s the sample 10-day reintroduction schedule from Whole30:

  • Day 1: Evaluate legumes
  • Day 4: Evaluate non-gluten grains
  • Day 7: Evaluate dairy
  • Day 10: Evaluate gluten

After each day, go back to Whole30 eating for two days while noticing any symptoms or effects from the food. Decide how, how often, and how much to incorporate these foods back into your diet, if you choose to continue eating them at all.

Since I don’t eat dairy as a vegan, I get to evaluate my foods in the reintroduction period over a seven day period. Here’s my plan:

  • Day 1: Evaluate legumes (peanut butter with breakfast, chickpea falafel with lunch, black beans with dinner)
  • Day 4: Evaluate non-gluten grains (oatmeal with breakfast, corn with lunch, rice with dinner)
  • Day 7: Evaluate gluten (sourdough bread with breakfast, Field Roast meat substitute for lunch, non-dairy pizza for dinner)

About Gluten

For a couple of years now, I’ve been largely gluten free. However, I do occasionally have some sourdough bread (the fermentation of the starter helps to break down the gluten to make it easier to digest) or sprouted grain bread (same deal, easier to digest). These foods don’t typically cause me any symptoms that I have noticed. I have had accidental gluten to varying effects, sometimes experiencing bloating and gas afterward and sometimes not. So I know something is going on with gluten and me. In the spirit of trying things, I’m going to reintroduce it to note its effects once and for all.

The Sugar Dragon

My primary goal for this Whole30 process was to eliminate sugar from my diet and destroy my sugar cravings. Before the Whole30, I was eating oatmeal with brown sugar and maple syrup once or twice a day, having dark chocolate several times per week, and enjoying other sugary snacks. For me, sugar is a really tricky food item. It’s 8 times as addictive as cocaine and I have a hard time keeping it in “moderation.” I can quickly become obsessed. For me, sugar is not a healthy food. I don’t plan on reintroducing sugar to my diet anytime soon. If I figure out a safe moderation steam-release on my sugar dragon, I will report back. For me, I think I will stick with fruit.

Soy: Friend or Foe?

There is a lot of research out there on soy. Some sources sing its praises as a heart-healthy, protein-rich superfood. Other sources say it is full of phytoestrogen and gives you man boobs. Since there is so much soy controversy, I plan on keeping my intake limited and not relying on it as a staple food item.

Chipotle

Can’t stop, won’t stop.

Exercise

Since I can only focus on one giant project at a time without treading the edge of mental dysfunction, I didn’t spend a lot of time focusing on exercise during the Whole30. Afterward, though, I am planning a new fitness regimen that I am very excited about! I’ll be training for a 5K using the Couch to 5K program as well as doing strength training three times a week. The combination of long cardio and strength should help to bust me out of the plateau that the Whole30 helped me break!

Onward and Upward!

Is a vegan Whole30 possible? Yes.

How does it make you feel? Like an unstoppable plant-powered badass.

Would you do it again? I am really not sure. I think I might do a Whole21 or a 30 day sugar detox instead of a complete Whole30.

 

3 Ways meal planning improves your life

Scenario 1: You get home from work and look around in the pantry and fridge to decide on dinner. You find a box of pasta and a jar of sauce. There’s even some spinach in the fridge you decide to add to your sauce. And you know you have italian sausages in the fridge from the last time you went to the store. You also plan to make a salad.

While you’re boiling the pasta, you dig out the sausages only to find that they have gone off and smell terrible. Oh no!

Scenario 2: You get home from work and look around in the pantry and fridge to decide on dinner. You see plenty of food but nothing looks like it goes together and you’re too tired to think about it. You throw your hands up in the air and order takeout.

After three days of this, you realize all your fresh produce has started to turn bad in the fridge and is no longer usable. Oh no!

Solution: Meal planning can help you prevent these and other kitchen problems.

I started meal planning in the past few months, and it has really helped me in 3 main areas:

  1. Budget
  2. Health
  3. Sanity

Meal planning for your budget

If you plan out meals and snacks for the week, you have a different frame of mind when you approach your food. You know that there is a plan, so you don’t just mindlessly snack and haphazardly throw a meal together. The plan helps you budget for your groceries and stick to the budget. It is so easy to wander aimlessly through the store and buy whatever looks good at that moment. But that method of shopping is not conducive to a strict budget or to balanced meals throughout the week.

I am a strong believer in the cash envelope method of budgeting, so all of our family’s grocery money goes into an envelope. When I am done spending, I’m done buying groceries for the month, so I really need to make it last. A detailed plan allows me to spend our grocery money in the best and wisest way.

When you plan your meals to help your budget:

  • Review your grocery store’s sales – plan meals involving foods you can get at a bargain
  • Comparison shop – this takes a little more time, but comparison shopping between a few stores can cut down on spending (especially if different stores have different items on sale)
  • Buy in bulk – shopping trips with multiple “staple” items may seem more expensive, but if you stock up on things in one trip you should just have to do a lower-cost maintenance trip the next week. These could be items like oats, rice, beans, nuts and seeds, coconut oil, potatoes, ketchup (yes, in my house ketchup is a staple food and I have made a vow to always have a supply in the house), or even freezable items like meat and cheese if they are on sale. Buying in bulk saves money in the long run and allows you more freedom with your week-to-week ingredients budget.
  • Do the math – Take your phone or a calculator with you and be a grocery nerd. Calculate out the cost per pound of pre-packaged items vs. buying from the deli or meat case. Compare sale prices to bulk prices. I recently opted to buy chicken breasts and legs separately instead of a whole chicken because the sale prices came out cheaper to buy them already butchered – and the whole chicken is usually the most frugal option! It always saves money to cost compare.

I also strategize and review my grocery budget before I even leave the house. Step #1: Meal plan. Step #2: Groceries we need to make the meal plan happen.

I break my grocery list into the following categories:

  • Produce (fruits and veggies)
  • Bulk (rice, beans, seeds, nuts, flour, sugar, refills of water)
  • Dairy (milk, yogurt, eggs, cheese)
  • Meat (Beef, pork, bacon, sausages, chicken, lunch meat)
  • Frozen (waffles, veggies, occasional ice cream)
  • Grocery (crackers, bread, tortillas, condiments, baking stuff)

Then I estimate the cost of each item, add up the total budget, and adjust as needed, removing items if necessary to get to my target budget range.

I know, personally, that if I just go to the store and throw things in the cart willy nilly, I will over-spend and probably bring home random items that don’t make sense to the plan. The plan will save the budget.

Meal planning for your health

When you plan out your meals, you can ensure a healthy balance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat). I am a person that doesn’t enjoy many vegetables so I have to actively and purposely PLAN for my vegetables. I make it a goal to eat 3 servings of vegetables per day, on top of my morning shake that’s already full of vegetables. Meal planning also ensures that you are set up to create nutritious and healthy meals instead of just grabbing something weird from the back of your freezer that expired in 2007 and throwing it in the oven. Don’t eat mystery meals – planning allows you to cook healthy meals with less hassle.

When planning your meals, consider:

  • Vegetable servings: Try to get a couple different vegetables in with dinner. Bonus points for different colors! Corn doesn’t count, it’s a grain. Don’t just rely on potatoes all the time. Think about broccoli, carrots, greens, mushrooms, onions, peppers, squash, and more. Search for new recipes. Sign up for a CSA to get a share of fresh vegetables in the summer and fall, then plan your meals around them!
  • Protein sources: Be creative and resourceful with cuts of meat that can be re-used for other meals later. Recently, we purchased a pork shoulder roast. We made roast pork with roasted vegetables one night and pork carnitas with the leftovers. You can do the same with chicken – make baked chicken and use the leftovers for chicken salad, quesadillas, or soup. The possibilities are endless. You can also have an omelet bar for dinner one night and allow family members to pick their toppings like mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese, crumbled bacon, and more. For a meat-free option, check out recipes for tofu, tempeh, beans, or protein-rich vegetables that can be the focus of the meal.
  • Healthy fat: Cooking with coconut oil is much healthier than refined oils such as soybean or canola. “Vegetable oil” is inflammatory and can do considerable harm to your body over time. Avoid hydrogenated and trans fats as well. To be honest, I cook most of my food items in bacon grease or butter. I also use coconut oil, and we use olive oil for salad dressings or low temperature cooking. Olive shouldn’t be used in high temperatures. I also strongly encourage the consumption of avocado and full-fat dairy if you eat dairy. Just remember: When you see the words “Low cal” or “Low fat” as marketing terms, replace them in your head with “Chemical shitstorm.”
  • Carbohydrates: I generally limit myself to about four servings of carbohydrates per day, things like rice, waffles, tortillas, corn, etc. These are simpler foods that break down into sugars in the body. Too much sugar is a bad plan for your health – it is the number one culprit for weight gain and inability to lose weight. I limit my sugar intake as well (including fruit) because sugar is a dangerous food for me. It can spark cycles of cravings for carbohydrates that are contrary to my goals. Carbs give us quick energy but meal planning helps you to plan out better quality meals so you don’t need a quick fix.

Meal planning also means packing your lunch, which will save you from take-out at your desk during the week. Fast food and restaurant portions are not doing you any favors. Pack your lunch for your health and your budget.

Meal planning for sanity

Before meal planning, we often opted for takeout simply because I was too exhausted to care about cooking. Having a plan is instrumental in reducing the stress of preparing a meal for the day (or the next day’s lunch). Now, when I get home from work, I wash my lunch containers and re-pack my lunch for the next day. I eat the same thing. Every day. Boring? Not really. Predictable, but it’s all food I enjoy so I don’t yet feel the need to change it. I plan out the food that will go in my lunch each day and buy it at the beginning of the week. I could go so far as to pre-pack five lunches on Sunday but I haven’t gone that far yet. Plus I don’t want to buy that many food containers to pack.

Meal planning for dinner allows for prep work to be done ahead of time. Say you’re going to make tacos on Monday and spaghetti on Tuesday. Maybe hamburgers are Thursday. You buy two pounds of ground beef at the store on Sunday, form half of it into patties, and freeze them. Brown the rest in a pan. You now have taco meat for Monday and sauce meat for Tuesday, and you won’t have to cook that hamburger during the week.

Foods you can prep in advance:

  • Wash, peel, and chop or shred vegetables for meals
  • Wash and portion snack items like celery, cucumber slices, grapes, berries, etc.
  • Cook meat for the week at one time and freeze or portion for later meals
  • Create crockpot meals, freeze in freezer bags for easy thawing and pouring into a crockpot (talk about sanity saving, this one cooks while you’re at work)
  • Soak and cook bulk rice and beans for the week
  • Shred or slice block cheese for sandwiches, quesadillas, omelets, etc.
  • Make fridge oats by mixing oatmeal, yogurt, milk, and fruit in a jar, placing in the fridge overnight, and having as a cold porridge (these keep in the fridge for a few days, or you can make a bunch and freeze, then thaw overnight)

An additional sanity saver when it comes to prepping meals? Move your sister into your home and let her mad kitchen skills create culinary wonderment for you to enjoy. Seriously, my sister moved in, and it’s awesome. She has improved my diet so much in just a few weeks of living with us – so many wonderful vegetables and tasty Nicaraguan recipes.

Tell me all about your meal planning adventures – do you meal plan? Would you like to?

How I cut my family’s grocery budget nearly in half

When I started the “Dave Ramsey thing” and created my first monthly budget, I settled on $300 a month for groceries, including cat food and household stuff like dish soap and toilet paper.

So, when I moved in with my co-human, I just doubled it to a budgeted $600. If $300 worked for one person, $600 would be logical for two. We wound up spending upwards of $700 per month on groceries. Yikes. To top that off, comment threads from favorite Facebook pages asking about budgets were showing me that many people were doing a whole foods budget for more people with less money than we were spending. Obviously something was amiss. I discussed this a bit in an earlier post in March.

What was jacking up the cost?

  • Lack of planning – buying haphazardly without a plan led to a lot of impulse purchases and even some food waste.
  • High standards – I buy only humane animal products and prefer organic foods.
  • Luxury purchases – Co-human was really digging some expensive cheese there for several months. Not saying that was the only thing going on (I was also addicted to almond meal cookies) but we were spending a lot of frivolous luxury dollars at the grocery store.
  • I was being snooty – I didn’t even LOOK at other grocery stores other than Earth Fare. I admit this was a personal flaw.

Bringing the cost down

Not only did I reduce our budget to below $600, I have even gotten it to a solid $400-$450 depending on the month. I think I can even get it down to $350 if I really put my mind to it. Feeding a whole extra person on only $50 more than I used to budget to feed myself… I shudder to think of what I could have been saving when I lived on my own!

I still shop mainly at higher-end grocery stores like Earth Fare and Heinen’s. I strategize my shopping trips so I only need to go once a week to either of those stores and can supplement if needed at Giant Eagle, which is a mile away and way more convenient. Marc’s has surprisingly come up as another low-budget source – organic sweet potatoes are a downright STEAL at the local Marc’s store.

I still buy whole food ingredients, fresh produce, fresh humane meat, and humane/organic dairy and eggs.

How the heck are you feeding two people your snooty food on only $400?

  • Buy in bulk when possible – Rice, beans, oatmeal, flour, nuts, etc. are almost always cheaper when you buy bulk. Bulk also helps you save on meat! This spring, my dad purchased a portion of a local steer and split it with me. I spent $80 on 30-40ish pounds of beef, some of which is still in the freezer. If you’ve got the freezer space and the up-front cash, this is a way to save some SERIOUS dough. I also buy chickens whole and cook them in the crockpot, which is cheaper than buying just breasts. I buy 2lb rolls of butter, divvy it up into mason jars for storage, and save lots of money over buying it in sticks ($8.99 for a 2 lb roll vs. 5.99+ each for a 1 lb box of comparable butter).
  • Buy on sale and know your price points – Earth Fare is pretty much the only store I trust for meat, because of their humane treatment policy. But I buy on sale. Grass fed beef is usually $8/lb – I stock up when it’s on sale for $4/lb with a coupon. Ground pork is usually $5/lb, so when it’s on sale for $3 or $4/lb, I stock up on that too. I buy chicken breasts or thighs when they are sale priced around the same cost as buying the whole chicken. Other items can be found strategically on sale too, whether you shop specialty stores or your average neighborhood grocery.
  • Compare stores – This requires some preparation and initial time investment. Make a list of EVERYTHING you commonly buy. Then go to several stores and compare the costs. Check online too – sites like Amazon and Vitacost can save you some money on grocery items. I am working on a pretty hefty spreadsheet comparing costs. When you find out which stores have consistently better deals or prices on certain items, strategize your shopping trips to make the most of your dollars.
  • Compare products – You need to be sure you are comparing apples to apples when you compare products in the store. You might opt for a bag of frozen organic berries because it’s only $3.29, but it’s eight ounces. That’s $0.41 per ounce. A pound of fresh organic strawberries at $4.99 is $0.31 per ounce. Ten cents an ounce is a lot of savings to buy fresh! Yes, there’s a little more work involved (you must wash and dry, then eat before they go bad or freeze them yourself) but if you have the five minutes to do the work yourself, you can save a bit of money. Same for lunchmeat – a packet of Applegate turkey is more expensive per ounce than getting it by the pound at the deli counter. It pays to do the math.
  • Dirty Dozen/Clean 15 – Some items are very important to buy organic. These fruits and vegetables have the highest concentration of pesticides on conventional produce. I always make sure to buy root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.), berries, grapes, apples, and greens organic. I buy conventional melons, citrus, onions, mushrooms, bananas, pineapples, avocados, and frozen peas. Here’s a list of 48 fruits and veggies listed from “most pesticides” to “least pesticides.” I also purchase summer squash, zucchini, and corn organic or at least non-GMO, as these are common GMO foods.
  • Keep inventory – Knowing what you have on hand in your kitchen will allow you to plan better. If you have a bunch of broth, make soup. Beans and tomato sauce? Plan for chili. Don’t just keep buying things because you know you might cook with them someday. It can be very beneficial to have a no-spend week or month in which you use up the food in your pantry and freezer instead of buying additional groceries. There’s been a box of veggie burgers in my freezer for over six months… Oops.
  • Meal plan – Plan what you will cook for the week before you do your shopping trip. You can plan for leftovers or low-maintenance nights where you just make a sandwich or soup from a can. I won’t judge you, I do it too. There are “toast for dinner” nights in this house. There are also “cook three things to prep for the rest of the week” nights. Which brings me to my next point…
  • Cook smart – If you are cooking ground beef for spaghetti sauce on Monday night, and you’re having tacos on Wednesday, cook all the ground beef at the same time and set aside the stuff for Wednesday. Ta-da, taco meat is pre-prepped, you just have to heat it back up and add spices. Tonight, I made french toast and bacon for dinner. But I also cooked pasta with Italian sausage for tomorrow night. Or maybe the night after. Because…
  • Be flexible – If you go off the meal plan, it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes the weather affects my cooking plans (making the meal that requires an oven on a cooler day, for instance – I hate heating up the house in summer, ugh!), sometimes I just don’t feel like cooking, and sometimes I have a lot of leftovers we need to eat up before I cook something new (I hate wasting). It’s all good. Don’t totally abandon it, but be okay with moving some meals around and re-arranging your plans.
  • Budget – This is the most important thing. To save money on groceries, you have to plan out the money you will spend on groceries. If it helps you to separate meat, dairy, produce, etc. in your budget, do that to keep yourself on task. Otherwise just plan your trip and budget what you will spend for the month total and for each shopping trip. Use CASH instead of a card to keep yourself accountable – when the cash is gone, no more groceries. Spend wisely.

Sample meal plan and shopping list

Here’s my meal plan and shopping list for the week of 6/1/14:

  • Sunday: Italian sausage with pasta
  • Monday: Chicken breast, peas and carrots
  • Tuesday: Burgers and beans
  • Wednesday: Brinner
  • Thursday: Chicken nuggets, tater tots, beans
  • Friday: Chinese?
  • Saturday: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes

Shopping list:

  • Produce: Apples (3 lb bag), strawberries (1 lb box)
  • Water gallon refills
  • Dairy: Eggs (3 dozen), milk (1/2 gallon), yogurt (large container), cheese (1 pack)
  • Meat: Bacon (1 lb), chicken breasts (coupon for $2.99/lb)
  • Grocery: Pasta
  • Bakery: Sourdough bread (2 loaves)
  • Giant Eagle: Mushrooms, watermelon

That was my whole plan to cook for the week. We already had ground beef, italian sausage, pasta sauce, and chicken nuggets in the house. But… the chicken breasts were sold out and co-human wanted to try a new brand of cheese slices. We opted for bratwurst instead of chicken, and we got two packs of cheese instead of one. I still came in under-budget for the shopping trip.

What I have actually cooked this week:

  • Sunday: Bratwurst and bean casserole. My onion in the pantry had gone bad (note: Buy onion on Monday).
  • Monday: Bratwurst and bean casserole. Yes, I made it again. It was delicious.
  • Tuesday: Cooked myself french toast and bacon, made the man a sandwich. Cooked pasta and italian sausage for Wednesday.

What I expect to cook later this week:

  • Wednesday: Italian sausage and pasta (already made, just heat!)
  • Thursday: Chicken nuggets, tater tots, beans (weather says a high of 66, so I don’t mind turning on the oven)
  • Friday: Burgers and beans (it’s thawing in the fridge. I am cooking it).
  • Saturday: Brinner

For breakfast, we usually have eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee. I like orange juice too, but I make half a gallon last two weeks because I buy expensive juice – organic, fresh pressed, no flavor packets, all that jazz. I have switched to Uncle Matt’s organic brand because it’s a few bucks cheaper than my usual brand and has no flavor packets.

For lunches, I pack my partner a sandwich, fruit (bananas, strawberries, and pineapple are favorites right now, but he also enjoys apples), usually a small square of dark chocolate, and sometimes a bag of chips. He works close to home so sometimes he comes home for lunch and has leftovers. I usually have fruit and yogurt, fridge oats, or leftovers for my lunches. I sometimes get takeout on Fridays with other ladies in the office.

Things that are life-changing and wonderful blessings to meal planning:

  • An eating partner who doesn’t mind eating the same thing multiple times in a week
  • An eating partner who is more thrilled about eggs and bacon for dinner than a complicated recipe that costs $50 to make

Things that I imagine are meal planning wild-cards:

  • Children – their picky days, fussiness, specific cravings, hunger strikes, and endless desire to turn meals into arts and crafts. I imagine that would be stressful.

 

 

Cut back on waste by using the whole buffalo

Yesterday was Earth Day. I missed getting this post done in time for it but it’s a great Earth Day concept I share with you today – the concept of reducing waste. I firmly approve of the notion that the native American Indians “used the whole buffalo” when they hunted. A buffalo provided many useful things, including:

  • Meat: for food
  • Bones: for ceremonial uses, weapons, tools
  • Hooves: for glue, rattles
  • Hair: for ornamental use, ropes
  • Hide: for clothing, shelter, blankets, bags (could be tanned into tough leather or left soft)
  • Organs: for food, brain used for tanning leather
  • Sinew: for thread
  • Tail: for whips, ceremonial uses
  • Poop: for fueling fires

While I am not hunting buffalo, I do try to use a similar mentality in my life as a minimalist to reduce my impact on the environment and to reduce the amount of things I need in my home. I hate waste. Throwing away food that has gone bad upsets me – especially if it’s meat or dairy, because those items impacted the life of another living creature. Sorry plants, I get sad when you go off too, but you can’t look at me with sad eyes. Except the potatoes. Sorry about the eyes.

Anyway. Here are some ways I reduce waste in my home:

  • Buy in re-usable containers. I buy some brands over others because they are packaged in glass wide-mouthed jars. I re-use the heck out of glass jars!
  • Avoid plastic wrap. I hate things in plastic wrap. I hate using “biodegradable plastic” produce bags, because I’m just not sure if they’re lying to me. The only thing worse than plastic wrap over a container of produce (looking at you, mushrooms) is plastic wrap over a styrofoam container of produce. Styrofoam. Humbug!
  • Re-use food items. Leftover mashed potatoes become potato pancakes. Bones from making broth are re-used two or three times. One whole chicken can make several days’ worth of meals. Food scraps are put in the compost pile.
  • Garden. Growing food in a garden means you don’t have to drive to the store to buy produce packaged in containers!

Just for fun, and because people love recipes, here’s how I “Whole Buffalo” a chicken.

“Whole Buffalo” Chicken Recipe:

  1. Obtain a whole chicken.
  2. Remove giblets.
  3. Rinse chicken.
  4. Put chicken in crockpot.
  5. Add spices – salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder, rosemary, whatever you want.
  6. Cook on low, 8 hours.

Congratulations, you now have a cooked chicken!

Make some meals with it! Like:

  • Chicken quesadillas
  • Chicken salad
  • Chicken breast with pasta or quinoa salad
  • Chicken and rice
  • Chicken soup
  • White chicken chili
  • Buffalo chicken dip (hey, THE WHOLE BUFFALO!)

BUT WAIT. Keep those bones and the broth from the crockpot. Put the bones in with the juices from cooking the chicken. Fill the crockpot up with filtered water. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar and some pink salt. You can add herbs or veggies if you like. Cook it on low for 8-48 hours, adding water as it cooks off.

This is bone broth. It’s awesome. Cook it for a shorter length of time (~8-12 hours) to achieve a gelatin-rich broth (it will look like chicken jello when it’s cooled. Don’t be grossed out. It’s magical). Cook for a longer length of time (~24-48 hours) to achieve a collagen-rich broth. You can preserve broth by canning or freezing. My goal this summer is to learn how to can and preserve.

If you cook for a shorter length of time, you can re-use the bones once or twice, they are good to use again until they crumble when you pinch them. Those are pretty tapped out. You can throw them out, OR… grind the cooked bones up into bone meal and feed them to your pets! The added calcium helps them with their teeth and bones. However, you should not feed cats any bones that have been cooked with garlic or onions, as these vegetables are toxic to cats.

And that’s how I buffalo a chicken.

What do you buffalo?

Shopping smarter: Earth Fare vs. Heinen’s

It is said that ignorance is bliss. But ignorance about food can cause major health issues. However, being informed about food means that the pool of acceptable food choices grows ever smaller. Pesticides, GMOs, artificial dyes and flavors, growth hormones, and antibiotics are all chemical concerns from food. Then you add ethical issues of animal treatment, environmental hazards, and community impact. The more you know, the harder it is to just stop on the way home and pick up something for dinner.

My co-human describes my eating and food-shopping habits as “fussy.” I suppose they are, but I think I’m fussy with good reason.

My grocery budget living alone was $300 per month. Adding another person, it has grown to a budgeted $600 per month but winds up being more than that. It’s become a grocery budget black hole. Obviously this is driving me slowly insane as money leaks out of our combined income un-budgeted.

Between February 21, 2014 and March 3, 2014, I spent over $250 on groceries and supplements. One of the northeast Ohio Earth Fare stores was having a 30% off liquidation sale and I went a little crazy. The wellness inventory was a whopping 40% off so I stocked up on supplements, castile soap, and cold remedies because co-human and I were both fighting off some respiratory bug.

Ahem. Anyway. I shopped a bit stupid instead of shopping smart, and I am now more resolved to shop smarter and spend less at the grocery store. I think it’s ridiculous to be spending $700ish per month on two people. This has to be able to be done on a better maintained budget.

My first move was to suggest a no-spend March, save for fresh food items like bread, eggs, dairy, and meat. Nothing in a packet, jar, can, box, or bag. This way, we could deplete our stores of foods in the pantry instead of just buying more shelf-stable items that would likely sit around indefinitely. (Our first attempt at this limited-spend month was about 90% successful – we still ended up buying some condiments and a box of granola).

In an effort to shop smarter and cut the grocery bill, I also took co-human’s suggestion to try a different grocery store. I primarily have been doing the shopping at Earth Fare, a chain store based out of North Carolina with a food philosophy I feel comfortable with. At Earth Fare, there is no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial fats or trans fats, no artificial colors, no artificial flavors, no artificial preservatives, no artificial sweeteners, no antibiotics or synthetic hormones in meat or dairy, and no bleached or bromated flour. Earth Fare also has a humane treatment policy on all their animal products. When I shop at Earth Fare, I feel safe. It’s a big relief to know that anything I pick up in that store meets my bare minimum of food-fuss. I am aware that I pay a premium for that safety, though, and it’s possible to put in a little effort and find similar food in more affordable venues.

Enter Heinen’s, a regional supermarket chain in Ohio. Heinen’s has a selection of organic and natural foods similar to Earth Fare, though they also sell the conventional processed food items of the Standard American Diet. While I scoff at the fact that they sell GMO-Os next to the organic granola in the cereal aisle, I relent to my co-human’s growing frustration with my high maintenance shopping standards. Let’s give Heinen’s a shot. Note, there’s also a local Giant Eagle I have started casing for Caitlin-approved groceries. More research needed.

First, the commute. Earth Fare is roughly 18 miles away from home, and it takes around 25 minutes to get there. Heinen’s is about 10 and a half miles from home and the drive takes just under fifteen minutes. Point, Heinen’s. (Also a point for Giant Eagle, because it’s less than five minutes from home, but it’s not my top choice).

Second, the selection. Heinen’s has a decent spread of organic produce, a humane treatment policy on their house brand animal products, and select brands for sale that I trust. Selection is acceptable and comparable between stores, though at Earth Fare there’s less research involved because I already have a baseline of trust based on their food policies and philosophy. Point, Earth Fare, but Heinen’s an acceptable second. (Giant Eagle definitely third place in this competition but does have some acceptable selection).

Third, the price. I will readily admit that Heinen’s won on some price points, but Earth Fare does continue to have better deals on other items. Giant Eagle wins my heart with my preferred brand of ice cream at a serious deal ($3.99 per pint vs. $5.99 per pint at Earth Fare) but I haven’t compared prices on other common items with GE vs. the more natural-based stores. Overall, point to Heinen’s, but some items just make sense to buy at Earth Fare.

A breakdown of common items on my list below:

Bacon: Depends on who we’re buying for

  • Canadian Bacon (his favorite) – Earth Fare sells a brand called Garrett Valley, sold for $5.99 for an 8-ounce package. Heinen’s house brand Canadian bacon is thicker cut, has less annoying packaging, and is $5.75 per pound. Point, Heinen’s.
  • Thick-sliced bacon (my favorite) – Earth Fare’s house brand is $21.99 for a 3lb package. An 18-ounce package of Garrett Valley at Heinen’s was $10.99. Point, Earth Fare.
  • Applegate Uncured Sunday Bacon (his second place favorite) – Earth Fare, 6.99. Heinen’s, 5.59. (Target, $5.00!). Point, Heinen’s, unless we’re at Target.

Lunch meat: Earth Fare is ideal, Heinen’s is acceptable in a pinch

  • Applegate Turkey, prepackaged – Earth Fare, Heinen’s, and Giant Eagle, all around 5.99 or 6.99 per 6-ounce package depending on sales.
  • Applegate Turkey, from deli counter – 11.99/lb at Heinen’s, a much better deal per pound.
  • Deli counter turkey – Earth Fare’s house brand is 8.99/lb. I didn’t check Heinen’s house brand because I am waiting to hear back if it falls under the same ethical treatment policy as their other meat (it’s a different brand name, and I am still gathering data). I trust nothing from Giant Eagle’s house brand. Point, Earth Fare, especially when comparing to the Applegate at the deli counter of Heinen’s.

Dairy and Eggs: Earth Fare

  • Snowville Creamery milk – I can drink this, so it’s the winning brand. Snowville Creamery pasteurizes at the lowest possible temperature for the shortest possible length of time to be deemed legally pasteurized. As such, it still contains many of the beneficial enzymes available in raw milk. Raw would be my ideal, but I’ll take Snowville as a reasonable second place. Half a gallon is $3.89 at Earth Fare and $4.29 at Heinen’s. Point, Earth Fare.
  • Snowville Creamery yogurt – NEVER WITNESSED AT EARTH FARE. Comparable product pricing pending a visit to Earth Fare. $5.29 at Heinen’s. Point, Heinen’s, for the selection if not price.
  • Butter – Based on my cursory evaluation of the selection at Heinen’s, I give this point to Earth Fare. We didn’t need to buy butter this time around so I didn’t pay close attention.
  • Cheese – I didn’t get a good look at Heinen’s selection, so I am unsure if they carry my preferred raw farmer’s cheese. They do have Organic Valley American-style slices, however, at the same price as Earth Fare, $4.99. Tie.
  • Eggs – Grade A, Large, from happy chickens. $2.27/doz at Earth Fare. $2.89/doz at Heinen’s. Point, Earth Fare.

Bread: Earth Fare

  • Sourdough bread – I have found out that I can tolerate sourdough bread without any ill effects on my stomach, hooray! A boule (round loaf) at Earth Fare is $3.59, while a smaller loaf at Heinen’s is $4.29 and has questionable ingredients. A big sandwich-style loaf is $3.99 at Earth Fare, making sourdough a no-brainer win for Earth Fare.
  • Sandwich bread – Co-human does not dig sourdough sandwiches, so we often buy a softer bread like challah or “english muffin” bread. For price and ingredients, the points still go to Earth Fare.
  • Ezekiel bread – This bread is made from sprouted grains and is also tolerated by my digestion, woohoo. It’s far cheaper at Earth Fare and Giant Eagle than at Heinen’s. I didn’t look closely at the price, but I tentatively give this point to Earth Fare. Giant Eagle an acceptable second in a pinch.

Produce: Heinen’s

  • Apples: $2.99/lb at both Earth Fare and Heinen’s. Tie.
  • Mushrooms: $2.59 for a package of button mushrooms at Heinen’s. Similar at Earth Fare, $3.99. Point, Heinen’s.
  • We didn’t buy much else in the way of produce so I will have to evaluate more over time, but Heinen’s appears to have better prices on organic produce

Meat: Undetermined

  • We bought no meat this week, so this will require more research.

Overall impressions of Heinen’s are good, and I will be evaluating our actual receipt with a comparison of what we would have paid at Earth Fare for the same amount to get a better idea of how to prioritize our shopping trips. I really do want to get bread, dairy, and eggs at Earth Fare if possible but I am very optimistic we can reach a compromise on grocery shopping that makes us both happy!

Update: I worked out a comparison between a few staples so far.

EF vs Heinens

Minimalist Weight Loss Program

I didn’t even know it was happening, but a couple years ago, I was steadily and sneakily gaining weight.  At doctor’s appointments, I was used to saying “Start it at 250,” but one day they had to move that big metal counterweight over to the next slot on the scale.  Ka-CHUNK. Over 300.  I was used to being stuck at 280, but where did an extra 20 pounds come from, and how could I make it go away?

Being fat, or large, or overweight, or obese, or whatever you want to call it – being fat doesn’t necessarily mean you are unhealthy.  I believe in the health at every size movement and I believe that you can have a healthy lifestyle while wearing double-digit pants sizes.  However, I was not healthy.  Not only was I obese, I had low energy, I could hardly get up the stairs, and I was depressed.  Something had to give.  And I sure wasn’t happy with that big 3 in my weight.

I did workout videos.  I joined a gym.  I drank more water.  Blah, blah, blah.  I got back down to about 280 where I stayed for over a year.

Last year in the summer, I began a goal of taking a walk each day.  And I did.  It wasn’t always a long walk, but I took a walk every day.  It helped boost my mood and made me feel overall better in my body.  Sadly when the weather turned cold, I stopped going outside to walk.  So I joined a gym, and promptly ignored my gym membership.  I have gone to the gym 5 times in 6 months.

How, how, how could I focus on getting healthier and losing some of the excess weight?

As my regular readers know, I changed my eating habits a few months ago and reintroduced meat into my diet  after a year of being nearly-vegan.  I also cut gluten.  A funny thing happened as I started eating eggs and bacon (sans toast) for breakfast.  My pants got looser.   Diet change alone lost me about 15 pounds in about four months.

I was intrigued.  Now that I was eating a healthier, more mindful diet that was helping my body to thrive, perhaps exercise would help really kick it into gear.  I am still struggling to exercise each day, but I do find my body “craving” movement if I sit too long.  I want to get up and move, to go to the gym, to go for a walk.  Just incorporating a little bit of exercise here and there has lost me another ten pounds.

At last weigh-in, I was at 254.4.

Do I have a goal weight? No.  Well, sort of.  I have a target weight that I think I will end up weighing, but I’m not stuck on the numbers.  My goal is to be able to get up my stairs without breathing heavily.  My goal is to be able to jog a mile without stopping.   My goal is to provide a healthy role model for my friends and family.

Caitlin’s Minimalist Weight Loss Plan

Step 1: Food.  You cannot out-exercise a crappy diet.  Stop eating processed food.  At least 80% of your diet should NOT come from a box, bag, or jar.  Eat what makes you feel good, but eat real food.  Mostly plants.  High-quality meat, eggs, and dairy (from humanely treated animals).  If it says “low fat,” put it away.  (A) You’re not supposed to be eating things with labels in a box, and (B) the words “low fat” can be effectively be replaced with the words “chemical shit storm.”  No.

Step 2: Exercise.  Devote 30 minutes each day to intentional movement.  If you want to include household chores in your “movement” count, that’s fine, but really be moving for those 30 minutes.  Sitting on the floor sorting a box of stuff is not high-octane physical activity.  Be honest with yourself.  Go for a walk, go to the gym, run around in the yard with your kids.  Just MOVE.

[EDIT] Step 3: Water.  I cannot believe I forgot to mention how important water is to your health, wellness, and weight loss goals.  Your body NEEDS water, and many times what you think is hunger (cue mindless snacking!) is actually thirst.  I don’t always succeed at getting enough water in my day but I find that if I start early, I continue drinking it all day.  If I forget to get a cup from the dispenser at work in the morning, I’ll forget until lunch and then I am way behind.  I have read that you should divide your body weight by 2 to find the number of ounces you should drink.  If I’m 250, that’s 125 ounces of water that I need each day.

You do not have to join a gym or eat special diet food.  In fact, special diet food is mostly crap.  Joining a gym is great IF you want to spend the money and IF you will actually go.  I have not been utilizing my membership and I’m out $20 a month to stay at home and write blogs about why you should be exercising.

The importance of food

I write a lot about food.  I think food is miraculous.  We take in something from the earth, or from an animal, and turn it into fuel for our bodies.  When you understand the function of food, you appreciate the importance of good, healthy foods instead of processed food-like things.  I used to mow down candy bars, and now the sugar in a piece of fruit is sometimes too sweet.

The most important thing about changing your diet is that you understand it’s not “going on a diet.”  It is changing. your. diet.  Your diet is the food you eat.  Change the food you eat, change your diet.  For me, it’s quite simple to turn down food that I know is bad for me, because I simply do NOT eat those foods.  Hot dog at a fair? No, I can’t eat the bun and I am certain the meat doesn’t meet my standards.  Popsicle from the ice cream truck? No, I don’t eat processed sugar or corn syrup.  Doughnut at the office? Absolutely not.  (In fact, office visitors have started to bring me apples, strawberries, and salads instead of doughnuts).

I was told on a recent vacation that I would probably have to relax my rules s a little because it would be hard to find food that met my high standards.  Challenge accepted and met.  I didn’t eat a thing that I would normally avoid.  You just make a commitment to only allow certain foods into your body. And then you do it.  Once you understand that food has a direct impact on your wellness, you eat differently.  Or at least I do, your mileage may vary.

The moral of the story

I am apprehensive about sharing my weight on such a public forum, but it helps me to share my journey with my readers, even this journey.  When you don’t like something about your life, you need to change it.  I didn’t like weighing over 300 pounds, so I changed it.  I didn’t like weighing 280, so I changed it.  I have weighed at least 250 pounds since high school.  I am currently at my lowest weight in seven or eight years, and it’s great.  I feel more energetic, I have far less joint pain, and I feel happier.  My weight does not define me, but it is something I have to literally carry every day.  By deciding to change it, I am taking control of my life and my health.   It really is as simple as eating and moving.