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7 Steps to Transition from a Highly Processed to a Whole Foods Diet

Eat more whole, less processed foods. If you talk to any of my clients, they'll tell you this is my mantra.

7 Steps to Transition from a Highly Processed to a Whole Foods Diet

This is because whole foods contain nature's pharmacy in the form of micronutrients: a vast selection of chemical compounds that include vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, zoonutrients, and myconutrients. We don't need as much of these compounds as we do protein, carbohydrates and fats—which is why they have the prefix "micro"—but we do need them to be healthy and function well.

What's the difference between a processed foods and whole foods diet?

In general, whole foods:

  • Can be recognized for what they used to be. Whole grains look like whole grains—like seeds from a plant. Fresh fruit looks the same in the grocery store as it does on the tree.

  • They don't come in any packaging, other than what's necessary to keep them from leaking or rolling around, like rice or quinoa

  • They don't have ingredient labels. Now, there are a few exceptions. For example, many plain dairy products still have ingredient labels. But those ingredient labels should be pretty straightforward.

  • They take the minimum number of steps to get to you. You should be able to see that this food didn't have to undergo too much manipulation to get to your plate.

  • They typically go bad fairly quickly. Dried beans, nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, or homemade beef jerky might be exceptions, but most whole foods perish rapidly.

Conversely, with processed foods:

  • You generally can't recognize what they used to be. Bread and cereal don't look like seeds, juice doesn't look like fruit.

  • They come in packages such as bags or boxes. You probably buy them from the inner aisles of the supermarket.

  • They have labels with multiple ingredients. Usually there are several ingredients, and one of them is sugar or salt... or something that came from a lab.

  • They take many steps to get to you. Ask yourself: What had to happen in order for this whole grain seed to turn into an animal cracker? What had to happen to this fish for it to be turned into a swirly pink cracker floating in my ramen broth.

  • They will keep for a long time. Processed foods are designed to stay "fresh" on a shelf for weeks, months—even years.

Why are whole foods "good"?

Learning to eat well isn't just about taking away "bad stuff". It's really about adding more good stuff. More value. More nourishment. More quality. Ideally, our food should actively enhance our health, and make our body run better.

So if you're a packaged food junkie and not sure how to incorporate more whole foods into your diet, follow these seven steps:

1. Discover your 'why'

Before jumping right into a new way of eating, take a moment to press pause and understand what your motivation is for wanting to remove processed foods from your diet. Knowing this will help you every time you are faced with the decision of whether or not to choose a processed food or meal.

2. Identify your support

Shifting from a highly processed foods lifestyle to a whole foods lifestyle can feel daunting at first. These are completely valid feelings and that’s why recruiting support can be pivotal in reaching success! Enroll your family or a close friend to support you on the journey, along with your Nutrition. Don't have a Nutrition Coach?  I've got you covered. Schedule a health strategy session with me today.

3. Take stock

Begin by establishing a baseline and notice the quantity of processed foods you currently consume. It's essential to set expectations that set you up for success and for you to understand how long your transition off highly processed foods may take.

Next, count chemicals, not calories:

  • Imagine food on a spectrum. On one side, you have a highly processed food such as a Twinkie. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have the least processed food that is organic, locally and seasonally grown by your neighbour, farmer Jane.

  • While it may not always be possible to eat 100% on farmer Jane’s side of the spectrum, strive to eat as closely as you can to it more often than not.

  • The fewer chemicals you eat, the more energetic and light you’ll feel.

4. Phase in to phase out

When we increase the amount of whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains there is naturally less space in the diet for highly processed foods. Each week start to increase the amount of fresh foods you incorporate into each meal.

5. Shop smart

The grocery store is cleverly designed to lure you in and purchase products that you did not originally intend to buy. This guide will show you how to navigate the grocery store so that you can easily stick to purchasing only whole foods and reduce your purchase of processed foods as much as possible.

6. Cook at home

Cooking at home is one of the best ways to know exactly what is in your food. Assess your schedule and current food habits to set realistic goals. For instance, if you currently don't cook at home at all, don’t try to suddenly leap to 100% whole food home-cooked meals. Instead, start small. Set a goal that’s easy to

achieve. That might be committing to three home-cooked meals per week.

Once you establish a routine, try adding an additional meal until you are cooking more than 50% of your meals at home so that you are in control of the ingredient quality in the majority of the food you ingest. Work with your Nutrition Coach to establish a clear, consistent plan going forward.

7. Create success while dining out

Choosing to eat a diet rich in whole foods does not mean that you can never eat out again. Remember this is about finding the balance that works best for your lifestyle and goals. The longer you eat this way, the easier navigating restaurants will get!

Switching from a processed foods to a whole foods diet isn't always easy. If you need help getting started, schedule a health strategy session with me today.

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