by Maria Stevens, April 2010
“SAD” is the perfect acronym for that which it represents: the Standard American Diet. It is indeed sad. Sadder still is that this generation of young people is the first generation predicted not to outlive their parents. The primary cause: malnutrition.
Malnutrition? No, that doesn’t mean starvation. Not at all. It simply means poor or inadequate nutrition, and nutrition goes beyond mere calories. The SAD diet provides an excess of calories and often a deficit of micronutrients.
Okay, so you want to transition to the whole foods diet? You think, “Okay, if the SAD diet is so bad, the whole foods diet should be a colorful, delicious, welcome change that will fill me to the brim with densely nutritious food and energy.”
Wrong. At least, at first.
Here’s the deal. If you have been eating in such a fashion as to call a move to the whole foods diet a “transition,” chances are, it will be an uphill battle. You’re used to eating a certain way, to eating certain foods, to pre-digested food, to convenience, to taste, to salt, to portion sizes big and small, to everything conferred by the SAD diet that just doesn’t come with the whole foods diet.
The whole foods diet, to you, is probably boring if you don’t know how to prepare your own food. Certainly, a good old-fashioned home-cooked meal is just about the best thing ever–but so few people these days know how to prepare such a meal. So they skip steps. They don’t make their own tomato sauce; they simple buy it ready-made from a jar. They haven’t a clue on how to make their own soup; so they heat it up from a can. If you are inexperienced in the kitchen, the transition to the whole foods diet will be arduous and you will likely end up eating the same few foods again and again.
It isn’t easy to learn to cook. It’s a process of trial and error. It is also time-consuming, and who has the time? These protestations, in part, are why the SAD diet has proliferated; breakfast in a can, because “Who has the time–and it tastes better than anything I could make in a rush.”
Worse yet, you’re probably “hooked” on the SAD diet. More and more research is going into the subject of food addiction, and how certain foods, namely sugar, have a drug-like effect on the brain. Why is it that women frequently use pints of ice cream to cope with their feelings? Why do we get intense food cravings in general? And why, oh why, when you transition to a whole foods diet, does it feel like your withdrawing from a drug addiction?
Exaggerating? Not at all. Sugar is everywhere, it’s in almost everything, and sugar has a strong impact on both brain chemistry and hormones (which are powerful things themselves). If you don’t believe me, give it up for one week. Really. Don’t eat anything that has sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, and the like added to it. Be sure to check the ingredient list of everything, from mayonnaise to ketchup to your “healthy” breakfast cereal. It’s in there. Trust me. If you can give up for a week, then you’re ready to transition to the whole foods diet.
So if your ready, here it is–how to make the transition:
Step one: slow down your life. Nothing is so important that it should detract from nutrition and sleep, the two fundamentals of healthy living. If don’t have the time to commit to preparing your own food, then you will lose your enthusiasm for the diet after eating the same fall-back foods day in and day out.
Step two: make it public. You’ll be surprised how much social pressure will befall you within days of your transition. This is a food-based culture. Every social event seems to revolve around food: lunch dates, parties, events, church… they all offer food, and you’ll find that most of that food is processed. So when someone asks at your book club meeting why you’re only eating the carrot sticks, it would make sense to explain that you’re trying the whole food diet. But be prudent. Food talk gets more personal than politics; food is a personal choice, several times a day, and it literally shapes who you are.
Step three: stock your kitchen. Once you are no longer reliant on all the added flavors, salt, and sugar in your foods, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise: bland food. At least at first. The truth is, your tongue has been bombarded with imput and has what you can consider to be a “tolerance” for additives. Cutting this out abruptly makes your food taste boring. (Don’t worry. The tongue takes as little as a few days to adapt to new foods and will find the natural sweetness of your whole foods–later, if you dapple in the SAD diet, you’ll be surprised by how salty and uber-sweet all those foods you were eating actually were!) In the meantime, make an investment in your kitchen. Buy high quality–preferably in-season and organic–fruits, vegetables, oils, spices, seasonings, nuts, grains, and other ingredients. It’s a big investment, but not bigger than say, wasting money on powders and supplements.
Step four: plan ahead. Know in advance what you’re going to make, or at least have an idea. Jump online and search dinner recipes that include ingredients you already have in your refrigerator. The more thought and attention you put into your meal, the more satisfying it will be. Foods that are thrown together in a hurry tend to be eaten absently, standing, or on-the-go. Also, remember that we’re creatures of habit; when you find a meal or type of cuisine you really like to eat, and it works for you, stick with it; get more adept at making it, learn to put variations into it, and learn how to make substitutions when necessary. The more practised you become, the more flexible, and hence, more creative.
Step five: allow yourself to cheat. Wait. Really? Absolutely, but keep it within limits, for example, you might allow yourself up to 300 calories of “processed food” up to three times per week. First, it is very difficult to quit the SAD diet cold turkey, and these “cheating sessions” should be considered a tool for weaning. Second, the SAD diet is such a pervasive part of our culture, you will risk social exclusion if you do not allow yourself to eat SAD foods on occasion. Finally, everything is okay in moderation. Make sure you make a mental note of how SAD food affects you each time you eat it. You will learn over time which foods you can pass up, and which foods are really worth it.