...that also means that Lent is officially over and in theory, I could go drink a soda in celebration of going without processed foods for 40 days.
But I'm not going to do that. Because I honestly don't want to.
This was a pretty interesting experiment. If you recall, I vowed to "give up processed foods" as my Lenten sacrifice. Admittedly, this was pretty vague and I didn't even know what that meant in the beginning of this, but I think I have a handle on it now.
1.) Chemical-free. My main goal was to try to eliminate as many chemicals, additives and preservatives from my food as possible. Someone asked if I gave up flour and things like that, and the answer is no--it really was the chemical-y fake stuff I was to avoid. (I only buy whole wheat or unbleached flour.)
2.) This meant a lot of label reading. I was absolutely shocked at some of things I've been mindlessly shoving in my mouth that after a scan of the label was nothing more than a freakish science experiment. Case in point: maple syrup. I dare you to read the back of a bottle of anything other than pure maple syrup. You will be horrified.
3.) Label-reading leads to better choices. If I was staring at two brands of the same product, I chose the one with the least amount of ingredients. No-brainer, right? Wrong. Some things labeled as "natural" have nothing natural about them. (I'm looking at you, certain brands of yogurt.) If there was an option to buy it fresh, I bought it. If there was an organic choice, I chose it. I continually sought out better labels rather than better packages.
4.) A return to whole foods. This again sounds easy, but it is surprisingly not. In addition to shopping a lot more frequently, I shopped in different places as well. I discovered my town's weekly Farmer's Market, and a fruit stand on the corner that sells tomatoes that actually taste like a tomato. I cooked and prepared a lot more myself than I ever dreamed. And it was good.
5.) People complain all of the time about the higher costs of organic foods. I disagree. Sure, organic eggs cost more than regular. That bottle of maple syrup was almost $8 as compared to the Aunt Jemima high-fructose sugar water. But all of the farmer's market produce was hands-down cheaper than my grocery store. I saved a boat load of money buying a box of long-leaf black tea that I brewed myself as opposed to a case of Coke. Yogurt and granola costs less than a dozen donuts or a bagels.
An amazing thing happens when you're not filling your body up with junky empty calories--you tend to eat less. And when you are putting more thought and to consideration into what you're eating, you also tend to have more respect for it and don't waste nearly as much. Not that I thought I did that before, but an end of day old bread became croutons (no need to buy a box) and leftovers are repurposed in new and creative ways.
6.) Everyone has to make the choices that make sense to them. I really tried to focus on avoiding all things with the high fructose corn syrup--I'll take raw sugar any old day, and partially-hydrogenated anything. That meant no soda, no margarine, fried foods and most anything that came out of a can. I still ate meat--looked for the grass-fed beef and organic chicken whenever possible--and I certainly indulged my sweet tooth--I just made sure I made the sweets myself and knew exactly what I put into it.
Did it work?
I think it did. I definitely feel de-toxed and really have no desire to go back to the old ways. I think I've lost weight, my skin and hair feel healthier, and mentally, I feel better, too. Like I've let something go on my terms and I can't imagine going back.
In fact, I think it's time to take it further. While meals have unbeknownst to the family gotten healthier, I will now incorporate these habits into their other eating routines as well. Lunches and snacks will get an overhaul as well and we'll find a way to make it as non-traumatic as mine was.
I also still need to work on the meat aspect--I wasn't happy with my grocery store's option of "all-vegetarian" diet for their beef as opposed to "grass-fed." There's a difference and I want the latter. I also plan to get a lot more creative with the foods I've discovered like quinoa and farro and the fresh vegetables. I planted my garden, and hope to really make better use of that as well.
But at the end of the day--or forty of them--I think this has translated over from experiment to lifestyle change.
And it is a delicious one.