People often thank me for taking a "baby steps" approach to real food changes. I have to sort of shrug that off, not because I’m any good at being humble, but because tiny changes are all I could handle myself. I can’t imagine presenting all this stuff in any other way!
January is really a time when ideas are coming at you from all sides, when you feel the pressure to make big changes in your life, when everyone’s got something to say about new habits you should adopt. It’s frankly quite overwhelming.
I want to join the cacophony as (hopefully) a reasonable voice offering incredibly doable ideas for a, you know…resolution. If that’s the kind of thing you’re into.
I started thinking about what sort of "real food resolutions" people might be making out there already, and of course the KS community is full of people at all different stages in their journey. Nonetheless, I started noticing a few trending categories in my brainstorms, so I think I have some ideas that will be flexible enough to give anyone some challenge, no matter what their food landscape looks like.
I don’t think anyone should choose to tackle all 5 of these at once. Read them through, notice the various levels from which to approach each topic, and then determine which one resonates with what you want for yourself (and/or your family) this year.
I hope these suggestions and resources are helpful to you in some way – let me know in the comments!
Note: Many resources from outside sites use my affiliate links, from which I will earn commission.
1. Drop trans fat like a wet sock.
There are plenty of things in our modern processed-food world that we shouldn’t be eating, but if I had to choose one that you should kick ASAP, it’s this one. (And artificial sweeteners – but I’m hopeful that you’re already savvy at avoiding them.)
Trans fat is a man-made (or at least "man-altered") fat, so foreign to our bodies that our systems don’t really know what to do with it, where to store it. Once consumed, it ends up wreaking cardiovascular havoc as surely as a square peg being jammed in a round hole.
Finally, after decades of frightening research and a few weak labeling laws, the FDA has agreed that trans fat has to go. They removed its GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status, so it’s only a matter of time before the words "partially hydrogenated oils" disappear from ingredients lists everywhere, but in the meantime – don’t let it on your plate.
2. See if gluten or grains are a problem for you.
You might be thinking, "Nope, this one’s not for me!" but hear me out.
One-third of Americans is likely gluten-sensitive. (This was in a podcast with Underground Wellness, although I heard it so long ago that I couldn’t tell you how to find it.)
If anyone is sick or feeling poorly for any reason at all, they should try cutting gluten and see what happens. (This was in a video introduction to The Gluten Summit, which I didn’t get to listen to, just one talk.)
In our own experience, when my husband’s Crohn’s Disease flared up big time a few years ago, just two days of eating grain, dairy and legume free cleared up what a prescription anti-diarrheal couldn’t touch after two months of symptoms. We were sold.
Whole grains are notoriously hard to digest because of the phytates (and more) in the bran and germ, refined grains likely zip through your bloodstream like so much white sugar, and sometimes there’s so much controversy on how to prepare grains that it can make your head spin. I’m happy to let them go completely occasionally; it’s like a detox.
I don’t think all grains are evil for all people – but I do find that many, many people are finding out things about their body that they never realized when they try cutting grains or gluten.
I think going grain-free is easier than going gluten-free in a way, partly because you don’t have to worry about figuring out "what’s gluten?" and mainly because many gluten-free commercial goods aren’t very good for you anyway. Might as well go cold turkey and really learn a lot.
Can you do it for a week? Three days? Three weeks? I guarantee you’ll notice something at each milestone.
Tropical Grain-free Breakfast Porridge (free printable!)
If you cut all grains and also avoid carbs like potatoes, bananas, and other fruits or starchy veggies, you may encounter quite a bit of fatigue. Don’t try to do it all at once. Make sure you’re feeling good as you go (although some minor digestive distress may be normal as your body adjusts and perhaps cleans itself out of years of carb buildup).
If you’re wanting to try eliminating grains for more than a week, I recommend getting a bag of coconut flour, which is usually least expensive at Tropical Traditions with that link, and then you can make a few things like muffins and pancakes and not feel like you’re totally out of your comfort zone when it comes to food planning.
For example, those waffles in the yummy photo above? They’re actually 100% grain-free. For reals.
- Gluten-free, Grain-free Cookbook by Stephanie Brandt Cornais (a mama like me who appreciates shortcuts in the kitchen, keeping it simple and pure yumminess!)
- All of my grain-free resources and recipes, including how we got started in a bare bones way.
- How to start an elimination diet.
- A special package from Cara at Health, Home & Happiness: Go Grain-free (or stay that way), including four months of grain-free meal plans with recipes, one for each season.
- Against All Grain, a NY Times bestseller this year from Danielle Walker (found on Amazon)
- Beyond Grain and Dairy eBook
- How to bake with coconut flour
- Baking with Coconut Flour eBook
Note: Many find that eliminating dairy is something to try as well, and just getting rid of all of it at once, then reintroducing one thing at a time slowly is a great way to learn how your body handles things. I recommend finding some goat cheese or sheep milk feta (both at Costco for me) to still have great salads, spread on tomatoes, and just keep things a little more interesting. You can make creamy dressings like homemade Caesar without dairy, another way to feel less deprived.
With any elimination diet, focus on what you CAN have, not what you’re avoiding.
3. Add one new probiotic habit.
Even pop culture is understanding that probiotics are good for us (ever seen an Activia commercial?). Traditional cultures often ate a bite (or whole scoop) of probiotic food with each meal.
For years, I’ve needed to get better at making and incorporating probiotic foods beyond our gallon of homemade yogurt per week. Maybe 2014 is the year I’ll finally do it right! In the meantime, we do have a pretty good habit of taking probiotics supplements daily.
Here are some probiotic ideas for you:
- Make homemade yogurt.
- Ferment your own foods.
- Include a fermented food once a day.
- Include a fermented food at every meal.
- How to make homemade kimchi (similar to sauerkraut)
- Online fermentation eCourse or cultured dairy & cheesemaking eCourse (also available as eBooks)
- How to make Dairy Kefir
- Sauerkraut troubleshooting from Pickle Me Too (great blog for this goal!)
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods by Wardeh Harmon
- Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin (via Amazon)
- Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz
4. Cut down on the sweeteners.
It’s hard to argue with the point that sweets are not good for you.
It’s also hard for many people to give them up cold turkey!
So my approach is always to take one step in the right direction.
If you know you eat a lot of white sugar, what can you do to cut it down? Don’t eat sweets between dinner and bed? Only eat dark chocolate between meals and allow special desserts on occasion? Or can you switch out the white sugar in your own baking completely and turn to natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, or liquid stevia (found on Amazon)?
- Make one new recipe a week with a natural sweetener
- Cut white sugar altogether
- Cut all corn sugars (they come under a ton of different names, so be ready for an ingredient list shock!)
- Stop using sweetener in a certain food you eat regularly: oatmeal, yogurt, coffee, tea, etc.
- Try some favorite recipes with 1/4 the sweetener they usually call for.
- Don’t eat anything sweetened before 1 p.m.
- Always have healthy fats if you have sweets.
- Or even…just use an app or online program to track your sugar intake, just as a learning exercise.
- Sweet, Sweet Summer series – all my info on natural sweeteners
- Frosting with no sweetener at all – an example of how you can still get sweet taste using fruits alone
- Smart Sweets, my desserts eBook
- Healthy Snacks to Go – lots of ways to snack without white sugar
- Sugar Detox Challenge by Donielle Baker, on Kindle at Amazon
5. Plan healthy meals.
Almost every time I’m asked to comment on the basics of eating healthy or the key to making real food work, the answer I come back to again and again is this: Planning is key. Vital!
I honestly can’t even imagine life without some sort of food planning, at least a day in advance. If you’re not a meal planner already, I can just about guarantee that regular meal planning will help you eat healthier, spend less money, waste less food, have more variety, and have less stress before meals.
If you’re already a good meal planner, maybe you want to challenge yourself to include bone broth twice a week or have a few meatless meals per week, or to begin passing on some kitchen responsibilities for your children, depending on their ages. If you have some awesome "getting started" meal planning tips, please share in the comments for our rookies!
- Our sponsor Plan to Eat makes meal planning a cinch, especially if you have a mobile device on which to keep your shopping list and recipes handy. Try the 30-day free trial to see how easy it is! (Using the bookmarklet makes it quick to upload fav recipes from websites – about 30-60 seconds each once you get the hang of it.)
- Some of my best tips to get stared (or get better at) the art of meal planning.
- My eBook Better Than a Box also contains some great meal planning tips…
- A different take on the process – Once a Month Meals offers freezer cooking meal plans, including a whole foods planner. Make a whole month’s worth of meals in a day or two!
- For recipes, of course I’d recommend my own recipes page and also my Pinterest boards, one of which is about meal planning.
Bonus tip: Move your body.
Whether you’re chasing children around the house, rolling homemade tortillas or engaging in a structured exercise program, of course movement is a good thing for a healthy body.
My husband likes having videos to push him to keep working out, and I just learned that Jillian Michaels’ videos are free via Amazon Prime – which has a 3o-day free trial! Might be worth it to see if you can stick with them enough to bother investing money. We signed up for the 30-day Prime trial a few weeks ago (I’ll give you one guess as to why) and have actually been enjoying it quite a bit. Sign up here. UPDATE: A colleague in the comments shared that Jillian Michaels isn’t the best to emulate as far as diet and weight loss goes, and I’m so glad she mentioned that. I hear the videos are good for exercising sake, but PLEASE don’t buy into the extreme weight loss schtuff. Cool? Thanks. (I’ll get a kickback if you sign up through that link, which I appreciate a lot, thank you! It doesn’t change your price or experience at all…win-win!)
It’s not all about losing weight
Of course it should be said that life is not all about losing weight, that many sizes and shapes can be very healthy – eating is about nourishment, giving your body the fuel it needs to keep going physically and emotionally, and keeping life in balance. I shared a Real Food Weight Loss and Exercise series two years ago that is worth visiting if you do need to lose some weight, and my review of Weightless by Kate Wicker carries many important reminders about true beauty as well.
Phew! That was a load of information…now what to do with it? Remember… baby steps. Baby steps. Baby steps.
Pick one (okay maybe two. But no more than that!).
If writing it down and/or making it public helps you, please tell us what you’re tackling with the flip of the calendar in the comments. I want to applaud all your efforts!
We’re also building community via a new Facebook group, KS Connect. Please check it out, and if you missed it during Christmas week, I shared all the simple ways you can keep up with KS posts without being overwhelmed or cluttering your email inbox – right HERE.
Disclosure: Many links in this post are affiliate links, including any to Amazon, and Plan to Eat is a current sponsor receiving their complimentary mention in a post.