“October Unprocessed:” My Interview With Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules

by Bettina Elias Siegel on October 2, 2012

Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules

I hope most of you already know about Eating Rules, one of my favorite nutrition blogs.  Written by Andrew Wilder, it’s an engaging, straightforward and never-preachy source of solid nutrition information, recipes and practical tips for eating well.  (You can read Andrew’s whole back story here.)

Three years ago, Andrew had the idea of forgoing, along with a few friends, all processed food for the month of October.  As you’ll learn below, “October Unprocessed” has grown beyond his wildest imagination, with literally thousands now participating.   Here’s my interview with Andrew:

TLT:  What was the original inspiration for October Unprocessed?

AW:  Back in 2009, I had my “ah-ha!” moment while walking across a perfectly flat parking lot. I felt like I was walking through molasses. I remember thinking, “I’m just 32 years old. I shouldn’t feel this way.”  At that moment, I decided it was finally time to try yoga — all my friends had been telling me how great it was and how much I would love it — so I downloaded some video podcasts and started in my living room (where nobody could see if I fell over!).  It felt great, and I was hooked.

I then decided to start counting calories — I knew how many I was supposed to eat in a day, but I had no idea how many I was actually eating. I starting using the “Lose It” iPhone App, and actually had a lot of fun to track everything I ate — it was something new to me, and as I started losing weight, it was incredibly exhilarating  As I continued exercising and losing weight over the next few months, I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. I thought I had been eating healthfully, but after reading those I realized I still had a lot of processed foods in my diet. At that point, the idea of avoiding processed foods for 30 days just kind of popped into my head.

TLT:  How did you feel about doing it the first time and, to the extent it was a positive experience, did its effects last after the month was over?  

AW:  This was before I had started my blog, so when I came up with the idea, I just posted a little note on Facebook, and tagged about 25 of my friends who I thought might want to play along. My friends Dana and Lindsey joined in, and it was revelatory. My expectations and sense of taste were re-calibrated. I started to identify individual ingredients in the foods I ate. I didn’t crave those salty snacks. I found myself often in the kitchen, excited to see what I could cook next. Above all, I simply felt better.  The three of us also spent a lot of time cooking together, and became much better friends through the experience.

I think the single, most-lasting dietary change for me has been cutting out soda. I used to be a five-cans-of-Diet-Pepsi-a-day guy, and although I had already cut back throughout that year, I still had my fair share of soda. I haven’t touched a Diet Pepsi or Coke Zero since. (Part of that, too, is that I don’t want to give them any more of my money!) We now have a SodaStream, and I drink a lot of sparkling water.

Our unprocessed challenge ultimately led to my starting Eating Rules, which has introduced me to so many new and wonderful people and opportunities — and helps keep me focused on and accountable for my own health!

TLT:   For someone doing the challenge this month, what words of advice do you have to ease the adjustment, particularly someone who normally eats a fair amount of processed food?

AW:  The first thing is to figure out how you define “unprocessed.”  I use what I call “The Kitchen Test,” but I encourage everyone to define it for themselves, in a way that makes sense to them. I also encourage use of the “Deliberate Exception Clause,” if you feel it’s necessary. The idea is to plan what potential exceptions you’ll make (if any) and why. The idea is to consider your choices — ahead of time — and decide if the “pros” outweigh the cons (this isn’t so that you can have a donut that someone brings to the office — it’s to make the challenge actually possible in our crazy-hectic-busy daily lives.)

We’ve got a ton of resources on my site to help folks get into the challenge, including a free Official Guide to download, and every day throughout the month I’ll be sharing guest posts on a wide variety of unprocessed topics.

Also, planning! Planning is key. It’s worth taking a few minutes at the start of the week, or at the start of each day, to think through (and perhaps assemble) what you’re going to eat during the day. Because when you’re hungry isn’t the best time to figure out what you’re going to eat.

TLT:   Have you been surprised by the incredible growth in participation since you started October Unprocessed?

AW:  Oh, yes! Every time someone joins our ranks, I get a little bit giddy. As I write this, we just passed 4,600 people who’ve taken the pledge! It’s so inspiring reading the comments people leave on the pledge form. Clearly, we’re on to something here, and with every person who signs up, our good-food-movement gets so much stronger.

TLT:  Do you have anything else you’d like to tell Lunch Tray readers about October Unprocessed?

AW:  Thanks for the opportunity to share October Unprocessed with you, and I hope you’ll all join in — it’s not too late! (It’s never too late!) If you’re just finding out about October Unprocessed, check out the main page on my site and take the pledge today — and then continue with us throughout the month, or for a full 30 days from today.

* * *

Thank you, Andrew, for coming by The Lunch Tray to share information about October Unprocessed.  And if you’re interested in joining in, it’s definitely not too late to sign the October Unprocessed pledge!

My own October Unprocessed guest post will appear this month on Eating Rules, with the (hopefully) intriguing title, “Provisioning Your Ark.”  You’ll just have to read the post to find out what that means!  :-)   I’ll share the link on this blog when the post is up.

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