“Just Eat Real Food.” Sounds simple enough, right?
This mantra proudly repeated by many a “real foodie” these days is intended to highlight what the real food movement is all about—real food is good food. Healthy food. The only food you need.
But, I think it also speaks to a problem I’ve encountered along the way in my years of following the real food thing. The problem, is that it’s quite difficult to “just” eat only the foods which fall under the category of “real” and “right” and “okay to eat” according to alternative real food nutrition advice.
So what happens then? What if you’re not “just” eating the approved real foods? What if you still eat that white flour spaghetti your husband really loves you to make? What if you don’t have time to cook bacon and eggs in the morning, so you eat cereal instead? What if your milk is—gasp—pasteurized?!
Well, then you’re certainly not “just eating real food.”
Is the “80/20 rule” the answer? Are you allowed to stray from the righteous real food path a certain percentage of time, so long as you dutifully follow it with the remainder of your diet comprised of only the purest, wholest, most nutrient-densiest foods you can muster? I think that’s seriously missing the point.
What if I told you…
…that doing the whole “real food” thing is really much more about educating ourselves, than it is about avoiding the wrong foods?
That it’s more about understanding the things we’ve been lied to about—that saturated fat isn’t unhealthy, and that vegetable oil isn’t a good thing to cook with?
That if you want to eat things which are not stamped with “real food” approval, or even if you don’t want to eat things that everyone is telling you you should, that that is completely, unequivocally okay?
In my eyes, real food just doesn’t have to be all that complicated. When you know the basic truths about it—the importance of eating foods from the sustainable, independent food system, instead of foods that come from corrupt mega-corporations; why whole real foods the way nature made them, like cholesterol-filled eggs, saturated fat-laden butter, and red meat from healthy animals, won’t hurt you; and how many so-called “experts” are actually giving all kinds of bad advice out there about this stuff (and why they are wrong). When you understand all of that, you’re already doing real food right.
I have a very strong belief that when you know these truths, you will make good choices, enough of the time. Enough to have a good diet, and to keep your body healthy. You really don’t need to give it a whole lot more thought than that.
When you understand the truth about excessive polyunsaturated fat, you’ll stop cooking in soy oil. When you know what goes into that nasty skim milk that you’ve been told you need to drink, you’ll switch to whole. When you see the differences between what goes into a burger at McDonald’s, and beef from a cow roaming around freely in the sun eating nothing but grass, you’ll skip the Big Mac (enough of the time).
It really is that simple.
It’s not a diet
Real food doesn’t need to have rules. It shouldn’t in any way resemble all the various diet fads that come and go, build hope and bring destruction, make promises and fail. Unfortunately, though, “just eating real food” is being promoted as the panacea of dietary advice—the ultimate answer to all those other philosophies that we know don’t work.
So because it’s so supposedly supremely optimal, people quickly wind up attributing all those diet-like ideals to it in practice—that if you do it right, you’ll be perfectly healthy. Period.
Believing that any one, specific diet is “perfect” for your health can be very damaging, if for no other reason than it’s setting yourself up for failure and stress—your mind is conditioned to believe that if you deviate from “perfection,” your health is at risk—and believe me, you will deviate! So where does that lead you? With a one-way ticket to “STRESSINGTHECRAPOUT Town, USA.”
Everyone knows that.
But it also is a very serious threat to your well-being. Your body’s natural methods of dealing with stress with certain hormones that ramp up your ability to handle them, is great for very immediate threats— like if you had to run away from a bear chasing you. But it’s not so great when it has to respond to constant, long-term stressors—like rushing around all day meeting your basic demands of life, plus the ridiculous amount of stress that comes with following any sort of a “diet.” That can cause serious damage.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve come across on various blogs, message boards, in person, or other outlets who claim that eating a real food or WAPF-style diet “didn’t work” for them, and they were relieved to give it up as a result because they were sick of feeling like one wrong move was going to give them cancer, render them infertile, or inflict a horrible autoimmune disease.
They ate a slice of un-sprouted white flour bread, and lived to tell the tale.
And like with any restrictive diet, once abandoned, the ex-dieter generally starts feeling a lot better as a result. This isn’t surprising, since any perceived benefits of a “healthy” diet can very easily be far outweighed by the damaging stress caused by adhering to it—remove that stress, and you’ll usually be a lot better off.
The bottom line is that in order to do real food in a healthy way, it has to be more about educating ourselves, rather than being afraid of the wrong foods. Allowing yourself those things that you still genuinely have a desire to eat, but are now on your real food “naughty list,” is perfectly healthy. I mean, do you really, honestly, love and adore Oreo cookies? Then for the love of liver—eat a damn Oreo! You’re already well-aware that there’s all kinds of questionable ingredients, hydrogenated oils, and chemical preservatives in there. So you probably aren’t going to eat the whole box of them. It’s much better for your sanity to simply remove the “naughty” label, eat the cookie, and move on with your life. Really!
If any of this resonates with you, or if you feel like you could benefit from eating the real food way without all the crazy that seems to accompany the “real food” philosophies out there, I have some more things I’d like to share with you about all this.
I’ve actually written an entire book about it.
And it debuts tomorrow.
[Update:] It’s here!!! Right now you can save 67% off the list price for our big BLACK FRIDAY SALE. But hurry! Sale ends December 2nd! Click here to check it out.
Amen! So well said. And exactly how we are living our life now. We can’t stress about the food we eat when we are not home. Or the ice cream treat we enjoy occasionally. Thank you for writing this!
Really needed to hear this right now! Thank you.
Robin @ Thank Your Body says
I’m pretty sure we’d be BFFs if you lived closer. Amen to another great post. So glad to have like-minded people in the world. 😉
Oh I am positive we would be. 😀
Thank you for this post, I’m getting a bit emo ..
But I really appreciate this post..
Kathy @ Granny's Vital Vittles says
Preach it Emily!!! 🙂
Thank you for this! I’ve occassional posted shopping lists on a certain social media site that shall not be named. And then promptly gotten called on the carpet because of not buying “enough” fruit and/or veg (I preserve in the summer and rarely need to buy produce over winter), buying organ meats instead of steaks (ROFL; one person once told me that she eats better than me and that only her dog would eat the things I eat), buying too much fat (double ROFL), etc. And on the other hand, the inevitable “you eat MEAT from the GROCERY STORE?????” Cant win for losing, it seems.
Hell Yes! Thanks for this post!
I just wanted to comment and say this has got to be me favorite real food blog! I started this journey about 6 months ago, and thought I had read about every blog out there trying to get started in the right direction. I have no idea how I just now found your blog, but I’m hooked. Love all the amazing work you do!
You are a fantastic writer and you put things into perspective so well. Love this article! I want to have it on my fridge and point to it when people who come to my house ask me about my “diet” lol because I choose to buy food from the local grocery store, and the local farmers.
More “real food” bloggers need to take this to heart. I’ve stopped following many of them because I can’t take the smug self-righteous tone of the posts anymore, and if I hear the words “traditional diet” one more time I’m going to punch somebody in the eye, I swear. And kale is gross. So there.
Thank you, Betsy. 🙂
To me, eating ‘real food’ isn’t about ‘traditional’ or any other kind of diet, it’s about healthy eating: avoiding toxins and good nutrition. And I’ve learned that, when eating a healthy diet consistently, random and occasional ‘transgressions’ or less-than-healthy indulgences aren’t disasters. In my case, they do cause rather immediate symptoms, BUT these are easily and rapidly remedied BECAUSE I don’t indulge often or in signficant quantity, when I do. That’s because my baseline of health is so good and THAT’S because I’m passionate about eating healthy, ‘real food’. But I nearly died before realizing just how important a healthy diet REALLY is. Trust me, I got a whole new definition of ‘real’ with this experience.
Perfectionism isn’t about food, it’s about a mental perspective, even an unhealthy imperative. I mean, being perfect in ANY respect isn’t possible for humans. So, trying to be perfect or do anything perfectly is only going to make one ill. Period. OTH, setting aside the issue of perfectionism, I don’t agree that it isn’t imperative to make the necessary dietary changes. LOTS of folks KNOW that what comes in fast food places or in the convenience foods at stores ISN’T good for you…but they DON’T understand the importance of that fact. Frankly, for most folks, it’s not a big deal until they start having health problems. And even them, some folks aren’t going to make the effort to change. Because change is WORK, and because this particular path of change eliminates a lot of convenience and puts more work back into daily life…which a lot of folks have little idea how to incorporate effectively. NO it isn’t healthy to stress about food. If you stress about food, check your head. Fix that! BUT eating REAL FOOD is about the fact that you become whatever it is you eat, quite literally; and, if it doesn’t kill you it will eventually, inevitably diminish the quality of your life and the balance in your bank account. No, I don’t think we need to ‘calm down’ and I think the ‘healthy food’ movement is MUCH MORE than educating oneself. Education is nothing until we USE IT, and THAT is the whole point!
” No, I don’t think we need to ‘calm down’ and I think the ‘healthy food’ movement is MUCH MORE than educating oneself. Education is nothing until we USE IT, and THAT is the whole point!”
I think you may have missed my point, if that’s what you got out of this.
(…and maybe calming down might be in order, too?)
Have been reading a lot over the last couple of days and became a bit overwhelmed…great timing with this article, as I was becoming a bit…panicked about the food that is available to buy at this time and area. Thank you for this…stress is bad!!!
Wow, this was incredibly articulate and so damn true! Man I can’t tell you how much I appreciate reading something like this! I tried to write about this topic once but probably ended up sounding like one of those “Just eat real food” people. I’m starting to understand that’s not only how it works though.
I agree that stressing over food and being afraid about the potential dangers lurking in every bite of the “wrong food” is crazy-making. And, having multiple autoimmune diseases already plus a couple of other life-threatening health issues makes that Oreo, donut or chocolate chip ice cream seriously off-limits. If I didn’t have these health problems I would agree with what you say. But if one is already sick and trying in earnest to regain their health, it is my belief that they are well served with being stricter with their eating than what you describe. I have a third list in addition to the “real food” and “naughty” categories. Enter the “eat this only if you want to make yourself sick and trash all the progress you’ve made” list. Sadly, I know from experience what happens when I eat those forbidden foods.
D. Gold says
Exactly. Some people can’t and shouldn’t just eat that Oreo. There really is an epidemic of autoimmune disorders in this country. Some people do need to be on really strict diets.
I went on a gluten free diet, and it didn’t help, then I cut out most grains, which helped some, but I still had arthritis… it wasn’t until I went on a really strict nightshade-free paleo diet that my gut healed and my arthritis went away. Granted, I hope to not have to eat this way forever (I’ve already managed to add in some nightshades again and I eat a bit of random vegetable oil on things) but I will do what I can for my health. It doesn’t stress me out so much now that I’m used to cooking and living this way.
Some people out there, who are in pain and putting their lives at risk with these autoimmune disorders, don’t know that they might *need* to be crazy strict with their diets to heal.
I’ve managed to turn on two of my friends to my diet and they’ve healed dramatically from their crazy health problems. Neither of them can just have an Oreo when they want either.
Basically, I think this post is great for people who don’t have health issues, BUT, there is a HUGE segment of the WAPF and paleo communities that eat this way because they have to for their health. This is a really, really good thing to keep in mind when you are blogging about this diet! Everyone does not have your eating privilege.
You don’t need to be “crazy strict” to successfully avoid food allergens. If you have a medical need to avoid certain foods, then by all means, avoid them. That shouldn’t have to involve any sort of food obsession. Unfortunately, it often does—people with an allergy or sensitivity to one food tend to blame every last real or perceived health problem on a whole slew of other foods they deem to be troublesome, removing them one-by-one and actually increasing the body’s sensitivity to foods. It’s a vicious cycle. Quite often, these health issues stem from depressed metabolic function, not legitimate allergies. So, no, I don’t promote “crazy” dietary restriction, regardless of one’s health condition. That’s a big part of what has caused me to distance myself from the WAPF. (And I have never aligned with paleo.)
Ladonna Morgan says
Yes! I am so tired of various paleo WAPF bloggers posting about every little thing. It’s like everything you do is wrong. It drives me crazy and makes me want to revert to my old ways!
Very well put; it is important to be educated and have balance. Yes real food is better, but the occasional piece of bakery cake won’t hurt you long term if you have the good eating habit.
I Heart Butter Believer! I could spend all day soaking up the love in real foodie blogosphere land. About 6 months ago I stumbled across Food Renegade during my fitness fanatic lose the weight (I’m actually slim anyway, it was nuts!) and from there found Emily here at BB, Holistic Squid, too many to name! I’m healthier, happier (goodbye weird anxiety and brain fog) and my skin which never glowed, glows! And surprisingly, I’m slimmer on the hips chowing down on the butter and not freaking out about every little thing than when I was meticulously counting the calories in “healthy cooking spray”. Not to mention I’m much more pleasant a guest at dinner parties now!
Julie W says
I love this article. You probably shouldn’t run from a bear though, that thing will catch you so fast. Either play dead or stand your ground.
Haha, living in Bear Country (Alaska), I thought the same thing when I read that.
THANK YOU! So right on. Sharing this.
Thank you for this. I’ve been trying to stick to the Pagano Diet for a few months now to try to ease up my psoriasis and I keep falling off the proverbial wagon. Your post has me thinking that maybe if I at least stick to it for the bulk of my food intake maybe my odd slip up isn’t so bad.