October Unprocessed: Are You Up for the Challenge?
One month. No processed foods.
The October Unprocessed challenge started five years ago with a simple question. California blogger and health fanatic Andrew Wilder asked himself: What would happen if he went a month without eating any unprocessed foods?
Wilder had been a vegetarian for years and found himself devouring books on various diets and eating plans in his free time. When he discovered Michael Pollan’s works–Food Rules, In Defense of Food, and The Omnivore’s Dilemma–he realized that the basic principals of eating were simple and, with a little research and restraint, you could avoid what the food industry churns out. You could avoid the standard American diet.
With a few friends on board, Wilder began removing processed foods from his diet. He soon learned how things that seemed healthy at first glance were deceivingly full of chemical ingredients—like vegetarian meat patties and margarine. He decided to focus on eating whole foods and re-engaging with the process of cooking his meals.
By the end of the month, Wilder was surprised at how different he felt. “My expectations and sense of taste were re-calibrated. I didn’t crave those salty snacks. I found myself in the kitchen, excited to see what I could cook next,” he said. “I simply felt better.”
Because of his personal success with the challenge, Wilder decided to open it up to the public through his blog, Eating Rules, in 2010. In the blog’s first year, 415 people signed up to eliminate processed foods from their diet for an entire month. This year, Wilder said, almost 20,000 participants have accepted the challenge.
Wilder knows that the challenge can be daunting for those used to eating processed foods. So while the month of October is focused on adopting a diet that is 100 percent unprocessed, he follows the 80/20 rule for the rest of the year. “If you're doing it right at least 80 percent of the time, I think you're in good shape,” Wilder said. “[October] is sort of like hitting the reset button.”
Over the past five years, the list of resources for October Unprocessed—from how to determine if your pantry staples are unprocessed to providing recipes that help you make the most of the month—have grown considerably. On his website, Wilder provides FAQs and analysis on ingredients like chocolate, flours, grains, and sweeteners; it’s a place where guest writers share nutritious recipes for Sweet Potato Fries, Pumpkin Chia Seed Pudding, and Spinach Almond Pesto.
The non-processed diet guidelines aren’t a strict set of rules. Rather, anyone who signs up for the challenge is encouraged to set their own parameters. With the mindset that every little change makes a difference, Wilder helps people navigate daily challenges such as time management, dining out, and resistance from family and friends through his blog posts.
Participants can also find year-round dietary support through the October Unprocessed Facebook group, where members hash out the best solutions to dealing with everything from the sugary onslaught of Halloween candy to how to appropriately use an unfamiliar vegetable.
Learn more about the challenge at eatingrules.com.