This was way harder than I expected. Seven days of meals without using any ingredients that were packaged or had a barcode on them certainly identified how convenient my eating habits had become.
[To skip to the crux of the experience, click here – dot points]
The first observation was how much preparation was required for each meal. The process of getting hungry and then eating something straight away has become a habit for me, so to actually plan ahead for every meal was a chore to begin with. I also established that without the aid of additives (oils, packaged spices, sauces etc), I’m really not that good at cooking.
Olive oils, salts, spices in jars, flavoured sauces etc were all out. All meals could only be made through a combination of fruit and vegetables acquired from the nearby farmer’s market, and organic, unpackaged rolled oats acquired from the health food store nearby. The wifey and I have been vegetarians for a while now so only using vegetables was not new, but cutting out loads of other awesome stuff was.
…without the aid of additives (oils, packaged spices, sauces etc), I’m really not that good at cooking.
No oil or cooking lube
A few of the meals consisted of baked or pan-fried vegetables which proved to be tricky without olive oil or butter (or greasiness of some kind), and inevitably ended with burnt food and ruined pans. Baking paper solved that problem to some degree, but some meals still ended up scorched. Achieving a crispy finish on anything was beyond me (unless we dried the life out of it in the oven).
No painkillers to save the day
Wifey’s mum calls sauces and spices “painkillers” because usually if something tastes a bit wrong, you just smash it with sauce or spices. This was also not an option, so everything we made had to rely on the actual ingredients rather than any boosters. The produce we had was fresh and tasted wonderful, but somehow when I tried to combine them, I ended up with a bowl of skuz (I guess kind of like if you have a palette of beautiful colours and mix them all together you end up with a shitty brown colour).
I also butchered a couple of meals by using too many fresh herbs. Being used to dry herbs which aren’t very powerful, I overdid the fresh herbs a lot.
Fruit fruit is magic
Supermarket plastic perfect sprayed shiny fruit is usually a disappointment and fruit suffers because of it. Actual fruit fruit that hasn’t been sprayed, handled, massaged, and beautified is mind-blowing. It is hard to articulate how satisfying eating a couple of locally grown fresh strawberries or a wedge of pineapple can be.
Eating isn’t about food
For a long time, eating and meals haven’t been about the food, or at least, not about the nutrition. Eating these days is an event, three times a day. Everyone is having smoothies for breakfast, and they will tell you all about it. Or they will have breakfast at the trendy café down the road. Oh, you haven’t been there? We go there all the time. The owners know our orders. We love it. You should go.
At an absolute minimum, most meals these days need to look pretty, or Instagramable. Or they need to be ready to go now, or they need to be cheap. At some point food choices went from being what will sustain us and provide us with energy, to being a form of entertainment, or something that is ready immediately, or something that doesn’t cost me a lot of money (or all of the above). If the greatest tasting health food snack of all time doesn’t have a fascinating label, no one will ever know what it tastes like.
If the greatest tasting health food snack of all time doesn’t have a fascinating label, no one will ever know what it tastes like.
It makes sense why raw foodies/vegans/dietary hardcores may talk about it a lot
I came to the conclusion that to keep this up, one would need to be truly passionate about it. Not just casually interested in being fit and healthy, but truly motivated to nurture one’s body – a passion. And like any passion, people enjoy talking about them – sports we play, our kids, our jobs, our car, well-priced stylish clothing range etc.
Weight loss and training
I consider myself to be in reasonably decent physical condition – I mean I can knock out 30 flutter-kick toes-to-bar’s like I just don’t care, so I wasn’t looking to lose weight and certainly didn’t consider myself to have a weight problem. However, despite doing my best to eat enough throughout the challenge, I lost about 4kg. But I also think that this is misleading for two reasons:
- I was hungry a lot so the weight loss likely came through a reduction in food in general rather than simply eating better; and
- By removing the delicious weird foods, I would guess that issues such as inflammation of various areas, and water/liquid retention from too much or not enough of certain things were probably reduced in some degree as well.
In terms of physical training, I don’t think I suffered any reductions in performance or any ill effects at all. In fact, some of the movements we practise (handstand push-ups, pull-ups, one legged squats etc) seemed a little easier, perhaps simply because I was a lighter.
Though one night I had a dream about Tim Tams – a normal, sensible dream that involved finding Tim Tams in the freezer.
Overall health and general feeling
I hate the term “detox” because it is terribly misused a lot, but that’s what this felt like. I was pretty moody for the first few days and my sleeping and bathroom habits were unpredictable. I was also moderately miserable knowing that there were zero fun-foods on the horizon. But by the end I was experiencing an odd feeling of “clean” that I haven’t felt before. I don’t want to overstate that, it’s not like I found God, but waking up each morning knowing that the day before I had provided nothing but fresh fruit and veges to my body was pleasing, almost like I had banished any nutritional excuses for not being on top of my game.
I don’t think the 7 Day Barcode Ban has been a terribly healthy challenge for me, mainly because I don’t know what mix of veges I should be eating and when. But as I mentioned above, I do feel “cleaner” (which is probably a softer term for “healthier” anyway) so that is pleasing. I am going to try to stick with this a little longer and see what happens. If I can sort out how to cook nice things, I think it may actually be something that I can benefit from.
- When you start to become aware of barcodes, you realise how many things are barcoded. This is bad because when most plant matter is picked it won’t last a week. But barcoded vegies can be picked, distributed, bagged or packaged, and then redistributed and then sit on a shelf for a few days before we get to them. What is being used to keep these things looking so fresh and lively?
- Not using fillers (potato/sweet potato and eggs) all the time takes a lot of creativity.
- It was difficult as it was to cut out processed foods (pastas, milks), rice, legumes etc but it was the little things that really made it hard. Not using olive oil, salt, pepper, any spices in a jar, stock, etc was frustrating. Relying on the flavours of the vegetables rather than boosting them with something foreign was tricky.
- So much preparation. It is not horrifically inconvenient, but there are times when I will decide on a meal exactly at the moment that I am ready to gnaw on my own arm which will usually result in something convenient (rice, breads, wraps etc). But this vege caper is none-too-immediate, so you need to anticipate your hunger.
- It is very difficult to find recipes that are additive free – most recipe sites I visited are click-bait destinations rather than useful sources of information. Having looked through numerous sites listing “vegetable only” or “no additive” recipes, inevitably they use oils, alternate-flours, ground-up-something, something extract etc.
- Herb use is fraught with danger. I butchered a couple of meals by applying dry herb quantities of fresh herbs. Fresh herbs are much stronger than dry herbs which resulted in some wildly overpowering herbiness.
- Whilst not the intention, the microwave wasn’t used at all for the week. Nothing we made needed it.
- Real fruit direct from the source without chemicals is unbelievable and actually prevents the cravings that may arise for sweets.
For the sake of seven days, it is certainly worth a go. If you have any kind of form in the kitchen, you will probably have a much better time than I did. But well worth a go if you are considering giving your diet a shake-up.