Monday, October 4, 2010

In The Process

Along the Third Creek Greenway - Knoxville, TN
October 2, 2010

In the process..........of a complete meltdown!  Wow, that's not how this post was supposed to begin and is not how it will end!  However, somewhere in the middle is one of those mornings when everything I attempt seems to go wrong.  This is third Monday morning of my new goal to keep Monday totally free of any outside commitments.  It is a day for catching up in every since of the word - routine tasks, mental rest, physical rest, spiritual refreshment, healthy journey planning and anything else that Sharon needs to replenish in order to be productive the rest of the week.

Here's how this Monday has gone so far:
1)  While recording our utility payment (it's an auto-payment, which I highly recommend), I noticed our water usage more than doubled last month.  Not good since the usual implication is a leak somewhere.   Customer Service adopted their normal not nice persona and refused to come for a recheck because it certainly couldn't be any fault of their meter reader!

2)  Our medical insurance is undergoing a complete overhaul 1/1/11 and I've resisted completing the new forms as long as I can.   I designed benefit plans and forms for many years in CorporateLand, so I know these terms well.   They are so darn complicated and confusing to me - I don't see how anyone gets them completed and retains their sanity.  And this is just the forms - guess we just ignore the fact that premiums are rising and benefits are declining!!   

3)  Ordered medication last Thursday which was supposed to be delivered Friday.  I'm still on a bit of a protest over our pharmacy benefits which changed last July.   We now no longer have the option to purchase locally - it HAS to be by mail order.  This is a specialty med that MUST be signed for.  So I waited at home all day Friday for a package that never came.   When I called this morning, it turns out they knew the shipment was delayed, but "we do not consider it our responsibility to notify you."   WHAT!!!

4)  Last, but not least, I stepped on the scale this morning and GAINED 1.5 pounds.  This, after staying the same both Saturday and Sunday mornings.  This, after remaining faithfully on plan, biking 36 miles and walking 38,000 steps over the three days.   Go figure!!

So what am I doing???   Well, I was cussing until I starting writing this.   Now, I'm laughing and I hope you are laughing with me.   After a gloomy and drizzly day yesterday, the sun just broke through and in the whole scheme of things, these are all very minor!   I'm going to finish this post and head for the outdoors.  Isn't that what October is for????  Oh, and BTW, not even once have I been tempted to drown my issues this morning with food.  In fact, I got so wrapped up in these phone calls, I forgot to eat breakfast. 

Now, let's move right along "in the process."  

The more I read, the more I become intrigued by the term "processed" food.  I find the term used and overused in books, magazine articles, websites, talk shows, seminars and yes, even in blogs.  It is no secret that I read and enjoy many blogs and my desire is to learn something from and about each person behind the words I read in their blog.  Over time, I've realized that we all have a different definition of "processed" food and contrasting versions or aversions to how much "processed" food we will eat.  Some seem to pay no attention, others realize it's almost impossible in today's convienence oriented society to NEVER eat anything "processed," others are openly disdainful of anything or anyone who knowingly eats "processed" food.

In googling "what is processed food?" I got 8,650,000 hits.   Is this a sensitive topic or what?   One thing I noticed in checking out a few of those links, is that "processed" food and "convenience" food are often listed interchangeably or considered the same.  The articles are fascinating and you'll find something published on a daily basis reinforcing the fact that this is truly a "hot" topic and rightly so.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll have to admit I eat a lot of food that falls into the classic definition of "processed."  I've never been a very good or creative cook and lost 60 pounds eating mainly frozen dinners.  I still eat a lot of them.   I like them and it provides easy portion control.   But even with enviable numbers in the blood pressure and cholesterol categories, I've always known these are high in sodium and other not so great ingredients and that perhaps, someday I should begin the process (no pun intended) of eating them less often.  That "weaning" period may be about to start.

What I want is feedback from you regarding this topic.
1)  How (be specific) do you define "processed" food?
2)  What foods do you eat that might be considered "processed?"
3)  Is this for convenience purposes or other reasons?
4)  If you eat nothing processed, has this always been the case or a deliberate decision at some point?
5)  Do you think it is possible (maybe the better word is practical) to eat a diet that is completely free of processed foods?
6)  Are convenience foods purchased from places like Whole Foods or Trader Joe's better than those purchased from a regular grocery store?

I'm curious and I think a lot of others are as well, so I'm opening up my blog for comments, criticism (only constructive!!) and advice.  Not just for me, but for all of us! 

One thing is for sure - this isn't something that is going to get better or go away.   Nor do I believe "processed" food is going to suddenly become healthy.  So as I continue my own healthy eating journey and form my own stance, am I or am I not willing to take a stand as food becomes more and more "processed" until we no longer recognize it as food!   Am I or am I not willing to make whatever sacrifice necessary in terms of time or expense to eat in a way that I know is best?

My answers to those statements about my willingness to change are still being formulated, but I'd sure like some company in working them out in practicality!  Any takers??


  1. One blogger I follow was swearing off processed food for a month and I could not believe the list of things! I guess I would officially define it as anything that has ingredients put together in a manufacturing plant. So ketchup and salad dressing are processed, as are frozen dinners. But for me, I am all about some convenience foods to make my life easier. I eat a lot of frozen black bean burgers for example. And now and then I have a protein bar or a frozen dinner. (I choose based on the fiber, calories, protein and sugar count, not the franken-ingredients.) Very processed! I do think some processed items are healthier than others but where you buy them doesn't matter. In an ideal world, I suppose we'd all be better off without the stuff that adds sodium and unpronounceable ingredients. But I'm too practical to think I could cut them all out.

  2. Thank you for your comments & prayers. Means a lot to me.
    Funny you mention "processed" - I look at it as basically packaged food, however, almost everything is packaged now so my definition has to be changed! I used to look at it as food that wasn't "real" (processed cheese) but now I look at it as food that either isn't real or won't go bad very quickly (which means it's got stuff in it that I don't want)...I try to eat "clean" - basically simple & homemade. Not always possible, but as much as possible. And I feel the best when I do this.
    I can't stand the sodium in prepared meals from the freezer section - I used to eat them pre-GF but now I can't and try not to eat the GF ones. One meal that I did buy had 950mg of sodium and it was such a small meal!!! Yikes! All I could taste was salt - I even wrote the company about it.


  3. Sharon, on my "Plan" processed means anything out of a box or package with more than 4 or 5 ingredients, especially sodium. I also refer to processed foods and restaurant foods in the same sentence, because to me it means I am eating the unknown. Having said that, our fresh veggies bought at almost anywhere other than our local growers are loaded with pesticides and other chemicals. Which is worse? I don't know the answer to that. I do know that when I eat restaurant food, it usually causes me digestive distress in some form. But when I eat a little too much fresh corn or okra, I get digestive distress, too.

    As for why I eat processed, it is mostly for convenience. And of course it's impossible/impractical to eat only unprocessed foods. The little devils are going to sneak in on us somewhere.

    I love to cook. But if I didn't, or couldn't for some reason, I would eat the frozen dinners for dieters, too.

  4. I opened my water bill and it's WAY more than normal too. Like 4 times as high as my normal "high" bills. :/ Ugghh.. I called they're are coming out to check. It's outrageous and I have no idea how I will be able to pay for it or the costs of fixing a possible leak. :/ I feel your pain!

    With that said, I guess I define process foods as anything not fresh or made from scratch. I try to eat as clean/fresh as possible but I get more than my fair share of processed. I grew up eating out and eating a lot of processed foods, unfortunately. I don't have a lot of culinary skills but I try to do better. I really think the cleaner/fresher we eat the less obesity issues we would have and the more food we could actually consume. I'm sure processed foods are a lot harder on the digestive system and therefore take a lot longer to burn.

  5. I'm glad you asked these questions. I'll be checking back to see the answers.

    I've never read up on processed food definitions or what clean eating officially means--even tho 1 of my Hot 100 goals is to eat clean (without being freakishly extreme!)

    I've been meaning to get the offical definitions--this will help!

    For me, processed foods are those foods that have been prepared in a factory and have lots of chemicals or unexpected ingredients.

    By uunexpected I mean things like ready-made mashed potatoes with barley gluten added. No
    one in real life puts barley gluten in mashed potaotes. It should not be in there. It is added to help the potatoes hold their shape and have the texture they would have if the usual amount of butter had been added.

    There's lots of barley gluten in fat-free food, by the way.

    I suppose ketchup and mayonaise and taco shells are processed--but I'm not making my own. so they go under the caveat of avoiding freakish extremism. :)

    Frozen TV dinners are processed--again, those chemicals--but fresh frozen veggies that haven't been tinkered with are not. Frozen cauliflower probably has more nutrients than fresh, for instance, and no additional ingredients or chemicals than what you get in the produce dept.

    Canned soup is processed. So is Spam and Steak-umms and canned baked beans. Chemicals and unexpected ingredients in all. Most boxed items like mac&cheese, and Hamburger Helper and RiceaRoni--all processed. Tons of chemicals.

    I eat some Ragu. Also processed. But I eat very little of it. I suppose canned tomato sauce is also processed, but I use it. Again, I have a limit as to how far into inconvenience I will go.

    I rarely use non-calorie sweetners. Even the ones that say they are natural. The potency is not natural. Don't trust it. Although I will occasionally use it, but rarely.

    I would think that, technically, yogurt and cheese are processed, but their ingredients list is pretty "regular"--and who makes their own cheese, you know?

    Well, that's enough. I pretty much cook from scratch and am buying less and less from the center aisles of the grocery store.

    Oh. Regular grocery store--nothing special about the ingredients I use. I would buy organic if available, tho.


  6. First, I love the emotional metamorphosis that you had as you wrote this post. First frustrated and later down right chipper. Who says blogging is not therapeutic.

    I definitely eat processed foods. I think it is hard to avoid them. I think the key is minimally processed. One way to tell (this is Marion;s way) is to examine the list of ingredients, if the ingredients are 5 or less, you can wager that for the most part, the food item was minimally processed. For a great discussion on processed foods I recommend posts ( on Marion's blog, plus her book: How to Eat is fantastic.

  7. The Eat Clean method of eating defines processed foods as those that have been altered by chemicals. Foods that more than a few ingredients. I do miss ketchup...I have a homemade version that I make.

    It was a deliberate decision for me to rid my diet of things I couldn't pronounce,and I feel 100% for it. I feel less tempted to eat junk and less temped to overeat.

    At the grocery store, there are plenty of "whole" or "real" foods, some are even convenience foods. It seems the food industry is seeing the need and marketing to such.

    Sorry if I overuse the word! It's just nice to use one word to define how I am eating. I believe it's worth a go, even it you don't love to cook. There are some pretty easy recipes out there...especially in the Eat Clean magazine.

    My Monday off became very busy today too! I can totally relate. Let's do better next week, ok?

  8. For me processed foods are things like frozen meals, and just about anything that is not in its most natural state. I never have cared for pre-prepared meals because I was such a picky eater as a child, I didn't know what might be in those things, like vegetables! :) As it turns out I was ahead of my time, I was just concerned about the wrong things being in my food.

    I buy what I consider ingredients at the store and put my meals together from them. So I buy, meat from the butcher shop, fruits & vegetables from the produce department, etc. The most processed thing I buy is whole wheat flour.

    I like to cook and experiment in the kitchen, so trying new things is fun for me. A couple of years ago I started making my own peanut butter and now that stuff they sell in the store tastes like wax to me. Recently, I started making our bread using whole wheat flour, almonds & honey. It is quite good.

    I really like food much better in a more natural state. I think it is much more flavorful and satisfying. I promised myself, however that I would not become militant and turn in to one of those 'health nuts' when I started this process. I don't think that has happened (not yet), I'm just finding a whole new world of healthy food.

    BTW, we had mail order medication for a couple of years, and I hated it!

  9. I limit the processed foods as well. If it has high fructose corn syrup, trans fat or too much sodium - it's out. I avoid canned beans, soups and veggies unless they are sodium free. We do chips occasionally, but only the ones that are corn, oil and salt. (As a treat.)

    I do other things, but this comment would be too long. It really has been a process for me - all these years and I'm still learning about nutrition and making healthier choices.

  10. Good question and the answers will vary by opinions on what is "processed", most likely.

    I guess if you get technical, milk is processed unless you have your own cow and drink raw milk.

    We eat mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, so those aren't processed. However, I use canned diced tomatoes and those are processed.

    If you make your own soup with fresh ingredients, but you use canned broth as a starter, then it has processed food in it.

    We do try to avoid cured meats about 99% of the time. We rarely buy lunch meats, hot dogs, bacon, ham or pepperoni.

    All margarines are very processed, but I know if I buy real butter, I'll eat way too much of it and there go the pounds again!

    Commercial products like: ketchup, mayo, mustard, salad dressings are all processed. We use them all.

    I do try not to buy things like boxed side dish items (mac 'n cheese, potato dishes, etc) or frozen meals, even those labeled "Healthy". We use them very rarely.

    I think the only way to really and truly avoid processed foods is to live like a pioneer and that isn't practical for most of us on a daily basis.

    Margie M. writes at:

  11. Sharon...yes!!! I was laughing even before I read that you hoped I was. I relate to you on so many levels (even the cussing) oh my!!! What a great intro to a very sensitive subject.

    To answer your question...I try to eat as few processed foods as possible. I define processed foods as anything that has artificial ingredients that aren't found in nature. Basically, I like to eat foods as close to the way God made them as possible. The best way I've found to do this is to chose foods that DO NOT have an "ingredients" list. If there's only one thing in the package...there's no need for a list of ingredients. For those items that DO have a list...I try to chose those that only have a few ingredients. Am I perfect at this? No. Do I ever eat junk? Yes. But overtime I've made huge improvements in this area.

    Sounds like a great conversation to have on our hike!!!

  12. Hi Sharon! Sounds like a gloomy Monday to start, but I am glad you were able to enjoy some sun towards the end. :) (in mood and weather)

    I find food snobbery and diet snobbery a bummer, though I admit I have been one or both at one time in my life or another. Whenever someone finds something that works for them, the first tendency is to want to set everyone straight and frown upon others' ways (You will notice my blog started out this way, but I have been working at removing that tone ever since now). So, I don't get how others "look down" on those eat processed, or meat, simply because they don't believe in it . Anyway.... for me... it's a learning process, too! Processed is anything easy and "ready to eat" without preparation. If it has a shelf life of more than a few days unfrozen, it's probably processed. I try not to stress too much about it... but I try to eat more veggies and fruits. Actually, I tell myself I can eat all the veggies and fruits I want. Last night I had one orange. Then I wanted another. And had it. (Better than a WHOLE bag of chips from days gone by). Usually when I have just one of REAL, WHOLE foods, I am good, though. So... another way I determine processed food or not for myself: Do I want to binge on this food? IF I want to binge on it, it's probably processed and full of sugars, fat and MSG or other preservatives. I never want to "binge" on oranges, apples, or lean protein. Go figure! But, I would eat five frozen dinners and still not be full. Or a bag of chips, or a container of ice cream. Real, whole foods give me a "full" feeling.

    (sorry so long... you get me rambling!) :)


  13. I haven't sworn off of processed foods, but in sitting down and thinking about it, specifically, I don't know that I eat much that is processed on this diet. The fruits and veggies are fresh or frozen, with the exception of the occasional canned pineapple in its own juice. The whole grains are, well, whole. I will sometimes used canned beans, but I rinse them of the salt before using them. I used canned sometimes, because I can't find the type I want in dried form all the time. I do use soy milk or almond milk, which is processed. Some of the condiments are processed, of course. Bread is bought (not homemade). That is processed. Hmmmm...I have to think about this some more. LOL

  14. It would be hard for me to give up all processed foods because of the time and convenience factor. On my schedule, just not enough time to prepare/cook everything fresh......

    I think it would be better to remove PF from our diets.

  15. Wow, you got a lot of good comments on this. Very interesting topic to me. I think of myself as eating very few processed foods now. But I would have to go through my cupboards to see if that is true.

    It has definitely been a process for me. I lost most of my weight eating a lot of processed foods--w.w. snacks, diet pudding, lean cuisines, etc. then when I started working with my personal trainer, she really turned my thoughts around about eating only natural foods and the best ingredients. She feels that some of the ingredients in processed foods are what lead you to want 'more' just like sugar, fat, and salt.

    Since I like to cook, this was a natural progression for me. I really like knowing that almost everything I put in my mouth not only tastes good, but is good for my body.

  16. I do the same thing when I have one of *those* days--cuss and fret and then eventually find the humor in it. Laughter cures a lot of ills, doesn't it?

    Processed foods, for me, are foods that have unknown chemicals or preservatives added to them. I limit those foods, but I don't avoid them completely. (I'm not about to make my own mustard! LOL) It's not a perfect diet, but I'm content rinsing canned beans and tossing frozen corn in the microwave. I'm not okay with processed cookies and crackers and such. For those, I seek an alternative or avoid them. It's an imperfect balance that works for me.

  17. Great post here! Sorry your day didn't go as planned. That is life!

    I think it would be great to be eating free of all processed foods but I happen to like the convenience of many of them!

    I guess right now I am not willing to do what it takes to achieve the 100% clean eating diet status. I am not going to make my own everything from scratch.

    But that is okay I believe in moderation and finding a balance that works for me.

    It is a learning curve. I have cleaned up our diet a lot from what it use to be and I continue to do so a little at a time.

  18. So sorry your Monday was that way. Very frustrating. Actually it sounds a lot like my Monday. Love how your post turned around though. What a great topic. And I loved reading through the answers.
    I consider that I avoid processed foods. I guess I'd hop on the short ingredient list bandwagon for a definition. The ones I do use tend to be condiments--chutney, lime juice, lemon juice, gray poupin mustard, soy sauce, green olives, cocktail sauce, chili sauce, Classico tomato basil sauce, Safeway southwest salsa, stir fry sauce--these are in very small amounts, usually 1 T or so and a maximum of 1/2 cup per serving and only with dinner. I do buy boxed pasta, couscous & brown rice, but it's all whole grain and eat 3/4 c per day if that's the starch I choose. I also eat Post shredded wheat, which only has 1 ingredient. I make my own salad dressing. I buy lean meat, fish, and chicken, veggies & fruits. I don't eat bread or rolls. I used to eat frozen WW meals when I worked, but I had a very hard time losing weight--probably because of the salt. Oh, my total splurge to processed food, my dessert every night--a WW frozen latte bar or frozen strawberry yogurt bar. Totally worth it!!!