Andrew Wilder: UnProcessed

You can find Andrew Wilder at eatingrules.com

1. What was your personal journey that got you to create your blog Eating Rules?

I became a vegetarian in high school, after joining the animal rights club. Although I initially changed my diet primarily for animal welfare reasons, I began to recognize that what I ate affected my own health, and the health of the world around me. 

After college, as life got "busy" and I was traveling a lot for work, my diet became less and less healthy -- a "junk food vegetarian," if you will. My weight kept creeping up, and I had trouble concentrating and focusing. I added fish back into my diet, which helped with the brain fog, but I still didn't really understand how to truly eat healthfully.

Fast forward a few more years to 2009, and I was going through a major career change and a breakup after a nearly 4-year long relationship. My new year's resolution was to try online dating, and shortly after setting up my profile, there was a moment where I was walking through a parking lot -- on perfectly level ground -- and I felt like I was moving through molasses. That was my "ah-ha!" moment where I realized I needed to change. 

I decided to try Yoga, and I loved it. I started exercising more and more, and then started tracking my food with the Lose It app, and it became a kind of game to see how well I could do. I was in a self-affirming, upward spiral as I continued to get healthier and, most importantly, feel better.  Over the next six months, I lost about 30 pounds. I wasn't specifically trying to lose weight, as much as I was trying to feel good and look good. As I felt better (and looked better), my momentum just kept growing and growing.

By late that year, I wouldn't shut up about how great I was feeling and how changing my diet and exercising was so awesome. Since I was still looking for the next career move, and since everyone always says "Follow your passion and the money will come," I decided to pursue this passion of healthy eating and healthy living. Starting a blog was the logical next step.

2. What are your basic "eating rules"?

I'm a fan of the 80/20 principal, which basically means that you don't need to be perfect, as long as you're focusing your energy on the things that will hav e maximum impact. I eventually settled on three things that became my guiding principles of how to eat. They're definitely not perfect, but they are a huge step forward, particularly when eating out or buying prepared foods.

First, when you eat grains, eat only whole grains.  "Intact" whole grains are ideal, but if you're eating something with grains, make sure it is made with 100% whole grains.  (Not only is that healthier, but it rules out a majority of ultra-processed foods.)

Second, don't eat high fructose corn syrup. Back in 2010, HFCS was a great "marker" for ultra-processed foods. However, since manufacturers have been replacing HFCS with other concentrated sugars, it's probably time to adjust this rule. I'm tempted to make it "Don't eat concentrated sugars" but that's too restrictive, and I don't want the "line" to be fuzzy. I'm definitely open to suggestions here!

Third, don't eat trans fats or deep-friend foods.

But before you panic, know that I love French fries as much as you do. So I have a corollary to all these rules: Once a week, cheat.  Eat anything you want.  Maybe that's just one meal, or maybe that's an entire day - but the idea is to have some structure to it, so that when you do cheat, you love every moment of it, so it really counts.

3. How has this changed the way you live a healthy life? Has it changed your relationship with food?

Immensely!  Although the three rules seem really restrictive, what I ended up finding was they were also liberating, because it gives a bit of framework. Once I found foods I liked -- that tasted great and were also great for me -- it felt like a win-win. Ultimately, I discovered that healthy eating doesn't have to suck. It should be -- and very much can be -- a wonderful, joyful, life-affirming experience! Not every meal will do that, perhaps, but I've found that real, unprocessed food is the very best food of all.

A revelation like that can't happen overnight. If you've been eating highly processed foods for a long time, it's going to take some time for your palate to adjust. There are teams of scientists and research groups literally designing fast food (and similar) to trigger the pleasure centers in your brain, and they heighten the flavors to literally addict you to it.  It takes time and effort to break that cycle.

4. I know your amazing event October Unprocessedis right around the corner. How can people become a part of this?

Every year I try to get as many people as possible to avoid processed food for the entire month of October. It's a very simple concept, but in practice it's definitely a challenge. It starts with you defining "unprocessed" for yourself, and then making a commitment to give it a shot. It's not about perfection, it's about progress and awareness.  I hope you'll join us! Here's the main challenge page - just fill out the (very short!) form to take the "pledge" with us. 

There's something very powerful about signing your name, even if it is a silly little form on some guy's blog. It's a public declaration that "YES, I'M GOING TO TAKE THE LEAP!"

5. How has Unprocessed October affected people who have joined in?

This is the seventh year of the challenge, and each year I get more and more notes from people saying that it's had a lasting impact on them. Some people have lost significant amounts of weight, primarily because the month was enough time for them to learn how to eat better, recalibrate their taste buds, and truly change their lifestyle moving forward. 

It's also not just about losing weight or being physically healthier -- it's also about experiencing the joy of food. I always encourage people to invite their friends, family, and coworkers. Not only is it more fun, but everyone is more successful when they do it together.

The first year I did the challenge -- before I had started my blog -- I just did it with two other friends. We weren't that close when we started, but throughout the month we cooked and ate together, shared recipes and encouragement, and we became much closer friends. Real food brought us closer together, simple as that.

As a more concrete example: Jamey Bennett -- shared how unprocessed eating changed his life, and just last week even wrote a song about it!

6. What do you hope for the future of society's nutrition/ body outlook? (Dieting, etc)

I want people to be healthy. That doesn't just mean physical health, it also means mental and spiritual health. They're all interrelated. If you're seeking health through food, you still need to be able to "indulge" (whatever that means) in a way that lets you live the best life possible. I want people to lead a life filled with joy and great experience, not guilt and regret about what they're eating. It takes time, and it takes work, and it takes a lot of self-awareness and self-love.

I also don't buy into the whole "personal responsibility" argument. We need a level playing field, and our food culture is horrendously tilted in the favor of "Big Food' companies. Government subsidies of cheap food (billions of dollars to grow corn for HFCS and cattle feed, rather than for fresh produce, for example), bogus marketing claims ("All-natural!" is meaningless) and scientific studies funded by food companies (with the results in their favor almost all the time, of course), make it extremely challenging for someone to know what is, and is not, actually good for her or him.

Ultimately, we do need to take personal responsibility -- not just because that will improve our health, but because it will transform the system itself.

Interested in checking out the October Unprocessed Challenge? You can sign up right HERE.