Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rules and FAQs for the Six Ingredient Challenge

Six Ingredient Challenge buttonWe're glad you're following along with us on the Six Ingredient Challenge, which starts tomorrow, February 1st! You still have plenty of time to link up to let us know you're up for the six-week challenge to eat more whole foods. See the intro post to find out our schedule for upcoming posts and grab a Six Ingredient Challenge button.

Today we're laying out the nitty-gritty rules of the challenge and also presenting the first writing prompt at the end. Muse about your answers to the prompt, and come back next week to link up your posts or leave a comment with your answer.

Why six ingredients?

The idea of lowering the amount of ingredients in the foods we buy and eat is that our bodies do best with foods that are close to what humans have been eating for millennia. The fewer the ingredients, generally the less processed and more natural the food.

However, the reason for six ingredients exactly? Lauren and Sam came up with the specifics for the rules for this challenge, so I'll let her answer that question:

Frankly, Sam and I made up the challenge to suit ourselves. We'd seen various "real foods" and whole foods challenges that suggested limiting foods to five ingredients or fewer, but when we looked at a selection of the items we loved and that seemed wholesome (enough) to us, they had more. (Ha ha!) So we worked backwards until we found a level, along with the rules we also gradually came up with, that allowed us to eat the variety of foods we were used to and limited the amount of non-processed foods we would need to replace. Six it was!

In trying this out ourselves, we determined that six was a pretty reasonable number. It cuts out most processed and a lot of packaged foods, but it still allows for some condiments and treats, as well as homemade versions of what would otherwise be processed foods.

Here are the rules we all agreed on. If you want to be stricter or less so, that's up to you (honestly!) — do what works for you and your family, and make some strides toward eating more traditionally. If you're not using our rules, I'd just urge you to come up with your own concrete guidelines and then stick to those for the challenge.

What counts as an ingredient?

We decided early on that some elements should not count as ingredients, and there was some debating back and forth on what to include on this list. We wanted to preserve the spirit of the challenge (eating more whole and natural foods) without either unduly restricting wholesome foods that just had a bunch of yummy parts to them or making the guidelines so broad as to be meaningless.

It's easier to tell you what doesn't count:
  • Water
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits (this was a sticking point for us — we finally decided whole fruits and fruit pieces could be excluded, but fruit purees and juices could not, since they were primarily sugar)
  • Spices and herbs

In other words, if a food product has any of those in its ingredient list, skip over them when counting. If a soup is "Water, vegetable broth, carrots, beef, green beans, vinegar, garlic, black pepper," for instance, it would pass the six ingredients requirement because it would count as just two ingredients: beef and vinegar.

If sub-ingredients are listed in parentheses after a single ingredient (for instance, "milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, milk fat, soy lecithin)," count all the ingredients in parentheses and skip the parent ingredient in the count.

That's what we came up with, and you're free to alter the list to fit your own preferences or beliefs.

What about combining ingredients?

That's fine! This challenge will almost certainly get you cooking. I buy foods with fewer than six ingredients each and then I'm free to combine them in whatever way I like to at home. You'll likely find many of your concoctions still fall under six ingredients (with the exceptions noted above) if the parts you're cooking with are whole foods.

What effect will eating the Six Ingredients way have on my health?

Earlier in the week, I wrote about how my journey with intuitive eating led me to eating more whole foods. I've found that whole, unprocessed foods make my body feel most healthy, and many of the additives in processed foods make be feel bad. My intention is to eat whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible because that's what feels best to my body. One important point: This is not a weight-loss diet. You may find that your weight changes while eating this way (or you may not) but that's not the purpose of this challenge.

To start learning more about eating whole foods and some of the research and food science behind all of it, check out the books Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes; Practical Paleo, by Diane Sanfilippo; Real Food for Mother and Baby, by Nina Planck; In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan; and Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon. As a huge fan of documentaries, I have learned a lot (while being entertained) from learning by watching. I can recommend Fat Head (a little too heavy on the sarcasm and snark for my taste, but very informative nonetheless), King Corn, Forks Over Knives, Food Matters, and my personal top pick: Hungry for Change.

How will Six Ingredients challenge me?

It depends on how you've been eating before, but it can definitely feel like a transition: more to cook, more dishes to clean, fewer convenience foods, and less time for other things. I've been slowly making the shift to more homemade versions of former favorites ever since I gave up eating gluten over two years ago, so I've had a lot of time to adjust to cooking most of our meals (and snacks!) from scratch. Still, this challenge will push me to move even farther away from convenience foods and closer to their whole, made from scratch counterparts.

Do I have to get rid of everything in my pantry that doesn't qualify?

No way! That's why we started telling you about the challenge a week ahead of time, and why it lasts for six weeks. Lauren and Sam's rule when beginning this challenge was that if they already had it, they could use it up. Jaymz and I are also on a budget so we can't necessarily afford to be getting rid of food we we already have. If you'd rather purge the pantry and give your goodies to someone else, or set those items aside to deal with after the challenge, that's totally cool, too. Over the course of the challenge, you'll gradually stock up on the better stuff.

What about splurging on treats or eating out?

Here's where you're going to have to decide for yourself what your rules are. Lauren, Sam, Jaymz, and I have all decided to allow for eating out without worrying about ingredients lists. For us, this challenge is a way of making changes in the way we ate day-to-day, at home, so eating out or eating at other people's houses we decided to let pass. In the past few months, Jaymz and I have been putting more limits on how often we eat meals out of the house, and for this challenge we intend to continue the path toward eating at home for the vast majority of our meals. You're welcome to put your own restrictions on eating out, maybe turning this into a minimalist food challenge or low-spend month for you as well!

You can decide whether you get a "splurge budget" (for foods that don't qualify under the challenge rules) or not and what it is: maybe a non-qualifying food daily or weekly, a particular food or beverage you simply could not part with without obsessing or going off the wagon, or an actual monetary allowance per week you can spend on "forbidden" foods. You can also allow yourself to have items with more than six ingredients if you make them yourself at home, from scratch, since that will likely slow down your consumption of such treats. The idea of the challenge is to push your boundaries a little for the next six weeks, but also allow you to settle into a new way of eating that feels right for you long term.

What about pulling my family along for the challenge?

Some partners and kids are resistant to change. We get that! We'd recommend talking it through with your family (they might surprise you and be excited!), but you're going to have to decide how much stress it will be to transition reluctant family members. If you're the primary cook in the house, you can begin subbing out your old ingredients or boxed meals for newer, traditionally prepared varieties, and it's possible no one will be the wiser. However, there might be certain entrenched favorites that are just too dear to a loved one to give up. In cases like that, you'll have to decide what feels right to you: making a clear change (laying down the law, so to speak, and refusing to buy or prepare foods yourself that fall outside the challenge guidelines) or making exceptions and allowing your family members time to transition as they need to. Sometimes we're just not ready for change but will be in the future when we've seen enough modeling, so there's always hope!

Are we missing any questions and answers? Write in or comment with anything else you'd like to see addressed, either now or as the challenge continues.

We hope you'll join us by blogging or journalling about the writing prompt each week. We'll introduce the prompt each Thursday and host a link-up for the answers the following week.

Writing Prompt #1

Why do you want to participate in the Six Ingredient Challenge?

Writing prompt guidelines:

  • You have until next week to think of a response to the prompt. Post your response on your blog anytime by next week.
  • Next week's post (2/7) will have a writing prompt linky where you can link up your response.
  • If you don't have a blog, you can leave your response in the comments on next week's post (2/7).
  • Copy and paste the header below into your post to tag it as part of the challenge.
  • Responding to the writing prompts is optional and just a fun extra way to play along! We encourage you to at least think out a response.

Header code for your writing prompt post:

Simply copy the code in the box and paste it into the html box of your blogging software to appear at the top of your response post.


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