21-Day Real Food Challenge: A Review

Being a foodie and dietitian in DC, I get to meet some pretty amazing people.  Miss Holly Larson (also an RD) is one of them – we met while working on the same nutrition contract back in 2012.  When we figured out that we lived in the same neighborhood, and practically on the street, and both loved to cook, wine, farmer’s markets, and Spa World…well let’s just say we’ve been friends ever since.

Holly Larson

Sadly (though happily for her!), Holly moved back to her home state of Ohio (why-o, why-o?) and opened up shop doing nutrition coaching, cooking classes, and a cool service called Bridebod that focuses on nutrition from engagement to post-wedding lifestyle.  She also started the 21-Day Real Food Challenge, which you can do from anywhere in the country!

What the challenge includes:

  • Introduction to nutrition & metabolism
  • Program guide with menu plans
  • Shopping tips and lists
  • Open access to ask Holly questions
  • Access to the private Facebook group that offers support, inspiration, and conversation

All of that, for $50. Consider this: you’re more likely to stick to what you pay for (ie, place value on), and most people pay at least that for an hour with a dietitian – you’ll have the chance to ask Holly anything that pops into your sweet head, at no extra cost!  And if you’re a student, bike commuter, or farmer, you get half off – and will probably save more than that by cooking more at home, anyway.

If you’re still on the fence, here’s what it did for me:

I was excited to join for the month of February, but unsure of what I would get out of it – as you may imagine, my food consciousness is at a pretty high level, and I already prepare most of what I eat.  What changes would I really have to make, I wondered?  Turns out: several.

Sugar Swap: Resetting my Default
I like to talk to people I coach about their default choices – what they do most of the time, from what and how much they eat for breakfast, to how they deal with stress, to bedtime.  These “defaults” are also known as “habits” and they’re what can make or break you.  My default is to have tea with my morning meal, and a spoonful of sugar is what I prefer.  There’s nothing wrong with a little sugar here and there in the diet, but Holly makes the point that while most sugars are metabolically and chemically equivalent, honey (or maple syrup, in some places) is a superior choice because they can be purchased locally.  Part of the challenge is to minimize added sugar for the 21 days, and so my default of table sugar changed to honey…and that’s one I can keep up!  I’ll still use regular (cane) sugar for baking treats, but my tea will get a hit of sweet, smooth, Virginia-produced honey.
2014-02-14 10.51.10

A better bread
My bread choice has been 100% whole grain for years now.  The “100%” and “whole” parts are the key and crucial parts to look for, but beyond that I tended to play it by sale.  Unfortunately, most grain products these days tout an ingredient list longer than a candy bar’s, and while I don’t really think the additives are the biggest drivers of health problems, there are better options out there.  And it’s all about the default!  Holly breaks down options by brand and highlights the best choices.  While I don’t have to avoid gluten myself, I find that I don’t consume very much bread, so purchasing one loaf of Ezekiel bread (at a whopping $5.99!) lasted me for the entire challenge plus a few days and didn’t break the bank.  It’s kept in the freezer, so freshness isn’t a problem even though it doesn’t contain any preservatives.  (Side note, next time you talk to someone living in Europe, ask about the bread.  They’ll probably tell you it goes bad in a few days, because their food standards are different from ours and many breads don’t contain preservatives!)

Keep it in the family
Or at least in state, if possible…I’m a huge fan of eating local, which is part of the challenge, but I did slip once when strawberries were on ridiculous sale at the store.  $1.99 for a pound? I couldn’t resist…but did live to regret it.  Grown in Mexico, they were picked before their prime to stand up to shipping, and were a sad, gray echo of the bursting juicy strawberry flavor their local in-season relatives provide.  I have resumed waiting for the farmer’s markets to open here in April, and look forward to those soft, vibrant berries with dreams of shortbread and cream.
2014-02-14 15.10.39
This was my recovery snack for a day – at least the chocolate milk was awesome!  If you missed it, join me on Instagram for food inspiration and motivation to move!

All in all, a fabulous experience – I got to really rethink some of my food choices, and connect with some awesome new people without leaving my desk :)  So – sign up!  March’s group starts on Saturday!

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