Counting chemicals, not calories – how our family shifted from processed to whole foods

Updated: May 9

by Shannon Talbot

Growing up I always heard, you’re all skin and bones, you’re too skinny. I even had a guy I was dating say I would look better if I had a bit more meat on me. Now I’m sure some of you are thinking “if only you didn’t have to worry about gaining weight and ooooh what a terrible problem to have” (sarcastic of course) and you’re right, I’m lucky in that respect. But here’s the thing, my family has super high metabolism. We just don’t really gain weight. And you know what comes with super high metabolism, at least for me? Not worrying about what I put into my body. I would even eat more junk so I could try and put some meat on my bones. KFC Toonie Tuesday? Yes please. Kraft dinner and hot dogs? Yum! Top that with a super busy family and a mom (that’s me) who doesn’t really cook and what do you get? A diet with a lot of processed foods (aka lots of chemicals). Now don’t get me wrong, we ate a lot of healthy foods too but where we were falling short were our weeknight dinners. Frozen meatballs, frozen stuffed chicken, pre-made sauces, packaged side dishes, and more. They were just so convenient! But what was saving us time in the kitchen was making us less healthy in the long run.


My first encounter with changing my diet happened about 10 years ago. My husband and I were going through fertility treatments and were trying everything under the sun to get pregnant. We saw a naturopath who had me eliminate dairy and eggs and had my husband eliminate gluten for 6 weeks. The problem is, which I didn’t realize until recently, is that we did it all wrong. We didn’t take the time to properly plan for our new diet or research healthy alternatives that would still fill us up. We also didn’t understand all of the reasons why these foods were being eliminated from our diets. This led to resentment to the point of feeling it was a bit of a conspiracy theory to eliminate these foods. Again, we didn’t have all of the information. We picked up some healthy alternatives but ended up feeling starving and irritable and both of us got nasty, nasty colds. Needless to say, we tried the new diet for the recommended 6 weeks, didn’t get pregnant and went back to our regular diets, literally overnight. And the resentment of not seeing any results of the diet and feeling pretty crappy for 6 weeks stayed with me for some time.


With the adoptions of our boys, whom we adopted at birth, my body became a hot topic yet again. Again, I was judged for being too skinny by anyone who didn’t know our story. I would get dirty looks while pushing the stroller in a tank top and shorts, women scanning me from head to toe and whom were probably cursing me under their breath for losing the baby weight so fast. I even had one man run up to me and say “that’s not your baby” which is probably the worst thing to hear as a new adoptive mom. I stared at him in shock. He then followed it with “you don’t look like you just had a baby.” I would also get new moms asking what my secret was to shedding the baby weight so fast. Their faces would soften with relief once I told them my story. I almost wanted to wear a shirt that read “I adopted my babies” as I didn’t want anyone to feel bad about their bodies and every woman’s body has a story to tell. My story revolved around being self-conscious about my weight and usually thinking about how I could gain more. A goal that doesn’t equal eating healthy and exercising. At least not at the time.


While I knew healthy eating and exercising were important, they just didn’t top my priority list. As crazy and naive as it sounds, I wished I had had a motivator or a goal to eat healthier and exercise more, but I didn’t and as I saw it, there was just no time. Eating healthy and exercising would consistently move down in priority as my focus and time went to my family and work.


Well, fast forward to 2020. A year where health tops the headlines. A year where staying healthy is a priority across the globe. A year where for the first time since having kids I put health on the top of my priority list. I started studying health and wellness and habit change. I learned about the amount of chemicals in processed foods and the concept of counting chemicals, not calories. Now this was something that intrigued me. After all, who wants to eat a diet full of chemicals. The more ingredients something has, the greater the likelihood that it's highly processed and full of chemicals. I pulled out a few of our packaged foods and counted the ingredients. The average number of ingredients per item was 24 – yup you read correctly, 24! With many of the ingredients being unpronounceable, I gathered they probably weren’t the best for us. I was right.

Did you know that, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation in Canada, people consume almost 50% of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods?

It became crystal clear our diet needed an overhaul. Processed foods had to go. The problem was my husband and getting him on board. I love my husband but he is a skeptic by nature and stubborn as heck. He also does most of the cooking and grocery shopping and a diet change would mean drastically changing his roster of weeknight meals. Our last diet change trial was a bust after all. I knew the only way to get him on board was a) to share what I was learning in my studies and b) to actively participate in the meal planning, shopping and cooking. I now had strong motivation and the knowledge to change our diet and to actually start to do more of the cooking. Plus, with working from home thanks to COVID, I now had more time than I would have had on weeknights.


Our journey to transition from processed foods to whole foods began – OVER TIME. I wanted to make lasting diet changes, so we started phasing out processed foods slowly to increase our chances of the new habit sticking.



Well this time we did it right – we started with one pantry shelf (shown to the left). Goodbye side dishes, white rice, pre-made sauces (curry, butter chicken, some pasta sauces) and hello brown rice, beans, quinoa and home-made sauces. In fact, homemade butter chicken is now my signature dish and one my kids LOVE. Plus, it’s so dang easy.


Next up came our freezer. Frozen prepared foods were now replaced by fresh meat or freshly prepared dishes. Last to change was our snack cupboard. We have always been big on eating fresh fruit and vegetables but now we added in healthier crackers, cheese, popcorn and nuts as part of our snacking menu and replaced our highly processed crackers, chips and packaged cookies.


This time, our diet change produced results. We had way more energy, less bloating, no more food comas right after eating and no more brain fog. We also noticed a change in our eldest’s behaviour – he was less grumpy and more focused. No longer were the chemicals taking over our food and putting us on a blood sugar rollercoaster. Plus processed foods are linked to obesity and chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.


I now had the motivation and goals I’d needed to change our diet and the more we shifted away from processed foods, the more we saw positive results. And positive results meant it was easier to stick to this new habit of healthier eating.


While we still enjoy processed foods from time to time (we are only human after all), we can’t imagine ever going back to such a highly processed foods diet. Sometimes it just takes finding the right motivation to spark creating a new healthy habit and doing some research. My wish is that people become less focused on the number on the scale and more on how the food they’re eating makes them feel, especially for young girls growing up in an age of social media. Our bodies are pretty miraculous and the more we love them, the better they will serve us.


#processedfoods #wholefoods #countchemicalsnotcalories #healthylifestyle #health #healthyeating #loveyourbody #healthydiet #fertility #goals #motivation #nutrition #mealprep #mealplanning #healthyhabits #healthyliving #wellness #healthyeating

Resources for learning more:


Processed Foods and Health - Harvard School of Public Health

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/processed-foods/


What is ultra-processed food and how can you eat less of it? - Heart & Stroke Canada

https://www.heartandstroke.ca/articles/what-is-ultra-processed-food


21 Reasons to Eat Real Food

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/21-reasons-to-eat-real-food


Healthy Eating — A Detailed Guide for Beginners - Healthline

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/healthy-eating-for-beginners


What to Expect When You Are Not - Shannon Talbot's Fertility and Adoption Blog

https://whattoexpectwhenyouarenot.wordpress.com/


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