Log on to an October challenge to eschew processed foods

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America, you might not know it, but you are facing a big decision. And we’re not talking politics.

You need to decide whether you are going to wake up on Jan. 1 hung over and depressed over the weight you gained as Halloween candy corn turned into too much Thanksgiving gravy and pie and waaaaay too many Christmas cookies and Hanukkah rugelach. Or, you can wake up on Jan. 1 proud that this was the first holiday season you finished lighter and healthier than you started.

Santa Monica food blogger Andrew Wilder would like to help you choose Door No. 2.

Each fall for three years, Wilder has thrown down a friendly challenge to readers of his blog, Eating Rules! He asks them to pledge to shun processed foods for October.

GOOGLE + HANGOUT: Join us at 1 p.m. Monday for a Google + Hangout with Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules to discuss his October Unprocessed challenge. Post questions for Andrew in the comments section of this story, or on Twitter using #AskLATimes. It all unfolds live at

Wilder chose October for a reason. It’s the unofficial start of a holiday eating season, one that many of us regret come Jan. 1, the day when Americans typically take stock of their waistlines.

“It’s really an awareness exercise,” Wilder said of the challenge. “It’s a chance to reset before the holiday chaos. You are about to enter this gantlet where you are going to get pummeled with foods left and right. This is actually a great time to make a resolution. Do I want to start Jan. 1 feeling 10 pounds heavier or 5 pounds lighter?”

When Wilder started the challenge three years ago, it involved just a few friends. Second year, 415 people joined. Last year, more than 3,000 people signed up.

Wilder stresses that there’s no way to “fail” the challenge, and you’re not a bad person if you drink a diet soda or eat some cookies. Instead, Wilder wants you to spend the month considering what you are about to eat: What are the ingredients? Is there a more healthful alternative?

You might find that you have some basic questions like, what, um, constitutes a processed food?

Eating Rules! serves as an online salon to answer just such questions, and friendly debate spills over onto his Facebook page and Twitter too, using the hash tag #Unprocessed. Wilder uses what he calls the “kitchen test” to determine whether a food is processed or not: Take a look at the list of ingredients and determine whether the item could be made from scratch in a home kitchen.

That immediately weeds out preservatives and any number of unpronounceable chemicals.

Take ketchup. Many brands are filled with high fructose corn syrup and preserving agents. So Wilder suggests finding one that has a list of ingredients with more all-natural ingredients (or making your own).

Wilder says that one of the most frequently asked questions is, “Can I drink beer and wine?” Yes, Wilder says, but he suggests reading labels given the growing number of sugar-infused flavored alcohols.

Speaking of sugar, Wilder would prefer that you use honey or maple syrup. But he’s also a realist.

He wants challengers to stick to their guns for the month of October. “It takes about a month for your taste buds to adjust, and then healthier food tastes better,” he says. Come Nov. 1, you can loosen the reins a bit and feel good about enjoying a splurge.

Like mom’s Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

If you talk to Wilder, he’s fond of the word “balance,” and he absolutely does not like the word “deprivation.” He says he wishes he could banish the guilt cycles that many people feel around food. One way of doing that, he says, is to make it a mission to find foods that are both nourishing and delicious.

“I’m a foodie,” he says. “I find tremendous joy in food, and I certainly don’t want to take that away. That’s no way to live.

“I think people will find that healthier options start to taste good. And when you have a little treat, you enjoy the food even more because you feel good about what you’re eating. No guilty downward spiral.”

(If you decide to take the challenge at Wilder’s blog,, let us know how it goes.)