The saying J.E.R.F. gets thrown around a lot in the blogosphere. J.E.R.F. stands for Just Eat Real Food. Another variation of this saying is: just eat whole foods. While this is noble in concept, and probably the best solution for people trying to become more healthy, it’s a farce. Especially when you consider the starting point of the people that this message is meant for.
Whole Foods is Not the Whole Answer
My diet consists primarily of whole foods. I love whole foods and aspire to eat whole foods all the time. No one in their right mind would argue that eating whole foods is bad. Before you go off in a tiff and disregard me as some sort of Monsanto apologist, hear me out.
It’s hard to eat only whole foods. It’s hard because it can get boring. It’s hard because the food environment is completely stacked against eating whole foods. It’s hard because I have to cook the majority of my meals. It’s hard because people have parties and there are chips there. I have copious amounts of time. I have an advanced knowledge of this topic.
And it’s still damn hard.
Essentially, I work two part time jobs. The first is, I am a personal trainer. The second is, I manage a healthy diet and lifestyle. I go to the store 2-3 times per week. I spend many hours per week preparing foods and researching the healthiest way to eat for my specific genes. To help my situation further I live in San Francisco, the capital of food freaks. It’s hard to walk more than a few blocks in the city without seeing a organic grocery or Whole Foods. I can’t imagine what it’s like for the person working a 40 hour week, in anywhere USA, with minimal understanding of the topic of whole foods. I can see why many people just say “screw it” and keep doing what they are doing, despite the fact they have new knowledge that the food they are eating may be making them sick.
Eating whole foods is inconvenient. Flat out. Our society is based on convenience. Therefor any departure from that is inherently inconvenient. The JERF oversimplification not only leaves the eater stifled from the practical side of acquiring and preparing food, but JERF also leaves people clueless when it comes to meal composition. Figuring out actual desirable macro nutrient profiles and micro nutrient profiles can quickly get tricky. As you delve into actual requirements for various nutrients, getting all of that from a whole foods diet can be challenging. Let alone figuring out which foods will provide you with adequate amounts of said nutrients.
Of course it would be great to have all of my eggs laid by pasture raised unicorns and eat only food directly from my hydroponic tilapia poop fertilized organic garden. The problem is I don’t live in fantasy land.
I live in America and the deck is stacked against me.
I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts from experts in the field. The guests on my favorite shows offer many great insights into how the food you eat effects your biochemistry. In the end when the time comes for them to offer practical advise, the common response often is JERF.
First of all, if you are a person starting from scratch, you don’t even know what that means. Isn’t all food “real”. What is a whole food?
“Whole food? Sure I ate a whole pizza the other day. I also had some donut holes.” They might say.
Going from the Standard American Diet, to cooking all of your meals (which is virtually required to JERF, unless you are a millionaire and can and eat all of your meals at fine dining establishments and skip the bread) is a bit of a stretch. Most experts fail to realize that is the perspective of the people who need the most help are coming from. This principle disconnect leaves people feeling disempowered.
I’ll paint a picture for you:
Daily a busy mom barely scrapes her kids out of bed and out the door. As they kick and scream and drag their butts, she tries to figure out what exactly to feed these little monsters. She needs to be at work 30 minutes after they have to be at school. Do you think she perceives it as possible to properly prepare a breakfast for her and her kids that consists of strictly “whole real food”? Maybe if she has developed this propensity over the course of her lifetime and fostered that environment from day one. What happens if she hasn’t? She’ll likely give them a bowl of cereal or some instant oatmeal, a glass of orange juice and send them on their way. The last thing on her mind is pasture raised eggs, bone broth, and baked sweet potatoes.
It’s ironic this is probably fine for the kids. Most kids’ metabolisms are like hot burning stoves. You can throw a tire in there and it will burn to produce usable energy. The problem is, she is cant eat that way and stay lean. Her necessity for convenience leaves her either gaining weight or with low energy or both. She looks for answers online because her doctor has no clue. And what does everyone tell her: Just eat real food.
I’m impressed if she has the strength courage and ability to make that happen. For the rest of us, and people like her, the option often is to is to stay the same.
The goal of JERF is to not confuse the listener or reader with details. The nuances of nutrition can get extremely complicated. The fear is that confusion will prevent the listener from making a change. I contend the overwhelm of the concept will do the same thing. It’s a long transition from the standard american diet built around convenience, to one that consists of primarily whole foods. A step by step progression is required. A phased intervention is what it takes. You have to pay attention to some specifics of macronutrients (carbs, fat and protein). You’re dreaming if you think you can just eat whole foods and you will easily lose weight and become healthy without paying attention to total calories and meal composition. Nutrient timing and meal composition are both critical components to consider. Even if the answer is J.E.RF., there is still a lot to consider.
Food allergies and sensitivities, insulin response, fiber and resistant starch, gut health, probiotics, supplementation are not addressed in a just eat whole foods approach. Vitamin deficiencies, gut dysbiosis and sugar disregulation will not magically fix themselves with a haphazardly applied whole foods approach. Proponents of the J.E.R.F. movement seem to think that this approach will allow the body to naturally shift into a healthy balance. In the rare case this works. But most people need a little more specificity and direction.
Whole foods are great. But the answer is more complicated than that. Ironically enough, by allowing some “non whole foods” the solution actually can become more simple. You can cover a lot of ground with supplements. If you have a simple macronutrient profile to follow and some general guidelines for those foods, some more convenient options begin to open up. And gasp…some of those might come out of a package or a bag.
I hope you liked this post.
Please press the facebook like button and share this post if it sits well with you. When I get to 50 likes I will prepare a post of my 5 tips to incorperate whole foods and “non whole foods” into a diet.
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