Fit to practice: Ernie Ward's 7-day real food challenge for veterinarians


Feel like you need to make some dietary changes? See if you can complete this challenge.

I'd like to challenge you to eat only real foods for the next week.

I can't believe how ridiculous that sounds. I also can't believe how few people will complete the challenge of eating real, fresh, unprocessed food for seven measly days. What the heck has happened to us?

What's happened is, we got busy. And we got lazy. While that sounds contradictory, it actually isn't. Our lives have gotten so overscheduled with work, family and social obligations that we've resorted to fast and easy solutions to some of the most important aspects of life itself—diet and exercise, not to mention our emotional and spiritual well-being. Fast and easy has turned out to be unhealthy and empty, resulting in a nation of some of the wealthiest, unhealthiest and unhappiest people on Earth. We spend more time checking on our Facebook friends than preparing our food. Again, what the heck happened to us?

I've got five reality check questions you need to honestly answer. Your responses should paint a picture of how healthy and nourishing your life is, or not.

1. How many fresh, whole, real foods that weren't packaged in a bag, can or box did you eat today?

2. When was the last time you exercised for at least 30 minutes?

3. Did you get at least eight hours of restful, peaceful sleep last night?

4. When did you last have an intelligent, stimulating conversation with the person you love most? Talking about work, kids and the weather don't count.

5. When was the last time you helped someone just because you could?

I'll leave it up to you to decide what constitutes an appropriate response. I can tell you, I aim for: 1) everything but maybe two or three items a day, 2) a few hours ago, 3) yes, 4) yesterday and 5) today.

What if your answers aren't what you'd like? What if you're not feeling as energetic, optimistic and compassionate as you know you should? The easiest change you can make, and arguably the most important and impactful, is your diet.

That's where my seven-day real food challenge comes into play. Here's what I've got in mind.

For two to three days before you begin the challenge, record everything you eat and drink. Don't alter your habits, just document it. This may be painful. It may be embarrassing. That's okay, nobody will ever know but you. And you're the most important person in the world. Nourish yourself accordingly.

For the challenge, I want you to eat only foods that are fresh, whole and largely unprocessed (nut butters and oils are fine with me). Prepackaged foods in boxes, cans and bags are off the menu. Examine the ingredients of any flours or breads you may eat. I'm still shocked when I think how little bread I actually consume anymore compared to the daily sandwich—or two—habit I held 10 years ago. Tea and coffee are okay, although I'd prefer you grind your own coffee beans (they're healthier if used within two minutes of grinding; the phytochemicals oxidize quickly). Sodas are not on the menu. If you're training for an endurance event, continue using your gels and hydration drinks.

Basically eat food the way it was designed and the way our bodies evolved to use it. Once again, I find it astonishing and even sad I had to write that last sentence. We've come a long way, baby, and in the wrong direction.

Send me your results at Let me know if you made it. It's harder than you think. For example, whenever I do things like this in my life, I discover I'm relying on processed protein bars more than I should (mind you they're vegan, gluten-free and non-GMO bars, but processed nonetheless). Maybe I'm not eating as many fresh fruits and vegetables because I've simply gotten out of the routine. It amazes me how quickly and effortlessly we slip into unhealthy lifestyle patterns. Entropy is a witch to beat.

Many of you will instantly focus on what foods you can't have. You'll rapidly review the victuals you think you can't live without. That's a recipe for failure and you haven't even peeled your first banana. Instead think of all the luscious, colorful and gratifying foods you haven't been enjoying lately. There's a whole world of amazing foods waiting.

Most of you will struggle most with not reaching for a soda, especially during work. My best advice is start stashing your own bottle—of water, that is. Create a fruit and veggie smoothie and store it in a thermos for a healthy hit mid-morning. Brew some green tea or make your own kombucha. (If you aren’t there yet, I’ll allow bottled kombucha as a real food.) If you have no idea what kombucha is, it’s only been around for the past 2,500 years or so.

Answer my five reality check questions. Take my seven-day real food challenge. Share with me what helped you succeed and what pitfalls others can avoid. Good luck and cheers to better living!

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