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24 June 2016
What It Means to JERF
As a food blogger and a cookbook writer, I often post pictures of my food on social media. Yes, I'm that clichéd person with a phone out on the table in the restaurant (*note to self* — this is not a healthy habit). I tag my photos with numerous hashtags —#HBF #paleo and #Whole30 — for them to be easily found by my followers. One of the more obscure hashtags you might have seen around is #JERF.
When I describe to people how I eat, I say I eat JERF. Actually, I'm more known as ‘that paleo girl’, but since I’ve tailored the original paleo diet to my own rules, I’ve decided that JERF is a much more suitable tag.

So, what is JERF?
JERF is simply an acronym that stands for ‘just eat real food.’ Over time, it’s become much more than that. Some might call it a movement, others might call it a diet. Some might even call it an anti­-diet. When asked what you eat, you might respond with, 'I just eat real food.' I’ll go over what real food encompasses later.

JERF gets you out of putting a label on what you eat.

Paleo, vegan, gluten­free, low­sugar, AIP... instead of explaining the ins and outs of these diets to someone who might not be familiar, you can easily get the point across by explaining JERF instead.
Who coined the term?
Sean Croxton from Underground Wellness is the guy you could thank for making things a little simpler for us all. Having gotten a little fed up with too much conflicting information about WHAT WE SHOULD EAT, Sean started using the term ‘just eat real food’ to describe a way of eating that is based on unprocessed, whole foods and natural ingredients.

Whether you're a bacon-loving omnivore or a vegan devotee, JERF simply means that the food you eat is as close to its natural form as possible, until you cook it that is.

In a way this term allows us to break down the ‘us verses them’ mentality, and finds the common ground between different diet philosophies — paleo, vegans, raw foodies, pescatarians and so on. At the end of the day, when we begin our health journeys we have the same goal — to get healthier. And to the average guy or gal coming from eating Pop Tarts or cereal for breakfast, fast food for lunch and pasta for dinner, any ‘healthy’ diet is better than what they were doing before. Just eat real food.

What does it mean to JERF?
It means that you’re going to be eating foods that aren’t found in packages for the most part.
Packaged food is often labelled with things like ‘low­sugar’ and ‘whole grain’, yet these seemingly ‘healthy foods’ are often loaded with less than stellar ingredients, additives and preservatives. Some are processed to the point of becoming what we call ‘Frankenfoods’, in which the ingredient sources are questionable and often unrecognisable. Yet, they are still flaunted as ‘health foods’.
Instead, JERF diet focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy unrefined cooking oils, grass­fed and pastured meats, eggs from healthy chickens, full­fat and fermented dairy products, soaked and sprouted legumes, nuts, seeds and grains for easier digestion, and the like. Sugar should come from natural sources such as honey, coconut nectar, and rice syrup, and it should be used sparingly. Basically, if you’re great grandmother would recognise this food product, it’s probably safe under JERF standards.

10 steps to get you started with JERF

1. Don’t complicate things

Start out with good quality protein, veggies, healthy fats, and a whole grain or starchy vegetable and BOOM. You’ve got a complete meal right there. Rinse and repeat. Just make sure you’re getting fat and protein to keep you properly fuelled and satiated.
2. Don’t be afraid of fat

The old school belief that fat is evil and we should especially avoid saturated fat is starting to change and JERF is at the forefront of the ‘eat fat’ movement. Healthy fats both from animal and plant-based sources are essential in any kind of diet. Fat fuels our body, keeps our brain and nervous system healthy, transports fat-soluble nutrients through the bloodstream, and helps to maintain hormonal balances.
3. Avoid processed and packaged foods or at least read the labels

Avoid colours and numbers. Colours and numbers are NOT ingredients. I repeat, these are NOT food. Don’t eat ‘em! Red dye 14? Bye!

If the food comes packaged, it should contain whole food ingredients only. 

4. Skip the sauce

Sauces and dressings are the most likely source of hidden sugar and refined oils, unfortunately. Although there are some great alternatives on the market, for the most part barbeque sauce, ketchup, and mayo can be especially bad. Make your own instead!
5. Shop the perimeter

This rule never gets old. There’s nothing particularly special hiding out in the middle aisles of the supermarket. Most of the food you need can be found in the outer sections — meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, and dairy. Even better? Hit the farmer’s market instead.
6. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it


Or, you can Google it.

Some additives are harmless but as a rule of thumb, you don’t need them and they certainly aren’t considered real food.
7. Cook at home

Making you own meals most of the time may seem burdensome at first, but it will quickly become your saving grace. This is the only way to ensure that you’re always JERF’ing. I have over 200 real food recipes on my blog.
8. Learn from grandparents

Bone broth, kefir, sauerkraut, buckwheat granola, kombucha, offal, cultured butter — these might sound like the latest health foods de jour but in reality this is what our grandparents ate and made on regular basis. JERF's all about bringing back the nourishing classics.
9. Know the produce

From bacon to strawberries or quinoa, eating JERF means caring about where your food comes from. Eating local and in season is encouraged, as is getting on the first-name-basis with your local farmers, fishmongers, butchers and the market lady.

Sustainable, grass fed and free-range are all part of the daily vocabulary.

10. Avoid ‘cleanses’ like the plague

A diet comprised of real food will provide natural detoxification and make your body very happy. Juicing detoxes, supplement and low-carb shakes are not necessary.
Summing it all up — it’s simple, JUST EAT REAL FOOD. Do you think you’re up for a challenge? Or perhaps you’re already a seasoned JERFer? I’d love to know what you think.  

Irena Macri is the creator of Eat Drink Paleo food blog and the co-founder of the 9-week Happy Body Formula program.

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