Salt Oil & Sugar Free (SOS-Free): Why I Do It, What It’s All About, & Who It’s Good For
Hiiii guys! Writing to you from DAY FIVE of my water fast here at True North, the home of where I first learned about the SOS-free life last May. I have been eating this way ever since, and it has been one of my greatest healers throughout my chronic illness journey.
I get questions from you guys about SOS-free every day, ranging from “what does that even stand for?!” to “who is it good for?” to “how has it helped you?” and everything in between. I thought it was high time I did a new post breaking it down that I can refer people to whenever they want to learn more!
First thing is first, the reason I have kept this diet up for so long now is first and foremost because I enjoy it. I am in love with the way the food tastes and how eating this way makes my body feel. Yes, I have had lots of health benefits that I will get into, but I genuinely love eating SOS-free plant-based food and that is reason number one why I continue to keep it up.
I believe from the bottom of my heart that we have to enjoy the food we eat or else we are missing out on a very important and fun part of life. That’s not to say that eating SOS-free will be immediately delicious to everyone, especially people coming from the Standard American Diet. The doctors at True North tell stories about people coming in who are used to eating fast food & gagging on the SOS-free food!
But once you eat healthy for a period of time, your palate changes. So while I don’t advocate SOS-free for everyone (of course), I do advocate HEALTHY for everyone. That’s pretty much the only thing I am a stickler about! Life is meant to be enjoyed, and I believe we enjoy life most when we are healthy and when we feel amazing.
It excites me so much to share about this with you guys. It brings me back to why I started blogging in the very beginning… to normalize healthy, plant based eating. 6 years ago when I started it was still a very hippie, crunchy granola thing. And I am sure in many ways it still is.
Now, SOS-free is VERY hippie, crunchy granola. Most people who write and speak about this lifestyle are much older than I am and live a very specific kind of lifestyle. Nothing wrong with that at all, but I want to share that eating this way can also be meshed with living a totally normal life, being young, going out and being social, being into fitness and exercise, etc.
Also, if you want to learn more about my personal SOS-free journey (since I will stick more to the facts in this post), you can read this post which is my journey to SOS-free & also breaks the diet down in detail.
So let’s get into it… so much to cover!
The SOS-Free Plant-Based Way of Life
SOS-free means salt, oil, and sugar-free. It goes along with a whole foods plant-based diet, meaning real food from the earth. Fruits, veggies, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds for the most part.
I think a big misconception about the SOS-free life is that it’s not filling or that fats and carbs aren’t allowed because it’s such a healthy diet. Totally not true. Since eating this way, I have eaten more of an abundance of carbs than I ever have in my life, and I feel amazing this way! Fats on the other hand are more limited on the SOS-free diet, but are definitely still part of the lifestyle.
The idea is that fats should make up about 10% of your food intake for the day, but that’s not anything to get stuck on. If you’re eating a balanced SOS-free diet that will probably end up happening anyway. Delicious healthy fats like avocado, coconut, nuts, nut butters, seeds, tahini, etc. are all totally fine. And as far as carbs, things like rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, gluten-free bread (if you can find salt-free), grain-free tortillas, etc. are all my go-to’s.
The idea behind the SOS-free diet is that salt, oil, and sugar are all highly addictive foods since they are all highly concentrated. Salt is concentrated sodium, oil is concentrated fat, and refined sugar is concentrated sugar. Their high concentration is the result of excessive refining and processing by food manufacturers.
When we eat these foods, the more we want of them. That’s why when we are eating a salty or oily or sugary dish at a restaurant, we sometimes eat until well after we are full. Our tastebuds want more! The more refined and concentrated and processed it is, the more we want. But even for someone like me who has not touched processed food in many years, I still went for the oil and salt in abundance before I switched over to SOS-free.
A question I get often is what about eating salt, oil and sugar in moderation. Yes, that is of course an option and I think that everyone should do what most works for them in their lives. However to reap the benefits of the SOS-free life (and there are so many!!), you gotta live that life. Basically eating them in moderation reminds your brain that they’re there, and because they’re addictive will just make you want more.
From a nutritional standpoint, we can get everything we need from simply eating a whole foods, plant-based diet. Salt, oil and sugar don’t give us anything nutritionally that we thrive off of. Yes, sugar gives us energy — but that’s because it’s a carbohydrate! We do need carbohydrates to thrive. Potatoes, fruits, rice, corn, beans, green and yellow veggies, those are all complex carbs that also give us healthy energy without the crash. Complex carbs have naturally occurring sugars that are good for us and are not addictive or inflammatory.
My delish SOS-free fudgy tahini brownies!! Ahhh!
Ohhh, salt. Salt is in everything. If you buy anything packaged at the grocery store, it definitely has salt. Even things you wouldn’t imagine. Everything from pasta sauce to soups (OMG soups are so salty) to crackers and chips to ketchup to bread to soy sauce to basically all snack foods that you can buy.
Also restaurant food uses a lot of salt. Now that I haven’t been eating salt for 9 months, even restaurant dishes that I used to LOVE in LA now taste like one thing & one thing only to me: salt. It’s almost wild to me that before I could taste the food beneath the salt, and now I cannot.
According to the CDC, in recent years 89% of adults have exceeded recommendations for sodium intake, and 90% of children. Down the line that can cause health issues from high blood pressure to increased risk of stroke and coronary heart disease to obesity to chronic disease and more.
The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend a tolerable upper limit of 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon of salt) or less per day. And how much do you think is in a plate of food at a restaurant? Even in one mashed potato at a restaurant?! Or SALAD DRESSING? It’s SCARY how much added salt the Standard American Diet boasts as normal… even though a healthy amount of natural sodium is of course completely fine. Just not the way we as Americans consume it.
So if you’re cool with having a little salt here and there, go for it, but think about how quickly it adds up. I will say if there’s ever one thing I am not 100% strict on with SOS-free, it’s salt. Because I know a tiny bit every so often is okay, but I’m not talking a full blown salted restaurant dish. A tiny bit in a product however doesn’t bother my stomach the way oil and sugar do.
To keep my salt intake down, I eat out less often, and when I do eat out I tell the waiter about my diet and circumstances (and so does Jonathan and so does my dad — BYRON is my biggest health advocate!!!) and I order something like salad without dressing (you can use lemon or bring your own), steamed veggies with rice, a smoothie if its available, that kind of thing.
So oil is 100% fat. It is the most calorie dense food that there is, which I hesitate to say because I am a huge proponent of not counting calories. It’s not necessary. But because I know a lot of people out there are struggling with weight and looking to make healthier choices (which is where this blog post comes in!), I do want to bring that to your attention. You don’t get a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to oil.
Also, since oil contains no fiber or water, which both help us feel full, we have a tendency to eat way more of it than necessary. I mean, I used to think I couldn’t even sauté or roast vegetables without it! It turns out, I can (with water or salt-free vegetable broth) and they still taste delicious to me. The thing about eating something like oil in excess is that it adds to excess weight, and excess weight adds to inflammation. Inflammation inhibits immune function and increases the risk for all sorts of disease.
For those of us who already are sick with chronic illnesses, inflammation is the last thing we need. It’s funny because I remember telling my parents when I was young that “OIL MAKES ME SICK.” I knew that every time I had something even remotely oily, my stomach would be reeling. Looking back now I believe that my body knew at a young age what didn’t make it happy.
Oil can also slow our circulation, build up in our arteries, and damage our blood vessels. The fat in oil has been extracted from its original food source, so it is now unprotected, making it more prone to becoming rancid through oxidation (prolonged exposure to oxygen), inhibiting freshness and degrading food. Oil that has been oxidized also contains free radicals, which can damage the body and contribute to cancers.
I am not trying to scare you guys! I just want to make sure you have the information you need to make an informed choice about your own diet. Would consuming less oil be a good thing? Yes. It’s up to you what less means to you, or how much you feel comfortable having.
Ahhh sugar! Sugar I feel is the most widely understood addictive food out there. It’s also the most inflammatory. For those of us with illness, we do not want to eat inflammatory foods! I don’t feel I need to work as hard to share with you why sugar is not good for our health, but I will still provide the information.
Sugar has the ability to gradually change the way our brains work, making us want more and more. Do you ever feel sluggish when you eat something that has added sugars? Foggy? Bloated? Yep. It does that. It can also lead to health issues from heart disease to diabetes to obesity — all major epidemics in the US.
The food industry really tries to confuse us. Products and brands have caught on that people are now turning toward lower-sugar diets, so they often get away with changing the name on their food labels. Here are just a few of the other names that sugar goes by:
– Yellow sugar
– Turbinado sugar
– Sweet sorghum
– Rice syrup
– Grape sugar
– Glucose solids
– Fruit juice or fruit juice concentrate
– Free-flowing brown sugars
– Dextrose or dextrin
– Barley malt syrup
When reading labels at the grocery store… keep those names in mind! Just because it has a different name doesn’t mean its any different than regular sugar. I mean, for years I was chewing gum ALL DAY LONG, piece after piece after piece, that had Dextrose in it!! Not knowing even what it was!
Fructose however is not a bad thing. We want to aim for fructose in its natural state — fruits, starchy veggies, all that good stuff. Sugar exists naturally in most plant foods, so eating plant based will give you plenty of natural, from the earth sugars. You want something sweet? Bananas! Dates! Raisins! Mangoes! All of the delicious SOS-free desserts! You can definitely still eat dessert. I do every day. 🙂
Refined sugar is an empty calorie food, which means it basically has zero nutrients. There is also sugar found in almost all packaged foods, similar to salt. Even things you would never imagine like crackers and breads and pasta sauces and salad dressings… chock full of sugar.
The reason plant food sugars are so much better for our bodies is that they’re accompanied with nutrients like fiber and water, which ensure that the sugars will gradually absorb into our bloodstream and we won’t be immediately hungry again after eating.
When cooking, there are so many great things you can do to substitute for refined sugars. Bananas, dates, applesauce, apples, peaches, berries, and sometimes I use a little bit of maple. (Not sure if maple is traditionally included on SOS-free but I’m just telling you what I use!). You’ll be surprised what your taste buds get used to!
I could go on and on about sugar, but I think you get it.
Who is SOS-free good for?
I would say the only people SOS-free is not good for would be individuals who currently have an eating disorder, those who are interested in the lifestyle simply to lose weight and not for any other reasons, and anyone with a health condition that wouldn’t bode well eating this way (I don’t know of any but perhaps there is one).
The only other type of person I would say should not go SOS-free is someone who has eaten this way for a while and feels very deprived. No diet should ever feel depriving.
I am pretty confident that when you do start and maintain eating this way, and your tastebuds get used to the change, you will love it. You just need the right recipes! And there are plenty out there. I have a bunch on this blog, and there are other bloggers & SOS-free cookbooks out there that keep the lifestyle fun and delicious.
The diet is GREAT for anyone suffering from chronic illness, gut issues, obesity, heart disease, or a range of other illnesses. At True North they have case studies of people reversing and shrinking their cancerous tumors into remission with water fasting followed by an SOS-free diet (what!!???!!).
What are the benefits?!
I can only speak from experience, and throughout my battle with chronic Lyme disease, mold poisoning, and MCAS, this diet has been my biggest saving grace. I used to have histamine levels of 1300 (a normal level is about 40). After my first fast at True North I got those levels down to 600. After eating an SOS-free diet for 9 months I’ve gotten them down to 300. I still have Lyme & MCAS, so my levels are still higher than normal, but I am getting there.
I used to get RAGING bloat after every meal. I’m talking looking 9 months pregnant. This goes all the way back to middle school. In fact, in high school the lunch ladies at my school started a rumor that I was pregnant. How RUDE?! But also, I am fairly certain that I was just so bloated so much of the time that I must have looked pregnant.
(Don’t worry, Jane Younger marched into that cafeteria and told them how effed up they were for saying that and of course they denied ever saying anything.)
Now that I am SOS-free (and since my fibroid removal surgery), I hardly ever get bloated. And if I do, the bloating is very mild.
I used to also be wildly inflamed all the time. I mean, I had full body hives for 9 months straight. My inflammation has gone way down, which is an indication of much lower inflammation on the inside.
My skin has cleared up times a million. Because of Lyme, I have had cystic acne for the last few years, especially on my cheeks. Due to celery juice, a great facialist, and my SOS-free diet, my skin has massively cleared up over the last several months. I have heard the same from many other people who eat this way.
Because this is such a healthy diet full of whole, real foods, it helps you maintain your ideal weight. No, I am not saying that it’s going to make you skinny if you’re not naturally a skinny person. I am saying it’s going to bring you back to the weight that your body is meant to be, which is a very healthy place to be.
You will lose weight if you are at all overweight, and will feel very confident and radiant in your own skin. I think this is a huge benefit, as confidence is everything. We all deserve to feel our absolute best.
In my own personal experience, I have lost about 12 pounds going SOS-free. For me this was great because due to the hormonal changes I experienced with Lyme, I gained a ton of weight. I’m talking like 30 pounds. Living a healthy lifestyle pre SOS-free I got a lot of that off, but this lifestyle is what brought me back to my ideal body weight. It feels SO good not to have that extra weight, which is also extra inflammation in the body.
Lastly, this diet is preventative. It sets us up to be healthy as we age. I know that everyone reading this does not want to have a nasty decline in old age like many of us have seen with our grandparents and other people in our families. I want to set myself up for the best possible outcome of NO heart disease, NO stroke, NO cancer, NO Alzheimer’s, NO dementia, NO osteoporosis, and no unnecessary pain.
The truth is, a lot of those issues are the outcome of the way that we live. Yes, some of it is genetics, but the way that we live our lives has a lot to do with it. I was living a healthy life pre SOS-free, but then I learned that my body was riddled with toxins. Riddled!!! And that is largely due to the fact that I have Lyme & compromised detox pathways (MTFHR gene) — so I have to work extra hard to make sure I am not setting myself up for sickness as I age.
How Do I Maintain a Healthy Relationship with Food While SOS-Free, After Having Orthorexia?
I get this question a lot, and its a beautiful question. My long answer to this would be a novel, so I will try to keep this relatively short. (One day will share way more!)
When people ask me whether SOS-free is right for them in their eating disorder recovery, I usually say that it depends on two things. 1. Where are you in your recovery? 2. What are your reasons for going SOS-free? Then I say be VERY honest with yourself about those answers. I wouldn’t recommend this diet to anyone who wanted to do it ONLY because it sounded like a good way to lose weight (unless that person was obese and had no eating disorder history).
I think people have to use their own discretion. Generally, in recovery from an eating disorder I would say eat whatever you want. Get really comfortable with food. Get to a really good, healthy place with food where you genuinely feel like you can make decisions from a healed headspace. I ate whatever the heck I wanted for about a year after I realized I had orthorexia, and for mental health reasons I am so glad I did.
Then, for me personally, my journey really evolved from there. I was no longer a girl recovering from orthorexia. I was a very, very sick girl with no idea what was wrong with me. I spent YEARS after that trying to figure out how I could feel even halfway decent again in my body. I not only gained excessive amounts of weight and exploded with cystic acne, I had rampant gut issues, chronic fatigue, migraines, rashes, and lived in total misery.
Eventually I was diagnosed with Lyme, but for all those years I felt very terrified and alone with no doctor able to help me. I genuinely believed it wasn’t cut out for me to feel good in my body in this life… that I was destined to feel sick, foggy, exhausted, and in pain every time I ate.
Because of my journey, SOS-free for me is not optional. Since I got diagnosed, it is the only thing that has kept inflammation down so that I can feel good in my body. Every day I make the choice for my health to eat this way and to fight my chronic illness symptoms. The diet is part of my treatment, that’s the way I look at it. I can finally eat food without being in pain… basically ever!
Also, eating this way feels abundant and beautiful to me. It doesn’t feel restrictive at all. I have always loved “plain” foods, not a lot of dressing, nothing oily, so it was kind of seamless when I discovered this. Like… wait, this is how I feel I should have been eating my whole life!
Like I said, I am eating all sorts of carbs, healthy desserts, my favorite smoothie every morning, having so much fun in the kitchen, and feeling good. My gut has never felt this good. My lab work came back from my doctor and I have never had such nonexistent traces of candida in my blood. Ah. Maz. Ing.
And not to be totally confusing, but after learning that I was suffering from Lyme for all this time… I came to realize that an eating disorder wasn’t exactly my problem to begin with. One day I want to share a lot more about this, but it needs its own post. The short answer is that I was a girl with rampant health issues who was trying to find a way of life that worked for her. Being vegan wasn’t the orthorexic thing for me, it was being afraid of ALL foods because everything made me feel so damn sick due to my gut issues from deeper health concerns.
I think of eating this way as giving a gift to myself, versus restricting myself. I feel the opposite of restricted. I actually felt very restricted before I found this lifestyle, because I felt paralyzed by the thought of food making me sick. Because that’s what it usually did, unless I was eating in the way that made me happiest… which was SOS-free plant-based to begin with.
Eating SOS-free makes me feel good for the first time in as long as I can remember (if not ever). It is EMPOWERING as f*ck. Making this choice for myself and sticking to it for all this time not only makes me feel incredibly proud and happy, but it also makes me feel strong. I have finally been able to take my health into my own hands, and I am not going back from here.
I wish this bliss & clarity for everyone, however they may find it.
AHHH!! OKAY!! Officially a very long post. I hope this was helpful and informative for you guys. Leave any questions and thoughts below. I would love to hear!!! I have so much more info on the subject to share, but for now here we are. 🙂