Denise wrote me a lovely email regarding her recent thoughts on nutrition and health. I plan to reply to her email specifically, but it reminded me so much about where I was just a couple of short years ago. I wanted to share with her, and you, how I came to a place of eating and feeding my family nourishing, traditional foods.
I grew up eating your typical standard American diet (SAD). From an early age I remember consuming white flour and white sugar. A lot of sugar. Breakfast was usually a sugar cereal, white toast, or nothing at all. Lunch was either unhealthy cafeteria food or a packed white bread sandwich, little debbie snack, a bag of chips and a diet coke. Dinner involved some sort of factory farmed meat or poultry; white rice, potatoes, pasta or bread on the side; and sometimes a vegetable. The only vegetables I remember eating frequently were canned green beans, canned corn, iceberg lettuce salads, and cucumbers and tomatoes in the summer. I am so thankful, though, that we ate real butter, cheese and whole milk.
I got sick a lot. Every winter I remember coming down with severe colds, bronchitis and pneumonia. I never knew what it was like to feel well. I was overweight from the age of 6 or so. While I played sports and enjoyed being active, I was never at a healthy weight. My last year of high school I became so frustrated with my weight issues that I tried everything to shed pounds. Some of my efforts were good – like exercising more and just being aware of what I was putting into my mouth. Others were much more harmful – like drinking diet soda, taking "diet" pills and not eating at all. I never went as far as anorexia or bulemia, but my unhealthy relationship with food continued. I no longer ate for comfort, but now I was terrified to eat anything. Food was the enemy, so I thought, and eating as little as possible was the goal.
When I went away to college that thought process continued. I managed to lose more weight during my first semester by playing sports daily. I was finally down to a healthy weight for my height and build and it felt great. But my stomach didn’t. I started having digestion issues during my second semester. I blamed part of it on stress – a bad relationship and a difficult roommate.
By my second year of college my bad relationship continued and I started eating for comfort again. I started to put more weight back on, which caused more emotional eating. My stomach issues got worse, to the point that I thought something was seriously wrong with me. There were times that I didn’t want to leave the house because of the pain.
The summer before my junior year my relationship ended, I was in a good living situation and I found myself motivated to lose weight again. I started buying the "smart ones" and "lean cuisine" meals. I started reading about fiber and started eating whole grain bread, lean meats and a lot of fat free yogurt sweetened with aspartame. I had read enough from the "experts" to know that fat and calories were the enemy and if I just kept my calories under a certain number I would lose weight. And I did. By keeping my calories below 1500 and playing a lot of volleyball I was able to get down to a much healthier weight once again. Most of my stomach issues resolved themselves and I thought that for once I was healthy.
I was much healthier than I had been, but only visibly. Inside I still had health issues and emotional connections to food that needed to be dealt with.
I graduated from college, got married and moved all within one months time in the summer of 2005. It was wonderful, exciting and life altering all at the same time. I was only working part time while my husband worked all day. I spent many, many hours in the kitchen. We were eating whole grains, cutting out high fructose corn syrup, MSG and most packaged food. All dairy was non fat or low fat, I was careful not too eat too many eggs and our salad dressing contained little to no fat. We started eating more vegetables (a good thing), kept eating the cheapest meats we could find at the grocery store and continued eating white sugar. We were on the road to health, or so I thought.
I went through my first pregnancy eating that way. I thought I could eat whatever I wanted since I was pregnant. I ate way too much sugar and ice cream and gained 50 pounds. After our son was born I had no idea how to lose the weight. I had no time to cook so I ate a lot of crackers, breads and snack foods. I came across the book Nourishing Traditions on someone’s website and heard great things about it. I ordered the book and during the endless hours of breastfeeding my infant I devoured the entire book.
And I was overwhelmed.
I thought it was impossible to make these changes. Organic food was something we had already started doing when we could. I couldn’t believe that I should eat full fat dairy, that butter could be good for me, that as a nursing mother I should be eating lots of eggs. It went against every piece of dietary advice I had ever been given.
I couldn’t get enough information about healthy diet, nutrition and what eating sustainably meant. I read Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, Nina Planck, Sally Fallon. I watched videos about confinement feed lots. I read article after article about nourishing food from the weston a. price website. But I still hesitated to switch from my low fat vanilla yogurt to a whole milk cream top plain yogurt. Too many calories, I thought.
Then one day as my head spun with the confusion of low-fat, low calorie, traditional, high fat, etc. I asked myself one simple question: "Did God make a mistake when He created our food?"
The answer was obviously no. Of course butter is better than margerine. Of course produce should be organic. Of course cows should graze on grass, not grains. Of course chickens should roam free. Of course eggs are good for us. Of course whole raw milk is better than homogenized low fat milk. It’s not because Sally Fallon says so, but because God created these things to be perfect for us.
The next time I bought yogurt for our smoothies it was organic, whole, cream top, plain yogurt. That one item – yogurt – symbolized the start of a change in the way I thought about food.
I gradually moved into more organics, grass fed meats, soaking grains, raw milk and more fermented foods. I couldn’t believe how much more expensive it was going to be. But then I realized it was an investment in our health, in our future, in our children.
It took me small steps to get to where I am. I was scared of raw milk at first, until I knew the facts. I was puzzled about the difference between "natural" meat and grass fed, but I did my research and won’t buy "natural" any longer. I buy organic produce whenever I can. I want to eat more locally and grow our own food. I want to be mindful of where our food comes from and who benefits or suffers from our consumption of it. I want to ferment more vegetables, brew my own kombucha and find a healthy weight for my body. I am getting there, but slowly.
It didn’t happen overnight. It’s been two years since I started making these changes. The biggest change we can make is changing how we think about food. We have to remember to eat foods in their God-given forms.