I thought it might be interesting to explore my nutrition revolution. That is, how I became interested in nutrition and how I revolutionized my own health. I was never sick. Never overly overweight (an extra 10 pounds). But I have definitely become healthier in many ways that one can’t see by looking at me.
I grew up a kid of the late ’70’s eating some processed foods. Oreos. Frito-Lay snack packs. Ice cream. That sort of thing. Nothing out of the ordinary and nothing outrageous. My mother cooked a nice, homemade dinner most nights of the week. I took a piece of fruit in my lunch to school. But beyond that one piece of fruit and whatever vegetable was served at dinner, I didn’t think to eat anymore, nor was I informed I should. I ran cross country and track in high school and would come home famished before dinner. My snack of choice was a few oreos, some chips, anything that was easily accessible that I could snarf down. Fruit? Never. Vegetables? Never. I just didn’t know. Nor was I educated in nutrition. I don’t think my parents were either for that matter. Until my late 20’s I thought of food as a way to fill my belly and keep the hunger pain away. I didn’t think of it as a way to fuel my body and keep me healthy.
Off to college in 1994. Dining hall. Eat anything you want and as much as you want. Actually I really didn’t overeat in college. That has never been an issue for me. But I seriously lacked fruits and vegetables, and consumed to0 much processed foods, grains (carbs), dairy, and sugar. After college I headed to Colorado to be a snowboard instructor. Every day for lunch we had pizza. Every. Day. Seriously. I didn’t give it much thought nutritionally. I love pizza. However, by the end of the season I was quite sick of eating it and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead. Not much better. Had I known then, what I know now, I would have brought my lunch to work. At night I worked in a restaurant, so in the hour between jobs I came home, showered, and ate something quick and easy, such as Easy Mac. Remember that? I don’t even want to think about it. The thought of it now totally sickens me. While living in Colorado I did take a nutrition course at a local college, as I was interested in nutrition even then. However, looking back that class really taught me nothing except what calories were and how to calculate them. The old school way of looking at nutrition.
I moved to California in the fall of 200o after I suffered a neck injury from a car accident in CO. I wanted to be far from the snow capped mountains and snowboarding since I was sure I wouldn’t be able to snowboard the following winter due to my injury. I had a very difficult time finding work in San Diego. Restaurants wouldn’t hire me because apparently 2 years of restaurant experience wasn’t enough. And I had a college degree….in psychology, not waitressing/bartending…. but still, you’d think they’d take the fact I was college educated into consideration. I ended up working as a nanny for about 6 months. However, that barely paid the bills as it is expensive living in San Diego. I ate cheaply. I made the decision to pursue an entry level’s masters degree in athletic training, which was something I was interested in during college, but Saint Michael’s didn’t offer that degree.
So, after surviving the 6 months in San Diego I moved back east and waited for graduate school to begin in the fall of 2001. I learned how nutrition affected athletes. How eating certain foods fueled the body. I began looking at my plate differently. I added more fruits and vegetables to my diet, and limited processed foods. I even lost some weight at this time without thinking much about it. I had my first child in 2005 and my second in 2007. I maintained my weight, but I still didn’t necessarily eat as healthy as I do now. What prompted more of a change?
After 8 years of living at our current boarding school, 7 women associated with the school (faculty/staff or spouses) were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 2 or 3 men were diagnosed with another type of cancer. Within the same time frame I knew women in town (not associated with our boarding school) that were also stricken with breast cancer and even members of my own extended family, one of whom was only 34 at the time she was diagnosed. I began asking, “What the hell is wrong? Why are all these folks getting cancer?” That is when I began actively researching how nutrition affected disease. I began reading books and viewing food/disease/nutrition documentaries and from those I made the decision that many of today’s diseases can be prevented (maybe even cured) simply by eating certain foods and avoiding others.
While processed foods may be quick, cheap, and easy, they are laden with chemicals and preservatives. The body has a difficult time digesting/processing these foods and therefore, they become stuck in our body adding bulk and wrecking havoc on our system. Think about the difference between a homemade brownie vs. a packaged brownie. Even if you leave a homemade brownie in plastic wrap or tupperware on the counter, it will get moldy or stale in a few days. If you leave a packaged brownie on the counter it will last for years! What exactly goes into that brownie to preserve its “freshness”? Nothing I want to put in my body!
When buying foods I stick to minimally or non processed foods. We eat vegetarian within the household 99% of the time, and I try to limit dairy when I can. I try to make most of of my family’s baked goods/desserts, rather than buying them. I can make cookies with just a few ingredients vs. buying a box of Oreos that contains around 20 ingredients, including titanium dioxide, a chemical used to whiten the cream in Oreo cookies, as well as numerous other uses in the manufacturing of paper, plastic, and paint. Seriously? Who wants to put titanium dioxide in their body?
I buy lots of fruits and vegetables. I try to buy organic when it’s available, but I think it’s more important to have a diet high in fruits and vegetables despite them being organic or not. With minimally processed foods and plant sourced foods, the body takes in what it needs nutritionally and eliminates the rest. Nothing gets “stuck” in the body and causes issues. My husband, kids, and I hardly ever get sick. Not once did one of us get the nasty stomach bug that was rampant in this boarding school or the public school my children attend. I can’t think of one cold any of us had this winter. Yes, both kids had flu shots this year, but neither my husband nor I got inoculated. I swear the reason for our good health is due to what we eat and what we limit. Even in the last month I have found that eating more “real food” and limiting grains, dairy, alcohol, sugar, and processed foods that I have had less stomachaches and headaches. Smoothies have been my friend in the last month, as I am not a huge fruit eater. Even my daughter has been asking for a smoothie at breakfast or after school. If I could convert my son to drinking smoothies I’d be ecstatic and I know he would feel better (have less stomachaches).
Speaking of children, we need to start educating them now about healthy choices, healthy lifestyles. Now is the time to explore healthier options with children even though they may prefer the processed junk like granola bars, chips, cookies, etc. It is easier to start healthy habits as a child, than as an adult. Rather it is harder to break unhealthy habits as an adult, than as a child. One of the ways I do this is at snack time. I ask them to choose a fruit or vegetable first. When they finish that I let them choose something else. Since we don’t keep much processed junk in the house the choices usually are graham crackers and milk, pretzels, or a strawberry cereal bar (minimally processed foods). Hopefully this will aid them later in life to make healthy choices and not be a struggling adult trying to figure out how to lead a healthy lifestyle.
What are the ways you teach your children about healthy living?
DISCLAIMER: My family and I do eat pizza, ice cream, meat, Oreos, Doritos, etc. Just not on a daily basis. Those are “treats” for us. I am amazed at folks who stick to their non-processed, non-dairy, non-gluten, non-meat, non-sugar, and so on “diets” and never stray. But I like to live a little, and enjoy life while maintaining my health. Everything in moderation. That is the key.