Real Food: Where I Am Now

another real food update

I’ve had a lot of requests for more information on food, but I realize a lot of newer readers may not even know my story at all.

My Story

For a little recap, I used to eat like crap. I’m talking, 3 or 4 Cokes a day, lots of pizza, chips, sweets, and I had a bit of a love affair with Mickey D’s quarter pounders with cheese.

It wasn’t because of my upbringing. My mom raised me right. In fact, she was “granola crunchy” before it was cool. When we were in middle school and high school, she relaxed a bit. There was some junk food in the house, but not a ton and she still cooked most of our meals from scratch.

It was when I went to college that my diet went to pot and I started living on pizza and drinking Coke like it was water. I gained 20 pounds, and my IBS, which I’d always struggled with, went a little bit crazy. But I was a stupid kid and thought that is just the way I was made and I had to live with it.

I got my weight under control my senior year when I joined Jenny Craig, and I managed it for years with what I not-so-fondly call my “binge-and-starve” approach to dieting. I was thin, but not healthy.

After my third child, my health fell apart.

After my third child, my health fell apart. I had some really weird episodes that landed me in the ER. I would feel hot and dizzy and then get extremely sick to my stomach with terrible IBS-like cramping. Then I’d get cold and eventually pass out. It would end with the chills and a nasty outbreak of hives. It was so strange. I made the rounds to all the specialists and no one could ever tell me what caused it. I was, however, diagnosed with hypothyroidism, gastritis, GERD and IBS (officially; I had always just assumed that’s what I had.)

I ended up on Nexium for gastritis, synthroid for my thyroid, and Ativan for anxiety attacks that were rare but crippling at times. Once I had to get off a plane just before takeoff because I didn’t have my Ativan with me and I was having a minor freak-out episode. I was all-around one pretty messed up lady.

Of course I knew my diet was crappy, and we all hear studies about organic foods being healthier and all sorts of information on food, but it always seemed too complex and overwhelming so I would just shove it all to the back of my mind and drink another Coke.

My Real Food Conversion

Then I happened to pick up a copy of Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. Suddenly everything made sense and seemed so simple.

Eat real food. The end.

Of course it is much, much more complicated than that, but that is the gist. Factory created food is not really food, and it’s not nourishing the way real food is that comes from nature and hasn’t been altered.

You can read what I like to call My Whole Foods Conversion Story if you want the down and dirty. (I borrowed that phrase from my friend and mentor, Kelly the Kitchen Kop. She was and still is an invaluable resource for those just delving into the world of real food.)

Suffice it to say, this opened up a whole new world for me. I immediately started cleaning out my kitchen and replacing the boxes and bags with real foods, making snacks and bread from scratch, and cooking better meals for my family.

I eventually got myself off Nexium and Ativan, started exercising, went gluten-free, and now my gastritis and IBS are pretty much GONE. It was such a slow improvement that sometimes I forget how sick I was and how debilitating those stomach aches were. There were days that I’d have to lay down and spend a few hours on the couch waiting for it to pass. I lost so much time from work and my kids. They were used to it and knew not to bother mommy while I was having one of my stomach aches. Since I didn’t know exactly what was causing them, I couldn’t avoid them.

Of course, I didn’t know I was sick. I just thought that’s the way it was.

It is crazy to me how sick I was for much of my life, and now, for the most part, I’m healthy and medicine-free.

Of course, I didn’t know I was sick. I just thought that’s the way it was. That, to me, is what is so upsetting about the modern industrial food system we have created — everyone thinks we’re just fine; meanwhile we’re on all sorts of meds for all sorts of problems. That is not the way it’s supposed to be!!!

I’ve also learned to maintain my weight without binging and starving. Again, it’s been such a gradual process that I almost forget how obsessed with food and dieting I used to be.

My “whole foods conversion” spawned a flurry of blog posts as I learned all about eating real food the best way possible. Some people thought I went off the deep end and told me so, but many appreciated those posts and keep asking for more.

Like me, a lot of you are probably too overwhelmed to delve into the research yourself, but when someone else does it for you and breaks it down in manageable chunks and basically tells you how to eat well in the real world, you’re likely to give it a shot. That is my hope, anyway.

Here’s the sad thing about the whole real food/whole foods/organic movement. It has sort of become the next chapter in the Mommy Wars. When my kids were little, there was tension between working moms and stay-at-home moms. And the breast feeding vs. bottle feeding crowds. And co-sleeping vs scheduling. And on and on. There’s always something, right?

Today it’s food.

Let’s not let food choices divide us, okay?? No one wants to be told they are feeding their kids crap. Of course that puts people on the defensive. I don’t believe the mom next door loves her kids less because she keeps pop tarts in the pantry. I really don’t.

I share the information I’ve learned for those who, like me, WANT to know more, and want to make some changes, but might not have the time or inclination to do the research themselves. I don’t think I’m doing everything right. We all make choices and do what we can and then we have to let go of the rest. Very few people go whole-hog and ditch all industrial foods to grow and make their own. Most of us have to pick and choose what we feel we can do while maintaining the lifestyle we’ve created for ourselves in this modern society. And sometimes those choices ebb and flow, based on the season of life we’re in.

So with that, here’s where I am right now.

Where I Am Now

I never set out to become a homesteader. I envy those who can because I think that they’re probably healthier than I am, but it’s not in the cards for me. I’m planning to stay right here in my cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood with my kids in public school and my little internet writing jobs keeping me busy, so I do what I can to feed my family as much real food as possible without completely changing our way of life.

I do what I can to feed my family as much real food as possible without completely changing our way of life.

At first, I went gung-ho, making granola bars and homemade bread and big breakfasts every day. Predictably, that eventually got old.

Now I buy organic granola bars and organic bread and organic cereal (oh, yes, how the mighty have fallen . . . I once wrote a post on why I don’t buy breakfast cereal and how they are devoid of any nourishment — and I still think that is true, but I’m too tired to fight it right now. Maybe next year…)

I still make homemade dinners the majority of the time, but we definitely do more Chinese and pizza takeout than we did there for a while.

I used to make my rounds to all the local farms for home grown meats and dairy products, but now I buy most of that at the grocery store. I am fortunate we do have a nice whole foods market that sells a lot of local products, but it is a lot more $$$$ to buy it that way. We did the CSA for the 2nd year in a row, but I miss that in the winter months.

My goal for 2014 is to get back on track, closer to where I was when I started out. If I could do it then, I can do it now, right??

But I’m also giving myself a break if I just can’t seem to be that committed to the homemade everything at this stage in my life with the kids’ busy schedules and my own writing career growing.

I think good health is important, for sure. But it’s not the ONLY thing, ya know? We do what we can.

For those who are new to all this, or maybe you want a refresher, here is a list of some of my favorite posts that I wrote when I was doing so much reading and research about real food.

More About Real Food

Start here, because this is the overview, and this post has a lot of helpful links in it too: My Whole Foods Conversion Story.

Then this is a list, in chronological order, of some of the best posts I wrote on this topic.

I will be writing some updates over the next few months with specifics about what we’re doing now, but I still stand by everything I wrote in these posts even if I’m not doing it perfectly.

So What??

What I really want people to come away with is this. What we eat matters. We aren’t all going to do it the same way, but if you are not healthy, on unnecessary medications, and have debilitating health problems, I encourage you to take some time to consider your diet. Don’t assume that’s just the way it has to be.

Not that diet is the end all, be all. There is certainly a place for medications, but they don’t have to be our first line of defense.

What we eat matters.

And I believe in doing what we can to teach our children good eating habits. Again, I realize this will look different to different people. We all have to start where are and do the best we can with what we’ve been given. But don’t we owe it to them to at least try to be better?? To give them a chance at a healthy life? I think so.

So I will keep writing about the topic, maybe not as consistently as I once did, but I don’t want to let all those posts get buried and forgotten because there is a lot of helpful information in there. I hope it inspires some of you to make some changes today. Even small changes are better than no changes at all.