I love food. And because of this love, I've dealt with weight issues my entire life. By the time I was 12 years old, I weighed in at 180. A good weight for a "light heavyweight" prize fighter, but for a young girl in middle school, not so much. As a result of this enthusiasm for food, I've tried a variety of ways to keep myself slim. Liking boys and in turn wanting them to like me was the first motivator to join Weight Watchers. It took almost two years, but I dropped 60 pounds. By the time I was 14, I'd lost my baby fat, but had discovered the confusing world of dieting.
Diets do not work. By that I mean, deprivation and punishment are no way to live. Because as soon as you end the diet and return to "normal" life, the weight will return. Trust me, I've yo yo'd enough to know. That's why I always use the word "lifestyle." Living in a particular way, with certain habits, is the only way to maintain health.
Food matters. It is our means of taking in nutrition. Our bodies rely on a good intake of antioxidants, which come from colorful plants and spices. Envision blueberries' deep color or the vivid orange of curcumin. The staining red of fresh beets and the deep green of kale. These colors signify levels of phytonutrients (simply, nutrients from plants)---the darker the color, the more plentiful the essential nutritional value.
We now know that our microbiome, the 2 pounds of bacteria which live in our guts, are responsible for the health of our brain. The microbiome maintains our neuronal network, our neurotransmitters and hormone production. link to science
If we do not provide enough good prebiotic food for the good bacteria by means of colorful fruits and vegetables, we starve the good bacteria, and allow the bad to overtake the territory. link
The survival of our microbiome, and in turn our brains, means choosing the right foods.
In 431 B.C., Hippocrates knew that food was the best medicine.
And there is a reason why researchers, like Dr. Terry Wahls, are honing in on the right diet to maintain the health and integrity of our bodies. It's not because they are some sort of passionless creatures, attempting to take all of the fun out of eating, to make us suffer longer lives in healthy boredom. It's because they understand the science behind nutrition, and they want to help us feel better.
There is a lot of confusing information out there.
We all read the news stories and click bait articles--DON'T eat bananas if you want to lose belly fat, ONLY drink lemon water with maple syrup, mix a protein and a carb, coconut oil is the way to beat Alzheimer's or the worst thing in the world. Should I try paleo or vegan??? Wait, do coffee drinkers have less strokes or more cancer? What the heck is gluten, anyway? It's difficult to know what to believe. And if you're like me, you don't want to take all the fun out of having a meal. Sitting down with loved ones over a delicious meal is one of the true joys of being human. We're not science experiments in a lab.
When I started changing up our family's meal plans almost ten years ago, I got a ton of pushback. Let's just say that Jeff was not thrilled I stopped buying processed meats and cheese. He loved both of these food groups so much, that he could have happily lived on sausage, cubes of cheddar, with a frosty diet Dr. Pepper to wash it all down. Suddenly, dinner was a piece of fish with a big leafy salad. His "snacks" were now almonds and dried blueberries, or an apple. Really??? What happened to the steaks and pasta with cheese? And where was the mayonnaise? Why, exactly, couldn't he have a diet soda? It's diet
!!! Let's just say, he was not happy, and I heard about it. But I carried on, trying out new recipes and buying only organic and no prepared foods
. This meant more work for me, but I knew it would be worth it.
After about a year of this new lifestyle, we felt better. We both lost our middle age love handles, our energy was better, we were sleeping well, we were staying active with less joint pain and better mobility. Less constipation, no heartburn, and our blood tests were coming back with astounding numbers. No high CrP, low cholesterol, no inflammation, great liver enzymes, great vitamin D, perfect red and white blood cell counts. Our doctor joked with us that if she just saw our serum markers, she'd think we were in our twenties. The truth is, we didn't feel deprived at all, because we had found healthy substitutions for all of the foods we were missing.
Here's a few of our lifestyle hacks---the reason we still love to eat, and don't feel deprived.
Instead of: We have:
Crackers n'cheese carrots, jicama sticks,
pea pods w/salsa/guacomole
Potato Chips home roasted
sweet potato fries or home roasted kale chips
Ice Cream Yonanas
frozen fruit dessert http://yonanas.com
Pasta Alfredo Eggplant moussaka
Cold cuts home roasted
Milk almond milk
Candy dried blueberries,
fresh strawberries, grapes
Bread/buns corn tortillas
or lettuce wraps
You might notice that our substitutions look an awful lot like a Mediterranean Diet
--and indeed, that's what we've grown to love. (You can, too!! link
) Tons of fresh fruits and veggies, less animal products, olives and olive oil, nuts and beans, LOTS of spices, and no more processed food.
I like to think of this lifestyle as Foods Made in Sunshine.
All of the ingredients we consume need sunshine in order to be produced. Nothing originates inside a factory. All of our food comes from the great outdoors.
I also like to think of this way of eating as "Yes, you can" rather than "No, don't have that!" By replacing the mindset of deprivation with one of plenty and gratitude, we can enjoy what we eat, and not suffer with iceberg lettuce and a sad tomato slice, wishing it was something else.
Hope this is an inspiration for those of you wanting to try a new lifestyle. Shaming never worked for me when I wanted to lose weight or feel better. Deprivation wasn't the way for me or my family. But finding positive and healthy ways to think about food has been the key.
Wishing you and yours health and wholeness. And lots of happy eating.