Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Biggest Struggle

Someone asked me today what the hardest part of my journey has been. I didn't really have a good answer at the time. However, after pondering the question for a while, I've had some thoughts. I have been an ice cream addict for as long as I could remember. If I desired a comfort food, it was ice cream. I was a very emotional eater. When I would eat emotionally, I would always choose ice cream. In addition to that, we ate cheese with pretty much every meal that wasn't breakfast. For breakfast, we would generally have cereal, with milk. Our diet revolved around dairy products. That doesn't include all the prepackaged foods that contain dairy. Products that you would not think about having milk in them, actually do.

Why is this important? Dairy products are the leading culprit in many health issues that you would not even think about. Regular retail dairy products also contain growth hormones, and may or may not contain antibiotics. You may think it would be good to have antibiotics. You'd think that would mean that no one should ever get sick. Antibiotics should kill any infection that you come across. Really, it just kills the immune system. Organics are better, but still can cause issues.

Let me stress, that I have not cut out dairy 100% yet. I still do indulge in a pizza now and again, or the occasional ice cream cone. I do not eat near the amount I did, however. I do eat a serving of organic or farm fresh yogurt about 4-5 days a week. I have gone from having 75% of my diet being dairy, to less than 1%.

How did I break the addiction? First, I was challenged to try it for a month. I agreed to that. I can do anything for a month, right? That was the beginning of the end for me. After that month, I had some pizza. I got a headache. For about the last 12 years, I have suffered from nonstop sinus headaches. I was living on allergy meds and ibuprofen. I stopped dairy, stopped the allergy meds, and stopped the ibuprofen. I didn't need them anymore. Once I realized how poorly I felt after eating dairy, I didn't crave it anymore. My biggest struggle became easy. I have learned to really trust God for the emotional stuff, instead of my food. I eat for nutrition now. I know that the better I eat, the better I feel. The better I feel, the less stress and emotions get to me.

I also think it is worthy to talk about another huge health issue I've dealt with from childhood. Every single year of my life I have dealt with serious coughing issues. As an infant/toddler, these issues put me in the hospital more than once. Twice a year, during cold and flu season, I would catch a cold. Unlike most people who blow their nose for a week or so and get over it, I would continue coughing for weeks. It would progress into things like croup or bronchitis. Cough medicine would only make it worse. Cough drops did not help. It made it difficult to sleep, difficult to work, it was horrifying in middle school. I have been journeying over 11 months now. I should've had 2 episodes in that time. I've had none. I thought I was getting a cold at one point, but got over it within 24 hours.

I think the thing that was most important in overcoming the biggest struggle is that I was ready. I had to decide to make the change. If someone had tried to tell me all this stuff 18 months ago, I wouldn't have listened. I started the journey to lose weight. I started for 3 months. That's it. Except, that after the three months was up, I didn't want to stop. I didn't want to go back to feeling like garbage. I didn't want to gain those 20 pounds back. I didn't want to put on my fat pants again. Every month after that got easier and easier. I've gotten used to eating good tasting, home cooked food. I love the challenge of trying to take the junk that I used to eat and turn it into something healthy. I love blowing people's minds when I show up somewhere bearing baked goods without processed sugar or hydrogenated oils. It blows my mind that people are now looking at me to find out how I've done it. My question to you is: HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Stock Your Pantry

Everyone has a different idea of what's healthy and what's not. Also, others may have different nutritional needs than I do. If you have gluten issues, diabetes, or some other allergy your pantry will likely look very different from mine.

When I first started my health journey, I was torn between the world of being healthy and the world of couponing. I am all about saving money. We are an one-income, homeschooling family. I need to save money where ever I can. If I could get $100 worth of groceries for $25 by using coupons I was thrilled. The problem is, most of the foods I was getting with the coupons were not on my list of edibles today. I had to figure out another way to save money. I can occasionally find coupons for some organic veggies, or a $5 off $50 coupon, but for the most part I avoid the grocery store as much as possible. I have a small list of things that I pick up at the grocery store like almond milk, organic butter, peanut butter and fruit spread (not sugary jelly), and a small amount of meat. I do not buy organic meat. I can't. It's just too expensive. I do the best I can with what I have. The rest of my food is bought in bulk from various co-ops and/or online sources.

I get most of my veggies from local co-ops or farmers markets. I also found some great containers and bags that are designed to extend the life of your veggies. Because the co-ops are only once every other week, I need my veggies to last. It has really cut down on the amount of waste.

I buy my grains in big 5-gallon buckets. I grind the whole wheat berries into flour and make all our own bread. I have three different kinds of wheat in my pantry. I have hard red wheat, which makes a bread that tastes like whole wheat bread. It gives it a really good flavor. I have hard white wheat (not the same as white flour). Hard white makes great bread also, but it tastes more like white bread - only more nutritious. The hard white is also great for making things like dinner rolls, hamburger buns, pizza crust, tortillas and more. I also have soft white wheat. Soft white has a lower gluten content than the hard and is better for making things like cakes and cookies.

Yes, I still make cakes and cookies, not to mention things like homemade cinnamon raisin bread. That brings me to the next section of my pantry: sweeteners. I do not buy white processed sugar, anything with corn syrup, or any artificial sweeteners. This is the section that you will want to ignore if you are diabetic. My first choice for sweetening is honey. That is what I use for all my bread, and many baked goods. Honey can get a little pricey though. Thankfully, because of its strong sweetness, you do substitute less honey than the amount of sugar called for in a recipe. Honey works well to replace white sugar in most recipes, but not brown sugar. For that, I use Sucanat, which is a brand name for evaporated cane juice. It is a less processed sugar. I order it in a one gallon bucket. That one bucket lasts me about 6 months. Although it is less processed, it is still sugar and still should be only used in moderation.

What else do I have in one-gallon buckets in my pantry? Rolled oats can be used for many things. We actually do not eat oatmeal for breakfast. I don't like the texture of oatmeal. I do make a baked oatmeal that involves peanut butter and raisins. Check the history. I'm pretty sure I posted about it. It can also be put in the food processor to be made into flour. I have used it to make blueberry muffins that way. I also keep a bucket of organic popcorn. I know popcorn has some issues, but I can't give up all my vices. I figure making organic popcorn on the stove is way better than the microwave variety, so there you go. I keep a bucket, or two, of organic virgin coconut oil. That is the oil I use the majority of the time. There is also a bucket of brown rice. That can be used to stretch so many foods. We make fried rice, beans and rice, rice soup, you get the idea. There is also a bucket of flax seed, a bucket of gluten, and a bucket of raw sunflower seeds. I want to order buckets of beans, but those are a little more expensive so I've just been getting the small bags from the grocery store. Of course two cups of dried beans, once rehydrated, can feed about 20 people.

I also keep my freezer well stocked with frozen fruits and veggies, a small amount of meat, veggie purees, homemade chicken and veggie broths, and sometimes baked goods.

I plan my meals around the fresh veggies that I get. I use the staples from my pantry to make them stretch and feed everyone. Things work much more smoothly when I plan ahead and prepare things ahead of time. I know this, but I still have problems always doing it. When I don't plan ahead, I get into trouble and we don't end up eating as healthfully as we should.

One more tip for money saving, I make many of my own cleaning products. I make laundry soap. I use white vinegar as a fabric softener, window cleaner, and much more. I have even made an attempt at making shampoo. I'm still working the kinks out of that though.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Victories and Frustrations

It has been 11 months now on my health journey. I am down nearly 50 pounds, which is great, but it is not why I continue. I have learned much over the last 11 months about foods that can help, and foods that can hurt. I continue, because I feel better than I have ever felt in my life. I continue, because I see positive results in my family. I continue, because at least 3 members of our extended family have diabetes or are pre-diabetic. I continue, because of health issues that I thought the doctors should be able to "fix".

Good health is not the result of doctors "fixing" problems. Good health, comes from a lifetime of taking care of yourself, listening to your body, and giving your body good fuel. Good health is not convenient, and does not come out of a box or a bottle of pills. I have learned that you really have to be committed to good health. Don't get discouraged, though.

First, let me tell you that I do not count calories. I do not follow some fad diet program that has strict rules about carbs. Those programs may help you lose weight in the short run, but they are not about gaining health. Don't get me wrong, I am thrilled to have lost weight, but I am more thrilled about feeling great. Did I mention that I ran (well jogged really) yesterday for 20 minutes straight? I have never been able to run in my life. I know now that, as a child, I suffered from exercise induced asthma. I couldn't run, because I couldn't breathe. No one really understood what was wrong at the time, and no one could help me. Now that I understand how to train, how to breathe, and proper techniques, I am running for the first time in my life. Oh, and I'm enjoying it.

What do I do, then, you ask. I look at ingredients. There are a few ingredients that I avoid at all costs. The first one is soy. Do not take my word for it, but research soy for yourself. You will soon discover why I avoid that one. You might even find some information in my past blog posts. That is harder than it sounds, too. Go to the grocery store one day and pick up any package of food. I dare you to find one that doesn't have soy in it.

The second thing I avoid as much as possible is dairy. I do eat organic (or raw milk) yogurt. When I say I, I really mean that my goal is for my whole family to be dairy free. This is where the frustrations come in. Frustration #1 is due to the fact that my family LOVES dairy: pizza, ice cream, cereal with milk, etc. If it's made from milk, they love to eat it. Frustration #2 relates to dealing with others. It is easy to explain to others why I don't do soy, but most still aren't willing to try it for themselves. Dairy, on the other hand, has such a good marketing campaign that it is very difficult to get people to buy not having it if you are not allergic or lactose intolerant. What I tell people is to try it for a month. Then, go out and have pizza and ice cream and see what happens. Most people, however, are not willing to commit to that for even a month. Really, you would be shocked what the results would be. It does affect everyone differently, though. The benefits in our family have been different for everyone. I have stopped getting sinus headaches (a little salsa helps with that too). My husband has stopped snoring. I can tell when he slips up and eats something with dairy, because then I can't sleep due to the snoring. My son has stopped being constipated.

The most difficult part is breaking old habits. As I write this, my children are sitting here begging to go to a fast food restaurant. I think it is most difficult for my 12yo. I spent 11 1/2 years of his life, living conveniently. The first six years, I was working full time. We ate a lot of boxed microwave meals, fast food, and frozen pizza. I quit working full time, but old habits are hard to break. We continued on the same pattern for a long time. When he was 3, he started suffering from chronic ear infections. My chiropractor tried to tell me to take him off dairy. I refused. That would be too difficult. Plus, that couldn't be the answer. The doctors would fix him. I can't dwell on that and live in regret. The only thing I can do is move forward, and know that I am doing the right thing now. As you would expect, the husband is also a difficult one to convince. After 11 months, I think he is finally starting to see the light. I think he also understands a little more now the danger of diabetes. He knows that it's the right thing, just misses some of the old foods. He doesn't, however, miss the acid reflux.

The bottom line is that, after 11 months, I am more determined than ever to raise my family to be healthy, naturally. This is not intended to be medical advice. I am simply sharing my journey and what I've learned on it so far.