If you have spent any time on the Do Well Facebook page, you have probably seen a lot of recipes posted or even pictures of my meals. I really do love to eat and I love healthy, hearty, simple food. But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, if the old me was looking at my Facebook page, I would probably roll my eyes at those posts…and take a sip of my 32 ounce Big Gulp. So, if you haven’t quite warmed up to healthy eating, I understand because I have been there. And it wasn’t that long ago. I actually spent the first 40 of my 44 years eating the Standard American Diet (SAD). Let’s break it down.
Birth to Motherhood
Boy, that’s a big chunk of time – 26 years to be exact. But, I lump it all together because I ate pretty much the same way that whole time. It was the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and let’s face it – there was an abundance of processed convenience foods introduced during those times. And I generally consumed just that. It started right off the bat, when my beautiful and very young mother was told to “not breastfeed because it would ruin her breasts” by her family doctor. She believed him and I was started on formula. I soon had Colic, and the same physician told her to give me Jello mixed with warm water and sugar in a bottle. I bet that artificial red coloring was good for me too! I moved on to some good, simple home cooked foods some of the time – I remember fresh fish, lots of white potatoes (they were my dad’s favorite and something I had to clear from my plate to be excused), homemade pot roasts and fresh tomatoes during the summer months. But, then we always drank sweet tea or Kool Aid. We ate at my Grandmother’s or my Aunt and Uncle’s almost every Sunday of my life until I was a mother myself. That was delicious and good for the soul and it included homemade spaghetti sauce. However, it came with lots of white pasta and white garlic bread. My parents got divorced when I was 12 and my food got noticeably more processed and convenience oriented. The standard fair included cereal for breakfast, processed microwave lunches at school (with a candy bar and Fanta soda on the side), ramen noodles and canned soup for after school snack and chicken pot pies or canned ravioli for dinner with Wonder Buttermilk White Bread on the side. Weekends were fast food – almost every meal. My boyfriend at 16 would become my husband after college and we shared a love of food. Lots of it, all convenience and prepared by someone else on the weekends. Week day food during the college years was dictated by a lack of money – so more ramen noodles and more white pasta was the basic fare. As we started our marriage and working lives, we had little time to plan or cook and really didn’t think much about our health. Neither of us had a weight problem (blessed with some good genetic metabolism) and that seemed to dictate that we didn’t need to worry about what we ate. So we didn’t.
Motherhood to Illness
I had my first baby at 26 years of age. I gained over 60 pounds. I also ate whatever I wanted while I was pregnant. I worked more than full-time in a stressful managerial position, traveled and spent weekends writing presentations and reports. I wanted to eat what I wanted to eat, and I did. I took prenatal vitamins and worried like any mother that my baby would be healthy, but for some reason that didn’t translate to worry over my nutrition. I did worry about the weight once he was born. And I needed to get back into my work clothes, so I started reading quite a bit about dieting. I did it all – vegetarian, the cabbage soup diet, low fat everything, Weight Watchers. I eventually lost the baby weight just in time to be pregnant a second time….and then a third. Each pregnancy brought more than 60 pounds of weight. And then the dieting afterwards to lose it. I did lose it eventually right as the overwhelming task of being a new stay at home mom with three kids under 5 years old took over….which blended into the years of homeschooling as well. Those were some busy days followed by some sleepless nights. I usually started those mornings with a sweet tea (a favorite from my childhood). I followed that with eating whatever was leftover on my kids’ plates – a waffle, scraps of chicken nuggets and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the infamous Goldfish and a few bites of fruit cocktail. I didn’t have a lot of time to worry about what I was eating – I had three picky mouths to feed. I would hit an afternoon slump where I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it until my husband came home late from work to relieve me by helping with bath and bed time. That meant a daily long ride with the kids. And a drive thru snack –small fries and a milkshake for them and a chocolate chip cookie and 32 ounces of soda for me. I usually managed to make a somewhat healthy meal for dinner after that. By the time that my oldest was about 9, he started to have some issues with food sensitivities and I started to read about gluten and dairy. I talked to a few experts and learned some about excluding some of the likely culprits for his problems. Unfortunately, we focused a lot on substituting – so gluten free bread instead of Wonder Bread, gluten free waffles instead of Eggo’s. I just wanted him to be able to eat things that wouldn’t make him sick. I tried to eat along with him so that he wouldn’t feel left out. The readings on gluten and dairy sensitivities did come with some general nutrition information that I had never really considered before and I tried to incorporate some of it. And then we decided to remodel (again) and move (again) and a lot of convenience foods were our standard fare. And then I got sick.
The Five Catgories of Foods I Ate for 40 Years
When I was diagnosed, one of the first things that I decided to do was change my eating habits. In my quest for healing, I have been studying nutrition and healthy living for the past four years. When I look back on the 40 years prior to that, it is pretty clear that there are about five categories of food that I consumed during those years.
Baby formula, Jello, school lunches, chicken pot pies, canned ravioli, canned soup, ramen noodles, etc. You name it as a processed convenience food, and I ate it. And honestly, I loved it all. The thing about processed foods is that they taste good – for a reason. They are manufactured to taste that way. They are full of salt, sugar, colors, additives and preservatives. They are scientifically made to taste good so that you want more. You crave it. And real, whole unprocessed foods pale in comparison when you first try to eat well. This is why eating healthy can be such a challenge if you are used to eating from a can or box. Your taste buds have been trained to prefer scientifically manufactured processed artificial foods. Thank goodness, I can tell you that this doesn’t last if you stick with healthy eating. It actually reverses. Healthy food now tastes good to me. And processed foods taste- well, processed.
Fast Foods –
French fries, warm fake cookies, cheeseburgers, pizza, milk shakes, chicken nuggets, etc. Standard fast food fare. These were my previous weekday snacks and weekend menu. Full of GMO ingredients, conventional meat that is raised and killed under disgusting circumstances, oils that are rancid and just plain bad for you, trans fats, fats that are not in the good category, more calories than anyone should eat in a day (all for a $1)…and more salt, sugar, colorings, additives and preservatives. More food scientifically manufactured to be addictive. Again, this cycle can be vicious. When I first was determined to eat healthy, the smell of fast food would lure me in within a second. I would be in the drive thru line before I could even start to talk myself out of it. But the more I concentrated on adding in healthy foods without beating myself up over the drive thru, the less often it happened. I have had a few fries here and there since converting to a healthier lifestyle and the grease coating on my tongue has actually made me gag.
Low Fat or Diet Foods –
When I needed to lose weight, I read that much of the processed and fast foods that I had survived on previously were not going to help with my endeavor. All of the magazines suggested that I replace my favorites with low fat versions. And so I did. Skim milk, low fat yogurt, low fat processed cheese slices, diet bread, diet Dr. Pepper (just for a bit, I went back to the real deal), Lean Cuisine meals, Weight Watchers desserts, Lean Pockets, even Slim Fast drinks. Can you see the problem here? These weren’t healthy foods. They were just low fat versions of the original processed foods that I loved. Here is what I know now, that I didn’t know then. When manufacturers take out the ‘fat,” there is no flavor. So they need to replace the fat with something to keep you wanting more – let’s face it, their jobs rely on you buying more. They replace the fat with – sugar! And more flavorings, colorings, preservatives and chemical sweeteners – anything made in a lab instead of a garden and anything that brings you back for more. In actuality, I was at my heaviest non-pregnant weight during my dieting years. Ironic.
The foods that I really loved? Carbs. Not just any carbs. But white flour, give you a jolt and drop you hard carbs. I loved Wonder White Bread. I loved noodles. Any noodles – spaghetti, rigatoni, elbow macaroni, egg noodles, shells, lasagna, etc. Macaroni and cheese. Pizza. Chicken noodle soup. Casseroles. Cookies. Cereal. Waffles. Pretzels. This list really could go on forever. And most of it fits into the other categories above. I had no idea that some people don’t do well with wheat gluten until my son started having troubles. His body, and now my duaghter’s, actually make antibodies to gluten – their bodies perceive it as a threat (like a virus) and attack the gluten and therefore themselves. It makes them sick. I didn’t think I had a problem with it. I also didn’t realize that the constant stomach problems that I had my whole teenage and early adult life were anything abnormal. For years and years my stomach alternated between diarrhea and constipation. I was so used to it that I didn’t complain. The one time I mentioned it to a doctor, he wrote me a prescription for IBS. I never took it. I really didn’t know what IBS was, but I didn’t think I had it. The interesting thing is, I don’t eat wheat or gluten anymore and I don’t have stomach problems either.
I never was a huge candy, pastry, donut, cake or ice cream person. So, I originally didn’t include this category. But then I looked back over my list and it hit me – I was addicted to sugar! Sneaky sugar. I had Jello in a bottle for goodness sake. Then I drank sweet tea all day, almost my whole life. Southern Maryland sweet tea . I added in a 32 ounce Coke in my early motherhood days. And I ate carbs all day long. Guess how the body processes white carbs? Just like sugar. You get a big hit of high energy, followed by a big slump, followed by the need for more carbs and sugar. All processed foods, convenience foods and fast foods also have sugar and those were all I ate. Most diet foods have lots of sugar or a deadly chemical sugar substitute. By the way, sugar substitutes make you crave more sugar and this consequently defeats the purpose. Now I use a bit of real sugar or honey in my morning cup of coffee and afternoon hot tea. I drink water the rest of the day. I keep it to less than 4 teaspoons of sugar a day. I know that is all I eat on a typical day because everything else I normally eat is a whole unprocessed food. I am grateful that my fasting blood sugar is great and that it wasn’t too late for me to jump off the sugar bandwagon and reverse the effects of my sugar addiction.
The Main Point
The main point of this blog? There are really two.
First, as I look back at my eating habits for the first 40 years of my life, it is clear to me that my illness and diagnosis at age 40 were intricately linked with poor nutrition. In fact, I was vitamin D and B12 deficient at the time of my diagnosis. I am positive that there were other deficiencies but I was only tested for those two in the hospital. I am not saying that I caused my own illness or that people who find themselves with a chronic condition are at fault for their suffering. But, it is estimated that 75% of chronic disease and illness are related to nutrition, and lifestyle factors such as exercise, addiction or stress control. The categories of food that I consumed for most of my life were definitely not health promoting. The foods that were missing from my previous diet were organic vegetables, fruits, clean protein sources, fermented foods, superfoods and healthy fats. These foods are nutrient dense, health promoting and healing and I did not consume them.
Second, if I can move from eating the way I did for 40 long years to the way I aspire to eat now – you can too. The journey wasn’t easy and it wasn’t short, but it has been worth every step. I encourage you to think about the foods you grew up on, the foods you turn to for comfort, the foods that you eat out of habit or addiction, and see if they fit into the categories in my food history. If they do, don’t despair. You are not alone. And, you can change. Your health depends on it.
I would love to hear about the categories of food that you find yourself eating now or in the past. I would love to hear about the foods you grew up on or turn to for comfort. I would love to support you as you figure this out. If you have already started making changes to move towards healthier eating, I want to hear about that too! Talk to me in the comments!