Eating Real Food, Living a Healthy Lifestyle & Maintaining a Healthy Weight ~Guest Post

I am so pleased to be able to share the following guest post with you all from Joelle.  Joelle is a personal friend of mine who is living a healthy active life and eating real food.  Let Joelle tell you in her own words about her "food journey":

If you were to ask me to describe the largest part of my adult life in one word, that word would be: FOOD. Sweet or spicy, hot or cold, salty or savory, as long as it was tasty and dripping with calories, I was a happy camper. I loved to cook it, eat it, feed it to other people. I was a full-out food addict.

That wasn't the case as a kid. I can recall at least once getting spanked for not finishing the food on my plate. I picked at my meals, only eating the bits I liked, and stayed at the dinner table long past everyone else trying to gulp down enough cold undesirables to be excused. I ate the meat out of my sandwiches, ate peanut butter or cream cheese off a spoon instead of on bread, and drank as much milk as I could, sometimes making an entire meal out of the glorious white liquid. I was skinny enough those years to make my German grandmother shake her head and pass me more goulasch; at that great age where you're all elbows and knees, and I loved nothing more than to spend hours outdoors running and playing with my sister.

But like all good things, childhood ended and so did my thin-as-a-rail figure. I'm not exactly sure WHY I started eating the way I did, but somewhere in my early teens I began to eat anything and everything I could get my hands on, as much as I could eat; and so began my slow but steady rise to chubbyhood. I'm sure puberty had something to do with it all, and for about a decade that youthful metabolism allowed for such extravagance. But illness, stress of the adult working world, and just plain aging began to take their toll. Clothes that I loved to wear began to collect dust in the closet, and newer versions, ever larger, took their place. Denial is a powerful force, but eventually it began to sink in: I was getting fat. Not just chubby or full-figured, but 30 pounds overweight and gaining steadily.

This was a problem. Not even counting the self-esteem issues that grew along with my waistline, there were health issues to consider: weight-related diabetes and heart disease run in my family. I am a registered nurse and am deeply aware of the ravages of diabetes; I work with dialysis patients who have lost their kidney function entirely, mostly due to the long-term effects of diabetes. I did NOT want to go that route. I know all the statistics about obesity and heart disease - heck, I'd taught them to thousands of patients over the years, while treating those very problems Yet I found myself returning to the fridge time and again, munching, snacking, driven by a constant need and desire to feed. Dieting efforts were brief and depressing; each time I failed, I recalled memories of my own mother counting calories, drinking diet soda for decades, endlessly trying to lose and never ever succeeding. I was going to end up right in that same rut; to be honest, actually, I was already there.

I want to clarify that I did not eat badly by most standards. Several years ago I decided to ditch city life and dragged a couple of friends along on this crazy adventure in which we purchased a small hobby farm and learned to raise our own food. I baked my own bread, made my own spaghetti sauce, and rarely ate take-out. Sure, I had a sweet tooth, but I also ate lots of potatoes and home-raised meat, though vegetables were not my favorite and usually consisted of corn or green beans. I try to avoid processed food as much as possible; slow changes, but they add up over time. Yet still, at this point in my life I was sick and getting fat. Food was my life, it was the first thing on my mind and I thought about it all day. I cooked and I ate; everything else was incidental.

I had finally given up on the idea of ever fitting into my favorite clothes again, resigned to quietly fattening for the rest of my life, when an article in a magazine caught my notice. I read a lot - city girls don't last long on a farm without a LOT of researching! - and the boast that eggs and bacon can make you not only healthier but skinnier too was an offer too good to refuse. As I read about the idea of low-carb diets, things began to click in my head. Despite the fact that the information went completely counter to modern nutritional wisdom, here was a diet that made sense to me: not a fad of torture and deprivation, but the idea of deeply and richly feeding your body's nutritional needs with dense, tasty, satisfying foods so that your system doesn't constantly drive you to eat eat eat.

No only that, I was attracted to the emphasis on eating Real Food: eating local, seasonal food raised as naturally as possible. Returning to the old food wisdom of cooking with butter and eating your meat, of believing that good food could be tasty too; not pumped full of chemicals and stripped of all natural fats and flavors like much of today's "healthy" offerings. Looking at the end result of fifty years of current nutritional guidelines - heart disease claiming ever greater numbers of us, diabetes and obesity a raging epidemic that's beginning to encroach into the lives of even our children - really makes one start to wonder if we got it wrong somewhere; or at least that you can't be risking much to try something different, even something as different as practically reversing all "rules" of healthy eating.

So I tried it. Out went the sodas, bread, pasta, even my beloved - homegrown! - potatoes. In came the bacon, eggs, sausage, steaks, pork, chicken, tuna and cheese. It took a few days for my carb-driven system to get over the lack-of-sugar shock, and another few weeks before it no longer felt weird to not have all my usual starchy side dishes with meals. But as I stuck to the diet, a funny thing started to happen; my taste changed. Vegetables, long disdained in my household, gained new respect. I began to cherish every bite of those nutritional gems; broccoli dipped in garlic butter became a quick favorite and great alternative to garlic bread. When I did occasionally reach for the carbs, I found a bite or two was enough to make me put it back; it was either too sweet or just not as tasty as I remembered. The real food - vegetables grown in my own garden, milk from my own cows, fruits grown locally and meats raised on grass - took on a totally different level of awesome. The subtleties of real nourishment quickly relegated the fleeting pleasures of instant-gratification carbs and processed foods to the bottom of my food ladder. Sure I still enjoy junk food once in a while; but as a treat, not a staple.

And as far as weight loss went, at first it wasn't anything dramatic: I only lost about 7lbs the first 2 weeks. Then I lost 2lbs the next week. And the next week. And the next week. And EVERY week, like clockwork. For the first time in my life, the scale was consistently moving DOWN; and I was eating amazing food, rich with fat and nutrients, I was feeling more energy and well-being than I had in years. My appetite dropped; it didn't take 3 helpings of everything to fill me up any more. In fact, sometimes I missed entire meals simply because I forgot about them. The weight was falling off of me as if by magic, without even resorting to rigorous exercise.

It wasn't magic of course; it was simply getting my body to do what it was designed to do. By drastically reducing my highly processed carb intake and returning to a more natural diet high in healthy fats and proteins, I basically rebooted my metabolism to do what it should: break down fat as well as build it. The magic was simply in the awesome design of our bodies, and the miracle of giving it the right tools to do what it already knew how to do.

Now I'm not a trained nutritionist, nor am I a doctor. I would never recommend a single diet approach for everyone; everyone is unique and different people have different needs. Additionally, I would never claim that a simple change in diet can solve all health problems; bodies do sometimes just plain break, and need medical intervention to return to health. I've been on that side of health care, and I have nothing but respect for what modern science can do.

But I can tell you this: sometimes what we "know" to be true is just plain not correct. Maybe it's misinformation or misinterpretation of the information, but science doesn't always get it right. Sometimes old wisdom is worth a second glance; sometimes they knew more back then than we know right now. I can tell you that changing my diet - getting away from modern food and dietary wisdom and returning to old-timey ways - changed my life and health for the better. I am fitting into clothes I thought would never again see the light of day. I have lost 28 pounds and 4 dress sizes. I am more active, more energetic, and more respectful than ever at the simple but profound process of nourishing oneself; a process we Americans tend to view as a right rather than a privilege. And the funny thing is, I'm back where I started: picking the meat out of sandwiches, eating (homemade) peanut butter off of spoons and making a glass of milk a meal more often than not. Guess I was smarter about my eating habits back then than I thought I was!

I know most people can't - or won't! - move to the country and start milking cows. Most people will never learn to slaughter their own chickens or can gallons of spaghetti sauce made from scratch. And that's OK! If all of us became farmers society would miss out on some great stuff. But I think the simple life deserves a respectful second chance. Already our society is realizing that produce bought from local Farmer's Markets are often of better quality than the grocery stores can offer, People are staring to take notice. I for one cannot emphasize enough that changing my approach to food has changed my life for the better in so many ways. I'm glad I didn't stick to modern wisdom; I'd be on the fast-track to diabetes and heart disease, ready to take my place amongst the pill-poppers of our society.

No thanks; I'll take my garlic-butter broccoli instead, thank you very much, with a side of bacon.


Lucky Lizard Ranch said...

LOVE it! You are awesome Joelle, thank you for sharing your journey!!

Regina @VestPocketFamilyFarm said...

You tell your story simply, clearly and it's wonderful1