Eat Like Your Life Depends On It … Part One
“So that’s us: processed corn, walking.” Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma
Alright, guys. I’m about to tell you a bit of my past. It might sound normal to you, but to me, it’s like a far-off-distant-past-that-seems-so-fake-I-can’t-believe-it.
So here goes nothin’.
I’d say that the Melinda I’m about to describe existed from about the ages of 17-22. Five years of my life that went totally out of whack. My parents fed us home cooked meals. I could count on all my digits how many times I’d had fast food growing up. Sweets like pop-tarts were a Sunday-morning-only treat. I grew up in a very healthy household.
It was only once I began to drive and buy my own food that I started to have issues.
These issues included:
-Upset stomach (allllll the time. it was shocking)
-Feelings of self-consciousness
My problems began with my skin. I don’t have pictures from the worst of my acne, but I have plenty of pictures of the “treatment” I had. I was on three types of medication to control it. I remember finally showing my family my face without any makeup on, and they were all surprised how bad it had gotten. My mom took me to the dermatologist, who gave me 3 chemical peels and prescriptions galore. My skin was always red like this:
If you look closely, you can see the red around my mouth and cheeks. I had lots of makeup on to cover it up. It hurt, badly. I didn’t want to wash my face because of how red it would become. I didn’t let Greg touch my face. At all. Talk about sad.
Oh, and my skin problems started the year I began driving to McDonald’s every once in a while. And when I started buying microwave meals (think Lean Cuisine and the “cheaper versions”) once I moved out of my parents’ house.
Then, one day, I stepped on the scale. I’d been a solid 150 lbs since I was 15 years old. I was the same… same… same. I thought I was invincible when it came to weight. I felt good. But then one day, my sophomore year of college (age 19) I stepped on the scale and I weighed 169.
Okay. I hate this part of what I’m writing. Mostly because I am totally aware that for some, 169 does not mean heavy. For some, it is their goal weight. But I guess all I can say is that this is my story, and 19 pounds heavier was 19 pounds too much. I could feel it.
In all of these pictures, I weighed my heaviest. Again, I know that some people might look at these and think nothing of it. But I had extra weight around my neck and arms, etc, that weighed me down in every sense of the word. I just knew I wasn’t healthy. I was angry a lot. Poor Greg.
Yet, I had no idea how I could change.
A typical day of eating might have looked like this for me:
Breakfast: 2 bowls of a whole wheat cereal, like Wheaties or Cracklin’ Oat Bran. Whole milk. Coffee.
Snack: Fruit Roll Up
Lunch: Lean Cuisine (or 2) or if I had done any kind of workout, I’d probably cook a ton of whole wheat pasta and dump tomato sauce on top. Milk.
Snack: Chips and salsa, sometimes with cheese
Dinner: Pasta or Rice with a Hamburger Helper meal, buttery shrimp, or simply a baguette with cheese and fruit. More milk. Maybe more coffee.
That sounds good, right? I mean, I wasn’t eating candy. I was eating whole grains. I was eating some fruit, some veggies, and drinking tons of milk. Why was I gaining weight?
Oh, and at my heaviest, I was also doing P90X… and if any of you have done that, you know how tough it is.
NONE OF IT MADE SENSE TO ME. Why was my skin dependent on medication, and even when “clear,” painfully healing? Why did I feel like a puffier version of myself? Why did I take all of my insecurities out on my own boyfriend, who then became my husband?
Because I was eating processed food.
It all comes down to that, though it took me years to learn it.
Step One came when Greg got a job at Whole Foods. I know everyone and their mom loves to dump on Whole Foods right now, but I don’t really get it. Sure, the company isn’t perfect. But they do offer a lot of good options that other, “regular” grocery stores don’t. If my city didn’t have a WF, you can bet my next stop would be the local Coop. Or any Farmer’s Market I could drive to within an hour.
Greg came home his first week of work with something new to tell me each day. “Wow, did you know that there’s this company called Monsanto who is trying to control seeds? Have you ever heard of High Fructose Corn Syrup? Did you know Whole Foods doesn’t allow HFCS in their stores?”
Those questions of his got my attention. I wondered…. what was this all about? Does this stuff matter? How radical would it be to cut out HFCS? To make all of my own food from scratch?
It seemed too daunting to consider. And then I read the book that changed my life. Have you ever had one of those Earth shattering moments when time stops, planets align, and you become so overwhelmed that you can hardly breathe? That happened to me when I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Hey, I’m an omnivore. I feel a dilemma when it comes to what I eat. Maybe this book would tell me something.
And boy, did it.
“Very simply, we subsidize high-fructose corn syrup in this country, but not carrots. While the surgeon general is raising alarms over the epidemic of obesity, the president is signing farm bills designed to keep the river of cheap corn flowing, guaranteeing that the cheapest calories in the supermarket will continue to be the unhealthiest.” Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma
(And then the President signed a Monsanto Protection Act, and on that day, I bawled my eyes out. More on that later)
I’ll start with corn. Corn, by itself, is fine. It’s just food. And High Fructose Corn Syrup, it can be argued, is just another sugar. What makes this a problem? The problem starts when corn infiltrates all processed food. Have you checked out your can of soup lately? Your box of crackers? Your fruit snack? Your favorite cereal? Chances are at least one of these two things are happening inside:
1) Some sort of corn product is there
2) At least one scientific word, if not twenty of them, are listed in the ingredients
Did you go run to your pantry yet? Did you read the labels? Are you seeing this? (Here is a great link that lists all the hidden names corn can be labeled under.)
I did. I read that book, and practically fainted when I looked at what my own kitchen held. The ingredient lists smirked at me with their secret scientific words… they became a mystery to me. A scary mystery. Even my makeup had Zia Mais (Maize, Mays) listed as an ingredient. I felt trapped by corn. I felt like there was no way out of the corn maze that has become this country’s food system. (not to mention how detrimental the over-planting of corn has become to the environment. nitrogen in the Mississippi River, folks. corn fattening up cows, who are NOT happy. this is not pretty.)
When corn is converted into so many different types of foods, many of which are “sugars,” then guess what? That “healthy” item you picked up for dinner might as well have sugar dumped all over it. Those sugars add up. Just look around… just think about the obesity epidemic. When did it start? Just about the same time as big agriculture got a handle on controlling the food system.
“But that’s the challenge — to change the system more than it changes you.” Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma
So I didn’t let it change me. Instead, I chose to get POSITIVE, get PROACTIVE, get COOKING… and start making everything from scratch. (later, things will get more in depth. this will include organic food, where to buy this food, why it matters, etc. for now…. we’re just talkin’ REAL)
Next blog will be my adventure (with failures, triumphs, and smiles) with our Williams’ household pledge to cut out processed food and start eating real, whole food.