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The Grey Matters


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Eat Like Your Life Depends On It (How I Began To Eat)

Eat Like Your Life Depends On It Part Two

Welcome back guys! I hope my last post, What I Used To Eat, was enough to get you interested in the changes I made to my diet and lifestyle. What I described as far as diet choices and workout choices (P90X!) may have sounded perfectly normal and healthy to you. You might be the rare type of person who was shocked by how unhealthy it actually sounded.

Either way, I’m glad you’re back. This is going to be a “blog series” journey that will take you through the journey that was the last 5 years of my life. The road has been challenging, but it’s mostly been:

FUN…EXCITING…INSPIRATIONAL…EDUCATIONAL and… LIFE-CHANGING

Five years changed me into someone who:

Doesn’t own a microwave

Buys minimal processed food (usually only for special occasions when I “don’t have time” to cook, which is rare)

Tries to know her grower/farmer

Reads almost as many non-fiction food books as fiction (!!!)

Interns on a farm

Owns chickens

Has a garden that feeds me at least once a day

chickens,garden, eating organic, eating, health

Don’t worry. I don’t want to overwhelm you yet. I also don’t expect everyone to go out and buy baby chicks, start a garden, or throw their microwave in their trash can. The microwave can wait a few more blogs… then I expect it to go. (Just kidding… kind of.)

I guess I’m just sort of fascinated by my own story, because so many people have reminded me that, “The Melinda you used to be would not believe the Melinda you have turned into. It’s crazy.”

I prefer the crazy Melinda, I s’pose.

Back when I was 20 pounds heavier, took three medications for acne and felt angry/frustrated/confused every single day, I decided to make some decisions. And those decisions, folks, were made quickly. One cannot put off change. I hate to say it, but it’s completely true. Stop putting it off. 

“To change one’s life:

Start immediately.

Do it flamboyantly.

No exceptions.”

-William James

I did exactly this when I made a decision to at least try to follow some of Michael Pollan’s food suggestions. Along with The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I also read Food Rules, a very short and sweet book that lays out simple rules for eating.

A few rules that really shouted out to me:

Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. I might even change this to great-great grandmother for some, depending on which generation you’re from. Think she would have recognized “yogurt” in a tube? Think she would know what to do with a box of mac and cheese (“What’s this package of orange powder?” She would say.)

Avoid food products that contain high-fructose corn syrup. Sure, it’s “just another sugar,” but it’s everywhere, and that makes it something to avoid. Really, just avoid food with loads of added sugar. (Another Food Rule is to avoid foods with some form of sugar listed as one of the three first ingredients!)

Avoid foods with more than 5 ingredients. The exception to this rule would be something with a long list of herbs or spices. I would go grab a cardboard package of food from my kitchen to tell you the ingredients list, but I cannot. I currently don’t have anything processed in my home.* (YAY!) The list should be short and sweet. It should contains words that sound like REAL food. A small child should be able to pronounce and recognize these sort of words. It shouldn’t look like a science experiment gone wrong.

Avoid food products with the wordoid “lite” or the terms “low-fat” or “nonfat” in their names. These are gimmicks. Hoaxes. What happened when the low-fat ads began popping up in the 1970’s? Oh yeah, people began eating way more sugar to make up for this loss of fat. Just take in your good fats. (Olive oil, coconut oil, grass fed butter, avocado… don’t act like you haven’t heard this before!)

If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t. I am a very visual person. I stopped drinking pop (soda?) when I was a senior in high school because one day I had this vision of sugary liquid in my brain, causing a headache, and I couldn’t get past it. I often feel dehydrated, even with all the water I drink. If I were to drink a sugary pop, I’d freak out. So….. this rule was very visual for me. Metal, steel, robots, machinery, surgical caps, lab coats, food running down belts and being splurted into jars… those are not good visuals. Think about what you eat, what sort of plant it was made in, and just how foreign and new it is, when compared to the generations before us who ate nothing that came from a plant. They ate plants.

Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk. Or, in my case, just don’t eat cereal for breakfast. But if you do, choose a healthy one. And unless it contains beets, it shouldn’t be affecting the color of your milk. (Red 40 is definitely something your great-great grandmother would not recognize as something to EAT!)

Pay more, eat less. (the next rule: …Eat Less) Did you know that in France, people use up to 16 or 18 percent of their income on food? Here, the average American spends less than 10 percent of their income on food. We are always looking for the cheapest, fastest, and most convenient way to eat. Guess what? It should come as no shock that none of those factors equals healthy. I truly believe that it is affordable to eat in the healthiest ways possible. Not only does some produce for a quick stir fry cost only a few dollars, but there are other factors I’d consider important… and hopefully these will change your point of view. If anyone tells me that the food at the farmer’s market, Coop, or Whole Foods is too expensive to buy, or that organic or “specialty health items” in their regular grocery store are simply tooooo much, here is what I will ask them (I’m asking YOU right now. You can answer in the comments box, if you’d like):

How much do you pay for your TV? Cable? Dish? Ten zillion channels?

How much do you pay for your cell phone? Is it a smart phone?

How much do you want to pay for high blood pressure medicine when you are older? Or for that physical trainer to give you a meal plan once you realize that you are in too deep to get yourself out of this mess?

I have one word for you: PRIORITIES

You guys, I am rarely this straightforward or opinionated. Honestly. I’m just me, I’m positive and laid back, but this is my passion. I care SO MUCH about the health of others, that yes, I would ask this to your face. How much do all of those things cost? Add it up. And don’t forget to add up all of the other potential medical expenses that could occur, too.

If I had these things to pay for, guess what? I would not be able to afford the food I eat. I’m not rich, when it comes to money. (though I am totally one of those overly sentimental people who would tell you just how rich in love I am!)

Greg and I don’t have a television. 

We have the most cave-mannish cell phones that most children of today wouldn’t quite recognize as a phone at all (aka, not smart phones).

And I weaned myself off the acne medication because I didn’t want to use it OR pay for it.

We made sacrifices, which turned out to only be positive, and not really sacrifices at all, in order to eat the way we do. I understand what it took to get that cucumber onto my dinner plate. I will pay the price. Over and over and over again.

Will you?

Cook. It’s the last rule I’ll list here, but one that is possibly more important than all others. The question I would ask you for this round would be:

How much time do you spend cooking each day? And then… how much time do you spend watching TV? I’m not trying to demonize TV, but I don’t understand how people have time to watch it. So many people use “busy” as their excuse for so many things, especially what they eat or how much they work out. I’m saying that those are the least legitimate excuses in the book. IF you are doing something like watching TV. (As in… I am NOT talking about single parents who work three jobs and then come home to three kids. I am talking about an average situation. There are always exceptions.)

You guys, I spend a lot of my time cooking. I cook something for every meal. I wake up earlier than the old Melinda because I usually wash/chop/satuee/bake/cook something every single morning. During that time, I also make whatever I’ll pack for my lunch. Then, when I get home, I do the same thing all over again for dinner. We don’t need a microwave because we cook each meal, and usually in small amounts so there are rarely leftovers. If there are, guess where I heat them up? On the stove or in the oven. There are no “quick meals” here.

The “slow” meals taste too good to leave behind.

And they’re really not slow at all. I don’t wake up an hour earlier… just 15-20 minutes. That’s all I need for the prep time, cook time, and cleanup time. I’d add on maybe five or ten minutes if I were feeding children, too.

When I made these changes… I swear… the weight melted off. Melted. It just disappeared, and then another 5 pounds, because I was no longer a super muscular cheerleader like I had been in high school. In reality, I was close to 25 pounds overweight without even knowing it. I’m not stick thin now, either. I am comfortable and healthy. I feel good about my body because I feel good about what goes into it. I started taking less and less of my acne medication, and during that time, started to make more and more of these food changes. Suddenly, about a year and a half later, I threw the last of my tretinoin acne pills in the trash. I ate another salad. I no longer had to worry about breakouts. (I also cut out gluten. You can read more about my experiences with acne and finally getting clear skin here.) Notice how nothing changed overnight? The weight came off within the year. My skin changed, but there were days when I felt like nothing was happening. Our bodies are jam packed with junk. It DOES take time to get rid of it all and replace it with what it actually wants.

Our bodies want to be as healthy as they can be.

So many people (mostly woman) have talked to me about their body issues lately. They usually say something like, “I can’t control what I eat,” or “I have issues with my body and I feel so depressed because of it,” or “I wish I could eat healthy, but I always give in. It makes me feel bad. I wish I could change it.”

One of the things that helped me MOST in changing my eating lifestyle was having a positive attitude.

I formulated many mantras, all of which I still use to this day.

I CAN DO THIS.

THIS IS EASY!!!

THIS IS FUN!

MY FOOD TASTES GOOD!

Food doesn’t need to be purely fuel. Thinking that way might even backfire. (One of Michael Pollan’s rules is also: Break the rules every once in a while.) It is an experience. We should be salivating when we think about our next meal. We should be excited to cook and eat. Food should be something joyous, not something depressing or scary.

We have to eat to survive. But I’d say that even more than that, we have to be happy in order to survive.

Here’s my challenge for you:

Consider taking baby steps and adding a new “Food Rule” to your shopping list each week. These will accumulate, not change out. ;)

Wake up and force yourself to smile. This smile will eventually become a real one.

Wake up fifteen minutes early and have your meals planned.

Sit at a table for each meal and savor the flavors. These will eventually be flavors YOU decided should be there, and not some company trying to hook you into buying their product again.

Tell me how you’re doing.

This was a long blog, but I just couldn’t stop at one thing.

AND there’s more to come!!! (My detailed week of eating, prices, facts about subsidies and why the “rebel” in me cares so much about organic and local food, and moooooooore)

To say the least, I’m excited.

melinda short hair

So much love, 

Lou

* I lied!!!! I actually have a box of Larabars that were on sale at Whole Foods. I chose the Peanut Butter & Jelly flavor. Ingredients list: dates, peanuts, unsweetened cherries, sea salt. No added sugar, check. Under five ingredients, check. Real food items, check!!

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Eat Like Your Life Depends On It (How I Used To Eat)

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.

Really.

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:

-Acne

-Weight gain

-Upset stomach (allllll the time. it was shocking)

-Feelings of self-consciousness

-Frustration

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:

eating, organic, healthy, acne, real foodIf 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.

health blog 1 1

although I did once eat hot dogs, this picture is featuring a carrot for the horse ;)

health blog 1 7health blog 1 5In 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?

Why?????

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.

CORN:

“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.

organic, local, albuquerque, cooking

and so the REAL food adventure begins….

Love, Lou