I am what I eat, Part 1
So, this is one of those random topic posts that I’m writing because I’ve had enough people email me about it that it warrants its own post…
But I warn you. I’m about to get on a soapbox and tell a looooooooooong story. It’s just that this is a topic very near and ear to my heart.
Now then…what are so many people* emailing me about?
What I eat.
Specifically, what a day in my eating life looks like.
Anybody who knows me well knows I eat a ton of food. A TON. I eat whenever the heck I feel like it, and I eat copious amounts (often more than my husband). I don’t work out much–certainly not as much as I should for aesthetic purposes–and I sure as hell don’t count calories.
And that, my friends, is where this story begins: with counting calories.
I did that once, you see. I kept a meticulous food diary with my daily weight and a list of what I ate, how much I exercised, calories consumed, calories burned, etc. I was overweight and not very healthy. I drank things like Coke Zero, not realizing that diet drinks would only make me GAIN weight. I worked out obsessively and would starve myself all day…only to finally crack at night and binge eat until I was sick.
No surprise, I didn’t lose any weight. Everyday, the scale tipped a bit higher.
I HATED my body. Hatedhatedhated it and wrote in my food diary everyday about how much I hated it. When I would log in my weight each morning and see that it was a pound higher than the day before, my self-loathing would only grow. And I would cry. A lot.
Now, let’s pause a moment and consider HOW MUCH is wrong with this picture.
- I wasn’t eating healthy food. I was eating pseudo-healthy food and buying into the marketing/packaging.
- I was CONSTANTLY comparing myself to models on magazine covers.
- I thought my self-worth was tied to my weight (cue the song “Reflection” from Mulan).
- I obsessed over food, weight, and exercise. I thought of nothing else.
- I WAS ALWAYS HUNGRY.
So…obviously, there’s a lot wrong with this picture. And I wish I could say I had some epiphany in which one day, I woke up and KNEW I needed to make things better. But I didn’t. What happened was that I met my husband.
A New Way of Looking at Food
One great thing about marrying a European and moving to Europe is that I had no choice but to change. How I viewed food and how I ate just wouldn’t work over there. The Germans–and the French–still subsist on cultural meals. Food that has been honed for thousands of years and is locally/seasonally crafted–that’s still normal over there. In fact, if you tried to introduce GMOs (genetically modified organisms, which are more common than not in the US), the people would rebel. And put preservatives in bread? ARE YOU CRAZY?! They’d rather have it stale the next morning than have it not be au naturel.
At first, I found this to be a HUGE pain the butt–I won’t lie. I thought going to a separate butcher and baker was ridiculous. Only having in-season food? Sheer insanity! And eating the cows from next door and drinking their milk was about as sick and wrong as it could get. I didn’t want to stare Bessie in the face when I knew I’d eat her next week! YUCK. And why wasn’t the flippin’ butter refrigerated?? BLEG.
Oh goodness, how things have changed since then. Ha.
You see, I was one of those people who thought her food came from a grocery store. I never considered what was in my food, how many miles it had traveled, how much of it was just broken down components of corn… I just glanced at calories and decided to eat according to taste.
But, my dear friends, tastebuds can be fooled, and when they are, it destroys your body. That Coke Zero I use to pump back was tricking my body into thinking it had imbibed sugar…when it actually hadn’t. As a result, my body was sitting there going, “Where’s the sugar? GIVE ME THE SUGAR.” When sugar never came, it would shriek at me to eat more, drink more, and find some flippin’ SUGAR ALREADY.
Yet, though I grew used to cooking more meals from scratch and eating fresh dairy, I still found it all a major inconvenience. Why isn’t there a frakking Taco Bell? was screeched at my poor husband with far too much frequency, I am ashamed to say.
Sadly, it wasn’t until I started seeing my writing suffer that I started to think about what I was eating (at that point, I would consume healthy-ish dinners but Ramen noodles were still staples for lunch). I was always tired, always cranky.
After a little research, I realized it might have something to do with my diet. I was always thinking of FOOD as part of this HOW MUCH I WEIGH quotient instead of food as part of the HOW I FEEL/HOW LONG I LIVE quotient.
So I picked up Michael Pollan’s IN DEFENSE OF FOOD. And wow. What a paradigm shift. I was finally able to see that all those chemical components listed on my bread label were NOT okay.** I was finally able to accept that maybe I was hungry all the time because I wasn’t eating real food.
Hubby and I went cold turkey. We threw out all our processed food–no refined flour, no refined sugar, no preservatives, and nothing with more than 5 ingredients listed on the label.*** We thought we’d end up spending more on food, but turns out we actually SAVED $$ because we weren’t eating out anymore.
The first few days were HORRIBLE as I went through severe sugar withdrawel. Headaches and cravings like you can’t imagine.
Then all of a sudden, it passed. I was suddenly me again…and shockingly full of energy. And–oh my goodness–without doing a THING, I had lost 4 pounds! It was the most obvious on my belly. That usual layer of cushion was simply gone. That hadn’t even been my goal, but it seemed to be a great side effect. 😉
Of course, this was over a year ago, and since then, I’ve learned even more about eating–especially about where food in the USA comes from. And it’s terrifying. Watch the film FOOD, INC. and read the book ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE (by Barabra Kingsolver. Yes, the Barbara Kingsolver). Then you will understand.
In fact, that’s your homework this weekend. Go check out these books from your library:
- IN DEFENSE OF FOOD
- ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE
- THE CHINA STUDY
- THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA
- FAST FOOD NATION
And look up these films on your Netflix:
Then come back, ready for a paradigm shift of your own. I can’t possibly cover everything I want to cover in a single blog post…so on Monday, I’ll break down exactly what I eat, from where I get it, and how I put it all together.
This former food diva is a full-blown granola-cruncher now. And I love it. I mean, just look at the picture now:
- I eat healthy, sustainable, local food.
- I stillcompare myself to models on magazine covers…but I also know that my current body is my Happy Weight. No matter what I do, I will never look like them…and at the end of the day, would I REALLY want to? Nah.
- My self-worth is tied to ME. My writing, my husband, my happiness in life…and my pleasure in food. 😉
- I don’t give a flip about exercis. I lift weights purely for strength purposes, and I walk a lot with my dogs and husband…and that’s it.
- I am hungry when my stomach is empty, and I eat whenever it growls.
And, in case you’re wondering–in case weight DOES matter to you (which I totally understand)–I weigh ~25 pounds less than I used to. I don’t know that I look any better, but I figure this is my body’s “happy weight”. It’s what I seem to have stabilized at with a healthy, eat all the freaking time diet. 🙂
You tell me: Are you a convert to the natural foods way? It’s a growing trend for a reason, and I’d LOVE to hear your stories!
*Okay, many people is more like 10. But I figured it was still worth blogging about. ♥
**I honestly used to think all those chemicals listed on the ingredients were just “the components of food”. Now I realize that if there is an apple in it, it will say APPLE–not ten million chemicals. All those chemicals are things they create in a lab that wind up tasting like an apple.
***If the ingredients are things like five different nuts because it’s a nut bread, then >5 ingredients is totes okay. It’s when simple things like whole wheat bread–which should only have flour, yeast, and water–listed as having 35 ingredients. As Pollan says in his book, that ain’t bread, people.
August 10, 2012 @ 2:29 pm
I spent this entire post nodding my head. IN DEFENSE OF FOOD changed my life too (as I’m pretty sure we’ve talked about, right?) I just loaned it out to my brother yesterday, in fact, and I think I’m due for a re-read when he finally gives it back. I’ve since seen most of those documentaries, except FOOD, INC., which I know is like the mother of all food docs, but I’ve heard there are some animal abuse things in there and I seriously can’t handle that. Especially while pregnant. (Ask my husband about the last time I was pregnant and sobbed uncontrollably during an episode of Mad Men because of a random scene with a dog.)
Anyway.The American diet is appalling. Absolutely fricking appalling. And the crazy part is that we’re all conditioned from an early age to think it’s ok. How many of us grew up on Kraft mac and cheese,Spaghetti-O’s,Oreos, Chicken McNuggets, sugary cereals, fruit juices? Like ALL of us. It’s our normal. I literally threw a magazine down in disgust the other day in a doctor’s waiting room, one of those “women’s health and fitness” types, after it told me I should cut down to 1200 calories a day and stock up on the Weight Watchers frozen meals advertised on the next page. That’s just what we’ve been trained to do. Eat Eggo waffles for breakfast, hit a drive thru for lunch, bust out the processed spaghetti sauce from a jar at dinner, snack on a variety of chips and sodas and cereals throughout the day, and wonder why we feel like crap all the time.My husband and I switched over to the real food movement probably three-ish years ago, and it hands down the best thing we’ve ever done for ourselves. That tired, gross feeling that used to hang over me all the time? Gone. The level of energy I have on a day-t0-day basis? Through the roof. And the saddest part in all of this, for me, is twofold: 1) It’s so freaking easy to eat right, and 2) It’s so freaking hard to eat right. Once you actually break through and figure out how to do it, it’s smooth sailing, but the actual getting there can be so confusing because you actually have to re-learn everything you’ve been taught about food and nutrition since infancy.
I clearly can write essays about how I feel on this, but I’ll stop spamming your comment section now and just say this. I agree. Wholeheartedly.
August 10, 2012 @ 3:57 pm
Wow–that’s SUCH a good point about how easy AND hard it is. You’re so right that it’s easy…once you already know how. But getting that knowledge isn’t so easy. I mean, I was NOT taught to cook. Growing up–exactly as you say–cooking meant opening a can of beans. And it’s not my mom’s fault since that’s what SHE learned. I think Pollan even talks about when the American diet shifted to this convenience style of eating (around the 50s, maybe?).
I definitely had Eggos for breakfast, Lunchables for lunch, and an assortment of canned/frozen goods for dinner. It’s no wonder I had no idea how basic kitchen apparatus worked. But I bought some basic, beginner cookbooks in college, and I started there. Then, when I met Seb, he started to teach me how to cook WITHOUT a recipe. Now I’m comfortable enough to throw anything on hand and come up with something delicious…but it did take me years to get that way.
It’s so daunting, you know? No one likes feeling like a beginner. Hell, even the first few times we tried out the farmer’s market, I was shy and nervous–worried the farmers would realize I don’t know anything about agriculture. But, I’m getting better at that too. If I don’t recognize a vegetable, I just ask–I have yet to receive a funny look or ungracious response.And yes, FOOD INC. destroyed me. The animal cruelty bit is pretty small (but definitely brutal), but it’s the way these big companies treat their workers and treat American farmers that hit me the hardest. Although…the animal cruelty stuff was so horrific that I will never, ever, EVER AGAIN buy meat from a grocery store. You could try reading ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE. It’s kinda slow, but it also covers a lot of the same stuff as FOOD, INC…sans scarring emotional effects. I think if more people realized how screwed over our farmers and factory workers were–and how unhealthy the living conditions for our meat animals are–they would all jump ship for the nearest farmer’s market.Crap. I was going to talk about all this on Monday. HAHA. 😉 We should make our own book, Mer. It’ll be “How To Eat Well For A Healthy Writing Life”.
August 10, 2012 @ 7:25 pm
Agreed! It weirds me out how long I can leave a bag of grocery store bread on the counter and have it not grow mold. I grew up eating a lot of those processed foods, but now I would much rather spend the extra few minutes and make something that tastes *real*, even if it’s just a few tomato slices with olive oil. I can’t hack fast food anymore, either–it might be engineered to taste good, but I know I’ll feel horrid afterwards. I’m lucky to be living in southern California where we have more access to local and organic food–I can almost pretend I’m in Europe 😉
August 10, 2012 @ 8:34 pm
Oh goodness–olive oil on tomatoes….mmmmm. With a touch of salt and pepper–aaaahhhh. To die for.
And I BET you have amazing produce in SoCal. My husband’s family lives in Provence (similar landscape to SoCal), and OMG THE FRUITS. It was amazing. Every meal was delicious and fresh.
Also–fast food. It’s amazing how DISGUSTING I feel after I eat it. Like, we’re talking enormously distended stomach thanks to gas and possible diarrhea. Of course I never had trouble eating it growing up, but now my tummy has gotten used to high-fiber, natural stuff. So you gotta wonder what’s even IN those chicken nuggets at McDonalds’s…
Oh wait–here’s a list of ingredients: http://www.organicauthority.com/foodie-buzz/what-is-in-fast-food-chicken-hint-its-not-chicken.html TERRIFYING.
August 11, 2012 @ 6:40 am
Butane and anti-foaming agent?!! WOW. I worked at a McDonald’s in high school, and I remember a woman who would drive her kids through for dinner every night, yikes…
August 10, 2012 @ 8:32 pm
A lovely post and I am nodding my head, too, ladies. I’m teaching a food and sustainability class for the second time this year and I cannot wait (I may even make them eat bugs. OK, I can’t MAKE them, but I will definitely give a bonus point if they try. And I’m going to try some.) We’re also going to incorporate a service-learning project with a local inner-city farm to table restaurant/school. So, I’m pretty pumped.
In our family, we have been gradually eating more fresh fruits and veg, more whole grains, etc. over the last several years. After watching Food Inc I told my husband we needed to pay for the “happy” cows, (even though they’re crazy expensive), because that’s the REAL price of meat. I could blather on all day about this– but I know I’m preaching to the choir. I would only add one more book rec: Stolen Harvest by Vandana Shiva. She is an environmental/water/food activist whom I admire a great deal. The book is all about companies that are trying to patent seeds– in some cases, seeds that have been developed in her home country over hundreds of years. It’s short and easy to read and will open your eyes to the international/developing world consequences of some of our food choices.
August 10, 2012 @ 9:18 pm
Awesome, awesome, awesome. I am going to get that book this weekend. Thanks for the rec!!
And dude, like you, I will pay the “real price” for meat. Happy cows, happy pigs, and happy chickens–ones that are ACTUALLY free range (and don’t just say that), ones that eat their NATURAL diet, and ones that I feel have had an actual life. What amazes me is that not only is the taste soooooooo much better, but the meat lasts much longer. Like, we’ll freeze a big chunk of pork, and when it thaws, it’s the same size. When you thaw store-bought meat, it’s so pumped full of water, that it shrinks to half it’s earlier size. Crazy, huh?! And the cooked meat will still taste fresh and delicious for days and days versus that nasty old-meat-taste you get with the storebought kind.
But taste and quality aside, I feel 100% like it’s my ethical DUTY to buy the real deal with regards to meat. Just thinking of the cows, pigs, and chickens in our industrialized agriculture makes me start sobbing. No exaggeration there.
August 11, 2012 @ 6:29 am
Oooh, if we’re adding book recommendations: Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe. A GREAT book on the fishing industry, although it makes me sad because I love to eat fish so very much.
August 10, 2012 @ 10:50 pm
I read IN DEFENSE OF FOOD when my little man was first diagnosed with food allergies for research on the whole GMO link to the ridiculously rising rate of allergies in children. I changed a lot of things about our diet then, but I’m coming to realize that I need to do more. With little guy developing EVEN MORE allergies as we recently learned (*sob*) this is a world I definitely need to research more. I’ll be picking up your recs poste haste!
August 13, 2012 @ 4:00 pm
Wow…I feel like I vaguely knew Super Spawn was having allergy issues (and you having to adjust what y’all ate accordingly), but now it’s getting worse?! Oh no, Holly! I sure hope that diet shifts will help… My friend who has an infant has had CRAZY issues with the baby and allergies. Turns out, the baby is allergic to CORN, and since corn is in every-every-EVERYthing these days, they have to make all their own food. But now they’re in the groove of it (from going to the farmer’s market to even milling their own flour!), and baby is healthy as ever! So, who knows? Maybe a total diet clean-up could help Super Spawn too…?
August 12, 2012 @ 6:14 am
i really appreciate this post! it can be so difficult to talk about these issues without people feeling defensive — but i think you did well here. i became a vegetarian about 15 years ago, and i automatically thought that made me ‘healthy,’ but at the time i was loading up on processed food and few vegetables. it’s actually nuts how easy it is to do that! it took me quite a few years to realize that i wasn’t eating many green, natural foods that weren’t full of sodium and preservatives. boca burgers are a total crutch — a way to eat a typical american diet, but replace meat with processed fake meat.
i’m still a vegetarian, but eat in a much more natural way now. and i don’t think people have to give up meat or fish entirely to be healthy — it’s just a personal choice. what i do wish is that americans were more educated on what their bodies need, and how to get it in a balanced, rational way. then maybe we’d have subsidized broccoli instead of 99 cent burgers at fast food joints 🙂
i believe forks over knives is free right now on hulu! go watch it everyone!! and if you are looking for a real, honest portrayal of conditions and practices in the meat industry (they are shrouded for a reason!), eating animals by jsf is eye-opening. it’s semi-autobiographical (mostly discussing his philosophy on food), but it’s also intense journalism.
August 13, 2012 @ 4:03 pm
Oh THANK YOU for the rec! Interestingly enough, I was raised vegetarian, but like you, we didn’t really get all the “good stuff” we needed. My poor mom tried, but honestly, we are all so miseducated as a culture–how could she know that eating canned beans or frozen gardenburgers wasn’t really good for us?
And you are so right about the subsidizing broccoli instead of McDonald’s. It AMAZES me to know what’s protected by the government (and the lobbyists), and what isn’t. There’s a reason corn is added into EVERYTHING–and it ain’t because people want it there.
August 12, 2012 @ 9:12 pm
I am going to have read that book IN DEFENSE OF FOOD, hubby and I love love love love food! 😀 We love all types of food, the long meals at my home in France, the Russian dishes from his mom, the German dinners and the US food as well 😀
We do try to eat fresh produce but I have to admit, we also eat processed food from times to times. 😛
August 13, 2012 @ 4:05 pm
You know, it’s not like you can go cold turkey. And honestly, living in Europe makes it MUCH easier to be fresh. You’d think that eating bratwurst and potatoes all winter would make people fat, but….it doesn’t. I think it’s because all the ingredients are natural and fresh–no preservatives, no corn-fed animals, and no GMOs.
And mmmmm, bratwurst….
August 13, 2012 @ 1:09 am
I’ve kind of been lurking on your site for a bit and this post really hit home for me, so I wanted to chime in. First, I’d like to recommend King Corn to your Netflix listing. It’s a low budget documentary on how much corn is in our diet, and it’s not necessarily the kind of corn you think it is (there are different varieties and they’re used differently). Corn is added to so many things to make empty calories in food on so many levels, it’s actually terrifying.
I did the whole starve and binge thing when I was in my teens, so my weight would yo-yo back and forth. It took me years before I realized that I had an eating problem. It was the cause of my unhappiness for a long time, and why I withdrew from people for a long time. I made peace with it. Then I ended up using food to get away from work issues and put on weight because of it. Right now, I’m working out and incorporating better things into my diet (however coffee is staying firmly where it is). More protein, less carbs. It hasn’t been easy, but the results are showing. Now to keep it up.
August 13, 2012 @ 4:11 pm
I’ve been eying KING CORN on Netflix, so I will definitely watch that one next! Like you say, there are so many varieties of corn. Like…”citric acid” (which is listed in SO many things at the supermarket) is derived from corn. I never would have thought it….
I’m very impressed you realized you have an eating problem on your own. I thin SO many of us are in denial that there’s anything wrong with the whole binge/starve/obsess routine. I know I was in denial, and it took my husband pointing out how effed up it was before I really thought about it. And since I’d learned the behavior from my mom, I confronted her–and accused her of also having an eating disorder. Amazingly, she listened and revamped her own living/eating. But SHE learned her food/weight obsession from her own mother–it’s just considered normal in our culture. I mean, just look at all the magazines targeting us these days. It’s nigh impossible to NOT obsess over loks and weight.
So good for you for making a change. Honestly, that takes a lot of strength–and one that people don’t tend to appreciate or even recognized. I think we all have a “happy weight” at which our bodies naturally settle when we eat healthy and stay at least somewhat active–and most people’s happy weights are NOT what we see on models. Now if only we could value health as much as we value beauty…
Thanks for leaving a comment, Erica. It’s lovely to hear from you. 🙂
August 14, 2012 @ 2:42 am
I’ve heard so much about the meat/food industry, but I can’t bring myself to watch or read anything on it… I know I will just cry endlessly at the ungodliness in the world and then probably stop eating for weeks. That said, I’ve been hoping for a while to make a change to healthier food that promotes better conditions for farmers/animals, etc. I’m always thwarted by the daunting nature of this adjustment… and never know where to begin. Thanks so much for talking about it (and managing not to drive me into a guilt-ridden depression!) 🙂
Thus my “yay-real-action!” question for the pro– you say “free-range” eggs don’t necessarily come from truly free-range chickens… is “pasture” a different, safer concept or does it carry a similar kind of deception?
August 14, 2012 @ 4:33 am
You know, at the risk of offending people who think the “free-range” is okay, I personally DON’T. In my mind, I was imagining pasture, then I visited a free-range chicken farm, and….was horrified. But for some people, it’s okay.
And I don’t KNOW that a label declaring “pasture” is automatically true, but I would certainly assume so!!
Also I TOTALLY know what you mean about the daunting nature. But a cold turkey flip worked really well for us–I’m not for good a gradual adjustments because I’m too inclined to cave and go back to the easy way. :-/ But you know what? Do what you can. I think IN DEFENSE OF FOOD is a great start because he gives you a pretty good way to navigate a supermarket and come home with quality food. Plus, he doesn’t delve into all the moral stuff–just the basics.
Anyway, thanks for your comment, Hannah!! <3