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.

  1. I wasn’t eating healthy food. I was eating pseudo-healthy food and buying into the marketing/packaging.
  2. I was CONSTANTLY comparing myself to models on magazine covers.
  3. I thought my self-worth was tied to my weight (cue the song “Reflection” from Mulan).
  4. I obsessed over food, weight, and exercise. I thought of nothing else.

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:

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:

  1. I eat healthy, sustainable, local food.
  2. 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.
  3. My self-worth is tied to ME. My writing, my husband, my happiness in life…and my pleasure in food. 😉
  4. 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.
  5. 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.