The first thing, and one of the last things, written in my baby book was an entry written by my dad. "Has no problem finding fork and spoon". I must have wanted and needed to eat as furiously then as I do now! Growing up I don't remember much about what I ate, except that I loved things like Little Debbies (Nutty bars were my favorite) and ABC's and 123's with meatballs. As a teenager I would come home from school and make things like ramen noodles or enriched pasta with a can of tomato sauce on top.
My view of food changed abruptly at the age of 14 after witnessing a cow branding in New Mexico. I vowed never to eat meat again. And so began a 7 year stent of vegetarianism. I can't say I ate healthier during that time. I just didn't eat meat. I don't remember really thinking about what was healthy and what was not. I think I just ate what I felt like at the time and what was easiest to prepare. I also had a desire to stay thin and so I watched how much dessert I ate and other fatty foods. This wasn't for health's sake, but rather for look's sake. I even struggled for a while we binging and purging. Thankfully this pattern didn't stick with me and was only a 6 month phase. The desire to be beautiful and thin though continued to stay with me, and was an underlying insecurity.
After the birth of my son, Isaac, at the age of 19, I began to think about health in relation to what I ate, and more importantly to me, to what I fed my little treasure. I began to buy organic baby foods for Isaac and was introduced to the world of "natural" and "health" foods in the grocery store.
As a single woman, and a mother, I wanted very much to regain my pre-pregnancy weight and figure. So I worked hard, exercising and watching what I ate. Eventually I was able to lose all my "baby" weight and get in shape through daily twenty minute walks. During my engagement with Steve, he talked me into eating meat. I had already began to make peace with eating meat previously because of God's work in my heart through His Word. I began to see that God gave us animals to eat and that he was in control of all things. I continued though with the conviction that I should buy my meat only from farmers who raised their animals humanely. That conviction remains today. God says "A righteous man cares for the needs of his animals". (Prov. 12:10)
After Steve and I married I continued to watch what I ate for the sake of keeping my figure, but I began too to think about how to feed my husband and Isaac. I wanted to nourish their bodies. Healthy eating was definitely becoming a priority to me and not just for reasons of vanity. I was invited to go to a Breadbeckers class on grinding your own wheat and making your own bread. This was a real eye opener for me and I began to mill my own wheat at the local Harry's Farmer's Market until I was able to buy my own grain mill.
At this time I enjoyed good health, a good energy level and didn't get sick very often. After Micah was born in March of 2003, things changed. I came down with a urinary tract infection right after his birth, and then I struggled with mastitis, a breast infection related to breastfeeding, three times in a row. My milk eventually dried up much to my sorrow. The following winter I came down with strep throat that was very resistant to antibiotics. Within about 8 weeks I took 4 rounds of antibiotics, each progressively stronger.
It was after this year of repeated antibiotics that I began to notice I had a lot of digestive issues, primarily gas and bloating, as well as markedly decreased energy and a foggy feeling in my head. I did some research and much to my dismay, I came across the book, "The Yeast Connection". The author's last name is "Crook", and truly I felt like he had come in and like a crook, stolen my life from me. Reason being, when you struggle with an overgrowth of yeast, the remedy is a diet free from many common foods, sugar and refined grains being two of the main ones. For those of you who aren't familiar with yeast and bacteria and how they work in your digestive track I will try and give you a little bit of information. Basically yeast and bacteria live inside of your digestive system, hopefully in a good balance. The beneficial bacteria living inside your intestines keeps the yeast from overgrowing. When you take antibiotics, they kill the bad bacteria as well as the good bacteria, thus giving the yeast an opportunity to overgrow. A way to remedy this is taking probiotics during and after taking antibiotics, as well as avoiding refined grain and sugar.
Anyway, from then on I kept a watch on how much sugar I ate and for a long while took probiotics. I also avoid antibiotics like the plague! Another blessing is that I was introduced to a product called Juice Plus about a year or so after Micah was born. Juice Plus is basically 15 different fruits and vegetables that have been allowed to vine ripen (which is when most of the vitamins enter into the produce), then they are juiced and the water,sugar and salt are removed. When my friend told me about it, it made sense to me. I didn't believe man-made vitamins were beneficial, but this was just fruits and vegetables. It definitely sounded like it was worth a try. Juice Plus is sold in a 4 month supply because it takes about that long for it to get into every cell of your body and make a difference. Well, I noticed a difference within weeks. I stopped catching every bug my children got, I stopped getting urinary track infections. I struggled with those on a regular basis after getting married. I never have gotten strep throat again, nor mastitis, nor any other bacterial infection (and it's been about 5 years since I started taking it!). Praise God! When I look at my life before and after taking Juice Plus, I can see a marked change.
Well, one problem that did persist is diarrhea and bloating. (TMI I know) I could tell that it got worse during times of stress, but other than that I couldn't figure out why I was having this problem! After Benjamin was born he developed eczema patches on his skin. I thought he may have been allergic to something I was eating so I did an elimination diet to see if it helped him. Nothing made a difference for him, but low and behold, when I cut out gluten, my diarrhea went away! This was a sore disappointment because I love my home made bread and muffins made from freshly ground wheat. But, I was so thankful to know, finally what was wrong! Or so I thought...the story continues...
Within the past 4 weeks or so I realized that I needed to go back on the "yeast connection" diet. I have had some yeast infections since being pregnant, and I do not want to struggle with thrush with our next baby! I had that with Benjamin for about 8 months and it made life with a new baby and three other children just that much harder. Along with watching my sugar intake I began to take probiotics again. But this time, I followed the plan for Candida infections in the book called "Probiotics-Nature's Internal Healers". The woman who wrote the book comes from a long line of yogurt makers and she really seems to know what she is talking about. She said when it comes to probiotics, you get what you pay for. So I decided to buy the most expensive probiotics Whole Foods has. Well, during this time, my husband, Steve, has been praying for me, that God would heal "my insides". It is so hard when you are struggling with these invisible things. But they aren't invisible to God. About a week or so after I began the diet and probiotics, I decided to try some pizza I had made for the rest of my family and I had used an ancient variety of wheat, kamut, to make the crust. I figured, we've been praying, but how will we know if God has healed me if I don't try some gluten! Mind you, I know what happens when I eat gluten containing food. The next day I have to RUN for the toilet. Literally, RUN. So the next day I was ready for whatever was in store for me.
I DID NO RUNNING! I have successfully eaten gluten containing foods three times since that first time, with absolutely NO intestinal distress! Praise God! I'm not sure if God miraculously healed me, or if he lead me to use the probiotics. Either way, He gets all the glory. I've been praying and praying about the issue of food in my life, as it is such a struggle for me in general, and then it is all that much harder to have to make separate food for my family and myself. (I've been eating gluten free for about 15 months now and thought I would be for the rest of my life)
Well, I didn't mean for this to be so long. I also wanted to share a little bit about how I feed my family and why I make some of the choices I make. Even though it goes against mainstream culture, we avoid things like carbonated and/or sugary drinks (even juice unless it is freshly made), artificial sweeteners, white/refined flour, most fast food except the occasional chik-fil-et (even though they put MSG in their food! Chick-fil-et is definitely a weakness of ours), conventional meat, artificial colors and flavors. Now, I am not a food purist. If we are at church or someone else's house, or even sometimes, even in our own home, we will eat some of these things. But for the most part I avoid them and I avoid feeding them to my family. Here's why...
Then God said, "I give you every seed bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. Genesis 1:21
When I evaluate food, my thought process kind of goes back to the basics, or maybe back to the beginning :). I want my food to be as close to it's natural state, the way God made it, as possible. If man has taken it, tinkered with it, altered God's design, or even created something completely artificial, I try and avoid it. That's it! That is really my plumb line when it comes to food and decisions regarding it. That is why I try and buy organic foods whenever I can, because I'm sure God did not give Adam and Eve a spray bottle with pesticides and fertilizers to spray on the garden of Eden. These products are harmful, period. They are poisons, and yes, they may make it easier for the producer to make more money, but I'm not looking necessarily to pad their pocket or even save myself money. I'd rather pay for the good, old, "return to Eden", way of producing food. But that is for another post! And, BTW, I don't buy all organic food. Even though, I do think it would be best. I'm gradually learning how to feed my family, on a budget, organically. It's definitely a learning process! I also, don't judge, the way other's eat or feed their families. We are all doing the best we know how, me included.
Here are some of the things I bought when I went on the really strict version of the yeast diet. I ended up returning the stevia. Stevia is a great alternative to sugar, but depending on the brand you buy, it can leave a terrible aftertaste, sort of like the aftertaste you get from eating artificial sweeteners. (Stevia is just the ground up leaves of a really sweet tasting plant!)
Our meals became a lot more healthy, with many more vegetables during the strict phase of the diet, which I could basically eat only meat and vegetables. The boys got the roll-not me!
Here is something I do to make preparing fresh vegetables for my family easier, I will immediately after buying them, cut them up (don't wash them until right before your going to steam them), and then put them either in reusable containers in the fridge or gallon size ziploc bags. Then, when I'm preparing a meal, it is so easy to just pull some out, rinse them, and steam them.
Another helpful thing I've found to do, is make a batch of home-made dinner rolls just to have for the boys to snack on. I hate giving them processed foods, things you buy in a box, pre-wrapped, even if it is organic. I much prefer something that I've made from fresh, real ingredients right at home. These are actually quite easy. I make up a batch of bread dough, let it rise once, then roll it out, cut out the rolls like you do biscuits, put them in a 9X13 baking dish, sides touching each other, put them in a NON pre-heated oven set to 350 degrees, and bake them for 20 to 25 minutes. They do their second rise in the oven. So it only takes about one and a half hours to make these from start to finish. So easy!
Another thing I am incorporating into our lives is picking from a farm what we can, when we can. Whatever produce is in season where we live, I take the boys and go pick a bunch and come home and freeze and can. So far we have picked blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, butter-nut squash (sort of odd and random I know, just happens that we went to a berry farm that also allowed you to pick an assortment of other produce they had growing!), and most recently, oranges. Next Spring I plan to buy many more gallons of blueberries and strawberries and freeze them to use through the year.
Another thing I like to do with the boys is try new things. Here is a fresh young coconut that the boys enjoyed watching me cut into.
We scooped the "flesh" out and put it into a fruit smoothie as well as the juice. Fruit smoothies are a very easy, healthy addition to our diets. I buy loads of bananas, let them get nice and ripe, then peel them, and pop them into a freezer ziplock bag. I buy an assortment of frozen fruits to have on hand and we can make a quick smoothie in minutes. You can also add a handful of spinach leaves without changing the taste of the smoothie a bit! My kids don't mind and it is another way to get leafy greens into your diet!