The past several years I have been ever so slowly working on living a healthier lifestyle. I have always been interested in health, fitness, and nutrition, so this is no surprise to anyone who knows me. Because of this interest, my lifestyle has never been largely unhealthy according to “mainstream” standards.
However, “mainstream” standards are pretty subpar when 69% of Americans are overweight and 40.8% of people will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime. Not to mention all of the other non-healthy diseases, problems, and life issues that can occur from following a “mainstream” style of health. For my family, I’d like to find a better way. We certainly can’t avoid every sickness and disease, we can’t guarantee that we’ll never get cancer, but we absolutely can take steps to minimize our risks.
My goal for the next year is to continue to take some baby steps toward improving the health of my family. We’ve made a fair amount of changes in recent years, but we still have a long way to go. I thought it would be helpful to invite you along for the journey. I know many people are working toward living a healthier lifestyle as well, and research shows that we find more success in making changes when we do things together. My plan is to have occasional posts updating you on the changes that we have made and discussing how this is going for our family. I encourage you to join in. Post comments about your experiences, various things that you’ve learned, or struggles that you are going through. Let’s all work together to lower those scary statistics above.
There are many, many different philosophies and opinions out there regarding what a healthy lifestyle actually looks like. Even when looking at scientific data, the “rules” change with every new research study that comes out. It’s hard to define something when that something changes faster than you can type out a definition! I thought I’d share with you a little bit behind my opinion and philosophy so we’re all on the same page. Feel free to disagree, the point of us doing this together is to support each other. We don’t have to agree on every single thing to offer support. I’ll try to share as many resources and links as I can though so if this is all brand new to you, you’ll have a few places to go to start your own research.
One thing I want to say at the beginning is that we are not talking about a diet program. The goal here is not weight loss, it is health. The goal is to create a lifestyle of healthier habits, choices, and experiences, not a short term “get skinny” plan. The reason that I’m making these changes very slowly is because I want them to stick, for my entire lifetime (and my children’s). Habits don’t happen overnight. On the same token, there are many things that I’m just not ready to change, and that’s okay. I love cheese fries. I know that cheese fries (the way I like them) are not in any way healthy. I have no intention of giving up cheese fries in 2014. But there are many things that I am ready to change, so those things will be my focus and I’ll leave my precious cheese fries alone, for now. To change a lifestyle of bad habits, you have to take things one step at a time.
As a brief description of our philosophy, we practice the “real food/clean eating” approach with hints of the “traditional” eating philosophies. Here are some of the rules that I aim to follow in our approach. I’ll post further details in the future, but this should give you a general idea regarding how I approach nutrition:
Eat as many real, whole foods as possible.
If God made it, you can eat it. If man created it in a lab, you should skip it. If it was created in more of a factory setting than a homey kitchen setting, you should probably think twice. Obviously as a working mom, I rely on lots of packaged foods because I can’t cook everything from scratch myself, but the less I can depend on the “food industry” making our food, the healthier we will be.
Read your ingredient lists, not your Nutrition Facts box.
This is kind of the “how to” of the first guideline. I used to pay lots of attention to the nutrition facts box. It was kind of an addiction. I have always been “normal weight” (please don’t beat me up), but I still loved to look at the nutrition facts and calculate random things. My biggest addiction was calculating my fiber intake. Women need X amount of fiber a day, so I would stuff myself with all things super fiber-y to try to meet my daily quota. It always annoyed me that I never felt very good, even when I hit that magical number right on the dot for days on end.
The reality is that nutrition isn’t just a numbers game. Sure, there is some validity to the calories in calories out rule of weight loss, but there is a huge quality issue that is ignored if all you do is look at the numbers. I can limit myself to 800 calories a day, but if all those calories come from Big Macs, I’m not going to be the picture of health. There are lots of foods that have a high calorie and fat content, but are a nutritional powerhouse (avocado anyone?).
So, I’ve stopped looking at the numbers, completely. I don’t count calories, fat, protein, sodium, or even my precious fiber. What I do pay attention to is the ingredients. All of them. For every single thing I use, eat, drink, consume. This is one of the best habits to get into. When you know what is in your food, you can make better choices. Now, I’m not saying that I always make the best decisions. There are many things that I know are bad for me that I eat anyways. There are lots of items on ingredient lists that are unfamiliar to me, but may not necessarily be dangerous. I still have a whole lot to learn and room for improvement, but I won’t ever get anywhere, if I don’t read the ingredient lists and start asking questions.
The general rule of thumb is to stick to items that have five or less ingredients. And make sure that the ingredients that are there are familiar to you and truly food.
Never put a limit on fresh produce.
This one might seem a little “duh” to some people, but I have heard of many instances where people restrict themselves from certain fruits because they have too much sugar. I’ve also seen people who count every calorie that goes into their salad, weighing out the lettuce, then the onions, then the cucumbers. Are you kidding me? It’s a salad for heaven’s sake. Eat it, and then eat some more if you want. In my opinion, you can’t ever overdo it when it comes to fruits and vegetables.
My goal as far as lifestyle change is to increase the amount of fresh produce that my family eats. I’m trying to encourage snacks to be more fruits and veggies and less of things like crackers and cheese. I’m working to offer two vegetable side dishes at dinner instead of one vegetable and one starch. I’m also working to eat more raw fruits and vegetables. Eating produce without any cooking involved is not only a quicker option, but vastly healthier providing more enzymes, minerals, and vitamins.
We eat dairy and wheat products.
This is probably one of the more debatable parts of our plan, so feel free to do what is best for your family. I personally can’t live without milk or spaghetti, so we do lots of dairy and a good amount of wheat. If you’re completely clueless as to why someone would cut out or limit their dairy or wheat, I plan to post on these topics in the future to better explain why I do what I do. For now, I’ll just briefly explain what we do.
In regards to dairy, I buy painfully expensive local, grass fed, pesticide, hormone, and antibiotic free, low pasteurized, non-homogenized whole milk. We (my kids and myself – Mark won’t even try my fancy milk) drink about six gallons a month. My milk is delivered to our door, by the farmer himself, every other week. This is a recent switch that we made. Previously we drank organic milk from the store. However, the only organic milk that is available in our local stores anymore is ultra-pasteurized. The process of ultra-pasteurization kills every good thing in milk (along with any bad) making it useless and a waste of money. I drink a lot of milk; it is one of my favorite things in all the world, so I am willing to pay an uncomfortable amount of money to make sure that I’m drinking something that is actually healthy.
For all other dairy (cheese and yogurt) we have a long way to go. My husband and kids eat a ton of yogurt, regular, sugar filled, non-organic yogurt. We also consume massive amounts of cheese. We buy several big bags of shredded cheese at each grocery trip. As I said, we have a long, long way to go on improving our cheese and yogurt consumption. Baby steps here. Finding good quality, healthy dairy products is difficult and extremely expensive (as I’ve learned firsthand from my milk bill).
In regards to wheat/grains, we eat almost entirely 100% whole wheat/whole grain breads, pasta, and brown rice. I’m always shocked to hear that people still eat white bread. I was never allowed to eat white bread as a kid and it tastes gross to me. Unless I’m baking my own bread or eating at a restaurant, we always have whole wheat. We also switched to all whole grain (one ingredient pasta) many years ago. I honestly can’t tell the difference. Same with brown rice, the flavor is exactly the same to me, so these were easy-peasy switches.
Some people go without grains entirely or try to limit grains. Some people only eat grains that have been soaked and sprouted. I completely understand why people do these things. The wheat that we have now is nothing like the original wheat that God blessed this Earth with at creation. However, I still haven’t found that cutting out wheat products completely is the best decision for my family.
One thing I do want to improve is our bread. Although we do eat 100% whole wheat bread from the store, it is made with about 765 different ingredients, many of them unnecessary and unhealthy. I would love to find a better option for bread but money, time, and availability of a good product all make this a difficult change.
We eat meat and lots of it. Someday our meat will be healthier.
My husband doesn’t feel that a meal is complete without a hearty serving of meat. If I were to serve him a meal of rice and beans and veggies, he would look at me like I’d grown an extra head. Meat is important to him. And I tend to agree. Anytime I skip meat at a meal, I’m always hungry very soon afterward.
Currently we buy the majority of our meat, in bulk, from a local meat market. I believe this is just slightly better than buying our meat at the grocery store. First of all, since we buy at least 10 pounds at a time, we’re saving a good deal of money by buying in bulk. Secondly, and most importantly for our health, our ground beef is fresh ground by the butcher at the meat market, so we don’t run the risk of having extra fillers (aka pink slime and coloring agents) added to our ground beef. However, the meat is all conventionally raised (non-organic practices) and I have no idea if the meat is locally sourced or coming from across the globe.
I have great dreams of finding a local meat CSA or farm to source all of our meat in a much healthier fashion. We almost joined a CSA last year that included ¼ cow, ½ pig, 20 chickens, and a turkey (spread throughout the year). It sounded amazing! It was a small, local farm with wonderful organic practices, beautiful rolling fields for the animals to play in all day. But the cost ended up being too prohibitive. This is one of my number one areas that I hope to improve soon. I actually believe that organic, healthy meat is more important than organic produce (for reasons I’ll explain in another post soon). But healthy meat costs a lot of money and our budget is extremely tight right now, so at this point it’s all just a dream.
We (try to) choose healthy fats and sweeteners.
In regards to fats, if you learned lots of details about saturated and unsaturated fats in health class, you should probably just throw away all of that knowledge and start fresh. All of the “old fashioned” information regarding fats has pretty much all been proven wrong. The reality (in case you haven’t heard) is that margarine, shortening, and vegetable oil are incredibly dangerous “foods” that were created by science, not by God. In our house, we stick with real fats and although we don’t go overboard, I don’t actively try to cut the amounts of healthy fats that we use. We use olive oil, butter, and coconut oil on a regular basis. I also have some lard, but in the future, the plan is to only buy lard from an organic, local source (not the supermarket).
In an ideal world, we would only use honey (raw and local), real maple syrup, and fruits (juices and concentrates) to sweeten our food. This doesn’t happen in our house. We still have regular sugar and use it somewhat regularly (my husband’s coffee and for baking). We have eliminated nearly all artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharin) and we try to avoid high fructose corn syrup like the plague. I’d love to cut out my daughter’s and my husband’s candy addictions. I’d also love to be able to afford lots of real maple syrup. I’d love to learn how to change my recipes to replace all of the sugar with healthier alternatives. Some day.
Everything in moderation.
This one is big for me. I follow many blogs that are very “crunchy” and alternative in regards to their food choices. It seems that they never, ever break from their rules. They always eat clean. They always prepare everything 100% from scratch. They never have a cheat day…or a cheese fry. I can’t live like that. Maybe someday I will be able to, but for now, that just doesn’t seem like a healthy approach, for me and my family. So we strongly believe in the “everything in moderation” rule. That means that we “never say never”. As in “I never eat at fast food restaurants” or “I never drink soda” or “I never eat Velveeta”. I will do all three in 2014, but I probably won’t do them very often…especially the Velveeta one, because really, who likes that crap?
This has become a very long post with lots of information. And really I’ve only scratched the surface of explaining what a healthy food lifestyle looks like. I definitely hope to share more in the future, especially as I learn more and change our habits. Also, this switch to a healthy lifestyle isn’t just about food. Our everyday health and beauty products, soaps, and cleaning products also contain lots of unnatural, unsafe chemicals and toxins which is why we switched to homemade laundry detergent and homemade cleaning products.
If you want to start researching more so that you can start making some changes in your family, here are some great resources:
My favorite website:
100 Days of Real Food – a great resource to learn and get ideas for how to practically make the switch to a real food life
Books – there are many more, these are just the ones I’ve read
I love this book. It really opened my eyes to help me better understand that a lot of what I “knew” about good nutrition was false. It helped me see that going back to eating the original food that God created, truly is our best hope for being healthy.
This book is a bit intimidating. It’s actually part informational book, part cookbook. This takes the “real food” eating a step further into “traditional” eating, which means long before the industrial revolution, long before our current cooking appliances, long before our current refrigeration and freezer options were available, how did people eat? Very interesting, but admittedly difficult to put into practice as a working mom.
Documentaries – you should be able to watch these on Netflix and Amazon Prime