I feel the need to start this post stating very clearly that I truly believe diet is a very personal choice. This post is only to talk about the choices that I am making in my life in regards to me personally and my family. Although I do believe that it is important to be aware of our food choices and be open to learning more about different healthy lifestyle choices, I am not writing to try to persuade anyone to make the choices we have made. It has to be right for you.
Since our move, we have really honed in on our eating habits. I’ve read numerous books on cutting sugar out of your diet, studied more about the Paleo and Mediterranean approaches, and explored the various -arians of the world including vegetarian, pescatarian, ovotarian, etc.
Upon arriving to DC my goal was simply to cut down significantly on processed foods. It was my ultimate goal not to have any in the house – but this is proving to be a work in progress as we have fallen prey to our Kind Bar addiction, the kids love of macaroni and cheese, and there is a simple convenience of having a box of cereal and crackers on hand. We aren’t at 100%, but in the moment, we are doing really well.
Once we got to a place where I felt comfortable with our level of processed food, I slowly started researching the idea of cutting out refined sugars as well. I do find that cutting out processed food really helps in this endeavor, but there was still a lot we had to overcome. Researching the science behind the sugar was important to me. I wanted to better understand how sugar affects the body and why the reduction of it within our diet was beneficial. I mean, if we were going to cut out tasty treats, I had to have a reason behind it. The decision to cut out the sugar has nothing to do with our waistlines either. In fact, the person who eats the most sugar in our family is my husband who has a very slender, yet taut, physique. I was more concerned about the overall affect the sugar had on the systems within the body and how it can impact our health over the long run, especially after learning that cancers often feed on sugar.
I would say that in the no sugar category, we are probably at the same level as with our processed foods (between 80-90% sugar free). We check labels on everything and if we are getting items that do have sugar we try to stay at a level less than 5 grams of sugar per serving and we make sure that this is in the form of natural sugars such as fruits or honey and not refined sugar. Again, this has proven to be a challenge. We were shocked with how much sugar is in everything!!! There was so much sugar in the yogurts we ate, milk we drank, jellies we spread, and this was before we even got to the desserts. We became vigilant. My kids are THOSE KIDS in the grocery stores turning the packages over saying “oh no, we can’t get this….11 grams of sugar!”. Lol. But just as important as it is for me to understand why we are cutting down the sugar, it is just as important that my kids understand as well. We have sat down and talked to them about the decisions we want to make as a family and agreed upon these life changes as a team. We have complete buy in from our kids. That said, I don’t know if we will ever be in the 100% sugar free or processed free category because I leave it up to my kids to make these decisions for themselves at times. If they are at a birthday party and there is cake, by all means, EAT THE CAKE! If they are having a snack at school and someone brings in Goldfish…HAVE AT IT! I am hoping that by explaining the reasoning behind our decisions and the impacts on our health paired with their autonomy to consume a limited amount of these products on special occasions that they will end up with a balanced and healthy relationship with food, but only time will tell.
The next and current phase of our food transformation is focusing on a Whole Foods Plant Based diet (WFPB). Each new chapter of my research brings me down various paths to health. As I said above some research pointed towards Paleo, some towards various limitations on meat, and still others towards complete Veganism.
For a little backstory, I was a vegetarian (and a poor one at that) for many years throughout high school, college, and into adulthood. I just never cared for meat. It had less to do with animal cruelty or the impact on our planet and was simply about the taste and texture. After getting pregnant with my two kids though, I craved meat more regularly and readopted it into my diet. A few years ago, after my mother in law was diagnosed with cancer, we had spent a significant amount of time researching approaches to help slow down or stop the cancer and the research that we had found led us to a WFPB diet. So for about a year, my husband (who previous to us dating did not touch vegetables) entered into the world of Veganism.
We started off with enthusiasm, but without knowledge and support, being a vegan simply became nights of soy cheese pizza, spaghetti with red sauce, macaroni and cheese, and a full line of vegan fast food such as Chik Nuggets, Veggie Burgers, Meatless Meatloaf, and what have you.
At the end of the day, we were bored and probably some of the least healthy vegans out there. We were eating so much processed food, that I am not sure it really mattered that it wasn’t animal based. It was not good for us. So, we gave into convenience and began to eat meat again. And do not get me wrong, we enjoyed it.
But now that I am knee deep in research about nutrition and health, I find myself gravitating right back to a plant based diet. I actually stumbled across an amazing book called YumUniverse – which focuses on gluten free plant based meals and it reignited my desire towards a more vegan lifestyle. We still eat some meat, although extremely limited right now. I don’t cook any in our home, so it’s more of a choice we make if we are out to eat or dining at someone’s home. As with the other two avenues, I am not sure if we will ever be 100%, but it is a large focus for me right now. I am still at the research and experimentation phase at the moment.
I am reading several books on the topic including the aforementioned YumUniverse, The China Study, and Whole. I have also recently enjoyed several new documentaries thanks to Netflix on the topic including Vegucated, Food Matters, and one of my favorite – Plant Pure Nation which I feel do a great job on exploring benefits of a plant based diet. When we originally started on the vegan path years ago we also enjoyed watching Food Matters, Hungry for Change (so good!), Crazy Sexy Cancer, and Forks Over Knives. There are a few more on there that I may check out too, but I like the videos that focus more on the health benefits versus showing the cruelty aspect of animals (which is important, but I am a very visual person and have a really hard time emotionally with these type of films).
With all these changes, I feel overwhelmed A LOT! Sometimes I think to myself – what in the world is there to eat when you cut out so much?!?!? I am in a way relearning to cook and challenging myself to rethink food and nutrition as a whole. Packing school lunches can be terribly difficult – especially since the school is a Nut Free Zone, which cuts down our options too! I have to get creative and also utilize many online tools such as Pinterest and blogs for inspiration. Gone are the days of the simple PB&J! It is hard, but I truly believe that it is worth it and I know as this becomes my new normal, it will become much easier.
At the moment, my go to meals are Indian and Mexican inspired dishes and I’m sure my family is starting to get a bit burned out of these as I spend the time learning to cook new dishes. I’m just really grateful that I have a family that fully embrace the decisions we have made around food and that support me in the journey. I also realize that I am completely blessed to be able to stay home and focus fully on our health and wellness as one of my top priorities. This is my full time job at the moment, and the paycheck is our health.
This is definitely not a lifestyle that most would choose, but it works for us. And as I said above, I believe a person’s diet and lifestyle is a very personal choice. There is so much tied into food choices beyond just flavor or nutrition. We have a personal connection to food. There is a true emotional bond. I finally feel though, after years of struggling with food, that I am finally starting to have a really amazing relationship with food. And this just feels right for me.
Thank you so much for continuing to take this journey with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback especially in regards to your own food journeys!