Friday, February 20, 2015

Why we eat what we eat

Many of you know that I love food. I love to cook (thanks Mom!) and I really love to feed people. I'm sure many of you reading this have been over to my apartment/house for a meal/party/dinner/etc. at some point. This is the story of how Derek and I ended up eating the way we do. If you just want to see what we eat, go to this post.

Understanding what foods are good for me started my sophomore year when I accepted a challenge to be vegan for a month. That was life-changing, because I ended up accidentally going off sugar for that month as well. 

Here's what I learned from being vegan:
1) I was not eating nearly enough vegetables
2) how much free food is actually just crap
3) My body felt really different after a month of this change, so 

After that month I thought about returning to being vegan, but I knew that I wasn't doing it right. I knew I still needed protein, and definitely more vegetables. But how do you cook vegetables other than like, salads and carrotsticks?! So I reintroduced meat, eggs, and some dairy (I stopped drinking milk and stuck with almond milk from here on out), though I made an effort to not eat meat every day. 

About a year later, my roommate Laura started eating "paleo." It was a very odd diet, and I didn't really understand why anyone would want to live a life without pasta. I was interested, but skeptical. Eating like a caveman, really? No thanks. 

I head out to Europe and that opens the doors to amazing food. 

Things I learned while living in Europe:
1) Fresh produce and food is best! It really does make a difference
2) Eat local. In Sweden especially, so much of the food is grown/raised/caught not too far from where it's sold. Plus, you can always go berry and mushroom picking in the forest. Always.
3) Americans are fat. Ask any European what they think of America, and bingo: fatty. And if you compare Americans to the Europeans, it's no wonder.
4) Bigger is not better. I could probably write a whole post about fridges in Europe. They are tiny! Which is actually amazing! It starts with urban design: most people use public transport to travel, and because of this usually choose to grocery shop several times a week (if not every day) as opposed to once a week. The quantities of food that they bring home are smaller and fresher, and there isn't a need for a huge fridge to store tons of food. So fridges and freezers are small, and the food is fresh. I love it.

Come my senior year I start following some people on Instagram who are talking about this "Whole 30" thing. It was some sort of diet challenge that lasted 30 days, or something. Not really sure. During this time Derek and I start dating and falling in love. Derek is keen to say that he fell in love with my cooking, as well as me. We were avid farmer's market attendees and cooked dinner together almost every night. We loved green smoothies, yogurt with homemade granola, pasta with zucchini sauce, quinoa vegetable pilaf and mexican chicken soup. We got married, moved to New York, lived in 100 square feet of love with a mini fridge and two burners and a sink, and loved it. We made all kinds of curry (too often), fresh summer salads, and melty tomato cheese sandwiches. 

On subway trips to and from work that summer I read It Starts with Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. It was the introduction to understanding good principles of nutrition that I needed. These were the creators of the Whole 30 Challenge, which challenges you to cut out all dairy, legumes, sugar, and grain for a strict thirty days as way to better understand how your body reacts to food. After those thirty days, you slowly reintroduce each of the aforementioned types of food and see how your body reacts to them. It's amazing how poorly we listen to our bodies and how powerfully our bodies react to food. I also love that this program does not count calories or restrict how much you eat. Eat until you are full and satisfied. Listen to your body. Feed it nutrient-rich, good foods. I loved how this book explained how your body works in regards to breaking down  fats, proteins and carbs, and why a diet (lifestyle, really) of fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, and healthy fats gives your body energy and nutrients that you otherwise might be deficient of.

I thought about doing a Whole 30 challenge when Derek and I returned to Provo and settled down a bit, buuuuut needless to say things came up. Like cancer and stuff. 

SO, once I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, more research began. There are some people who have been able to fight and heal cancer through drastic diet changes. I found their stories very interesting, and a fairly common tenet is to blast your body with nutrients via green smoothies, freshly juiced vegetables and a raw vegan diet. I think healing through nutrition is wonderful, but after prayer and many, many talks with Derek we didn't feel like that was the road for us. For many of the people who heal their cancer through nutrition, the lifestyle change was huge. From pizzas, sodas and fast food to the green smoothie and vegan diet was a drastic change. For Derek and I, it would have been a different change, but not drastic. We felt like my body needed something else.

Aaand when we found out I had Crohn's just a few months later we saw the wisdom in that earlier impression. With my gut so sensitive and an underactive stomach, my body would not be able to handle a raw vegan diet, at all. Also with the extreme weight loss that I've had over the past few months (nearly 40 lbs, which is not bueno at all) a diet of pure vegetables wouldn't help me maintain and gain weight. 

And so, I read the following books, compared information, prayed about what foods we needed to be eating at this point in our lives, and have gleaned a diet that works for Derek and me right now. I wanted to share the best sources of information that I've gathered together, and in the next post detail what we actually eat.

So here's what I've been reading the past few months in regards to food:

Natural Strategies for Cancer Patients by Russell L. Blaylock, M.D. 
This book rocks. If you have cancer, you should read it. Pretty much by juicing, including lots of vegetables in your diet, and taking certain supplements can help your treatments be more effective at killing cancer cells, as well as reduce nasty side effects of said treatments.

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
My favorite. I am in awe with how thorough and well-researched this book is. The first sixty pages are a heavy-duty crash course in nutrition (like why some fats are good, breaking down myths about protein and carbs, etc.) and then the rest of the book is recipes. Fallon looks at what cultures have been eating for centuries, and using food science explains why preparing food though soaking, fermenting and sprouting helps make food more digestible and nutritious.

On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
Cool book right here. (And yes I like to draw on books) This is the bible of food science and chemistry. Not only is everything is this book totally fascinating, but everything in this book is so applicable. I like comparing what I read in other books or online to what this book has to say.

If you are wanting to learn more about food and change your eating habits, I would strongly recommend you read Nourishing Traditions and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. If you need a program to stick to, read It Starts with Food. These books offer a great introduction to real food and give sound nutritional knowledge. Once you start to create your own base understanding of food, you can then customize your diet to fit your needs. The way Derek and I are eating now is not the way we will be eating in a year. Our diet fits our specific health needs, as should yours! Maybe paleo is right for you, maybe vegan, or maybe some combination of the two. Be smart and informed about the way you eat.

Okay, I'm off the soapbox now. Let's talk about food!

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