Tag Archives: Health

Just Start

It’s beginning to be very clear that I started a progression in May when I began trying to take off the excessive weight I had gained. I guess that somewhere in me I knew that if I just started to reach for one piece of one goal (good health) and actually stuck with it for awhile, believed in it, that the path to the others would naturally unfold in front of me.  I just needed to have a little help and a little faith that it wouldn’t be as hard as it seemed. I mean, people get over heroin addictions, right? Or Meth.  Or alcoholism. Or smoking cigs for 33 years (seriously, if my mom can quit smoking after that long, I should be able to, right?!).

It has been amazing how one piece of one goal leads to another piece. When I haven’t been trying to do everything all at once, and have just been focusing on one thing at a time, it has been so much easier to move right from one thing to another. I started with weight-loss and food issues because that is the hardest and most long-term health issue I’ve had. I have had an eating disorder of one kind or another for my entire life.

After five months of having my eating issues under control, the decision to quit drinking came very naturally to me. I didn’t need to force it because I had learned through dealing with my eating issues that alcohol is escapism for me. It was also a major contributor to the weight gain, and a major detractor from spending my time in a meaningful manner. Alcohol was a much more minor addiction for me than food. In fact, I think that alcohol itself isn’t an addiction for me at all; it is a secondary addiction (which I’ll go deeper into in a later post).

After six months of having my eating issues under control, and three weeks of being a non-drinker, continuing to smoke cigarettes was just seeming silly. There was nothing really satisfying about it anymore. It was just putting a dimmer on my other accomplishments.  By all accounts my body should have been feeling a lot better minus the bad eating habits and the drinking. But I still felt like crap thanks to smoking: swollen sinuses, shortness of breath, fatigue, etc.  I realized that I was only continuing to do it out of fear. If I was able to stop using food like a drug, and to stop drinking as escapism, what was I scared of? I know I can do this. I am doing it.

It is true that elements of all the health changes I’ve made have been difficult (I plan to write about some of my challenges, learnings, and experiences here over the next week or so). But they haven’t been nearly as bad as I made them in my mind during the years (years! Sad.) when I had so much trouble just getting started. The surprising part is that the gains from making one change have been so exponential. Once you start to feel good again (or, maybe even for the first time!), you actually want to do more stuff that will make you feel better – even if it’s stuff that seemed impossible before. Weird, right?

I know this sounds so cliché. It sounded that way to me for a long time. But seriously: just start. It does get easy eventually!

Perhaps I was a Bit Slow to Admit I Needed Help

Six weeks ago I made a decision about my weight issues. I decided that I had been trying various methods of dieting for 2 years, and nothing had really worked, so maybe it was time that I swallowed my pride and got some help. A couple of my co-workers have been on Weight Watchers for a long time, and both of them have really liked it, so I decided to give it a shot. However, the whole idea of attending meetings and weighing in under supervision really freaked me out. All I could picture was a weekly recreation of humiliating childhood experiences in locker rooms. Now, I know that’s irrational, but it’s a fear nonetheless. So I decided to use the Weight Watchers online program to start, and if that didn’t work, then maybe I would try the meetings.

What I have discovered (rediscovered?) in the first 6 weeks is that there really is no magic bullet for me. Yes, my metabolism could be more sluggish than that of others. Yes, I can’t eat as much as the average person can because I’m petite. Yeah, my body doesn’t process sugar very well. Yes, many of the excuses that I have used for giving up in the past could possibly be true. But none of those excuses will ever change the fact that my body is what it is and it only needs a certain amount of food per day. I can think it’s not fair all I want, and it’s never going to change the fact: I’ve been consuming too many calories for my body to use.  So I can either suck it up and stop being whiny and excessive or I can learn to accept being overweight and uncomfortable.

I choose “suck it up.” I am very interested in being healthy, and in being able to enjoy life to the fullest. I am still working on the whole issue of image v. self (ie., how much of my wellbeing is truly determined by  my own and other people’s perception of my appearance?), but I would like to feel good about my appearance. Regardless of who’s deciding the definition of beauty, I think that healthy is beautiful.The straight up fact is that I haven’t been very healthy, and I don’t look it. At the age of 31 I am already being physically limited by problems caused by being overweight: my neck, back, and knees have been suffering.

Anyhoodle, so far the WW online program has been working for me.  I like that no food is off limits. I can stick to eating traditional foods and not using low  fat or other processed food (if I don’t wanna!) without a problem. I have clearly been having a problem with estimating portions on my own, so I also like the point system that WW uses because it makes keeping track of portions a lot easier than trying to count calories, fat grams, or carbs. Each week I also get “activity points” for any exercising I do. That means that I get to eat more as I work out more. I haven’t even been using all my activity points, but something about them really drives home that “treating myself” is a trade-off. The added incentive means I’ve been working out for a minimum of an hour 5 days/week (rollerblading, biking, hiking, or jogging with the dog).

I’ve lost 10 lbs since joining, plus 5 I’d already lost earlier in the spring. 15 lbs is a lot of bulk off from a short person! My knee problems are already almost gone. I have voluntarily been eating more fruits and vegetables. I still have a long way to go, but I am already feeling a lot better, which is the greatest possible incentive.

Of Food and Freedom

A new state bill is up concerning raw milk sales. I first heard about this via MPR, so I went to the MPR website to find out more. Here is MPR’s coverage of the issue. But first I have to point out that when I searched “food law” and sorted by date, this gem of a news blip came up: Freedom to Eat.

The fact that these two articles (and proposed laws!) are so close together strikes me as kind of hilarious. The raw milk coverage heavily leans against having freedom to choose your own health risks, and the freedom to eat article is about a bill that proposes personal responsibility for obesity.  I just want to point out that the MPR article attributes to raw milk approximately 1,700 illnesses and 2 deaths(nationwide, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)) between 1998 and 2008 (that is, for the record, 10 years). Even if this statistic is accurate, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal when compared with the full scope of foodborne illnesses (quoted from the CDC’s 2002 report on Foodborne Illnesses, bolding is mine): Foodborne diseases cause an estimated 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. The 2006 (the most recent full survey that I could find on the CDC site) report doesn’t even include dairy in the top offenders: the most common food commodities to which outbreak-related cases were attributed were poultry (21%), leafy vegetables (17%), and fruits/nuts (16%).

Now for the other article. How many illnesses and deaths are attributed to obesity?  Well, I couldn’t find a direct statistic (probably because obesity is related to so many different illnesses, it’s hard to nail down an exact number), but here’s the CDC’s most recent obesity report, and here’s how much obesity costs in this country. Funny that this obesity problem showed up in the U.S. right around that time that there was widespread food processing. Funny that milk pasteurization didn’t start until around the turn of the century, with the appearance of industrial feed lots, but is now  a must for all dairy farmers, big or small.  But, I digress…

I’m not going to go into some drawn out argument on why I think raw milk is good. I believe that the details of the raw milk argument are more or less beside the point. The point is personal liberty. People should have the right to choose what they purchase and eat. If the government wants to hold us responsible for choosing to eat foods that are known to make us obese (or cigarettes, or booze for that matter!), why shouldn’t we be granted the responsibility (AKA, freedom!) to choose foods that may carry some risk, but definitely carry some benefits (and, based on the info above, we legally choose foods that carry risk, anyhow!)? Why should the government regulate some choices, but not others? Think about it. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Love for “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”

My copy. Note the food stains on the cover.

I’ve owned a copy of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for over a year. Barbara Kingsolver has been one of my favorite authors ever since I read the The Bean Trees in high school. I think that she’s a phenomenal writer, and I’ve been a fan of her focus on environmental preservation for a long time. So you’d  think, especially as a whole-foods freak, that I’d have been totally stoked to read about her year of eating only local and homegrown foods book. I was stoked when I bought it, but then I had a few false starts. I just couldn’t get into it.

At first I thought that it was boredom. A lot of the facts and opinions that Kingsolver &  family present are the same as those presented in other books I’ve read, such as Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and Plenty. But, considering that the book is still slightly different, and entertaining due to Kingsolver’s wit, boredom didn’t seem to be enough of an answer. After struggling to get into the book for several month; the answer dawned on me. I was jealous! Basically, Kingsolver is living MY ideal life! She’s a highly successful professional writer, she has what seems like a great family, and she is living my rural dream: growing her own food, having time to cook, and having peace and quiet and nature all around her.

Once I realized that I was just jealous, I was able to get over it and enjoy the book, wherein Kingsolver and her family move away from Arizona and on to their family farm in Virginia. They commit to a full year of eating foods that they have either grown themselves or sourced locally. The book is full of gardening, cooking, and animal-raising anecdotes  from Kingsolver, as well as recipes and essays on their experience from her 18-year-old daughter, Camille, and more scientific essays on the global impacts of the standard  American diet from her husband, Steven Hopp.

True to form, Kingsolver’s writing style is wonderful. She is descriptive, yet still conversational. Her passion for delicious food is contagious. Unlike Plenty, this book has nothing to do with deprivation. It is all about how much more flavor and abundance one’s life can have by eating food that is grown close to home. It’s not just about tastes, it’s also about living in the moment and taking full pleasure in what nature has to offer. It is an absolutely compelling argument (for pretty much anything) to explain all the ways in which a person’s experience of life will be better if they choose a particular lifestyle. Kingsolver is able to advocate local eating by example and without proselytizing.

Despite my desire to run away to my family’s farm and live precisely as Kingsolver does, I understand that I must remain reasonable. I don’t have the money or the writing career to support running away from the city just yet. I have some work to do. However, I am inspired anew to put the effort into planning for what I can do starting in the spring. I already make every effort to purchase local meat, eggs and dairy. Local produce is nearly impossible to buy during a Minnesota winter! But, now I have a year of gardening and lessons learned behind me, so I think I should be able to plant a successful garden next year. I can also plan better for possible canning when I shop at the farmer’s market. I feel ready to take the next steps, and am already getting excited to do it!

Unpasteurized and Unashamed

So, I had my little outburst this morning regarding the raw milk story in the Star Trib. I’m cooled off now. Also, it is 11:15 on a Thursday night before I’m supposed to be going out of town for 4 days. I still have more packing to do. I don’t have time to write a well-researched, well-thought response. I guess that what it comes down to is that people either think and research for themselves, or they take everything that they hear from the government and the media at face value. In general, people are going to believe whatever it is easiest for them to believe.

The current outbreak story is not going to make one damn bit of difference to the opinions of anyone who currently drinks raw milk. It might make people more careful about which farmers they will buy from. Most people who drink raw milk do it because they have researched it and have good reason to believe that it is a good choice for them.

I just want to make a few general comments, just to get them off my chest:

  • After the last highly publicized outbreak of E.Coli spinach, nobody pronounced spinach “unhealthy” – this might be a clue that this issue is majorly politicized and it’s hard to get any kind of straight answers.
  • Don’t fool yourself into thinking that pasteurized milk is necessarily “clean”  or healthy. People didn’t pasteurize milk until they started industrially farming cows (I bet your great-grandparents didn’t drink pasteurized milk – and they were obviously fine, right?). They didn’t have to because the animals themselves weren’t overcrowded and in unsanitary and unnatural conditions (re: the farm in the Star Trib had already been cited for poor sanitation).  If you think that the idea of fresh milk is disgusting, visit the average industrial dairy farm. Just because all the shit those poor animals have ingested and lived in is “dead” doesn’t mean it’s not still there.
  • Finally, in any and all cases, please think for yourself. I really don’t think that anything can be taken at face value in this debate (like so many others).  Whatever FDA-approved “food” that you find wrapped in plastic at your local grocery warehouse isn’t necessarily the best choice. Fine, there might be some risk involved in eating some raw foods. But a lifetime of eating industrial food poses definite dangers as well.

Raw Milk Awesomeness

Dave and I have been getting some raw milk. Direct from farm, of course. It is illegal for farmers to sell raw milk off of the farm that produced it. It is also illegal to advertise it, so I think I have to be careful here. Can just writing about it on a blog constitute advertisement? I don’t know.  I might seem paranoid, but you’d be surprised by the swiftness, and harshness, of prosecution if rules regarding raw milk aren’t closely followed. I’m not going to go into the trials and tribulations of the real dairy farmer right now, since it’s a topic that I am still researching. What I am going to do is write a little about how much raw milk rocks.

I am tempted to go into why dairy is actually good for us, overall. However, I am still learning about that, too. So, for now I’ll leave it to a simple comparison of pasteurized and raw dairy; since we obviously consume a ton of dairy in the U.S.. First, a lot of people who think that they are lactose intolerant are actually only intolerant of pasteurized milk. This is because the pasteurization process kills the enzymes that exist in milk that our bodies can use to help process it. People have varying levels of enzymes already in their guts (based on genetic predisposition). True lactose intolerance is the inability to produce the enzyme lactase . This is common in cultures that did not descend from dairy consumers (duh – makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?). People of northern European descent are more likely to produce lactase beyond childhood (everyone produces it as babies, since we need it to digest our own mothers’ breast milk) than those of southern European, African, or Asian descent.  A lot of people who do produce lactase  just don’t produce enough to handle pasteurized milk because it makes the body work so hard to digest it. Or, a lot of people that think that they are lactose intolerant are actually allergic to milk because of the difficulty of digesting pasteurized product. I’m an example of this myself – pasteurized milk causes stomach and sinus problems for me. Raw milk does not. We’ve tried this out on a couple “lactose intolerant” friends, neither of whom reported any problems.

The second awesome thing about raw milk is how quickly the body absorbs the nutrients in it. It is insane. Dave and I joke about how it’s an elixir. But it’s really no joke. I tend to be calcium deficient, which can lead to muscle spasms as well as cramping. When we first started buying raw milk, I could drink a glass of raw milk when these symptoms set in, and they would literally go away within minutes. It is insane! Since I’ve been drinking it regularly, my problems have disappeared. I don’t take a calcium supplement, either. Pasteurization makes it harder for the body to absorb nutrients from the milk (again, because the heating process basically kills it; kind of like putting vegetables in the microwave kills a lot of the vitamins in them).

The third awesome thing is that, unless they are extremely ethically challenged, raw dairy farmers follow very stringent guidelines on the living conditions of their animals. The cows and their living environments need to be extremely clean and drug-free to guarantee the safety of the product without heating it. Furthermore, most farmers that care enough  not to take nutrients out of the milk, also care enough about the nutrients that are going into the milk. This  means that the cows are commonly pastured for as long as they can be, and are fed organic straw in the winter. The cows that my milk comes from are treated like pets. They have names. They are handled gently. And when new calves are born the farmer sends out birth announcements like a proud mama! It feels good to be guaranteed cruelty-free product.

Finally, it’s just delicious. Plain and simple. Which is why people have such a hard time giving up dairy (ahem, for those of us that have tried to be vegan!) in the first place!= )

Making Raw Candy

Typically I will write about food shopping on Mondays. However, I didn’t do the grocery shopping this week; my husband did. This is not a typical scenario. He hates grocery shopping (we split household chores based on who likes to do what. Luckily, there’s not a lot of overlap!). Anyhow, I suppose that I could just write about his shopping experience. But I really think that if I got a pass this week, I should just take it! Besides, this post is still food-related!

Dave and I attended a candy-making class at the Traditional Food Warehouse on the Thursday before Valentine’s day (yep, I’m a little behind on posting about this!). The class was taught by Dave’s sister Sheri, who, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, is the goddess of mind-blowing healthy desserts. It was framed around creating a gift for one’s valentine. Of course, I was there with my valentine, so he and I just made our candy to our own liking (how romantical, right?! This is what starts to happen after 7 years of togetherness!). It made for a fun date night, regardless, as we listened to music, sampled different flavor combinations with cacao, and drank wine while learning about, and learning to make, raw fudge.

I’m not going to go into great detail regarding the content of the class, as I recommend that anyone interested should check out one of Sheri’s classes in person. I will say that the basic premise of the class is that raw cacao (uncooked ground cocoa beans), and the other ingredients in the fudge, are health foods. This fudge contains no oil and no sugar; raw honey is the only sweetener.

Pasture butter is used instead of oil or corn syrup:

Here’s some of the class pounding the clumps out of their raw cacao (that’s Dave in the foreground, of course, and the guy next to him is my uncle Pete!).

Here’s my brother-in-law and his girlfriend creaming the butter:

Raw Cacao is a controversial amongst health-foodies. Some nutritionists list it as a superfood. When uncooked our bodies are able to derive a buffet of nutrients from the cacao, including much-needed enzymes and anti-oxidants. However, some still argue that cacao is toxic. Toxicity is doubtless when cacao is added to sugar or corn syrup and hydrogenated oils to make the candy bars found in standard grocery stores. I tend to doubt that raw cacao sweetened with honey is anything but good for us (in moderation, of course!) – especially since it has been used medicinally since ancient times! Here’s the raw powder :

We could choose from a variety of spices to add (Sheri measured them out for us – I chose cinnamon!):

When we were done mixing up all the ingredients, we spooned them into these heart shaped candy molds (I also added walnuts to mine):

The two pieces of candy above may not look big, but in terms of how rich this fudge is, they are enormous! Between Dave and I we had four, and there are still 2 1/4 sitting in our fridge. They are so good, but not in the addictive, crack-y way a Hershey bar is good. The raw fudge, unlike commercial chocolate, tastes really good. You eat one bite, and are satisfied. It doesn’t impart what Dave and I call the “shovel reflex.” Anyone who has ever eaten half a bag of Hershey’s kisses without realizing it knows what that means! It’s the impulse to keep eating that sugar signals.

Sherri has started a product line of raw cacao ice cream toppings called “Rock-a-Cow” (get it? raw cacao = rock a cow!):

If you are interested in trying some of this delicious dessert topping, or in taking one of Sheri’s healthy dessert classes, she can be reached at sherimiller.miller@gmail.com!