I can see now why people get so evangelical about diets

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

Back in January, I was crying in my doctor’s office. I’ve been exhausted for the past 6 years. At first, I thought it was called “having baby twins” and expected things would get better as they started sleeping better. But they’re turning 6 this month, and they’ve been sleeping great for actual years, and I was still falling-down-exhausted all of the time. This was something I felt great guilt and shame about. I took multiple-hour naps most days while getting 8-10 hours of sleep per night and I still felt exhausted all of the time. I had no energy to do anything beyond basically existing, and I felt like a lazy slob. I had also figured out by then that this wasn’t about having twins, but about the hardcore medicines I have to stay on because my heart failed that one time and we found out I have a congenital defect.

As I cried to my doctor, she wondered briefly if I had sleep apnea or thyroid problems (no and no, it turns out), but concluded that yeah, feeling the way I felt was pretty normal with the doses of medication I was on. This didn’t make me feel better, because I’m never allowed to stop taking this stuff. I am on it forever, because I like the whole “having a heartbeat thing.” When I pictured years and years of the future feeling that way, I just felt depressed and hopeless.

Jon and I like to try different diets around Lent, not always as a Lenten discipline, but because it’s a good time for us to make those sort of changes, and having a finite time period works well for us. I have, like you, a zillion friends who are rather…enthusiastic about the Whole 30 program. I have argued with them about it, even. Expressed my disinterest in ever trying it. Freaked out because I read that article about the woman who did Whole 30 and lost her ability to eat dairy, my favorite food and one of my great joys in life, no exaggeration.

I did not read the book, or anything, but I actually suggested to Jon that we try it…. for him. He has some gut/digestive issues and is lactose intolerant, and we thought maybe trying an elimination-type diet might help us figure out something to make him feel better. We decided to try it for Lent, making it more of a Whole 40. We also decided not to be super rigid about it, me especially– I didn’t want to lose my ability to eat cheese, and wasn’t super keen on giving up dairy, grains, sugar AND booze, so I decided to let myself have wine on the weekends and some cheese here and there. (Yes, I know, Whole 30 purists would love to start yelling at me about how it’s not really Whole 30, then, and frankly I do not give a flying flip.)

We’re now past the 30 day mark and I really might keep going forever. Really.

First, I would like to pause and say that I truly believe every body is different and that I think different bodies need different things and may find optimal wellness on very different eating plans. What works for me may not work for you. Maybe you feel your best as a vegan or whatever, and I totally absolutely support you in that. There is no single right way to eat for every single body and I am only sharing what works for me. Also: I am not into dieting for weight loss, and I’m not into fat-shaming or food-shaming. Eating is a great source of joy for me. I think food is a gift. “Taste and see that the Lord is Good” is literally my favorite Bible verse. Rigidity annoys me. Making something forbidden or bad always makes me want to do it more. Rules are made to be broken Moderation in all things. ETC. Just so we’re clear.

Anyway, we decided to try this thing. And at first it was annoying and we felt like we were starving all the time and wondered if we were going to make it. I may have suggested to a friend that I was contemplating holding up a McDonald’s for an Egg McMuffin (another of my great joys in life). A glass of bourbon in the evenings sounded REALLY GOOD to me most of the time. I spent one week entirely too caffeinated because I discovered that I actually really love black coffee, and it was entirely too easy to just keep topping off my cup to keep it warm without having to tweak cream and sugar ratios.

But after I stopped drinking too much coffee and feeling very Jessie Spano SO EXCITED AND SO SCARED, one day Jon pointed something out: I hadn’t been napping in many days. And I was like, “Yeah, and you know what? I feel amazing. I have the energy to do more than just exist.” I STARTED TAKING AFTERNOON WALKS. I do not wake up tired, and I also do not wake up feeling stiff or sore. When Jon suggested taking the girls to a Mexican Circus he discovered on Groupon, my first thought wasn’t “how will I find the energy to do that” but “sounds interesting and fun!”

I have so much energy now that I actually feel something like my old pre-heart-failure self. The girl who was known for being a little bit hyper, if anything. The girl who often practically bounced through life. A way I haven’t felt in 6 or 7 years, to be honest, because twin pregnancy was also mostly just a year of napping for me (makes sense, my defective heart was struggling to keep us all alive). I am also taking less anxiety medication because this all happened around the time that something got screwed up with my prescription that led to me taking a lower dose. I feel so much better than I was feeling before that I actually get choked up talking about it.

So now I’m trying to figure out what it is about all these changes have made me feel so much better. Before this experiment, we were mostly vegetarian, and our meals involved a lot of beans, vegetables, and whole grains, plus seafood, dairy, and once-a-week meat. I read Food: What the Heck Should I Eat by Dr. Mark Hyman, founder of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, a guy who literally treats people like me who have chronic illnesses by using food as medicine. After reading the book, I definitely think that my body (my body! not necessarily yours!) needed a LOT more protein and (good) fat than I was eating before. I think drastically reducing sugar and grains, which my body thinks of as basically sugar, as well as not drinking (sugar and grains!) nearly as much as I was, have contributed to my improved energy levels.

So, now I’m going to start experimenting, keeping the main framework of the diet the same as it has been. I want to add legumes back in. I want to try eating a little brown rice, or other grains like farro, quinoa, and barley. I might gingerly add in some gluten. I’m going to keep my drinking drastically lower than it has been. I’m going to keep up on the protein and fat. And I’ll let you know how it goes!

I promise not to become a missionary for my new way of eating. This is all just about MY body, after all. But this change has been so revolutionary for me that I just had to write about it. And I might keep writing about it too.

 

Advertisements

I think we’re ready for the next step in our family’s food evolution

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

Arkansas Made, Arkansas Grown: raising locavores and Farm2Home

I’m currently co-teaching a class based on Shane Claibourne and Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Revolution at my church. It’s a great book about taking the things Jesus actually said seriously, and I’m enjoying our group discussions every week. On Sunday, one of the chapters I taught was about environmentalism, and how important it is for followers of Jesus not just to take caring for creation seriously, but to become partners and co-workers in God’s restoration of all of creation, a project that ultimately ends in the Revelations-vision of a garden-city in the New Jerusalem when heaven and earth finally become one. The book also makes a great connection between the fact that the price of environmental degradation is almost always paid heaviest by the poorest among us, and notes that creation care is inextricably tied to ideas of justice for the poor.

One way the book suggests we can minimize our environmental impact is through our diets, and this reminded me of the journey my family has been on food-wise since 2009. In 2009, I read an article in National Geographic magazine that started me thinking that my diet was incompatible with some of my deepest concerns for the poor and the environment. As I wrote then, “According to Bourne, 35% of the world’s grain is used to feed livestock instead of people.  Think about that.  I’ve read that it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat, and more and more, that bothers me.  It gets to me to see photographs of starving babies and know that the tasty meat I eat is contributing to the food scarcity that is killing children all over the world.”

Of course, at the time, I was very much a beginning cook, and I didn’t really know how to cook a meal that wasn’t based around a chicken breast, which I bought frozen in giant bags. Knowing that a little change was better than nothing at all, at the time, we committed to one meat-free meal per week. That may seem small (or, depending on how much meat you usually eat, huge), but it actually makes a difference– I had read that if every American committed to one meat-free meal per week, it would be like taking 5 million cars off the road, and if every American committed to one meat-free *day* per week, it would be like taking 8 million cars off the road.

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

Since that first commitment in 2009, we’ve slowly changed our diet from Meatless Monday to Mostly Meat-Free. In fact, after revisiting that 2009 blog post, I suggested to my husband that we might be ready to commit to eat meat ONLY one day per week. He agreed wholeheartedly. After slowly inching in that direction over all this time, it doesn’t feel like a huge leap. We’ve gotten used to eating “mostly plants” as Michael Pollan says, while still rounding out our diets with eggs, dairy, and seafood. (If you want to see some of the meatless meals we love, I’ve got a pinboard for that.)

I’ll say now like I said then: I don’t envision an entirely vegetarian life for us. We like meat, even if we can largely do without it. Once in a while, we like to split a ribeye at Maddie’s Place or roast a chicken for dinner, and I think we will always want to have the freedom to indulge in something we like once in a while, especially when traveling and getting to know other food cultures. I don’t come at this from the angle that eating animals is wrong, though I respect friends’ choices if that’s what they believe.

I guess I’m writing this now to say: little steps make a difference. You don’t have to try to change the world or even your diet all at once. If you currently eat meat at most meals, you might be where we were in 2009. If you want to try just starting with Meatless Mondays (or any other day that works for you), it will make a big difference in the impact you have on the environment and the global food economy, I really believe it.

And if you’re ever interested in what we’re eating around here, I like to Instagram our dinners with the hashtag #bigdinnerlittledinner

I don’t actually talk to my kids about healthy eating

IMG_6311.JPG
Geez, mom, how will I ever learn about eating healthy foods if we don’t talk about it?

Healthy eating is really important to me. I have written a lot about food, I have thought a lot about how a less-meatarian, largely-local diet is best for me and the planet, and I love to cook. I think a lot about what my kids eat too. But, I realized when asked about it recently, I don’t actually talk to my kids about healthy eating, and I rarely label food as “healthy” or “unhealthy,” either. When we talk about food, we mostly talk about how it tastes, or that it’s crunchy, or that it’s yummy, or what color it is, or how many pieces of it there are, since we’re learning words and colors and numbers and stuff right now.

Instead, right now, I’m mostly counting on the message sent by our family eating habits to teach my kids that a healthy diet, one based largely around veggies and whole grains, with little processed food and not a lot of sugar, is a normal one.

Continue reading “I don’t actually talk to my kids about healthy eating”

Vegan for Lent, Week One

20130220-105942.jpg
We are now one week into Vegan Lent, and I have to say, I’m enjoying it. Is one supposed to enjoy a Lenten fast?

So far, it hasn’t been a profoundly spiritual event, but my husband and I have both felt like this is another step in a journey we have been on for a while, a journey that has been very much spiritually motivated.

I haven’t felt majorly deprived, but I have missed little things, like cheese on a pasta dish, or butter on bread. Honestly, when we were already not eating much meat and my husband is lactose intolerant, this is probably how we should be eating in general, anyway. I will miss occasionally having fish or eggs as part of a main dish, though.

A friend commented on my initial post that Vegan Lent might end up “sticking” long after Lent ends. I think we might end up mostly vegetarian with eggs and fish thrown back into the mix, plus butter and cheese for me. One problem for me is, I don’t eat fake food, and this makes me uncomfortable with butter and egg substitutes, though I must say, Earth Balance buttery spread is not bad. I want to be able to bake cookies and breads and stuff with all real ingredients. I refuse, on principle, to eat things like “Chick’n,” though tofu and seitan that aren’t trying to pretend to be something they’re not are fine by me.

Also, we have agreed not to go fully veg at this time because we don’t want to make going to dinner at friends’ a giant hassle for them, and we want to be able to enjoy cultural food and hospitality when we travel.

Still, I think this experience is helping us see the rich variety in vegan eating, and I feel healthier. I think, from a week in, that it will certainly affect how we eat going forward.

Here’s what we’ve eaten so far:

20130220-110916.jpg

This Lemony Cauliflower Pasta was a recipe from my Fresh Green Table cookbook, slightly modified because I couldn’t find broccolini and also because the original recipe called for butter. It was super tasty, and I didn’t miss the cheese I usually sprinkle all over my pasta at all, I think because the flavorful (homemade) breadcrumbs served that purpose well. Etta also loved this dish, so hey, baby win!

20130220-110943.jpg

Both the noodle kugel and lentil salad recipes are from Veganomicon. The lentil salad is excellent, but I’m something of a lentil fan. The kugel uses tofu as another baked pasta recipe might use ricotta cheese. It was quite tasty hot, but reheated, it seems to be lacking something. If I made it again, I might try to spice it up a bit somehow.

20130220-110958.jpg

This salad is excellent, and another Veganomicon recipe. I still don’t love mushrooms, though, so I might leave them out next time. I make my hummus using this recipe from Girls Gone Child, with the addition of a can of artichoke hearts to the whole equation. It makes for extra creamy, slightly artichokey hummus. I love it.

20130220-111014.jpg

This meal was largely a chance for me to attempt to make crispy tofu a la this method from Herbivoracious. The tofu turned out OK, but the meal honestly would have been fine without it– it just didn’t add much to the dish. Otherwise, I used a pre-sliced bag of fresh veggies and winged it.

20130220-111026.jpg

I attempted to make vegan sandwich bread. It had good flavor and texture, but was a little flat. Part of the problem is that my metal loaf pan is just too wide. The loaf I made in my narrower glass pan turned out a little taller.