I can see now why people get so evangelical about diets

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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.

 

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menu planning now that we’re mostly vegetarian

Since I’m home alone on a rainy day luxuriously planning meals and making my grocery list while my husband has the kids at the science museum, I thought I’d follow up my post about our recent diet change with a post about how this has affected our meal planning and eating.

Spoiler alert: it actually hasn’t affected it all that much. You may remember from my “meal planning for the easily bored” post that I rely heavily on hyper-organized Pinterest boards to plan our meals. When we decided to commit to being mostly vegetarian (really, we’re pescatarian), I went through my pinboards and micro-organized them further. Instead of just a pasta board, I now have a vegetarian pasta board, and it’s up top. I did the same with soups and stews, Tex/Mex/Tacos, and veg+grain meals. Now all the boards that are compliant with how we’re eating are right up top and easy to find.

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Today, I checked out what we already have on hand and what’s on sale at our local store and then opened up Pinterest. I picked out one vegetarian pasta, one vegetarian soup, one vegetarian tacos, one veggie+grain, and one seafood recipe. I mostly eat leftovers for lunch, and the kids eat sandwiches/soups/cheese and crackers/fruit, so I really only plan dinner recipes and keep basics on hand for breakfasts and lunches: bread, yogurt, eggs, fruit, cheese, peanut butter, jelly, etc. Planning dinners is really the bulk of my menu-planning.

If you’re curious about what we’re having for dinner this week, here’s what’s on deck:

In other family food news, Jon and I went on a marriage retreat over the weekend, and one thing we discussed was having him cook more. I happily do most of the cooking because, if you haven’t guessed, I love cooking and see it as a creative outlet. He usually takes the kids to the park in the afternoons, so I really enjoy my me-time in the kitchen, listening to podcasts and making good food. However. we’ve realized that our girls may not realize that I cook because I love it, and might get the idea that cooking is a woman’s job. Since he has a flexible schedule that often has him home in the evenings, he could totally cook– I just haven’t offered him the opportunity. We want the girls to see that their dad is also competent in the kitchen, and that it is reasonable for them to expect a partner who shares cooking duties. Since I kind of usurped the kitchen years ago, I will likely at first set him up for success by doing some of the prep work, almost like a Blue Apron sort of thing, but I am going to try to stay out of his hair and let him do his thing.

You can often check out our meals on Instagram, where I often use the hashtag #bigdinnerlittledinner to document what we’re eating. I’ll let you know when a meal was prepared by my better half, too!

#bigdinnerlittledinner

How do you plan your meals? Would it be helpful if I start sharing our weekly meal plans on a regular basis?

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

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

How I learned to cook

Before I get into how I learned to cook, I thought I’d point out that if you’re reading this somewhere other than on my site, like a reader, you might be missing out on seeing our lovely new family photo in the header. We recently did a mini photo shoot with the talented and lovely Whitney Loibner, and I’m thrilled with how the pictures turned out. I highly recommend a mini shoot if you have toddlers– 15 minutes was about all my kids could handle, and we were outta there and off to get pancakes as a treat in no time. And if you have a talented photographer like Whitney,  you’ll still get plenty of great shots in a short amount of time.

Now back to your regularly scheduled blog programming:

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I’ve kind of become notorious among my friends for Instagramming my food. One friend joked that whatever we have on Friday night, they have on Saturday. Others have joked about their dinners being “one-upped by the Orsborns.” Another Instagrammed her dinner last night and said I inspired her to do so. For all the hating posting food pics can get, most of my real-life feedback has been that my friends like my dinner posts and don’t want me to stop. Thank goodness, because I wasn’t planning to! (There’s a reason I joke that my Instagram brand is “all the things you hate:” kids, food, drinks, selfies, pets.)

Another question friends have asked is when I’m going to teach them how to cook. While I would like to occasionally host some kind of cooking party where everyone walks away with a couple freezeable dinners, that’s not really in my plans anytime soon, either. But what I can tell you is how I learned to cook.

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the verdict is in: meatballs are changing my life

The Friday Night Meatballs themselves.

The Friday Night Meatballs themselves.

I wrote back in September about the Friday Night Meatballs movement– it all started with a piece on Serious Eats that promised to change my life with pasta. The idea was to create a standing casual dinner party that would create community and serve as a social outlet, a sort of secular sabbath. I of course loved the idea immediately and was eager to give it a shot. I didn’t even allow myself to be deterred by the fact that I had never made meatballs before. That first FNM was such a hit that we decided to keep it going, and now, as I type, my house smells like garlic and tomatoes because I have my red sauce simmering on the stove for our FOURTH Friday Night Meatballs. (Some bloggers write posts ahead of time. I just sit down during nap time and write what I can.)

Hosting tip: always drink wine while you wait for the pasta water to boil.

Hosting tip: always drink wine while you wait for the pasta water to boil.

The FNM table all set and ready to go. The cheese stands alone.

The FNM table all set and ready to go. The cheese stands alone.

I knew from the start that although a weekly FNM sounds nice, it wouldn’t work for us, because Jon isn’t always off on Friday evenings– and I really think doing it on Friday is key, because it’s not a “school night” and most folks are off the next day, so the FNM can be relaxed, a nice way to ease from work week to weekend, and no one is in too much of a hurry to leave. Last time, we had four toddlers playing so happily together that we let bedtimes be damned and allowed them to play until almost 9 while the grownups chatted. So, for us, FNM has become more of a monthly than a weekly gathering, and that’s fine too.

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learning to love…guacamole

I7338661312_63d3beb6dd_z‘ve made no secret about the fact that I find truly picky (adult) eaters pretty annoying. Having a few dislikes is normal for anyone, but picky eating has always seemed to me to be a symptom of a larger lack of adventurousness or total control-freakery, and it just gets on my nerves. I’m even annoyed by my own dislikes. Blueberries, mushrooms, and avocado have long topped my list of dislikes, and I’ve often wished I could just *like* these things. I make it a habit to try things I think I dislike on a regular basis, just to see if maybe I was wrong and I really try to like them. I’ve learned to like mushrooms in most things, as long as they aren’t the main focus of a dish, but I still don’t like blueberries in anything except pancakes (yes, this is different than in muffins, and no, I will not eat a blueberry muffin, no thanks). Thank God my temporary postpartum dislike of coffee disappeared after a couple of months.

The weirdest thing has happened with avocado. Continue reading

MMMMonday

To all the folks who may be new around here thanks to yesterday’s Freshly Pressed feature: welcome! You may notice I’m writing about food today and not current events: that happens a lot. Day to day you might find food, parenting, DIY, current events, pop culture, feminism, politics, literature…something for almost everyone, I guess!

Now back to your regularly scheduled MMMMonday, a weekly roundup of all things tasty in my world.

LIES.

LIES.

Can I start by admitting a Pinterest FAIL? Have you seen all those “never grow green onions again!” pins that advise just putting the root ends in a glass of water and letting them regrow? WASTE OF TIME. I tried it. I mean, I grow veggies and herbs. We used to run an urban garden. I put my green onions in a glass of water on my windowsill. Two weeks of my kitchen smelling vaguely of onions and swamp water (that water got FUNKY), and only two of the bunch had grown at all. I think I’ll just keep spending the 75 cents for green onions when I need them.

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I wanted a roasted chicken but didn’t want to heat up my kitchen. Enter: slow cooker. I filled the bottom with red potatoes and a few cloves of garlic, put a chicken on top, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and Cavender’s, added a few lemon slices, and created deliciousness that didn’t require a 400 degree oven. The Pinterest component is the side dish. I used oregano instead of basil, because my basil has died/fried, but the oregano is still kicking. Really tasty!

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I did not expect to love this dish like I did. It’s basically an Asian noodle bowl, but the “noodles” are spaghetti squash. It’s also full of kale and broccoli, so it’s super healthy. The one thing I did differently was use peanut oil instead of grapeseed oil in the spicy peanut sauce, because I don’t keep grapeseed oil on hand.

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I sometimes joke that my Colorado-native hubby had to marry a Southern girl just for the okra, which is one of his favorite foods. This recipe was different than my usual fried okra, because they’re sliced sorta like fries, and are just fried in the oil solo, no batter or cornmeal or anything. They’ve got an Indian sort of spice thanks to garam masala, and I really liked it for a change of pace. I might experiment with the same flavor profile in an oven-roasted version.

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I’m a pickle fanatic, and I definitely prefer the ones you can only get in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. These come as close to those as any homemade version I’ve tried, and since they’re a refrigerator version, you don’t have to worry about canning or sealing or botulism or anything. So good!

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This recipe isn’t a new one, but it’s a fave. Tarts seem fancy to me for some reason, but this one isn’t too complicated, I swear. The interesting details: you spread a layer of dijon mustard before layering in the tomatoes, goat cheese, herbs, and a drizzle of honey. The flavors are amazing together. You should try it!

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OK, no recipe for this one. I basically just made a mint julep, and since I had some strawberries on the verge of going bad, I muddled some in along with the mint. A nice combo!

So: what’s cookin’ for you this week?