A cornerstone of my quest for vibrant health for the past few years has been examining and experimenting with my food choices. Yes, I’m dancing around the word “diet”. I’ve always believed that you only live once, and yes, you should eat and enjoy that piece of cake. However, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”, so as I get older (and wiser?) I’ve been experimenting with delayed gratification. Dragging out the enjoyment of the final payoff, or finding that I don’t really want or need that “treat” to be fully enjoying life.
And I no longer eat cake.
Let’s start at the beginning… I came into the world loved and breast fed. (Thanks, Mom!) My diet as a youngster was a fairly healthy version of SAD. (We got Honey Nut Cheerios, not Count Chocula.) Lots of home cooked meals, but we were no stranger to the “Happy Meal”. I was a lean and happy kid. I loved riding my bike and exploring the creek with neighborhood friends.
Then I was hit with a double whammy of a move and the onset of puberty at the beginning of 5th grade. Our new home in the Santa Cruz mountains of California had a great view, but was perched on a hillside, and the roads were too dangerous for biking- narrow, winding with no shoulder. Sometime that year I fell off my bike and broke my wrist, and that pretty much ended my efforts to bike the neighborhood. I was also very shy, nerdy and a “tom-boy”, and really had a difficult time making friends. I still consider 5th grade the hardest time in my life.
We (myself and 2 younger sisters) became “latch key” kids at this time as well. We had a basketball hoop and rope-swing and epic plastic egg battles around our staircase, but also watched a lot of TV, and I began snacking out of boredom. I ate a lot of that Cosco trail mix with the m&ms. Our weirdest favorite was “craft singles”, folded to cut in a strip, and dipped into Diet Pepsi! Needless to say, I got a little chubby around this time. And basically I have been ever since.
My highest all-time weight (non-pregnant) was as a senior in high school. I think I topped out at about 174 lbs. Then I went to college at UCSD and actually lost my “freshman 15”. I resolved to go to the gym 4 times a week. It was on campus and included with tuition. It was also my main way of relieving the stress of being away from home the first time, living with a roommate, and keeping up with my classes. I also benefited from “positive peer pressure” as the girls I lived with were fairly health conscious (a gymnast, a soccer player, a marathon runner). I was on the sailing team Freshman year, and played Ultimate Disc the second and third years. I didn’t have a car and walked a lot to get to my classes and later (when I lived off campus) for groceries. I also worked at a coffee shop and ate a lot of baguettes (and of course, espresso drinks). I felt that I was being good by not eating much (being hungry), and working out fairly hard with the Ultimate Disc team.
After college I returned home for a while, and my mom was getting the family into the Zone diet, in an effort to control my Dad’s blood sugar. I went along for the ride and found I was losing weight easily with moderate exercise. The Zone concept is to eat a certain ratio of macro-nutrients (Carbs, Fat, Protein) at every meal and snack. Compared to what most Americans eat this amounts to a reduced Carb diet. Never the less, I was still a bit overweight, unable to get below 150 lbs.
When I became pregnant with my first daughter in 2007, I was 30 years old and weighed about 160. I gained 40 lbs to my all-time high of 200. A year after my daughter was born I was back to 160. I didn’t try to “lose the baby weight”, it just came off through nursing and the rigors of baby rearing.
This is also when my health problems began. I developed eczema on my eyelids, elbow creases, and most distressing of all, my nipples. Combined with breast-feeding this resulted in thin weepy skin that seemed to just disintegrate, then scab over, but refused to heal. I tried every over the counter remedy I could think of, and finally went to a dermatologist. She prescribed a steroid cream. It worked, except I had to keep using it or the condition would return. I went to a naturopath, and in addition to supplements, she recommended a gluten (wheat) and dairy free trial period. It seemed to help a little, and I lost 10 lbs (back to 150). It didn’t eliminate the eczema, and I couldn’t detect a strong reaction to adding it back, so I eventually added both back to my diet. In retrospect I should have tested them separately and done a “binge” style reintroduction to really detect an effect.
I was really committed to breast-feeding, even when I had to express to let one side heal. I got down to 1 milk producing breast since my daughter developed a preference for the less affected side. By age 2 (my initial goal based on WHO recommendation) we were going strong, and we just kept nursing until 3 years, 3 months. I was about 3 months pregnant by this time.
Still struggling with the eczema, and as one with an interest in Chinese medicine, I turned to acupuncture. Since I wanted to check out Five Branches, I went to their Santa Cruz clinic, and was treated by students with a faculty back up. (I had about 5 sessions with 3 different students, and 1 faculty member who has to pre-approve their treatment plan.) According to this system, I had a “damp heat” condition, which expressed itself as a rash. I also was experiencing chronic diarrhea (sorry more TMI) around this time, and once again, a wheat and dairy free diet was recommended for me. I stopped using the steroid cream around this time in order to see what was really going on in my body. I kept extensive food diaries, and shared them with my practitioners. They recommended eating more protein (a bit of a shocker for me since I never have a meal without protein), and more leafy greens, as well as bone broths. They also said to avoid refined sugar, which I pretty much did already. Around this time I became pregnant for the second time.
I followed this gluten and dairy free diet for about 6 months, finding substitutes for bread among the processed corn chips, tortillas, crackers and gluten free “breads”. Basically sub-ing other refined grains. I added dairy back in, after eating cheese at a party and suffering no ill effects. During my second pregnancy I started at a low of 148 lbs, gained virtually no weight in the 1st trimester, though my belly grew. (This was radically different from my 1st pregnancy when I lived on cheese and crackers to deal with morning sickness in the first trimester.) During the second trimester I gained 18 or so lbs, then I heard of the “Primal Blueprint” diet through a mothering magazine forum, and read about it on marksdailyapple. The main change this brought was to eliminate all grains. I had already found that I had a similar reaction to gluten-free substitute foods as I did to wheat, so this made sense to me. I’ve found that there are many foods I react to if I eat too many, including eggs, nuts and dairy. My diet is focused around meat and vegetables. I get organic and preferably pastured meat almost exclusively, as it is better for me and the animals. I make bone broths with left over bones in the slow cooker. I eat a lot of sweet potatoes since I am nursing and feel I need the energy they provide. I also cook with pastured butter, as my only regular source of dairy. (I quit cheese for the most part after finding I couldn’t eat cheese without polishing off half the block.) When I first started this “diet” I lost a couple pounds, even though I was 6 months pregnant. My midwife was ok with it, just didn’t want me to keep losing. I slowly gained weight for the remainder of my pregnancy for a grand total of 20 lbs (from 148 to 168). This was much easier to carry around than the 200 lbs in my earlier pregnancy. Now nearly 6 months postpartum, I’m back to 147. (I had dipped to a low of 144.9.) I’m wearing the pants that were just slightly too small for years. The biggest miracle has been finally kicking the eczema just in time to nurse my second daughter with no problems! I truly feel that the eczema was the best thing that has ever happened for my health, and forcing me to get outside of the norm, and make difficult choices. It also keeps me on track by occasional very mild flair ups. And after about a year I stopped dreaming about eating pizza.
Now I want to really see what is possible for me in terms of health and fitness. I am inspired to start up my food diary again, and eat extra healthy in May. Summer is on the way, and I choose to finally lose the extra wight that has plagued me since I was 10 years old. I also am on a quest to regain the joy in physicality that I last remember having around age 9. Wish me luck!