When my health journey began I had a very, distorted view of what being healthy meant. Educated by the public school system, television, and magazines I had the consumer version of health education. I believed if you were thin you were healthy and whatever means you took to get thin didn’t matter as long as it got you to your goal. You see I didn’t particularly like vegetables, or many fruit for that matter, and was content to eat various arrangements of cheese and bread quite happily for the rest of my life. So in 1998 when I was introduced to vegetarianism via a health lecture expounding on the evils of factory farms it was a very easy choice for me to give up meat. Vegetarians typically eat eggs and dairy so there was no real sacrifice to me. So for 13 years I thought I was somewhat healthy since I wasn’t eating meat. But the honest truth is that I was just as unhealthy in my foods choices as any carnivore I knew. I was what I like to call a junk food vegetarian.
Here’s a very embarrassing but very true representation of what my day to day diet looked like. Yep no fruits and veggies to be found –wait there may be a white potato and some corn somewhere in all that. I didn’t like to cook so convenience foods were my staple. I could make a meal off cheese dip and a bag of chips and did that often. So when I began to read health books to better understand MS and why my body was malfunctioning I began to discover that the foods with the vitamins and minerals I needed were the very foods I refused to eat. So in the beginning, when fear was breathing heavy on my neck, I chucked out all the junk foods and brought in some veggies. They weren’t so bad once I smothered them in cheese. So I started adding spinach to my cheese sandwiches and other “superfood” veggies to my pizzas. I began exercising and counting calories and I began to lose weight, so I thought I was healthy.
Memory still does not serve me 100% so I cannot tell you exactly when I stopped this healthy pursuit but sometime between 2007 & 2008 I stopped exercising and really caring about what I ate. I was tired of being the odd person at social gatherings and after the careful persuasion of my neurologist I introduced fish back into my diet. Now I could eat out with friends and actually order from the menu. I also started baking again. Once upon a time I was a cake decorator and was inspired to get back into the sweet routine after a holiday baking competition held at work. Soon I was making cookies, cupcakes, and brownies on a regular basis. Can you guess who ate them all? It wasn’t long before the veggies fell by the wayside. Not long after that my MS symptoms came on hot and heavy.
In the thick of the worst year of my life, which you can read about here, I began to read health books again. I started with The Autoimmune Epidemic by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. This book opened my eyes to the environmental influences that effect our health. I learned that some were beyond our control but many of these influences are ones that we can control. Did you know that our largest organ is the skin? It absorbs anything you put on its surface and delivers it right into the bloodstream. Have you ever looked at the ingredients label on your bottle of lotion or shampoo? Can you identify each one of those ingredients? Probably not, I know I couldn’t. Each one of those crazy long words are chemicals foreign to our bodies. These chemicals were introduced to humankind’s skin over the last 100 years and interestingly enough over that same span of time humankind has seen a whole array of diseases spring forth that were not in existence prior to. Coincidence? The book went on to explain many of these toxic ingredients and as I discovered them in the products I used I began to remove them from my home. Now I wasn’t particularly attached to my shampoo so this change required no real sacrifice for me. I was able to find a natural alternative for it and for my cleaning products. The real challenge came when I discovered this stuff was in my food.
The chemicals are not just limited to personal care and cleaning products. Look on the back of the box, bag, or can and you will see even more of this hard to pronounce chemical jargon. Did you know that cheese food, as in Velvetta and Kraft slices, are not real food? It’s a little bit of milk mixed with a bunch of chemicals. I was eating lots of this stuff. As I began to research about preservatives, dyes, BHT, MSG, pesticides, etc I began to realize if I wanted to help my body fight this disease I needed to change my eating habits. The only way to avoid these chemicals was to cook the food from scratch. That revelation did not make me happy. Long hours in the kitchen meant less time to spend playing the video games I was addicted to. Imprisoned by fatigue it was my only escape from my life. I could grab a bag of chips and munch while I pretended to conquer the world. RAWR!
I think it was a blog that introduced me to the next book I read – The Food Revolution by John Robbins. It gave further affirmation that I needed to bring back the veggies and ditch the animal foods. What would I eat? Every food I loved involved dairy! The vegetables were more like the condiment to my cheese. I struggled and struggled with the thought of giving it up so I decided to just cut back. I omitted 99% of the processed foods in my pantry and learning to cook from scratch. This was around 2010 when I finally had access to internet at home. I replaced the video games with youtube and food blogs. These were my new best friends: PPK vegan and Food Wishes not vegan. I started living on salads and potatoes in various forms other than fried. My first recipes indulged my sweet tooth. I would tell myself I can have this in moderation. So instead of making a whole pan of cookies I would make 5 or 6 at a time, each day. I thought I was doing better but little did I know I was still robbing my body of nutrition.
I still had a few years to go before I would come to understand how to let food be my medicine. Looking back I would love to just shake some sense into my former self but I remind myself I was just like a baby learning to walk. Would you scold your baby every time she took a step and fell? Of course not! So we must remember as we are beginning our journey to wellness we are going to wander off path, trip and stumble backwards, and sometimes fall to the floor in a full blown tantrum. But the road goes on and we must get up and keeping moving forward one step at a time. I’m just thankful I don’t have to do this alone. God is with me and gives me strength each day to meet the next trial.
Next week I’ll share with you how my diet saved my life. Love you all!!