Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Traditional Foods

Peter was joking with me tonight, trying to help me on my quest to explain how our family eats and why and, pertinent to what I'm writing now, how we got here. He says, "You read a lot of books and experimented a lot." And refined, refined, refined. Although this may seem slightly off topic, being allergen-free in our household is closely intertwined with also being traditional foodists and I don't feel like I can talk about one without talking about the other.

One of the many things that I've learned on this journey is that it's far more helpful to focus on what you CAN and WILL eat rather than what you can't. It makes the whole situation far less overwhelming--and much more affirming. "I can't feed my kid these crackers that everyone else is eating, but I CAN feed her this apple/homemade cracker/other healthy snack that I know she likes." Suddenly, instead of taking something away, I'm giving to my child, and that feels good.

Enter traditional foods. While on my quest to understand healthy eating, I came across this book--this movement, really--through the Mothering message boards. It's not at all a stretch to say that it changed my life, redefined the way in which I understand food and eating--and gave me a much-needed road map for how to raise two healthy children even though they can't eat many of the foods considered staples by our society.

I'm not going to spend space giving an overall description of traditional foods, it's been done many times and surely much better than I could do it. If you're unfamiliar with the movement, check out this post at The Nourished Kitchen, one of my favorite blogs:
1) avoidance of modern, refined foods; 2) celebration of unrefined, whole and natural foods; 3) respecting the importance of nutrient-density in our food and 4) preparing and eating foods in the same manner that nourished our ancestors and kept them well.

In her book The Unhealthy Truth, Robin O'Brien talks about her 80/20 rule: that you seek to eat optimally 80% of the time and forgive yourself for the other 20%. While we eat allergen free at least 95% of the time (the other 5% includes occasional treats during family events and holidays, for example), we follow the 80/20 rule for our traditional foods eating. It is very important to me, and occupies much of my time.

Monday, December 28, 2009


I feel the need to point out that I'm not a health care professional, that I've never been to school to study nutrition, and that I'm not qualified in any way, shape, or form to offer nutritional counseling.

As a matter of fact, the biggest piece of advice I'd like to give to anybody is to seek a health professional to get guidance. When Ally was almost 2, I turned to such a professional--specifically, a Naturopathic Physician who specializes in nutrition--because I was terrified that I'd never be able to feed her a healthy, balance diet without dairy. It was a life changing experience and I believe one of the best investments that I have ever made.

I also think that it's important to educate yourself about nutrition and to decide what makes sense to you. I've invested a great deal of time over the past several years to educating myself about nutrition. I've read a number of books, some good and others not so good, and have formed my own opinions about what makes sense in terms of healthy eating for my family (and these ideas continue to evolve as I continue to educate myself). There are many different styles of eating, many different iterations of a healthy diet. I encourage you to do your own investigations and reach your own conclusions.

A Whole Lot of Nothing

Yes, I know that I've been horribly neglecting this blog, and all of my writing in general. I simultaneously feel guilty and forgiving about it. I've recently decided to cut down on my internet usage, as I find that I'm either living my life or talking about it online, and the living is what needs to take the fore right now.

I can't remember if I blogged about this or not, but a few months ago, I read The Mood Cure and was totally blown away by it. I've been religiously following some of the suggestions in there for dietary changes and nutritional supplementation, and am currently experiencing quite a relief from my depression. Wow, it's amazing how great it is not to feel totally underwater miserable exhausted all the time. I remember going through this around the time that Ally turned 2. It was great. I hope it continues to be this way for a while, I might really turn into a human again!

Beyond addressing my depression, I haven't been actively doing much to loose weight. But it's coming. I'm hatching a plan. More on that later.

First, however, I'm hoping to dedicate some space on this blog to answer a question that I have been asked by a surprising number of people recently: how did we go gluten/dairy/whatever else free. Through the fall, several moms approached me to ask about our low-allergen lifestyle, and, while I'd love to be helpful to them, for the longest time I just haven't known what to say. I know, because we've lived through it, that it's much more complicated than, "don't eat that." And that standing on the other side, when you haven't eliminated anything but know you need to and are terrified because you just have no idea what you're going to feed your kids, is a daunting, horrible place to be.

So, for months now, I've been trying to answer this question: how do we eat the way we do? And, more importantly, what do I think is important in a child's diet and how do I provide those things to my children when their diets are so limited? I have to admit that, as much as I LOVE to pontificate, I feel a little ridiculous giving dietary advice as an obese person. It's not like I'm a vision of good health or anything. But still, I'm going to try.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's hard to act good when you feel bad

As a parent concerned with giving my children a gentle, respectful upbringing, this is an everyday mantra for me. Because what follows is forgiveness for misbehavior followed by identifying the bad feelings behind it--and attempting to rectify them or guide their energy into a more appropriate venue. On the ideal day, when I'm at my best, at any rate.

Those days have been fewer and farther between lately. I've been thinking about depression and how it feeds into my health problems--and all other aspects of my daily life. I'm noticing more and more how I act badly because I just don't feel good, and haven't felt good in a long time. Sometimes, mommy needs a little gentle discipline, too.

I recently read this illustration of postpartum depression at Amanda Rose's Rebuild from Depression blog. It was initially amusing to read what could have been lifted from my daily life. And sad, too, that I still feel so awful at 18 months postpartum. That part about waking up bone tired really hit me. I just don't understand how I wake up in the morning feeling like I've been in a boxing match for days with no sleep. The soreness and tiredness gets worse through the day, and from one day to the next, and it's been compounding for so long that I hardly remember what it's like to feel good..

This is the viscous cycle I'm dealing with now. I feel lousy, so I don't have the energy to eat as well as I should and exercise, which makes me feel more lousy, and so on. I keep searching for that thing that helped me turn the bend the last time, and I just can't find it. I am noticing that, as I'm feeling that life is turning more and more into a grind, I'm making myself too busy to spend time with the kids and Peter, making excuses for eating poorly, wasting more time online, and my daughter is acting increasingly hyperactive and impulsively out of boredom. It's hard to act good when you feel bad.

I read The Mood Cure, which was very helpful. I had never heard such a lucid explanation of how deficiencies in certain neurotransmitters cause symptoms specific to them. And specifics on how nutrition plays a role. Ten years of strict low-fat vegetarianism really didn't do me any favors--no wonder I was such a mess during that time! I'm trying some of the suggestions in the book, and I think they're helping; I feel more clear-headed and energetic some days.

But not today. I've been writing this post in my head for days and, while the bones of what I want to say are all here, it sure doesn't feel very good. But it's what's on my mind, at any rate. I've also been asked, several times recently, about how we went gluten and dairy free. I feel so utterly unequipped to help anyone with their diet, I mean, who wants to take nutrition advice from an obese person? At the same time, we've been doing it for so long that it feels like second nature, and my kids certainly seem like they're healthy and thriving, so maybe I know more than I think I do. (I think this is a reference to an earlier post about cognitive distortions . . .) Hopefully writing some of that stuff down will feel more successful.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Okay, overdid it a little there

I've written and re-written posts for this blog in my head umpteen times over the past month, but I just couldn't get on a computer for long enough to actually type it out. Why? Because I've been drowning in my own . . .


This is what's the most on my mind lately. My utter awe over how hideously, impossibly busy and out-of-control my life feels, even though I'm one of those "lucky" moms who gets to stay at home with her kids. There's no reason, it seems to me, why I should spend my days running around like a headless chicken. But I am. I can't seem to figure out why this is happening, which makes me think that it is, in large part, in my own head.

At the start of my Social Work career, I worked in a residential treatment facility for adjudicated youth. I don't know why, but that job is on my mind a lot lately; I really enjoyed working there. But I digress. One of the tools that we used in our therapeutic work with the youth was an understanding of cognitive distortions. These refer to certain thoughts or patterns of thoughts that perpetuate abusive behavior, depression, and other dysfunctions.

I notice lately that I keep returning to the idea (I think that it falls under distortions of "personalization") that if I don't do everything that I perceive needs to be done, and I don't do it perfectly, my life is--and even worse, my kids' lives are--going to go to hell. That if I can't do it all just right, the whole world is going to fall apart around me. It's ridiculous, I know, but I find myself running all day from this pressure to

do the dishes;

provide excellent nutrition for my kids;
keep the house clean;

get on top of the laundry;

ensure that the kids have enough attention, stimulation, exercise, outdoor time, love;

procure all of the food, dry goods, clothing, household items, etc that we need while managing our budget and teaching our kids to be responsible consumers;

be a loving and attentive wife . . .

And do the zillion other things I need to do to run our household and keep everyone happy and healthy--did you catch that? I really do struggle with the idea that the health and happiness of our household rests entirely on my shoulders. As if I can actually control weather or not Walker catches a virus or Ally feels good all the time. Though I know that proper nutrition wards off disease, and that bad behavior generally follows bad feelings, so when I see the less desirable outcomes of what I perceive to be my inadequate wifing and mothering, (like, say, Ally tearing apart the house or Walker being sick for most of September), I can't help but feel accountable.

Indulging in food and drink has been, for long before I had kids, the refuge to which I escape when the weight of all this responsibility crushes me. I go through periods of relative contentedness, where I'm not caught in this cycle as badly, and then I go through times like the past month, when I'm running mindlessly through my life, crossing off lists and relieving the anxiety when and how I can. And avoiding accountability for that behavior by, say, avoiding writing in this blog.

I am trying hard now to breathe deeply and begin again.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My Body Can't

Monday's yoga class had me doing something that I had never done before: headstand, the King of poses. It was assisted, using a stool-like device that prevents you from actually standing on your head while still getting a proper inversion.

When Michael told us that we were going to practice headstand, I was terrified. Noticing my discomfort, he asked me why I was scared. I couldn't say at the time, I was so desperately trying to find a way to flee the room. He assumed that it was because I was fearful of being upside down, and provided me with the physical and emotional support that I needed to give it a go. I completed the inversion with only a little help, and felt fantastic the next day because of it.

It took quite a lot of reflection to identify the reason behind the fear--more like panic--that I experienced when Michael pulled out the stool. It wasn't that I was afraid to be upside down; I actually enjoy it. It was that I was afraid that I couldn't do it. That my 100lb overweight mess of a body simply couldn't get into that position. And, worse, that I would totally humiliate myself trying, not only feeling embarrassed to the point of tears, but making everyone else in the room feel uncomfortable at the same time.

Holding this feeling, I realize how little faith I have in my body. I'm sitting here shuddering, thinking about all of the times I have felt both disappointed and embarrassed by my physical shortcomings: mortifying my father by coming in last during a family fun run when I was a kid; succumbing to exhaustion and collapsing during a trek in Dogon Country, Mali when I was in college; tripping over a twig in the road on a family walk, falling flat on my face, and flipping Ally upside down in her stroller when she was 2. The list is endless.

I think over time, I have just lost all faith in my physical being. Losing weight is no different. I want to so badly, but I've been trying to get my weight under control for the better part of the last 10 years, and have done nothing but fail. It feels hopeless, and so sad, and so frustrating. I just keep thinking about how unpleasant it must be for Peter to be stuck with this body for the rest of his life, how awful it is for my kids to grow up with this role model for healthy.

It's hard not to get swallowed by despair. But what do I have to do but keep going on? That's the trouble with Karma. If you don't get it right the first time, you have to do it again until you do get it right. So better make it right now so that you don't have to do it again later. Or at least that's how I see it. I keep musing this idea that I've heard many times: that the body is simply frozen mind. Well, I sure have a lot of mind frozen. I wonder what's buried in there.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Beware the White Menace

One of the most important books I've ever read is Ultrametabolism by Mark Hyman. It's a faddish diet book that, like so many others, could be quickly read and easily forgotten, except that it was my first introduction to the idea of nutrient density in a meal. And, more importantly, to the idea that obesity is a disease of malnourishment, not over-nourishment as is commonly believed.

The idea that, by focusing on eating "low calorie" this and "fat free" that, I could actually be causing my weight problem was utterly mind-blowing. While I've come to disagree with some of the assertions of that book (i.e. that animal fats are bad and soy products are healthy), by focusing on getting the most bang for my nutritional buck in everything I eat (well, almost everything) I achieved some of the first true health that I experienced in my adult life.

Another thing he discusses in that book is how unhealthy white sugar is, in all of its forms. He calls it the White Menace, which I find mildly amusing. I wasn't amused, however, when the White Menace struck at our house this week. Generally, I try to be laid back about food, no rules about having to finish X in order to eat Y, no clean plate clubs or bribing with foods. I tend to think that my job as a parent is to provide my kids with healthy options at every turn, keep most of the junk out of my house so it isn't an option, and let my kids make their own choices.

Unfortunately, this sometimes backfires. With the stress of starting school and the increased exposure to the world (and all the junk in it), Ally recently went through a dramatic healthy food refusal. We were going days at a time, week over week over week, where she was refusing to eat anything but junk. It's amazing how easily it sneaks into the house, too, and appalling really. Oh, a little chocolate rice milk as a treat from the store, leftover ice cream from a family party, Grandma brought suckers when she visited today . . . Every day she had stomach aches and painful bowel movements, but she just wouldn't eat anything healthy that I put in front of her.

So I cut her off. No refined sugar of any kind until further notice, treats being reserved for when she is eating healthily regularly again. For a day or two, it was a total fight, and she was mad, and why shouldn't she be? I'm depriving her of not only a treasured treat, but of her ability to choose what she eats as well. So I let her have her anger and stayed firm, and in two days, both of the kids were eating well: brothy soups, lots of vegetables, good fruits and beans, eggs for breakfast. And REALLY eating, not just picking at enough food to ward of the hunger pangs until the next good thing comes along. Sigh of relief.

Yesterday, we had to make cake for a family birthday party. Sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar. Both of them instantly became listless, lost their attention spans, and tantrummed and whined for the rest of the day. And this morning, neither of them touched breakfast. Back to square one! Even the baby, who gets very little sugar in his usual diet was affected. Amazing what a lick of frosting can do to a child. The White Menace, indeed.