Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Health Rocks: My Health Journey

I've lost NOTHING! Again!

But, ironically, it doesn't bug me this week. I'm in the midst of some drastic and massive changes, so weight loss isn't the biggest thing on my mind. Don't get me wrong --what I wrote last week is still at the fore-front of my motivation. I'm not giving up. I'm just kind of going a different route. Rather than focusing strictly on losing weight (so I can look a certain way), I'm focusing on my overall health (so I can feel a certain way).

This is why, finally, dear reader, I'm going to explain to you what I'm doing and how I got here! Yes! For some, my journey will sound strange, ridiculous, or even obnoxious. For others, it might resonate personally, even to the point of further interest. Whatever the case, I don't want anyone to think I'm preaching. I'm not telling YOU how to eat. This is just my experience. These are my current choices.

Weight Watchers:
Before I got pregnant with #4 and after my miscarriage, I started doing WW with a friend. By the time I did get pregnant with #4, I had lost 15 pounds and run a 5K! Well, I ran the 5K while pregnant, but whatever. After we had #4 and moved to California, Brandon and I realized we were enormous. I still remember when Brandon told me on a Sunday night: "We need to join Weight Watchers."
Nine months later, Brandon had lost 50 pounds and I had lost 40. You can read about how we did it here.

Weight Watchers was good. The motivation and accountability works. Meetings, counting points, weekly weigh-ins, loads of info and hand-outs... it all works. I was so happy with my success! I looked amazing! I felt healthy and happy.
But then, I stopped counting points. I stopped going to meetings. I figured I could continue to have the self-control needed to keep the weight off and to be healthy. But we had just moved back to Utah, and I had lost my exercise support. Summer vacation soon approached and with it came lots of food. Without exercise and counting points, I began gaining weight back immediately.
But it was more than that. I had lost my drive. "Why does weight management have to be this hard?" I thought.

Master Your Metabolism:
After I gave birth to #5, I realized I had gained back about 35 of my 40 pounds. My Depression was finally getting under control (with meds) and so I decided I should focus on my weight again. I remembered what it was like to be healthy --and thin was part of that. Sorry, guys, but significantly overweight and healthy don't go together. Never have. Never will. [Remember how I said I want to FEEL healthy over LOOKING healthy? The beautiful part is that focusing on the feeling gets you to the looking!]

I thought about going back to WW. I did. But I didn't like how I had to count points. I hated how I would save up points just so I could eat the crappy stuff on a Saturday. I felt like something was missing; something was wrong. How could eating fat-free cheese and processed ice cream be healthy for my body? Sure, it made me lose weight, but I knew my body needed something different. Something more. I didn't want to allow myself to indulge in fake food that was made to taste like the bad stuff. If the bad stuff is bad, then I didn't want to be addicted to the taste of the bad stuff anymore. It just wasn't logical to me.

Enter Jillian Michaels. You can read more about that journey here, but in a nutshell:
Organic, non-processed foods are better for my body. My hormones need me to eat better. My metabolism is not just about low weight --it's about the fuel I put into my body! Food is fuel. it needs to be as natural as possible.
So, I started eating food that came from the ground or had a mother (organic and without growth-hormones). In four months, without ever attending a meeting or writing anything down, I lost 17 pounds. It worked! I found a website to validate my new-found eating: I was making our own bread, I was eating more fruits and vegetables, I was making almost everything homemade. Scratch, organic, home-made. It works!

But then summer hit. As did my resolve. Travel meant not getting the foods I wanted, vacations meant food, food, food. I didn't have time to bake or cook.

Side note: Why does every major holiday, event, get-together, and family reunion have to revolve around food?? EVERY SINGLE ONE. Why? Why can't we do fun activities instead? I mean, we start the year with New Year's Eve food. Valentine's Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas... I'm so tired of it all. And two days ago? When I bought my girls' candy (I seriously paid them money) and threw it away? There was crying. CRYING. Over sugar. Over something that had already given them stomachaches. What is wrong with us!? We Mormons claim that we are not addicted to anything because we don't drink booze, but do not --not even for one second --claim that we are not addicted to food. I have a friend who is desperately trying to get over her Dr. Pepper addiction. I have friends/relatives addicted to processed foods, sugar, flavored water, carbs, meat (yes, meat), and all manner of comfort foods. And they can't stop. They won't. They just keep eating the way they eat. They laugh about it. They rib each other and they think it's a funny joke that they eat crap en masse.
It's not funny anymore. Not to me.
[End of ranty side note.]

Okay, so summer caused me pain, and I gained back the 17 pounds. I was still trying to eat better, but it wasn't working for some reason. I was still eating as organic and natural as possible, but I was still failing. I knew I was on the right track, but I wasn't sure how close I was. There had to be something I was missing. Something more.

That was when I realized the website I had so faithfully followed started feeling funny to me: Sure, everything is "home-made," but why is everything made with whole cream and whole wheat? It doesn't matter if the chicken nuggets are made at McDonald's or in my frying pan --they are still chicken nuggets!! I knew something had to change for me.

Green Smoothies and The China Study:
I had heard about The China Study for a while; I finally borrowed the book a month or so ago. About the same time, I heard about green smoothies --specifically, The Green Smoothie Diet by Robyn Openshaw (an LDS mother who lives in Utah Valley). Ironically (for me), Robyn talks about and quotes The China Study in her Green Smoothies Diet book. The China Study is the biggest and longest nutritional study in history. There has never been anything like it. Ever.

Reading these two books have seriously changed my life. Forever.

The China Study is basically just a research book. Period. There is no agenda, no recipes, no hidden cult. It has all the data, charts, references, explanations, and experiment results that would please even the most cynical scientist. It was funded by the National Institute of Health, Oxford, and Cornell. It spanned nearly 30 years. It studied over 6,000 people.

The lead researcher, Colin Campbell, Ph.D. came across some startling research results from India that rocked him to his core. Having grown up on a cattle ranch, he originally believed that low-protein diets were poor diets. Meat was protein. The more protein, the healthier! He openly ridiculed vegetarians in his college courses. But while studying children in the Philippines who had liver cancer, he ran across that India study --which, in a nutshell, basically proved that high animal protein diets are a cause of cancer.


No joke. He thought this had to be flawed experimenting. There was no way animal protein could be a cause of cancer! But he discovered something himself in the Philippines: The richest kids, who ate the most meat and dairy, were the ones dying of liver cancer. The poorest kids, eating hardly any meat and dairy, never got liver cancer. So, Campbell took it upon himself to do his own research. Although originally biased, the name of science forced him to let go of his prejudices and do the research meticulously and flawlessly. I won't bore you with all the research details (go buy the book!), but the main result is that animal protein is a cause of cancer. Eating less than 5% of animal protein in your diet can literally turn off cancer. It can reverse --reverse!! --heart disease. The average American doesn't eat 5% or less. It's closer to 30% or more.

This rocked my world. For the longest time I figured that a healthy diet HAD to include plenty of low-fat dairy and lean meat. And then I thought...
...have I ever seen a commercial for broccoli? Spinach? Almonds? Grapes? Nope. But what about meat and dairy:
"The incredible, edible..."
"Beef! It's what's for..."
"Got milk?"

Interesting, eh? But why do they spend so much on advertising? Especially for "normal" food? Here's a quote from The China Study in the Foreword by John Robbins:
The inescapable fact is that certain people are making an awful lot of money today selling foods that are unhealthy. They want you to keep eating the foods they sell, even though doing so makes you fat, deletes your vitality and shortens and degrades your life. They want you docile, compliant and ignorant. They do not want you informed, active and passionately alive, and they are quite willing to spend billions of dollars annually to accomplish their goals.
"But," I thought, "where else would I get protein? Where else would I get calcium?" Guess what! Vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, legumes, and whole grains have plenty of calcium and protein. And they are BETTER for us than animal protein. By a landslide. More like two landslides.

So, my next question was how do I incorporate this into my diet? How can I get us healthier? How can I help my kids for the long-term?

The Green Smoothie Diet is one of many books that explains how. In a nutshell, this book is about a woman who grew up eating basically vegan and didn't know it. She talks about how her grandmother turned off her own cancer through her diet. She talks about how she saved her son from expansive, invasive, and critically harmful asthma medication by changing their diet. She explains the research, the reasoning, and the benefits of eating more raw --more natural --more real. Then she shows how incorporating the green smoothie (huzzah!) into your diet is one of the easiest ways to get all that natural fiber, calcium, and protein you need. She includes recipes! Testimonials! Ideas! How to deal with picky children! As a mother of four (and LDS! Did I mention that?), she knows what it's like to raise picky eaters. Some of my favorite quotes from the book:
For adults and children alike, my observation is that virtually everyone who turns up his or her nose at the taste of green smoothies is someone who is addicted to sugar. You don't have to eat tons of refined sugar to be an addict, since it's simply the most addictive substance on the planet. Some studies have documented that it's more powerful and habit-forming than cocaine.
We have to break the idea in our own minds, and then not start that awful cycle with our children, thinking of sugar and love as equivalent.
Pediatricians often tell parents that they should "offer" good foods but not make a "big deal" about what small children eat. This sound to me like weak counsel that will lead to junk-food addictions, because if you offer a bowl of steamed carrots and a plate of pizza, kids will take the pizza every time. (I watched this in action once, when 25 out of 25 children chose the pizza.)
I would recommend that you don't use treats and junk food as reinforcements for good eating habits. That's confusing, even if many of us have that flawed logic in our own psyche. The idea that if we eat something good, we're now entitled to eat something bad is problematic and leads us to emotional eating problems.
That last quote hit home with me, because I'm an emotional eater.

So, I started making the green smoothies yesterday, and so far, so good! The kids seem to like them (for the most part --with #3, it's a psychological thing. Since he knows there's spinach and lettuce and cucumbers and cabbage and avocado, etc. in them, he thinks he doesn't like it. But his taste buds love the apples, plums, blueberries, agave, grapes, cranberries, and oranges). Brandon is super supportive! He's been amazing through my whole desirous transformation.

But this is a process, dear reader. I don't expect my entire family to go raw (which is basically better than vegan, yo!) immediately. I know that this will take time. And with all the outside influences (school, work, church, neighbors, family, friends, vacations, blah, blah, blah), it's REALLY going to take some time and effort. I'm okay with that. I'm doing the research, I'm making the changes, and I'm doing what I believe is best for my health and for my family's health. Knowledge is power, man. I now have that power.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned, dear reader, throughout this whole process is that it isn't easy. We are here on this Earth to learn and grow, and part of that is learning how to take care of this amazing body we've been given. It's vulnerable and capable all at the same time; the beauty is that God has given us the ability to learn how to take care of it. We have the food, we have the knowledge. Applying it is what's hard! Flawed logic and weakness get in the way. So, I'm not expecting perfection from me. I'm expecting good changes, but I won't be hard on myself if I "mess up." I'll just keep trying. Because unlike the quick-fix fad-diets that everyone wants in order to lose the poundage, I'm going to be doing this the right way. I'm going to get healthy from the inside-out! My body deserves a little more from me, I think.

Other recommended reads:
The pH Miracle (I'm reading this one now)

Other Websites:
Life as Crunchy Veggies (my buddy, Ann)
Our Journey to Green (my buddy, Angie)

*Here is a big shout out to my two SIL's Tamra, and Brenna, for having known about the healthful benefits of veganism and vegetarianism for the last decade or two.
You have both been such an inspiration to me. Love you!

Do you have questions for me? Leave them in the comments and I'll answer them in my next post. Or, just email me. Or call me. If you want to tell me I'm an idiot, just save your breath. But happy exchange of information, opinions, and ideas? Bring it!


FoxyJ said...

We went almost totally vegetarian for a while (still doing eggs and dairy) and I really liked it. During the last year we've added in a bunch more meat again, and I'm starting to feel like it's time to swing the pendulum back again. I blame being pregnant, moving back closer to family and family dinners, studying other countries (so many traditional foods have meat), and so on... But I'm ready to cut back on the meat. It's hard, though. So hard to change eating habits--my mom grew up on a dairy farm so I know all about the bias towards animal foods. I'll be honest and say that I'm not ready to move past dairy and eggs just yet. I have two kids that are clinically underweight, and one can't even have nut butters yet, so I'm still working with dairy and eggs since that's a good way to get calories that they can/will eat.

Anyways, I understand how hard it is to change eating habits. Food is so emotional and so bound up in everything we do in our lives. It's scary to make changes, and sometimes that can be threatening to other people.

PS--I highly recommend the book 'Vegetarian Family Cooking' by Nava Atlas. It's one of my favorite cookbooks because it's very 'real' and uses easy to find ingredients that your kids might actually eat. She also includes many vegan recipes, and I like that she puts in lots of menu suggestions and things like that. I think it's just a great, easy to use cookbook. You can buy it from Amazon, or if you want to borrow my copy just to look at sometime you can.

Amanda D said...

So, how often are you supposed to make a "green smoothie"? Did it fill you up? Did it give you gas? (Sorry about that one, but I was curious.) Is chicken as bad as beef?

I'm impressed with you. You've done your research, and you're excited about it. It's definitely not for everyone, but I'm impressed with you.

Cardalls said...

You go girl!

Julie said...

Good for you, Cheryl!

Alison Wonderland said...

Is it bad that I like the idea of the green smoothie because I'm often too lazy to make a meal?

Amanda D said...

You're probably sick of my questions but what about fat? I know we tend to eat too much fat, but if you cut out meat (and dairy? are you cutting out dairy?) where will you get the fat that you need?

I really hope I'm not annoying you. Just curious.