My family and friends know that I love food and I love creating delicious, flavorful, healthy meals and treats. With all good intentions, they constantly refer to me as Betty Crocker. Starting nine months ago, I began to loathe that reference. It's not that being called Betty Crocker is a bad thing. It does, after all suggest that I am a great cook. However, what most people fail to realize is what Betty Crocker really symbolizes and that is pre-packaged, quick, crap laden convenience foods. That used to be me (to a degree) but after embarking upon a journey into preparing and consuming only whole, nourishing , traditional foods, I can say with 100% certainty that I will never go back to my previous relationships with and preparation of food.
I grew up eating a healthy diet. But that isn't all that impressive really because the 70's and 80's were still fairly healthy times. At least where I lived in Washington, there weren't fast food restaurants on every corner and grocery stores carried more fresh foods than packaged foods. Eggs, toast from fresh bread, and butter were the norm at breakfast. Fruits and vegetables were snacks. My parents didn't have to work very hard at getting me to eat a balanced diet. It was our lifestyle and I didn't really have any other way of eating to compare it to. And then I started high school…
Over the course of those next 20 years my eating habits changed frequently and not always for the better. High school brought new friends, sleepovers, trips to the mall, parties, and the cafeteria. For the most part, my dining choices in these settings were far from what I was used to eating. But as a teenager with a great metabolism, I ate whatever I was presented with or whatever was convenient and available. Fast food became a frequent socialization mechanism. Candy, chips, and soda were ever present in my daily life. I still ate decent at home but more and more snack and convenience foods were sneaking into our household. College brought even worse eating habits coupled with what I recall as being routine overconsumption of alcoholic beverages. My eating habits steadily declined until I was 25 when I looked in the mirror and realized that my dining choices were really affecting my waistline. I had a moment of sheer panic. I joined a gym. I was on a strict low-carb, high protein, low-fat diet and I worked out all of the time. Seriously. Twice a day, every day, for two hours at a time. This continued until I was in my early 30's and although I stayed in great shape (toned, great stamina, “healthy” eating) it was an ongoing battle to maintain my weight. It seemed to just go up and down, up and down with no real rhyme or reason. I was eating low-fat, low carb, high protein and practically living at the gym. I just could not understand what I was doing wrong. I became pregnant for the first time in my early thirties and although I tried to eat healthy, healthy foods just didn't appeal to me. My body wanted carbs, carbs, and more carbs. It also wanted baby carrots (yay, something healthy) and cupcakes. Lots and lots of cupcakes. I got fat – not just pregnant. I gained 70 pounds. Maybe more. I never saw the number on the scale at that final weigh in.
I had the baby and really didn't have any expectations of when or how I would lose the weight. I had some major post-partum complications and working out just wasn't going to happen. I was a breastfeeding machine and my appetite was never satiated. Let's just say that the weight wasn't pouring off. But the numbers on the scale went down over the course of a year and I was able to wear something other than my maternity clothes. Eventually, I got back to my pre-baby weight. But I felt like crap. Really – my body did not feel healthy. I was eating low-fat, low-carbs, and lots of protein. I was still breastfeeding. But I just didn't feel healthy. On top of that, my daughter was getting put through the wringer with some major intestinal issues. So I began researching and researching and researching. I stumbled upon a book that completely changed my life. Nine months ago I picked up a copy of Nourishing Traditions, The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. This book became my bible and I delved into all of its glorious pages with gusto. I had never really understood food and how it all works with and in the body. The book's author, Sally Fallon, presented information in a way that really stuck with me (and scared me) but encouraged me to begin a journey into eating wholesome, real foods, prepared with methods that make all nutrients more available.
When I first embarked upon this journey, a lot of the food preparation methods were foreign and rather daunting. I had never made my own stock before but as I discovered, it was extremely easy. I had also never made my own fermented foods before but now I have a steady stream of homemade pickles, gingered carrots, sauerkraut, and other condiments sitting out on my counter tops fermenting away until they are ready for cold storage. I had never heard of, let alone made water kefir. It takes a little bit of work but the health benefits are amazing and it is a great alternative to sugar laden beverages. I also successfully tackled making my own cream cheese (and I love it!) Since I enjoy cooking, learning new methods and techniques was the easy part. I can follow a recipe, I can make it my own, and I rarely mess them up. Please keep in mind that I didn't tackle everything all at once. It has been a slow progression of learning to make fermented foods and preparing meals in entirely new ways. It is still a work in progress. With over 700 traditional recipes in Sally Fallon's book and a vast network of amazing chefs and cooks who follow a traditional diet blogging their creations, I will probably never run out of new cooking challenges to conquer! The first steps were the hardest but now I am confident in my abilities to try out more challenging homemade creations (like condiments, homemade yogurt, homemade cheese, sourdough starters and the resulting bread, and rendering lard).
The toughest part of this journey was establishing a new relationship with food. I had steered clear of red meat for over 15 years. I ate and drank low or no fat milk products for over 25 years. I only purchased low fat products period. I did occasionally still use some prepackaged and canned foods for convenience. I avoided butter and tropical oils like the plague, using “fake butter” and vegetable oils. I counted calories and felt guilty when I “over ate” in terms of the volume of food. I avoided egg yokes. I mostly avoided egg whites as well. I did not eat a lot of whole grains (seeing that they were carbs). I didn't really question where my fish came from (wild versus farm raised). Luckily I had been trying to eat only organic produce for several years prior to this. I also had already been caffeine free for two years. It was really, really difficult for me to wrap my misinformed brain around the idea that I had to completely throw out everything I thought I knew about “healthy eating” and a proper diet and start from scratch. I was trembling in fear of gaining weight (despite gobs of research indicating that eating a diet rich in whole foods and animal fats would actually help me lose and/or maintain my ideal weight). The thought of drinking a glass of whole milk and slathering my food with butter literally made me want to vomit. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I could feel my fat cells lining up to get inflated with all of this high-calorie, high fat food. I decided to start slow. I ordered a high quality Cod Liver Oil and started taking one teaspoon per day before breakfast. (That took some getting used to but I have now stopped gagging over it). I started using butter in place of butter substitutes. I started cooking with coconut oil. I started making my own full fat salad dressings. Guess what – I lost two pounds. This didn't seem possible but again, the science was there supporting it. I ventured further outside my food comfort zone. I started eating 2-3 eggs a day. I drank a glass of full fat milk. I then drank a glass of full fat Raw milk. I ate whole yogurt and whole, raw milk cheese. Much to my continued astonishment, I did not gain any weight. (No more weight loss but that was ok). I made and ate my own lacto-fermented vegetables (carrots, pickles, and sauerkraut). I then cut out sweets and replaced sugar in my baking with natural sugars like raw honey, maple syrup, succanat, and rapadura. My sugar cravings did not disappear but they certainly lessoned. Then I took the big plunge…I ate grass-fed beef and lamb. This was a huge step for me. I stopped eating meat for animal rights reasons over a decade ago. I felt like a traitor but I also felt healthy. And FULL. Really, really full! And I was eating rather small amounts of red meat. I typically have a bottomless pit and can consume enormous quantities of food. Not anymore! Most recently I started taking one tablespoon of expeller pressed coconut oil 20 minutes before every meal. Doing this not only made me eat less but it added some very healthy fat into my diet. I have also begun making my own water kefir and drinking two glasses of this per day. Water Kefir really helps to balance out your entire intestinal system and is a much more powerful probiotic than anything you can take in pill form.
This is as far as I have come to date. I still have a lot more to learn and many more elements of traditional eating to incorporate into my diet. However, I absolutely LOVE that I am eating a diet rich in fats. I honestly forgot how good food is when it is loaded with healthy fats. I love how I feel both physically and mentally now that I am eating a traditional diet. I simply cannot see myself reverting to my prior eating patterns. Following a Traditional Diet does mean a lifestyle change but to me, the benefits far outweigh any “inconvenience” or additional time in the kitchen that has occurred.
Stay tuned for posts in the upcoming months as I highlight my journey learning to ferment all kinds of foods! I signed up for a 13 week class through the Nourished Kitchen and cannot wait to get started!