By Anna Harris, Contributing Writer
This journey begins at least 15 years ago, when I was a chubby adolescent. I can remember even then, having doubts with food and my body. At 11 I began to notice the way my belly hung over my skirt waistband and that I didn’t have the willowy, ideal type of figure. After our grain-heavy meals I remember feeling sleepy, lousy and unenergized. I didn’t feel like running outside and jumping on our backyard trampoline. Constipation was typical for me to experience. Our 14-person family ate hearty meals, and we were expected to scrape our plates. My mom cooked basic but generally healthy meals from scratch, (stretching pricier meats and dairy with carbs) utilizing food co-ops and bulk grain/legume orders. She often made homemade whole wheat bread, and honey-sweetened granola was a breakfast staple. In many ways we kids were unbelievably blessed with our food heritage but there were subtle signals that all wasn’t ideal.
My low-fat diet and disordered eating habits
My weight, especially around my waistline, continued to accumulate throughout my early/mid teens and along with the weight came lashings of mental guilt and pressure to be lean and “hot”. I began to experiment with various diets-always at odds with my parents’ expectations to eat what was served. I watched my once-sturdy older sister subsist on an anorexic diet of hot grain cereals and little else. She seemed so successful at dwindling into a shadow of her former self that I plunged headlong into the fat-free mentality, some days eating mainly iceberg salad dressed with sickeningly sweet fat-free dressings. I’d consistently eat straight carbs with the hopes that zero fat consumption would allow me to reach my goals of slenderness. I began to come to the realization that I was severely lacking in willpower and beat myself up over my lack of discipline. I would often cave to the siren smells and textures of desserts, binging badly and finding me caught in an ugly cycle of strict dieting followed by an unbridled pig-out on sugar, carbs, and fat. I was miserable and while life continued, my self-loathing and desire for change was never far from my mind. One fateful day, though, at the age of 17, I discovered that I could purge everything I’d eaten. At the time, this knowledge seemed a panacea, and within months, my weight had dropped to below 100 pounds. While my parents worried and confronted, I became increasingly secretive and determined to hold onto my “magic” secret. After more than two years of this pattern, I became possessed, addicted. My life was a spiral towards an early grave. I was weak, unable to focus, to connect emotionally, or even to think much beyond my food cravings. My hair fell out in clumps and my molars cracked and becoming cavity-ridden as most nutrients were leached from my body.
Loves starts my healing process
At 19, hope emerged in the form of my future husband, who so covered me in the most unfathomable love that I began to take steps toward light and health. While healing was a long time in unfolding, my husband never failed to prop me up and believe in me. Eating was still a form of torture, as I knew that there would be the inevitable war within my mind of guilt over anything that passed my lips and the compulsion to control my body by purging.
Two years into our marriage, I became pregnant with our firstborn, and in the short time between our daughter and son, I never stopped struggling mentally, even though I was allowing myself to actually retain what I ate. I thought there would be no end to the battle even though we did eat generally healthy, with me cooking most of our meals at home, including salads and vegetables at every meal. During this time I had a strange digestive bout where for a few months straight every single meal caused me acute stomach pain and bloating. I had some minor testing done but we never really figured it out. Raw vegetables could cause particularly painful symptoms of gas and stomach spasms. Also, my infrequent trips to the bathroom could be downright excruciating since I had a difficult time eliminating.
Finding Nourishing Traditions
While I was pregnant with my son, our second child, I was overwhelmed with depression over my failure to keep a perfect body compounded by the physical stress of an ever-growing body. Some days I would eat several handfuls of m &ms and drink jugs of sweet, milky black tea to keep my energy up. I also consumed many fruity, honey-thick smoothies that kept my blood sugar running at a non-stop high.
During this time I had discovered Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions” (#affiliatelink) at a friend’s house. I inhaled that book. I drank in the non-politically correct notions about the importance of healthy fats with all the thirstiness of a diet-book malnourished soul. My viewpoint was upended and I welcomed this new knowledge with hope, it just resonated in my mind. It made sense that fats and meats should have their place of value and were needed by the human body. However it wasn’t until my son was born and I reached a place of utter defeat that I began to put these revolutionary principles into practice. I figured I was already chubby and unhappy and I hadn’t much to lose.
I begin to eat healthy fats and regain health
Relenting, I began to eat fat, a river of yogurts, coconut oil, butter, creamy, full-fat dairy, and olive oil began to invigorate my post-partum depleted, eating-disordered body. Life in the form of grass-fed beef, broth, and raw milk percolated from our stovetop and fridge. My son seemed more satisfied with nursing than my daughter had. Slowly, maybe a pound a month, my accumulated baby weight began to slip away. I found myself oddly satisfied with meals rich with eggs, sprouted toast, and bacon. Suppers became glorious for more than just my well-fed family, as I now began to partake in the crispy-skinned roasted chicken, the oil-basted vegetables, and lavishly-dressed salads. Dark chocolate, coffee and whipped cream was typical decadent desserts. Honey and maple syrup became all the sweetness I needed.
My raging need for sugar shrank dramatically. My moods improved with my overall satiation and steady weight loss. Guilt and shame became such thing of the past; I had become someone radically different. I was so energized, sharing with my friends, and anyone else who might listen, my new food breakthrough.
My confidence spilled over in the form of my blog, where I could find an outlet for all my wonder and strong opinions. I was able to build muscle tone, and even found myself becoming a tiny bit of a workout fiend, (even reaching the point where, after two children, I could get all the way through an Insanity workout!) I researched constantly, cooked, photographed, and reveled in the joys of having a local organic garden in our backyard. Since that initial breakthrough, I remain a deep advocate of traditional foods.
I cannot state emphatically enough the necessity to nourish oneself down to the core. I realize that unless a body is truly being fed with nutrient-dense foods, there are bound to be repercussions in the form of uncontrollable cravings and a host of other symptoms indicative of malnourishment. There are signals that our body is crying out for sustenance.
To even further my arsenal of food understanding, I have also discovered “Trim Healthy Mama” (#affiliate), a joyful book crammed with tools necessary to a lifetime of healthy fitness. With the solid foundation of knowing what our body truly craves, I have learned additional information on how to tweak our diets to reflect our metabolic/blood sugar needs. I am grateful to continue on this ever-expanding journey towards health and freedom.