If you live on this side of the ocean blue, you probably already know Steve and I have taken on a 30 day food challenge (we tried to tell a lot of people so we'd have accountability!). If you are reading this from another part of the world, this is likely new information. We've had a lot of questions from friends here about why we are eating the way we are and what exactly it is all about. I have also had a number of recent side conversations (mostly via email and facebook) with several people about the topics of food, nutrition, health, and wellness. Since I've been asked about our food journey and "food philosophy" and how we ended up where we are, I thought I would post about it and answer all in one place.
As most people know, kids change your world. And they change more than just your sleep habits and bank account. In our case, Caleb has taught us more lessons in the 15 months we've known him and the 2 years we've known about him than we can possibly re-count or thank him for. He has been such a gift on so many levels.
Before I was pregnant with Caleb, I rarely gave thought to what I ate or when I ate. I simply ate when I felt like it, ate what I felt like and ate as much as I wanted. But one of the first things to "hit me" after we found out I was pregnant was that all of a sudden everything I put into my body was affecting someone else. What I ate, when I ate and how much I ate was going to have an immediate and possibly long term effect on someone else and someone else's life. And that Someone Else was someone I was going to care deeply about! One of the first things I did was start researching how and what to eat (and not eat) while pregnant.
The first change I made was to start eating breakfast. Every. Single. Day. No exceptions. This was hard....I had always "not been a breakfast person." But I knew this little developing babe needed food and needed regular food, so I started the (initially hard) process of adding breakfast into my life. It took a while but now there is no way I can go past about 30 minutes of waking up without fueling up for the day. Breakfast is a must (pregnant or not)! Along with this, I also started eating regularly. As in, every meal and snacks in between. Developing babies (and people in general for that matter) need a constant and regular flow of nourishment and energy throughout the day. Skipping meals does no one (and no waist) any favors.
The next thing I realized was the huge importance of a varied diet. I read "What to Eat When you are Expecting" and came away totally overwhelmed by the lists and the food categories and everything "needed" for growing baby to be nourished by....But what I came to realize is that it isn't about lists and hitting every food category, every vitamin and every mineral all the time. It's about eating a lot of food and a lot of variety in your food. The really cool thing is God made food to sustain us. He made a huge rainbow of colors and varieties and He created them to work together for absorbtion and maximum nutrition. All we need to do is enjoy them and enjoy the variety and it "just so happens" our bodies get exactly what they need.
The third thing that I discovered as we began our food journey was the importance of FAT in your diet. Pregnant or not, fat is an all important and good thing. I had spent years (all of high school and college) avoiding fat. I did my best to eat non-fat and low-fat everything. I also craved sugar and ate it in large amounts (not by itself but in the forms of cookies, candy, cake, sugary drinks etc). What I didn't realize is that Fat is not The Food Enemy. Fat is good. Sugar is The Food Enemy! And not getting sufficient (healthy) fats in my diet fueled my body into craving and consuming sugar. Unstable blood sugar levels, lack of regular mealtimes, and low fat intake caused me to crave the immediate "stabalization" sugar gives. Also, interestingly, I learned low fat and non-fat food items are typically sugar-laden to compensate for the lack of taste that low/no fat foods have. More fuel for the sugar-fire. So, somewhere in my second trimester, I did a 180 and started eating heatlhy fats and lots of 'em. Coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and butter (yes real butter!) became a big part of meals and snacks. It was delicious and probably my favorite food change! We also went full fat with everything else -- cheese, butter, milk, sour cream yogurt, you name it. Num num.
And it was right about this same time that I was introduced to Westin A. Price foundation, Sally Fallon and her "Nourishing Traditions" cookbook, Nina Planck and Real Food for Mother and Baby and www.passionatehomemaking.com. These 4 (major) resources gave me pleanty of food for thought, food for the table, and things to research and think through! There was a wealth of information to springboard from and this is where I have been camped since around August 2009.
We've slowly and surely made a lot of changes in our eating habits and put a lot of thought into what we wanted our "food philosophy" to look like. We tried to cut out most processed things, eat out less, cook from scratch, eat less sugar (hard!!), eat full fat (easy!!), eat less white flour and incorporate more whole grains etc. I started playing around with sprouting our grains and experimenting with a variety of new recipes. In some ways, we have changed a lot. In other ways, I still felt like we had a long way to go. We'd eat "good" for a while and then we'd slide backwards for a while and then we'd be back to being "good" again. We struggle the most with sugar. We really are addicted (sugar is addictive, check out some of the scary stats on the similarities between sugar and other addictive substances, as well as the many harmful effects sugar has on a person - it really is scary).
And that brings us to now and why we decided to take the Whole30 challenge! First, what IS Whole30? I would encourage you to check out their website for more comprehensive information (and some great recipe ideas, these folks know good food!) but essentially it is cutting out all "inflammatory, insulin spiking, calorie dense but nutritionally poor food groups" for 30 days. Meaning all processed foods, all dairy, legumes, sugar, and grains. And eating lots of real food, meat, eggs, fish, good fats, tons of veggies and some fruit.
There are really several reasons we decided to challenge the way we eat for 30 days:
1) A friend of mine who I really respect with all things food recently posted about it on her blog and that was my first introduction to the challenge. What are her credentials? a) She's southern, need I say more? She knows and loves good food! b) She has 2 small kiddos who she loves, cares about and wants the best for c) She's a great cook, I've eaten from her kitchen so I trust her when it comes to good tasting food and d) She has walked down this healthy food path longer than I have and has done a great job implementing it with her family. So, when she posted about it a little over a month ago, it caught my attention and I started reading up on it.
2) Another good friend of mine (who I also really trust with all things natural - She's a chiropractor and mommy to an adorable little girl) mentioned that she had done a similar experiment in college and really benefited from learning how various foods affect her and her body. This intrigued me. The idea of removing the vast majority of "problem" foods for a period of time, allowing your body to "reset" so to speak, and then slowly adding them in one at a time to note the affect they have on your energy, the way your body functions and your health, seemed like a worthwile and valuable experiment. Since I've never done this before, I really don't have any idea how various foods affect me (positively or negatively) and I think it could be useful information to have...who knows? Maybe I'm needlessly suffering from a mild food intolerance that could be easily remidied! Also, I've read that when you allow your body to cleanse and "reset" like this, it can re-train your taste buds in a healthier way.
3) I wanted to take us further down the path of eating healthier and help us kick some of the habits that were lingering and that we were having trouble eliminating completely (like SUGAR, for example).
4) I have been saying for some time now that I want to be incorporating more VEGGIES into our diet and this seemed like a great opportunity to learn how to do that and learn to depend more on veggies and less on grains. Ultimately, I do see us adding some grains/legumes back into our diets. I think they have a great place in our diet and can be very healthy for us but I do think we could stand to eat less of them than we were consuming and default more towards veggies than rice, beans etc.
5) We were in a little bit of a cooking rut, eating many of the same things and not branching out much. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to stretch myself in the cooking department to create/find delicious and nutritious meals.
6) It seemed like a good challenge in self discipline and self control. I think both Steve and I can struggle in these areas at times and I think both are honoring to the Lord. He commands self control, he condemns gluttony and over-eating, he tells us to care for our bodies and so we felt this was a good challenge for us not only physically but also spiritually. We felt like some areas of our eating where out of control (most noteably our sugar intake, especially Steve) and we did not want to be mastered by food in any way. Anytime we feel mastered by something or out of control in an area of life, I think it is a red flag that we want to be cautious of....and this was an area we wanted to master. I just finished reading the book Made to Crave (highly recommend) and it was really convicting to me and something I wanted to put into practice in my own life.
7) It was a fun challenge to do together, a way for us to connect, a way for us to support eachother and do something totally new and adventurous together.
8) Steve convinced me to do it. He really did. I brought him the idea, he read it over, I asked what he thought and he jumped on board. You can read more about his supporting this on his website. PS He is doing a giveaway right now as well so might be worth it to leave a comment....just sayin.'
9) What did we have to lose? Why not?
10) I think it is important to note, we did NOT embark on this challenge to lose weight. In fact, we have really ramped up on the healthy fats and quantity of our food intake for the purpose of not losing weight. That was not a goal in this challenge.
So, now you know more about our eating than you ever wanted to know! I'm going to post more about this experience but this post is getting a little long so I'll save it for another night. But it IS something I enjoy talking about and learning about - so feel free to give advice, send me articles, send me links, encourage me, discourage me, show me where I'm wrong, send me good recipes and share your ideas.
We are definitely a work in progress, we aren't perfect in this, and we're still learning (and likely always will be). We don't have the "healthy eating answer," we're just on a journey, figuring it out as we go along. And yes, don't worry, we still love ice cream, cookies, cake, cheese, lentils, chocolate, and potato chips just as much as the next person...we are human, after all. In the end, I think moderation is the key to all of it. Extremes can be dangerous places to live and we are just working on balancing and finding the right place for us, for our bodies and for our family. More to come, stay tuned (if you are interested) and if not, feel free to skip over!