A purposeful journey of food and self love
By Sari Huhtala
Bursting to give her spiel about the newest superfood she's discovered, Sarah Williams heads out to visit her family. She arrives and with a smile from ear to ear begins to chat about her newest feel-good foods. They smile, roll their eyes and poke fun of her. It's hard to assimilate all of this info when one's not feeling that same zest for life.
One thing is for sure though, had she not diverted onto the path of conscious eating at the age of 11 when her weight peaked at 172 pounds she wouldn't be waking up each morning embracing a new day feeling healthy vitality, 14 years later.
"Since the age of 12 my goal was to have my best life ever," Williams, who was raised in Keswick, ON says. Williams reminisces about the day she made her decision to turn her health around. She had glanced around the classroom, envious of the other girls who were thin and pretty, and she made a pact with herself to start making conscious changes so that she too could someday be like those girls.
No more party-size bags of chips to wolf down, no more overeating of junk foods and no more pop. Instead, when the family headed to McDonalds for dinner, like they did on many occasions, she would opt for a bottle of water. Small changes can make a big difference, she says. It wasn't like her family didn't eat home-cooked meals most days. They did, in fact, but living with a lack mentality they overate, "snuffed up" food like it was their last meal. And it was never enough to split a bag of chips with the whole family. Everyone received their own party-size bag to enjoy, she remembers.
Swapping out foods – like popcorn instead of chips or no more high-sugar cereal for breakfast – was an easy way to make changes at that age, along with choosing a smaller bowl at meal time, she says. When the family headed out to McDonalds she not only swapped out the pop for water, but ordered only a burger, rather than a burger and fries. Small changes still make a difference.
While it's challenging to carve out one's own path to healthier eating as a youngster living in a family where everyone else was still eating junk food, what it really boils down to is self-discipline and purposeful eating, and choosing activities that would boost physical activity, she says. "I wasn't really active as a child," Williams says. "I acted like a kid who stays at home and eats and watches TV.
"As soon as I said to myself that I was going to be thin I found things that would help me be more active. I got a paper route that forced me to be out on my bike for 80 minutes each day to deliver papers, and sometimes I ran the route." In high school instead of taking the bus I would walk to and from school each day, which meant that I was walking 10 kilometres every day. Instead of asking for a ride to a friend's house, I would jump on my bike."
"When I'd walk to high school instead of taking the bus my whole day was different. I had opportunities to skip along the way and say hello to strangers during the one and a half hour walk. I felt amazing. I was more focused in school, I was happier and more energized. The world looked different. When I was driven to school, I was less engaged during the day."
Her weight consistently decreased, but it wasn't until age 19 when she moved to Sudbury to study at Laurentian University that she really started to make the connection between real nutrition and real health, and the impact it would have on her day to day energy and vitality.
She embarked on an "unintended detox," only buying organic foods, making all of her foods from scratch and loading up on live foods – not just the over-boiled veggies, meat and potatoes she had grown up with.
"I didn't actually like the foods I cooked for the first while," she remembers. "I used my brain to overpower my taste buds by saying things like 'I will like this. This is really good for me.' That's how I grew to like all of the foods I was choosing to eat."
This new way of eating awakened a whole new energy in her body – one that she hadn't even realized was compromised while growing up.
"If I just ate something like a Kashi cereal for breakfast the amount of sugar would cause me to feel very weak and my energy levels would cause me to collapse," Williams says. "I've come to understand that I always felt sick and felt like I was going to faint when I was growing up because there was so much sugar in my body."
She recollects feelings of weakness and dizziness and lacking energy since the age of eight, and had never connected it to lack of nutrition and overconsumption of sugar until around age 20 when she went on her unintended detox, she says.
Ear aches, strep throat, migraines, eczema, the flu and colds were all commonplace for her throughout her childhood and high school years, she recalls.
After a year of consuming only real, wholesome foods, and working through personal issues which were raising toxicity in her body due to stress, headaches were gone, her eczema cleared up and regular bouts of the flu were a thing of the past.
By age 22 she could toss on a pair of roller blades and go from one end of town to the next for a two-hour jaunt and never feel tired. That's a far cry from her younger days at age 13 when she first started rollerblading and only made it for 10 minutes before feeling exhausted.
In her early 20s she began adding super foods like chia seeds, goji berries, kale and açai berry to her daily regime to boost her nutrition. She was even making her own kombucha, kefir and almond milk to ensure her body was receiving the purest form of nutrition, without any additives.
Through research she taught herself how to make just about anything from scratch, motivated by the purity of her food and the money that she saved. Sure, healthy eating can be expensive if one is purchasing only pre-made healthy foods, she says. Learn to make foods yourself, she stresses, whether it's dried beans that you boil, bag and freeze for later use, or even ice cream, if that's what you crave.
A fun way to inspire herself to try new produce was to pick out a veggie that was foreign to her each time she went to the grocery store, like an artichoke or a cassava, then research online how to prepare that veggie. She'd also surround herself with like-minded people, even if it meant just browsing at a health food store or joining a yoga class.
"I'd frequent those places where people like me have bought into the mentality of healthy living."
Meditation, counselling and spiritual retreats helped her cope with stressors and eliminate struggles with self-doubt and worry, as well as understand how she felt about herself and the connection with her physical state, which ultimately shifted her to this current place of undeniable love for herself.
"It wasn't until I started doing purposeful emotional psychological work that I noticed if I ate food that wasn't good for my body my mental state would deteriorate too."
I can feel in my body when I'm not loving it properly and listening to it. I get grouchy and irritated when I haven't eaten properly, I'm not thinking clearly and emotionally I'm not settled.
"Sometimes I feel myself slipping, but I remind myself how good I feel (after eating wholesome foods or exercising) and I do these things for me."
If you want to have your best life ever then you have to get up and do this every day." "The more I delved into my emotional and spiritual connection the more I realized that the bad diet made me insecure and agitated. It made me forget who I am. If I'm aware of who I am and I'm eating in a way that makes me forget who I am then the relationships in my life aren't strong because they're not authentic because I'm not being authentic."
Avoid the nutrient robbers
Adele Fawcett, ROHP
My life would be perfect if only…I won the lottery, I could swap bodies with a much younger version of me, I lost 50lbs, I had more energy, I found more time…
The Negative Thought Pattern:
My life would be perfect if only I lost 50lbs… but I haven't lost 50 lbs, so that is why my life isn't perfect and I'm not happy. Well I guess I'm not happy, I need to lose 50lbs and then I'll be happy…losing 50lbs is a lot of work, uh that is depressing…no wonder I'm not happy…
Have you ever found yourself stuck in this kind of a thought pattern? Steals your energy, your motivation and brings you down, doesn't it? While it is important to identify what isn't working in your life to bring you health and happiness, it is even more important to avoid falling in to the trap of letting this kind of thinking become an excuse for inaction. 'If only' statements can easily create negative thought patterns which can
keep you blinded about where you are now, the progress you've already made and the aspects of your life you have to be grateful for. Excuses let you off the hook for taking action because it places the emphasis on wanting what you don't have and why you can't get there.
It is easy to fall into the habit of looking at where you are now and where you would like to be and calling the space in between a wasted effort. This kind of negative thinking can apply to all areas of your life, but seems to be especially prevalent in our attitudes towards our bodies and health. Identifying obstacles to health and happiness and then setting goals to bring about positive changes in your life is useful. Getting trapped in negative thought patterns that allow you to make excuses for why you are stuck or can't have what you want won't keep you motivated to achieve your goals.
Help yourself create the life you want. Be honest with your feelings about yourself, your health, your body and the work it takes to bring about positive change. Learn to recognize your negative thought patterns and the excuses they generate. Start thinking positively by recognizing something about your life/self/situation you are grateful for. Use this positive thinking to stay motivated. This is especially valuable when it comes to your health and managing your weight. Learn as much as you can about how your body works and what it needs to thrive. Then you can use your knowledge to make beneficial dietary and lifestyle choices to stick with your journey to better health.
Last issue's column busted some weightloss and calorie myths. One of the most important principles to remember is that the number of calories present in a food does not tell you the nutritional integrity, the quality or the health creating potential of foods. When you learn how the body works, and the 'ingredients' you need to thrive, this principle really becomes something to live by.
The human body is intelligent. Your body is equipped with instructions on how to repair, rebuild to produce and manage energy vital to living that are coded right into your cells, along with the ability to carry out those instructions efficiently. A healthy body is one in which this process is happening efficiently, where your metabolism manages your weight, and you feel well, with energy to spare! In order for these vital processes to take place, very specific compounds and nutrients must be available for the body to use. The more stress you have to handle (physical, emotional, mental stress and even illness), the more important these compounds and nutrients are to maintaining the body's vital processes. This is where eating nourishing foods, not calories, becomes essential.
Your body needs substances from nature including vitamins, minerals, proteins, fatty acids, water, fibre, carbohydrates and other compounds, which we can call nutrients. All of the vital processes necessary to sustaining life, and creating optimal health, require these nutrients. We should get these nutrients from eating foods. Unfortunately, a huge percentage of convenient, packaged, pre-made foods that make up a large portion of our diets are not supplying the nutrients your body looks for.
In fact, many of them are not only devoid of essential nutrients; they can act as nutrient-robbers and can even be toxic or unrecognizable to the body as food. Processed foods are foods made from parts of plants, most often grains, whose nutrients are lost when they are processed from the whole form to an ingredient used to make 'convenience' foods. Other ingredients, often synthetic or denatured, are added to improve texture, flavour, colour, and to extend their shelf life. The more processed the food the less nutritional value it has.
Foods in their whole form provide optimal nutritional support. Beans, legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, cold-pressed oils and grains provide the nutrients which support health and wellbeing. Organic, lean quality meats, poultry, fish, eggs and milk products can also be incorporated into a healthy diet and do provide essential nutrients. A good quality, well formulated multi- vitamin and mineral supplement program that provides nutrients in the forms similar to those found in foods can also be a useful way to ensure you are not missing anything vital.
Here is a recap. Learn to identify self-defeating negative thought patterns, practice being grateful and make an effort to stay positive. Follow a nutrient-packed whole foods diet high in simple unprocessed foods, organic lean quality meats, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, fibre, good and essential fats from nuts, seeds and cold pressed oils, vegetables at every meal, colourful fruit and plenty of clean, pure water. Learn as much as you can about your body and how to keep yourself healthy.
Adele Fawcett, BA hon, ROHP, is a registered nutritional consulting practitioner and registered orthomolecular health practitioner at the Valley Nutrition Centre in Greater Sudbury.