Monday, July 29, 2013

Some Thoughts on Real Food -- a year later...

Last year when I started in on the real food path, we made a lot of changes in the food we bought. We have really tried to stick to the organic, whole grain, unprocessed version of foods whenever I can get them. We do eat out occasionally and don't worry too much about it (a good rule of thumb I read somewhere was the 80/20-- where you try to keep on track at least 80% of the time and you can be more relaxed on the rules 20% of the time).

When we were thinking about doing this big change, I had some questions. I wondered how eating real food would affect my health. Would I lose weight? (I have a good bit I could stand to lose!) Would it be difficult to stick to-- like a diet?

After a year of this new lifestyle, I finally have some answers.

First, as relates to my health, I have found that I consistently rock my blood pressure & blood sugar tests. I'm not at the doctor all the time but I had a pretty detailed work up recently. I know the doctor was really expecting some weight related issues to come up but BOY was she surprised! All my levels were well within a healthy range-- even though I am just over the border into the "obese" side of the weight range for my height. I hadn't had my cholesterol done before and I was EXTREMELY curious to see what it would show. When I got my results, I was ecstatic! Not only were all my "bad" cholesterol/lipid levels low but my "good" cholesterol/lipid levels were where they should have been as well.

Interestingly enough, my diet includes a decent amount of butter (pastured when I can get it and organic otherwise), eggs (mainly pastured) several times a week, full fat (organic) dairy-- cheeses, sour cream, etc. and beef (mainly pastured) and olive oil but absolutely NO processed oils (corn oil, canola, etc.). If a conventionally educated nutritionist looked at this menu they'd probably freak out. But I think this definitely goes to show that our grandparents had it right. A diet based on real foods, as straight from nature as possible will be a good choice-- even if you cover everything in cheese and butter. Yes, real food might have a lot more fat and calories but we are finding that natural fats are actually necessary for key body functions. In addition, they provide a source of long lasting energy.

While a group of one (me) is hardly a sound scientific study, I can at least say that this "high fat" type of diet has had no negative effects on my cholesterol, lipid levels or weight-- I've neither lost nor gained over a full year. So, this answers one of my questions about fat-- does eating fat make you fat? I think, for me, the answer is clearly "NO". So long as the fats in question are the right kind!

My last question was how hard this lifestyle would be to live/maintain. Honestly, for the most part its been pretty easy. The beginning was hard. I had to change grocery stores and spent double the time shopping just from reading labels alone! Now that I've gotten into a routine and have learned to recognize the brands that don't have processed ingredients, a grocery trip is back to the usual amount of time. In the beginning, I also did a good amount of making foods to replace boxed items (in particular I spent a lot of time developing my recipe for fruit and grain bars as my oldest was addicted to them) But as we've found other new foods and gotten away from the boxed things, we don't really miss them as much as we did in the beginning. And I'm not spending much more time in the kitchen than I did before. The only real challenge I still have is finding quality baked goods (bread, bagels, etc.) that are minimally processed with basic ingredients-- that I actually like the taste and texture of. But I have found a few and I've learned how to do some baking and between the two, I'm getting the job done.

All in all, I think I find the satisfaction of knowing I'm feeding my family quality food from quality ingredients is worth the (occasional) hassle that might come from buying or preparing real foods. I am definitely thinking this will be a true lifestyle change and something that we will be doing permanently!

So what's next for the future?

Since I haven't lost much weight (um... I could still use a little work on portions.....), I guess I should consider working on that. Of course the modern culture of dieting would have me replace all of my real foods with prepackaged/processed low-fat diet foods. Not really something that I'm interested in doing!

So then, what if I don't lose weight?  Can you be both fat AND healthy? Typical medical practitioners would automatically say "no" but more and more information is coming to light that may, in fact go against that.  I've read a few interesting articles this year about how they are discovering that being slightly overweight is actually beneficial to long term health. This one from the NY Times was particularly interesting. The basic sum up from the article (and others like it) is this-- being fit is more important than being fat.  This means an overweight individual who is fit is actually healthier (and have lower mortality) than a person who isn't overweight but is unfit!

I think that for me then, I have "internal" fitness. That is, all my health indicators-- blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, etc., are showing a pretty healthy person. However, my level of outward fitness -- how much energy, stamina and endurance I have, is sort of so-so. So instead of focusing on a specific weight or size, I should instead be looking at my overall fitness.

I don't think I am where I want to be yet. We definitely need to incorporate more activity in our daily lives. Unfortunately, we do not have the time, interest or money to invest in a gym membership. Plus, my hubby and I have different needs when it comes to exercising. I am hopeful that if we actually take into account our individual interests and actual time available for exercise, we'll find something that will work for each of us!

It will be interesting to see how the next year goes as we enter "phase two" of our healthy lifestyle makeover!

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