I knew when I started my blog that I was going to at some point write about “Real Food,” but up until now, I’ve still been trying to decide in my own mind exactly how I feel about it. The concept was a major part of my life for about 2 years. During that time I felt very strongly that this was the best way for me to eat, as well as the simplest (because I wouldn’t have to count anything). I had some personal health stuff going on too, and was absolutely convinced that if I could just eat “real” then I would feel better, and also be able to stop taking a certain medicine every day.
After two years of it, I’m now convinced that this is not right for me. I’m still trying to eat healthy, but I’m choosing a slightly different way of going about it now.
How it all began
It all began with a simple quote from Ezra Taft Benson. I was feeling a bit of depression when my oldest two children were small, and decided to look on lds.org to see what has been said about that by my church leaders. I found a talk given once by President Benson where he listed 12 things which help people avoid and overcome discouragement and depression. Number 5 on the list is to take care of our health. This is what he said,
“The condition of the physical body can affect the spirit. That’s why the Lord gave us the Word of Wisdom. He also said that we should retire to our beds early and arise early (see D&C 88:124), that we should not run faster than we have strength (see D&C 10:4), and that we should use moderation in all good things. In general, the more food we eat in its natural state and the less it is refined without additives, the healthier it will be for us. Food can affect the mind, and deficiencies in certain elements in the body can promote mental depression. A good physical examination periodically is a safeguard and may spot problems that can be remedied. Rest and physical exercise are essential, and a walk in the fresh air can refresh the spirit. Wholesome recreation is part of our religion, and a change of pace is necessary, and even its anticipation can lift the spirit.”
I read this several years before everyone started talking about “real food,” but for whatever reason, his statement about eating food “in its natural state” really jumped out at me. I decided that I wanted to do this, but gave up very quickly because I couldn’t see how to go about it. A few years later, I came across an article in a magazine telling about the website “100daysofrealfood.com.” Because the name matched up to my vision of what President Benson had said, I immediately wanted to look at the site.
What I found was a family who had taken a similar idea and created several rules to help them accomplish the goal. They committed to live this way for 100 days, and shared their journey on their blog. They also were actively encouraging others to take the challenge and eat by their rules for 10 days. It was all very fascinating to me, and I was thrilled at the idea of having a resource to look to, which would help me do what I had wanted to a few years earlier.
But there was a problem; I didn’t agree with all of the rules. When I initially pictured eating food “in its natural state,” I didn’t picture never eating white sugar or white flour, or only eating grass-fed beef that is locally raised. And so I had a two edged sword so to speak – on the one hand, I felt like I needed some help and guidance (and here was someone willing and ready to offer it!), but on the other hand, I wasn’t convinced that everything being promoted was what I needed to do.
What I decided to do, was to push (some) of my hesitancy to the side, and jump onto the “real food” bandwagon. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try, right?
But there were so many obstacles.
For one thing, my husband never liked the idea to begin with. He felt like, “why should he do something just because someone suggests it on their blog?” But I pushed him on it and pretty much just begged for him to support me. And, so he did – as best as he was able to.
But as time went on I realized that his efforts to support me couldn’t change the fact that he didn’t like a lot of the food. My kids are pretty picky eaters, so I’m used to them not liking a lot of what I cook. But my husband, for most of our marriage, has liked almost everything I’ve made. This changed when I started making everything (i.e. pancakes, biscuits, pizza dough) whole wheat and devoid of any white sugar. Also, his sandwiches that I pack for his lunch didn’t work well on the bread machine’s whole wheat bread.
Once, I made banana bread using the whole wheat, slightly honey sweetened recipe that I found on the site. I thought it was good (though not very sweet), but I felt badly when I served it to him. He could smell it when he arrived home from work and was really excited to eat some (especially since I rarely bake anything). So, I served him a piece, and I could see the disappointment as soon as he took a bite. I felt like I had just played a really mean trick on him!
Some other obstacles that I had to face were that I had to make everything from scratch, and I don’t like baking. None of my friends and extended family around me eat this way, so I started to feel a bit like an outsider. I stopped wanting to go on day-trips with my family, because I didn’t know what to eat while I was out (and didn’t always want to pack something to take along). I stopped enjoying going out to eat with friends because I felt guilty about what I was eating, or stress about trying to choose the most “real” option instead of just ordering what I wanted. Also, I never wanted to make anything for other people because a lot of times they wouldn’t like it.
It was not fun for me!
My Doctor’s perspective
I mentioned earlier that I was trying to not have to take a certain medicine, and so I showed the rules to my doctor. His response was that it is a very healthy way to eat, but not realistic for a busy mom with three growing children. He said the funniest thing – that the food from McDonald’s and other Fast Food is pure junk, but that my kids were going to want me to take them there, and that I should take them. His suggestion was to simply eat less of it, and bring something healthy along to supplement.
I should also mention that he had this same conversation with me at two different appointments 1 year apart from each other. At the second one he said, “I seem to remember telling you last time that I didn’t think this was realistic.” Then he explained his point of view all over again. The year prior, obviously I had not listened to him, but this time I did. Well, sort of.
My break-away from “Real Food”
Actually what I did was abandon real food, and almost all forms of healthy eating – which was not what he meant either.
After trying so hard, and it not working, I just gave up for awhile. I was tired of cooking and baking, and of every single thing I wanted to eat being cumbersome in some way. And I was tired of people not liking my food. So, I started to just buy what was easy, and what I knew they would like – processed convenient food, with a fruit or vegetable to the side to ease my conscience.
But it doesn’t take a food scientist (or a real foodie!) to figure out that this is not good. So, that’s how taking better care of my health ended up as one of my 2014 goals – and the goal extends to my family as well.
For me “real food” seems a little like the people in the Book of Mormon who were said to be “looking beyond the mark.” On the surface, the plan looks a lot like my church’s word of wisdom, and President Benson’s statement of good health. But there are things added to it that make it more difficult to reach than I think the Lord ever intended for me. Also, my intense focus on this one thing could keep me from doing other things that I need to do like playing with my kids or serving others.
Also, one thing that stands out to me for sure is the statement that “Food can affect the mind, and deficiencies in certain elements in the body can promote mental depression.” So many people talk about chemicals in our food. But here, the focus is not on the harmful nature of the additives, but rather the lack of nutrients. I think a focus on eating foods with lots of good nutrients will automatically serve to decrease the number of additives (including sugar) as well.
My current food philosophy
I’m learning about myself that in everything I do, I need a loose structure. If there’s too much, it is difficult for me to follow through; too little and I flounder completely. I’ve talked a lot on this blog about following the USDA’s guidelines, and I continue to feel that this is the best “measuring stick” for me personally to use in creating a healthy meal or snack. I try to follow (loosely) the recommended servings for each food group during the day and this seems to help me a lot. And I’m thrilled to be buying my whole wheat bread products from the store, as opposed to making everything from scratch.
I also like Andrea Dekker’s simplified approach to meal preparation and her “semi-homemade” philosophy, which she talks about throughout her blog. Here is one good article she wrote about avoiding meal planning burnout.
My doctor’s “eat less” philosophy has been been very helpful when eating Fast Food. Ever since he said that to me, I’ve scaled down from eating a Whopper to a Whopper Jr. at Burger King, and from a Big Mac to either a salad with no meat or to a basic hamburger at McDonald’s. I buy fries for all of us to share instead of individual orders for each person, and have been considering replacing them altogether with a mango smoothies (although I haven’t yet checked what the price difference would be if I did that). As the weather warms, we’ll start going on family day trips again, and I plan bring healthy snacks along to supplement – just like he suggested.
And finally, I’m finding it super helpful to eat lots of small meals and snacks during the day, which keeps the energy up and that heavy feeling from having a big meal down.
My main purpose in writing this post was to clarify my own thoughts, and also to share my experience with others who may have similar struggles with eating “real food” as I have. I get the feeling from stuff that I’ve read that there are a lot of people feeling stress and pressure in trying to make it work. I know this post is longer than most, but I wanted to be sure I explained myself well. If this is helpful to anyone, then that makes me really happy. Just writing it all down has been super helpful to me!