You’d think eating would be simple. You wouldn’t think food would incite feelings of passion, irritation, or contempt. But we humans are funny creatures, and it seems that it does. How many times have you heard statements like these:
- “I want to eat what I want to eat. It’s a free country. Stop telling me what to do.”
- “You are putting your children in danger by letting them eat those French fries.”
- “Processed food is killing people slowly.”
- “Processed food is saving the world from starvation.”
- “It’s all about marketing. ‘Organic’ doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a term people use to make money.”
These statements go far beyond saying something like, “Snickers bars taste really good.” Instead, they instigate the whole human race in the current food disaster – whether you think that disaster is the fact that gluten has taken over the world or that people get so irritated by gluten in the first place.
Today, all we want to do is tell a story. We don’t want to argue about food politics or philosophy. Not that we’re not interested in those things, but for our family, the heart of the matter is much more simple and personal.
So here’s a short, simple tale about why we try to eat a nutrient-dense, healthy diet that many would call “primal,” or “ancestral.”
Let’s Go Back in Time
Way back in the day – ten years ago now! – I was an unhealthy college student (we both were, but I’ll start with myself – Nicole). In my three-year undergrad career I worked at Starbucks, Coldstone, AND a nice little Italian restaurant that I’m now convinced was connected to the Mafia. That means my diet consisted primarily of coffee, ice cream, and pizza, with a healthy dose of beer and cigarettes. I did well in school and work, but my health was not so hot. I had chronic bronchitis (thank you, pack-a-day smoking habit) and struggled with fluctuations in weight gain/loss, depending on my stress levels. Oh, and speaking of stress levels – those were running high, while sleep was at a record low.
Then I met my husband. He was equally unhealthy by our current standards, but somehow we managed to improve together.
Long story short, we got married 2 ½ years later, moved to Europe to attend graduate school, and had our first child. During our first two years of marriage, we tried hard to be as healthy as we could on a limited budget. That pretty much meant we ate a lot of beans and rice during the week and splurged on Pizza Hut on Fridays. The Belgian version was so much better, after all. We devoured “healthy” candy bars when we were hungry – a frequent occurence. After all, they were made in the EU, so they must be better.
We still struggled with health problems, though. Shortly after my daughter was born I was hospitalized for almost three weeks and underwent two major surgeries due to two breast abscesses. My husband battled chronic asthma and allergies he had had since we met, even though we had long since kicked our smoking habit. After I recovered from the breast abscesses, we made a joint effort to “get healthy.” What a nebulous concept. Looking back, I can see we were a bit clueless as to how to actually go about it.
It was right around this time that we moved back to the States and I heard about the paleo diet for the first time. One of our favorite outings as a young family was to go to Barnes and Noble. Since I was trying to learn how to cook, I often found myself in the diet and nutrition aisle. I remember glancing at Robb Wolf’s book, The Paleo Solution, and quickly returning it to the shelf when I saw the guidelines. No grains? No dairy? No beans?? How would we live on such a diet? And why would you do that to yourself?!
The Tipping Point
Everything came to a head when our 18-month-old daughter started getting sick. Our beautiful, sweet, spunky little toddler was diagnosed with asthma. We were given the nebulizer and all those pretty silver packages with the magical juice that was supposed to make her better. We used the nebulizer for three weeks, combined with an inhaler a few times a day. No change. In fact, it seemed the more we used the medication, the more she needed it. I asked the doctor what to do, and she suggested I get more silver packages. Are you kidding me?
Well, the Good Lord was looking out for us. As usual, He thought it would be beneficial to put us in an impossible situation.
It just so happened that at the same time our daughter was struggling with these health problems, I was writing nutrition articles for a freelance writing job. Coincidentally, most of my research revolved around three topics: gluten, the paleo diet, and lactose intolerance. I was forced to research this stuff just to do my humble copy-writing job. Slowly and with gentle force, my husband and I were led to the conclusion that we had to give paleo a shot. There is nothing worse than seeing your child suffer, and the medication was doing nothing to improve her condition. What was the worst that could happen?
We tried to try paleo for thirty days. I say “tried to try” because I’ll be totally honest – we weren’t very good at it. After about two and a half weeks, I think I bought a pack of tortillas and maybe some shredded cheese. Most of that was because we were on a tight budget at the time, and it does take time to learn how to be paleo on a budget. But despite a few missteps, after thirty days, we had stopped buying milk (before this, we flew through 3 gallons a week) and decreased our grain intake by 80 percent.
I know it sounds unbelievable, but that was all it took. After just two short weeks, we stopped using the nebulizer and only needed the inhaler every so often. After a month, we used the inhaler maybe a few times a week. Not only that, but the eczema my daughter had been fighting since babyhood had gone from scaly red lizard flesh to your typical case of dry skin. It was amazing.
And then there followed three more years of progressively better health. I have not had to take my children (there are three of them now) to the doctor in almost two years. We still get colds and little things here and there, and there was one time I took my daughter in to get a strep test because it was going around at school. But the “Prescription Receipt” folder in my filing cabinet has remained empty for two whole years. One of these days I will get out our old medical receipts and add up how much money we spent in the first two years of my oldest child’s life – on diaper creams, eczema cream, inhalers, antibiotics, and the nebulizer. But all that really matters now is that she is healthy.
Throw the Crutch Away
A few months ago, we moved. While I was packing, I came across the nebulizer. I had been holding on to it for three years, just in case. Just in case our daughter woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t breathe. Just in case 2 1/2 years of no doctor visits aside from well-checks had been an illusion.
I stared at the stash of silver packages, unopened, waiting.
I didn’t know what to do. Should I pack this expensive medical masterpiece that cost us an arm and a leg when we were struggling financially as a young family? The lifesaver that kept us out of the ER on numerous occasions? I stared at the machine and argued with myself for quite some time.
And then, I made my decision. I threw away our daughter’s nebulizer. And then I threw away all the silver packages – the whole drawer full. It took 2 1/2 years of proof, but now there is no nebulizer in our bathroom drawer. Our daughter is doing just fine.
So that’s our story. There are lots of stories like it, and we love them all. We’re not here to flaunt our dietary choices and brag about our family’s health. We are far from infallible. We’re simply here to tell you if you’re holding onto a crutch – whatever it is – you don’t have to be a victim of your circumstances. Educate yourself, try new things, and be adventurous and confident. Because it feels pretty good to finally throw the crutch away.