This getting healthy stuff sounds really good. You could accomplish anything from lowering your blood pressure and easing back pain to fitting better into your clothes. It seems so simple; why would anyone NOT want these things? And if they want them, why don’t they just go get them?
People aren’t that simple, though. It’s easy to look at someone who appears unhealthy and criticize; the hard part is seeing beyond that. Family habits, culture, medical issues (uncommon, but they happen), personal issues, or ignorance often play a role, and countering these takes time. But it can start with just the flip of a switch.
I used to be overweight. Our pantry was stocked with boxes of quick, processed food and in the fridge scarcely a vegetable could be found. When I cooked, the meals would be loaded with oils and salt. There were some bright spots; I usually had a little fruit hanging around and we liked bean meals, so those made regular appearances. But I was too busy with two toddlers and going to school part-time to put much thought into it; as long as food tasted good that was enough for me. Besides, eating healthy seemed expensive (and boring). No thanks.
What changed? Did I start my journey because of family? Medical issues? Shame at the way I looked? No. All these things were present, but they didn’t crystallize the decision for me. I owe that to my dog.
Here he is. Isn’t he cute?
Um, what? Yep, you read that correctly. My impetus came from trying to feed a puppy. I knew next to nothing about dogs, so I fired up the internet to find smart people who could help me out. It didn’t take long to find a knowledgeable forum, whose members pointed me in the right direction and welcomed any questions I might have.
Would you believe the first food label I read was off a dog food bag? I had to keep looking between browser tabs, trying to understand what I was reading. Some ingredients sounded like food, some sounded….made up.
My curiosity was piqued; what was in my pantry? So I grabbed a random box and flipped it on its side. And got a bit of a shock. Most of it sounded like the stuff I needed to avoid putting in my dog and I was putting it in my kids!
I swear, if you’d been standing in my kitchen, you’d have seen the lightbulb explode over my head.
I started reading about what humans needed to be healthy and the side effects if they weren’t. I learned about preservatives and dyes and processing something healthy until it is no longer worth anything nutritionally.
I decided that the way we were living had to change. However, while I was for dumping the boxes in the trash and starting from scratch, my husband did not agree. He was open to what I was telling him; he just didn’t want to do it all at once. So we compromised: each month one processed food would be replaced with one healthy alternative. Doing this would allow us to get used to fresh, whole foods at a gradual pace.
I was impatient with this approach; we needed to get this stuff out NOW (I can be a tad obsessed about things). But I overlooked a basic human tendency: we do better with small changes over time, rather than large changes quickly. It is likely that had I pushed for immediate health, we would have crashed and burned within a few months or whenever the cravings hit.
What about the expense? Yes, the grocery bill changed. But instead of going up, it went down. Huh?
Let me give an example: a box of store brand toaster pastries cost about $1.25. There are 4 meals in there, so one breakfast for all of us or two for the kids. But a very short time after, we were hungry again, because there isn’t anything in there to hold you up. So, we’d eat again in order to quiet the rumbling until the next meal time.
In contrast, a container of plain oatmeal was about $3. But there are about 30 meals in one container! To get that with the pastries, I would have to buy about 7 boxes ($8.75). Oatmeal also kept hunger away for a lot longer, cutting out the between meal snacks (another savings!) and took up a lot less room in my cabinets. Such a difference for literally two more minutes of prep work.
The last hurdle was taste (we like our food and it’d better be yummy). How do you make food appetizing if you aren’t dumping salt and butter into it? Turns out a little goes a long way; you can get the flavor with only a fraction of what I was accustomed to using. Also, cue the wonderful world of herbs and spices! So many flavors to try and no health concerns in sight. After a rocky start (so sorry about those meals, family), we found nutritious meals we all enjoyed.
It took about 5 years to get everything out. There were some setbacks along the way (moooommmm…….I don’t LIKE vegetables! I want Rice-a-Roni!), but overall we moved forward. 7 years later, whole wheat bread is no longer a penance and boxed meals are almost nonexistent.
What about workouts? The kids are still young, so playing takes care of most of their exercise needs. Running, jumping, karate, biking, basketball, and hiking are some of their favorites. This year, we’re trying to implement a walking program for the older ones. It’s been a little shaky, but it’s better than it was at the beginning. Baby steps. My husband does his workouts before he starts his work. I’m not a morning person, so mine are usually later in the day. Right now, I’m just trying to fit them in. I do hope to eventually be disciplined enough to get up earlier; it’s much quieter.
We’re not perfect. There are nights we pick up pizza or fried chicken. My kids sometimes ask for brightly colored cereal. My husband will sneak in snack cakes. I will devour the bag of dark chocolate reading a book (or when I’m stressed out). All of us will spend too much time in front of an electronic device and not enough time in the sun. But we’re finally pointed in a healthy direction and, despites some bumps, we’re not going back.