Journal, Learning Adventures

Confessions of a Health Nut

health_nut_t_shirts_and_gifts_custom_announcements-rd41380c863f74c5cb46411b027a39b3e_8dnmv_8byvr_512I have been feeling the need to tell my story. In as much as it relates to finding myself cooking liver for dinner. That’s right. LIVER!! Blobbily, slimy, bloody liver! First attempt was an utter failure by the way my friends. I couldn’t bring myself to make my family eat it. (It was saved and will be made into frozen pill shapes to swallow. So I suppose it wasn’t a complete disaster.) I wasn’t always this way. You know a crazy-crunchy-granola-health nut who has foods fermenting and cultures growing in her fridge. Seeking out organ meats from grass-fed butchers, and being upset at buying an organic chicken that doesn’t come with giblets. In fact, only 2 years ago my husband had to pull the giblet bag out of the turkey for me at christmas time.

Growing up my family ate fairly healthy. Eating out was a treat. My mom made us 3 meals a day, and we ate together as a family every day. Most of my grandparents and great-grandparents were from Oklahoma so hearty country meals were the norm. Dinner with the extended family was usually roast beef or fried chicken, 8 kinds of vegetables, bread and plenty of butter on everything. We would have mac n cheese and spaghetti often. Simple pasta dishes. I think jarred tomato sauce and kraft mac n cheese was the extent of our processed foods minus the occasional (maybe once a month) trip through a drive through. My great-grandma was our after school spot and she would make everything from scratch and canned her own peaches. Lord I miss her biscuits!

I grew into a young adult and turned into a lazy eater. There’s no other excuse. I have the skills and knowledge to prepare good meals and I choose the fast and cheap way. I was being lazy. Lucky Charms for breakfast, dollar meals at any drive thru for lunch and Hamburger Helper or other no-fuss boxed meal for dinner. I washed it all down with 6-8 Pepsi’s per day. Starting off every day with a minimum 32oz Super Big Gulp. Throw in a couple of candy bars, cookies or a piece of cake and you have a pretty good picture of my eating standards. I remember posting pictures of an Entenmann’s pound cake and a Pepsi as my “breakfast of champions.” Thanks to an auto-immune thyroid disease, that developed shortly after high school, I rarely put on weight, but I got to the point where I just didn’t feel good anymore. My teeth started sprouting cavities like weeds after a week of rain. I developed crippling IBS.. to the extent that my husband sent champagne and Immodium to me on our wedding day, because he knew the stress would cause an episode.

Within the last 5 years, I had started cooking more with my husband, but every meal still included a starch, and usually bread of some kind. Then we found Anna, our nutritionist, in our search for anything that would help with our son’s behavioral issues. When she recommended the GAPS diet she asked me to read Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Natasha Campbell-McBride. It was an eye opener for me. Not only were my health issues related to my poor nutrient-deficient diet, but my son’s issues were because of my diet before and during my pregnancy. When we decided to try GAPS for Cullen, we decided to do it together as a family, not just because it would be cruel and unusual punishment to make a 7-year-old watch you eat the foods he loves in front of him, but also because we knew it would only improve our own health.

I tried to hold on to my Pepsi. I tried to just cut it back to one or two per day. I quickly realized that even holding on to that little bit made my cravings for sweets too strong to resist, so I slowly transferred to iced tea, making weaker and weaker batches to wean myself off caffeine. Now I might have very weak iced tea once a day, and I’m drinking my suggested daily intake of water. I have devoted hours more of my time to working in my kitchen. I make our yogurt, applesauce, salad dressings, condiments, nut butter, beef jerky, sauerkraut, ice cream and bone broth. Lots and lots of bone broth. Everything is from scratch with no additives, no preservatives and no pesticides. I’m hunting down sales and the cheapest place to find groceries. Trying to find soy-free eggs or chicken has been a battle and a half.

I was standing in front of my stove sautéing liver tonight, and I thought, “How did I get here?!?” I bought LIVER and I’m cooking it with the intent of eating it! And I am secretly hoping I will enjoy it! I have done a 180, dragging my carb-loving family with me into the world of grain-free and probiotics. I was talking to a friend today and she asked if I ever wanted to just give up. Absolutely, without a doubt there were moments I wanted to throw all of my pots out the window and never enter my kitchen again. But I kept trucking, because I truly believe in how much better I feel. Because my husband doesn’t have asthma attacks anymore. Because my son is finally making friends, and showing emotions. Because I get hugs from him at any time of day; not just when I tuck him in at night.

I went from a junk food addict to certifiable health nut. And I’m never going back.


The Hand You’re Dealt

We all have turning points in our lives. A moment when we stand at a crossroads looking down the paths our lives may take.. knowing there is no turning back; no do-overs. My turning point came when I finally realized that there was something “off” with our youngest child, not wrong.. just off. I could see the obstacles and the heartaches ahead, the challenges at school, with family and in public. I wondered if my son’s differences were something we could ignore or make excuses for. Surely most of his behavior could be written off as normal boy behavior, right? I took one last look at the road we had traveled for so long, made a 90 degree turn and started in a new direction. I will admit I needed a running start. I needed momentum to carry me along the first couple blocks, and thankfully my husband was the catalyst and my strength. I believe that it doesn’t matter what hand you are dealt in life. It’s all about how you play that hand. So I’m not going to relate the entire prologue to our adventure in Asperger’s.. I am going to share how we’re playing our hand.

In 2011 our 6-year-old was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m not going to lie it changed our lives, but in all honesty getting a real and proper diagnosis was the best thing that happened. He was so smart and I was so inexperienced that a lot of the warning signs I made excuses for. Once he started school there was no ignoring them any more. Unless you’ve spent a fair amount of time with him, or have seen him interacting with other kids you don’t notice his quirks. He is bright, wants to make friends, enjoys talking to adults (usually with his mouth full of food), and he loves to play with legos. In school, he became hyperactive, sometimes violent, too much stimulation would send him over the edge, he argued with the teachers, and either refused or forgot how to use the bathroom.

At first we thought it was ADHD, but although he scored higher on the hyperactive side of the test it was within normal 5-year-old level, and the attention side of the test was also fairly normal for other kindergarteners. We decided to take out high fructose corn syrup and other processed sugars from his diet. This seemed to help a little, but he was still having meltdowns over the way his socks felt and trips to the grocery store. Consequences and reward systems failed. He was just as happy sitting at the table all night as he was playing with toys. We started seeing a psychologist monthly for “behavior skills.” This was therapeutic for me to be able to talk about what was going on in our family without being told he was “completely normal” or “he’s just a boy.” But I didn’t see the value in it for Cullen. The doctor didn’t spend a lot of time working or coaching him. He was the doctor that finally pinpointed the Asperger’s though, and for that I am thankful. It gave us something to work from. I went on a research binge and read just about anything and everything related to Asperger’s Syndrome. I found support groups, I found teaching aides and success stories from other parents. Eventually we ended up at the psychiatrist to try medication. In the meantime he had also been given a tentative Tourette’s diagnosis, so the psychiatrist opted for non-stimulant medication. It helps a little. But we are still having constant trouble.

Looking back to when he was in preschool I know that we have made huge strides, but it’s a constant battle to teach him skills that most kids pick up subconsciously and with little effort at all. The funny thing is that the things that get him in the most trouble now are things that are going to serve him well later in life. He’s persistent, he’s a perfectionist, he challenges differing opinions, he doesn’t go along with the crowd, he thinks for himself and tells you what he thinks.. It’s a tight rope walk for us as we try to teach him self-control without completely stifling those characteristics that we want him to have as an adult.

Over the last year and a half we’ve found useful tools and he is making progress, but the aggressive or depressed child is always lurking. We will have two or three weeks of pleasant, enjoyable Cullen followed by weeks of a tyrant. In March a friend mentioned the GAPS diet and said it might help him, and referred us to a nutritionist that works with other autistic families. I did my usual thing (submerged myself into internet research) and decided to make an appointment with the nutritionist. At the initial consultation she went through his and my entire medical history; covering antibiotics, surgeries, serious and not so serious illnesses, and diet. She recommended that we start with the Page Food Plan, which is similar to Paleo. We were only to eat organic, pastured meat, organic veggies, pastured eggs and raw nuts. Exciting, yes? We knew that whatever we did we would be doing it as a family. Eating restricted foods in front of him would be cruel and unusual punishment, and I had been having health issues as well. Cutting sugar wasn’t a big deal as we hadn’t had much in the last year anyway, but cutting carbs and fruit?? In addition to the food changes we would be adding a therapeutic probiotic dose, fish oil and homemade bone broth twice a day. Once we’d successfully weaned ourselves off the carbs, sugar and processed foods we would be starting the GAPS diet.

And that’s where this blog comes in. Over the past two months since starting the Page food plan I’ve been posting pictures of the food I’ve been slaving over, and commenting on the amount of weight Mike and I have been losing. We didn’t expect to lose anything, but it has been a pleasant side effect. We are only losing the stored fat though, we’re not losing any muscle mass. Cullen on the other hand has been becoming more muscular and filling out more. Friends have been asking for my recipes and details about what we are doing. I thought this would be an easy way to share the adventure. I plan to fill the pages with recipes, tips, articles and “cullenisms.” I ask for your patience as I am a wife first, a mom second, and a woman with two full-time jobs third.