Tuesday, December 14, 2010

You Are What You Eat

So then I must be a cookie. Or at least I was...

Thinking back as far as I can remember, I recall my mother making a full well rounded meal for every night of the week with the occasional exception of a pizza or Chinese order here and there. I didn't realize it at the time but my mother never served me anything that came out of a box. A typical meal in our house was  a meat, a starch (potato or rice), and a vegetable. As long as my dinner was finished, I was entitled to dessert which was never passed up in my family. I remember going to friends houses & they were having boxed mac & cheese, or fast food take out. At that age chicken nuggets & fries sounded so much better than homemade pot roast with all the veggies & gravy you could eat. It didn't occur to me until I was older that my mother was actually setting a strong foundation for me and I can't thank her enough.
Once I was eighteen and moved out on my own, I went on my first real grocery shopping trip. I went to the store without a plan or list & just bought whatever I thought looked enticing. A car load of junk and $200 later I realized I didn't have anything I could make a substantial meal from. So, back out I went to hit the take out counter at my local fast food joint. 
That started my journey down the wrong food path. I would spend hoards of money on canned, boxed & bagged items. I really don't recall wheeling my cart down the produce isle much at all.
When I was working full time and going to college part time in the evenings I noticed my food habits got even worse. The people at the local take out joint knew my voice when I called in my order. Now you're thinking I would have realized this was not a good thing. Not me! I thought, "Hey great, now they know who I am and they won't forget to add the extra dressing I always ask for."

Eventually, I gained an interest in cooking. I was addicted to the food channel as was my fiance. Slowly, we both started to try new dishes we never even heard of. I made sure when I went grocery shopping that I made a list so that we had every ingredient we needed. Both of us would fight our way around each other in our teeny tiny kitchen trying to assemble different portions of our meal. Then came the sweetest reward. The final dish. We started sitting down together for dinner and discussing the varied ingredients we used and what we'd like to try differently next time. That passion between us grew & soon enough we were the biggest "foodies" on the block. I no longer viewed creating a meal as a chore that needed to be checked off a list. I enjoyed choosing the ingredients, I enjoyed taste testing throughout the cooking process but most of all I reveled in the sight on my fiance's face when he tasted what I had created.
As time passed and we continued to explore different dishes I stood back and noticed something. I was looking and feeling a lot healthier than I did during my "take out" days. That's when I really started to take a turn towards healthy eating.
When I was expecting my daughter I remember going in to the grocery store with a new view of things. I was intent on eating only nutritious foods for the little one growing inside of me. I wanted to buy organic foods but when I got to the local grocery store it was not an easy feat to find the foods I wanted in an organic version.
Why is that you ask? Because unfortunately peanut butter chocolate chip cookies and nacho cheese tortillas are not part of the healthy organic diet. "Great" I muttered to myself, "I'm destined to eat rice cakes & raw carrots. Woo hoo!" Just what a pregnant lady wants to hear.
So, I did what I could to satisfy my cravings. If I wanted something sweet, I opted for fruit or all natural ice cream. I remember Breyers All Natural Vanilla Bean Ice Cream was a staple on every week's grocery list. (Hey, I was pregnant.. I had to cut myself some slack...)
I remember craving nacho cheese flavored tortilla chips but I knew they were loaded with MSG so I stayed away from them with a ten foot pole.
After giving birth I decided to breastfeed (which I really plan to post a lot about in future posts). While breastfeeding I started to do a lot of research to learn about the things I should be eating so that my daughter would receive optimal nutrition. Along my quest for information I stumbled upon a movie about our food culture today. This was a documentary about organic farming (or lack thereof), GMOs (genetically modified organisms), and the meat and poultry industry. I must say, I was terrified to put another bite of ANYTHING in to my mouth after that. With each bite I took of something I had so many questions running through my head; "What if this has pesticides on it or in it? What if this meat came from an animal treated with antibiotics or growth hormones? What if the food I'm about to eat spontaneously combusts?!!?
It was too much for an already neurotic mother to handle. So, I sat down & decided again to research the food industry as much as I could.
Now, when I go to the grocery store I try to buy local, organic produce and free range meats and dairy products. I try to make every meal I can from scratch. I've decided, I'm going back to basics! If you take a look at my dinner table, most nights you'll find a meat, a starch (potato or rice) and a vegetable. I try to limit the amount of processed foods we have. Most importantly I try to arm myself with knowledge. A smart cookie is a healthy cookie.
Mmmmm.. Cookies are my favorite.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Stress and the toll it takes on your health

This is a very hot topic for me..
I strongly believe that stress plays a HUGE role in affecting peoples health.
Stress is like a cancer. If left untreated it can fester and grow exponentially. Not only can it make you miserable, it also affects everyone around you.
I'd like to share my personal story with this old foe.

Shortly after high school I noticed during periods of high stress I would get awful stomach aches. They increased in severity as my fear of these stomach attacks grew. It was a vicious cycle that I continued to live in for years. It was only after I endured countless invasive medical tests that I discovered the main trigger for these attacks was stress. (I also feel that caffeine made these attacks worse for reasons I'll discuss in a later post.)
Once I discovered the culprit to these attacks I worked on trying to relieve my stress in any way I could. The best solution I could come up with was a good old fashioned run. Exercising helped me... a lot.

Fast forward a few years & you'll find me back in the stress boat. Due to college, work, crazy every day life hassles, etc I started to slack on the exercise. I suddenly found myself having panic attacks. For no reason at all I was completely stricken with fear. It happened anywhere & everywhere. The only place I was safe was at home. I thought I was losing my mind. I was mortified to tell anyone except my husband & my best friend. (Note to self... Always treat these two people very well because they have a lot of dirt on you...) Again, I worked through my stress by confiding in my support team (hubby & bff) and getting my butt back on that treadmill.

Jump ahead another year or so and again without warning that ugly stress monster reared its ugly head. This time, I was having OCD symptoms. I was always questioning everything I did. I was afraid to leave the house because I wasn't sure if I locked the door. Or I'd check to make sure I didn't leave the oven on. Or maybe it was possible that I didn't blow out the candle from the night before. It was awful. If I could imagine a terrible scenario then I was sure it was possible. So I'd check & recheck to make sure it never came to be.
Even if it meant driving myself absolutely insane. I don't know how many times I would show up at work & run to my BFF in tears because I was afraid that I didn't unplug the hair dryer or turn off the lights before I left the house. Luckily I have a very strong friend & a very understanding husband who always helped me through my insecurities.

Take one more leap with me on this time travel expedition to a time where again, life happens & stress invades a content mind. On an unexpected visit with my dentist I found out the tooth that was suddenly causing me a lot of pain was cracked. No big deal, I thought. I must have just bit in to something really hard that I don't remember. Not too long after that I realized I was getting headaches and my jaw was sore when I woke in the morning. The next thing I knew I was back in the dentist chair having a different tooth pulled because this one too was cracked & beyond repair. Have you guessed yet what's going on? You got it! I'd been clenching my teeth when I sleep. I don't grind them, I just clench my jaw. The pressure I was putting on my teeth was enormous & I wasn't even awake to know what was going on. My poor mouth! Stress was causing me to break my own teeth! This was it! I'd had enough.

I was determined to take control of the stress in my life & not let it control me.

This is something that I am still working on. I am confident that exercise is an enormous help. I am also confident that this is something I can change. I am trying to research other avenues that I can pursue while maintaining my busy lifestyle.
I believe that it's imperative to have a great support system. Surround yourself with those that love you and most importantly those that are positive influences in your life. You don't need someone feeding you negative energy. It only fuels the stress fire. Who needs that? I know I don't.
It's also great to find an outlet. Find a hobby. You don't have to be good at it. It just has to be something you enjoy. For me, it's writing. I enjoy putting my ideas down on paper. In fact I had a pretty stressful week topped off by a stressful evening & so I decided to sit down & write about it. Now here I am. Thank you to you, my reader, for joining my support team.

As I continue to post, you'll see that I LOVE to talk about stress relievers. I'll list any that I try & I hope that readers will contribute some of their ideas as well. For now, I'll sign off & head in to bed for a much needed night of rest which is yet another topic I'd like to discuss further at a later date. Until then; be well, be loved, be you...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Foods That Heal

Growing up I can always remember my mother would hand me a peppermint when I had a stomach ache. It never struck me as odd until I was with a family member and I had complained of stomach issues and she offered me some awful, pink, chalky liquid. I choked it down and made a mental note not to share my stomach issues with Aunt Tilly ever again.
To this day I always have peppermints handy to help calm an angry tummy. Whether I've over-eaten or something just doesn't agree with me, a peppermint never seems to fail. That is, until I became pregnant & experienced the joys of morning sickness. (Who am I kidding? It was "any time of day" sickness.)
Friends who pitied me offered the usual salt crackers with ginger ale. I must say the ginger ale did help some. Wanting more relief I researched nausea on a lot of the natural boards out there & found a common recommendation for something sour. So, I ran out to the corner store & purchased the first sour thing I could find; a bag of Sour Patch Kids. I can honestly say, I had a bag of these sour little sweeties in my car with me everywhere I went for the next 4-5 months.
Another one of my favorites is cinnamon. Cinnamon is an awesome anti-gas remedy. If I'm making something that's known to be gassy I add some cinnamon and I am sure to avoid a roaring tummy later on. Pancakes are a perfect example of this. I also have a delicious white turkey chili recipe that I adore. It's loaded with beans and onions which are typical gas inducers. Instead of popping an over the counter gas reducer I add cinnamon to the recipe and not only does it add a wonderful flavor and aroma, but it really decreases the amount of gas you experience after wolfing down a bowl.
As I continue to post, I'm going to delve further in to each of these and I also hope to find some new additions for my list as I forge ahead with my research.