By Ashley Roe, Contributing Writer
When I got married about five years ago, my idea of healthy living consisted of eating anything low fat or junk masquerading as so called health food. I knew it was a good idea to exercise but rarely did it and I thought those diet sodas in my fridge were actually good for me, or at least not that bad. Now don’t get me wrong, I knew it was good to eat fruits and vegetables too but the idea of real food or a clean diet were foreign to me.
The Beginning of My Healthy Living Journey
Fast forward a couple of years and things had started to change. I found myself sluggishly trudging through the days. The alarm clock would go off in the morning and I would groan at the thought of having to start another day…already. Sure life had been hard, dealing with unemployment and the stress of not knowing if the bills would get paid which didn’t exactly make life enjoyable but I knew that wasn’t all that was causing my growing list of symptoms.
I began to take a closer look at what I was putting in my body and like my normal self began to immerse myself in research. I found information about real food, clean eating, natural lifestyle, reducing intake of medication and so much more. However, this overload of information was completely overwhelming. I had no idea what to believe and it became a scary thought that everything I was putting into my body had some potential hazard attached.
I wanted to forget all the research and go back to being clueless about it all. That was until I found out something about a medication I had been taking that made me revisit the idea of a healthier more natural lifestyle.
I contemplated if this medication could really be the culprit of some of my symptoms. I dove in a little deeper with researching and became convinced that I needed to stop taking it immediately. That was when I finally made the decision that I needed to be more aware of what I was putting in my body as well as the positive or negative effects that it could have.
I wish I could say that when I stopped the medication, my body went back to normal and all was fine but that isn’t the case. I firmly believe that stopping it was one of the best decisions I could have made for my health. Even though many of the symptoms linger years later, I still believe it was a good decision because it gave me the push I needed to start my journey to healthier lifestyle.
It was ultimately quitting this medication that caused me to jump back on the road to healthy living, but I didn’t dive into a natural approach to healthcare. Instead, I started with food.
My Real Food Journey
Five years ago you would find a lot of boxed dinners, diet soda, cheese crackers, skim milk, margarine, artificially flavored coffee creamer, etc. in our kitchen.
My cooking consisted of throwing something from a box or out of the freezer together into a meal. I had very little knowlege about how to cook from scratch. At the time I was a substitute teacher and so I took my lunches with me to work which were usually made up of cheese crackers, a sandwich and a diet soda with maybe the occasional piece of fruit. I drank mostly juice, soda and coffee and maybe water every once in a while. Exercise was also a rarity.
I was obviously not living the healthiest, not even by conventional standards but I thought that the skim milk and margarine in my fridge were okay at least.
Early in my marriage, I did start to become more interested in cooking and began to hone my skills in this area. When I decided to start changing my eating habits, I had already made some changes like kicking the soda habit and trying to cook more from scratch. However, at the time those changes were more for financial reasons rather than health reasons.
Once I made the choice to be more conscious about what I was putting in my body, I started making a few minor changes. It wasn’t without a lot of guilt and hesitation though.
Much like my initial immersion to natural living, I was so overwhelmed by all the research at first. I felt like putting one little thing that wasn’t considered real food into my body was taking myself to an early grave by consuming it. I know that sounds dramatic, but it often felt that way and it promoted a lot of guilt and shame for me in the early stages of learning about real food. I almost wanted to quit caring because it was all too much.
It was through this process that I stumbled on some natural living blogs that were more gracious in their approach. Once I saw that it was okay to take it one baby step at a time, I felt like I could finally move forward.
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Real Food…One Step and a Time
As I mentioned before, I had already kicked my soda habit and was trying to cook more things from scratch so I was able to build on those things and decide what I could do next to make a step toward a healthy lifestyle.
I decided to start with my artificial coffee creamer. I had been more careful to look at labels of things I was buying and upon reading the label on a bottle of creamer, I decided it needed to go. At the time, I drank coffee everyday so this was one of the few things that I consistently put into my body on a daily basis. It wasn’t easy to let go of and I was even tempted by it while grocery shopping for a while. I started a new habit with my coffee which has evolved many times since then but I am happy to say that I no longer miss my old creamer. It also helped that I knew how to make great coffee drinks at home!
After kicking the creamer to the curb, I worked on slowly eliminating overly processed foods like crackers and cereals. I’ve since discovered some better options and will occasionally buy those instead of the kinds I was buying before so I don’t always make everything from scratch.
Healthy Living With Grace
Since this journey started, I have made some changes here and there. I have tried to put more fresh fruits and vegetables into my diet and when possible make things from scratch so I know what I am eating. However, I would be lying if I said that I eat whole, real food 100% of the time.
If you look in my fridge and cupboards today you would find leftovers from a meal I cooked this week, some fresh fruits, a few vegetables, some bricks of cheese, whole milk organic yogurt, local raw honey, quinoa, coconut milk coffee creamer, lots of plain nuts and even a couple loaves of Ezekiel bread.
But you know what? You will also find regular 2% milk, frozen potatoes, eggs that aren’t organic, jars of things like mayo or barbecue sauce, a loaf of regular whole wheat bread, some english muffins not made from scratch and I still have white flour and sugar that I use on occasion.
Part of me wants to justify why I have those things.
I can say that I do still try to look at labels even on packaged products so that I know what is in it. There are also some thing I keep around at the request of my husband since he isn’t as into real food as I am.
However, I do want to say that sometimes I just need something quick and the only thing that will do is frozen fries and chicken strips. Sometimes I am too exhausted to cook and so I have my husband order a pizza. Sometimes it just isn’t in the budget to buy organic. I want you to know that if this is you too, that’s okay!
Many times we think that issues of healthy living are on the same plane as the gospel, but guess what? It’s not! You are not committing a sin by eating a bag of processed potato chips or a handful of chocolate candy. I can’t say that I think it will help your waistline much but I promise you are not condemned for it (I know gluttony is wrong but that is not the issue I am addressing here).
I try to look at as a matter of moderation. I allow myself to enjoy some things that I know may not be considered healthy or real food but I try not to do it all the time. Sometimes I slip up and eat way too many chips than I should but I don’t have to let it totally ruin my progress.
So if you have decided that is time to make a few healthier changes then I want to root you on and say go for it! Please don’t let yourself get too overwhelmed like I did. Pick one or two things that you want to change that will make you feel healthier and start with that. Add on a few small changes at a time and you will be able to stick with it much easier than trying to do everything at once. Remember to give yourself grace along the way.