As I meandered through an airport a few weeks back looking for a healthy breakfast option, my eyes came to a skidding halt when they saw the words “The Healthy Spot”, or something to that effect. Bam! Just what I ordered. My mind conjured up images of bliss balls, grain-free muesli, green smoothies! As I got closer however, I noticed an array of pre-made focaccias, pre-packaged yogurts and fruit salads. There goes my imagined green smoothie! I know, hipster as. But seriously, I need my greens! And I don’t make friends with salad often enough.
So, what does “healthy eating” actually mean? It seems to depend greatly on the individual’s view. Disclaimer: I have no qualifications in nutrition, dietetics, healthy eating etc. So don’t sue me. Cheers! This is just a personal account of the acquisition of knowledge about “healthy eating”.
My own “health” journey has been quite a roller coaster of knowledge (or lack thereof), influenced heavily by my incessant lack of willpower. “I’m sure potato chips are healthy”. Potatoes. Oil. Sea salt. I’m practically eating a roast dinner.
I recall being about 12 years old, making shop-bought ravioli with shop-bought pasta sauce at my friend’s house, thinking we were some kind of child prodigies in the kitchen. A quick AND healthy meal! Nailed it. Move over MasterChef kids, we got this.
We would then follow it up with our very own “homemade” “frozen yogurt”. Excuse the excessive use of quotation marks but I cannot emphasise enough how disillusioned my childhood brain was. A small tub of fruit-flavoured sugar mixed thoroughly with a scoop of ice-cream. Frozen yogurt. Voilà. Healthiest kids on the block.
I’m not sure at what point I started to reassess my eating habits. I can say that it was after many a McFlurry. A cheeseburger too, you say? Don’t mind if I do!
It’s not that I was what you would call unhealthy. Ok, now I’m lying to myself. Comparatively speaking though, I grew up on fresh, homemade food with minimal use of preservatives, colourings and flavourings. Unless my mum was cooking one of the novelty birthday cakes from The Womens Weekly. One kid produced a knife at my brother’s 8th birthday party. A switch blade. I’m adamant the food colouring was to blame. Disclaimer: That was a joke. Lawsuits these days.
On the whole, I ate fairly well. Except when I encountered things like the high-school canteen (or “tuck shop” for the oldies). After enduring the health food canteen of my primary years, my pent up sugar cravings were about to be rewarded when I stepped foot into high school. Did I have money to spend? Don’t make me laugh! The beauty of being a small kid is that older kids think you are cute/take pity on you and will happily shell out 5 and 10c coins. A little bit of hustling at the canteen line could give me a whole day’s supply of Redskins or Milko’s.
BUT. At some point I realised I needed more health in my life. Bring on the fruit smoothie! Ah, the noughties. Era of the text message and the oversized fruit smoothie. If you were lucky, you would get a text message ABOUT a fruit smoothie. Or you would get a free smoothie if it was the day they put a banner up with your name on it. I never did manage to cash in on that one. Sarahs and Emmas around the nation were high-fiving and yahooing enough to make me consider a name change. And mine isn’t even unique. I feel for the kids whose parents craved uniqueness in a name. Never would their bicycles be adorned with a mini personalised name plate. Never would they give a personalised “note from Alieshya“. Never would they get that free smoothie.
Next, I became increasingly aware of the vegetarian and vegan ways of life. I had often thought about how unethical it was that I was eating poor animals, so first I gave up eating baby animals, because clearly they deserved more life before being sent to the slaughterhouse. “No lamb for me, mum! I’m practically a vegetarian. I only eat ADULT-SIZE animals, thanks!”
I attended a health seminar by a prominent vegan, and I committed to a month-long stint of eating meat and dairy free (although I did eat both eggs and fish). Was I an ovo-pescatarian? I don’t know. There’s a name somewhere for it, I’m sure. I heard of people being cured of things like arthritis, cancers etc by avoiding meat and dairy and eating plant-based diets.
I spent my entire month-long stint lecturing others on the health benefits of not eating meat or dairy. I could definitely attest that dairy did not agree with me, and I was fully aware that dairy seems to be at the root of many inflammatory conditions like eczema. I replaced milk with alternatives like rice milk. Sadly, the ethical aspect of my lifestyle choice was lacking. I was all about the health, ’bout the health, no PETA. I also found that beans and legumes were not agreeing with my body AT ALL. Just ask those close to me.
After my vegan/vegetarian/ovo-pescatarian era had ended, I did lower my meat intake in general. I had never been a big red meat-eater, so I spent most days eating no dairy and very little meat. That was until I got pregnant. I craved cheese like it was going out of fashion.
After having my baby, I discovered that certain foods were not conducive to a happy baby. Beans and legumes were the top of the hit list. I could not eat them without the baby suffering incredible wind. Not to mention myself. I reverted to eating meat on a daily basis. What I would also eat was…. BREAD. Toast… What could be more plain and easy on the tummy than that? Pretty much everything, apparently. It was only after eliminating most gluten from my diet that I began to see a reduction in many of the health maladies that had plagued my teen years: sinusitis, sluggishness, etc.
At some point I discovered the benefits of the green smoothie AKA hide a couple of leaves of baby spinach amongst some bananas, dates, rice milk and chia seeds. Delicious, yes. Healthy, somewhat. It’s only now I realise that I was just crave crave craving that SUGAR!
Sugar. It’s so deadly that it deserves bold writing. I read recently that sugar is an immunosuppressant, meaning that it actually causes your immune system to not work (at least that’s a basic layman/politically correct laywoman‘s understanding). Great. I often have to do some suppressing of my own. I eat something and then suppress the memory of it deep into my mind so I don’t have to envision the havoc it’s wreaking throughout my body. Like the gelato I ate last night. I’m just content to admit that it was delicious and what’s done is done.
I remember hearing about Sarah Wilson and her I Quit Sugar movement. I remember thinking “oh sheddddep! We all know sugar is bad. Now you’re telling us we can’t eat fruit? Ridiculous!”. However, when I finally read her book, I started to see what all the fuss was about. And I’m not talking about the enviable photos of her strewn throughout the book. What I didn’t realise was that she was actually right, in a lot of ways. When we’re not eating processed, pre-packaged, sugar-laden foods, we’re eating fruit. Fruit. It’s natural. What can be bad about it? Well, only the fact that we decide to throw in copious pieces to a high-speed blender, whiz out all the nutritional benefits, and then drink a jumbo cup of fructose at speeds which our body cannot even begin to process. Fruit should be a treat, apparently. Sad face.
I started reading about fats and how they’re not evil. Unless they’re transfats. Those little fatties are a nasty breed. I knew that avocado was good for you. It’s fatty. But I didn’t know that saturated fats aren’t bad either. I’m still processing this. The amount of lectures I gave my parents about the use of animal fats in their diets as kids. LARD??!! I would scoff in disbelief. What unhealthy and uneducated people I had to endure! Now I’m re-educating them on how they had it right. Thank me later guys! But one thing that didn’t mesh with me was the use of other heavily processed items such as rice malt syrup in place of natural products like honey. Yes, honey is SUGARY. But raw honey has been used in health remedies since the beginning of time.Then again, who am I to have an opinion on such things? I’m a mere human after all!
I had heard the dreaded ‘P’ word thrown around…. PALEO. The word would nearly cause an involuntary SPEW reaction from me. It was so overused, so hipster, so… To be honest I didn’t even know what it was. I had just heard about “caveman” type diets and dismissed them as ridiculous. Surely our bodies can’t process so much meat, you fools! Ah, good old pride. I hadn’t even bothered to look into what the paleo diet consisted of. Grains? Unhealthy? *blocks ears and eyes* What ever happened to the food pyramid? Lordy, now I can’t believe people still print that thing on packages. I changed from rice milk to almond milk and coconut milk and patted myself on the back.
Recently though, I’ve started reading a bit into it. I even got a… *hides from pitchforks* Pete Evans cookbook! Man, that guy really has copped it lately. How dare he profess to know anything about food! I mean, I see where people are coming from, but he’s not exactly advising people to eat KFC every day. Maybe if he was, there wouldn’t be such a problem. Sheesh, he’d probably even get paid for it. The guy went from owning an internationally award-winning pizza restaurant to going against the grain- ‘scuse the pun!- to shout his health message to the masses. I do empathise with people who have some degree of anger towards people like Pete Evans who can afford to eat organic, pasture-raised meat and grain-free, but it also comes down to choice. Are there things I could do better? Could I eat organically from the ‘Dirty Dozen’ list and buy other produce from the non-organic section? I think to a degree it comes down to defensiveness. It’s easier to say “Pete Evans can afford to eat that stuff!” than “Is there a way I could eat better? Does it really matter to me, and if so, how can I prioritise my life to do so?”
I don’t know if the paleo diet is the best diet for everyone. I think everybody needs to start listening to their own body and what it has to say on the matter of health. A little bit of introspection can go a long way, as long as it’s backed up by common sense.
The final leg of my health journey to date has been learning about the GAPS diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome). Talk about an eye-opener. It made sense and answered SOOO many of my concerns. Isn’t eating too much meat bad? Yes. Because our guts aren’t designed to process huge amounts of muscle meats. That’s where broths and things come into it. It’s not about eating steak after steak. Meats are better off being gently cooked by being boiled, eaten in broths and soups etc (from what I understand). Fermented foods are a big YES. They’re all the rage at the moment. And so they should be. Sauerkraut, kimchi.. The list goes on (meaning I can’t remember any more stuff). They help to produce acids in the stomach to properly digest the food we eat. Activated seeds and nuts? Yes. Nuts and seeds are not easily digested by the stomach unless they are at least soaked, and at best “activated”, which involves tricking them into thinking they are growing again… Only to be gobbled up. So, what about the people who seem to do really well on vegan diets? It makes sense because really they tend to be eating a minimal amount of processed and pre-packaged foods. Try finding something packaged that contains no meat, no butter, no milk, no eggs, no dairy… So, essentially they are also healthy. But in order to restore my gut health, I believe GAPS is the way to go.
My plan is to initiate the GAPS diet in 2015. It’s going to be hard work but I believe it won’t be in vain. In saying that, I will always keep an open mind and continue to learn. As Socrates once said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” A piece of humble, raw vegan, paleo, sugar-free, GAPS-friendly pie for you, old Socrates!