Sunday, June 27, 2010

More Confessions

In my teens our middle school’s marching band sold huge See’s Candies’ chocolate bars to raise money. I was a huge supporter; buying a candy bar each day for lunch and washing it down with a Hawaiian Punch. My future mother-in-law was a really good cook. When I met my husband one of his favorite meals included lime Jello with bananas as a “salad.” Wanting to live up to his mother’s high standards I dutifully made it for him at every holiday. When it wasn’t a holiday I was busy being a horsewoman. Every day I would dash out of the house in the morning after drinking my very sugary tea and munching down cinnamon toast for breakfast. Then I would skip lunch all together. I didn’t even bring anything to drink with me! I rarely came home to cook dinner until well after dark when all the horse chores were done. Tired and late I would throw together a meal, such as, 3 Can Chili (1 can of chili, 1 can or corn and 1 can of stewed tomatoes) and pour it over white rice. Viola! Dinner was served. I weighed 101 pounds from the time I was 14 or 15 until I was 32. Luckily my son rescued me from myself. 

When I had difficulty getting pregnant one of the things I did to help my fertility was force myself to eat more in order to gain 5 or 10 pounds. I ate 3 meals a day and began to care about what I put into my body. At first I added simple things, such as Yoplait yogurt and an apple for lunch. Later I branched out into actual peanut butter and jam or lunch meat sandwiches. I cut out my tea to get off all caffeine which took sugar out of my morning routine. 

During my pregnancy I tried to eat all the “servings’ they recommended in “What to Expect When You are Expecting.” I also thought it was fine to eat all the ice cream I wanted and I am ashamed to say I became addicted to Jello chocolate pudding cups. I still wasn’t drinking enough throughout the day and would gulp down a huge glass of cold apple juice as soon as I got in the door at night. I told myself it was a serving of fruit instead of the sugar fix it was really. I passed my gestational diabetes test but I don’t know how. I must have been right on the cusp. If I had failed it, I would have had an opportunity to reroute my eating habits earlier in my life. I felt so bad after driving back from the test I crawled into my truck at the barn and fell asleep for the afternoon. I blame all the sugar in that darned apple juice for the size of my son and the number of hours it took me to finally push him out. 

Breastfeeding went really well for me. I produced plenty and he nursed plenty. He grew like mad and no one could believe that little old me had a baby at the top of the height and weight chart at every pediatrician visit. The biggest change for me at this point was taking foods out of my diet that didn’t agree with my son. I learned I could live without dairy, although I craved it. I began to understand how my digestion and some other health issues seemed to be connected to consuming dairy. The other change was getting off the juice and drinking water instead. It took a few rounds of plugged ducts to get me paying attention to my fluid intake throughout the day. 

Toddlerhood kept me running. I was busy with horses, my son and starting my doula business. Meanwhile Joe still didn’t sleep through the night. I felt like I was a walking zombie. I finally took myself to an endocrinologist for testing. She explained to me that although I was not diabetic I had what she called a diabetic body type. I needed to get off sugars of all kinds and start eating protein with every meal. I jumped in with both feet and followed her advice religiously for a few years. I definitely felt better. I learned how a sugar rush felt and why I had nausea and shakiness sometimes from the drop off on the other side. Meanwhile I was no longer eating for two but I was constantly cooking for two. Food or thoughts about food are never far from a mother’s mind. I learned to take snacks with me ALL the time after Joe had a major melt down in a bank line. But was I feeding him wholesome organic food? No way. He adored corn dogs from Costco with Kraft Mac and Cheese. He ate Cheerios for breakfast and I felt virtuous because I added a banana and no sugar. After he went to a friend’s house and encountered Sugar Smacks was the first time he told me I was WAY TOO strict about eating. He had PBJ’s or bologna sandwiches for lunch. Hey, but it was on wheat bread. Darned if MY kid was eating those sugar butter sandwiches! Of course for special occasions I would make homemade cinnamon toast which essentially was an open faced toasted sugar butter sandwich with cinnamon but it was on WHOLE WHEAT bread. That should count for something right? 

Now life really began changing for our family and I blame it all on the company I was keeping. I began to meet moms who were eating and feeding their kids very differently than I. These women were La Leche League members, midwifery assistants and homeschoolers. I finally began to see food in a whole new light. I started thinking about what the heck was IN a corn dog and what made those sandwich crackers that brilliant orange? Well my family might say it was all downhill from there. I was the soccer mom who brought for everyone after the game homemade pumpkin muffins made with whole wheat flour and sweetened with applesauce along with a bottle of water as a snack. What no sugary drink box? No candy? No cup cake thick with frosting? What kind of mom ARE you? My son ate smoothies for lunch with whole fruit and tofu. We rarely ate at a fast food place. Veggies always have a place at my table, even if I have had to let my son dip them in ranch dressing to get them eaten. I am learning all the time about what constitutes good nutrition and incorporating it into our meals. 

Of course different people have different thoughts on nutrition. For me it involves good quality protein, pesticide free fresh fruits and veggies from our local farmer’s market or farm stands, organic dairy and eggs with no hormones or antibiotics. I am slowly converting my family to whole wheat pasta. They already have decided brown rice is ok. They will even eat quinoa and millet occasionally. Any meal I make has veggies or fruit as an important component. Salad happens several nights a week and is often the main course. My veggies are raw, steamed or sautéed. Plain fruit is often our dessert. 

But I am definitely not as crunchy and organic as some young moms these days. Today I sat on the grass in the park and listened to a mom talk about not only making her own bread but grinding her own wheat. It made me tired just to think of it! I’m sure her bread DOES taste better and IS more nutritious but I’m not ready to devote that much of my life to food preparation. 

Three years ago my son went off to college and the issue of food became an uncharted frontier for us; a land where I had no control. For the first 2 years I got to hear him complain about dorm food. It appalled me what they were serving. After all they had led me to believe they were a progressive northwestern liberal arts school. Didn’t they know anything about nutrition? Even worse my son was working for the college food service company and saw how they MADE the food. But more troubling for me was how often he was getting sick. I absolutely blame his diet. Last year he moved into an apartment and I put together a recipe book for him and packed up many of the basic ingredients; the spices and non-perishable items. I encouraged him to find out where the local health food store was located and if there was a farmer’s market. Then I sat back, crossed my fingers and tried hard not to think about it. Here is what I learned. He won’t starve. He can cook. He also won’t take the time and energy needed to buy fresh, organic and local. He still LOVES Mac and Cheese. Hearing he made himself a pot of Top Ramen with real veggies actually makes me happy. I don’t think he eats any fruit which makes me sad. He still gets sick way to often and I still blame his diet. I try not to nag. When he is home in the summer I have the urge to get as much nutritious food down him as possible but it is tricky. He makes his own breakfast and lunch. Although I have many healthy options for him to choose from he gravitates to carbs and will eat a lot of bagels, toast, and muffins. Sometimes he’ll eat all of them at 1 meal! But dinners are mine to create and I stuff as much goodness into them as possible. Tonight is nitrate free organic chicken and apple sausage with potatoes, carrots, broccoli, zucchini, green onions, corn and peppers sautéed together in a pan. Everything will be fresh and good and he will happily wolf it down. 

Teaching Nutrition: As a birth educator and doula I have been teaching women about nutrition for many years. Every time I learn something new I pass it on. Nutrition in pregnancy is critically important to the health of the mother, to the life-long health of the baby and to the health and safety of the pregnancy. Many common pregnancy related problems, and more serious complications can be resolved through appropriate nutrition. Issues such as gestational diabetes or high blood pressure can be turned around. Food is the true path to life-long wellness. Finding ways to get people to make such fundamental changes is the difficulty. I know that the first step is becoming aware of what you are doing. Then you have to have a strong reason to change. For many women they will make changes for their child’s sake that they wouldn’t make for themselves. Finally they need simple ways to make those changes over time. It is important to keep in mind very few people are ready to massively overhaul their diet all at once. Our diet is intertwined with our culture, our family and our life style. These have strong holds over people. So I encourage moms to change out white rice for brown, add in fruit with breakfast, or eat a high quality protein snack instead of reaching for a cup of coffee or a sweet. Building awareness and taking baby steps with each meal is the best way to make a change that will last. I know if I can make an impact on how a mother views food during her pregnancy I potentially can impact her whole family for life. 

Learn about my Healthy Beginnings/Healthy Choices class series here.

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