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Thursday, 19 June 2014

From dinner bases and boxed desserts: a journey to 'real food'

I think we're all on our own path when it comes to what we eat and our relationship with food; either consciously or unconsciously we choose certain foods to fuel our bodies and at times, indulge our emotions. These days, I strive to eat 'real' food - that is, food our great-grandparents would recognise as food, like organic whole fruit and vegetables, dairy, eggs and meat from pasture-raised animals, fish and grains. Food in it's most natural state. But it certainly wasn't always this way. 

When I was nineteen, I was a classic example of what they call ‘skinny fat’. I was working at a snow resort and fuelled that lifestyle of work hard, play hard with a steady diet of chicken nuggets, pepsi, pizza, curried sausages, and Sara-lee chocolate self-saucing pudding. Pretty much your standard 'edible, food-like substances' that fill supermarket shelves. I looked healthy, and felt okay, so I didn’t think much of it.

I also didn’t think much about where my food came from, except for buying free range eggs and chicken at the supermarket.

My mum would often lament where she went wrong, having raised us with home-cooked everything and no chips, lollies or soft drink to speak of. Our first cinema experience was going to see Milo and Otis and while every other kid was polishing off a choc top, we happily munched away on dates and celery sticks. I bet she was pretty chuffed at the time!

Fast forward to 2009, when, after coming off the contraceptive pill due to terrible migraines, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Although very common, many women need to take medication to be able to fall pregnant. With an aversion to taking more synthetic hormones, and time on my side, I investigated how to manage the condition through diet and Traditional Chinese Medicine. I discovered that eating foods with a low glycemic index (GI) would keep my insulin levels more constant and thus, my hormones more in balance. 

At the same time, I began to think more about where my food came from; the treatment of animals, food miles, chemicals and packaging.  

In 2011, my acupuncturist gave me an ebook by Cyndi O’Meara – I liked her approach & so I bought her book ‘Changing habits, changing lives’. This was a game-changer and kinda blew my mind. I read it while on an incredibly blissful yoga retreat in Thailand with my mum. We ate the cleanest, most delicious food I’d ever experienced and emptied our busied Western minds through seven days of challenging yoga practice and meditation - it was the perfect scenario to commit to real change. While there I stumbled on the book ‘Real food’ by Nina Planck. By the time the week was out, I was feeling better than I’d ever felt before, and had a new resolve to eat mindfully and nourish myself, particularly in preparation for trying for a baby. I fell pregnant straight away, but sadly miscarried at 12 weeks

Despite feeling like my body had betrayed me, my resolve to nourish myself grew even stronger. I scoured the internet for like-minded folk and found The Mindful Foodie and Econest and felt buoyed by their passion for conscious eating. At the same time I stumbled upon a local organic greengrocer and felt like I’d really found a community. They hosted monthly talks on different topics and we attended one with Steven Acuff on eating for longevity. With 30 years’ experience treating cancer patients through diet (alongside traditional medicine) he advocated whole foods, with a preference for macrobiotics and eating for your blood type. This was a little at odds with the Weston A. Price approach i'd been following, but we took it all on board.  

We watched Food Inc and Food Matters and learned about the politics of the food industry.
I devoured Michael Pollan’s books and we were fortunate to see him speak in Melbourne.

His mantra was simple: "EAT FOOD. NOT TOO MUCH. MOSTLY PLANTS.".

I became a more conscious consumer, shunning convenience for slow food, mindless purchasing of ‘stuff’ with more thoughtful consideration of needs and wants and the product lifecycle. I read and I watched things not just about food, but sustainability – I mention these here because it’s all connected. Once I became aware about one thing, it snowballed into another. 

I don't think there is any 'right way'. The choices i've made are part of my journey to understanding what values are important to me, so that I can move closer to living in alignment with them. And of course I fall off the wagon, but when I do it's usually because something else is out of balance (or I really just want that lemon tart or extra serving of ice cream!).
Now, as a mother i'm even more passionate about what we eat, where it comes from and the habits we create around food in our family. 

If your food habits have changed, what was the catalyst? If you're yet to make a change but want to, what is the biggest hurdle you need to overcome?

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