Getting back to the basics of food

I love real food. As my profile states; “I love food. Fresh, wholesome food that is pure and close to it’s natural form. Organic produce that was picked only days in advance from the far down the road, meat that was grass-fed, free range and raised with no antibiotics. Fresh squeezed juices, warm bowls of whole grains, raw nut butters and of course, the occasional dessert.”

This statement is entirely true of me, today- but I have not always been that way.

I have discussed this topic before, but here it all is, in a nutshell.

Growing up, my mom did her best to provide my sister and myself with good food, every day. One thing she did ensue in me was my love of fruit and vegetables. However, aside from the abundance of fresh produce, my diet as a child was based on many packaged foods. Frozen meals, Kraft macaroni and cheese, Lipton Sides and food prepared by my personal Chef, Boyardee. My mom and dad both worked full time, neither having much time to cook us home made meals every night. On top of that, I was used to eating packaged meals, and fresh foods did not have the high sodium/high fat/refined appeal. Now, I find it silly to call something like (non organic, fake cheese) pasta form a box “appealing,” but as a child, it was much more appealing than tofu and bean soup. So my sister and I, accustomed to consuming these “fake” foods, requested them, and my mother obliged. I don’t blame my mother for my bad eating habits (although I know she sometimes blames herself), I love her to death and she did her best to feed my sister and I well. However, I did not have the healthiest upbringing.

When I was a junior in high school, I became a vegetarian. It was part for the animals, part for health, and in turn, I ended up losing much of the weight I had gained from years of unhealthy eating. Becoming a vegetarian opened my eyes to a world of new foods. Tofu, tempeh, seitan, a variety of beans, other soy products and vegetables. However, I was not at my ideal diet when I was a vegetarian. I still relied very often on processed foods- veggie burgers, soy meat, canned soups, frozen dinners. Although healthier than the fare I grew up eating, I still felt frequently sluggish, and not at my optimal state at all.

Dealing with my disordered eating as the years went on, being a vegetarian made it possible for me to use the processed foods to track the exact amount of calories I was eating, down to the 5 calories I consumed chewing gum after lunch. I became obsessive, focusing on the numbers on the label, not the nutrition in the food. I loved nutrition, I read book after book on healthy eating… but none of it stuck. It was all about carbohydrates, fat, protein- and how much I needed to work out to burn it off. I discussed more of my struggles with disordered eating in a recent post.

Moving to Italy opened my eyes to a new way of eating. Nothing that I ate in Italy came from a package, aside from the yogurt and museli I ate for breakfast, or the occasional Taralli biscuit. The fruit I ate was freshly picked, the pasta hand made from nothing but flour, water and oil, and meat was not a staple of the Italians meals, as it is in the States. Vegetables, grains and dairy were in abundance in Italian meals, meats an antipasto or side dish. I started to realize how much I loved fresh, wholesome food. Bread baked in the morning and served as a panino with sweet, ripe tomatoes and mozzarella made from buffalos milked merely days before. I started eating fish, meat and dairy after a long time not eating them- yet I had no stomach problems, an abundance of energy, and I was incredibly happy.

Living on my own, I tried to instill the same principles of healthy eating as I had learned in Italy. It was better than before, but I easily fell back into the mode of being healthy as losing weight, or over exercising I gained a little weight with a new relationship and a new love of cooking, but I was still healthy. I thought I ate more naturally but with a students budget, I still spent much of my money on processed foods, and was not nearly in the healthiest state.

Living at Camp, all bets were off. I had practically no way of staying healthy. As much as I tried, I was miserable. And being miserable made me want to eat more- and more unhealthy foods at that. I thought food could be the cure for my unhappiness, but the weight gain that ensued only made me more unhappy.

Months later living in Toronto, I am finally feeling like I am reaching my happy medium. I have had my struggles finding a perfect way to eat- I am a perfectionist and often do not feel satisfied if I do not have the perfect diet. But I have come to realize eating ONLY raw, vegan foods is not the way to perfection. These foods are healthful and very important- but not the only way to optimal health. I recently discussed my Ideal Diet, which still reigns true. But over the past month or so since I posted it, I have realized that strictness with my diet is not a true sign of balance. Getting fuel from a variety of healthful sources is- whether it be cows dairy or goat dairy, cooked or raw vegetables, meat or vegetarian meals.

I want to focus on eating naturally, as an ideal more than an ideal diet.

Now the definition of “Natural foods” or “Real Foods” is a tricky one. As I said in this post , I am going to focus on the kind of foods I love and know make me feel good. Wholesome, healthy foods. Organic produce. Sprouted grain bread. Greek yogurt. Goat cheese. Lean chicken and fish. Oatmeal and oat bran. Almond butter. Beans and Legumes. Sweet potatoes. Olive oil. Lots and lots of greens. Foods that are natural, clean, close to the earth and are dense with nutrients. I believe that entirely, and I really like this definition by Heidi Swanson. However you put it, my definition of natural eating is eating food as close to the source as possible. Local, when you can, Organic, when I can afford it. Meat that is hormone and antibiotic free, and less of it at that. Fruits, vegetables, preservative-free, all natural dairy, whole grains, beans, nuts, healthy oils.

I still like my fair share of processed foods, I am not a purist.
However, I know that I feel- more energy, far less stomach problems, and look better- radiant skin, shiny hair, slimmer physique… when I eat mostly real, natural foods.

It’s not always possible, physically or financially to eat all local or organic produce, free range/grass fed meats and cage free eggs. But I do the best I can. And I believe that is all any of us can do.

As a continuation of this topic, over the next week or so I will focus on some of my favourite sources of natural foods.

So my questions to you are: How did you arrive at eating more real, natural foods, and what are your favourite sources?

Until next post, have a wonderful night.