Unexpected Benefits Of A Whole Foods Diet

Last week, I read a blog post entitled "The Skinny On Being Overweight" found on Word of Wisdom Living (excellent blog, by the way!). I've had this particular topic in the back of my mind for awhile and have struggled to find the right words to adequately express my feelings on the subject. When I read that post it really resonated with me and I decided to tackle the idea that has been looming in the back of my mind for quite some time.

Six years ago, I was struggling. Really struggling (though I didn't recognize it at the time). I was living in Paris studying abroad and unofficially engaged...I should have been beaming with happiness, right? I wasn't. I was depressed, could hardly get out of bed in the morning, and weighed more than I ever had. I look back on those days with such regret. I didn't really look at myself as being overweight. In fact, when I came home from France and saw my soon-to-be husband, I was a little embarrassed that I'd put ten pounds on while abroad, but it was only ten pounds! Denial is great :) I was actually close to 40 pounds away from my body's ideal weight, which I have achieved through simply eating a diet of whole foods and staying as active as I can.

Here's a little before and after to show you that I really was overweight for my frame. On the left, I am getting ready to leave Paris and on the right, I am celebrating my second daughter's first birthday in December 2010. Honestly it's a little embarrassing to look at the before shot...I didn't realize how heavy I was at the time!

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What I want to say in this post is not "Look at me! Look how great I am!" - I want to say..."Look! Change is possible! You do not have to be tied down by your body any longer...you can change too!" And really, change is not that hard. It is so, so possible and with knowledge comes power. The more you learn about food and how it affects your body, the easier change will be.

My change...transformation, if you will...took place over time. Six years actually. When my husband and I were married almost six years ago, we were striving to be healthy according to the knowledge that we had. He was being educated in fitness and wellness and spent a lot of time learning about nutrition and how to have a healthy body to fight off disease. Health and wellness was something we both loved. Little by little, we made changes and we found ourselves where we are today: both at our ideal weight and not any heavier than the day we got married, even after having started our family (which is a challenge for many women...and husbands, for that matter). 

Our quest for knowledge on the subject of nutrition took a gigantic turn for the better about a year and a half ago as we began to search for answers on how to keep our family healthy (we were struggling with seizures of an unknown cause in our little boy and preparing for the natural birth of our little girl). I can honestly say that my children have been the catalyst of every change I have made in my life. I have truly made every change for them and have surprisingly found that I have reached my ideal weight with very little thought about it. It has not been without effort, however. It has taken dedication and desire, but it was not necessarily on purpose.

What did we do? We began eating only whole foods. We threw out the packaged, processed food laden with things like high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and hard-to-pronounce chemicals and replaced them with whole grains, natural sweeteners, lots of vegetables and fruit, and small amounts of organic meat. We got rid of anything refined...mainly refined sugar and refined grains like white flour. We started to branch out and try new meals with things we'd never heard of that have now become staples in our pantry because we love them so much. Our taste buds delighted and our waistlines rejoiced.

The reason the post mentioned above got me thinking is because this is what I tell everyone I talk to who is struggling with their weight: look at your sugar intake. SUGAR! Who knew? It is sugar, people. Not fat! We live in a country that is scared to death of fat and where has that gotten us? Nobody drinks whole milk or uses cream...we've all got our lowfat yogurt and cheese...and yet, where are we? Struggling with an obesity epidemic. What do we have though? Lots and lots of sugar. Sugar is in everything. From our high fructose laden sodas, drinks, condiments, and bread to our never-ending love for sweets and treats...we've got sugar everywhere. We readily replace the fat in our baking recipes with applesauce yet ignorantly pour in two cups of sugar, without so much as a thought about it! It is hard to avoid if it's something you've never taken notice of.

The thing that really made me look at sugar was going on a no-sugar challenge a year ago. I was struggling with sugar. I was addicted to it (still am...I have to be very careful with my sugar intake because when I start eating it, I can't stop). I decided to give up fruit juice as well. My husband had been telling me for years that I shouldn't drink so much juice but I rationalized "Well it's fruit! It's not bad for you!" What I didn't realize was that when you eat an apple, you're getting just a small amount of sugar but you've got the fiber to go along with it. When you're drinking juice, you're drinking a huge amount of that fruit sugar and the fiber has been stripped away. The first week without sugar, I effortlessly dropped about six pounds. I was amazed. By the end of the month, I think I was down about 10 pounds total. How's that for weight loss? I wasn't on some crazy fad diet. I wasn't starving myself. I was limiting my sugar. Prior to going off of sugar, it had been giving me headaches, so I knew I needed to avoid it. When I began to eat sugar again, it continued to give me headaches! Since that time, I have not used any refined sugar in my house and have largely stayed away from it, except for on occasion (But you know what? When I have eaten it in public, I have not felt guilty! I used to feel so guilty about eating a piece of cake or brownie at an event because I had probably already eaten a bag of peanut butter M&Ms that day, but now, since I hardly eat it, I can eat it guilt free! How's that for freedom?).

So you're thinking..."Yeah, great...she deprives herself!" Well, that's not true, at all actually. We still eat sweets, we just find that we need them less sweet than before. And of course, if we are in social situations, we eat what is served to us in moderation. Food tastes better now. I feel like I have gained taste buds back. I actually enjoy grapefruit without sugar added! When I am craving a sweet, I bake with only natural sweeteners that are better because they contain valuable minerals (although, they are still sugar and should be used in moderation). 

Here's the thing. I feel that I have actually been liberated. Some may think that I limit myself in terms of diet or food, but I feel free. I am free from the aches, pain, fatigue, and dark emotions that plagued me from the time I was a teen until the time I switched to a diet of whole foods. I actually love my body and feel comfortable in it (yes I have days where I struggle with it but in general, I am happy with my physical self). I am no longer self-conscious about my stomach in public...the place where I carry my extra weight. All of these things are not things that I was looking to free myself from. In fact, I didn't even realize that I needed to be liberated. But now that I have been, I am so grateful and I want to share it with others. Change is possible! Food affects us more than we even comprehend...it makes us happy or sad, it prevents or promotes disease, it helps us live our life to its fullest or it inhibits us. I want to eat food that is going to allow me to live a life full of vitality so I can be a mom with health and strength and energy to keep up with the tasks I face daily.

So here are some easy tips, based on my own personal experience with weight loss. Of course, every person and body is different. But I truly believe that these are easy changes to make that will inevitably help anyone who is feeling tied down by their physical body.

1. Look at your sugar intake. Read all of your labels. Begin reducing that intake and watch the pounds melt away. I promise you. 
*Do not replace the sugar with artificial sweeteners like Splenda or Aspartame...they are very harmful neurotoxins and should absolutely be avoided. Stevia is a wonderful natural sweetener that has no calories, if you are worried about that. I like the Sweet Leaf brand.
*Keep the sweets out of your house. That is probably my biggest tip. If you have the urge to bake, eat one and give the rest away! If I make cookies...even though they're whole grain and made with natural sweeteners...I WILL eat the whole batch. So, I just don't make them (because I don't enjoy baking all that much). On the occasion I do bake a treat, I freeze or hide half or give them away. If I bring candy into my house, I WILL eat it. So I don't bring it into my house. I don't have to exercise my non-existent self-control because I haven't placed the temptation in front of me! :)
2. Examine your relationship with food. How do you feel about food? Do you fear it? Work on viewing food as something that will help you attain energy and vigor. Look at those fruits and vegetables and envision all of the nutrients creating strength in your body.
3. Educate yourself. Learn what real, whole foods are and begin incorporating them into your diet. The more you learn and the more you search, the more you'll be strengthened to continue making changes. There are countless real food blogs full of information as well as books and documentaries on the subject. See my Links tab for some recommendations.

To learn more about how sugar actually works in our body (and how it truly can be like poison to us), I recommend watching a lecture by an Endocrinologist, Dr. Lustig. It completely changed mine and my husband's view on sugar and since we learned more about how it affects our body, we have done even more to limit it (for example, we no longer buy fruit juice - it is only brought into our house as a special treat as opposed to a daily staple). The video is called "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" and is absolutely incredible. Well worth the hour and a half it takes to view.

Of course, to some this may seem like an oversimplification of weight loss but I truly do not view it to be so. If you're skeptical, try cutting out refined sugar for two weeks and see how it affects you. You may notice that you feel really sluggish and horrible for a few days, but that is good...it means your body is getting rid of all of the yucky stuff. Soon you'll notice that you feel better than you've felt in a long time! Just ask my girls who are doing this month's No Sugar Challenge...many say that they are feeling fantastic and full of energy. 

What benefits have you seen from adopting a diet of whole, real foods?