Category Archives: Physical

A Healthy New World: Becoming a Vegetarian and a Whole Foods Eater

“You Are What You Eat” whoever said it was right (there is confusion as to who said it first but really it doesn’t matter, it is still true).

My question is why? Why wasn’t I enlightened earlier in my life? Well, there are many reasons why: the way I was raised, my lack of knowledge in the nutrition field, or maybe thinking that what I knew was sufficient since I wasn’t too much of a “fast food” or “junk food” eater, maybe the fact that I exercise regularly, or the fact that I didn’t really care to know until now because I was enjoying my favorite “bad” foods too much.

I remember raising my eyebrows (as to say “you’re weird”) when my brother announced many years ago that he became vegetarian. Who knows why I didn’t caught on earlier? The important thing is that now I know what I dind’t know before, I keep on learning more everyday and I am grateful for these treasures of knowledge which affect my life for the better.

I must say that watching the documentaries, “Forks Over Knives”, “Food Inc.”, “Food Matters”, “Fresh”, ” Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” plus listening to the book “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell REALLY opened my eyes to some nutritional facts unknown to me. I also read many testimonials of people who had changed their diet to a vegetarian or a vegan diet after they had been diagnosed with some kind of chronic disease, cancer, heart failure, etc. And their illenesses were reversed because of it. I learned how we can easily avoid many diseases, age more gracefully, be generally healthier, etc. by closely watching what enters our body. Yes some diseases are genetic and not much can be done about it but you’d be surprised (if you don’t already know) how much is in our power to do to avoid chronic diseases just by changing the way we eat.

In today’s mainstream Western food choice standard, I would say that I was above average healthy when it came to the kind of foods you would find in my kitchen. Fruits and vegetables have always been standard foods in my home. However, when it came to healthy grains, aside from whole grains bread (simply because I liked it better) everything else was white and refined (flour, pasta, rice, sugar, …). There was a bunch of grains full of great vitamins and nutrients that I had heard of but that you would have never found in my house until recently which have now become staples (i.e. quinoah, bulgur, sunflower seeds, pumkin seeds plus all sorts of other grains, nuts and beans).

Many people have asked me why I made this decision to become a vegetarian and a whole foods eater and not just for me but for our entire family as well (with the support of my husband who is gearing towards veganism). Some people find it quite “scarry” that I would keep my children from eating MEAT. You don’t eat NO MEAT?? (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) What about iron, protein and Vitamin B12? They ask: “Aren’t you afraid that your children aren’t going to grow properly?”

I am not going to enter into scientific details to show that iron and protein can easily be found in non-meat products such as spinach, baked beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, pumpkin seeds, etc. and vitamin B12 (which daily requirement is very small) can easily be found in whole grains fortified cereal, nutritional yeast, fortified soy milk, etc. You can do your own research and find out all these things.

Research has also shown that people from nations (or parts of the world within different nations) who tend to live the longest eat very little to no meat–that is as a group. I know there are centenarians who eat meat on a daily basis out there but they are not part of a “group” in a certain place (read article below).

What I would like to share with you is how becoming a vegetarian and a whole foods eater has changed the way I physically feel, the way I think about what enters my body, my eating and shopping habits for the better.

Major physical improvements

I started the experiment of being a vegetarian and a whole foods eater saying that I would do it for thirty days, see how I would feel and then make a decision to continue or not. The results were:

I felt good after every meal (I never felt overly full, bloated, tired in midday because of uneasy digestion, etc.)

Increased energy

Decreased mood swings/ depression feelings

No more (3 days) monthly migraines!!!

Better sleep at night

healthy steady weight loss

No guilt no matter what I ate

Being “regular” and feeling clean inside.

All of the above made me a happier person overall

These are just a few of the physical benefits I found but they were sufficient for me to decide to stick to this new lifestyle.

So how do I shop for food?

When I go grocery shopping now, I totally skip all meat sections including lunch meat (whatever “meat” that is). That alone is awesome, I don’t even have to think about what dead animal we are going to eat? I don’t solely think about what is reasonable in price, fast and easy to cook for our meals anymore. Instead I think: “What nutritional value and health benefits will this food bring to our family? It is amazing the changes that occur when you grocery shop that way–what gets in the basket and what stays out. It is also easier than it may sound: Just stick to a variety of fresh foods, whole grains and non-processed foods. It really narrows it down quite a bit. Rather than thinking what are we going to eat with the chicken, the beef, the salmon,… (the way I was raised), I think: “how can I make the spinach, the beans, the asperagus, the peppers, the lettuce, the corn, the brown rice, the quinoah, more interesting? What healthy ingredients can I add to make it healthy, tasty and diverse?”

Actively thinking about healthy eating automatically makes you walk away from processed, too fat and too sweet unhealthy foods. It is almost like two oposite forces resisting each other. Before I would buy real butter every week for eating, baking, etc. Now my butter has lasted a whole month because it is very seldom used. I still have left over “white” foods in my pantry so, whenever possible, I mix it up with the whole grain or whole food version and have slowly transitioned that way.

I did not want the change to be too drastic for the children so it has been a gradual transition (changing from white rice to brown rice, from white flour to whole grain, from white sugar to cane and Agave, etc.). However, meat and 95% of the processed food I used to buy were a “cold turkey” quit.

Don’t I crave the old food?

It is very easy to be vegetarian and still eat unhealthy (patato chips, lots of cheese, dairy, white and processed foods, etc.) that is why I added whole foods as well in the title.

There is an adjustment period but It won’t be long after you begin this healthy eating lifestyle that you will crave only fresh foods. Something happens inside your mind when you decide to consciensciously eat only what is good for the body (and not just for weight loss reasons–It has to be more than that). For one, you feel good because you know that what enters your body is good for you. You will crave fresh and healthy foods that makes your body healthy. You will see it and you will feel it. One way of staying strong in the new decision is to continually inform yourself about healthy eating and the nutritional benefits different foods have on your body.

Personally, I have not missed meat at all. I was not a big meat eater before so it is no problem for me. My children don’t ask to eat meat at home but occasionally when we are eating out they will ask to eat something with chicken (they don’t care for red meat) and it is okay!! I don’t forbid them to eat meat. I just don’t cook it at home anymore they will make their own decision when they grow up as what they do or do not want to eat.

Keeping only healthy snacks around also helps on not wanting to revert back to old “bad” foods habit.

Now once the habit is established, it is okay to occasionally have an “old” treat. I am Belgian (and I live in Switzerland) therefore I will not entirely deny an occasional piece of good cheese, some French fries or a piece of good creamy chocolate… It is all in high moderation though and most likely out of the house.

What’s happening in the kitchen?

My cooking is much more interesting and exciting, I discover new foods and new recipes every day. I love to see the dozens of colorful fruits and vegetables in our kitchen and on our plates at all times. I actively research power foods such as spirulina, Goji berries,… to add to our diet.

I love having to worry less about salmonella, no blood on the counters, not having to cook meat anymore, It’s great!

Have I lost any weight?

Yes I have lost about 15 lbs in two and a half months and kept it off (I am just a few pounds away from my target weight). Keep in mind that I am not doing this primarily for weight loss reasons but eating healthy does keep the pounds off once you’ve lost them. Eating right and exercising, as you well know, work hand in hand.

Some challenges with becoming a vegetarian and a whole foods eater

You may need to get acustomed to more grainy texture, to food in its real taste and form. Doing a sugar fast( for a week or two) and trying to add just the necessary amount of salt helps to re-adjust your taste buds to a more natural flavor.

Sometimes it does require more time to prepare the meals, lots of chopping veggies, longer cooking time (beans, brown rice,…) but not all vegetarian dishes require long preparation time.

Planning meals in advance is important at the beginning because it is a new way of eating and cooking.

Not all creations are good but that is no different from non-vegetarian cooking

We all take vitamins supplement regularly to ensure that we get enough of all the necessary vitamins in our system (that is no different than prior to becoming a vegetarian family). These vitamins do not replace the vitamins found in the fresh foods we eat.

Conclusion

I am very excited about the “healthy new world” our family has chosen to live in. There is no going back to the old ways of eating. I can’t tell you how much better I feel since I made these changes and my husband would testify in the same way. My children are young and somewhat oblivious, they’ll just eat what is in front of them so I am glad we are showing them a great way to eat.

I feel like we are truly living a higher law. For Mormons it would simply be called living “The Word of Wisdom“.

Eating healthy not only nourishes your body, it nourishes your soul. If you feel good about what you eat, you will feel good about yourself and that is why “You Are What You Eat.”

Additional info:

Coming up next, a follow up article on: “Vegetarian Meals my Kids Like”

The China Study, T. Colin Campbell

The towns where people live the longest

Forks Over Knives

Food Matters

Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead

Food Inc.

Finding Ultra, Rich Roll

Skinny Bitch, Rory Freedman, Kim Barnouin

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Fitness Motivation

Since I don’t have any current and personal inspirational  fitness stories to tell (because I have been partially hybernating during the winter months…), I asked my sister-in-law if I could share a recent email she sent to the family which totally motivated me to get back on track again. The original challenge to loose weight had been launched by my brother-in-law three months prior to  my sister- in-law’s email.

I am planning on running another half marathon in  September but September seems so far away, so I have not started training yet… I think I am waiting for the sun to shine more consistantly but that may take a while–given the fact that  it snowed today! After we replaced the winter tires with the Summer ones, after I have put all the kids snowsuits and our winter coats away… Maybe I deeply believed that by putting all the winter gears away winter would go away?!?

Anyways, back to my sister in law’s email, here it is:

“You may remember this email Jon sent out in December. His sentiments rang true for me, although instead of approaching 30, I was approaching 35 and nearly 40lbs overweight. I suppose Jon’s email gave me the wake-up call I had been needing and shook me into reality. Not only had my poor health choices been effecting me, but I had 5 kids looking at me for guidance as to the type of lifestyle our family would live.

Since January I have been working out 4-5 days per week. I have been doing biking, walking, cross fit, aerobics, weights, situps (like a million), and pushups. My diet has changed from what I called “comfort foods” to healthier choices. Some of the changes are listed below:

– I have completely cut out carbonation

– I no longer eat dairy products (they started causing stomach upset)

– Refined sugars and starches are rarely consumed

– I get my fiber from veggies, fruits, and complex carbs

– I juice often to increase my veggie intake

– For meat I consume fish or chicken with an occassional piece of red meat

– Vegetarian meals are frequent

After nearly 3 months I am pleased to report that I have lost 26 lbs, my endurance has increased, and I no longer feel like I am on the verge of a heart attack when I go upstairs. I am still 15 lbs from my target weight, but I am getting back into clothes that had been tucked into the dark corners of my closet and I generally feel better about my health and appearance.

Any way, if I can make these changes while going to law school, volunteering at the childrens’ schools, job searching, creating a Cinderella set, adjusting to preteen parenting,multiple dr. appt. each week for various medical issues with the children, taking care of a household of 7 and simply being a parent to 5 kids, then you can make the changes too.

I guess I soap boxed it for a minute, but the positive results have really helped me feel better about myself and I want each of you to feel that as well.

Live long and prosper,”

Because this email inspired me to “shape up” I thought it would be good to share.

Mothers and Depression: Facing the Facts

“Mothers are at a high risk of becoming depressed. Why? Because they’re often overworked and overextended. Sometimes they feel trapped because they don’t have the support of an involved partner.”

Kenneth N. Condrell, Ph.D. Child Psychologist

I am bringing the subject of depression because I know very few people, including many mothers, who haven’t dealt at some point or another with depression (including myself). And it’s okay to talk about it, it is actually good to talk about it, it is the first step to healing. Choose awareness instead of denial which gets you nowhere or to a bad place.

I know that the triggers of depression vary from one person to another. We all have a variety of family situations. From stable two parent homes to single struggling parent homes. The stresses in the later maybe greater but it does not mean that a mother in a stable two parent home is immune to depression.

I know that for me (identify yours) the top 6 most common triggers of depression are:

1. Extreme accumulated fatigue

2. Poor diet/No exercise

3. Being overwhelmed with the endless “to do” list

4. Looking around my house and feeling like I will never get on top of things

5. Feeling little support from my spouse (only occasional in my case)

6. Feeling like I can’t reach my goals because everything and everyone gets in the way/ Feeling like I am not accomplishing anything significant.

You may be struggling because you have special need children under your care, you support extended family members, you have constant crisis in your home, you or your partner lost a job, you have an abusive spouse, you deal with addictions in your home and the list goes on. You need to identify what triggers your depression in order to tackle the problem.

So what do we do about it?

First of all if you feel like a failure and you wish your life could end now. Please open your phone book or, since you have a computer, research a depression therapist near you and don’t delay to get help. If you go to church, please talk to one of your trusted ecclesiastic leaders. Also read the articles I have attached below. I personally know people who have died from depression–it is not something to take lightly.

If you are like me, your depression comes and goes, you are still able to wake up in the morning and function well the majority of the time–sometimes pushing through it—No one can really tell you are struggling with it, then here are my obvious but not so obvious remedies:

1. Fatigue issues:

Make sleeping at a decent hour a priority (I struggle with that one but I am aware). If you can, take a short nap or meditate (empty your mind) during the day. I have three kids (5, 4, and 18 months). The two oldest only have half day school every day and my baby hangs out with me all day. After school and lunch, my kids have a mandatory quiet time, my baby takes a couple hour nap, my oldest watch one movie and/or color, do puzzles, etc. That is for two hours. I clean up lunch then I rest for about 45 minutes. I may not always deep sleep (I can’t do that if my children are awake) but I allow my body to rest. Normal activity resume once youngest is awake from his nap. When I used to work outside of the home, I would cut my one hour lunch time in two and take half an hour to rest or meditate. When I did I wasn’t dragging so much the rest of the day. It’s a great way to re-focus your mind when you have too much going on.

Exercising is a big one for me too. It boosts my energy. When I don’t exercise, fatigue hits me even harder. Figure out what works out for you even if it is just a couple of times a week, it’s a good start. Don’t take it lightly, it’s your health we’re talking about. If that is gone everything else is too.

2. Poor diet:

I eat pretty healthy foods generally and that helps. My biggest problem is that I don’t drink enough water during the day. Simply because I forget, I am too busy and I forget to drink water.  If you know your diet has too much fat, sugar, and carbs and not enough fruits, vegetables and fibers, you know what to do… Just have the good stuff out on your kitchen counter and you’ll be more likely to munch on that. Don’t finish up your kids plates! Keep it for THEM for their later snack.

3. Being overwhelmed with the endless “to do” list:

Well, I now have a post-it note on my bathroom mirror that says:

“What are my top 5’s today? Just Do It! No Excuses!

When I think about just 5 things to do instead of 20 for that day, I could do, it makes me smile and I don’t stress about it. If I manage to do more than the 5 on the list great, if not oh well!

4. Looking around my house and feeling like I will never get on top of things:

Well, after three kids (and I’ll say even after the first), one should just relax and accept that parenting is the “messy season” of life.  Do what you can and worry about the rest when you can. Aaaah, it feels good just saying that. Now this comes from someone who used to vacuum and mop every day, could not go to bed (no matter how late at night) with a house unclean and disorganized (it stopped shortly after child #2), for the sake of keeping my sanity, I stopped being so OC about it. I still have my weekly crisis but at least it’s not every day…

5. Feeling little support from my spouse (only occasional in my case):

If you have a spouse, you need to find your happy middle. The situation is different in every household but one shouldn’t feel like he/she is carrying the family load all alone. If you are a single parent, build good relationships, get to know people around you, especially nearby and ask for help (i.e: Can my kid have a playdate with yours for a couple of hours so I can get some things done around my house?). I love to help my single parent friends whenever I can (and I know most mothers out there don’t mind helping when asked). I will ask help in return because to me that is what friendship is all about–we have fun together, we help each other in times of need and it goes both ways.

6. Feeling like I can’t reach my goals because everything and everyone gets in the way/ Feeling like I am not accomplishing anything significant:

That is one of my biggest struggles because I have a “driven, want to save the world now, must be doing something useful and significant every second of the day” mentality. And yes, when you become a parent, some days you are going to look back on the day and see that all you have done is change dirty diapers every time you needed to leave the house, you were late everywhere or didn’t show up, you cleaned up puke, cleaned up mess, you’ve been a kindergartner (or older kids) referee and you’ve just been pulled and stretched to the maximum and your house is still a mess at the end of the day. Then you try to remember: “What exactly have I done today?” And looking around the house it looks like… Nothing!

First of all, just laugh at it, yep that’s right you can imagine that you had been on a reality show all day and you’ll find that it was a pretty funny one. So detach yourself from the situation and laugh. Then remember this:

“Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling. You do not collect children because you find them cuter than stamps. It is not something to do if you can squeeze the time in. It is what God gave you time for.”  (quoted in: “Children” by Niel L. Andersen)

That puts things in perspective. If all I do is take care of my children all day, it is okay and I didn’t “waste” the day and yes that includes all the “unpleasant” things that go along with having children. Sometimes I just need to be reminded of that simple truth.

Surround yourself with people with positive energy.

And last but not least tip to fight against depression – married people out there: Increase intimacy with your partner! It works.

by Julienna Viegas-Haws

Related articles and other resources

Mothers’ Depression Can Go Well Beyond Children’s Infancy

Mothers and Depression

Deborah Dushku Gardner

Leilani from new Zealand

Sad Moms, Short kids

Working Moms Multitask, And Stress, More Than Dads

Combating Depression With Meditation, Diet

Fear Of Antidepressants Leads People To Shun Treatment

Stanford’s Sapolsky On Depression in U.S. (Full Lecture)