How Whole Foods Living Changed Our Lives
I was just 30 years old and it was a week before Christmas. Nothing like the scene in this hospital room was ever supposed to happen – and yet it was. The heavy mood in the room was palpable. From where I lay on the hospital bed, weak with sickness and shock, I could see my dad across the room, facing the group of doctors that had come into explain how I had “some type of cancer.” (A future lens will tell that whole story).
My dad’s coping mechanism was to try and understand every last term the doctors threw around. My mom was sitting on the chair beside my bed, her cane in hand. She was leaning forward, using her cane like a pole to steady herself as she absorbed the horror of all that was transpiring. I could see her solemn as the doctors did their best to explain what they could not answer in that moment.
My sister was still by my side, holding my hand, tears and disbelief in her eyes. None of it seemed real – but it was very real and I was at the center of it all.
Since I am sitting here- creating this lens, you know that I made it through the nightmare I describe. 🙂 I was spared -mercifully; but in 2004 none of us knew I would live to see 2005. My doctors would tell me later that they didn’t think I would. Quite honestly, I shouldn’t have. It was almost too late for me.
When I think of the changes my mom has made, the way she has turned her life upside down and how it has given her a quality of life she would not have had, I am in awe. It’s that story I wish to share with you in this lens and hope that it inspires you to write your own story…
Obesity was a real issue for my mom and her siblings. Two of my aunts on her side died of cancer, one breast and the other liver – or that’s what their best guess was. I don’t believe anyone was quite sure where her sister Jenny’s cancer started. It was what ended her stay on this planet though. We are Italian and an excess of food is – well, cultural.
My mom struggled with her weight for most of her life. She had many other health issues too: back problems, kidney problems, phlebitis, vericose veins, tendonitis. I can’t list everything here. That’s how many problems there were! In fact in 2004, she had just been told to expect being confined to a wheelchair within a year or 2. How she ever hobbled around those long hospital corridors that week and the weeks ahead was more than I could tell. In short, my mom had always been ill and overweight and it really made life difficult.
Before the Changes
Most adults have a memory or two physical activities they did with their mom when they were growing up. Maybe you learned to ride a bike or took long walks in the neighborhood. Perhaps you have fond memories of goofing off in the backyard or in the park with your mom. While I have some wonderful memories of times spent with both my parents, my mom was very limited in how she could move. Walking 10 minutes in the grocery store was a painful chore for her. There were no long walks on the beach, no time in the pool, those types of things just were not possible for her large but weak frame.
At home, she could barely climb the stairs and to cook and prep food she had to be seated at the table. She raised five of us and I was second to the last in line. She was tired, she was heavy and even in her 40s and 50s she didn’t have much for a quality of life in terms of health.
On family vacations, she’d watch from a distance, never knowing what it was like to walk on the lake shore and feel the sand between her toes. When I think about it now, I marvel at her great attitude. I’m not sure I would have been such a good sport.
I’m quite sure that sitting on the sidelines was never her dream when she imagined her own future as a wife and mother. It must have been painful. I didn’t really think about that then…
Still, she cheered us on and cheerleading has always been in her nature. She’s always been my biggest fan and still is. 🙂
A Woman of Faith
Partner in Ministry
There’s something else you should know about my mom. She is a woman of strong faith. One of her loves is partnering with my dad in his radio program, Selah. So while she was in poor physical health, she still reached out to hundreds of people that listened to the radio broadcast my dad has. Every night she would listen with empathy and compassion as someone in the audience called with their tale of woe and asked for prayer. Many of these people were disabled, sickly, elderly – and all were spiritually hungering for the message of love and grace my parents so willingly shared. So while she was hurting and frustrated about her physical health, she lived a full and busy life- throwing herself into action on behalf of others.
The photo above was taken many years ago. Notice how different she looks compared to the one in the introduction. See how much healthier she looks! My dad, he’s as handsome as he has always been. He’s been through so much and worked very hard holding us all together in crisis. There have been many and he is has been a bulwark of strength in the worst of times. They make a great team 😉 They just celebrated 52 years of marriage in October. That’s quite a milestone!
After having given you a sense of what life was like for my mom, you’re probably about ready to start hearing how and when things turned around. Well, the crisis we all went through when I was diagnosed put us all into a tailspin, to put it mildly. As I was finishing up treatment, I began to experiment with something.
All my life I poked fun and laughed at “crunchy” people. I thought natural food stores were weird and smelled funny. 🙂 I would see the headlines everyday, about the “latest this or that, that may cause cancer” and think well, is there anything that doesn’t? Do I just quit enjoying life because I “may” get cancer?
Well, after having had it and been treated for it, I felt it was time to open my mind a bit and see if there was anything to this natural living thing. Honestly, I don’t remember exactly where or how it began. I believe I was just finishing up radiation therapy when I decided to drive over to the local Whole Foods Market and explore…
So my first expedition to Whole Foods went a little something like this. First, I browsed the huge produce section. I was amazed by how many species of fruits and vegetables they had. I had never heard of half of them! I knew the basics… broccoli, lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, potato. But what on God’s green earth is daikon or celery root – and how many types of lettuce can there be? I was just blown away at the variety and color! Greens seemed greener and produce in general seemed more colorful!
I had no itinerary. I just wandered around, debating on whether I should try anything in this weird store. Finally I decided to pick up some salad ingredients. I started with a leafy lettuce I hadn’t heard of, picked up some carrots and a few fresh herbs like parsley and cilantro. Nothing too scary or unfamiliar.Speaking of carrots, how do you like this guy? LOL I had purchased carrots at a local farm and I left that one aside, not quite sure how to use such an odd shaped thing. My sister, a brilliant artist and the best sister ever, saw it and had some fun giving it a face. I’ve held onto the photo all these years wanting to use it somehow. Today he makes his debut 🙂
I returned from Whole Foods Market with a few simple snacks, salad ingredients and a small package of “organic” chicken. I told my mom that for the next month I wanted to try something. I wanted to eat only organic foods and see if it made any difference at all in my health, my recovery from treatment. Anything. I am part cynic and skeptic and I had to see this for myself. She seemed a little surprised, but after not being able to hold food off and on for 6 months, (chemo is good like that), she was just happy to see me eating anything!
I made a small salad using only the produce I had bought and I cooked up some chicken. The first thing I noticed was the carrots. They seemed to have so much more flavor and sweetness to them than the regular ones my mom had in her salad. Still, I kept my observation to myself. I thoroughly enjoyed my first organic salad that evening.
Eating Healthy on a Budget
This is a great video I found where a young woman offers some great tips about how to shop for healthy foods even when on a tight budget. I wish I had found this years ago. I shudder when I think of how I used to shop and the money I spent in my feverish quest to eat only organic foods. I didn’t have much money then and I have even less now so I can’t always get organic as much as I’d like to. In the video it tells you which foods are most important to buy organic. I’ve also discovered a fruit/veggie wash solution that I use when I just can’t get close to organic. I know what it is to have a tight budget and nothing at all. That’s where I am right now!
What Impressed Me Was What Was Missing
Learning to Read Ingredients
Wait, what is all that other stuff? Those 3 foot long words that you see on most other packaging. The ones you need a Philadelphia lawyer to explain what purposes those other ingredients serve? Why has this never occurred to me before? Was I about to become one of “those people” that incessantly starts reading labels before buying things? LOL Yes! But you couldn’t have told me that then. It would have freaked me out!
After 30 Days
So after my experiment, I could not deny a few things:
1) Eating organic foods was a much more pleasurable experience as they had so much more flavor and texture
2) I snacked less and even my snacks were 100% natural and I didn’t need to keep eating and eating them to feel satisfied
3) My body seemed to crave more FRESH foods and I didn’t want to reach for anything else, so while organic cost more, I wasn’t spending money on other things like eating out or snacking on junk.
4) For the first time ever, eating salad was a joy!
5) My energy was returning, my hair was coming back in
6) Compared to my family who wasn’t eating exclusively organic I needed less to feel satiety.
Time of Change
Gradually, my mom decided to start making changes. First she switched to organic milk, then eggs, then chicken. Margarine got tossed for good. She started paying more attention too, to what she was cooking with and everything teflon got the heave! She also started paying more attention to labels, what they said food was made with- and what it wasn’t! I stayed quiet as she discovered for herself how different whole foods living could be!
Please note that when I say whole foods I’m not referring to the store exclusively. It is a way of life. You can have a whole foods diet style and never go to Whole Foods Market. Most often, I am everywhere else that money will go further. But I do go out of the way for some things like organic eggs, grass fed beef and free range poultry. I cannot buy anything else. I know how differently my body reacts to it! It is so worth it to me to spend those few extra bucks to get what was raised on a farm the way God intended it, versus industrialized!
Farmers Markets Rule!
I love Summer time for all the farmers markets there are around! Here’s a video that provides some tips on how to shop at your local farmers market! You can save a lot of money by shopping there, and best of all, you’re supporting your local farmers!