It has been a few months of high-intensity life changes, followed by some serious over-work focusing on building and restructuring some of the programs in my arts organization, Hidden River Arts. This also included launching an expanded new awards program, and building out our blog to keep up with all the new activities.
I had been looking forward to an exciting adventure – a trip to Italy with my daughter, where we would visit Florence, Orvieto and Rome, as a time to seriously relax and restore my energy. Boy was I ever wrong (more on that in a forthcoming blog.) While it was a wonderful trip in many ways, one thing it was NOT was restorative. The travel, the intense schedule of sites and activities we wanted to include in our days — it was exhausting.
So, once I got home, I was dealing with even greater exhaustion, and then bronchitis. So I’ve spent the last week and a half in what I call a Spa Staycation — staying close to home, catching up on reading, exercise, a little self-care. A lot of self-care.
One of the things I’ve been doing is reading and watching documentaries about food. For year, I have had my university my students watch Food, Inc. I have been gratified by their response and about just how many of these teenagers started to make some serious changes in their diets. I began watching other films in order to supplement what we were doing in class, and have found a few that are really helpful. “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” is about how the average diet is killing us. The answer here is a plant-based diet, and juice fasting — and the results were remarkable. I also watched Forks over Knives, which again supported the plant-based diet over the animal protein and dairy product diet so many Americans eat. Since there were a lot of medical statistics provided in this film, it helped to make it clear just how seriously ill we are as a nation, and how directly linked our diabetes epidemic, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and other disorders are to the highly processed foods, the chemicals, hormones and antibiotics that are in the meat, poultry and dairy we eat.
Finally, I watched Engine 2, which offers some very helpful advice on just how to shift away from our habitual eating into the plant-based diets that are clearly so much more healthy.
My past attempts at eating a vegetarian diet, or an even more dramatic vegan diet, have met with failure. I may try again. But for now, what I’m doing is a kind of Middle Way diet that is largely plant-based, with a few days each week including animal protein. The additional challenges are cutting way down on sugars and salts. I’m not a big junk food fan, but I do have a dangerous sweet tooth. So, while I can go months without Doritos, I barely go a day without craving dessert.
Then, there are the stores we frequent. Today, I went to a drug store around the corner from my home, to pick up a few things. While I was there, I walked through their “food” aisle. LOTS of nuts — almost all of which were heavily doused with salt. Many of which were also slathered with sugar or honey, or “honey-cinnamon”. I found ONE bag of plain almonds, where the ingredients just read “almonds”. One. On the other side of the aisle, there were canned foods – most of which were laden with salt, sugar, and in some cases a bunch of other chemicals, including thickeners made of the dreaded wheat. Soups? Same thing. I found ONE can of lentil soup that had lentils, water, some vegetables and salt…..but it listed “artificial flavorings” — which could be just about anything. Then there were rows and rows of cookies and crackers. Chips. Pretzels. Two rows of cereals, all of which were sugar-laden. Even the so-called “healthy” cereals like Special K are filled with sugar. Even something that should be simple – like Rice Krispies, is filled with sugar. Wheat Belly, a website that discusses the problems with the wheat products in our country actually had a blog about the cereals of America.
Shopping for healthy food means having access to grocery stores that carry lots of healthier options: organic foods, no salt foods, etc. It also means cooking. Michael Pollan says that you can cut out an enormous amount of the chemicals, additives, salts and sugars in your diet if you simply cook your meals from scratch more regularly. I agree, and have determined to make a return to cooking part of this new phase of my life. When my children lived at home, I cooked every single day. But now that they are grown and I live a more solitary lifestyle, cooking for myself feels like chore. At one point, I was working on a cookbook. I think I might just pick that up again. I’ll let you know on these pages how that unfolds.
Finally, contributing to our health issues in the U.S. is a sedentary lifestyle. Not enough walking or exercise. Too many hours of sitting. I’ve written about my own yoga practice on these pages, but I’ll also be writing about my exploration of workouts that can be done at home, since gyms are both expensive and difficult to actually GO to. How many people join gyms and never show up to use the membership? I’ve always found it a lot easier to show up in front of my TV screen and workout at home. I don’t believe in sweating in public.
So, stay tuned. Sign up to follow the blog and let me know what your own experiences have been with making lifestyle, dietary and fitness changes.