This is a reader story by Katie Haines, a certified health coach who works with women to help them simplify healthy eating so they can stick with it. She lives in Maryland with her husband and sweet little boy. If you’d like to submit your own real food story, you can do so here.
Breaking free. That’s how I’d summarize my real food story.
Growing up a ballet dancer, my friends and I were all very body-conscious. The prevailing dietary trend was fat-free, and I bought into it. To be a successful dancer, I thought I needed to be thin, and it made sense that fat-free foods would help me get there.
My diet was filled with fat-free everything – salad dressing, frozen yogurt, cookies, yogurt, and margarine. I thought that because it was fat-free that meant it was good for me. And I had no concept of portions. I didn’t just have a couple fat-free cookies – I had ten!
Back then, I never had the level of energy I wanted, and I always felt bloated. I had near constant sugar cravings and ate a lot of candy (but it was fat-free, so it was okay). Isn’t it funny how we tend to think something is good for us just because it fits into the rules of a specific diet or current trend?
My Wake-Up Call
Later in life, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disease. It forced me to really evaluate how my diet and lifestyle could affect my health, not just my weight. It was my wake-up call. And, much like Lisa, reading Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, started me on the path toward real food.
As a vegetarian who ate a lot of fruit and veggies, I’d always considered myself a healthy eater. So it was a total shock when I began reading the ingredients lists on the boxes in my pantry and fridge. There were loads of added flavors, added colors, and added sugar. A lot of sugar.
At first, the thought of eating fat completely scared me. Wouldn’t that avocado make me fat? Shouldn’t I buy the low-fat coconut milk? Buying full-fat yogurt nearly put me over the edge! Another challenge was finding real food replacements for a few long-standing favorites like my beloved Lite Raspberry Vinaigrette, sandwiches from a “healthy” fast food chain, or a crunchy high-protein breakfast cereal I was addicted to.
The real food options at the store all tasted bland. The food wasn’t bursting with flavor or as sweet as I was used to. I didn’t realize how my taste buds had gotten used to those artificial and natural flavors. It took time, but now I can fully appreciate the natural taste of a ripe strawberry (it doesn’t taste like strawberry flavoring!) or a slice of homemade chocolate cake, without the extra chocolatey-ness.
My New Normal
Eating real food has helped me break free from dieting. I’ve learned to tune into my body and eat foods that work for me and tune out the latest diet fads. I don’t have to memorize a new set of diet rules every couple of months. In the end, eating real food is much simpler.
I easily maintain my weight. I feel like I have more energy than I did in high school, and I have far fewer cravings.
These days, I feel like I can eat normally. I don’t want ten low-fat cookies – one or two (real ones) does the trick. I don’t have to keep a running tally of fat grams or calories. Very occasionally I’ll eat something that doesn’t have all real ingredients, and that’s okay, too. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about feeling good. And I finally do.