Everything in between

Happy Eating can be Healthy Eating too

How I figured out that I needed to change my eating habit

Woodend Beach, New Zealand, January-2017

I was never too concerned about eating healthy in my teens or 20s. I stopped eating meat at 13, but not for health concerns. I never liked the taste or the texture. Although I have always loved and cared about animals, I can’t remember ever thinking animal welfare was an issue when I was young. I was naive enough to believe that cows, pigs and chickens all led a happy, free-range life until, well, they were turned into food.

It was not until my 30s, when I moved to New Zealand, that I actually opened my eyes to animal farming and food production. Sad, I know, but I was incredibly focused more on the practicality of acquiring food than how it was produced.

Itiquira, Brazil.

Furthermore, I believe it must be a common though false perception in our teens and 20s that we will never get old or sick. That what we do to our bodies won’t have any effect on our lives later on. I know I did take for granted how valuable it is, for example, to make sure a joint injury is fully healed. I sprained and twisted both of my ankles numbers of times and I never gave them enough time to fully heal. I’d take the painkiller that were prescribed and go on doing what I had done that injured my ankle(s) in the first place.

As a Forester, I did a lot of field work and I put my research ahead of my health & safety way too often. I’ve sprained my wrists, some fingers, knees and one elbow. I’ve fallen over countless times, into holes, down pits and ravines and I broke my right shoulder playing football 5 years ago. My shoulder never fully recovered either and it always flares up during cold days or after a poorly slept night.

And because of my anxiety, I over-exercised my body, which also put a lot of stress on my joints (and led to the incident when I broke my shoulder).

Although I haven’t eaten meat for over 20 years, that never stopped me from eating poorly: potato chips are still my favorite. Prepacked, ready-made meals constituted my daily diet, all because I felt that had no time to cook a proper meal for me. My excuse was always that I was too busy with the research and field work. To be fair, field work does take a toll on you if you spend from 10 hours to several days in remote areas collecting data on the vegetation, like it was my case. In order to travel light, I packed my bag with cereal bars and cheese sandwiches. To drink, I had chocolate drinks, and for fruit I normally carried apples because they withstand being crushed inside a backpack full of field work tools and high day-time temperatures.

This might come as a surprise, but I was skinny.  Even though my diet was not exemplary, I managed to stay at 52 – 54 kg probably because of a rather active lifestyle revolving around studying, doing physical work as part of my research, and exercising at the local gym to keep myself busy when I wasn’t working. So I was burning the calories I got from all the junk food that I ate, but I was definitely unhealthy. That only became evident to me after I broke my right shoulder and I was forced stop all physical exercise. Up to the time when I broke my shoulder, I was doing kickboxing, playing soccer/football on weekdays and going to the gym on the weekend. My way to keep a social life and keep the anxiety at bay.

Me at the Strawberry Festival, in Brazil, stuffing my face with chocolate.

So, as you probably know, I gained weight because, even though I wasn’t exercising as much anymore, I continued eating the same way that I did when I was physically active. That was also when I started noticing the first signs that my body was not taking the eating habit so well anymore. I began feeling extremely sluggish and bloated. I had no energy all day, and I thought it was related to phd-stress. I felt sleepy and tired all the time, so I was drinking about 8 cups of coffee a day to stay more awake. Not plain coffee though; coffee with milk and sugar. I couldn’t stand black coffee then.

Not to mention acne and the constant pain in the back and joints. But the pain that bothered me the most was in my stomach. I had heartburn pretty much every day, and I drank milk to try to sooth it. In my mind, I still had that idea that milk helps ease heartburn. Stomach cramps were also terrible, especially when they happened in the middle of the night. Once they started, I couldn’t go back to sleep.

I thought all of that was due to stress, so I did nothing. I thought that once I finished the PhD, then everything would be ok, including my health.

A room mate at the time, who got diagnosed with coeliac disease during the time we were sharing the flat, called my attention to all the things that I was feeling and said that I should re-think my diet. She suggested I should stop eating bread for a week to see how I’d feel. Unsure of what to think or do, I decided to follow her suggestion. I was open to anything that would make that horrible sick-sensation go away.

Field work, October 2016

I did as she suggested and the change in my mood, energy and body was unbelievable. After only one week without bread (a real struggle for someone who grew up eating bread, not cereal, for breakfast) or pasta, I felt more energetic, less lethargic and the stomach pains had nearly vanished.

I continued with the diet and was amazed, as the weeks passed, at how much physically better I felt.

I changed my diet from then on. It all started with realizing that my body has an intolerance to gluten. Unfortunately, I had to go through pain and some embarrassing moments (for instance, whenever my stomach growled as loud as a lion’s roar, making everyone look at me) to re-think my diet and to recognize that my body could only stand so much. That I wasn’t in my 20s anymore and that my behavior did have consequences. Whether those consequences were good or bad would only depend on me and on the choices I’d make from then on.

I never did any medical test to determine whether I have coeliac disease, which I believe I don’t. I can still handle certain amounts of regular bread or pasta without much more than a heavy stomach afterward. As long as the past or bread have lower gluten content. That you can find out by how long the product stays soft once outside of the packaging. Gluten is responsible for making bread and pasta stay soft for longer, among other things.

But I do have a certain level of gluten intolerance, that’s for sure, which shows in the reaction I have whenever I indulge in regular gluten-rich foods. So, in order to feel vigorous and happier, I gladly choose gluten-free foods nowadays. And have embarked on the mission to cook my own gluten-free bread, pasta and pastries.

I’ve made many other changes since then. I’m glad I have and I will continue pursuing a good and healthy diet that makes me happy.

Ashburton Lakes, New Zealand

See: Gluten-free carrot cake https://letmecook4u.blog/2017/08/28/guilty-free-carrot-cake/

Gluten-free Brazilian pastry (pastel)

Vegan croquettes ad many more.

Not without some, eh, guilty-pleasure moments. After all, I am only human (see Banana & Apple Pastry)

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