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Fern dishes about her obsession with food.

So, I’m guessing by now, you, dear reader, have estimated that my favorite subject for this blog is food.  You would not be incorrect, although I would say that I have a variety of favorite subjects and thoughts to share here.  Perhaps it’s having a baby on the way, and considering how to get him off to the best start in his life that food is at the top of my list of concerns.  Maybe it’s that I know that what and how we eat is the foundation for all that we do, and often it’s the way that we eat that either hinders or helps us to achieve our day-to-day goals and lifelong dreams.

Truly, we are what we eat.

I come from a family chock full of diabetics.  Nearly all of the adults I am related to are overweight and/or have high blood pressure.  Somehow, I managed to evade these disorders, though I can only attribute it to pure luck, since I grew up eating as they did.  At age 17, I was struck with horrible cramping pains in my gut.  They caused me to double over, and often, to miss school.  Being from a traditional western family, I went to a doctor.

I knew even then that I didn’t eat properly.  I hated fruits and vegetables (I wouldn’t even eat ketchup!), and my diet consisted strictly of fast foods and refined sugars.  There was nothing even remotely natural in my diet.  I knew this was wrong.  I knew that I needed to start eating “right,” but eating vegetables totally made me gag.  (In hindsight, I can probably attribute this to the fact that all of the vegetables available in our home usually came from cans, were seasoned with bones and fat, and cooked to greyish mush.)

So, I had a talk with myself, and decided that I needed to own up to my part in this situation, and tell the doc just exactly what and how I ate, and open up the conversation for him to correct my behavior.  I felt like all I needed was a little guidance, some adult to tell me what I should do.  The fear of getting into trouble was usually enough to get me on the right track with other aspects of my life.  I figured this was no exception.

So, I sat in the good doctor’s office and got my checkup.  At the end of our appointment, I came clean about the dirty foods and I asked him what he suggested I do to correct the problem.  He smiled and said, “You’re fine.  You are a normal teenager.  I’m going to write you a prescription for {blank} and {blank}.”

I felt a bit puzzled.  I was just a dumb teenager, and this guy was a doctor, so certainly he was smarter than me.  As I walked away from the pharmacy counter with those two plastic brownish-orange bottles in my hand, something just didn’t feel right.  Still, I obediently began taking the pills as prescribed.

Perhaps it’s because I grew up around a lot of sick people, but I kind of enjoyed the attention I got from pulling out my pills at school or work.  Now I had something special, something was wrong with me, but these trusty little pills in the bottles with MY name on them were going to make me alright.

Except they didn’t.  I mean, they really, really didn’t.  They made me the opposite of alright.  I found myself crying on the bathroom floor with excruciating intestinal cramps.  Again, I began missing work and school.

So we called up the doctor and he ordered a scope.  I went to another doctor who ran a little light down my throat and checked things out.  Hmm.  It hurt, and I had to drink some god-awful chalk smoothie before it went down.  But I figured they knew what they were doing, so I obediently did as I was told.  The results came in- gastritis, one step away from ulcers.  I was written a third prescription.

Once again, the abdominal pains increased.  I spent more time crying on the floor and holding my belly than most teenagers spend talking on the phone.  I remember sitting on the grimy bathroom floor of the grocery store I worked in, and having a heart-to-heart with myself.  This had to stop.

I quit taking my pills.  I tried to eat the one fruit I did like- the apple- at least once everyday.  I ate applesauce and drank apple juice.  While I knew this wasn’t the answer to the problem, it was a start.  The pains lessened a bit.  I began taking Tums like candy to help with the indigestion I had from the bad foods I was still eating, and to gain some calcium, since I also would not drink milk or eat cheese.

I graduated high school a few months later.  I opted out of the college track, choosing instead to work.  I got a job selling jewelry at the mall.  Everyday for lunch, I’d hit the Chik-fil-a.  I remembered reading that this was one of the ‘healthiest’ choices in fast food, and it certainly was the tastiest.  Usually, my grandma would send me with a coupon for a free sandwich with the purchase of a meal, so I had chicken for lunch and dinner.  I was making my own money now- real money.  So, it was time for a change.

Each day that I went on my lunch break to the food court, I ordered my chicken sandwich ‘meal,’ complete with fries and soft drink.  And then I made a deal with myself: order a salad with each meal.  Eat one bite, and throw the rest away if you have to, but eat one bite.  I drowned it in Italian dressing, and I gagged down one bite each day.  Sometimes I was so disgusted by the taste, I threw the rest away.  Sometimes I took it home to choke another bite down later with my dinner sandwich.  But I stayed committed, and I bought one salad every day.

I was 19 then.  It took me nearly 4 years before I could eat a salad and enjoy it.  Usually there were chicken fingers and honey mustard on top, but at least I was getting something green in my diet.  I tried this trick with other foods I didn’t like but knew were good for me.  I hated bananas, but found when I blended them into a smoothie, they were tolerable, and even good!  Same went for yogurt.  I continued with all kinds of fruits and veggies, until I began to not only enjoy them, but I actually craved them!  By the time I was 24, I had begun working in fine dining restaurants and was eating all kinds of delicious, fresh, and exotic foods (WARNING- do not ever turn down food from the chef you work for.  He will make your life H E L L).

I discovered that nuts weren’t exclusively for brownies and candy bars; they upped the texture, enjoyment, and nutritious value of my salads.  I learned that bitter greens go great with rich wine and butter sauces and fleshy, fresh fish.  Onions and apples stuffed into a roasted chicken breast?  I’ll have seconds!

At the age of 27, I became a full-fledged vegetarian.  A couple of years later, I was vegan.  Now 32, I have since come back to being an omnivore, though I consider myself 90% vegetarian.  I still crave a lot of the bad indulgences I grew up with.  But now I make little deals with myself.  How bad do I really want that snickers bar?  Bad enough to drink a bottle of water and eat a banana first?  Ice cream craving?  How about a bowl of whole-grain cereal with nuts, dried fruit, and- what the heck- a few bitterweet chocolate chips?  Now, I substitute smoothies for milkshakes.  I buy bars of expensive dark chocolate that are high in antioxidants, and I eat only a square or two, my craving satisfied, and knowing my money was well spent with each decadent bite.  It helps me not to strive for perfection, but instead, to try to do just one better than the alternative.  It’s all about moderation- and patience.

Needless to say, my gastritis has disappeared.

Do I stumble?  Of course I do.  There are some nights when the honeyman and I want to curl up with a movie, and eat pizza followed by ice cream.  But these nights are relatively rare, and we typically offset our fatty foodprint by eating salads and drinking veggie juice the next day.  Our guts usually remind us pretty quickly why we don’t eat this way all the time.  And it’s generally pretty easy to track the culprit anytime we do get sick.  Which doesn’t happen very often these days.

So, dear reader, you now have some insight into why food is so important to me.  I still have some trouble when it comes to family gatherings.  I get picked on for being “too healthy” or just plain “weird.”  And I do my best to explain the reasons for my choices, in the hopes that I can help those family members who complain about their weight realize that the power of our health lies in our own kitchens, and in our own hands.


Here are some of my favorite ideas for beating ‘bad’ food cravings, and learning a new eating lifestyle:

  1. Remember that the goal is not about getting skinny- it’s about being healthy (I got ‘lucky’ to be thin- more on that double-edged sword in a future blog.).
  2. Throw out your ideas of perfection.  This is about awareness.
  3. If you absolutely hate something, don’t force yourself to eat it.  Take your time, and introduce substitutions gradually (it’s been 15 years since my nutrition journey began- and I still struggle).  Hate yogurt, but know you need it?  Make your shake or smoothie with ice cream and include one spoonful of full-fat vanilla yogurt (Brown Cow brand is my personal favorite!), until you come to tolerate the flavor; gradually add more as the taste becomes more palatable.
  4. Know that by introducing more good foods into your lifestyle, the bad ones will naturally begin to be less desireable.  No need to go cold turkey.
  5. Don’t watch too much TV.  Big food businesses want you to eat their crappy food, and will do their best to entice you and kill your self-esteem via the tube.  Turn on some music and shake your booty instead!
  6. Have dinner with friends, preferably in someone’s home.  Eating in isolation will only make you feel depressed and you’re less likely to hold yourself accountable for what and how much you eat.  Sharing meals with good friends who eat healthfully will increase your chances of making more sensible choices and of trying something new.
  7. If you have a craving that just won’t quit, try making it at home instead of going out.  You can control the portions, you can add health-boosting herbs and spices, and you will save money.  Inviting friends over will only add to your enjoyment and portion considerations.
  8. Alternately, don’t keep food culprits around your house.  If the craving gets so strong that you simply must have it, walk or bike to the store.  This way, not only are you offsetting some of the negative effects of the food before you eat it, but the extra effort it takes to get it will make you think twice about how bad you really want it.
  9. Substitute natural sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, dates, stevia) for white sugar in everything from your morning coffee to dessert.  Natural sweeteners each have their own health benefits and unique flavors, and you will end up using less, while boosting you vitamin and mineral intake.
  10. Get out of your shell.  Try a new activity, like yoga or zumba.  You will likely find at least one other person facing the same issues that you are, and who is willing to listen and offer supportive feedback.  Plus you’ll end up feeling so good afterward, you’ll be jonesing for fresh foods instead of junk.

Finally, take an honest look at your Self, and smile.  Love who you are, enjoy your body, and be your own best friend.  Remind your Self that you are getting healthy for the long run, and learning new ways to enjoy this precious life.  Be the love you want to see in the world!


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Fern unfurls her potential (and her fury).

Last night, the honeyman and I did something we’ve been dreading for the last 6 months;  we shopped for our baby registry.  Now, the only thing that makes me feel more uncomfortable than asking for gifts is asking for specific gifts.  Rather, asking people to NOT buy certain things for me, or for my baby.  But there we were, roaming Babies ‘R’ Us, desperately seeking the stuff we know we’ll need amid all of the junk we know we won’t.  Luckily, our trusty and practical midwives gave us a list just last week consisting of a mere fourteen items for baby clothing, furnishings, hygiene, and safety, that we as new parents would be needing right from the start.  So we started finding some things online, and now that it’s getting close to our baby shower (or, the less lame “Anticipation Celebration”), we figured we’d do what everyone else does, and start a baby registry;  that way any generously inclined souls may come bearing gifts if they choose.  And who knows more about baby stuff than a store specially designed for babies, right?

I’m resisting the urge to use profanity here.  Maybe it’s due to the fact that I’m getting heavier, and only a sadist would give a pregnant woman such a dizzying and dishonest array of options for “essential” baby gear.  Let me remind you that the midwife supply list consisted of 14 items; this list was confirmed by the experienced mommies in our prenatal class.  Want to know how many items were on the store’s checklist?  TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY-TWO ITEMS.  I wish I was kidding.  I did my math:  that’s 18 times the amount of the first list.  And among these 252 items, there are at least 5 brands and 4 color schemes to choose from for each.  It took me nearly half an hour just to cross off the stuff I knew I wasn’t going to be getting.

Perhaps I am missing something here.  I mean, humans have been birthing smaller humans for like, a hundred years or something.  What in cunt’s name did a mother do before all of the crib bumpers, wipe warmers, safety gates, activity jumpers, bottle sterilizers, and remote monitors?

Oh, that’s right.  They did stuff with their kids.

Don’t get me wrong- I know we all live different lives, and some mothers have to go to work, or work at home, and we all need to get in a nap and/or a shower every now and then.  I am not as naïve as I might sound.  I know that a video can be a welcome, if short-lived, reprieve from the  thankless demands of mommying.  Or that a pack-n-play can keep the little one out of trouble just long enough to pour ourselves a cup of coffee, even if we don’t get to finish it.  But I also know that filling up your life with a bunch of useless, high-maintenance junk will only serve to make you more stressed and less available to the people who really need (and really love) you.

I could, in fact, have a fussy and difficult baby.  He could make me crazy from lack of sleep and a multitude of worry.  He could be a mythological genius to whom all of my humble efforts to feed, clean, educate and entertain him will seem asinine and laughable.  Or, he could be special needs in a legitimate way, in which case I’ll be glad we didn’t spend all of our money on a bunch of junk.  All I’m hoping for at this point is to continue to roll with whatever life gives me.  And life has given me neither need nor want for a bunch of energy-sucking stuff to make my family dependent upon, or to make me crazier than I already am.

So, to sum up our Babies ‘R’ Us experience, we spent over an hour and a half scanning onesies in various sizes, blankets, socks and hats.  Oh, and a hamper.

Can I just suggest some things here?  If you have a friend who is going to be a mommy soon, some of the best stuff you could give her is your loving support.  And that can come in many, many forms:  onesies, brownies, casseroles, hugs, laughter, grocery shopping, babysitting and coffee are merely a few to be named.

I’m always grateful for the practical advice of my friends, which is why I love the Herban Cowgirls so darn much.  And now, I’m receiving thoughtful, time-tested advice from a multitude of mommies far and wide, the true “experts,” the ones who work the hardest and are the least appreciated.  I am honored to be a part of this sisterhood, and I am looking forward to all this experience has to teach me.  And I sure do hope I can do it all the wise woman way…  batteries not included.

If you’re a mommy, what are the kinds of support you cherished the most in those early days?  And what are the “must-haves” that ultimately wasted your time and energy?

baby monitor

changing table

brain development devices

bottle warmers

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