Eat for your Life! (aka: Our Flexitarian Family)

When I was a kid, food was all about three square meals per day. One food from each of the four crucial food groups: meat and eggs, bread & cereal, fruits & veggies, and, of course, milk, to do a body good. The food pyramid was pretty straight forward, too. Stuff yourself with bread and grains, add five servings of plants, then top it off with a little protein.

Vintage American meals

Back in those days, vegetarians were almost unheard of, too. Since I lived in the Bay Area, we always had one or two in each group, and the only choices they had for lunch were cheese sandwiches or PB&J. Everyone else ate pretty much the same thing — Oscar Mayer bologna sandwiches on Wonder bread, with a fruit roll-up on the side. The only thing that varied was the flavor of fruit roll-up, and the occasional novelty of Hostess treats or Capri Suns someone’s mom tossed into the lunchbox.

1980s kids lunch

My family’s diet was typically American, too. Spaghetti, chicken casseroles, sloppy joes. Meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes. Plenty of salt, sugar, and simplex carbs for all. None of us dared to complain, or to request something healthier. After all, we were eating three square, all-American meals per day, provided by hard-working parents.

Fast forward several decades.

A few years ago, I lost a lot of weight. Around 60 pounds, total. Now I will admit that the final 20 pounds or so were likely due to an eating disorder. But the first 40 were due to a change in daily diet. I scrapped the nostalgic all-American diet, for the most part, and opened my mind to a global variety of healthy, whole foods. I cut way back on meat. I also began to exercise regularly, around 3-4 days per week.

Then came a startling health discovery. My doctor found that my blood sugar was slightly elevated; a somewhat common state known as prediabetes. Unchecked, this condition can spiral into full-blown Type 2 diabetes.

I was shocked. But my daily habits were so healthy! And my BMI was in the ideal range. How could this be? Answer: genetics. Sometimes, no matter what we do, our bodies are prone to develop unfortunate conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Luckily for me, I was able to make some more effective changes. I further reduced my intake of animal proteins. Switched out simplex carbs for complex carbs (aka whole grains). Cut out most sugar, except for the occasional treat. And I began to work out every single day, with few exceptions. And, yay! My blood sugar levels dropped back down to normal, healthy levels.

chickpea curry

With my own kids, I abolished the idea that everyone has to eat the exact same foods. After all, everyone is different. We have different tastes, different nutritional needs, different health challenges. My 13yo son can’t stand cooked vegetables. So he has permission to switch them out for fresh veggies or salad. My 16yo daughter has decided that she is now a pescatarian, and has begun a zero-sugar diet challenge with her friends. Luckily, I usually prepare a vegetarian option for family meals (not just PB&J, haha). Zero added sugar is a lot harder than it sounds, but I’ve been cheering her on, and being sensitive to her goals while grocery shopping. My 18yo? Well, he still hasn’t jumped into the health nut boat with the rest of us, so it’s still all-American junk food for him.

pescatarian meals fish

Our household of four has four different food pyramids. Some of us are more likely to nibble six small meals than three square meals per day. One of us prefers veggie dogs and veggie burgers to the meaty versions. Three of us are happy to munch on nuts, seeds, and roasted edamame for snacks. All four of us adore sweet, sugary treats more than we probably should — perhaps another genetic tendency. But we are learning and growing as we explore new yummy recipes and exercise together. Hopefully these healthy habits will stick with my kids as they head off into the world, and help them to live long lives, free of those killer diseases that plague so many us.

Healthy Choices

It’s not easy to change your diet for the better. It’s not easy to give up old favorites that remind us of childhood, like smoky grilled meats and big bowls of chocolate ice cream. It’s not easy to make yourself get up and move for 30 minutes every day. But the ability to enjoy a long, good life makes those changes worthwhile. Life is sweet. Live healthy.

4 responses to “Eat for your Life! (aka: Our Flexitarian Family)

  1. It’s great that you’ve made such healthy changes! And I’m sure your kids will internalize these lessons and it will make them much healthier in the long run.

    I’ve been making similar changes in my diet and routines, and it’s cool how these small changes add up to big differences. I’ve lost about 65 pounds, almost 70. I try to keep the added sugars low, ideally under 30 grams per day. And I try to eat a lot of vegetables and protein, though I also still eat some fruit, as well as yogurt and cottage cheese. I still eat a lot of meat – salmon, fish, chicken, bbq ribs, brisket, sirloin, sardines, sushi, etc. But overall, usually less than 30% of my calories come from meat/protein. I also snack on baby carrots at work.

    One of my biggest changes is that I don’t drink soda anymore (I don’t drink any diet soda either or artificially sweetened drinks), and I try to mostly drink water and coffee. I love fresh squeezed orange juice and limeade, but I try to keep those as rare treats since they are so high in sugar.

    My knees feel much, much better now that I’ve lost a bunch of weight, and I’m planning to do a trail run in New Mexico next month.

    A lot of my weight gain was the result of working long hours and going out to eat for lunch and dinner, eating 5,000 or 6,000 calories per day. Obviously cutting down on that stuff has helped a lot, and I rarely eat a big lunch now. I usually work out during lunch, either by going for a jog (especially on a beautiful day like today!) or lifting weights or using an elliptical machine or climbing stairs. I’m also lucky because I really enjoy working out, so it’s something I look forward to, not something I dread doing. And I always love being outside in the sunshine.

    I’m also lucky because I don’t usually crave desserts. I would way rather have a big plate of yummy pasta with melted Tillamook cheese and tomato-meat-mushroom-green pepper-onion sauce, for instance, than a slice of cake. But those big plates of pasta really pack in a lot of calories and carbs too!!! In addition to pasta, I grew up eating pizza, so those are foods that have a lot of good memories associated with them. But it’s been good to cut back on those.

    I also love tomatoes and melons and Brussels sprouts and corn on the cob and all kinds of vegetables, so that’s helpful.

    Keep it up with the yummy, nutritious, unprocessed foods – it’s great to be healthy!!!!

    • Right? Eating well and exercising regularly really does make you feel good, in addition to having those great long-term health benefits. You made a good point when you mentioned the good memories you have associated with certain comfort foods, like pizza and pasta. Nostalgia can really make it hard for a lot of people to change their ingrained eating habits, as can culture. It’s not easy, for example, to eat a mostly vegetarian diet when you live in places that cater to the typical American diet of burgers, steaks, and other meat-centric foods. Here in California, it is pretty easy to find healthy eating outlets that serve earth bowls, or poke, or veggie burritos. My local supermarkets have plenty of whole foods, great produce, milk alternatives…I even found brown rice noodles the other day for our homemade pad thai. 😋
      A huge congrats to you on your weight loss success! I’m sure that your love for veggies and working out contributed to that, and I’ll bet that your attitude about it inspires the people around you. You are also lucky that you don’t have a sweet tooth. I can’t say the same, but our family also learned to cut way back on added sugars. Sodas are like a once-a-year-during-camping kind of treat, though I will admit to enjoying a very infrequent diet soda, too.
      Wow – 5000 calories per day? 😧 I can’t even picture that amount. It is so great how restaurants now publish the amount of calories each dish contains. I’ll bet that helps a lot of people to make smarter choices.

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