Thursday, July 29th — Our friend Susan came over today and cleaned out our pantry for me. The pantry had been well stocked with groceries, but because we never did eat a lot of processed food, a lot of it had just been sitting there for a long time. She found a box of beignet mix from 1998, and a couple of cake mixes from 2002. We threw out a lot of stuff, and she took a lot more home. All that’s left now is food we can eat, plus one shelf of baking supplies that I’ll use to make baked goods to take to ward functions. Jillian Michaels would be proud.
It was sad to give away three unopened bottles of our favorite barbecue sauce, Wegman’s Asian, which is chock full of high fructose corn syrup goodness. Susan called later to tell me it’s her new favorite flavor, so at least it’s in good hands.
We didn’t think it was at all premature to purge our cupboards of foods we shouldn’t eat, even though we aren’t finished with our trial month on this eating plan. We haven’t seen miracles yet, but there are enough small improvements in our health that we’re already committed to sticking with this program.
Friday, July 30th — The temple is open after the summer shutdown, so we went back tonight. Today was the first time in three weeks I’d put on my watch, and I was hoping it would be loose. I have maybe lost an eighth of an inch around my wrist, and that’s hardly a cause for celebration. Clark was in the same belt notch in his temple belt, but he said the belt felt a little looser. The pants definitely looked a little looser, but we were both hoping for more.
What can I expect? We’ve been eating as though there’s no tomorrow! Just because there are so many foods we can eat, doesn’t mean we have to eat them all at once. We need to develop a little restraint.
Saturday, July 31st — It was a day of food. First we experimented by making a papaya barbecue sauce. The habañero pepper gave it just the right amount of eyebrow-singeing joy. We made five little half-pint containers, freezing four of them and using part of the fifth on tonight’s barbecued chicken. We used the leftover papaya to make a vitamina (a Brazilian fruit drink). That was fun, too.
We also made roasted green beans with shredded parmesan cheese melted on them to make a latticework of salty flavor.
We ended the evening by implementing a tip I heard on the Food Network today. We always thought the only way we could eat cilantro was to buy a bunch for two bucks, eat the tablespoon we needed, and watch the rest rot in the refrigerator. Au contraire! Instead you can shred it in the food processor, pack it into the compartments of an ice cube tray, pour water into each of the compartments, and freeze the tray. You can then pop out cilantro cubes every time you need just a little for a meal.
I am so glad to live in an age of Ninja food processors and microplanes, both of which make cooking so much easier than it ever was before. I’m loving life — at least, the gustatory portion of it. Who said healthy eating had to be miserable?
Monday, August 2, 2010 — There was a new culinary adventure this morning. We went to Trader Joe’s to see what the store had to offer. We’d been there sporadically, years ago, and didn’t get in the habit of going because the selection seemed so limited. But today, looking through the lens of our new eating program, Trader Joe’s seemed like a treasure chest of food.
The place is a fraction of the size of Whole Foods, but that’s where the similarity ends. The reason Whole Foods has so much more is that you can buy a whole lot of garbage there. Trader Joe’s, on the other hand, has a lot more food we can actually eat. At Whole Foods, there wasn’t a bread we could eat anywhere except in the freezer section. Trader Joe’s had racks of real bread that wasn’t even refrigerated. There was even a house brand that’s equivalent to the Ezekiel bread we’ve been eating — and cheaper. There were also organic apples (a lifesaver), and some lovely grated parmesan cheese.
We felt rich.
Trader Joe’s is only in nine states, but I’m sure other states have equivalent stores. It may not be as convenient to eat healthy food, but we’re learning that for people who live in urban areas or suburbia, garbage isn’t the only option.
I also got a call from the doctor today, and the results of my CT-scan and blood tests were normal (well, normal for me). That is good news for sure.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010 — When we first started on this eating program, I was anxious to find an all-natural sugar substitute that didn’t have the negative side-effects of regular sugar. A Google search uncovered a bunch of them, some of which are actually beneficial to the human body. The two that most interested me were xylitol (an extract of birch bark) and lo han guo, both of which look and taste like sugar but have antibacterial properties. Lo han guo comes from a fruit (arhat fruit, found in Asia) that is nicknamed “longevity fruit.” It even has a low glycemic index, and has been used in Chinese traditional medicine for more than a thousand years.
We ordered both xylitol and lo han. When the xylitol came we eagerly opened it and tasted it. It tasted great, but we’ve found we’re not using much of it. In fact, we’ve lost our taste for sugar to such a degree that the box of lo han sits neglected downstairs. We haven’t even opened the shipping package.
The bottom line is that I guess we could have cookies and cakes and pies. We’re just learning, to our surprise, that we don’t particularly want them.
Thursday, August 5, 2010 — The lesson for the day can be encapsulated in two words: culinary gloves. In an effort to get two of the Young Women over to my house for some fellowship, Clark and I bought ingredients for home-canned salsa. We accidentally took the wrong recipe and ended up buying ingredients to make nine zillion bottles of the stuff.
After all that expense and trouble, the two girls canceled on me. Instead our friend Susan came over to bail me out for a couple of hours. She worked on tomatoes and green peppers, while I chopped the onions and garlic and a bag of jalapeños.
It was a couple of hours after she left when the symptoms began. First one hand started burning, and then the other. By four o’clock I had both hands in a bowl of ice. Even then the pain was excruciating, but it got infinitely worse. I’ve been in a lot of pain in my life, but this was off the charts. I felt as though I were burning up from the inside out. Clark did a little Internet research and read that pepper burns cause “three days of agony.” Tonight we went out to dinner with some friends, and I spent the entire meal with my hands submerged in two glasses of ice water. The waitress was good about keeping the glasses full, but I’m sure she secretly thought I had just beamed down from Pluto.
The pain continued to escalate. Aloe vera didn’t touch it. By 12:30 a.m., I had reached the end of my rope. I couldn’t take my hands out of the ice even long enough to undress for bed. Clark gave me a priesthood blessing. Miracle of miracles, I fell almost immediately asleep with a frozen gel-pack around my hands. When I awoke two hours later, the pain was gone. I don’t know how people outside the Church survive without priesthood blessings.
We now have 28 pints of homemade salsa to tide us over the winter. But oh, what a cost!
Friday, August 6, 2010 — A friend at the temple brought me a loaf of Samoan friendship bread tonight. The aroma of the spices was wonderful, but I felt no impulse to eat the bread. The price is just too high. The smell was all I needed.
One of the temple workers remarked tonight that I look a lot healthier than she was used to seeing me. I hadn’t thought about it, but I realized I was sitting up straighter and had more energy than I’ve had in a long time. Even the colors seem brighter.
Clark was almost into the next notch of his temple belt.
The weight loss is very slow, but he’s going in the right direction. My watch didn’t seem to be any looser than last week, but my hands are still swollen from the pepper burns.
Saturday, August 7, 2010 — Today marked the end of our month-long experiment. We didn’t run out and buy any of the old foods, however, because there weren’t any cravings we needed to satisfy. Indeed, a bowl of peanut M&Ms and an opened bag of mint-flavored Oreos have been on the coffee table in our family room since book club on Tuesday, and we haven’t felt the slightest impulse to nibble on either. They’ll be consumed by the Young Women who come to our house to play games this week.
There are concerns about eating when we go on vacation. When we’re on a ship for nine days, we’re going to have no choice but to eat the best of what we’re offered. But as Clark pointed out, we’ll come home to a house that doesn’t have any unhealthy food in it. As long as we don’t buy unhealthy food, we won’t be eating it when we’re at home.
If Clark and I had approached each other with a vow to stay away from bad food forever, we never could have done this. It was only because we decided to do it for a month that we were able to succeed. But we reasoned that anyone can try an experiment for a month, and our psychology paid off. Eating healthy food isn’t a sacrifice at all, but you never would have convinced us of that before we started doing it.
The program is not without its drawbacks. Among the negatives are:
• It does not accommodate our schedule. Gone are the days when I can call Clark and ask him to pick up dinner at Pei-Wei because our church meetings that night won’t allow me to cook.
• It does not accommodate our social life. Traditionally, our most enjoyable interactions with friends have been around the dinner table at a restaurant, where we’d visit for hours on end. Also, my visiting teachers always visit teach me over lunch. I’m not sure how many restaurants we can trust to cook food we can now eat, and I’m sure those are not the more affordable restaurants. We are starting to venture out now, but we’re going to have to be creative.
• It’s more expensive. There’s no way around it. One week into the new eating program, we had ordered a food mill to make catsup. We bought canning jars, purchased a new canner, ordered Himalayan salt, ordered raw cashews, ordered coconut oil, and purchased a whole passel of barbecue equipment. That isn’t even covering the food, which is not cheap. My doctor told me to buy an organic pig and get meat and fat from that. How many unemployed writers can afford to go out and buy an organic pig? For that matter, how many employed people have the disposable income to go out and buy an organic pig? Even a free-range, organic chicken costs twice the amount of a regular chicken. This is definitely a situation where we’re going to have to settle for the best we can do.
• What do you do about food storage? After Clark and I wrote Food Storage for the Clueless, we got several letters from people who wanted to know how people accumulate food storage when they only eat fresh food. I didn’t know how to answer them then, and I have no clearer idea now.
On the other hand, there are just as many advantages to eating real food. Among them are:
• It’s fun to cook together. At least, it’s fun when our schedules allow us to do so.
• The food tastes better. Okay — maybe our homemade honey ice cream doesn’t taste as good as Ben & Jerry’s. But for the most part, you can taste the difference in the quality of the ingredients. The only dramatic loss of quality we noticed was when I tried to make a queso dip for game night refreshments. Real cheese just doesn’t have the satisfying consistency of “cheez.”
• I feel better. The difference was dramatic and almost instantaneous. When we started the diet on a Tuesday, my knees hurt at probably an 8 out of 10. By Thursday of that week, they were down to a 6.
A week or so later, they were probably a 4. There is still a noticeable stiffness when I get up after sitting down for an hour or two, but even then I don’t dread getting up, and I don’t walk like a drunken person. This is a plus!
• Clark still isn’t snoring, and there are other little things too. I’d had an itchy place on my shoulder for months before we changed our eating. Clark put cream on it every night, switching from one cream to another when each brand didn’t work. I felt like the old newspaper ads: “Dog nearly itches to death. We thought we’d have to put Daisy to sleep.” Less than two weeks in, the itching spot was gone.
• Clark is losing weight, slowly but surely. (The jury is still out on me.)
• Except for the eating binge of the first few weeks (when we felt obligated to eat every legal food in sight), we are finding that we are eating less and feeling less hungry between meals. We don’t need to eat as much to feel full, and that fullness lasts until the next meal. Perhaps the increased cost of healthy food is balanced by the fact that we need less of it.
• Both Clark and I are comforted by knowing we’re doing the best we can to safeguard our health. Eating healthy food hasn’t cured me of any of my fatal diseases (yet!), but it has made our lives easier in countless little ways. After just a month on this eating program, I believe my own personal word of wisdom isn’t going to allow me to go back to my old eating habits. Now that I see how much difference an ill-advised taco chip or breaded onion ring can make in my physical well-being, I can’t imagine being tempted so strongly by any food that I’d want to bring the pain back.
Our experiment is by no means indicative of what other people could find. For one thing, because Clark and I didn’t rely very much on processed foods before the experiment, we didn’t have a detox period where we felt aches and pains as the poisons left our systems. We also didn’t suffer any cravings for the old, familiar foods.
But one month on a program of healthy eating has sparked an important question: How much of our health have we Americans sacrificed to the convenience of processed food?
If we had known ahead of time how steep the price was going to be, I don’t think any of us would have agreed to trade real food for the fake stuff that most of us are eating today. But because the deterioration in our national health has come slowly, over the years, most of us don’t even connect what we put into our mouths with the way our bodies feel and work. In fact, like frogs in the proverbial pot of hot water, we have no idea that the steam bath is getting hotter until the boiling happens and we’re cooked.
Our experiment has shown us that no matter where we are on the health spectrum, it isn’t too late to get out of the steam bath. Our bodies are forgiving. If we give them real food, they’ll reward us almost immediately with little changes and big ones, leading us to a healthier life.