My relationship of food has undergone what can best be described as a paradigm shift. Raised on a meat and potatoes kind of diet in a mid-western family, I grew strong and quickly took on the look of my German-English heritage. It wasn't until I was well into my college swimming career at a Division 1 school that my calorie-binging lifestyle caught up to me.
I distinctly remember one swim meet that my parents attended up in Wisconsin. After my race, I found them seated in the bleachers and they asked, "When is your race?" I said, "I just swam it. I was in lane 6." My mom said, "No, that wasn't you..." To which my dad looked at me and said, "We didn't even recognize you, honey. You've gotten a lot bigger."
Being an athlete, I viewed food as fuel. Fuel that I needed enough of in order to train 5-7 hours a day for 6 days a week. It didn't matter the form (3 bowls of Lucky Charms, 4 bagels, 2 glasses of Dr. Pepper), it was all just calories and calories were energy, right? Well, as I soon realized, not all calories are the same.
In my sophomore year, I started to feel strange heart palpitations, had trouble catching my breath, and felt dizzy after just climbing a flight of stairs. My coach had me see a cardiologist who said I had a "leaky valve
" in my heart causing some of the oxygenated blood to leak back into the left atrium instead of being pumped out to the rest of my body via the aorta. I went to a holistic nutritionist who said that "heart murmurs" can be triggered by stimulants in our diet like caffeine, sugar, and the hormones and steroids in conventionally raised livestock, as well as stress and lack of sleep. I decided to make some changes. I cut out all caffeine, tried to lower my sugar intake (cutting out sodas killed two birds with one stone!) and stopped eating meat.
Shortly after changing my diet, my energy levels were more consistent, the heart palpitations less frequent, the dizziness had vanished. I payed attention to my sleep patterns and did little breathing exercises before I went to bed to calm down my nervous system. The calories that I thought were providing my body with the fuel I needed to perform well were actually doing the exact opposite. I started viewing food not as fuel, but as vital nutrients. I found the foods that made me feel good, were mostly plants (yes, that includes nuts, fruits, vegetables, and grains!).
As gardening is quickly turning into my favorite past time, the food I grow drastically reduces the amount of pesticides that I ingest and my carbon footprint from food transportation. I now view food choice as a way to live more deliberately. The movement that I see growing all around me toward homegrown, local, organic, sustainable food makes me realize that there is a disconnect with industrialized processed food and that people have decided to take back the reins. As our ever-increasing technological world has created cheap food, we see an increase in the health care costs. Food that we don't have to grow, prepare, preserve, cook, and clean up after allows us to eat more of it, which, in turn, can make us sick. To me, living deliberately means that I now spend more time with my food. I learned that it's healthier for myself and the planet.
One of my favorite things about Spring is when the lettuce is ready to be picked. In a small 4X4 raised garden bed
, I grow a variety of different greens, including: spinach, arugula, mustard greens, mesclun lettuce, and buttercrunch lettuce. To be able to pick a fresh nutritious salad from my backyard that beats the pants off of any iceberg lettuce salad I can get at a restaurant fills me with great pride. I add a simple dressing of red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt/pepper, and chopped herbs (of whatever may be sprouting) and Voila! a simple, healthy, and delicious salad. Sometimes, if I'm feeling fancy, I'll pick some chive or nasturtium flowers to add a little spicy kick!