Health from the Farm: My story
Dear friends and customers of North Mountain Pastures, After some self reflection, I've decided to share my personal health story with you. How I lost it, and how I got it back. This of course is quite personal, and something I've never openly shared before, other than with friends. I am private and introverted generally speaking; I hate sharing details and pictures of myself. So the first reason I am choosing to be open about it is because I think it matters WHY we do what we do. We are all motivated by our emotions and our experiences, and my life experiences have guided me to care deeply about nutrition and sustainable farming. The second reason I have decided to share this is because I believe many of you have similar stories. They say pain is the best motivator, and when people are in enough pain, they will be motivated to change. I have heard so many snippets from friends and customers: "I was a vegetarian for 20 years until..." "I had chronic migraines with no understandable cause..." "My mother had cancer, and in helping her, our whole family changed our diet..." "I used to be really overweight..." We all have a health story. My hope for you is that yours is one of healing and learning, as it has been for me. I still feel like I'm healing and learning. My natural MD told me the other day, "You are 95% perfectly healthy." Me: "Can't we just say 99% !!!?? Look how far I've come! I feel amazing!" Dr: "No. because the truth is 95%. And that's better. There will always be room for improvement. To get that last few degrees of optimal health, the extra time/money/resources wouldn't be worth it. 95% with diet and good attitude and moderation is perfect." There is a place for supplements, bio-hacking, and high tech solutions for sure. But in the last 15 years, I've spent thousands of dollars on specialists, herbs, supplements, treatments, various kits, tests, you name it, I feel like I've tried it. I've read the books, I've done the special diets. Nothing has helped my health, personally, as much as eating a whole foods, pastured animal-protein-and-fat rich diet. Along with this has come deep wellbeing, through my actual physical health and my increased mental health. I believe their relationship is reciprocal, and it is hard to have one without the other. Health and happiness go hand in hand so to speak. Anyway, on to the story. As a high school senior, I was blessed with a childhood history of relative good health, along with the usual yearly rounds of antibiotics and typical media-influenced body image issues. This is me at my high school graduation party.
As a college freshman, I lost nearly 50 pounds in an effort to be thin, healthy, and fit in. Eating disorders and over-exercising disorders were so common with my friends that it hardly seemed like anything was wrong. But I knew something was wrong. I felt awful. I had constant gas, debilitating depression and anxiety, no longer got my period, and was obsessive/compulsive about food and exercise to the extreme. As a college sophomore, I couldn't hang any longer. My adrenals were shot, and I couldn't go out and party and get up for class anymore. I couldn't resist regularly bingeing on starchy and sugary foods, and I was always starving. My digestive pain got so bad, no matter what I ate, and when I told my parents, they helped me by taking me to a variety of specialists. There was some ineffective counseling. There was more therapy, and there were gastroenterologist visits, and esophagogastroduodenoscopy (big word - means they put me to sleep and put a camera down my digestive system). They said there was nothing wrong. I was diagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome, and prescribed pain killers. Which didn't work at all.
The irony was - they never once asked what I was eating.
A turning point arrived during my sophomore year, when I found this book about breaking out of food obsessions in a used bookstore. This book saved me, and I read it repeatedly. It made me understand what was true in my case at the time, that all the psychological hoopla of eating and exercising was connected to the fact that I was physiologically HUNGRY. It showed me that the only way to return to a homeostasis of natural weight and appetite was to eat when I was hungry. This translated to lots of eating and lots of weight gain, with the promise of eventual plateauing and even future weight loss because I would be in touch with my appetite, always eat when I was hungry, and eventually and effortlessly stop when I was full. It was true, and it did play out that way, much to the distress of my 19 year old ego. Between sophomore and junior year of college, I worked on my first farm. How I got there is a whole 'nother story. Suffice it to say, it was an amazing, eye-opening, soul quenching, nature filled, hippie rich summer. I was exposed to the dirt, and organic vegetables, and the sun and the sky every day. I was also exposed to a group of 9 other farm employees, of which I was the only non vegetarian. Most were vegans. Their dietary dogma, from my mainstream perspective, was shocking and revolutionary. I was touched and inspired by it, but also felt stubbornly curious about it. I interviewed them one on one, relentlessly. I questioned all their motives. My family and I had always eaten meat growing up. It came from my grandpa and uncles who hunted deer and elk and pheasant, as well as local grassfed beef, along with a good bit of conventional grocery store meat. I am all the way on the left in the below photo with some of the farm crew from that summer. They affectionately called me "preppy". Compared to these liberal arts, alternative culture hipsters, I as a suburbia raised engineering student (and meat-eater!) was certainly mainstream.
I wanted to be cool and hip like them, and be healthy and not eat meat if that's what it took. I experimented with veganism and vegetarianism for a few months, and my digestive health took a scary dive for the worse. I would get low blood sugar to the point of being close to passing out and incapable of functioning. There was blood in my stool at times. My gas was so bad, that I would clear out rooms, literally! These are painful memories, but the main point is that I never gave up. I never believed the doctors, and I never believed that IBS was a logical, real, or permanent thing. I never ceased doing my own research, before, during, and after I worked on the farm. As a college junior, I lived in an apartment. This step up towards freedom allowed me to cook for myself and get away from who-knows-what additives and non-real food in the dining halls, along with the psychological torture of buffets. I bought vegetables from the farmer's market. My dad brought me beef from his farm for my tiny freezer, which I cooked for myself once or twice a week after my failed vegetarian phase. I read everything I could find about nutrition and health, constantly doing internet searches and browsing libraries and bookstores. Another book savior appeared - Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, this time at the local community library (not the university library; my academic studies ALWAYS took a back seat to my real interests and knowledge seeking!) Again, a turning point occurred thanks to a book. I read every word of that book, over and over. I started making sauerkraut in my apartment (which I didn't like, and my roommates hated the smell of and complained about). I started simmering whatever small beef bones were left after I ate my ribeye steak to make a bit of stock. I even got my hands on some kefir grains and at some raw milk and butter from the farmer's market. As a college senior, these diet changes had gone a long way towards my satiation and improved physical health. It wasn't till a Nourishing Traditions Yahoo Group (remember those !?!) member suggested cutting out wheat that I felt a drastic and complete remission of my digestive symptoms. I continued the apartment fermentation experiments, and crockpot stock making. I would jog to Wegman's, which seemed as exciting as Disney World when it first opened up, and buy more organic meats and vegetables than I could afford, taking the bus home. By the time I graduated college and went on to intern at Rodale, working at a few other small organic vegetable and dairy farms along the way, I had reached a steady weight, regained a healthy appetite and relationship with food, experienced smooth and comfortable digestion, restored energy, mental health, and basically overall wellbeing. This was all due pretty much by my own persistence and self education. Pain was the motivator for me, and the elimination of it was a great relief. At the same time, I knew my outlook on food and where it came from and my connection to it was forever changed. Food WAS my healing journey. Being self taught, food was my teacher and creative muse in the kitchen. Food was the evident product of the soil and the reward of long hours of work outside on farms. The dots were connected.
I feel so grateful today to feel vibrantly healthy: to have recovered from chronic sinus infections in my 20s, to have easily and healthfully had three children, to recover from chronic stress and adrenal fatigue of moving and starting a business and running a farm. For the most part, I sleep well and digest well and have pretty good energy, which anyone who has ever experienced the loss of, knows how hugely important these simple things are. I love that quote - "A person who has their health has a thousand dreams. The person without it has only one."
Today my dream is to help others restore their health, in both big and small ways.
What is your health story? How has real food helped you heal? Thanks as always for supporting local foods, and "let food be thy medicine"!