I want to be free-range microbe food…

Free-range organic chicken in the slow cooker, spiced with turmeric and rosemary from my garden.

Free-range organic chicken in the slow cooker, spiced with turmeric and rosemary from my garden.

To say that I’ve been thinking a lot about food lately would be the same as saying, “I’ve been thinking about making my heart beat,” but to understand where I am now, you need to know a tiny bit about what has happened in the previous 40 years for me on this planet. My relationship with food has always been a close, emotional one. It has only been in the past ten years that I have been able to identify issues involving secret eating, binge eating, and some of the triggers involved for both.

Some of my fondest memories involve food…the whole family going to a local dairy and ice cream shop…pan pizza with black olives and “beef” from Pizza Hut with super cold Coke…giganto bowls of cereal (peanut butter Cap’n Crunch my all-time fave) topped with whole milk that sometimes had cream on the top (oh, and if it was corn flakes, add brown sugar).

My mom was a prodigious cook, had been a home economics major in college, loved to garden and canned the produce. Although I didn’t care much for some of her dishes, I’ve always admired her ability to create things out of nothing and a pioneering spirit to foraging. My dad only had a couple things he liked to cook but they were delicious and I inherited my spirit for eating from him. I also learned some difficult habits from (such as the giganto bowl for cereal or ice cream) and that certain kinds of food were rewards.

Once I was out on my own, I really had no idea how to eat. I had a deep scholarship for college and had an unlimited meal card at the cafeteria which had just installed a candy by the pound bin. I think my consumption of jelly beans that first year likely paid for that enhancement twice over. It also contributed to me doubling in size. I spent the next ten years losing weight and gaining it back. I spent the ten years after that sans gallbladder (direct result of the fat free dieting trend of the 1990’s) losing weight and gaining it back but now with a new set of problems that didn’t really have a label at the time.

I had always been an athletic, active person but never really focused on the development of muscle over just weight loss. I had some early insight along that track right after 2000 when I worked with a trainer at the gym near where I worked. He was a competitive lifter and introduced me to the concept of resting metabolic rate. Up until that time, I don’t think I really thought about my body as an engine of sorts. I just thought if I did the whole ‘eat less, move more’ the pounds would come off but my body had begun to fight with me.

It wasn’t until in my mid-30’s that I finally was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) which I think I’m still unsure if it was triggered by fat gain or caused fat gain or genetic or a combination of a lot of things. One of the more difficult aspects to deal with has been insulin resistance.

Over the past two years, I’ve worked with a trainer to be more specifically active and to change my eating habits almost radically. The one aspect none of that comes with is curing the emotional connections to food. I found that I was really good at planning everything I was going to eat in two week stretches. I would spend weekends packing the freezer full of food that I could haul to work easily. After two years though, I realized that I was bored of food. I fantasized about inventing kibble for people and experimented with creating my own protein bars.

Life got in the way last year and I took a break from that trainer. I dabbled with kettlebells and started doing DDP yoga (still doing). The inclusion of a completely different type of exercise for me, one focused on movement and stretching and breathing really refocused my thoughts. I was motivated by something JC Deen wrote in an email newsletter about why we train and who we train with. I contacted him to see if he had any suggestions for folks in my area and made a connection with Jen Sturm of Get With It For Life. While we’re working out the details of the rest of what we’re going to tackle, we started with health coaching.

First harvest from my garden in 2013.

First harvest from my garden in 2013.

I had a huge epiphany when I was thinking about my strengths and weaknesses that I had been approaching food as the enemy. I don’t want to fight with food…I want food to be as interesting as the sunrises I get up to see sometimes. I want to eat a variety of different things, prepared in ways I never knew existed. I want to be overwhelmed by all the colors and smells from an open-air market. I want to try to do some things by myself, to learn new techniques, but understand it is okay to just experience them as well. I want to have a garden and grow some of my favorite fruits and veggies (and next year, my cousin is sending me some seeds for some heirloom tomatoes that my paternal grandmother used to grow!)

I thought about the trucks I’ve seen hauling chickens through the state (Georgia produces a lot of chicken…) and they are all crammed in crates so they can’t move. I don’t think those chickens really care about what is going on because they haven’t known what it is like to exist another way. I think about all the chicken I’ve eaten that probably came from those crammed up birds and how I just consumed it so I would get some protein but maybe I didn’t really enjoy it. The most delicious chicken I’ve ever eaten was a free-range bird that I had when a student in Ghana (in 1995). This chicken traveled with my friend Lily and I on the bus to visit her mother in a town nearby to Accra (she made an opening in the bag it was in so it could breathe on the trip).

The more research that is done, the more scientists discover that our internal bacteria controls and shapes our health. I think it could really be possible on some level that I have been a version of crammed up chicken, not knowing anything else but just waiting until the microbes win. I would much rather be a happy free-range specimen that the microbes will look forward to munching upon when I pass.

Until such end, it is food adventure time!

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